There was a loud crash, and the sound of splintering boards as Glyph came to consciousness. Debris was falling all around him as he opened his eyes and tried to orient himself. He quickly rolled off the bed onto the floor of the hotel room, fearing he was under attack. Suddenly all was quiet, and Glyph poked his head up above the side of the bed to see Zarish, her upper body protruding up into the ceiling above.
“Zarish! Are you alright?” Glyph asked as he approached her wedged frame.
“Quite. Though I am stuck; perhaps some warning would have been appropriate.”
“Damn. I’m sorry. It might be a good idea if you shifted into human form, at least until we can get you on your way. The people here are none too fond of demons right now anyway.” Glyph said
An instant later Zarish morphed into the form of the girl he had seen a few minutes ago on M’atra. She took a moment to dust herself off, then looked at Glyph. “I am ready.”
“Let’s go find the others and see about getting the M’atran armies moving.” Glyph said and led the way out of the room and down the hall toward the lobby. He already had a bad feeling, like something was wrong, and he had only been back a few minutes.
When he opened the front door to the hotel and stepped out onto the porch, he knew for certain. Red blood was splashed across the main steps like someone had thrown a bucket of paint there. “Get down!” Glyph hissed at Zarish as he threw himself flat and belly crawled over to the small cement wall that served as a railing for the porch. A second later, Zarish was there beside him. Without a sound, she pointed out across the steps to the grass yard beyond. Glyph peered in that direction and saw the delimbed torso of a soldier’s crumpled corpse.
They both laid there for what seemed like several minutes, but in reality was about thirty seconds. Glyph did not want to take action until he could pinpoint where, and what, the enemy was. Then he heard the crackle of lightning off in the trees, followed by an explosion. Leaping to his feet, Glyph vaulted the cement wall and drew the King’s sword as soon as he landed. He immediately sprinted across the long length of the yard toward the tree line. Several bursts of machinegun fire erupted from someplace ahead. Glyph glanced back once to see Zarish right on his heels. Entering the woods, he crouched behind a fallen tree to catch his breath. They both looked in all directions but could see nothing.
Suddenly there was a blood-curdling scream off to their left. Glyph jumped and ran in that direction, crashing headlong through some underbrush, hacking it out of his way using his sword like a machete. Then he saw a soldier hanging in mid-air some thirty feet away, in an instant his body bent backward as the loud crack of his spine could be heard echoing from the trees. “Imps!” Glyph called out and charged forward to the dead soldier’s position. He swung his sword about like a madman, but could not make contact. It was either being very still or had crept away while Glyph was charging forward. He stopped to listen, but could not hear anything.
Without warning, Glyph was swatted to the ground. When he rolled over he could see Zarish moving between him and the unseen force. She too was quickly lifted into the air by invisible hands. Glyph began to stand, when Zarish reverted to her full demon size. The blurry outline of the Imp could now be seen clinging to the front of her breastplate, its eyes bulging in sudden fear as the demon’s metamorphosis pulled it off the ground. Zarish now had the Imp firmly in her grasp; she shifted her weight quickly and swung the creature head-first into a nearby oak. The impact made a dull crunch sound as the Imp’s head flattened on impact. Glyph could see the Imp’s face split, with pieces of bone protruding from the opening. Gobs of green ooze poured out as Zarish let the dead creature fall back to the ground. By the time Glyph finally reached his feet, the female demon had already changed back into the form of the unassuming peasant girl.
“Now that was impressive.” Glyph commented.
“I despise Imps, they are always so arrogant. They sometimes forget it is we who made them the way they are.” Zarish replied. “We should stay close together. They are easier to fight in numbers.”
Glyph nodded and glanced about, then heard shouting in the distance toward the gate. He closed his eyes and called out to the others with his mind.
“Glyph. Come to the gate.” He heard Ishea respond. “Be careful, there are Imps about.”
