The battle had been hard-fought, bloody, and full of death. Firstborn dead lie entwined with Elven corpses as if embracing each other. In some places, the mountains of bodies were taller than men.
It had been a glorious victory for the Firstborn contingent. With the Repulsar Knight leading the way, the troops had fought with almost a berserk fervor, and they had won the day. But the screams of death and hatred were all gone now. Now, only the groans of pain could be heard as the wounded and dying begged for relief… or release.
The hero of the day, the Repulsar Knight, walked amongst his wounded. Many were missing limbs, some had grievous gashes seeping blood, and still others, with the aid of their comrades, were prying arrows out of their bodies. This was the worst part for the Knight: seeing the price of victory first-hand. The Knight had seen countless battles, had witnessed a thousand deaths, all before the age of twenty and three years. Soon after he had enlisted in the One King´s army, his home-town had been attacked and destroyed by a Devout raiding party. His whole family: Mother, Father, two younger sisters and one younger brother, were all killed as the township was destroyed by the wicked Devout.
The Knight always reminisced at this time, when the battle frenzy had left his bones. He always felt the melancholy pangs of despair after a battle. War, sometimes, seemed fruitless and without reward. But as he had been taught since his first days in the army, Freedom was reward enough.
The Knight´s reverie was broken by a rider quickly approaching from the east. The rider was shouting something but could not be heard from such a distance. The Knight stared intently at the quickly approaching horseman: it was one of their scouts, no doubt, but he was riding as if fleeing from the Dark One himself. The Knight´s men continued to aid their wounded, and pile the dead. Some looked up to see the approaching rider, but most went about their grisly task.
As the rider drew nearer, the Knight saw with horror why the horseman rode so recklessly…
"Archers! Form a line… here!" the Knight bellowed, startling some of the nearby men. Still, years of precise training allowed for no pause, no hesitation, as the Archers took up their bows and dashed to form a line where and how their Knight had ordered.
"Archers! Train your sights on the dark figures flying about the approaching scout… there!" the Knight pointed, and the Archers strained to see…
The horseman was much closer now, and the Knight and his Archers could see their target… Demon Wings! Their leathery wings flapped rapidly as they struggled to keep pace with their quarry. The scout, meanwhile, ducked and dodged as the five deadly creatures poked and jabbed at him. The creatures were too stupid, apparently, to simply kill the horse.
"Archers… take aim! Do NOT hit that rider," the Knight shouted, "Steady….."
Other soldiers now gathered near, forming into their finely-tuned units as repetition had trained them to do. They could all see the scout tearing at breakneck speed towards their position, and many felt helpless for his predicament. Some shouted encouragement: "Faster, lad!" and "You can make it! Go! Go! Go!" were heard…. But now it was up to the Archers…
"Steady, men…" the Knight´s voice ordered. The Archers took aim with their bows, and in unison drew back their deadly strings. The Knight silently said a prayer for the scout…. 100 yards… 90… 80…
"Loose!" the Knight commanded, and there was a great strumming of bow strings as nearly thirty archers let loose their wooden death.
The barrage struck the oncoming crowd like a hailstorm. Each of the creatures fell from the sky like man-sized hailstones… but an arrow or two struck the horse, also… and the mount and its rider crashed to the ground.
"Swordsmen… Charge!" the Knight commanded, and that was all they needed, permission to aid their kinsman.
The swordsmen reached the scene in seconds, and as two stopped to aid the injured rider, the others set upon the Demon Wings, who were far from dead. Their sickly four-armed bodies glistened with slime, and their squeals of pain showed the men that, yes, they felt pain. Being creatures of air, though, they could hardly raise their spears to attack, grounded as they were. It was over in moments, as the injured and heavily outnumbered Demon Wings were hacked to pieces. The men cheered as the Knight and the rest of his men approached the gathering.
The Knight knelt quickly beside the rider. Blood trickled from the corners of the scout´s mouth and nostrils. He gurgled, his lips moving, trying to speak. A bubble of bloody saliva formed between his lips as he gasped for air. He had suffered many wounds, it seemed, for there was a large hole in his back, where one of the spears had found its mark. It was a miracle that the rider had lasted this long.
