Block Breaker #3

Block breakers are short stories, random ditties for which the only real purpose is to write something, anything when Writer’s Block strikes. Quality, verbosity, fidelity, consistency – none of these words apply. Just write or die.

So I’m procrastinating from prepping for writing, by writing… here we go again!

P.s. days later, and this has turned into quite a monster, highlighted this in  the Ah the Corners post, it grew and grew, pulled in research, had a few bumpy changes of directions. It’s still not edited, nor even spell checked – exactly as a Block Breaker should be, but it’s 8,500 words, about ten times longer than it should be. Going to be another post, just exploring this monster. However I put it out there for those with the patient, and ability to read drivel.


Ascendant’s Fire

“Brother!” Kaalem screamed, spotting her enemy across the battlefield, she charged forwards sword gleaming in the light of fire and destruction around her as it trailed behind poised to strike.

Rylan turned to face the scream, he pulled his battleaxe from it’s recent victim, and as he moved into a  ready stance he drew the battleaxe up ready to strike, his gaze looked on the threat charging across the battlefield.

The siblings meters away from clashing, were suddenly seperated by a wall of fire that swept across the carnage between them, blocking the way.

Kaalem screamed as she drew up short before the flames, just then an enemy soldier charged at her, lunging with a lance, she rolled to the left away from the flames, and as she found her feet, the sword struck out biting into the out stretched arm, causing it to recoil in pain. The soldier was hardy though, he switched the lance to his arm, and wielded it one handed. Kaalem feigned a roll to the right, and as the lance struck true to where she should have been, she plunged her blade into his eye, his body went limp, and as she withdrew the blade the body slumped to the ground twitching.

A ghostly figure drew up beside the warrior.

“You did it,” she accused him, as she cleaned the blade.

“It was not time, you’re not ready,” the figure said calmly.

“We’re at war, he’s their general, now was the time. If I struck him down, I could have ended this here and no,” she said.

“This war won’t end here, they sent a small number of troops to keep us occupied, draw us out,” the transparent figure said, “So we must withdraw too, I know where we need to be.”

“Fine,” she said sheathing her sword, “Signal the retreat, but next time nothing will stop me, I’ll charge through the fires of hell to get him.”

“You have much to learn before then,” the figure said, “And I will teach you, and the fires of hell won’t be able to stop you.”

 

The army marched along the dusty roads, the battlefield was three days behind them. Kaleem road at the rear, if the enemy were to attack it would have to be there.

The ghostly figure approached her, forcing her to reign in her horse as it became skittish around the apparition.

“They do not follow,” he stated.

“Good, the men are tired, a fight now would go badly,” she said.

“They march on Ceopetisis,” the figure said, “There they will most likely take the castle, and plan their next attack.”

“You see the future now?” she asked.

“No, they’re just not as enigmatic as they think they are,” the figure said.

“So from Ceopetisis they’ll march on Parins stronghold?”

“See, predictable. We will camp in the valley up ahead,” the figure said pointing up along the road.

“I shall go give the orders,” Kaleem said putting her spurs to the horse sending it into a gallop past the convoy of supply wagons,  then through the troops. After several minutes of riding she made her way to the head of the column, where man a rode a great stallion, he was dressed well and clean despite the days on the road, his small stature belied the sense of authority and purpose he extruded.

“General Posner,” Kaleem called out as she brought her horse to match the steady trot of his stallion.

“Kaleem, my dear, you look a treat, even through the dust and the sweat. What brings you to the head of the line?” he asked with gusto.

“He’s back again, he says we’re to make camp in the valley ahead,” she told him, ignoring his flowery compliments.

The General consulted a map he withdrew from his saddle, as the horses trotted on, “Yes,” he said after a few moments, “We’ll need some pickets to the north, and the east, natural passes there, but otherwise it’s pretty defensible.  It’ll do for a few days.”

“A few days?” Kaleem asked frustrated.

“The men have been marching hard, with few breaks and barely enough sleep, we will batton down the valley, send out scouts and traders to bring in supplies, and prepare ourselves. I know how much you want to chase down the enemy, and we will in good time,” the General said.

Kaleem said nothing, she did not like that so many people knew her business, her motivations, as much as she understood the man leading the army needed to know what drove his troops.

“Right, select some lights and head out ahead of us, scout the valley,” General Posner said.

“Yes sir,” Kaleem said with exagerated gusto, slow her horse to a stop allowing the riders behind to catch up.

 

That evening as fire pits exploded to life across the encampment, Kaleem setup her small tent on the Northern outskirt of the army. Once setup she tended a small fire, and put strong some of the dried meats to soften in the heat.

The ghostly apparition appeared, “Mind if I join you?” he asked.

“It’s night, don’t you stop being a ghost?”

“If I choose to,” he said.

“Then choose to,” she said, “I’m bored of talking with a ghost.”

“Very well,” the figure said, suddenly there was a flash of light, and as the light faded a wizened old man in robes, upon his grey hair was a dull and tarnished golden crown with a large opal beset at it’s peak.

“Thank you – it’s hard talking to someone you can see through,” she stated.

“Much safer for me, King’s don’t normally get to lark around on battlefields,” he said with a rueful smile.

