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Interlude: Believe Beyond Belief
Two days after the disappearance of Zrosa’s northern army.
Kailu grunted from the cold as his eyes peaked open, a dim flickering light reaching his face, he opened them wide only to jump back.
Startled, Kailu reached for his weapon, eyes fully open he stared at the skeleton who sat by his side.
“Calm yourself, little fool.” Ascal’s voice spoke as the skeleton’s bony jaw moved.
“S-Sir Ascal?” Kailu mumbled out through the shivering, glancing about he saw that they were laying on a rocky outcrop atop some hill.
“That indeed is I,” Ascal mused as he sat facing the opposite direction, mostly giving the boy his skeletal back.
“Y-You’re…undead?” Kailu asked, inspecting his leading officer’s lanky corpse as it sat animated.
“Just because I am not wearing an ornate set of robes, elaborate accessories or wielding my beautiful staff personally handed to me by the Emperor,” Ascal sighed, “Does not mean I am simply an ‘Undead’…I’m a Lich boy, I’ve finally advanced from necromancer!” He exclaimed with enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm which quickly died out, as he then gestured at the scythe laying by Kailu. “Except, I’m contracted to that filthy thing now…And not a Death God…So am I even a Lich?”
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“Meh, about in between Lich and Warlock, be grateful I handed you more options than just disturbing corpse raising.” Zeokul’s voice spoke out from within the weapon.
And as a moment of silence passed, the demonic bound being spoke out again.
“Who you callin filthy!?”
“Took you long enough.” Ascal sighed.
Gaining Kailu a headache as he held his throbbing head, “I…get the essence of it but…what happened?”
“The Demon invading that dread-filled weapon you wield invaded your soul and took over your body.” Ascal explained, “A very high-level type of possession I must say.”
“Oh why thank you bony.” Zeokul mused, irritating Ascal.
“Agh…Either way, it drained your energy to the point that you’ve been collapsed asleep for two days now.” Ascal then said.
“T-Two days!?” Kailu exclaimed in shock, “A-And the Citadel? The invasion of Keye? Has miss Zentha returned with news of Lady Makaela!?”
“Slow down boy, we’re still somewhere in between Abyele and Lahihr, on the shore.” Ascal snapped back at him, gesturing for him to be silent as he then pointed to where he had been staring at. “And unless your little demon friend can pull off what he did back there, we’ve got other things to worry about.”
“Nope, completely out of juice for this year.” Zeokul grumbled, as Kailu rose up shakily, turning to look down the hill they stood on.
He needed no other direction to see what Ascal was talking about, as the moment he turned around, it was vastly clear.
As in the distance beneath them, large ships of wood made landing upon the Sinrozi shores, hundreds of them slowly being grounded onto the sand as sailors pulled them in and roped them still.
Kailu’s eyes narrowed as he inspected the ship’s people, and the ship itself.
“Elves…” He mused.
“Not just any Elves,” Ascal pointed out, gesturing at the ship’s banners. “New Druv, has made landing.” He sighed once more, as the armada below gave out thousands upon thousands of armed Elven troops onto the sandy beaches.
Erikathyr took in a deep rumbling breath, painfully exhaling it after, he set his weary eyes upon the city ahead.
“Have…we received nothing?” He asked Zentha who stood behind him, alongside Pyra and several more of her officers.
“I could not make contact with sister Makaela,” Zentha reported in Elven, “But it is clear, the Zrosian Shinobi’s chain of command has crumbled. Yet, the central Zrosian army continues its march.”
“And from Ascal?” Erik then asked, as he gazed at shifting walls of stone, rising higher as Keye mages prepared for their assault.
“I…made not contact with him either.” Zentha answered, bitterness filling Pyra’s expression at this news.
“Have faith,” Erik then said, turning to his retinue of commanders, “Have faith in our comrades, and family. B-” Entering a coughing fit then, Erik had to hold onto the railing as to remain standing, clenching the black stone as he also held his chest.
