Monday, 26 September 2016
Chapter 25 - Righteous Falling
And so the righteous fell; blood spilled upon the fertile earth, tainting the carob hue in a sickly crimson wave, seeping down to the roots tunnelled far beneath the sacred lands. It sunk into the depths of Avernus, as the first layer of Hell unleashed its fury upon the battlefield…
The horde swarmed the rich green lands of the Vale of Valtaerna, an army of savage brutes and fearsome warriors, bloodlust raging through their veins as they charged towards the slaughter. Willow kept close to Pellius as they pushed forward into the farmlands, listening keenly for his orders as he yelled them, his booming commands clear even over the chorus of feral cries echoing around them. The armies of Sanctum raced to defend their sanctified home, awoken from their peaceful slumber that night, eyes red and puffy yet alert and stricken with fear. They had cause to be fearful, for the savagery of the beasts that molested their domain, would offer no remorse nor mercy.
“FORTH MEN OF MITRA!” came the call from beyond the hill, “FEAR NO DARKNESS!”
Racing to crest the hillside, a rank of cavillers came into Willow’s sight. Eight holy warriors strode directly south in practiced arrow formation, with might and purpose they galloped towards the oncoming wave of bugbears. Donning glistening steel, elongated lances and faces of unwavering determination.
“Garvana!” Pellius called, “Quickly, the cavillers! The bugbears stand no chance while they are mounted!”
Garvana lifted a sliver of wood from her pouch, a curled small branch carved to hold rippling vines along its flank. With a thundering incantation she launched the arcane wisp in the direction of the horsemen. Suddenly, the ground unfurled with life. The shrubbery and foliage rippled and extended, emerald vines sprang forth, latching onto anything within their bounds. The green ropes laced themselves around the legs of the steeds, coiling up the creatures hides as they ripped the riders from their seats.
“HEAD TAKERS!” Pellius cried, “TASTE YOUR FURY! CHARGE FORTH!”
Growls and roars of gleeful hunger greeted his words, as the hundred ferocious creatures enveloped the Mitran warriors. As Pellius, Willow, Bor and Garvana continued their charge forward, they watched the veteran soldiers fight to their deaths, taking no small number of bugbears with them before the sheer number of brutes overwhelmed.
Willow waded through the sea of battle, slashing out her blades through the flesh of soldiers and men. She dodged the clumsy attack of an untrained soldier, quickly ducking under his swing and launching her dagger into his neck. As she fought, she did her best to end each life quickly, leaving none alive nor slowly dying. She had never fought in a war before, she had never battled in mass nor seen carnage of this scale. The bodies of the innocent piled beneath her feet, her eyes scanned ahead and below, her steps swift and light. As Willow ran forward, she focused on keeping her mind clear and free of the guilt that lingered, when suddenly she cried out in pain as an arrow from high above plunged deep into her shoulder. A torrent of fluttering arrows rained upon them, piercing into earth and flesh. Quickly scanning the surrounding hills, they struggled in the smothering darkness to make out their ranged assailants. While she ran, she inspected the wood jutting from her collarbone. The head of the bolt had only managed to sink an inch into her muscle, so she clenched her teeth and quickly ripped the point from her skin. With a loud curse, she charged onwards into the night, as second volley of arrows pelted around them. She was prepared this time, deftly rolling away from the barrage, avoiding the sharpened darts. They spotted the archers in the distance, defending a clearing upon the horizon, launching their arrows high into the blackened sky.
“The archers will pick off our men one by one!” Bor growled.
“Willow!” Garvana called, “Take Bor with you, I have Pellius!”
