Resurgence: Fiendish Formations
Note: This story is the latest entry in a series of short stories. Read the first two here and here.
Professor Lambert studied the arcane map once more. A remarkable bit of magical technology, he thought. A map that would not only allow its reader to observe the entirety of the battlefield from afar, but also make them capable of issuing commands to their troops from it. Magically-based telepathic communication, if you will. And if he needed to give orders to a specific unit? Well, the map allowed him to zero in on them to speak with them directly.
Professor Lambert was nearly salivating. A tactician of his caliber would benefit tremendously from this kind of treasure. And yet, despite its wondrous qualities, it wasn't one-of-a-kind. General Aethia, thankfully, had a small set of them, and distributed them to those she felt were most qualified to wield them. Lambert couldn't help but feel for Aethia. She had been running herself ragged throughout this arduous campaign, so to lighten the load for her would be an opportunity he would spring for. The Wraith were likely coming upon their final few waves, but sadly, their numbers were still plentiful, it seemed.
This resurgence of Wraith had worried not only Lambert and the Seekers, but Neopia as a whole. The last time they'd appeared in such large numbers, the impact felt by the planet was immense. Nowadays it felt almost hard to believe that there had been a time when Faerieland called the sky its home.
That made it even more imperative that Faerieland should be completely defended while the current situation is still being handled. Faerieland quite literally can't fall lower than it already has, and as a central source of magic and power for Neopia, it couldn't fall into the hands of the Wraith.
"Testing, can all troops hear my voice?" asked Lambert, speaking in the map's general direction.
A dissonant collection of various yes-es rang through the Gnorbu's ears. On the map before him, he saw not only the troops he commanded (the Seekers themselves, naturally), but also the surrounding area. The terrain, first and foremost, was a clearing. Woodlands surrounded the fighters, with a notable river running through the center. A small bridge was built across it, providing an excellent choke point for the fighters to seize. Listening in, Lambert didn't hear any wind.
This could go smoothly after all, Lambert thought.
"Archers, stay on the back lines. Those of you with melee weaponry, head for the bridge."
"What about the cannon, sir?" asked Jacob, a brass goggle-clad Kacheek, and one of the many Seekers on the battlefield.
"Stay about midway between the archers and melee combatants. If the Wraith attempt to cluster together, take them out. Do try to keep the cannon hidden as best as you can, however." Lambert adjusted his glasses. "The element of surprise must not be lost."
On the field, the Seekers moved into position. Some brandished Corrosive Spear Wands and Shining Celesta Swords, given to them by General Aethia, while others came equipped with their own personal weaponry. All, however, brought with them a feverish drive to rid the land of the Wraith.
And then a flash of purple appeared on the northern side of the clearing.
Lambert assessed the situation on the magic map. "Secure your stations, everyone. The Wraith have been spotted. Like we are, some are wielding melee weaponry, while others are ranged threats."
By the bridge, a few of the Seekers steeled themselves.
"Stay on your guard, everyone," ordered Sandro, a posh-looking Gelert. "And fear not. Professor Lambert is the greatest tactician I've ever known."
"Let's just hope it goes better than the War for the Obelisk then," said a Quiggle.
"The Sway kept themselves expertly hidden," said Tom Cotterpin, a Lutari. "Meanwhile, we know how the Wraith operate. And besides, despite our loss then, Lambert brought us home with minimal casualties. He's an admirable strategist."
"Everyone," came the disembodied voice of Professor Lambert. "Their infantry are approaching. Secure the bridge and take them down!"
"Professor, how much force should we apply?" asked Tom Cotterpin. He thought of the pets in the infirmary, and how they'd been forcefully turned into Wraithlike abominations. In the heat of battle, it'd be hard to differentiate a turned Wraith from a normal Wraith.
"Worry not, Tom," said Lambert. "One of our own, Professor Morbero, published his findings. Applying normally-lethal force to a transformed pet won't do lethal harm to the pet beneath, but only to the Wraith possessing it. Think of it as a protective, if parasitic, full-body shield."
Having his fears assuaged, Cotterpin took on his battle stance.