Pausing to regain his posture and breath, he refaced them, “Be-Believe, beyond belief, that they will succeed. Push away the worries of failure, crush the brooding of loss.” He said before returning to face the enemy ahead.
“There will be a day of weeping for the fallen, a day of cheering for the survivors.” Taking in another deep breath, Erik felt the flames fill his chest. “A day of boasting victory, or a day of dreading defeat.”
As black lightning crackled along his body.
As his eyes shone crimson.
“Today, is a day of neither. Today…” Feeling his power faintly dim out as he called upon it, Erik clenched his hands into fists, pushing himself further.
Tendrils of dark veins forming over his face as he did so.
“Today is a day of death, and dance with death we shall.”
The Citadel Approaches…
Erik watched as the city was engulfed in a barrier of earth, a dark sphere of stone protecting the Zrosian people within from the threatening storm-riding citadel which loomed in the distance.
“They choose to hide and hold their positions?” Vemmaninth mused as the Black Order stood watchfully behind him, the two sisters Zentha and Pyra standing nearby as well.
“No,” Erik said, as the sphere of stone opened from below, tunnels suddenly forming in each and every direction. “They come to us.” He explained and true to his words, Zrosians swarmed out of the city’s barrier.
The Imperials watched, as hundreds after hundreds, they formed before Keye.
An army of Zrosians, they came out to welcome the invaders that Erik and his people came as.
“Hah, why bother?” Grylrag growled.
“Because, my young foolish hatchling, in these open fields…” Erik sighed, “Within these grasslands, they hold the advantage, when in comparison if had they accepted a siege…Well those almost always progress into the city itself, streets, buildings…corners, ceilings, alleyways, sewage systems. Their tacticians know the Xilfir excel at guerrilla warfare.”
“As such, they come out to avoid slaughter in the shadows, they come out to face us with their full might.” Pyra mused, watching with an ever-growing grimace as the Zrosian numbers only grew.
“And quite the might it is, what is that? Three times our own?” Xavrydar chuckled uneasily.
“About,” Erik calmly said, as the massive horde of Zrosians began forming comprehensible battlelines. “Zrosa, where only the strong…survive. A powerful people they’ve become, due to that belief. Not only the army we came here to face, but the Keye citizens themselves come out to fight. A militia of bloodthirsty gladiators, adventurers, hunters and worse of all…mercenaries who know these lands like the back of their furry paws.”
“This is why Zrosa had no issue sending out their entire military force against us in the form of three armies, isn’t it?” Zentha realised, “Their citizen militia itself would be enough to hold through a siege for several days.”
Erik only nodded, as he gazed ahead, studying not only the gathering foe but the terrain itself.
His gaze passing over the wind-swept grasslands, small barely noticeable hills rising and falling along it.
The few couple of trees that grew either alone or in small groups, scattered throughout with long distances between each.
“Nowhere to hide,” Pyra pondered out loud, “There will be no ambushes, no flanking unless forced…Just a straight up clash and massacre.”
The rest seemed to agree, all but Erik, who once again sighed.
“Look closer,” He told them, glancing then at the Citadel’s towers, as the sun’s light shone over from the other side.
“At? Look at what?” Tevrerth asked, the large warrior leaning over the railing to get a closer look.
“At what you have yet to grasp, at how much you have yet to learn.” Erik mused back before turning to face them, Pyra and Xav being the first two before him.
Erik glanced in between the two, one a highly experienced bandit leader and the other a powerful mixed-blooded drake with eternity before him to live out. “Xavrydar, how would you set the stage for this battle? How would you commence it?”
Briefly taken aback by Erik’s sudden lecturing, Xav studied the battle before them more closely now as he began his try at answering. “The Zrosian’s foot soldiers and tamed beasts are a powerful head-on force, and with this advantage in numbers and terrain they will surely try to take us head-on before surrounding us.”
“And?” Erik urged.
“I would retreat, let them come to us, maybe even set up for a defensive siege at Abu Katra.” Xav replied.