Ripping a rolled parchment free, Garvana began the incantation Willow knew as dimension door. She quickly followed suit, reaching for Bor’s arm as she recited her hurried words. As they were suddenly ripped through the otherworldly portal, Willow gripped her daggers and launched them forward as soon as she rippled into sight behind the archers. The others cleaved and hacked with their weapons, catching their enemies unaware, felling half of their ranks before they had time to react. When they heard the sounds of slaughter behind them, the wave of arrows launched towards the Forsaken. As Willow pirouetted under the bolts, she dextrously spun and lunged forward to plunge her blades into both sides of an archers’ neck. Suddenly, the whispered words of the captain had even time itself appear to screech to a halt. As if in slow motion, Willow turned her head towards the man, as she watched him whisper his arcane entranced words to the glittering pale ornate bow in his outstretched hands.
“DEATH TO THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED ME!” a booming voice called from the cedar bow.
As seconds stretched to seem like minutes, he drew his arrow and unleashed it. The razor sharp point of the bolt came hurtling towards Willow, yet time did not seem to speed up as she struggled to move out of its path. A feral dread seeped into her bones, the sink of demise as the fatal wrath of the bow closed in. Suddenly, a mighty force collided with her, knocking her off her feet and sending her flying through the air. Bor had lunged in front of the arrow, taken the brunt of the attack with barely a flinch. All at once, time sped up and returned to normal. The fearsome roars of the waging army thundered all around them, the ominous beating of the drums that accompanied the fierce duergar rumbled throughout the Vale of Valtaerna. Willow sprang to her feet, diving underneath the bow’s second arrow and launching herself at the captain. She slashed her daggers deep into the splits of his armour, a flurry of attacks that ended as she carved her blade across his throat. As blood gushed and the bow fell from his grasp, he slumped to the ground as death greeted him. Once the last archer had been cut down, Willow rasped through a heavy chest and gave Bor a small smile.
“Thank you,” she said, holding out her arm.
He grasped her forearm and nodded stiffly before turning back towards the raging battle. The group quickly retrieved their vials of healing, taking shelter behind the sandbags that the archers had set up as they saw to their own wounds. Willow had not felt the other arrows that had pierced through the thick leather of her armour, their points only scraping the skin. She snapped the wood and pulled free the bolts as they prepared to continue their push forward.
All around them the cries of men sounded, iron clashed on steel, grunts, groans and hackles echoed off the teetering wall of mountains. It was a melody of slaughter, a song that dripped with the venom of blood and death. In the distance, Willow saw the last gasp of a priest of Mitra, his sapphire robes drenched in a violent red. With his last breath he sent a pellet of flame, that came hurtling towards the Forsaken. She was quick enough to tumble out of its way, the searing flames licking the tails of her clothing. It erupted in the centre of them, burning with vengeance, scalding the bare skin of Pellius and Garvana. Yet, like so many curiosities about him, Bor took the full brunt of the flaming explosion with not even a hint of discomfort. The flames had not scorched his skin, nor charred his wisping hair. Before Willow had time to comment, a rumbling deep voice shook the valley.
“AXES OF THE DWARVES!” called the warrior Willow knew as Durham One-Stroke, “THE DWARVES ARE UPON YOU!”
She saw the man dressed in mighty steel armour, brandishing his fearsome great axe, flanked by his contingent of dwarven warriors. Covering him as always from behind was his wife, known as Bride of Father Mountain, bathed in robes of radiant Mitran blue. The Forsaken watched as the dwarven battalion slew their way through the hordes of bugbears, fighting in practiced efficiency, carving a seemingly effortless path towards them. They were no mere Mitran soldiers; they were men of experienced battle and slaughter.
“Send the duergar!” Garvana called, tying off the bandage around her waist.
“Forget the duergar!” Bor roared, racing headlong to meet the dwarves, “I shall take them myself!”
“Ugh,” Pellius growled, following in haste, “Quickly, come on!”
“Sith-Mistrithith, nessith dorr firith!” Willow yelled, ordering Sith to attack.
The towering hell hound barrelled towards the dwarves, a torrent of flame spiralling from his jaws. His large stride overtook Bor as he lunged forward and devoured one of the soldiers in his fiery bite.
“BLASPHEMOUS MONSTROSITIES!” Durham bellowed, “FOR YOUR ATROSITIES, YOU WILL DIE BY MY HAND!”
