Invasion Part 2
Morning everyone! We're picking up from last week. I set this up in more of a story format rather than a narrative. These are all highlights from the war. Next week Will finish these series of posts. If you like what you've read please share it or subscribe :)
Lantros fought to catch his breath. His lungs burned, as if he had swallowed hot coals. He looked at the rest of the Legion, they were worn, haggard, some of them broken with despair showing on their faces. It pained him to witness such a sight.
They had fought well, so much had been expected, but he knew more was about to be asked of them. Lantros searched for the words, for something to muster them from the bottom from his heart, but it felt empty. All he found was disgrace and shame. His heart ached for wounded, moreover it wept for those they had been forced to leave behind. How can I even justify this? Even if there had been no choice, it felt like hollow, weak and inexcusable.
“Qen’ter’inth?” Lantros looked up. The soldier speaking was young, perhaps only a hundred winters. By his rank he was a Neith’en, an impressive achievement for his age. “I know it is not my place to say, our stations are vastly different, but I wanted you to know that did all you could.”
Landros stared him, he felt his mouth move, but was too stunned to utter the words. In his heart, somehow, he found his courage. Perhaps The Lady had sent this boy as a reminder of what had been accomplished. The call to retreat was the only reason they were still alive.
“Neith’en, what is your name?” he asked.
The young soldier looked back. “Akallis Lan’dorthan, son of Qas’losin Lan’dorthan,” he replied.
Surprise washed over him. “Our stations are far removed, Neith’en,” he replied.
Akallis expression went blank. “I am not nobility. I have given up such notions,” he replied. “I am Shay’lin, my blood is no different than yours, birth is meaningless.” He stretched out his bandaged arms. I have bled,” he said, “the same color blood as you. The blood in these veins is the same as my kin around me.”
“You are more noble than you give yourself credit for, Neith’en,” Landros replied. “We won’t have much time, so I want you to take a small contingent and help get the wounded to safety.”
“What about the others?” Akallis asked.
Landros looked out at his Legion. There were perhaps a thousand remaining, with an untold more wounded. The surviving druids were already tending to them. The Dak’ren wouldn’t wait long once The Breach was reinforced.
“We will withdraw deeper into The Wood and reinforce our position,” Lantros replied. “We know these woods, the Dak’ren will not have an open field to maneuver in as they have before. Reinforcements are on the way, we just need to prepare.”
“Then may The Lady guide your path,” Akallis said, placing his hand over his heart and bowing.
“And yours as well,” Landros replied.
“My Queen, I have news.” Anishar looked up from the city far below. Amid the gloom of The Wood, Serishune shone brightly. Thousands of lights lay below her, like multi-hued fireflies. She turned away from the balcony and stepped into the main chamber.
“Speak, have we held The Breach?” she asked. The Steward averted his eyes. Her heart sank.
“My Queen, the Legion fought valiantly, but the Dak’ren were able to reinforce their position before our own forces could arrive,” he said. “ Both sides have suffered heavy casualties, but enemy reinforcements made up the difference. The Dak’ren have The Breach.”
“Pull our forces from the north,” she commanded. “The Dak’ren struggle with the cold. Have you word of Qen’ter’inth Lantros?”
“We received word from the Third Legion. They are assisting him with reinforcing their current position,” The Steward replied. “Lantros believes they have the advantage. Moving large numbers of troops through The Wood will only make them more vulnerable.”
Anishar turned her attention from him and toward the chamber. His assessment was correct. She stared at the long table in front of her. Several points on the map had already been marked as key choke points. The main roads would be the best way to travel, thought dangerous without wards.
The Wood would take its tally. If not the plants, then the animals would have their fill. The thoughts gave her a small sense of hope. She gazed at the tapestries hanging about. Many showed the kings and queens that had come before her, others depicting great landscapes or far way places.
Anishar thought about those places, the human lands to the south, the Berisan Steppes to the east. Places now gone or changed by the Dak’ren. Places that never would be again. Soft laughter echoed in the chamber and she looked up toward the grand double doors of the dining hall.