Humming in understanding, Erik then turned to Pyra. “And you, Pyra, what would you do?” He asked her, as she stiffened by the sudden attention.
“I…” She mumbled out before looking over the horde of half-beasts and beasts, then the terrain they lay on. “With our stronger casters, with the citadel’s guardians, with our Dragon Knights and Wyvern riders…” She stepped to the railing, gazing forward into the enemy. “I’d charge in with everything, shock them with raw power, awe them with the continued savagery of our wyverns, deadly skills of our warriors and heart-wrenching power of our mages.”
Erik smiled in amusement at her response, causing no little a glare from Xav upon Pyra, as the Emperor returned to facing the battle ahead.
“So, retreat and caution, versus a head-on push and raw strength.” Erik grinned widely, “Your council is appreciated, it is good that I am the one who decides here, isn’t it? For either would result in the fall of our chances. No, we’ll do…” Glancing back at them, Erik’s grin dissipated into a grim deadpan expression.
“We’ll do neither, and both.” He said, pausing briefly to let them catch on before continuing. “I charge the Black Order with command of the Knights of Wyvern legions, stand back and await my command.” He ordered before turning to Pyra, “Next, I charge the reckless Pyra with the entirety of the Xilfir land army…other than our precious Dragon Knights who I charge to Zentha.”
Looking more surprised than ever, “Me?” Zentha mused as she met her sister’s confused glance.
“Yes, with some quick preparations to make as well starting right now.” Erik said, then looking up at the sky with narrowed eyes. “Let us begin, this bloody dance we call battle and hope…that the weather holds direction.”
The sky was not clear today.
Standing several heads above the armada about him, the wolvine half-beast stepped ahead of the rest.
Wearing a long-worn, embroidered and elaborate suit of armour, highly decorated with fangs, claws, ears and fur-patches as trophies.
Garn Keye, Chief of Wolf and retired Lord General of the Zrosian Keye Military, growled a low tune as he gazed at the storm ahead.
“The enemy comes.” A voice mused from behind him, glancing back Garn was met with one of his many old comrades, each and every one of them also ready for battle. Garn returned to facing the enemy, ending his prolonged growl with a huff.
“Indeed, the dark-spawn return to haunt us.” Garn mused.
“Should of ended their species when we had the chance,” grumbled another.
“Yet that Sinben gold and riches was too good to pass by, be it a lesson to the greedy.” Garn joked with a wide smirk, walking forth further then before turning around to face his people.
His smirk dissipated, a clear stead-fast expression now as he faced them.
Eyes narrowed, as his fangs lay bared.
Hands clenched into fists, as his tail lay still and low.
As his ears stood high and perked.
“Soldiers, hunters, even the farmers. Why do you stand out here? Why do you heave weapon and armour? Why, do our feet tremble? Our hands shake?” Garn asked loudly for all to hear, the scattered chatter ceasing immediately as he began to speak
Gesturing behind himself, “The enemy approaches, our long defeated foe re-emerged from the shadows, they come thirsting for vengeance as the dark-spawned scum that they are.” Slamming his out-stretched arm into his chest then, Garn snarled. “They hunger for our property, for our lands. They’d see our homes burn, our families tortured and torched! Just as they took my son…They hunger for vengeance, but shall we just stand and let it be? No, we stand, for we are Zrosian. We stand here today, with muck in our boots and metal in our paws…We stand to fight.” He growled out, his voice overflowing with ferocity.
“We stand to fight!” He repeated in a bellow, echoed out by the horde before him. “For we are Zrosian, for these are our lands, our homes. For our families, for our legacies! We shall stand and fight. For these rats and rodents come to take it all from us,” Garn turned around to see the storm break up into hundreds of clouds, the Empire’s army forming beneath its hovering citadel of black. “But they will take nothing, and they will not leave. Having entered our land, let us bury them here as fertilizer for our fields.”