As the Forsaken collided with the mighty warriors, an array of blood and steel flew through the air. Grumblejack charged from behind and cleaved his terrific blade with glee into the heavily armoured men. In a feral rage, Bor launched himself at Durham. The dwarven swords ripped shreds through his skin, but even as his blood gushed, he continued his relentless onslaught. Willow slipped behind them unseen, as Pellius and Garvana matched blow for blow against the Mitran force. She dove into the fray, thrusting her daggers into the exposed necks of the men from the rear. She heard the ferocious cry bellow from Bor as he plunged his feral greatsword through the heart of the mighty Thane of the dwarves.
“NO!” cried his wife, horror and fury painting her face, “DURHAM!”
Pellius parried an oncoming strike and rounded his weapon with enough might to knock the warrior to the ground, before he converged on the Bride of Father Mountain. It was with a great swing he battered the Warhammer from her hands. Willow wasted no time, racing behind her and swiftly slashing her daggers through her torso and throat. Suddenly, a painful cry howled from Grumblejack, the blades of the dwarves piercing deeply into his flesh. At the sight of his own blood coating his chest, there was no hesitation as he launched into the air in a desperate retreat. Distracted by his flight, Willow failed to dodge the sword that lashed through the side of her stomach. She growled in agony and frustration as she spun dextrously under his second swing, leaping backwards as it went wide, forced off course by the thundering power of Pellius’ mighty backswing. A terrifying roar came from Sith’s maw, as he leapt on the man and ripped his flesh from his bones in defence of his master.
As Bor howled and cleaved the last soldiers head from his shoulders, the frightening call of the bugbears screamed to the east. Brother Nicodemus Getz and the Serene Order were slaughtering their way through the army of brutes and beasts. Willow saw Nicodemus lift a bugbear twice his height, and effortlessly shatter its spine with a single thrust of his palm. Her head span, as the blood continued to pour from her wounds, looking to the others, she saw none had faired any better than herself.
“We must intervene!” Garvana called, desperately trying to stop the blood loss from the gaping wound along her shoulder, “Look at them! The bugbears are being massacred!”
After staunching the flow of the worst of her own wounds and drinking down multiple healing vials, Willow quickly ran to Pellius to bind the bloodied mess of laceration on his thigh.
“No!” Bor shouted furiously, “Look at us! We will be massacred along with them, we must heal!”
“We’ll send the vampires to slow them down!” Pellius snapped, exhaling stiffly as Willow pulled the bandage as tight as she could, “If nothing else, it will give us time to heal!”
He shouted his order to the vicious spawn of Gaius, before checking his leg over and drinking his own share of potions. Willow quickly approached Sith, feeding the ferocious creature a vial, soothing his growl with a soft stroke through his fur. Amidst the chaos of battle, Willow smiled despite herself. Sith now stood as tall as a horse, taller than her, so she could barely reach the top of his head when she rubbed his ears. Yet, although a feral beast from the deepest pits of hell, he still whined affectionately as she ran her fingers through his fiery mane.
As Willow regained her breath and Garvana channelled divine arcana to heal the group, she watched as the vampire spawn and the sacred monks fought in a terrible battle of bloodied fangs and flesh. Limbs flew, hisses and cries thundered, as a mist of scarlet rained upon the field. By the time the Forsaken had regained enough strength to push forward, the last monk and vampire lashed out in unison, slaying one another in an almost poetic demise.
“There!” Pellius called, “The bridge!”
“That is Saintsbridge,” Willow said, “The town is just passed it, over that hill.”
Bor growled, pointing to the distance, “But we’ve got them to deal with first.”
Two massive celestial constructions stood towering over the entrance to the sturdy stone bridge. Layered in gleaming golden armour, two Archons stood fast behind great shining shields. The waves of bugbears clashed against the frightening metal boards, and were repelled each time as their numbers thinned in a bloody shower of gore. Willow watched wide eyed as the arms of the archons reformed at will, one blink they held their immense shield, the next its arm reconstructed and extended into a sharpened lance that skewered the attackers on its end.
