There were times Jaratalassi felt like he was really making a difference. Not with his own two hands. With the results of events he’d set in motion months before. This was such a time. Now all he had to do was enjoy.

Fleeing Paramese troops had stopped at the feet of the first wall, some climbing the parapet to man it and make up for their cowardice. The rest had slowed down, as many crossing the primitive gates as were gawping at the spectacle behind them. They all knew this was a special moment. He could feel every grain of risen stone under his fingers, smell the dry scent of the deadlands carried by the eastern wind. The light of the desert warmed his skin and the familiar song of battle had quieted down as if the world was holding its breath.

In its strange wisdom, Nyil had granted the frail humans a great equalizer in the person of mana users. Hybrid casters rose mighty walls like the one he was standing on while mage blades led warriors into battle. Then came the war mages with their mighty arrays, their gate-smashing spells and horde-ending storms. At their top ruled the archmages who could undo beasts and men with a contemptuous wave of their hands like one wipes a slate clean for a new picture. Give me ten archmages, he thought, and I will conquer Param.

Or, perhaps, one elemental archmage.

In the valley below, the vivid painting of the battle extended to the nearest crest. Ochre and browns formed the background, then great swathes of steel gray and scale green where humanity and the Empire of Dawn massed their troops. Right now, the dull green of the enemy dominated the vista. Then came the red of Nemeti elites, the black of the Harrakan circle and the multicolored hues of the heavy cavalry. It had formed a pictural ensemble both familiar and awe-inspiring.

And then there was the witch.

A strange figure rose over the steel-clad Harrakans and their painted women. She had hooked her false wings into the fabric of the world like wolf teeth clamping on a heel. The gates of the nothingness above opened.


A cruel cat took its claws to the tapestry. Black beams pierced shields like arrows through straws and left behind ditches where Nemeti used to be. Clouds of hungering darkness hissed their ways through formations leaving behind only raw earth pitted and scarred. Exploding balls, flailing masses of tendrils burst from nothingness everywhere with the same results. The Nemeti stopped and ran out of the way. Those that did not, died, and when the spells faded, there was nothing left behind but blackened earth defaced and blighted, with crystalline limbs reaching up like tortured souls frozen in agony. The Empire of Dawn paused in its dogged pursuit to avoid the onslaught and the human forces, dazed yet still aware of their circumstances, retreated deeper into the pass. In a single minute, what could have been a rout turned into an orderly retreat thanks to the mightiest display of arcane destruction he’d witnessed from a single caster.

Truly, the continent was on the verge of a new age.

Baranese archers formed lines around him, some casting concerned glances towards him but he was too busy to talk to them. Too busy taking in the sights.

Like the tide, the onslaught receded and the witch fell, caught by the bone golem. An artillery projectile went for her with the same unerring accuracy all Nemeti projectiles seemed to have. It broke on the reactivated shield, courtesy of the outlander’s exiled Hallurian. The Harrakans were now at the back of the formation and the Nemeti regrouped but the Four Colors Halurian archmage and the Tide Weaver kept them at bay with their own artifices. The Paramese alliance glutted at the entrance of the pass until the fallen prince opened a short range portal. The increased flow allowed more soldiers to evacuate while a rain of arrows came to keep the Nemeti at bay. Within twenty minutes, all of the humans had either retreated to camp or put themselves on the walls, ready to fight for them with renewed resolve. Jaratalassi walked down the narrow stairs to where the witch sat on her shield array, its presence required to protect the wall from bombardment. The strange owl creature who led her machines stood at a distance as he drew a diagram, possibly for another spiked horror. He had to admit that she didn’t look at her best. She was pale with eyes sunk and visible black veins under the visible skin. Her breath was short and painful, with a low gurgle he didn’t like.

“Capital work. And how are you feeling?”

“I’m crawling on my fucking eyebrows here,” she gasped.


He turned to Sidjin who was patting her back.

“She is saying, and I quote an earlier remark, that she couldn’t pull a greased toothpick out of a dead rat’s asshole.”


“Not… not critical. Just used too much mana. Need to rest and regenerate. I’ll be fine soon. Just… can’t cast.”

//And you better not try.

The golem detached itself from behind the machine to glare at an idling swordsman. Although, to be fair, the golem hardly ever did anything but glared anyway.

“We need an emergency meeting,” Jaratalassi said. “I would have your presence, please.”

Viviane was immediately suspicious which proved she also had a brain which was rather convenient. Nevertheless, the meeting was necessary but they had it in public to make sure the troops didn’t see their leaders leg it back to camp at what was arguably a low point. Even now, the fortified barracks crawled with the wounded, the healers long since running on dregs of mana.