Taking in a deep breath, Garn roared out. “For we are Zrosian, for our legend is built upon the strong foundation of our felled enemies! For upon those foundations of blood, flesh and bone, our dynasty rises!”
Taking into his right hand a grip, as two of his comrades struggled to drag it to him, Garn heaved up his oldest friend.
Garn raised his weapon high, a massive jagged great-sword.
And the sound tripled at the sight, the entire horde of Zrosians bellowing for blood behind him.
Garn thrived in this sound, Garn lived for this tune.
And for the melody which followed.
“Go, Charge, Fight, Fell and Rise!” Garn bellowed out, as the lesser numbers of the Empire’s army formed in the distance.
As he himself stomped forth, a stampede of beasts, with him at its lead.
Garn lived for the sound and die he would as it played.
Die he would alongside the melody of war.
As the sound of armoured feet, massive paws and thousands smaller, filled his surroundings.
Joined by the clattering of metal, the cries and bellows.
Joined by his slowing heartbeat, in preparation.
Garn held his breath.
As the rush filled him, and everyone around him, as the wind blew through his helm and past his fur.
Past his wide-open eyes.
Past his widened and maddened smile.
As after a long charge, the Zrosian met their peak speed, unmatched by any other race they rushed forth like the mightiest of stallions yet upon their own feet.
Raw strength within their every step, leaping forth with each.
The Zrosian charge met the Xilfir lines, as long spears descended before readied formations of shields.
And as pain, as all hell was let loose.
As the outnumbered Xilfir legions were met with the overwhelming numbers and power of the Zrosian charge.
The battle, had only just begun.
As magical barriers rose before the Xilfir knights, enemy spells clashing into the walls of mana and dissipating within, as crazed Zrosian warriors continued their headlong charge beyond their skewered comrades.
Through and over the Xilfir battle-lines, as trained soldiers leapt over the shields, as monstrous beasts barrelled through.
Chaos dominated the scene.
As blood splattered, as heads rolled, and bodies fell.
As quickly the Xilfir formation shattered, Garn thread through it, slash after slash he cleaved through Elf after Dark Elf.
Smiling widely, enjoying every moment…
Until he felt something stop his blade, Garn glanced down to find a bright gauntlet wearing first grasping the edge of his massive sword.
Pyra looked up into the giant of a half-beast’s gaze, her own shining brightly as she herself wore a wide grin.
As Garn’s faltered.
A moment passed between them, one of silence and trepidation.
As Pyra finished her chant.
“Lend me your strength, for I am your hound! Draconic Martial Arts; Custom Art; Light’s Shadow!”
As he entire form then vanished from his sight, yet Garn felt it, he felt her fist swipe his weapon aside as it itself disappeared.
He then felt it too, he felt her fist bash into his chest, as the wind was forced out of his lungs.
As he was sent soaring through it, crashing through who knew how many bodies before tumbling to a stop.
Garn no longer felt any of the ecstasy which filled him before, none of the preparation and bravery.
Garn only felt empty, as Pyra now stood over him shining like a molten sun.
Reminding him of just how old he had grown, and why he had retired.
Reminding him also, of one he had once slain.
The same face, the same power.
The same unbreakable expression.
“You…You’re dead?” Garn coughed out, “Myratha?” He asked with wide fearful eyes.
As Pyra’s eyes then widened fully, at the sound of her mother’s name.
“No, old fool.” She replied in common, “I’m her revenant.” Pyra said, as golden light engulfed her foot which stomped down into the old soldier’s chest.
Caving in his armour, flesh and bone, Pyra crushed the life out of Garn.
Glancing away from the lifeless general then, at the silent horde of beasts around her, as their petrified gazes met hers.
As she pulled her gore-splattered leg out of their leader’s body, silent the moment was not as all around them battle raged.
Pyra raised her right arm up then, her gauntlet shining like a beacon of light, as she snapped her fingers.
“Xilfir, Tortuga, Reform!” She commanded, snapping the beasts out of their daze, yet not quickly enough as the sound of metal cleaving through flesh then took over.