“Shield archons,” Bor grumbled, “Quickly, these are creatures only meant to hold the enemies at bay until the reinforcements arrive. Something much stronger is on the way.”
“I have to get behind them,” Willow frowned, “But it would be foolish to do so on my own.”
With a chuckle, Pellius gave her his devilish grin.
“I am feeling fairly foolish,” he winked.
Willow laughed, grinning in return.
“Sith-Mistrithith, nessith ti firith mer di,” she said to Sith, ordering him to distract them by attacking from the front.
He growled his response and leapt into a charge towards the archons, followed by Bor in a thundering sprint. Willow quickly looked the scene over before pulling her daggers free and holding out her hand to Pellius.
“Ready?” she grinned.
As he gripped her hand, Willow recited her incantation and they raced through the otherworldly portal and rippled into the realm, directly behind the fearsome archons. Sith funnelled his fiery breath towards the constructions, heating the metal flanks and charring the crisp edges. As Bor lunged towards them, so did Pellius and Willow, striking out with their blades in unison. She slashed her daggers in between the layers of golden steel, seeking any flesh beneath the fortress that was their armour. A flash of infernal heat crashed over her like a torrent wave, as Pellius called on the darkness to smite the archon, before his fearsome weapon tore like claws through the metal. Bor suddenly rippled in strange arcana, his muscles bulging as he doubled in size. He threw himself at the archon, frothing at the mouth in a venomous rage, blade flashing as he carved his out his fury.
Clashing metal rang out across the clearing, as the chorus of terror and slaughter trembled through the mountainous range. The sound could be heard from all corners of the Vale of Valtaerna, no soul could sleep through the massacre that thundered in the ebony night sky. Although outside of the once peaceful Vale the cold chill of winter had crept upon the land, inside the sacred grounds the atmosphere held a spring-like warmth, an easy temperature that enabled the fresh luscious greenery of the hollow to glimmer all year long. That greenery still grew in rich emerald hues along the scenic expanse. Now though, it laid in trampled mess painted in the blood of those who had lived amongst the serenity. It had been blackened by the taint that spread in a mass of beasts and abominations.
As Willow carved her blades in deadly precision, she struggled against the notion, that she was one of these abominations.
A sharp lash of agony surged through her shoulder, as the thick point of a lance ripped through her flesh and muscle. Pellius’ blade cut the limb from the archons socket, spinning into a backswing and taking the golden helmet and head from its body. A cry of a beast boomed from the sky. As the archons fell, the group looked in time to see a legion of blessed knights soaring through the air on the backs of mythical griffons. The fierce warriors donned in heraldic armour, gleaming and glistening in the fragrant touch of the moonlight. The griffons floating upon the breeze, coats the colour of the brightest dawn, feathers in each hue of autumns luminescent touch. They were without a doubt, the vanguard of Mitra’s elite.
They craned to the west before turning to the east and spiralling low to swoop and slash as they passed. Willow felt the flesh of her lower back split as she tried to dive out of their path. As they launched back into the air to turn for another pass, she quickly ducked behind the walls of the bridge and tore a healing vial free to consume its contents. As she watched them descend, saw heard Garvana’s booming words as she hurled a pellet of flame that glided across the sable canopy of sky and erupted between the mounted knights. Searing fire littered the atmosphere, scalding the wings of the mighty griffons, burning with enough heat to tear through two of the creatures and send them plummeting to the ground. As the remaining four screeched with fury, they soared towards the Forsaken, the ground trembling as they landed in a heavy crash. All at once, the battle resumed. Swords carving their path, sharpened blades of daggers and axes slashing and slicing, screams of wrath and pain. As the claws of the griffons raked their way across Willow’s cheek and neck, she lashed out in a terrifying flurry of blades. In a cloud of red vapoured blood, she tore the life from the griffon and its rider, felling them both in a passionate frenzy. She felt the sudden touch of a sickeningly sweet divine caress, the blessing of Mitra, a promise sworn by the holy warriors to smite the evil that had encroached upon his land. As the two knights that had fallen from the sky arrived by their comrade’s side, their blades tasted foul, their fight more righteous and the power that surrounded their blows more immense.
