Metal screamed. The blade of the sword clashed violently, colliding with the hammer. Gunnar pulled the weapon back, striking out with his full strength. Sparks flew as iron cracked against iron, the very air around the two figures seething with a tension so thick that it felt hot.
The buffalo hadn't spoken throughout the battle. His clenched teeth ground together as he blocked the frost knight's incoming attack. Froth broiled at the corners of the buffalo's mouth. In turn, the man clad in thick black armour only smiled, a hint of faint amusement playing on his lips.
"How long have they been fighting?" asked Roka.
Exra crouched down into the alleyway beside the canine. Both of them leaned together, avoiding the direction of street traffic. Even though the area of town was sparsely populated even at peak hours, neither the canine nor his fire witch companion wanted to risk drawing attention to themselves. The rabbit looked Roka over, barely able t to pull her eyes from the ensuing battle that roared its way through the streets opposite. "About five minutes now" she explained.
The canine nodded. He was impressed, not least of all because of his guild master's growing strength. It seemed that so little time had passed since they had been easy prey, readily cut down by Brakka and his men. Now, however, they were strong. Powerful enough to have cleared the rabble of the frost knight's horde and left their bodies littering the city streets. Seven bodies marked the street, lying in thick puddles where the canine and his companions had felled them. Now Roka kept a close lookout for others of Brakka's Bruisers who might be eager to avenge their fallen comrades. The cleric glanced back towards Exra. "Our new weapons have made us stronger" he commented.
Peering from behind the entrance to the narrow alleyway, the fire witch watched the duel. The Loser's had struck fast, with a brutality born of barely contained rage. The battle plan had been one of simplicity as much as it had been of necessity, striking at Brakka and his allies as they passed through the city streets, engaging them in a conflict just as sudden and as lightning fast as their first meeting. The buffalo had cut a swath through Brakka's colleagues; all the while Roka had maintained a continual steam of healing magic upon the iron-clad warrior. Those who strove to flee; to back out or flank the assailants were quickly cut off by Exra, who had lashed the ground itself with a flurry of deft blazes that scorched the very air itself. Now only the two leaders remained, locked in a life-or-death struggle from which neither side showed any sign of weakness. The fire witch shook her head. "It isn't our weapons that make him strong" she said, "It’s his anger."
Awkwardly, the canine glanced downwards. He had held his doubts about the attack. At his heart, Roka did not believe that this course of action was wise, did not support the very idea of turning themselves into the aggressors. It did not feel right to him, he thought. It felt like revenge, like chewing on a bitter taste that did not and would never truly suit him. No, he thought, this did not feel right. But still, Roka did not speak. He did not say his doubts out loud, even though he felt the words running through his mind. He tried his best to dismiss his anger, let it slide away from him, but it was not so easy to do. Instead, all that the dog could do was smile to Exra, hoping that she wouldn't notice. Deep down, he thought that the game just did not feel as much fun as it had used to be now.
A resounding blow echoed through the streets as the frost knight drove his jagged blade against the buffalo's pot-marked chest plate. The force of the blow was almost enough to topple the warrior, but Gunnar held his ground, his large sturdy boots digging against the rain-slicked cobbles of the street. With a heavy grunt, the buffalo threw himself toward his enemy, slamming his broad shoulder against Brakka's form. The frost knight reeled, the look of amusement strained across his face.
Roka flexed his fingers, snatching enough raw magical essence from the air to release a hearty spell that knit the buffalo's wounds the moment that they began to form. The canine glanced to Exra, "We have to stop him."
"Gunnar doesn't want us to interfere" she said, distantly.
The canine looked at her. "He said that" said Roka, "but that's just him being stubborn."
Exra looked down the street, her eyes barely even seeming to take in the battle raging before her. "He..." she hesitated. “It’s something Gunnar needs to do himself."
"You don't believe that" said Roka.
The fire witch turned her eyes downwards, to the ground.
That was all the confirmation that the cleric needed. "We're going in" he said, and rushed from the alleyway.
Roka didn't need to look over his shoulder to sense that the fire witch was behind him, covering the distance in great strong leaps. They moved together, pushing past the fallen bodies of Brakka's chosen. The frost knight did not, at first, seem to even notice them, so focused was he on the buffalo who met him in determined battle. The canine pushed forward, arcing his paws through the air in a shimmering arc. The light cracked, snarling like a whip as it met across the dark knight's decorate armour. The attack seemed to draw no damage, but Brakka did turn his gaze from his buffalo attacker, glancing toward Roka.