The Wraith lunged forward, attempting to take back control of the bridge from the Seekers. Swinging dark and titanic axes while others used their own shadowy claws, the Seekers were able to find their openings and deliver decisive blows.
"Easy now, everyone. Let themselves become ripe for a counterattack!" shouted Lambert. He noticed, however, that some of the Wraith were attempting to bypass the bridge entirely...by flying over the river itself.
Back on the field, one of the flying Wraith took notice of the cannon at the Seekers' disposal. It screeched, flying back toward the clearing. It must have been the only one to see it, however, as the other fliers continued on their path toward the Seekers' back line.
"A rookie mistake," Lambert muttered to himself with a smirk. "Archers! Let loose your arrows!"
On command, the archers under Lambert's employ simultaneously launched their volley of arrows at the group of skyward Wraith. One by one, they all plummeted toward the field below, the impact virtually decimating all signs of malignant purple, leaving behind exhausted and ill, but otherwise unharmed, vessels. The unconscious pets were then brought to the infirmary.
Exhilarating, Lambert thought. He had always thought there was an art to warfare. And yet for every bit of pleasure he took from a successful strategy, the pressure from a possible failure weighed on him, keeping him in check. Keeping him grounded.
Keeping him focused.
And Lambert couldn't help but focus on the scene laying before him. Several Wraith seemed to have teleported over the bridge, attacking their front lines from behind.
"Look out! Behind you!" Lambert yelled. Immediately the squadron by the bridge noticed the attempted sneak attack and responded with strikes and slashes of their own. Some, however, were struck before they were able to do so.
Lambert zoomed in on the area by the bridge using the magic map in order to assess the damage. Flashbacks to the War for the Obelisk invaded his mind, clouding his thoughts. He couldn't lose anyone.
Not this time. Not again.
Lambert broke from his stress, hearing the far off voice of one of his soldiers.
"Lambert, do you copy?" the voice repeated. It was Cotterpin.
"Yes Tom, I copy. I've assessed the damage. Have someone take Gladstone off of the front lines. His leg is badly wou-"
"Hit the dirt!" hollered Cotterpin.
An explosion. Lambert, panicking, zoomed out to get a full view of the area, and there he noticed a ghastly sight. The Wraith had brought in a cannon of their own, striking the bridge while the Seekers were clustered together. Intense ringing was all Lambert could hear.
Lambert looked at the damage, expecting the worst. He immediately sighed in relief, seeing that the attack was energy based and not physically based. Still, his troops were badly hurting.
"Jacob, prepare the cannon. And use the ammo from the special stock."
"Where should I aim it, sir?"
"Take out their cannon."
Jacob lit the fuse and dropped in the special ammunition. Quickly covering his ears, he lined up the shot and let loose the ammo. On the other side of the field, blasts littered the Wraith forces, decimating their cannon. A ghoulish spectral glow radiated from the area of impact. All Wraith not near the bridge were wiped out.
"Sir...dare I ask what you made me load the cannon with?"
Lambert smirked and adjusted his glasses.
Just one Ghostkerbomb was often enough to turn the tide of battle in the favor of its wielder, but here, Lambert had ordered a slew of them to be used against the Wraith forces. The bombs were peculiar, however, in that they would reassemble after combat due to their ghostly nature. Of course, the Seekers would need to retrieve them when they were done picking off the stragglers.
The remaining few Wraith by the bridge took note of their cohorts' defeat. It was hard to get a read on such animalistic creatures, but...they seemed perturbed, at least. And the Seekers? Well, naturally they'd use that to their advantage. Noting the confusion of his enemies, Tom Cotterpin led the charge in taking out the remaining stragglers, seeing as he took notice of the enemy cannon fire in time, leaving naught but the now Wraith-free hosts behind.
The Seekers, wounded as some were, cheered at their victory. And yet, back at the base camp, Lambert couldn't help but blame himself. He got distracted. He put them in harm's way and got them injured.
In his eyes, he failed them. Could it have gone worse? Of course. He didn't outright lose anyone today, but the morbid reality of it all dictated that, by all means, he could have, and that fact alone was a tough one to swallow.
But deep down, he knew he needed to do his part as their leader, and in their victory, don a smile for them.
They deserved that much.