“We shall cast thee out!” cried one of the knights, “BACK TO HELL, YOU FIENDS!”
As his blade craned down, Willow barely managed to move her head from it’s path, the frighteningly sharp sword embedding itself into her shoulder. As the divine grace of Mitra surrounded him, she felt the Shining Lord sapping her will to fight along with her strength. Suddenly, his look of righteous might morphed into feral anguish, as a familiar blade came jutting out of his chest. Bor ripped it free as the knight fell to the stone ground, turning to face another as his own wounds gushed with velvet gore. Willow tore the blade from her shoulder as she ducked under another swing, tumbling to the right and pouncing forward to thrust her dagger through the plates of armour.
“FOR THE GLORY OF ASMODEUS!” cried Garvana, a rippling wave of infernal ire fulminating from her flesh.
As the wave crashed upon the knights, and the flaming vortex from Sith’s jaw ricocheted across them, they writhed and called out in agony. The last standing knight cleaved his weapon in desperation, his wounds dire and fatal, his strength and power fading. As his last breath was cut short by the thrust of Pellius’ blade, an ominous horn blew from the north. The group turned towards the town, chests heaving in exhaustion. The end of their battle was in sight, the last defence of Sanctum was all that stood in their way of victory. On the far side of Saintsbridge, stood a retinue of soldiers. But these, were no ordinary band of soldiers. Willow fumbled in her pouch and retrieved her last vial of healing, drinking it down as she backed up and watched the approaching group warily. Eight holy warriors stood in practiced formation, veteran knights walking in lockstep, stern faces weathered by the workings of time and experience. Behind them stood four men in radiant sapphire cloaks that billowed from behind glimmering full plate armour. They wore the livery of the Order of Saint Macarius. By the notches in their tabbards, Willow could tell they were senior members of the holy congregation. They held in their grasp identical morningstars, weapons of a brutal design, large rounded steel heads covered in frightfully sharp five inch long spikes. They marched with such cold grace, as if they knew their fate was sealed – and they had accepted and embraced it. They would fight with such righteousness, such purpose running through their veins, they would die and return to their Shining Lord with no regret. From the corner of her eye, Willow saw the rest of the Forsaken drink their vials and ready themselves. Sith prowled beside her, a venomous growl rumbling from his jaw. As the four priests cast their divine magic, Willow watched them shimmer with arcana, their bodies morphing and enlarging with the swell of enchantment. The legendary defenders grew to double their size, their shining armour rippling under the soft fire light that hummed from the Mountain of the Phoenix. With a deep breath, Willow growled her order to Sith.
As Sith roared with sanguinary hunger, an explosion of hell fire pelting from his mouth, the Forsaken charged headlong into the chaos that ensued. Weapons flashed as blood was shed, wisps and rays of arcana firing through the air, beams of red and black burning and sundering armour and flesh. Pellius and Bor leapt into the fray, pushing their relentless onslaught upon the ranks of warriors. With each hit, the priests summoned Mitra’s grace to heal the wounds they had taken, forcing the Forsaken to curse in frustration. Garvana’s masculine voice cried from behind, as vines rippled from the earth surrounding the priests, latching on to their limbs and robes. Yet although it prevented them from continuing their march forward, the reach of their fearsome magic stretched far beyond the edges of the emerald vines. As Pellius and Bor cleaved through the mass of warriors, Willow knew she had to reach the priests. She leapt upon the walls of the bridge and dextrously toed her way along. A sudden beam of blindingly bright arcana craned directly towards her. As it neared she leaped high upon the stone bricks, flipping herself into the air, as the ray seared beneath her. She saw its path continue into the horde of battle surrounding the bridge, the white beam striking a nearby bugbear, obliterating him instantly and exploding into a radiant light bright enough to stun all who were nearby. As Willow landed, she called for Sith to follow and deftly ran along the bridges edge. A torrent of fireballs landed in bright vermillion eruptions around the priests, as Garvana hurled them one after another in a frightening display of malediction. Sith sprang upon the opposite side of the bridge, nimbly avoiding the warriors as he mirrored Willow and launched towards one of the priests. In a savage rage, Bor charged forward, cleaving his weapon erratically in a frenzy of feral wrath. Pellius bull rushed the last warrior, knocking him to the ground and plunging his fearsome weapon deep into his chest.