“They’re at the gate, follow me.” Glyph said to Zarish and quickly made his way in that direction. After several long and tense minutes they reached the main pathway and followed it to the gate without incident. Albast, Ishea, and Morracor were there, standing around a large boulder near the gate’s opening.
“What happened?” Glyph asked as they approached.
“Tsach sent some assassins to slow us down a bit.” Albast replied.
Ishea went to Glyph and gave him a hug. “We have tried to get some information from this one, but it is not cooperating.” Morracor added.
Glyph looked over at the boulder and could now see an Imp pinned to the ground by the large boulder resting on its legs. It twitched and groaned a bit as Glyph stepped closer.
“It is unlikely that you will be able to get it to talk. Most Imps communicate with hand gestures. It is rare to find one that has been trained to speak.” Zarish commented.
The others just stared at her. “Glyph, who is your friend?” Ishea asked eyeing the young woman up.
“Oh, that’s Zarish.” Glyph said somewhat distracted by the struggling Imp.
Albast nodded. “They are intensely resistant to magic, otherwise I would have extracted any information it had directly from its mind.”
“It is by design, for just this purpose.” Zarish said.
“How come we can see it?” Glyph asked.
“Their enhanced invisibility requires a certain level of concentration. It is probable the boulder is causing the Imp too much pain for it to keep itself hidden.”
Amos appeared a few feet away, followed by Lobrein, Miatsu, and Prianna a second later.
“I think that’s all of them.” Amos said, and nodded at Glyph. Prianna smiled widely and gave Glyph a quick hug.
“What’s the damage?” Albast asked.
“Five of the soldiers were killed.” Lobrein responded.
“Six, if you include the one Glyph and I saw die.” Zarish said.
“Everyone, this is Zarish.” Glyph announced and pointed her out to avoid any more questions.
“Zarish?” Amos said questioningly.
“Formerly Zarabish.” Zarish replied.
“A full demon? That’s awesome!” Amos said and hugged her as she grimaced. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“The feeling is mutual, Amos.” Zarish replied.
“I didn’t realize anyone else had come through the gate.” Amos said.
“I did not.” Zarish replied.
Amos just stared at her, then he shot Glyph a look. “Tell me you didn’t.” Amos said.
“I did.” Glyph replied.
“What? Why would you do that? The gate is open now.” Amos said accusingly.
“I’ll explain later. Right now it’s more important to get our armies through this gate.” Glyph replied.
Amos shook his head and stomped off. Glyph thought about following him, but opted to run the point of the King’s sword through the trapped Imp’s face and skull instead. Miatsu re-entered the gate to see what the hold up was. He returned a few minutes later and informed everyone that the Torleans were ready to march.
Covat was the first through the gate; his eyes were wide with wonder at the amazing transition. He explained that his men were reluctant to go through, and felt it best to lead by example. After a few minutes, he went back through and shortly afterward the first line of Torlean soldiers and supply wagons began to make their way onto Earth. Lobrein and Prianna led the first several groups of soldiers through the darkening woods to the huge open fields surrounding the hotel, where they began to set up camp.
Glyph stood admiring the gate, and watched the defenders of M’atra trickle through. After awhile, Glyph caught a chill as the last bit of light faded from the wood. Colder weather was coming; he could smell it in the air. There wasn’t much for him to do at the moment. He longed to talk with Ishea, but all the wizards had huddled around Albast and moved toward the hotel a while ago, and Glyph figured they needed to be with him more than he did. He decided to help a large group of Torlean soldiers set up torches along the path, which had already been widened into a road. Once they had finished, Glyph ignited the entire row of torches, to the cheers of his small band of soldiers. Then the group received new orders, and they trotted off to find a suitable location to start digging latrines. Moving an army of this size was way more complicated then just marching warm bodies from one place to another.
He had thought about telling the others about what had happened on M’atra, but decided against it. Glyph really didn’t know for certain that Tsach had found a way around the lake that now sat on top of the portal in the desert of Degruthra. An invasion just seemed too unlikely, he had thought, and so returned to the hotel where he walked the grounds, now buzzing with activity as the Torleans set up row after row of tents. Next, he decided to check on the marines who had survived the Imps’ attack. For some reason Glyph felt responsible for them, hell he felt responsible for everyone lately. He came across several of them sitting around a small fire by one of the Humvees.
