The Host of a Thousand Princes
Part Three

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Autumn

The circle can barely be called a circle any more; more sorcerers are on the ground than there are standing, many of them dead, others clinging onto life by the thinnest of threads. The remaining members of the Ashen Court present for the ritual sway dangerously, chanting in pained monotones as blood oozes from their eyes, their ears, their noses, their mouths, pooling at their feet and running in slow rivers towards the center of the circle.

The blood crawls its way up Seraphina's legs like a bright red snake, burrowing into her throat as her back arches in sheer ecstasy.

The rain starts once more, lashing down on the battle and the ritual alike.

Winter

The girl with stained glass hair wrenches the pickaxe out of her ribs, her breath coming in ragged chunks. She's lost so much blood she can't see straight, but her attackers are dead - all eight of them, killed with quick, precise knife blows that would make a surgeon proud.

I am never going to see Natasha again, she thinks to herself dispassionately. Bloody tears well up in the corners of her eyes as she contemplates the idea, sobs wracking her tiny, frail little form.

Very quietly, the blood begins to freeze over. The girl with the stained glass hair doesn't even notice.

Just like she doesn't notice the bleeding stop.

Spring

"Is everything prepared, General?"

General Northman nods, looking twenty years older than he did before Natasha had given him the sight. The Darkling girl had taken all of his jeeps and loaded her soldiers - Spring Knights, she'd called them - into them. Even ignoring the alien appearances, the general had never seen a more rag-tag, motley bunch.

"Anything glowing green is friendly, everything else is a bogey. Look, are you sure about this plan?"

Natasha laughs prettily, "General, if this is going to be my last act on Earth, I'm going to do it in style."

"Alright, alright. On your head be it."

Summer

Queen Jillian Fury strode through the battlefield like the Queen of Death. Every stroke of her twin hatchets ended a life; every hand that was raised against her fell, twitching, to the unforgiving earth. She had long since left the rest of her Court behind in her fury, her slender form crackling with lightning so fierce that lesser hobgoblins that failed to make way before her were simply reduced to ash where they stood, scorched by her malice. She barely paid attention to the army of horrors that crashed and rebounded from her, eyes locked on only one foe.

"STAND AND FACE ME, COWARD!" she screams, her voice rending the air and sending goblins and loyalists flying from the shockwave of its passing. The storm above strikes her with lightning and she drinks it in, her skin rippling with raw power. The Knight of the Shattered Laugh charges her, lie-tipped lance lowered, and she stares it down as he charges, the air around her crackling with contained energy.

There is a flash of light just before the Knight impacts, and he and his steed simply cease existing.

"COME FORTH, WRETCH!" Jillian cries. "ARE YOU AFRAID TO FACE YOUR FORMER SLAVE? Come! Bring your glory and your fury! STAND AND FIGHT!"

The ranks of the Host part, and striding forth from them is a tall, thin man garbed in shimmering light. His blades are made of leashed lightning and his deep hood conceals a face forged from shimmering light. Wordlessly, he holds one of his blades up, and communicates with Jillian with a pulse of shimmering light.

"No!" she snarls. "This. Ends. NOW!"

A ring of thorns surrounds the two combatants, high and sharp and deadly, just before it bursts into green and black flames that crawl dozens of feet into the air. With a snarl of rage and hate beyond human comprehension, Jillian leaps to the attack.

Winter

The girl with the stained glass hair is surprised that she is still alive. She can barely think, barely breathe, but when she hears the footsteps coming up on her she clutches her knife close and pulls herself to her feet. She sways from side to side, but her feet find easy purchase on the mirror-smooth ice that now coats the room.

When the first of the cat-faced goblins shows itself, she slits its throat with a quick, quiet motion, her strength quietly rebuilding itself as the ice creeps into her veins. She pushes the corpse into its fellows while they are still on the stairs and skips and slides after it, never noticing the ice that follows in her wake like a cloak.

Spring

Far behind their queen, the warriors of Summer hold themselves in a ragged circle, fighting desperately to hold the forces of the Host back. A young boy with cat's eyes and small talons claws desperately at the goblins that pour at him in and endless tide, terror starting to overcome his ferocity.

Then the witch-light comes, lining the knights of Wrath in an emerald glow. Confused, the goblins pull back and the battle lulls as neither side knows what is going on.

"Is that...music?" the young boy asks.

From out of the fog and haze of the rain, both sides see a formation of tanks and jeeps drive slowly towards the battle. One of the tanks has a massive sound system strapped to the outside, from which the Ride of the Valkyries plays at ear-splitting volumes. And standing atop the barrel of the combat armor is Natasha, curved saber drawn and in hand. The Darkling grins like a mad thing as her fellow Spring courtiers whoop and holler battle cries. A slight distance away, the whup-whup-whup of combat choppers can be heard over the music.

Natasha seizes a microphone, her voice being projected over the sounds of Wagner as she addresses the mortals she has conscripted and the flagging warriors of Summer.

"HO LA, OHDIN! HAAKA PALLE!"

The tanks fire smoke and death, and a mighty battle cry comes up from the invincible ranks of Summer. Their counter-charge crashes into the Host like the blow of Mjolnir itself.

Summer

The thorns blaze bright, but not as brightly as the clash of magic and steel within them. Whenever blade meets axe, the resulting explosion of lightning strobes sheer power out into the raging battle around them, incinerating unwary hobgoblins and lighting the darkening sky with thunderous cracks. Jillian's opponent is silent, and the Queen of Wrath's own voice is an unending shriek of hate and pain, a fury that carries her without care, without fear, and without pain to hack and slash at the flickering target before her, no matter how many times he dances away.

Time and again the Gentry tries to use his magics against Jillian, only to feel his power over light and lightning blocked and drained away by her counter-magics. He grows desperate as her hungry axes, their heads made from hand-forged iron, get closer and closer to him. He does the only thing he can think to do - he becomes living lightning.

Too late he realizes his mistake. The raging berserker before him is suddenly the picture of calm collection as her Contracts wrestle with his new form. Desperately he pleads with Lightning, begs its intercession, offers it boons, but to no avail: Jillian has made it deaf to his pleas, and now she has utter control of his form. He has just enough time to beg her for mercy in vain before she discorporates his essence, scattering him to the four winds. The ring of thorns vanishes, blowing away as ash on the breeze and letting Jillian see the chaos of battle unleashed all around her. A Sidewinder missile streaks just past her and blows apart a squad of privateers with iron manacles. Green witch-flame lights the Queen of Summer as she stands, panting and exhausted.

Jillian smiles to herself and charges.