As the Xilfir Knights pushed through the crazed horde, creating an opening she calmly walked into, into their new formation.
As the Xilfir Knights now stood in a large circle all around their mages, spears thrown aside and replaced with longswords, they retained their shields as those lay steadfast and dug into the ground.
Pyra stopped as she reached the opening, glancing at all beasts around her faltering to approach, albeit they stormed the rest of her formation with great ferocity. As her formation of nine lines of Xilfir Knights held, still she knew this wouldn’t be enough.
Their leader dead, only the moral of the little around her had fallen, still the Zrosians outnumbered them by too much.
“W-What are we standing around for!? As our brothers and sisters die for country, let’s kill this b***h and regain honour for our fallen!” As the Zrosian officers shouted encouragement, refuelling the horde.
Pyra glanced up at the storm above, as the formation closed up behind her.
Hearing the continued clashing of blades and claws, vaguely she made out the citadel now.
As the surrounding clouds grew in number, as the magic in the air grew…
As the storm, now suddenly blacked out the sky.
Pyra for the first time, now understood how Erik was setting the stage, having rushed into battle without needing to know. Her loyalty coming first far beyond her own life, she trusted Erik with the lives of her people too.
As thunder roared out.
As lightning crackled through the dark sky.
In unison, they descended down.
Spirals of black winds followed down the guardian serpent of storm’s many forms; Xeyl descended down from the sky, forming cyclones of wind magic in her fall.
Merciless, the wind elemental crashed down upon the horde, shredding all in her path before rising back up into the storm above.
Leaving them behind and surrounded by staggered, confused and out-right terrified foes.
Each cyclone had landed an entire platoon of Dragon Knights amongst the Zrosian horde, and as the empowered killers rose to their feet, magical weapons in hand.
A murderous aura filled their surroundings, as the butchers then went to work.
Unstoppable before these mere foot-soldiers caught off-guard and flanked, they immediately became the horde’s new focus.
As rain, then fell.
As blood now covered the grasslands, and flesh, and bone, bodies riddled the ground and were stomped upon as many fought, or just ran.
Nobody foreseeing what came next.
As the army of Xilfir Knights, and plattons of Dragon Knights, lay surrounded one and all.
It was all according to Erik’s plan, for he cared not that they were surrounded…
Only, that the enemy was gathered and their focus elsewhere.
As once more they came from the sky, their wing beats announcing their descent.
Flocks of wyverns pierced the blackened heavens, ferocity in their eyes, as flames, frost, acid and lightning bellowed out with their roars. Each had a formation, five in total and each flock following a singular one of their own.
As each Black Dragon rode the Wyvern at the lead, diving down and leading the way for each formation of monstrosities, what followed was a rain of death.
The five formations of winged beasts followed the path of massacre created for them below, swerving around the circular blobs of allies they only needed to burn everything else around.
And burn, freeze, melt and electrocute…they did.
Numbers, mattered no longer.
As the Xilfir Knights created the exact opposite of a kill box for the Wyverns, like shepherds the knights herded the Zrosians around them.
And similarly, the spell-blade Dragon Knights, created a path for the formations of Wyverns to follow around the central circle.
An unending rain of hell from above, a continuous barrage of assured death as the Dragons merely needed to be there to be followed. Leading the flocks of Wyverns around the paths, none ever got in another flocks’ way, yet no Wyvern stood still enough to be shot down.
Perfectly executed, already, had the Zrosians of Keye lost.
As under Erik’s command, the building storm was seized by his guardians and used as cover.
As under Erik’s command, Pyra took the stage and spotlight, gathering the enemy around her.
As under Erik’s command, Zentha’s pin-point accuracy alongside Xeyl’s wind magic, sent down the Dragon Knights to shape the enemy army however they wished.
And under Erik’s command, five Black Dragons at the lead of an army of Wyverns, commenced Keye’s fall.
And fall, Keye did.