“This isn’t a game,” Kaleem said annoyed at his joking behaviour.

“Oh it is, though I fear we play different games. For me it’s the fate of kingdoms, for you it’s revenge, bloody and terrible revenge,” he said, “But that’s okay, our goals aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“Are you sure about that? You stopped me getting to the bastard,” Kaleem said.

“Funny, I thought you were the bastard, and he was the legitimate one,” the man said.

“Enough!” she shot up, and kicked the fire towards him, sending burning shards of wood towards him.

The man just held out his hands, and the burning shards and sparks flew each side of him.

“I see you are in no mood,” he said.

“No, I’m in a mood alright – why did you stop me?” she demanded.

“Because he would have killed you, outright, or maybe he might have toyed with you first, but you wouldn’t have lasted long against him. He’s not just some meat head soldier, he’s a sorcerer in his own right, his armour and weapons are enchanted, and he had five of his guards fighting near him. I saved you, and I saved your vengeance.”

“You said you would teach me, if I agreed to fight your war,” she sat back down, “So teach me already so I can kill that legitimate.”

“Ah so you can make jokes,” he said, “Fine the secret to sorcery is this, ‘know what you want, and make it happen'”

“You might as well go back to being a ghost,” she said dismissively.

“Listen to my words, words are tremendously powerful magic,” he said, “But it’s not the noise that really does anything, I have decided what I want to happen, be it to inspire, inform, or lie, I know what I want and I make it happen. That’s sorcery without the magic, General Posner is a master at it, each and everyone of his troops would die to the last man following him.”

“You don’t expect me to believe your power is saying the right things, I just saw you turn from a ghost to a person, a wall of flames just parted a battlefield, and I saw you with my own eyes crush a man’s hands with nothing more than a glance,” she said.

“Dear,” he said patronisingly, “I was making a point I thought you could understand. The point is, if you want something strongly enough, if your will is true, then you can apply knowledge and understanding and get it.”

“Okay, so how do I learn it?”

“You don’t,” he said flatly, “You’re too old, too full of bile and hatred, you will never be a sorcerer.”

“I told you I’m not into playing games,” she said the fires of her anger rising.

“What I can teach you is some protections, I can teach you about enchanted and mystical objects, all things you can use to level the playing field between you and your brother,”  he said.

“Okay, I can live with that,” she said calming.

“Very well, listen to me – it’s not about magical spells, they’re catalysts, crutches for the amateurs, it’s about what you think, and how you think it. You’ve trained with some of the best swordsmen and other warriors,” he gestured to the sword resting in it’s scabbard at her feet.

“Yes,” she said warily, “You know that.”

“True, but I want you to remember it,” he said, “They taught you to put your emotions aside, suppress them and move beyond, focus on the sword, the staff, the bow, your fists and your feet, whatever weapon you have to hand, your focus is on it, and the weapon of your enemy. When you are focused, then you must move your enemy’s weapon to a place of weakness and your own to a place of strength. Is this not essentially everything you must know?”

“Fundamentally, yes,” she said, still wary.

“Okay, then commanding the supernatural forces is largely the same, in combat at least. Your half brother he’s not a true sorcerer, he specialises in a few battle spells, enough as he sees it to turn the tide of a battle, to throw off his opponents. He likes to do the killing with his axe or his sword, but he’ll take an advantage if he can get it.”

“The throw, the roar, and the shield,” she stated.

“Yes, that’s pretty much his repertoire,” the man said, “And all easily blocked with the right wards. You’ll need to recast them frequently you won’t have the power to make them lasting, and you’ll need to focus with them like you do with your blade.”

“Okay,” she said, “How do I cast them?”

“Not yet,” the man said, “All things in time. Tonight, I just want you understand what it is I will teach you, and what it is you must do.”

She sighed, “Very well.”

“Understanding is half the battle, so they say,” the man said.

“What are you? King of cliches?” she asked.

“Sometimes cliches are the simplest form of the truth, packaged and ready to go,” he said.

“So what’s the other half of the battle?”

“That’s will,” he said flatly, “Sheer uncompromising will. That’s why I chose you for this fight. All your hatred leads to an unyielding will. You can and will have the strength to meet your brother on the field with sword, and some sorcery.”

“And how I do I deal with his enchantments?” she asked.

“That’s simpler, and more complicated,” the man said, “You need your own enchanted weapon and armour, and then you need to know how to use them, and that will require new combat training, and you’ll need to teach yourself.”

“This is the blade I must kill him with,” she said gesturing to the arming sword, “It was our father’s.”

“We can work on getting it enchanted, it will take time, but it can be made to fit our needs.”

“So, when will I face him?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I honestly don’t see the future, but this war will likely play out before you’re ready.”


“Kaleem?” General Posner asked, surprised, it had been two years since warrior had last darkened the entrance to his tent.

“I’m back,” she said.

“Well you’re a sight,” he said, struggling to find one of his flowery compliments, he wasn’t struggling because she looked worn, and aged since he last saw her, but because the war wasn’t going well, and it wore even on as positive a spirit as his.

“It seems I’ve come not a day too late,” she said.

“I think too late was some time ago,” the general said, “Our losses have been heavy, the enemy has become more powerful than we ever expected. The King is dead, and a fool now sits on the throne at home.”