“Evening, soldiers.” Glyph stated as he came near to them.
“Mr. Young, it looks as though everything has settled down a bit. The portal has been opened and your soldiers are moving through fairly rapidly.” Captain Haddix said.
“I’m sorry for your losses, Captain.” Glyph said for lack of anything better.
“They were good Marines. There aren’t too many of us left.”
“Well you won’t have to bear the brunt alone anymore, Captain. I hope to have several thousand reinforcements on this field by morning.” Glyph told them.
One of the soldiers let out a snicker, and the one beside him quickly slapped his buddy’s leg. Captain Haddix gave them both a stern look. Glyph realized there was some inside humor going on here, but couldn’t pick up on it. “What’s so funny, soldier?” Glyph asked bluntly. The man suddenly stiffened realizing he had been called out. He said nothing, and quickly looked toward his CEO. Haddix just shook his head. “It’s alright, you can speak freely here. Anyone who fights as bravely as you men deserve the right to say what’s on your mind.” Glyph said.
“Well, sir.” The man said, and then drew silent.
“Go ahead, tell me. I can take it.”
“Your reinforcements sir, I’ve seen them. They’re carrying swords and shields; I guess we were all hoping for laser rifles or something. They’re just bodies, sir. I don’t see how any of them are going to make a difference in this battle.” The soldier spoke quietly.
Glyph began to laugh. It was rather funny now that he thought about it. “I see your point, but try and think of it this way. Would any of you want to take on a Minotaur or a demon with just a sword and shield?” He asked.
They all nodded no, with one soldier even saying “Hell, no.” louder than the rest.
“Well they have, and they lived through it, and now they’re here to do it again. They’re career soldiers, just like yourselves, and trust me they are no less effective in battle than any one of you. Besides, you don’t win battles with rifles or swords. You win with what you have up here.” Glyph said pointing to his head, “And more importantly in here.” He said indicating his heart.
They all agreed, and Glyph took his leave of them and returned to his room at the hotel. He brushed some debris from his bed and lay down, staring into the giant hole in the ceiling that Zarish had left earlier that evening. After a bit he drifted into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, Glyph awoke to find the fields surrounding the hotel a bustling Torlean encampment. He left the camp and went in search of some breakfast. In all the excitement last night he had forgotten to eat dinner and was now famished. He found Ishea and Prianna in the woods near the gate. Prianna seemed to be pointing out the different species of plants and trees to Ishea, and they were both very interested in a large patch of bamboo that was growing there.
“Good morning, Glyph.” Ishea said as he approached. “There is some breakfast still on the table.”
Glyph nodded and made his way over to where Albast had created the table and chairs several nights ago, and began to eat what was left there. Apparently he had slept late, and no one had bothered to wake him. He watched the steady stream of soldiers moving through the gate as he ate. Amos came over and informed him that the six soldiers had been buried early that morning, and that Sergeant Bowman was among the casualties. “Captain Haddix would also like to speak with you, Glyph.” Amos told him.
“Of course.” Glyph replied. At that moment, as Glyph finished a large hunk of bread, he saw Grot and Greem come through the gate, followed by a contingent of Hexzu warriors flying overhead of the Torleans. “Grot!” Glyph stood and waved.
“Great One!” Grot called out.
They both flew over to where Glyph and the others stood. Glyph bumped forearms with both of them. “It is good to see you both, Amos is right…” Glyph stopped and looked for Amos who he thought was right behind him, but was now gone. “Well, he’s around.”
Grot nodded. “I must speak with you right away.”
“Well you’re just in time.” Glyph said glancing about. “We should have a meeting anyway.” He said and then called out to Albast, who appeared beside them a moment later. “We should gather everyone together, I have a feeling things are going to start moving rather quickly now.”