“Oh my, so many deep thoughts.”
The woman was dressed in a bright green gown, with a long train behind it. She wore a silk shawl around her shoulders and her hair was pulled up in a bun. Her eyes were emerald green and impossible color for a Shay’lin.
“How dare you!” Anishar replied. “No one permitted here.”
“Oh, but that is where you wrong,” the woman replied. “In my forest, I am permitted anywhere.”
Anishar suddenly felt overcome with dread, her instincts screaming for her to run. The Steward collapsed, falling unconscious. It was as if the woman’s very presence, was lashing out at them both. “Who are you?”
“My name,” she laughed. “You could not pronounce it is you tried. Names however are unimportant, my offer however, is.”
Anishar eyed her suspiciously. Her instincts were still screaming. Whatever this she was, this woman was not Shay’lin. “I have no interest in making deals with an Ill’shea.”
“A demon? Anishar you wound me,” the woman replied. “I am far from demon, I am your salvation.”
Anishar tried to back away, but fear kept her in place. “Salvation?” she replied. “You have the power to eliminate our enemies?”
“I have means,” the woman corrected. “You have the power.”
“Then speak not in riddles!” Anishar shouted. “Time is short, our enemies will not stop until they have slayed us all.”
“If I help you or rather if I extend my offer, then I require something in return,” she replied.
There is always a price. “What do you want?”
“A favor of my choosing at a point when I am ready to invoke it.”
This was too much, it was obvious she was powerful, but Anishar knew she simply couldn’t leave a promise so open ended. There was no telling what she might ask for. “No,” Anishar said. “I cannot allow myself to make such a commitment.
The woman laughed. “Of course you cannot, but you will,” she said. “No matter what, sooner or later you will. The world is changing, and I for one would prefer your people to be here to see it.” She stepped toward the balcony and gazed at the city below. “I will give you time to consider the offer, but decide quickly before your kingdom burns.”
Anishar blinked and the woman was gone. Could she really save us? Her offer was tempting if it were true, but at what price. Anishar shook her head. No, We will stand on our own, we will not give in to our enemies.
His arms felt like iron, his breath labored. The line held and their enemies had pulled back. The war trolls were used to an open field, not the thick underbrush and uneven terrain. Their large frames made them clumsy and they struggled to make use of their large weapons within the dense foliage.
Lantros scanned the battlefield, the Dak’ren had suffered more losses today. Scores of dead war trolls lay scattered about. Their bodies dismembered and burnt. After months of fighting, they had finally learned how to kill the brutes.
He felt a small sense of hope, it began as a brief ember, then burned like a fire coming to life. Even as slaves, they had learned the trolls a caste system. The Reds were the brutes, stupid, bloodthirsty and brutal. They were carnage incarnate, he had no other description for it.
Then there were the Yellows, they were fewer in number, but seemed to lead the Reds, like a pack alpha. They were smarter, no cunning was a better description. This is where their brutality shined. They used this cunning to direct the Reds efficiently. Harnessing their malice and love of slaughter like a painter working a canvas.
Then there were Browns, Lantros had only ever seen a few of them on field. They were different, he had no other way to put it. While appearing physically weaker than the others, they were smart and cunning. The other trolls feared them.
The Browns were like El’ann, leading small groups under their command, taking their strengths into account and applying them to a greater effect. In the Battle of the Breach, they had only seen the Reds and Yellows. But here in The Wood was when the Browns first took to the field.
“Akallis, Report,” he shouted.
The young Neith’en looked up after he finished bandaging his arm. “The walls around the town are stable, mostly. There are factures along the southern perimeter though,” he replied. “We killed many of them, but I fear we are only buying time.”
Lantros nodded and turned his attention to the entrenchments and spiked barricades laid out to hinder an advance on the main gate. Bodies lay everywhere, many of them trolls, with few shadow orcs and orcs. Among those were a handful of rank and file Dak’ren.