As their numbers fell, the priests of the Order of Saint Marcarius did not relent in their defence or attack. They did not surrender; they did not stop their fight until every last breath had been taken from their chests. They were honourable, and dedicated, to the very end. Pellius cleaved his axe with the might of the Infernal Father guiding his strike, its blade carved through the steel armour and continued its path through flesh until it flew out the far side in a shower of blood. Bor screamed his anger as the spikes of the morningstar ripped through the joint of his elbow, leaving his arm visibly weak and gushing. Yet he continued his powerful charge, gripping his greatsword fiercely as he propelled it forward and thrust it through the chest of the warrior with a trembling clash. As the warrior facing Willow stood and the thundering melody of steel and metal cascaded around him, his eyes narrowed upon her, his stoicism an unwavering manifestation of his iron will. He lunged forward with his mighty morningstar, as Willow tumbled to the side, trying to dodge his attack. As she sprang to her feet and she leaped forward, she screamed with the wrath of her Prince of Hell as he raced through her veins. She soared through the air and slashed her blades with a strength and malice she had never felt the likes of, as they carved through his flesh and the points fell deep into the wells of his collarbone. As she continued her descent, and the daggers forced themselves in to the hilt, her momentum carried her directly into the spikes of his waiting weapon. She landed as his morningstar bludgeoning her armour and the sharp spikes pierced directly through the centre of her stomach, ripping the skin apart as she collided into it’s base. As each priest fell to the ground, Willow felt the taste of blood seep into her mouth.
“G-garvana,” she managed to cough.
The thick crimson leaked from her lips as she collapsed heavily to her knees, clutching the savage weapon as it sat embedded in her stomach. The sound of the surrounding battle slowly faded, she yanked firmly on the Morningstar, barely hearing the scream that flew from her lips. As the world around her morphed from her sight, she felt her body fall limp from the ground, and the darkness enveloped her completely.
When her sight returned, Willow was not where she was meant to be. Where was i? She thought to herself. She frowned as she looked to her surroundings. A grey barren land of endless depths stretched as far as she could see. The horizon held no colour nor hue of life or vitality. In fact, the only thing that Willow could see was a vast tower that craned into the sky into seemingly endless heights. And to her right, was a river. Or a stream. Or a procession of something. For some reason, her mind could not decide. Her feet moved of their own volition, wandering aimlessly in a slow meander, unbothered or unaware of their journey. As her eyes trailed along the flow of the floating river, a strange thought drifted into her mind. Souls. It was a gliding course of souls. Her mind fogged as she tried to think, tried to focus on where she was or why she was here. She was not supposed to be here. But where am I supposed to be? She thought to herself. A white fog seemed to linger through her mind as her feet turned for the floating mass of ethereal wisps. With no intention, Willow found herself standing upon the edge of the crooning river, every fibre in her being drawn to the procession. She felt her eyes glaze over, her will to think her actions through had silenced and drifted away along with whatever she had been thinking. As her toes lingered on the edge of the river bank, she looked out to the teetering spire that awaited the flow. With a sigh slipping from her lips, she stepped forward…
A sudden tightness clenched her chest, she gasped for air through her compressed throat, as the battlefield that was Valtaerna came rushing into her vision.
“Willow!” Pellius called, his frowned pulling his brow deep, “Can you hear me?”