“Perhaps over there would be a good place to talk things over.” Albast said pointing to a nearby clearing atop a small incline.
“Good enough. We should inform Captain Haddix as well. I want everyone on the same page.” Glyph said.
“I will invite him myself.” Albast replied.
Within twenty minutes everyone had assembled atop the grassy knoll. Glyph realized this was the place in the scene on the tapestry as soon as most of them had arrived. Glyph was about to start, when he realized Amos was not in attendance.
“Where’s Amos?” Glyph asked.
“I will find him.” Albast stated and promptly teleported away. A moment later he reappeared. “He will be here shortly.” Albast said.
It was all coming together; everyone was even in the same positions as they were depicted on the tapestry, with the exception of Prianna, who was next to Lobrein. When Zarish appeared nearby in the form of the young blond haired woman it all made sense, and seeing the scene coalesce in front of him gave him chills.
Amos finally appeared in the exact spot he was supposed to be a minute later. “Now what’s so damn important that–?” He started to say and then choked off into silence. He glanced about quickly and blanched, his dark skin looked suddenly ashen as if he had just seen a ghost.
Amos’s actions did not go by unnoticed, as Glyph was watching him intently, and was now more certain than ever that Amos had indeed seen the Drayden prophecies, and more than that, Glyph was certain Amos had never intended on attending this meeting.
“I would like to thank you all for coming.” Albast spoke loudly. “We know what this is leading up to, but it’s important that we put everything together, so we can get there in one piece and work as a unit. Captain Haddix, this is your world, why don’t you start.”
“Yes sir.” Haddix nodded, stepped forward and continued. “The President has sent word that he has accepted your suggestion to allow you to attend his peace talks with the demon overlord. He will be arriving here within the hour.” He stated and then paused, his eyes becoming watery. “On a personal note, I lost six good men yesterday.” He stopped and adjusted his cap. “I would have lost them all, including myself if you hadn’t been here. I’d just like to say thank you, and welcome to Earth.” Captain Haddix stepped back, and a long silence followed. Prianna, who Glyph noticed was out of place before, made her way across the circle and embraced the Captain, who was at once startled and somewhat embarrassed. She then stood beside him, where the Tapestry had shown her.
“Captain Haddix brings up a good point. My first order of business will be to meet with President Bradley, and attend this meeting with Tsach. Once that is over we will be free to get this war rolling. I fully expect him to give us his support afterward.” Glyph told them.
“You shouldn’t go, Glyph. The whole thing is pointless and no good will come of it. Surely you can see that.” Amos decreed.
Glyph eyed him up speculatively. “I know Amos, but the people of Earth will not fight without knowing for sure that there is no chance of peace. The United States has been decimated, and believe it or not, we need the support of what little they have left if we are to win this.” Glyph replied.
“No Glyph, the way to end this war is for you to face Tsach, and kill him. This is only prolonging the inevitable.” Amos retorted, cutting to the heart of the matter.
Glyph paused. “I know how you must feel Amos, and I’d like to say you’re right, but I’m not ready. You saw what he did to me on the Mississippi, it almost ended right there. Tsach is still too powerful. If I were to face him now, before the time is right, he would kill me and we would lose everything. This one meeting won’t make or break us either way. It is how we must proceed.” Glyph explained.
“Glyph is right, Amos. Every man, woman and child of this planet has a stake in the coming battle. If they are not behind our actions here, it could greatly hamper their ability to rebuild this great world. They could continue to spiral into chaos even if we were to win the Great War.” Albast added.
Glyph could tell Amos wanted to continue the argument, but nodded his understanding and reluctantly conceded. “Chieftain Grot, I believe you already know everyone except for Captain Haddix, and the young lady there is General Zarish.” Grot nodded once and stepped forward.