“What of the Bladedancers of House Silvaren?” he asked.
“Injured, but well,” Akallis replied. “The trolls seem to be looking for them, I find it frightening, but not as much as how the Bladedancers seem to hunt for them as well.”
“Then we will use them as bait,” Landros replied. Akallis looked horrified.
“If they fall, we will lose our most powerful assets,” he said.
Lantros could hear it in the young Neith’en’s voice. To his own surprise, Lantros felt nothing for his decision. Is this what I have become? “What choice do we have?” he replied. “They can easily kill the trolls better than we. The trolls see them as a challenge, we can manipulate that and make it our greatest weapon.”
His eyes spoke volumes. He was reluctant and afraid. So many towns had already fallen, so many villages burned to ash. So many more dead. The dark army seemed endless. How many millennia had they been preparing for this?
A long haunting horn blew form deep within The Wood, the air grew heavy. Lantros looked at Akallis, he was just worried. “Call the Bladedancers!”
Akkallis grabbed the horn hanging from his belt and blew. Within moments, seventy blade dancers burst from the gate taking positions along the barricades with the rest of his soldiers. “I would kill for a High Magus right now.”
“So would I, but these days they are in short supply,” Lantros replied. “House Erandal’s main college was lost two months ago. It was said the battle was not this world. Shadowmacers, High Magus, Magus, and anyone with an ounce of magical prowess had fought that day. It was said that anyone without talent died almost instantly from the energies cascading through the air.”
Amid the gloom, hundreds of pairs eyes appeared like fireflies. At first, Lantros thought they had summoned more Ill’shea, almost laughing in relief. They had tried an assault a week ago with the same tactics, but the demons were vaporized by the wards protecting the town the moment they crossed the threshold.
His heart sank however, when he realized it was not demons but more trolls. More than he had imagined they were willing to send. It was then he saw a troll larger and much different the others. His skin was black as night, with white lines running through it like veins. It was hard to tell if it were natural or tattoos.
His eyes though, there was fire in them; a spark of intelligence that he had not seen in the others. With him there were two other trolls, each with green skin. All three were clad in heavy plated armor. There were inscriptions etched into the armor of each.
When the troll though, he knew the worst was coming. “Pointed ones,” he said. “You fight well and you die well. Our masters have granted us this place to do with as we wish.” He stepped forward, red eyes fixated on the barricades.
“Send me your best, send me your leader,” he began to shout. “Should he slay me, then we will leave. Should he die, then we will feast.”
He caught Akallis’ gaze, the young Neith’en was shaking his head. It was strange, Lantros felt hopeful. They had a chance to end this battle and judging by the numbers, it would be the only they would be given.
He slowly started to move from where he was crouched, when Akallis suddenly rushed past him. Lantros felt his knees buckle from the shock as the young soldier called out to the monster.
“I lead them,” he shouted. “I am Qen’ter’inth Akallis Lan’dorthan, son of Qas’losin Lan’dorthan who sits upon The Court.”
The black troll laughed. “I know this rank it means ‘Commander’,” he said. “I know your name as well,” he added. “We are taught who the leaders of your people are. To think I get to slay a son!” He stood to his full height, the black troll was easily twice Akallis’ size.
“Confidence or is it arrogance?” Akallis asked. Lantros started to move again, but someone grabbed his shoulder. He turned, seeing it was one of the Bladedancers.
“No, he has made his choice,” the Bladedancer said. “He respects you and sees your value. For him, there is no greater honor than dying so that his brother in arms might live.”
Lantros looked on as one of the green trolls handed their leader the largest claymore he had ever seen. Akallis drew his blade and the two began to close the distance between them. “Great Lady, if you have any mercy in your heart, please let my friend live,” he whispered.
Akallis crept closer, longsword ready. His nerves were frayed and his arm still hurting from his wound. The brute was so much bigger up close. There would no way to parry, his arm would break from the force of the blow.