She coughed through the blood pooling in her throat, blinking rapidly at the world around her.
“Are you alright?” he asked, worry tinting his features.
“Y-yes,” she coughed, “W-what happened?”
She looked to Garvana, who was crouched over, frowning severely as her eyes scanned the life returning to Willow’s eyes.
“You died,” Garvana said seriously, “I… brought you back…”
Realisation dawned like a flooding wave crashing into her mind. Willow flung herself up into a sitting position, screeching at the pain that tore through her stomach.
“Not so fast!” Garvana snapped, “Lord, you’ll rip yourself open again!”
A small whimper of worry sounded from her right. She turned her head to see Sith’s contorted face high over head, something close to panic in his canine features. She smiled as she reached for him, whispering softly to soothe his worry. As Garvana began to cast another healing spell with her hands firmly against Willow’s stomach, a strange warmth seeped deep into her core. Willow looked down at the torn shred of her armour and gasped. Five gaping wounds littered her stomach, blood stains trailing heavily down her hips and thighs. As the divine arcana knit the open flesh together, Willow felt some of the tension in her core relax and unclench.
“Thank you, sister,” Willow said warmly.
“That’s twice in one night,” Garvana replied, a small smile on her lips, “Let us not make a habit out of it.”
Pellius held his hand out to Willow, his smile warm, yet his eyes filled with an intensity that betrayed his calm state.
“It is good to have you back, my lady,” he said, pulling her to her feet.
“Where do we stand?” Willow asked, looking out over the expanse, the black caress of night clouding the battle from view, “What of our armies?”
She could hear the raging roars of the brutes and the beasts in the distance, the cries of horror and bloodshed that ricocheted across the mountainous lands. The city to the north blazed in a barrage of fire and chaos, the bodies of both man and beast lay littering the once peaceful lands of the Vale.
“Our army has crossed the bridge,” he replied, “They have overwhelmed the forces in the city. At rough count, we have lost a quarter of the bugbear horde, half of the duergar and half of our men.”
Willow sighed as she eyed the piles of corpses that lay in clusters upon the battlefield.
“And yet,” she said quietly, “The count of those who lived here is more than three times that number, and it has only just begun.”
“War is not a thing of beauty, my lady,” he replied solemnly, “It is a necessity of bloodshed and death, one that we must see through to it’s end.”
“And the children?” she asked, eyebrows raised, a cold chill to her voice, “They will be devoured along with everyone else. Never given the chance to grow from their upbringing and find real faith within our Infernal Father’s grace. They will be slaughtered, because that is our order. That is what we must do. How do I stomach that?”
Pellius looked out to the town, his mind turning on his next words. The silenced stretched between them, the trembling roar in the distance like a sickening melody, composed of the torturous cries of the damned. As he opened his mouth to speak, Willow shook her head. She knew not what his words would be, yet she was unwilling to risk his response being something that would repulse her to her core. Instead, she recited a passage she had read long ago, a tale of truth in war and loss.
“War must be,” she said softly, “For there are wrongs to be righted, and such may be, only by the shedding of the blood of the innocent. But I do not love the bright blade for it’s sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which I call home. I love only that which I defend…”
“I love only,” Pellius finished the verse for her, “That which lays within His kingdom.”