As the cheering died down, the men to the rear began appraising the situation. Many sounded worried, many were ready for more action. But everyone knew that where there were Demon Wings, there were…
"Devout…." The rider gasped…"The Devout… are…. coming…." And he died then, in the Knight´s arms. His body went limp, and one last breath left his form as he passed away.
The Knight gently laid the man onto the ground and rose. He looked around at his men: he KNEW they were ready to face any enemy, but the Devout? Here? Now? How had fate so mercilessly played against him this day?
"Men! Prepare yourselves! Archers, form a firing line from here, to here," he ordered, pointing to an area near a small grove of trees where the Archers would have some protection. Instantly, the Archers moved towards their designated position. "Swordsmen, burn the bodies, and be quick about it! We do not wish to add to their ranks," he ordered. The swordsmen quickly did as instructed, some dragging the remaining bodies to larger piles, others soaking the piles with lamp oil.
All the while, the Knight shouted orders to his men, working them up into a frenzy with shouts of praise and encouragement.
"Prepare yourselves, men, our fighting is not done this day! There is still much to do, for the glory of the One King!" In response, regardless of whatever the men were doing, their reply was loud and boisterous, "FOR THE ONE KING!!!"
The Knight smiled, he knew that regardless of the outcome, his men would fight to the last.
His smile slowly faded as it came to him. He turned to the east, towards where the rider had come from. That is the direction from which the sound came: the terribly deep bass sound of a horn. The Horn of Decay…
The Devout had arrived...
The Knight, like the rest of his men, stood transfixed as the Devout army approached. What felt like hours passed, and the enemy drew nearer. The Knight knew that retreat was useless: the hordes of the Devout could march night and day, without rest if need be. At least here, where they stood, they had somewhat of a defensible position.
The Knight looked westward, toward the setting sun. How ironic, he thought, how much the setting sun now resembled the lives of he and his men. In the distance, the ranks of Devout moved closer... closer... closer.
Soon, the Firstborn could hear the clanking of their armor, and the horrific groans of some of their beasts of war. The Knight had heard of such beasts: some of which towered above a man, but had no legs to walk on. Instead, these abominations drug themselves across the earth, ramming into their victims with their immense horns. Other creatures of the Devout resembled the Centaurs of old, yet they held no joyful or mischievous intent. Wielding massive flails, these creatures sought only blood.
Their blood. His blood.
The enemy approached, and with pride the Knight looked to his men. They all stood, ready to meet their fate, grim determination etched onto their faces. Not a one flinched. Gustav, the leader of the Macemen, stood leaning against his enormous weapon, as if bored with the procession. Just then, Gustav looked to the Knight, and mouthed the words "Let´s get on with it!" The Knight smiled, and his comrade returned the grin.
Soon enough, Gustav. Soon enough.
From their position, the Knight could make out several units of Devout Swordsmen, a band of Greatswordsmen, and several smaller warbands of Cursed. Above and behind the Cursed towered one of the horned creatures he knew oh so well: the Tormented. Its maw gaped wide, revealing rows of razor-like teeth, and a howl issued forth which grated on the nerves of all mortals. Thankfully, the Knight saw no Risen, the walking dead, amongst his foe. But his heart was clouded with anguish, for he saw that they were easily outnumbered, three to one.
After a few moments of thought, the Knight turned towards the swordsmen. "Lornay, front and center!" he shouted. The swordsman nearest him broke formation and came to stand before the Knight. "Yes, Sir Knight!" he answered.
The Knight paused briefly, and then spoke. "Lornay, grab one of the few remaining horses and return to the capitol as quickly as possible. Tell them that our foe knocks on our very doorstep. Tell them... tell them we´ll hold them off for as long as possible, until reinforcements arrive," the Knight finished. Lornay simply looked long into the Knight´s eyes.
They both knew that there would be no time for reinforcements.
"Yes... Sir Knight," the man replied, and without question, spun on his heel and ran towards his mount. Launching himself into the saddle, the messenger departed, all the while looking back towards his doomed comrades.
"Well then, boys, it seems that the Devout wish to cut their teeth against us! What say you to that?" the Knight shouted, turning back to face the approaching Devout.
