Toyus saw the ships first. He was not sure what he was seeing at first, for the ships were tiny black specks high up in the sky. As they increased in size, he rose up on his stirrups and pointed at the sky.
A murmur of uncertainty made its way through the company. Those who had doubted now became convinced as the ships grew larger and larger, sweeping towards the city.
“Don’t let them reach the city!” Ariahl cried.
Sol raised his left hand and closed his eyes. A sharp whirr emitted from his hand and then something like a shock wave rolled towards the sky. The air prickled with electricity. The ship at the fore of the attack dipped precariously towards the land and avoided crashing just by a hair. At once the ships veered towards the grass fields where the Sentinels and the Ekesj family were congregated with the troops.
As Toyus watched, a panel on the side of the fore ship slid open and dozens of smaller ships fell into the sky. These were smaller than a wagon and looked like small seeds. As they approached, Toyus could see a being lodged in each small ship through a curved window. He lifted his sling and spun it hard, releasing the large stone. The stone collided with the window and cracked it as it bounced off. Without thinking, Toyus pulled a second stone from the pouch hanging from the saddle and spun the sling again. The alien transport made to veer off, but Toyus released the stone too quickly. It hit the window at an angle and the stone tore through the shattered window and hit the being inside. The being slumped sideways and the transport crashed on the ground, rolling for several feet before coming to a stop. Already ten soldiers were galloping towards the fallen ship.
Around him the screams from wounded soldiers and mounts filled the placid afternoon. He saw the Sentinels as they disrupted the ships’ fields for long enough to allow their soldiers to hurl projectiles at them. The catapults hurled large rocks rather than boulders. The boulders would kill indiscriminately, which the Sentinels had forbidden. The stones were large enough to incapacitate the ships.
There were hundreds of smaller ships and the Sentinels were becoming overwhelmed.
“Let’s get this finished!” Moyen cried out and lifted his arms into the air.
Toyus hung his sling from his belt and lifted his arms into the air. He concentrated, keeping his eyes open. He disrupted the control of every ship that came near him. The ships spun around and some regained control while others crashed, rolling for several feet before coming to rest. Each ship ripped through the earth, leaving long gouges behind. One of the ships came close to him and fired at Toyus. The weapon was a beam of some sort. It burst upon Toyus, burning skin and hair. He screamed and pitched from his mount, hitting the ground so hard, the breath was knocked from his lungs. Long precious seconds passed before he was able to come upon his knees and then unsteadily to his feet. His left hand was an angry red and already aching horribly. He refused to focus on the almost overwhelming pain and hauled himself back onto his saddle. When a new ship approached him, he allowed his rage to spill through his magic. Instead of disrupting the field of the ship, the ship’s engine burst into flames. Toyus saw the being inside attempting to control the ship. It gave a lazy arc before it crashed on the ground and exploded.
The pain was beginning to make Toyus sick to his stomach and made his thoughts hard to control. He took a deep breath and concentrated. He saw five soldiers attempting to capture a being that had fallen out of its ship. It lashed at them with its claws and they couldn’t get close. Toyus pulled on the reins of his mount and directed the bahil towards the fallen being.
As Toyus approached, the being noticed him and hissed. It wore robes and not armor or helmet.
With a groan, Toyus dismounted and took a step towards the being. He saw catlike pupils in the large eyes of the being. Sharp fangs peaked out from the stressed mouth. The long, graceful hands were equipped with long, cruel black claws that ended in sharp, curving tips. Toyus, grappling to maintain consciousness, held his hands out to the being. He closed his eyes and released his magic. He heard the being hiss again. When he opened his eyes, the being was being trussed with ropes.
One of the soldiers approached Toyus while the others carried the unconscious being to the nearby wagon.
“Are you well, Commander?” the soldier asked him.
Toyus swayed, cradling his injured hand to his chest.
“Come with me, Commander,” the soldier said and took his elbow. “There is an empathic healer at the hospital tent.”
Toyus pulled his elbow free. “I can’t be spared. There are still too many aliens fighting us.”
“Sir,” the soldier said. “You will develop an infection.”
“Look out!” Toyus screamed and fell upon the soldier.
He felt heat at his back and then the leather uniform caught fire. Toyus screamed as the flames engulfed him. Mercifully, silence and darkness overcame him and he knew no more.
Sol saw Toyus fall and the rage that filled him took his breath away. He lifted his arms and targeted the ship that had fired on the young man. The ship spun and spun, crashing into the ground and rolling several feet and coming to a halt a few feet in the distance. At once, the human troops swarmed the ship, bent on retrieving the being within. Sol kept targeting ships while around him men fell and died, burned beyond recognition by the beams the ships were indiscriminately firing. Exhaustion filled his limbs with hot sand. His metal legs would bear him long after he was unconscious from exhaustion. His chips would continue functioning long after his weak flesh gave up.
He had counted some three hundred alien troops. That meant each Sentinel and each member of the Stait family had 21 ships to disrupt. The aliens were learning to arc their ships to present a moving target so it was harder to disrupt their fields, but what the aliens did not know was that the Sentinels could increase the extent of their disruptors. It would mean they would exhaust themselves that much sooner, but it could not be helped. Sol committed to bringing down 21 ships before he fell unconscious to the ground.