Willow looked to him, seeing the same resignation within his eyes that she held in her heart. He did not enjoy the slaughter of innocents, yet he would do as he must, just as she would. With a heavy heart, she looked out over the burning expanse of the city of Sanctum. The Vale of Valtaerna had been devoured by the venomous force that had swept through the once paradise. No corner of the farmlands had been left untouched or undefiled. As the Forsaken made their way towards the town, flaming spires now raged where the temples had stood the last time she had visited. The bugbears rampaged in a frenzied bloodlust throughout the streets, looting and setting fires to the halls and houses as they swarmed. Willow strolled quietly as she eyed the wreckage and chaos that they had left in their wake, as Pellius and Bor stormed forward to regain control of the enraged horde. Their commands bellowed through the winding streets and echoed out into the night sky. As Willow walked with Sith close by her side, she looked north to the craning peak that was the Mountain of the Phoenix. They still had much to do before their mission could be deemed a success. It had been over two hours since they had first led the charge towards the Watchtower of Saintsbridge, although it had felt like many more. It took Pellius, Bor and both leaders of the bugbear bands, another two to rein the brutes back under control. Miraculously, they had managed to stave off the bloodlust of the feral horde in time to take prisoners from the civilians of the Vale. For the war that they were waging, it was good news. Even Willow could see the benefit of having prisoners, sources filled with useful information. But as the hollow of her stomach dropped once again, she sighed and stood in her resignation.
Pellius’ voice boomed from the centre of town, calling the leaders of each force together. Willow put her feelings aside and marched herself to the group converging in front of the once glorious townhall. The building was now a ramshackle of it’s former glory, its walls still smoking with the crisp blackened char now coating its foundations.
Pellius stood in regal might at the head of a burnt oak table, clearly dragged through the wreckage of a nearby building. The fearsome creature that was Shagaroth Night-Mane, stood to the side, his blackened wells of eyes consuming his surroundings, his gaze hungrily feeding from the carnage. Hekkarth toed side to side, controlled for a bugbear, but clearly resenting the fact that he was standing in a meeting and not out reaping havoc and seeking blood with his savage brethren. Zargun Arzen stood much like his father. A man of little words, yet a venom that seeped deep into the skin of those around him. Willow felt his ominous threat, made all the more menacing as he smiled at her as she approached. Bor stood tall by Pellius’ left side, blood staining his skin where wounds had been knitted up by arcane healing, his weapon still hefted in his hands. He, like Pellius, looked completely comfortable in his position at the war table. Garvana stood next to Bor, arms crossed over her chest, a stern expression on her face. Those who did not know her would not question her leadership nor experience, she held herself with a confident air of command. Yet after the last year and a half that Willow had spent with her, she had begun to understand the small creases showing beneath her eyes as worry and uncertainty. Willow on the other hand, knew little of battles and war. She had read many books detailing accounts of both, she had read many journals describing the daily life as a solider or commander. But she had never experienced anything such as this herself. So she listened intently as the men and beasts planned their next move. When she arrived to Pellius’ right, Sith flanked protectively by her side, Shagaroth arched his eyebrow.
“I did not hear you approach,” he mused, sounding almost impressed, in his cold and bitter way, “Saw you on the battlefield. Pretty vicious for something your size.”
“Like one of those little lapdogs,” Hekkarth chuckled, snapping his feral teeth, “Delicious.”
“I’d watch what you say,” Shagaroth interjected, eyeing Willow with a strange curiosity, “I watched her take a dwarves’ head from his shoulders… with nothing but a dagger.”
Hekkarth threw back his head in laughter, bellowing for a moment before he noticed that no one was laughing with him. He looked to Shagaroth, eyebrows raised in question. The creeping bugbear simply nodded, the corner of his lip tilting.
“I saw it too,” Arzen added in his own language, a hungry gaze paired with a callous grin, knowing only the two of them understood.
“Commander Albus,” Willow said, turning towards Pellius, “What is our next move?”
“We have taken the Vale,” he replied, looking over each of those in attendance at the meeting, “Now we must hold it until winter’s end. We have suffered a small number of losses considering the odds that were stacked against us. The Vale of Valtaerna is ours, and now we must storm the fortress of the Cathedral of Mitra Made Manifest. We must slaughter every last inhabitant of this valley, and claim all in the name of the mighty Prince of Darkness…”
And so the righteous fell; blood spilled upon the fertile earth, tainting the carob hue in a sickly crimson wave, seeping down to the roots tunnelled far beneath the sacred lands. Open, was the path to vengeance, the trail leading through the depths of the nine layers of hell itself. They would walk the path to glory, and they would condemn all who stood in their way.