“I was with the king when he died,” Kaleem said, “He died to save his kingdom. Let’s not make his death be in vain.”

“I’m open to ideas,” he said.

“Well that’s simple,” she said, “It’s time to provoke a final battle. Finish this once and for all.”

“We would lose,” he looked shocked, “Right now it’s all we can do to manage the enemy, slow their advance, turn them aside. They occupy half the kingdom already.”

“You know where that thinking leads, I can see it in your eyes, in your stance, the slump of your shoulders, the torn and bloodied uniform,” Kaleem said intently, “Tell me you know.”

“I know, death by attrition. All we do is make the enemy pay for beating us,” he said, slumping into a chair.

“I can give us a fighting chance, but it will need a lot of work, and it needs a leader than keep inspire his troops for one last stand.”

“I’m listening,” he said as he straightened in his chair, the ebb of life seemed to be flowing into him again, albeit slowly.

“We must make them pay harder, attack their supplies, cut them off from resupplying here, scorched earth,” she said.

“We’ll not survive the winter,” he noted.

“If we beat them here, we beat them everywhere, the remaining nations can work together. But we need to make them hungry, and angry, even scared if we can,” Kaalem said with fire.

“Make them choose to have a final battle you mean,” he said, “They have the power, the numbers, they can dictate when and where.”

“Yes,” she said, “And that’s their undoing, they already know the outcome, they’re having sport with you. Once this war is done, there’s no one left on this continent to fight, they have conquered everyone. They won’t stop it, until the season changes and winter comes, then they’ll finish it. The season is a gift to them, they won’t fear fighting now.”

“But I do… they are still more powerful, and some limited supplies won’t change that,” Posner said, “They out number is two to one, even if we called in whatever allies we had left that haven’t been smashed by Rylan. twenty thousand soldiers, a thousand archers, three thousand cavalry, a few hundred scouts, some specialists, and no sorcerer worth a damn, just a few mages.”

“They’re powerful because they have magic on their side,” Kaalem said,”I can counter it. The King himself taught me, tested me, pushed me to my limits, and then made me sacrifice,” she held up her left hand revealing two absent fingers. “I’ve paid the price to win finish this war, and kill my brother.”

“Your brother and his master aren’t so easily beaten, they control battle fields wherever they are,” Posner pointed out, “Our men fear them, and their men idolise them just as much.”

“Leave them to me. If this battle didn’t have sorcery deciding it’s fate, how would you fight it?”

“No magic? Just troops against troops? Divide and conquer,” he stated confidently, now bolt up right in his chair. “Can you really counter them?”

“I think so,” she said, “It will cost me, but I think so.”

“Okay, where do we start?” he asked.

“Harrass, and deprive, it’s as simple as that, nothing complicated, no hanging around for fights,” she said.

“Okay,” he said rising from his chair, “I can work with that.”

 

“They mock us!” Rylan  said banging his fist on the oak desk of his room inside the keep.

“They are trying to survive until Winter,” the old man said, “And that’s fine we plan to kill them all come early Winter, and finally bring this war to a close.”

“If they keep cutting off our supplies, they might succeed in weakening us,” Rlyan warned, “They seem driven by a new purpose. We had beaten them, their deaths were a formality, and now they are testing us suddenly.”

“What do you suggest, General?” the old man stressed the title.

“We finish it. It’ll cost us, but they’re no longer getting weaker, instead we are. We finish them now while it’s still in our favour. We bring forward as many troops as we can from the other provinces of the empire we crush them, and finally lay our hands on this whole continent.”

“Your ambitions were always too small,” the man warned, “We want this whole world, not just one continent. The cost you speak of, it will mean waiting more years before we can set sail against the others.”

“And if we get caught in a Winter struggle for this kingdom?”

The old man paced around the room thinking, “They are no match for us. Even without my sorcery, we out number them. You have my permission finish this. Find where the bulk of their army is camped, and destroy them. But mark my words, you need to destroy them utterly, our hold is not so strong that we can afford to fail now.”

“I will find them,” Rylan promised, slamming his clenched fist into his chest, “And I will destroy them personally.”

 

“Our pickets spotted their scounts,” Posnor said to his war council stood around the make shift table in the command tent.

“Do they know they were seen?” Captain Galack asked.

“No, we kept our pickets hidden, and far apart,” the General said, “But still, they won’t assume the element of surprise. We need to be ready, if our scouts are to be believed their army is split into three groups, spread out across the kingdom searching for us. They’ll pull them together and march on us, we have maybe five days, seven at the most.”

Everyone nodded.

“Send word to our allies, let them know now is the time,” General Posner said.

 

“Get me a courier,” Rylan said to his war council, “We shall send terms.”

“We never offer surrender,” General Sax sputtered, “Besides we have the element of surprise. We’re within half a day’s march of their camp, undetected.”

“Is that what you all believe?” Rylan asked, “They’ve known where we were and where we were heading for days, they had to know we would come in force, and they think they’re ready for it.”

“But you said the scouts had seen no one,” Captain Mathlouthi stated.

“General, Captain,” Rylan said in a menacing growl, “We have had it too easy in this campaign if you’ve not seen the obvious.”

The General sighed, “You maybe right, your honour, I see my error.”

