"How are we all supposed to get through that?" asked Lobo. How he still had the nerve to talk around us was beyond me. But who knows, maybe there was still hope for even him.
We all stood along the edge of the valley, hidden behind the pillar-mountains and hills at the outskirts of the valley. We were far enough from the dead that they couldn't hear us talk, but still, we kept our voices down just to be sure.
"I don't know," I said. I looked to the Avians. "Do you have any ideas? Do the Arcus only get across the dead by flying?"
"We didn't see Brendell fly over them," said Lolan. "I don't think he's that strong."
"It seems there was some kind of underground passage that led into the church," said the Avian representative.
"There was?" I asked. "It's not still there."
His eyes flashed white, as did a few others."I don't believe so. It looks to be collapsed."
Ugh. They had to adapt.
"Can we tunnel under them?" I asked the Dwarves. "Or clear the tunnel."
"It would take a long time," said Tibil, shaking his head.
"What about a bridge? Can we go over them?"
Tibil shook his head again. "That wouldn't be quick either, and then we'd be exposed too. They would pick us off."
He was right. If they still had the Arcus on the job, it would be a perfect setup to be thrown from the bridge and into the hordes of the dead. I wasn't sure we could get away with not being seen in some way or another as we approached, but that way added too many other problems.
"We can go through," said Geralt, raising a sword toward the army of corpses.
"What?" I said.
"He's right, actually," said Hartol. "We could do what we did to save the Gnomes."
"Wouldn't a tunnel be just as bad as digging?"
"We don't need a tunnel," said Cairn. "We can create cracks in the earth to keep the dead out. They're clumsy."
I looked at the stumbling hordes. She was right about that. We had seen it when we snuck in the other night. They seemed to lack many basic motor functions aside from chasing and grabbing, and rudimentary climbing.
"We can create cover," said Sillius. "We can't make everyone look like one of the dead, but we could at least cover the gap in the dead with an illusion. It would be hard to tell the difference from far away."
This was starting to seem more and more like a possibility. Were we really going to follow Geralt's lead again though?
"We can watch for incoming attacks, holes in our defenses," said Kricoo. The rest of the Avians didn't seem to disagree with her on that.
"The rest of us can work as guards then," I said. "The Saurians, Beastfolk, Elves, Humans, and me all have offensive abilities. Let's use them to bat off any of the dead that make it to us."
I looked around at the group. I still couldn't believe this is where we were. From getting attacked the moment I stepped into the square of the colony, to looking at all of these different races and figuring out how to use our magic in tandem. It was crazy.
"Does anyone have any problems with that?" I asked. Some heads shook, and no one spoke up.
"Let's do this," said Zef.
"Remember everyone, we need each other to get through this," I said. "It would be easy to make a 'mistake' and hurt someone who you might consider your enemy. If we make those kinds of choices, we are all going to suffer out there."
I received nods and solemn grunts as a response. I began moving and the rest followed.
The illusions came first. The purple glow shimmered through the air as we were disguised from above by something like a reflection of the ground we walked on. The Avians stayed in the center with the Gnomes, forming the soft interior of our unit. Many of the Avian's eyes were already lit with the white glow of sight magic.
Next, the Dwarves got to work. The bronze glow formed on the ground as cracks broke into the dry dirt. The ground shook and faults opened up. Cracks stretched on either side of us, lining our path and the dead began to take notice. Heads turned and some started heading in our direction. Porthos and Zef took on the head of the formation, creating another illusion to block the corpses from seeing us from the front.
I grew a few vines to swat away the dead that came at us head on. After being smacked to the ground a combination of water and ice slid them to our sides. Then the dead approached the faults. This was our test before we fully committed and entered the horde. The corpses tripped and fell on the broken earth as expected, falling into the cracks and getting stuck. Once a few bodies had fallen in and plugged the hole, and the remainder climbed over the bridge of dead people to us. Limbs of the dead fell to the ground as the Beasfolk tore them apart, blasts of wind pushed the corpses back and flames burnt others to ash before they could attack our core.
It was working. We could do this. Especially once we were moving, we could outrun the ones behind us.
I looked at the group with everyone doing their part. When the first wave of the dead was dealt with, they looked back at me. There was fear in their eyes, but also something else. Maybe it was hope.