In that moment, Gunnar was upon him, diving his hammer into a brutal swing. It caught Brakka unprepared, staggering the tall knight backward by several steps. The look of amusement on the man's face diminished, fading into consternation. "Your friends are eager to join us" he said in a throaty tone.
"We stay together" retorted Exra. The fire witch had taken up position a distance further from the others, allowing her all the range that she needed to work her dark arts. Drawing her paws quickly through the air, Exra propelled three blazing shots toward the knight, each one no larger than a crossbow bolt but yet crackling with the hottest of flames. They flew through the air with expert precision, ending only when they slammed into the knight with all the force of a rifle blast.
As Brakka righted himself, straightening his stance, the fire witch was already in the middle of enchanting another shot. The knight snarled, flexing his fingers now, his palm outstretched towards her. From between the cold digits of his gauntlet, small crystalline shards of raw frost started to materialise. Seeing this, Exra hurried her own incantation, rolling her paws together to form between them a great cannonball of roaring flame. She loosed her shot, hurling the ball just as Brakka released his own burst of smoking, chill frost. The two arched through the air, the street between them both seeming to shimmer with the intensity of the spells. Then, with a resounding roar, both spells collided. Fire met ice, and together for a moment they flared, glowing as bright as a new-born star. From their collision point, an areola of crackling magical aether reverberated through the streets, expanding rapidly outward with all the ferocity of a thunderstorm. Then, with its energy spent, the spells were gone, dissipa
ted into the air, leaving only the dazed combatants scattered on the wet cobblestones.
Roka rolled over. The taste of cold ash filled his mouth. The cobbles beneath him felt rough and coarse, and his ribs hurt as he inhaled. His vision swam milky white for a moment before turning softly into focus. The charred scorch that split the street in twain ebbed out closer to where he and the buffalo lay. He pulled himself upward, gravity itself seeming to hold him down. With shaking, uncertain legs he wound his way to his feet. Then he caught sight of the frost knight. Brakka lay slumped against the corner of a building, a thin line of blood trailing from the man's forehead. With wavering steps he drew himself toward the fallen knight. His opponent looked so small when he had been knocked down, thought Roka. He nudged the man with his shoe, poking his side. "Open your eyes" said the canine.
With an almost muddy sense of weariness, the man did so. Through half-closed eyes he looked up at the canine. "You've got stronger" he rasped weakly. "You have some decent weapons."
The canine looked down at Brakka, the knight's legendary sword laying dented in the rain-slicked city street, his intricately decorate armour dented and worn. "No" said Roka. Behind the cleric, wearily, Gunnar started to draw himself upward, stumbling a little as he did, and then made his way over to help Exra up as well. Roka glanced at them, and then turned his scolding gaze back at the knight. "You never did understand. It isn't our weapons that make us strong. We're strong because we stand together."
Through half-lidded eyes, the frost knight tried to pull his lips into a sheer. "Your guild? Is that it?"
And with that, the dog turned and walked away from the frost knight, his two lifelong companions in tow.
But as they did, the frost knight's words rang out, piercing the streets, filling the cleric with a terrible, empty feeling. Brakka stumbled, clasping onto the wall as he pulled himself up. Through lips cracked and caked with blood, the frost knight shouted his last condemning cry.
"I didn't break into your bank" he bellowed.
Roka wanted to turn. He felt an urge pulling at him, a desperate and frantic desire to run sprinting down the street, to knock the arrogant knight from his feet and demand that he explain.
Exra looked at him. Her long ears hung low, sliding down across her eyes and hiding them. She hung from Roka's shoulder. "He's lying" she said, her voice weak.
The frost knight's knees buckled, and he pitched forward, stumbling onto the cobblestones. He coughed. "I still have your gold" he coughed, his voice little more than a rasp. "My gold, really. I have it, oh yes, I have it. But I didn't steal it from you."
Gunnar exhaled, his breath weak, slumping against the canine's supporting shoulder. "Just..." he panted, "just ignore him. The war is over. We won."
Roka nodded. The buffalo was right, Brakka had been defeated. The frost knight knew that, knew it more keenly and with more awful, wretched certainty than he had ever known anything. So the cleric continued to walk, ignoring the man who screamed his last hateful, bitter recrimination, bellowing his final attack at the Loser's Legion. "One of your own gave me the gold!" shouted Brakka as the last of his strength ebbed and he collapsed to the ground. "One of your own."
Roka pretended not to hear the words, setting his strength into his steps. He walked away from Brakka, away from the man who had lost it all. I have my guild, thought the canine; I have my friendship with the people beside me.