“I don’t see…” the Captain said, burrows furled.

“General educate the fool,” Rylan said dismissively, “In the meantime get me that messenger.”

“Immediately your honour,” the General said clasping his closed fist to his breastbone and bowing slightly, as he stepped back.

Outside the tent the General turned to the Captain, “Our scouts should have found their pickets, and had to kill them and hide the bodies. They weren’t seen, which means they’ve hidden their pickets well. Lord Rylan is correct, it’s a trap, there is no element of surprise to take advantage of.”

The Captain rolled his eyes, “I didn’t see it, sorry sir.”

“I missed it too. This war has been too easy up until recently. The enemy has gotten smarter and we need to keep that in mind.”

 

General Prosner barged into Kaalem’s tent and slammed down a scroll, “Good your back,” he spat angrily, “Suppose you’ve heard.”

“Yes, I heard on my way through the camp. We’ve lost the element of surprise, but so have they. What did he offer?”

“The scrolls there, read it – I can’t repeat it,” the General said animatedly.

Kaalem unfurled the scroll, and read it over for a few moments. “It’s quite generous, not heard of them offering terms before, not until after they’ve won. We scare my brother, he doesn’t understand, and doesn’t like his hand being forced.”

“You’re being very complimentary of a man you’ve sworn to kill,” Posner said warily.

“Credit where it’s due, we can’t afford to disrespect his intelligence and skill as a commander,” she continued to look over the document, “Very generous, the men will be spared as long as they swear fealty and join his army, except for some unnamed exceptions for crimes against their imaginary empire.

“You’ll be spared, but expected to live a quiet life out of the way, once you’ve secured the throne for my brother… interesting, not his master,” she furrowed her brow, “And I don’t even warrant a mention. That’s good, he doesn’t know I’m back with you.”

“You’re skipping over what he’ll do if we don’t accede to this,” General Posner said, “That’s what has my goat. They’ll leave survivors after they’ve rode over us, but they will find and hunt down any family members of any person who fights for us if we don’t surrender.”

“Doesn’t matter, they would have done the same without the terms, but are fighting for our lives, and our freedom, we will win,” Kaalem said, “We don’t need to worry about anything else.”

“Okay,” the General said,  “I agree… maybe not about winning, but we don’t roll over for this.”

“You’ve already sent a response,” Kaalem noted, “You have been busy.”

“Verbatim, ‘Field of battle, three hours past dawn. You will be defeated,'” General Posner recounted.

“I like it,” Kaalem said, she got up from her chair and reached for her arming sword in it’s scabbard. “I will help you get the men ready. They’ll attack at dawn.”

“Of course,” Posner said, “Preparations are already under way. I see no reason to alter the battle plan.”

“Agreed,” Kaalem said, “Just make sure everyone knows to stay away from Rylan. He must be deprived of battle, left to be a frustrated infuriated carrion eater, picking off those already fighting, or dying.”

“We know the plan, the men are disciplined and driven, they will follow it,” Posner said.

 

As dawn broke over the hill side, the growing light revealed Posner’s army, arrayed in blocks of infantry in a line, each block two thousand strong, and in total fourteen thousand men,  behind them a thousand archers were arrayed, and behind them two thousand cavalry. Swords and helms glinted in the rising sun, pink with the few clouds off to the eastern horizon.

Across the plain leading to the hill marched Rlyan’s army, four huge squares, eight thousand men each two at vanguard, and two at rearguard, on the left and right flank were thousands of cavalry.

Rylan’s army came to a stop a thousand yards from Posner’s formation. Rylan’s army like a well oiled machine began to shift, three hollow squares of infantry lined up at the front, and the lines of cavarly spread out further on the wings, a line now formed far wider than that of Posner’s, then came to a stop. An awkward sound filled the air, tens of thousands of men thousands of men breathing determinably, horses whinnying, metal scraping against metal.

Two men on horse back broke off from the centre of Rylan’s army, and trotted forward to half way between the two armies.

General Posner climbed his horse, two of his lieutenants followed suit, and they rode out to meet the enemies parlay.

As General Posner approached, he could see Lord Rylan himself sat a top a thick grey steed.

“Are you here to accept my terms,” Rylan said from his horse, his arms in his lap holding the reigns.

“Accept? No, I’m here to offer you terms. Surrender now, return all the way back across the continent to your home kingdom, and never leave again. Do that, I’ll let you and your men live out the rest of their days in peace,” Posner said.

“Ha! It’s as I told my men, losing this war has made you delusional, General,” Rylan spat out his enemies title, “Such a same all your men will die for you insanity.”

“All? Breaking your own terms? Sounds about right, I was warned you couldn’t see things through,” Posner said.

Rylan’s face darkened, and his hand slipped to the covered axe hanging from the side of the horse, but with visible strain he held himself back, choosing to just glare at the enemy General intensely.

“You should know,” Rylan finally said, “I will make you eat your words. I can assure you, I will follow through on that.”

“Very well,” Posner said, his face straight, “So, battle it is.”

“It is,” Rylan said, “And not a long one.”

Posner nodded sagely, then reigned his horse around and head back up the hill. Half way there, a spear suddenly yards away from where his horse was working, digging straight into the ground. Posner fought his instinct to turn around and see where it had come from, he already knew, and that it was no miss. He carried on, as if he hadn’t noticed.