Avoiding his enemy was the only option. Hamstringing his opponent and focusing on the tendons behind the heels and knees were his best bet. He would have to move quickly though. The War Troll would heal fast.
“So timid, like a small human child,” the black troll taunted. “Come now boy, a warrior doesn’t fear his death. He embraces it, he looks forward to it.”
“I see no warriors here,” Akallis replied. “Only butchers and monsters.” The black trolls eyes grew hard. He screamed then suddenly charged. The black moved so quickly, surprisingly so. The troll’s claymore came inches from cleaving him into two as he dodged.
He quickly got to his feet, leaning back, the great blade narrowly passing right over him. Akallis whirled around as he avoided the strike, his sword arm out in a wide arc. By sheer luck he managed to clip the black troll’s wrist just above his gauntlet.
The long sword cut into the joint, the black troll crying out, the claymore slipping from his grasp. Akallis took a defensive stance, the air thick with the smell of something burning. He noted where the trolls blood had fallen, it was like a dark ichor, the plants and vegetation were being dissolved as if touched by acid. He noted where the troll was cradling his wrist, his plated gauntlets had also been eaten away.
What have our dark cousins created?
The black troll laughed. “So the child has a bite, despite his fear,” he said. “Good, then I shall take you with my bare hands!”
The troll came at him, but this time Akallis was more prepared. He deftly dodged the black troll’s attacks, using the brute’s size to his advantage. Through it all the monster was smiling as if all of this were some great game.
He slashed at the weak points in the armor’s joints, allowing the troll’s toxic blood to eat away at the rest before he healed. Eventually, the tendons behind his legs were exposed. The effort and precision was exhausting however. His lungs burned, his arms and legs feeling like lead.
His enemy however seemed to show little in the way of fatigue. It was then that an idea struck him. “Great chief,” Akallis said. “Armor is useless and for show, let us meet each other as warriors should. Let us shed these shells in favor of our flesh.”
A dark smile lined the black troll’s face and he laughed. “Agreed!” he shouted. “Such sport should be done this way!” he turned, muttering something to the greens standing away at a distance. The trio seemed reluctant at first, but after a series of harsh guttural syllables they quickly lowered their eyes and moved in to assist him.
“Go little elf, go and have your servants peel that shell you wear off,” he said. “No tricks however, if you bring any other weapon than what you now hold, this village will burn.”
“Agreed,” he replied.
He walked over toward the barricades catching sight of Lantros who had stepped out to greet him. “Are you mad?” he asked. “No armor?”
“With or without it, that brute is too strong, I may as well be wearing parchment for protection,” Akallis replied. “I could feel the force behind his swing when he held the claymore. If I am hit even once, I’m as good as dead from the second blow.”
“So what is your plan, my friend,” Lantros asked.
“Now we learn about our enemy. We have already seen deeper into their command structure and how they think,” he replied. “The more we learn, the stronger we become.”
Lantros nodded. “I agree, but just do not die, my friend,” he said.
“Against that monster, I make no promises,” Akallis replied, reaching for one of the straps holding his armor on. “Now help me out of this before our host gets impatient.”
The two of them quickly worked to remove his chainmail, Akallis had to admit that he was a bit lighter on his feet without it. He looked back at the troll chieftain, he wore nothing more than a simple pair of cloth pants. Without his armor, he was more intimidating. This breed had truly been bred for fighting.
Line the lines running through his skin, white tattoo’s adorned his chest. These markings were strange, almost as if there was some rudimentary arcane principle woven into them. Akallis didn’t know magic well, but his instincts said there was more to the tattoos.
His plan had worked though, the black troll was more vulnerable now and easier to strike. He was able to catch his breath too, his body feeling less weighed down from fatigue. He stepped closer, the black troll’s grin wide as ever.
“I may not kill you, elf,” he said. “You are the only one of your people to show a spine. I think I might make you my pet instead.”
“Some creatures can never be tamed,” Akallis commented. “Sometimes they bite the hand that feeds them.”