They looked capable and ready to deal with whatever it was that had sent a dragon after us. I nodded and walked forward into the horde of the dead. The group followed, continuing the process.
More cracks ran along the sides of us while the illusions kept us from being too noticeable. Corpses piled into the crevices and Avians called out gaps in our defenses. The few that climbed over the bodies in the cracks were dispatched quickly by the guards surrounding the group, and we moved forward. It was slow work, but it was working.
It took us about an hour to cross the plain. It was longer than I would have liked, but it was also surprisingly uneventful. We made it through without a single hiccup. Even Lobo and his group seemed to cooperate without issue.
The Dwarves now created walls the height of the tallfolk to block the dead from the church where we regrouped. I found the door that we had broken on our escape was still wide open. I looked up to the tower, but there was no sign of a guard. Why would they leave the door open? Did they want us to come in?
I looked over my shoulder. The others were ready to get away from the crowd of corpses, so we walked inside. Tibil created a stone door to cover the entrance behind us.
"Is there anyone up there?" I whispered to an Avian with speckled feathers and a head that was half blue and half red.
The Avian's eyes glowed and then faded back to normal. She shook her head.
I motioned for the group to gather around and pointed at the stairwell through the doorway behind the pulpit. "Those stairs will bring us down to the pit. When we get down there, we go off in groups. Diversity is key to make sure that we can handle whatever they throw at us. Stay hidden as long as possible, and if you see another group in need of help, do what you can to support them."
"If I die, I want to die with my people," said Simone, the Human leader.
"If you go in with only Humans, you probably will die," said Tigala.
Simone narrowed her eyes, but she didn't say anything else.
"She's right," I said. "We know that they use multiple kinds of magic. We don't know how many of them are down there. We need to be ready for anything, and we are much more versatile with multiple types of magic."
They all looked at me but didn't do anything about it.
"Two or three of each race in a group," said Rodrigo. "Come on, let's go." He grabbed another Human and walked around pairing different races together. Others started to move too, awkwardly forming groups with people they didn't necessarily want to be alone with.
Tigala, Zef, and Lolan came to my side first. "Is this a good idea?" I asked.
"What? We have diversity," said Zef.
"Plus we know we work well together," added Lolan.
"And I'm not letting you sacrifice yourself, again," said Tigala.
Next I heard the clink of heavy armor, but it was the mustache that I saw when I looked to the source of the noise. Geralt bowed with a hand across his torso. "May we join you?" Following behind him were his two companions.
"Uh, sure," I said.
"You remember Seth and Wallace," Geralt said, pointing first to the tubby fellow behind him and then the one that was built like a redwood.
"Yeah. Of course. Thanks for joining," I said.
"We owe you one," said another familiar voice. Marv walked over, grouping himself with us. Abigail was close behind him and gave me a slight smile as she came to stand with us.
I smiled back. I was sad to see her involved in this, but at the same time, we were all involved. No matter how much we wanted to pretend our world was a better place, it wasn't. The wars and hatred affected us all.
Tallesia joined next without a word. She only offered a nod as she stepped into the group.
I saw that Kricoo had asked Zef if she could join too. And last, we needed a Saurian. I looked at our group. It was a ragtag group of people, but that was what seemed to work best for us. I walked over to Garlar, the old Saurian that had encouraged me to trust his people.
"We still need a Saurian. Would you join us?" I said.
He gave a throaty chuckle, and said, "Of course." He slapped another Saurian next to him on the back. "This is Ferek." Ferek nodded.
"I'm Kaia. Nice to meet you." And the two followed me back to the group.
The other groups were mostly formed at that point and were beginning to look back to me for direction.
"Once you've found a suitable group, remember, stay hidden unless you have no other option. Beyond that, spread out and work together."
The groups looked back at me, each one different, a collection of people putting aside their races for a greater cause. It was still strange, but in a good way. Looking at those groups, I felt brave. Even if this plan failed, we had accomplished something. We had done something to be proud of. And if we all died in this raid, I couldn't help but think that we had still accomplished something big. We had overcome our differences. And if we didn't make it out, maybe others would see what we did here and learn from it. One could hope at least.
I took a deep breath and smiled.
"Let's go get our people back."