He rode a little to the left, and crested the hill, filing in between two squares of infantry, shaking hands, and rattling spears as he went, acknowledging the troops as he went.

Behind the infrantry he made his way past the archers and cavalry, to the command post.

“Parlay as expected?” Kaalam asked before he’d even descended from his horse.

“Just about,” Posner said, “I know I’ll never share your sense of vengeance against that man, but I long to see him dead.”

“By the end of today, either he’ll be dead, or I will,” Kaalam said.

“We all face the same thing,” Posner said, then turn to address the others at the table, “I want everyone ready an in position now. Send the signals.”

“If they…” Captain Lorrimer started to say.

“They won’t wait, they’ll attack any moment, send the signals now, before the battle,” Posner command. The Captain nodded his head and went off to the mirror placements.

“Everyone else, the plan stands and you know your place. Be with your men in the battle, but don’t get caught up in it, you need to keep your eye out for the signals. Timing is everything.”

Everyone saluted with a clasped fist to their breastbones, and without further discussion moved out.

 

As sky appeared beneath the rising sun, a great horn blared out, followed by a roar of thousands of men, and then a shudder as those same thousands of men started marching forwards.

On the top of the hill, shields locked into place, and pikes and spears lowered into place presenting a wall of deadly spikes waiting ,as the enemy climbed the hill.

 

As the units of infantry met with a clash, shields pushed against shields, spears and pikes darted back and forth, but even with the advantage of the hill, the enemy’s strength of numbers pushed the defending army back.

Suddenly, the cavalry broke from behind the defending army, driving in at the wings of the enemy cavalry, while archers fired over the defending army into the attackers.

Rylan’s own archers opened up, though at a slower rate, firing up the hill and over their own troops was more of a strain, but when the arrows came down, they did so with purple splashes followed by explosions that scattered men.

 

Kaalem saw the explosions, narrowly avoid one herself, she grabbed a locket from around her neck that hung beneath her padded leather vest, threw it in to the air and cast her hand towards it. A glowing light spread out above the battle. From then the arrows landed without the explosive splashes.

A protective spell cast, she returned her focus to the battle, she made her way through the troops to behind the three layers of shield war.

“Heave,” she called, “Push the bastards back!” Only the men around her could hear her, but the message passed along, and with renewed effort they pushed against the enemies shields, trying to push the enemy back over the edge of the hill.

 

The enemy pushed back even harder almost reflexively, now six rows  were over the crest of the hill, and a seventh and eighth were stepping up just behind them.

Then a the pushing became a wave, and new figures appeared among the enemy’s line, large warriors wielding larger and strong weapons than any on the field, hitting and smashing against the defenders in hit and run raids, trying to buckle the wall.

 

General Posner directed the left flank cavalry to withdraw, and a flashing signal conveyed the instructions to the right flank. As the cavalry withdrew, heavy phalanx appeared at the edges of the infantry squares, long pole spears pointed outwards, with men with shorter spears in between to defend the phalanx.

The enemy cavalry charged in, on the edges of the square, hoping to break the flanks, and collapse the infantry formations. General Posner’s Captain’s stood with the phalanx, and hacking and slashing with axes and shields, helping to prevent dismounted horsemen from sliding in between and killing the spear holders.

 

Kaalem saw a flash of light, she moved back several rows, and the turn her attention to the signals, she translated them quickly, and using a mirror fired back her own, then she turned her attention to the battle field, she could see the enemy raids on the shield wall were intensifying at the edges, now trying to break the corner, break the lines on multiple sides with concentrated effort.

She darted across the battle field, dodging in and out of men waiting for their moment, or dreading it, men trying to avoid  the arrows from the sky,  which were still falling, but without mystical properties.

As she arrived at the left most corner of the squares, she helped the huddle of men push outwards against the attackers.

“Push!” she screamed, “Push the bastards!”

“Ho!” the men screamed pushing back against the enemy. Again the enemy pushed back even harder.

“Hold!” she screamed, “Hold them!”

They stood their ground, men were straining, and men were falling as the enemy heavies laid into them, but without needing orders, men stood up to complete the wall.

“Release!” she screamed, and a diagonal hole opened up in the wall, and the enemy suddenly found themselves flooding in, Kaalem and several armoured warriors stood in their way, and laid into them with swords.

Then the heavies broke through their own men, growling and cursing as they charged in.

The smallest came at Kaalem, axe whistling as it passed through the air where the female warrior used to be, and then the heavy grunted painfully, Kaalem had thrust her sword into it’s gut through the gap in it’s heavy leathers at it’s side.

Withdrawing her sword from the heavy who was groaning on the floor, she thrust it into the unprotected back of another heavy bearing down on a comrade.

 

On the other side of battle, the right corner buckled as heavy infantry broke through deforming the squares. As the square deformed cavalry pushed harder in at the right side, causing further buckling.

Then creatures appeared before the centre line, growing before the eye savage and vicious, buckling the front line.  Three beasts in total, an armoured big cat, unusual in size at the height of a man, a lizard standing just shorter than a man but with long razer sharp claws and big powerful bad legs, and huge wolf that would spring over the wall to strike men behind before retreating tearing body parts with it.