The black troll laughed. “Are you certain you want to bite this hand?” he asked and shockingly took his hand into his large mouth and bit down on it. His dark blood poured from the wound as he let it bleed out.
He flung his hand out, Akallis narrowly avoiding being splattered. The black troll simply laughed. “This will be a good fight, you are faster without your armor,” he smiled. “Your sword is interesting too, it does not melt like other metals.”
“Asinium,” Akallis replied. “It is a very resilient metal.” If they only knew. Asinium was one of the kingdom’s most valuable resources. It was the reason they were fighting so hard to protect Aerisan.
“I think I will keep you alive,” the black troll replied. “I must know more.”
“You can try, brute,” he replied. “But I will find a way to kill you before then.” The black troll laughed and then charged.
He was quicker well without his armor. He kept trying to use his wounded hand to fling his blood onto Akallis. The flow of blood had lessened, his hand was healing quickly. Akallis again positioned himself close, making it hard on the black troll to maneuver.
He managed to clip him along his exposed legs, the troll’s toxic blood eating away at his cloth pants. The brute didn’t slow much, and his wounds seemed to be healing faster the more excited he became. Akallis knew he had to do something quickly, eventually he would tire before his enemy.
In a gamble he dove between the brute’s legs, quickly coming to his feet and cutting deeply into the tendons behind the black troll’s knee. The brute toppled and he quickly came around at the other.
The young soldier then jumped on the black troll’s back as he fell forward, angling his longsword toward the base of the brute’s skull. The troll was quicker, and shifted his weight rolling onto his back. Akallis lost his balance and tumbled in the opposite direction landing on his.
He glanced over at his enemy laying just a few feet from him. The black troll seemed angry, but he was still smiling. “Someone finally has a spine,” he laughed and slowly pulled himself to his knees.
Akallis sprang to his feet, leveling his longsword defensively. The black troll stood, his legs wobbling, the tendons were healing. The brute would be off balance a little longer. He charged in, changing the angle of his sword, dropping it low.
The black reacted, but he was too slow. Just keeping his balance was keeping all his concentration. Akallis whirled around, his blade spinning out in a wide arc as he avoided the blow. He heard a loud scream, followed by a sharp thud. He didn’t stop though, he felt his longsword bite into the black troll and heard him scream again.
He turned, seeing the brute on his knees, using his right arm for support. The black troll’s left hand lay severed just a few paces from its owner. The troll’s side had been cut open, in the gloom the young soldier thought he saw an exposed rib.
The black stood, holding his side, a smile still on his face. His legs were more stable now and the nub where his left had had already begun to grow a new one. He look tired though, it was the first time Akallis had noticed.
He charged again, but with his legs nearly recovered the black troll was able to keep up. Akallis smiled when it dawned on him as they danced around each other. This was fight that most skilled swordsmen dreamt of. If he survived, Akallis doubted there would ever be another like it.
“I see it on your face elf,” the black troll laughed. “You understand the thrill. Your life is on the line in a way that you’ve never known before. Is this your moment or mine?” It was then the troll changed tactics.
Akallis could only watch as the black troll stepped into his swing, his longsword sinking deeply into the troll’s chest. The brute then backhanded him, the air forced from his lungs. Akallis felt his feet leave the ground followed by pain shooting across his back as he landed a moment later.
“It was well fought, but the game is over, elf,” he vaguely heard the black troll say.
Akallis rolled over, gasping for breath, his chest feeling like he had been trampled by an auradon. He pushed himself up and then onto his knees, turning to see the black troll standing over him with his longsword in hand.
“Submit and you will be spared,” he said, tossing the longsword to the ground.
“Would you?” Akallis asked, the brute’s chest and side had already healed, his hand had regrown as well. He still seemed tired.
The black troll laughed. “No.”
Akallis grabbed his sword, using it for support and as he pulling himself up. He felt something sharp in his side and coughed. His lip felt warm, with a coppery taste. “A win is a win, am I correct?” he asked.