“Great One, it is with much regret that I must inform you that the outpost at Vigilance Lake has been compromised. As you know, we had lost contact and I had sent several envoys to discover why. Shortly after my messenger left to inform you of our findings, a lone Hexzu scout returned. He witnessed the slaying of his Hexzu brothers at the hands of several demons. The world of M’atra is being invaded.” Grot declared.
Glyph’s head sunk. He had hoped beyond hope that their speculation was unfounded, but there it was. Tsach was going to invade both worlds, an army on each side meant more innocent lives lost, and a split in his own forces.
Prianna gasped out loud at Grot’s proclamation, but Lobrein was the first to speak. “Are you certain, Grot?” she asked.
“Yes Sorceress, the eyewitness was quite explicit in his description. Make no mistake, there are demons in the desert of Degruthra.” Grot replied.
“Glyph, this could change everything.” Lobrein stated.
“Let’s not get too hasty now. Tsach is here. Whatever he’s sending through to Degruthra is a mere distraction.” Glyph said.
“You are most likely correct.” Miatsu interjected. “But the armies of M’atra will now want to remain there in order to defend their homelands from attack.”
Glyph thought for a moment. “You’re right. I’ll just have to convince them otherwise, and I will have to handle it during my hour there.”
“Glyph, you cannot fight this battle by yourself.” Ishea spoke up. “Your curse has reverted to its original state. If your hour should end after you have engaged the enemy in M’atra, then they could find your body, and usurp control over you, or worse they could simply kill you and be done with it. Someone must be there to protect your body for the twenty three hours that you are here on Earth.”
Glyph felt slightly shaken. They were right, and this was becoming increasingly complicated. “Alright, that sounds fair enough.”
“It is more than that.” Morracor interjected. “Unless you plan on destroying all of their forces in one hour, someone will also have to be there to hold their advance, or at the very least slow them until your return.”
“I will fight with you during your hour, Glyph. As I will be there with you, it only makes sense.” Zarish stated.
“That is two bodies to protect for twenty three hours.” Ishea added.
“Okay, there’s no way around it then, I’ll need at least one of you to go back to M’atra, and at least one army to stay and defend it. I volunteer the Kivans to stay and protect M’atra. They are probably the best trained force there for fighting demons anyway, and they have the most vested interest in protecting Zarish and myself while we’re away, so to speak. Let’s wait until after my meeting with Tsach to decide anything else. Maybe I’ll be able to find something out. After that we’ll have the Hexzu try and determine what size force is actually coming through. We should have some time at any rate; it will take at least a full day for them to traverse the desert of Degruthra.” Glyph decided.
There was silence for a minute as everyone digested Glyph’s plan of action. “Are we agreed then?” Glyph asked, hoping no one else had come up with any more holes in his plan. They all nodded in agreement.
“So why did you give Zarish the curse?” Amos shouted out.
Glyph could tell that Amos was seething underneath, but could only assume it had something to do with the prophecies. “I’m glad you asked. I am sending Zarish back to Tsach.” Glyph said, jumping at the chance to change the subject.
“What!? You can’t do that! Why?” Amos argued.
“It is necessary, Amos. We need information on what Tsach is planning, and Zarish is the only one who could possibly get it for us.” Glyph responded.
“Is that wise, Glyph?” Lobrein said questioningly.
“Of course it is.”
“But should something happen, if she were to be found out, they would kill her.” Ishea stated.
“Tsach might just kill her anyway. She did defect, after all. You can’t expect them to welcome her back with open arms.” Amos blurted out.
“You are both correct.” Zarish interrupted. “But I have discussed this with Glyph, and I believe I may be able to pass on critical information during our hour on M’atra that could help in the war against Tsach.”
“If you live that long.” Amos said.
“I realize your concern is valid, but I have chosen my course of free will. If it leads to my death, then so be it. At least I will have chosen how I will die, and if I live then I may be able to help enormously.” Zarish told Amos.
Glyph had not thought of it that way, and was now partially sorry he had asked her to do this in the first place, but he wasn’t about to turn back now. As far as Glyph was concerned, Zarish’s fate had been sealed.