On cue, the infantry started to move back, coming together to try and close up the lines, heavy phalanx emerged to try and deal with the beasts harassing the front.

It was at this time that Rylan decided to join the fray, coming along side the great cat that was smashing shields, spears and men alike, urged on by it’s handlers.

The Lord started to swing his axe, aiming to smash the defenders, but they stepped back retreating, avoiding his swings, they aimed their weapons elsewhere, many at the big cat, treating it as the biggest threat.

Every time Rylan would step forward to swing again, the line would move back, bowing briefly until the whole line could reset itself.

Rylan screamed, “Fight me cowards!” He ran forward forwards, shields held his blows back, and the army retreated again. Rylan retreated back into his own troops, and made his way along the line, to attack alongside the lizard, but again the line would retreat as he came forward.

“Enough!” Rylan cried, and he hung his axe from his halter on the left side, and removed his leather gloves, and reached for a talisman hanging from his belt on the right. Making a circle in the air in front of him withe talisman, a glow began to surround him, and his nearby troops.

Fear, loathing, hatred, infused the eyes of the defenders, and suddenly the ranks broke, as every man thought defeat their fears, or destroy their hatred. Despite the spell though, defenders still tried to keep their distance from Rylan, frustrating him.

 

While the centre was collapsing, allowing the attackers to swarm up onto the hill, Posner had sent instructions for signals to go out. Meanwhile the retreating cavalry, regrouped and sped back towards the rear of the squares in three columns.

From other hills to the east more cavalary, fresh cavalry came riding in towards the flank of the attackers. From the woods to the west three columns of infantry streamed out,  with a column of archers a thousand strong. Several outriders streamed ahead of all these groups, striking at Rylans sentries and couriers.

This allowed the cavalry to charge in close before word went out, by then it was too late for Rylan’s commanders to react,  as two groups of cavalry charged the occupied cavalry  from the rear.

The defending infantry parted into new squares leaving gaps, corridors between them. The enemy tried to fill those gaps, but the returning cavalry charged were charging up the corridor, and out to the front line. As they broke through the disordered enemy chasing the defending infantry, and spilt with groups heading for the beasts, and some circling around the hill to attack groups of heavy infantry.

 

Rylan found himself walking through the battle field, a battle that was going very differently to expectations, a figure appeared besides him.

“It does not go well,” it noted gravely.

“They have tricks,” Rylan said, “Our reinforcements will be here soon, and their tricks will melt away. We’ve broken them once, we’ll break them again.”

“Fool boy,” the old man said, “You’ve not broken them, they’re not fighting your army, they’re keeping it occupied. It’s a setup, you should withdraw.”

“I will never retreat,” Rylan growled.

“Don’t get grumpy because you’ve not killed anyone,” the man warned, with unveiled menace to his voice.

“I’ve killed plenty… I’ve just not fought anyone,” Rylan said, “I will not retreat because there’s no reason to. This is all they’ve got, they’ve played their hand, when my reinforcements arrive, their own will be quashed between lines and fall.”

“Focus,” the old man said, hitting out at Rylan sending him sprawling, “Stop looking at the battle, and look at their plan, their plan for you.”

“They have no plan for me, my magic protects me, and controls them,” Rylan spat, picking himself up.

“Oh we have a plan,” Kaalem said steeping out from the men fighting around Rylan.

He turned, and grabbed his axe, “Sister…”

In a blink of an eye she had cut off his head, even as an image of her still stood where she had as he turned.

“So that was Kaalem’s big revenge,” cackled the old man, “He told me your vengeful spirit was legendary.”

“Dead is dead,” Kaalam said, her sword raised warily towards the figure.

“A sword won’t do you any good against me,” the man said, his voice lowered yet still carrying across the battlefield.

“I know who and what you are,” Kaalem said, “The man who would be emperor.”

“I am the Emperor,” the man spat.

“You set out to conquer this whole continent, you’ve not done it yet, you don’t deserve the title. Your just an upstart king who is about to be defeated on the field of battle. Your greatest asset is gone, dead, beheaded. You will join him,” Kaalem said determinedly.

“He was but a puppet, I have others,” the man said, “I could have you if I wanted.”

“Never,” Kaalem said, she sheathed her sword, “I am beyond your power.”

“A few parlour tricks and mystical objects doesn’t put you beyond my power,” he cast out his hand and a fireball blinked into existence and raced towards the female warrior. She cast her own arm out, and the fireball vanished.

“Impossible,” the man cried incredulously, “Nothing, anywhere could block my fireballs.”

The man drew his arm back, his fingers moving rapidly, but before he could cast whatever he was working on, a fireball erupted above his head and smashed down on to him, flames splashed out in all directions.

The battle around them stopped as men dived back to avoid being burnt. Gradually the whole battle began to grind to a halt, as men on both sides realised what was happening, a wave of stoppages spread out circularly towards the extremes of the battle field.

As the flames subsided leaving behind scorch marks on the ground, a blackened figure became lit again.

“My own fireball,” he spat, “You think that would kill me? You think it would be that easy? I’m not your weakling brother you can snap off in a moment, you fool.”