“We would know if you intend to keep your word,” Olz the Claw asked.

Cloud Skull’s stand in was older and more reserved than his predecessor. Jaratalassi felt a pang of regret at the loss of a great warrior but the southerner was just one more fallen hero in a long line of snuffed talents and the regrets didn’t last long. Jaratalassi had lost thousands of people under his command, and it would only stop if he failed. That was his life.

“Yes,” the count replacing Eikart replied.

Both groups had lost the one making the agreement. Jaratalassi knew Eikart was leaving behind young children and the Duchess would have to step in to assume his duties. Such occurrences were common on the frontier. Right now though, the continued presence of the southerners were on the line. Despite large casualties, they were still a powerful force, especially now that the cavalry would be useless.

“We will honor our promise as you have honored yours. Cloud Skull was a mighty warrior and his presence will be missed. Our agreement will be kept.”

“So witnessed,” Jaratalassi said.

“So witnessed,” Edretti added resentfully.

“So witnessed,” Viviane added after a delay, fingers pinching the bridge of her nose.

With that out of the way, Jaratalassi went over the strategy. They had four walls with the innermost still being constructed by exhausted siege specialists. They needed to delay the enemy until nightfall which was still a couple of hours away. At least, that’s what he told them. Once this was done, he returned to the front. Jaratalassi was not too worried yet but they were cutting it short.

The battle was already joined by the time he climbed the second wall. Immediately, his skill allowed him to make sense of the battlefield, feel the currents and get a glimpse of openings. Baranese archers rained down arrows on the approaching Nemeti as those who’d reached the walls climbed on top of each other with a speed that proved this was not their first siege. The Nemeti had learned to fear archers as well, with hardy specimens holding thin stone slabs to protect those that came under them. For an improvised strategy, it was rather effective. Already, red-skinned warriors flung themselves at the wall where they battled with determined Falstag axemen. Suddenly, a blue light covered the front of the wall and the assault sank in the mud. The Nemeti retreated like the tide, regrouping to try again later. Another artillery spell impacted the half shield maintained by the young Hallurian exile who winced a little. One of the panes flickered before being remade. Now that the witch was gone, the spells seemed to lack focus, somehow.

It was all quite fascinating. But he had a duty to fulfill.

“Get me a squad of southerners on the right side. Yes, this spot with only archers. GOAT FUCKER. Yes, you. Get your ass on the wall, at the yellow flag. On the double.”

The weakness patched up, Jaratalassi took a gulp of powerful liquor and enjoyed the fiery path it took to his gut. Had to be careful not to overindulge. Maybe… that Bitter Heart girl… but no, later. He had more problems here.

Namely, his skill didn’t work on the Nemeti.

They were not just outside of Nous’ blessing. They were part of another wide-scale manipulation of mana for the purpose of guiding people. They used a different interface. Or perhaps, they had something else. It didn’t matter. Nothing, not the cannibalism, or the cruelty, or even the strange magic, nothing could convince him they were a threat that could not be negotiated with more than this fact.

Meanwhile, the Nemeti renewed the assault while the larger part rested beyond, feasting on the fallen. It was a grisly sight.

Jaratalassi calculated his options. A quick look towards the Tide Weaver showed the young archmage was nearing exhaustion. He calculated that the enemy would break through within two assaults unless he was ready to sacrifice many lives. He was not. This was a delaying action. With a tired grunt, Jaratalassi walked down to the space between the first and second walls where some of the wounded were being attended to. A cook was setting up as well, bless him.

“Second wall. Move back. Now.”

“But sir!”

“This place isn’t safe at all. Move back and free the access. You too, archmage.”

“I can… I can still —”

“You can take a breather. Eikart’s men are done setting up artillery positions at the end of the pass.”

“To… to clear?”If you discover this narrative on Amazon, be aware that it has been stolen. Please report the violation.

“Yes. You need to take a moment to recover if you want to keep casting. You there, help her to the back. There’s a good lad.”

There was nothing left to prevent an orderly retreat. Jaratalassi returned to the second wall and determined he had done all he could for now. A look back let him find the Harrakans at the back, all clumped around one of their war machines. They didn’t seem to know what to do now. That was fine. For now, they’d accomplished enough.


Viv felt like shit. She’d tried to explain it colorfully because people didn’t get it and she really wanted them to. Every last part of her hurt in some ways and the only thing she wanted to do was crawl on her bed and collapse. Instead, she went over the notifications sent by Nous because it was better than thinking about throwing up.

Mana mastery: Intermediate 7