As if trained in their response, the Firstborn shouted their reply in unison, as one voice, "Death to those who oppose the One King!" Their cry echoed across the land, though if the Devout heard it, they showed no sign.
Slowly, like a machine, they approached.
"The Devout, most wicked of foes, seek to destroy our land and conquer our people! What do you think of that, men?" he shouted again, looking towards the Archers, to see if they were ready.
Again, the reply was deafening and in unison. "We die with honor for the One King!"
The Devout were close now, the Knight could smell their rancid odor from 100 yards, the aroma of evil, corruption, tyranny. The smell of death.
"Archers.... ready!" the Knight shouted. The Archers, as before, drew back their bows and aimed toward the sky. The nearest rank of Devout, a unit of swordsmen, seemed to be walking faster now, almost sensing that their foe drew nearer.
A few short, agonizing moments later, the cry went out: "Loose!"
As the last rays of sunlight caressed the land, the Archers´ bows sang, and the Firstborn watched happily as many of the swordsmen dropped to the ground. A cheer went up amongst the Knight´s units, but was short-lived as they watched the Devout march forward, trampling over their own dead, not stopping to help their own wounded.
Such was the way of the Devout.
"Archers... fire at will!" the Knight shouted.
The Archers began pouring fire into the Devout line, their bows strumming their own tune of ranged death. More followers fell, but onward came the Devout line. With the sun gone, the area was lit in a reddish hue from the many burning piles of bodies spread about the area. The Knight caught a glimpse of something moving behind the Devout lines, something mounted on horseback... he strained to see what it was... There! In the rear! The Knight recognized a Warped Lord when he saw one! If he could perhaps reach and slay the Lord, there might yet be a chance....
"Steady men! Let the Archers do their work whilst they still can!" The Knight commanded. He looked to his men: still, none of them wavered. He couldn´t have possibly picked a better group of men to fight with... or die with.
"Gustav! I want a hole made through those swordsmen on the left, a hole to the rear of their ranks! We won´t have much time!" the Knight shouted. Gustav smiled again, and gave a ´thumbs up´, as if the Knight´s request would be a simple matter.
The Devout line drew closer... now only 30 yards away...
"Here they come boys! After the next volley...."
Another, final octave of the Archer´s death-song played....
"FOR THE ONE KING!!!!!"
A battle-cry like no other sounded across the field just then as the Firstborn wave surged forward to meet their hated enemy. As if in reply, the first ranks of Devout also charged forward, issuing a cry of their own, though not as loud or impressive.
The two sides clashed, the sound of metal striking metal and weapons upon shields drowned out the first cries of agony and pain. As ordered, the Macemen formed a wedge-shaped column and broke into the first wave of swordsmen. Their maces rhythmically rose and fell, smashing helmet and shield alike. Gustav was terrible to behold, his enormous mace actually sending his victims flying through the air to land in crumpled, unmoving heaps. Their charge had taken them through the first line of followers, and into the second line: The Cursed.
The Cursed, with their wicked axes, were waiting for them.
The Macemen had been fortunate until now, but as their momentum slowed to a halt, the first unit of Cursed clashed into them, Axes hacking and cutting a bloody path before them. Many Macemen fell, and for a moment it seemed as if they would break and flee.
"FOR THE ONE KING!" the shout came, and all the Macemen and other Firstborn nearby heard it, and echoed it the best they could, as the Repulsar Knight strode into the fray with the Cursed. Much like the hacking axes of the Devout axemen, the Maiming Pole Arm was a devastating weapon in the right hands, and few were as skilled with it as a Repulsar Knight.
Quickly, the tide had turned back into their favor, but only for a moment, the Knight knew. As the last of the Cursed fell, the Knight shouted above the din. "Gustav! Continue towards the rear!"
Again, Gustav threw the Knight a quick smile, his face covered in the blood of his foes. His leige wanted a hole to the rear, so a hole there would be. Finishing off another swordsman, Gustav turned his attention towards the Devout rear flank.
The Knight looked about him, surveying the situation as quickly as possible. All around, men were dying. Whether it was Firstborn or Devout did not matter: the screams were all the same. But he realized, just as he knew before the battle had commenced, that his men were being cut to pieces. All around, the Devout were beginning to attack each of his men from all sides, surrounding and stabbing at them from all directions. He turned his attentions back to his front, where Gustav and his Macemen were making headway towards the Knight´s destination.