“Wasn’t trying to kill you with it,” Kaalem said with a smile, “Just prove you’re not dealing with an amateur.”

“Why does that matter?” the man asked, eyes glowering red now.

“So you know when I make you this offer it’s from an equal,” she said calming herself, “Leave now, return to your own kingdom, free all those enslaved, release your armies – do all this and you will be left to live in peace. Your kingdom will be safe, no revenge, live out your days and then be gone.”

The glower stopped, his eyes returned to blue, as a smile spread across his face, reaching up to the eyes, followed by rising guffaw, that quickly degenerated into an incontrollable cackle.

“That’s funny to you?” Kaalem asked, “It’s that or death!”

The cackle became even more uncontrollable, exaggerated, and with exaggerated acting he brought the mirth under control.

“Little one,” he said patronisingly, “I am four hundred and thirty odd years old,” he said, “And I’ll still be alive long after the great grandchildren you might have had, if you’d not challenged me, die.”

He thrust out his hand again, his fingers making strange symbols in the air streams of black lines erupted from his fingers and wrapped themselves around Kaalem, who screamed in pain.

“Now it’s your end,” the man said, “You will pay for what you’ve done here, and it will feel like eternity.”

From the crowded onlookers, General Posner emerged, and threw a gem into the air, it’s arc brought it into the black lines between Kaalem and the old man, and they immediately snapped violently into nothingness.

“Blasphemers!” spat the old man angrily, raising his hands again.

Kaalem drew her sword and threw it hilt first to Posner, he grabbed it from the air with practised ease.

Kaalem swung around to face the old man, “You may have hidden from time,” she said, “But there’s more than one way to die.” She pulled a talisman strapped to her back, and held it with both hands, up right and directly in front of her towards the old man.

“DIE!” he screamed, as flames streamed forwards, again and again, they seemed to be attracted to the talisman, but when they got there, they bounced off and vanished as if nothing.

Then the talisman seemed to draw energy from the old man, streams of light and blackness poured out of him as he screamed.

Kaalem nodded her head, and General Posner moved forward with the sword ready, just then one of Rylan’s commanders charged through the men, his axe swinging out blocking Posner’s blow against the old man.

The commander smiled evily, as he brought the axe around, Posner turned to the side to avoid the swing, it caught him a glancing blow, and as he rolled and picked himself up, he had to dodge again as the axe came whistling towards him.

“Hurry,” Kaalem screamed, “I can’t hold this much longer.”

Posner pivoted, slammed the sword into the heft of the axe blocking another strike, inside the guard of the commander now, he slammed his elbow into face of the man, staggering him, and then brought the arming sword down across his neck, blood spurted everywhere and the life left his eyes, as he slumped to the ground, the axe falling by the side.

Suddenly time seemed to stop, everything was still, even the magic flowing through the air between the old man and the talisman stayed still, horrifying potential hanging there.

Posner looked around confused.

“Don’t be alarmed,” a small creature said, morphing into a slight elfin like creature just a little shorter than the General himself, “I thought we should talk before you made a mistake.”

“What is this?” the general asked, he felt sluggish and slow, but in comparison to all around him he knew it must be quick.

“She lied to you General,” the elfin thing said, “Well, she was lied to and she shared that lie with you.”

“Who are you? What lie? What’s going on?” the General said, resorting to questions rather than actions, he knew action was going to be difficult while things were so slow,  so understanding was his best option.

“I have borrowed you from time. The lie is that she can kill me, she can’t. And you know who I am,” the creature said in it’s high pitched voice.

“You’re the king, the old man?” the General asked.

“Well done, you reasoned it out… bit slow though. I usually like my puppets to be faster,” the creature said.

“I’m not your puppet,” the General said, “I’m here to kill you.”

“You can be my puppet, and you will be my puppet, whether you want to or not,” the creature said, “I am much too powerful for you. You show promise though, a much better tactician than Rylan ever was.”

“Rylan was a fool, and for relying on him you are a fool,” the General said, “I stand with my people.”

“But not with the bitch sister of Rylan?” the creature asked, darting around, circling the sluggish form of the general.

“I have her back,” the General said.

“No you don’t. You’re obeying your late king, the old fool Dela, pah. Always was blind with his little tricks. You don’t trust her, you don’t love her, what difference does it make if you turn that sword on her? She’s had her vengeance, put the old crone at peace.”

“Never,” the General said.

“Fine, don’t kill her, turn your sword on the talisman, and I’ll take care of the old bitch,” the Creature said.

“This sword is meant for you,” the General said, “And as soon as I’m freed, I will drive it through you.”

“Swords can’t kill me,” the creature said, “And before you get ideas nor can axes, arrows, knives, clubs, fists or fire. Death can’t see me. I always survive.”

“Then release me and let me test that,” the General said, desperately trying to turn, keep the creature in view.

“You will die. You’re no used to me dead,” the creature said, “And that’s why she wants you to strike the blow. She knows if she does, she’d be the one dead. No, she wants you to die, then when this over she thinks you and I will be dead, and she can seize the throne from that weakling.”

“I’m willing to risk it,” the General said, “Release me.”

“All things in time,” the creature said, “Now, what is it you really seek General?”

“So you can offer me some kind of bargain? Sell my soul for  a few trinkets?” the General asked disgusted.