The Sentinels communicated via their brain chips.
“We should present one force field,” Ariahl told them. “Let us hold hands and create a net to capture the rest of the ships.”
“We’ll be useless afterward,” Kaster told them.
“If we take out 147 ships, the Ekesj family can do the rest,” Derik piped up.
“We’ll have to focus our intent like never before,” Mariel said into Sol’s mind.
“We must alert Malida to our intent,” Topon put in.
“I’ll tell her and Moyen,” Ishel said and galloped away.
“Be quick about it,” Ariahl commanded him.
They could create a electrical field several miles in diameter. At least, that is what they were built to do but had never tried.
“We must disrupt their engines long enough to down the ships en masse,” Mariel said. “We will fall unconscious after that and we will be of no use for several hours.”
“So be it,” Kaster said.
Ishel returned and they dismounted and joined hands, forming a half circle. The power they emitted electrified and thickened the air. They closed their eyes and concentrated on unfurling the net of power several miles in every direction. Nearby, volleys from the alien ships exploded and men screamed. The air filled with the acrid smell of smoke and the sickly odor of burnt flesh. The power began to hum within them. Sol opened his eyes. He could see the shimmer of the net distorting the air. As he watched, the net closed around over a hundred ships. He was not sure if there were the requisite 147, but there were at least 100. The Staits would have to win this day, for his energy was depleting quickly. As he watched, Ariahl and Mariel directed the net to close around the ships. Engines overheated as the aliens lost control of their ships. Smoke and explosions filled the air. Sol was quickly losing consciousness but he fought it, keeping an eye on the ships until the very last exploded in the air and fell in pieces to the ground. He felt no regret at the loss of life. He fell forward into darkness.
Moyen saw when the Sentinels demolished the ships and collapsed. The remainder of the aliens retreated. Around them, the troops still alive cheered and Moyen found himself grinning like a fool. He threw himself from his saddle and engulfed Malida in a hug. She wept into his shoulder.
“They’ll be back,” Rien told them from a foot away.
“Perhaps,” Moyen replied. “But they lost fully half their troops. How many prisoners?”
“60, Sir,” Rien told him. “The others died upon impact or burned in their ships. Where do you want them housed?”
“In the donjon of Draemin Castle. The donjon is large enough to house them all.” He smiled at Malida. “We did well, wife.”
She wiped her cheek and gave a watery laugh. “You could say that.” She sobered. “We have to help the Sentinels.”
Moyen bowed. “Right away, Malida. We have one wagon left. We’ll take them to the villa.”
The sound of Itina’s frantic voice had them turning.
The girl was kneeling beside Toyus fallen body. She was sobbing.
Moyen went cold inside. Before he even realized it, he was running to where his daughter knelt next to his heir. He stopped a few feet away from the body and ran his eyes over his son. His left hand was badly burned. His neck and the left side of his face were blistering. Moyen knelt and picked up the boy. He rose and ran towards the hospital tent. Behind him, he could hear his family. The tent was almost a sepek away. By the time he approached it, he was huffing breaths and sweating profusely and he had slowed to a stride.
A healer stood at the tent door and pulled it back to allow him entrance.
“What are his wounds?” the healer inquired.
Moyen laid Toyus on a cot. “Burns.”
The healer nodded. “Please leave, sir. We’ll care for him right away.”
Moyen stepped outside of the tent. He looked into Malida’s eyes.
“He’s badly burned, but the healers are empathic,” he told her.
She nodded and began to sob. He gathered her to him and stroke her head.
“He’ll survive, my love,” he assured her, although he doubted the boy would come out of it intact.
She gasped and nodded and clung to him.
“I’ve gathered the Sentinels, sir,” Rien said as he strode up. “The prisoners are being transported even as we speak.”
Moyen nodded. “We’ll have to wait until Ishel wakes before we can communicate with the aliens.”
“Very good, sir,” Rien said. “I am leaving a troop here with the catapults.”
“I don’t foresee another attack as yet, but that is a good idea,” Moyen told him. “Please have the Sentinels housed in a pavilion here on the field. My family will stay here as well, in case the aliens return.”
Rien saluted. “I’ll see to the tents myself, sir.”
Moyen looked at his family. “Where is Pren?”
“Head wound,” Soena replied with a grimace. “He’s being tended to by the the healers.”
Moyen nodded. “You all did well. We’ll sleep here in case the aliens return. We’ll have to rest in shifts, I’m afraid.”
Emeida stepped forward. “Anything you need, Eda.”
He smiled at her and clapped her shoulder. “I’m very proud of all of you.”
His daughter gave him a watery smile.
Malida rubbed her arms. “If they return, will we be able to fight them off without the Sentinels?”
He sighed. “I don’t know, Malida. We’ll have to try.”
She nodded and glanced away, eyes glassy with tears.
He looked at his three daughters. “Why don’t you go rest? Malida and I will take the first watch.”
Arms around each other, his daughters went in search of much needed rest.
He took Malida’s hand. “Go see about Pren. I’ll stick close to this tent and wait to see how well Toyus recovers.”
She wiped her cheek and nodded, wandering away towards the second hospital tent.