Gustav didn´t see it until it was too late. The beast lunged forward with incredible speed, spearing Gustav in the side with the enormous horn atop its head. Gustav fell to the ground several feet away, blood spraying like a fountain from his flank where the beast´s horn had torn clear through. Gustav staggered back to his feet. Any other man would still be lying on the ground, but Gustav gripped his Greatmace with both hands and threw the weapon back over his head.
The Knight sprinted towards his comrade, intending to aid him in felling the Tormented. He knew, though, that he would be too late.
Like a miner driving an iron spike into solid rock, Gustav brought his Greatmace down like lightning, squarely upon the head of the onrushing beast. The blow made a sound much like a large hammer hitting solid wood, but did little to slow the beast. Again, the beast slammed into the valiant warrior, this time sending him flying backward several feet. The mace flew from his hands, and this time, he did not get up.
Though the blow did not kill the beast, it seemed to have disorientated it just enough so that the Knight would have at least one clean blow at the creature. Bringing his Maiming Polearm around in a wide arc, the Knight brought his weapon down upon the beast´s neck and was satisfied to see it cut clean through half of the Tormented´s thick neck. Black ichor, thick and viscous, flowed freely from the mortal wound. The creature turned slowly towards the Knight, letting forth a few whimpering screams of pain, surprise, and outrage. Just as it seemed it would make one last charge, it fell to the ground, dead.
The Knight looked about him, catching his breath. Gustav was dead, but he had succeeded: The Knight was at the rear of the Devout formation. He looked quickly to the battle. Few of his men remained. The Devout swordsmen had reached the Archers, and though the Archers fought to a man, still, they fell.
The Knight knew that it was only a matter of time. His polearm weighed heavy in his hands. He spun around and spotted his quarry: The Warped Lord. The Lord had dismounted, for they could not cast spells from horseback. The distance was not far, he knew. Perhaps he could reach the Lord before he was intercepted, or even noticed. Perhaps he could make the Devout pay still....
"For the One King," he whispered to himself as the Knight broke into one final charge.
The distance between the two closed quickly. Half way there, the Lord turned to face the onrushing Knight. Arrogantly, the Warped Lord merely stood his ground, making no effort to run, or even cast a spell. The Knight knew that if he reached the frail Warped Lord, his weapon would quickly finish the job. As he closed, his legs seemed to find new strength, his weapon felt weightless. This new adrenalin rush would see him through to slay this one last foe.
"FOR THE ONE KING!" he shouted as the distance closed to less than ten yards.
As the Knight brought his weapon back, as the distance closed to melee range, the Warped Lord finally moved. In one fluid motion, he reached up and pulled back his helmet and mask, revealing his true self to the charging Knight.
Instantly, the Knight skidded to a halt, a look of sheer terror and shock etched upon his face. His hands shook violently, dropping his weapon to the ground.
The Knight didn´t see the attack come, all he felt was two sharp, needle-like daggers of pain shoot all over his body from his lower back. He fell to his knees, the look of horror still on his face. A small tear of remembrance trickled down his cheek. A moment later, he fell forward onto the boot of the Warped Lord, his missing brother, and his eyes closed forever.
The short, stocky figure standing behind the Knight snorted with contempt.
"Repulsar Knights, bah! I don´t think they are so tough, highly overrated," he said with a sneer, and quickly spat onto the back of the dead Knight.
The Warped Lord smiled, replacing his helmet and reaffixing his mask. "Well, Jormund, let us hope you never truly find out just how tough they are. If ever you fought one, FACE TO FACE," the Lord stressed that last part, "then I think your opinion of them would be far different. Of course, your kind, the Jackal scouts, are like that, aren´t they? A bunch of... backstabbers?" he asked sarcastically.
The dwarf let out a low, feral growl like that of a dog issuing a warning. "That is right, manling... and don´t ever forget that..." he said as he turned and headed towards the small group of nine or ten survivors that had been captured alive.
As the dwarven scout stalked off, the sound of the Devout´s cheers drowned out the hideous cackling of the Warped Lord...