“Of course,” the black troll replied.
Akallis took a defensive stance, his breath labored. His side felt like someone was grinding a dagger into it. “Then come to your death,” he said.
The black troll let out a war cry and came at him. Akallis tumbled forward, the brute had missed, but he could feel the force behind the swing on the air. He thrust his sword in front of him, pressing all his weight as it sank deeply into the black troll’s groin.
Forcing past the pain, he then cut across pulling the hilt as if it were a lever on a catapult. The black simply screamed knocking him away and falling to the ground. He smelled something burning, his arms feeling as if they were on fire.
He barely felt a thing when he hit the ground, and he glanced at his arms. The troll’s toxic blood had eaten away at the skin, reveling muscle and bone. Somehow his grip on his longsword remained intact, but he couldn’t open his hands either.
He coughed, spitting blood onto the ground, barely managing to pull himself to his feet. The black troll was still laying on the ground groaning in agony and covered in his own blood. Slowly Akallis shuffled toward him, he knew there wasn’t much time. The troll seemed to be in too much pain to notice him.
It felt like an age had passed before he was able to stand over his enemy, staring him down as he lay there crying in pain. “I hope your kind keep their word,” he said. He raised his sword and plunged it into the troll’s eye socket.
“My Queen! My Queen!” Anishar looked up, turning her attention away from the map of the kingdom on the table.
“What is Steward?” she asked.
“Bae’ash stands!” he shouted.
A wave of relief swept over her. Whatever miracle this was, she was grateful that The Lady had seen fit to grant them something. “How?” she asked.
“A duel, according to the reports,” he replied. “The leader of the troll army fought against one of our soldiers. We won!”
She was nearly in tears, but then so was she. “The trolls retreated?” she asked. “Why did they simply not sack the city?”
“I do no know, my Lady,” he replied. “But the Dak’ren have slowed their advance as a result. A smaller force has broken off and is heading toward Aerisan as we speak.”
“Can we spare anyone?” she asked. “Our forces must be relieved.”
“We are stretched too thin, my Queen,” he replied. “As you can see on the map, more villages fall by the day. Our enemies are trying to herd us to the capital.”
“What of the dwarves?” she asked.
“They are under siege as well,” he replied. “The Dak’ren have sent a contingent into the mountains and have enlisted the Ogre Tribes to reinforce their ranks.”
“Send word to Aerisan then,” she said. “Tell them to scuttle the mines.”
“The Dak’ren will enslave whomever they can and force them to work in the mines,” she said. “Asinium is too precious to let them strip the mine bare and use it against us.” He seemed reluctant, but Anishar knew there was no other way.
“As you command, My Queen,” the Steward replied.
He bowed, turning to leave. Anishar studied the map marking known troop positions from the reports strewn across the table. She looked down at Bae’ash and paused. “Steward,” she said, looking up at him before he stepped through the chamber’s double doors.
“Yes, My Queen?” he asked.
“Who was the soldier that won the duel?” she asked.
“Akallis Lan’dorthan, My Queen,” he replied.
“Lord Lan’dorthan’s son,” she said. “Does Qas’losin know?”
“Not yet,” he answered.
His tone sounded somber. “What happened?” she asked.
“Akallis died shortly after the duel,” he replied. “His wounds were too severe for the healers to save him in time.”
Her heart sank, Qas’losin would be devastated. “Make a record, Steward. If we survive I want him buried with the same honors as someone from my own family,” she said. “Tell Qas’losin I will do everything in my power to honor his son’s memory.”
“It will be my honor,” he said and bowed.
She glanced down at the table, and drew a circle around the capital and the land within a ten mile radius. “That will have to do,” she said. Anishar moved her hand to place the quill back in the inkwell when saw a rolled up piece of parchment with a green ribbon tying it shut appear.
She picked it up and opened it, only to find the words inscribed: ‘My offer still stands, but hurry time is short.’