“No, not trinkets… not for a man such as yourself. You are a creature of duty, and purpose, and what glorious purpose I can give you,” the creature said, “You would be my instrument against the whole world, an emperor in your own right. You could be the protector of all people the world over. That’s your thing right? You want to protect people?”

The General went silent, wary the creature was getting somewhere.

“General Posner, hero of the people. General Posner leader of men. General Posner saviour. I can give you that, we can do it together. Rylan was a thug, a barbarian, he sought to bring the world to heel, and that suited my purposes. Together we can protect the world,” the creature said, “There doesn’t need to be needless death.”

Posner remained silent.

“We do not have much time, I can only hold this for so long, it’s already slipping. What do you decide? Life or death?”

The General shook his head, “I’ll tell you what I’ve decided,” he said pausing.

“Quickly now, before I have to destroy you,” the creature hissed.

General Posner could see the world around him starting to move, but incredibly slowly.

“Hurry,” the creature said.

“I’ve decided to tell you,” the General said, pausing again.

“Now!” the creature insisted.

“I’ve decided to tell you, this sword,” he paused again, “Is marked by death, he’ll see you when it strikes.”

Suddenly the world around him snapped back into motion, and he had a sickening feeling as he seemed to revert to where he was before he was pulled out of time. He immediately drew back the sword, and struck out at the creature, plunging the sword into the old man’s chest.

“Noooo!” it screamed.

Kaalem stepped forward, focusing the talisman on the prostrate figure, as more and more magic lashed out, but all of it getting absorbed by the talisman.

“Bitch!” it screamed, the word drawn out for minutes, and then the noise started to fade and then a cackle sounded.

“It’s your end,” Kaalem said, “Die already.”

“I can’t die,” the old man said alternating between coughing and cackling. “Kill them!” he called out, mustering the strength.

Neither army moved though, caught up in the drama playing before them.

“Enough!” the old man said.

“Yes,” Kaalem said, “Enough. You soul is marked, in all your forms. Death comes for you as we speak… I think he’s a big miffed at your presumption.”

Suddenly boney hands erupted from the ground, grabbing the prostrate form of the man who would be Emperor.

“No!” he screamed, “No!!!”

The arms crushed the body into the ground, and then dragged it into the ground, leaving nothing behind but wisps of fabric torn as the body was crushed.

The General turned around looking at the gathered men all around.

“The war is over!” he shouted, “Any who wish to challenge this, or carry on – look to the dead you see around me now. Look to the brothers and enemies alike around you now. It’s not worth it. Go home, back to your kingdoms, we need to rebuild.”

Nobody moved, no one knew what to do.

“I said go, at least back to your camps,” the General shouted, “Let peace reign.”

People started to turn back, it took a long time for his words, and the stories of what had just happened to spread amongst all assembled.

“It’s done,” Kaalem said wearily.

“Yes,” General Posner said, “Yes, it’s done.”

“You seemed to hesitate,” Kaalem noted.

“Long story. That talisman wasn’t so effective as you believed,” the General said.

“The sword was though,” she said, “The enchantments worked.”

“Yes,” the General said. “What now?”

“The king wanted you to be his heir,” Kaalem said, “He wanted me to tell you that once this was all done. He thinks you can rebuild the kingdom, and help the others. Don’t think his nephew will free up the throne for you voluntarily though.”

“No, don’t imagine he would,” the General said, “But think I’d rather retire.”

“Sure you would,” Kaalem said, sounding even wearier, “But it’s not in your nature. The country needs you, they’ll need to rebuild quickly if they’re to hope to survive the coming winter.”

“Well we’ll see what happens,” Posner said, “What of you?”

“I’m going,” Kaalem said, “I invested a lot in this. There is still a price to pay.”

“So you’re just going? Like a dog, off to die alone?” the General asked, “One of the few things I admired about you was your fire.”

“Fires need fuel, mine’s used up,” she said tiredly, “My time in the story is done. The years are catching up with me as we speak.”

“Years?” Posner asked.

“You saw percieved I was gone for two years,” she said, “But the king had me travelling across dimensions, different worlds, hell scapes, dream scapes, even something like heaven.”

“Oh?” the General asked.

“Time worked differently in each one. It took me sixty or seventy years to find death to collect his mark,” she said. “I look young, and I had my strength for just long enough, but time is clawing back at me.”

“That’s awful,” the General said, “And explains something.”

“Explains what?” Kaalem asked.

“Well the King left something for you too,  a single drop of a Dryad’s tear,” he said, it’s back at the encampment.

“He never mentioned anything about Dryad’s…” Kaalem started.

“Well rumour has it, it’s an extremely potent restorative,” the General said, “Incredibly rare, incredibly valuable – and the King said I was to give it to you when this was all over. He never explained why, just that you would need it.”

“Well it appears there’s nothing he didn’t know,” Kaalem said, “But I’m not sure I have it in me to keep going.”

“I’m not giving you a choice,” Posner said, “If I do become ruler, I’m going to need a General… and you’re it.”

Kaalem glowered at him, but her back had straightened, and there seemed to be more life to her.

They walked off together back to the camp, Posner limping from where he’d been caught by the axe.

The end.

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