Akran: A Flight Of Arrows

“Get down!” he commanded, his voice already hoarse from a full day of battle spent leading his men against his mighty enemies, unrelenting in their brutal search for power. Yet another flight of arrows crashed upon his troops, and cries of agony erupted all around him. Where the hell had they found reinforcements, he thought? But he already knew the answer: his allies had betrayed him. The battle was so near over, but the Warlord had cheated defeat, stolen victory from the gods, and sacrificed the lives of the innocents to the demons he cherished.

Akran had fought valiantly, defending the honour of the gods, his sword their very will, through it their power wielded. Yet on that battlefield, on that day, the gods had failed him, betrayed his men, and allowed the demons to taste the blood of the worthy fallen.

Akran, The Gods’ Chosen, lay hidden, pressed low into the muddy battlefield, his full-length iron shield covering him, protecting him from the sharpened arrowheads raining from the sky above. His arm felt wet and sticky, and he saw to his horror the blood of a close friend pooled deep, welling from a fatal wound to the neck. He was an old friend; named in life, nameless in death, faceless to the demons of war.

“Akran!” came the call behind him. “Akran!”

He turned to see his lieutenant crouching there, hiding under a shield already thrice pierced by the enemy arrows, trying desperately to crawl towards the Warlord.

“What is it, lieutenant?”

He heard the call of release from behind the enemy lines, and pulled the shield up to guard himself against the next volley of arrows. Soon, it wouldn’t be enough. A shield couldn’t protect him once his army had been defeated.

“Akran, do not lose hope!” shouted the lieutenant above the cries of pain encircling him. “You are The Gods’ Chosen. The Oaken Chalice must be protected at all costs.”

“The gods have betrayed us,” cried Akran. “The Demon Knight has stood tall, and The Bloodbath reaps on the battlefield beside him.”

The Merciless is yet with us. She will not abandon us.”

Akran was doubtful. The Warlord was a fearless woman, with no love for the gods or the demons, only for battle and the debt of blood. She herself had her eyes on the Oaken Chalice; how long before she turned her weapons of torture to Akran’s back?

He searched the battlefield for The Merciless, and found her rallying her own mounted soldiers beyond the range of the falling arrows, the warhorses shuffling impatiently, bursts of steam erupting from their nostrils. He looked ahead, studying the arrays of the enemy soldiers. The Demon Knight’s withered raiders were regrouping, rallying behind the Warlord himself, and The Bloodbath’s bowmen were keeping the killing ground devoid of life. Akran could see the only path to victory open up before him, as if the gods had sent him the message.

“Lieutenant!” he called. “Rally the men, gather anyone with two legs still standing, we need to close the ground and challenge those bowmen. If we can get swords in there, we will open a path for The Merciless to charge behind us, to reach the enemy with fresh steel. Carry two shields each if you have to, but take your men and make sure to get across the killing ground.”

The lieutenant nodded thoughtfully for a moment, his desperate gaze calculating the distance to the enemy fighters, considering the losses to be suffered in the charge. The look in his eye suggested he understood the risk, the sacrifice. His own sacrifice.

Akran signalled to The Merciless and her mounted warriors, hoping she would understand his strategy, his last desperate throw of the blade. He prayed the gods would hold her to her oath, force her to honour their alliance. Finally, he collected his own sword and shield as he prepared to rise.

“No, Akran,” said the Lieutenant. “You must fall back, join with her. Protect the Oaken Chalice. This is my sacrifice.”

There was no place for cowardice in the Warlord’s heart. He merely shook his head as he prepared the charge. The soldiers surrounding him readied themselves, all of them understanding the stakes. To wait to die under the falling arrows, or to risk all in a glorious charge.

“I will not die a coward… and I will not die a hero,” cried Akran to his men, his voice echoing through the ranks. “I will not die by sword nor arrow! I will not die today! I will not die any day until victory is assured. I am The Gods’ Chosen; victory is ours to claim!”

Even as his men roared their support, he leapt into the air and began charging, aware that the number of soldiers supporting him was less than he had hoped, but still enough to form a wall of steel, enough to make the enemy feel the thunder in the ground. He held his shield before him and charged at full speed, his broken voice calling as loudly as he could manage, his feet stepping as rapidly as they could, careful not to trip on the fallen warriors littering the battlefield.

He heard the rush of wind as arrows flew past his helmet, the clang of iron arrowheads raining on armour and shields. He saw men falling to the ground to either side of him, agony in their cries or silent in their death, rapidly reinforced as more soldiers pushed their way to the front line.

It felt an age had passed before his shield finally crashed into The Bloodbath’s archers struggling to fall behind The Demon Knight’s axes and hatchets. Akran swung his sword and burst into flesh without a moment’s pause, blood splashing through the air. Yanking the blade back and swinging wildly, he cut the life from many a surprised soldier, their eyes revealing the horror of that last moment; they never truly believed they would die.

“It’s working!” yelled the lieutenant, an encouraging tone in his voice. Hope. The lieutenant had never lost hope, against all odds. Yet there he knelt, blood spewing from his chest, his hands hung limp at his waist. He nodded to Akran, a faint smile crept on his face. He fell back onto his rear, his strength fading. “It’s working,” he said, but weaker this time. “You are The Gods’ Chosen. Victory is within your grasp.”

The lieutenant fell over, limp. Dead. Akran searched around him for allies, their numbers dwindling rapidly, but no faster than those of The Demon Knight and The Bloodbath. The battlefield was drinking deep, the earth would be stained red long after the victors had left. Akran looked back to see The Merciless charging with her army, their numbers enough to turn the tables in their favour without doubt. She alone would escape the battlefield with minimal losses, the true victor.

But Akran had a sacred duty to the gods, to the Oaken Chalice. He couldn’t let it fall into the hands of The Merciless. The Warlord would wield its power with terrible consequence, abusing the gift from the gods.

He tried to back away from the thick of battle, but his hesitance was infectious. Within moments his men began to flee. Weapons and shields were dropped, caught in the panic, a stampede of soldiers charged back towards The Merciless.

“No!” cried Akran in desperation, but it was in vain. The Merciless’s orders rang through her ranks, and they switched formation. By the time Akran’s men understood, it was too late. They were cut down, unarmed, screaming in fear as they came to learn their fate.

“No!” cried Akran once more as he stopped in the middle of the battlefield. He was surrounded, by the ranks of his enemies and once allies, and by the corpses of the men he had once called friends. The Merciless, still mounted, trotted to Akran as he stood alone. He raised his sword and called to her. “Dismount, and face me!”

She closed the gap, her horse slowing to a standstill in front of him. The battle had ceased, and a cold silence engulfed him. Her horse kicked up dirt and blood, her spear hanging low before her.

“You have left me with no choice, Akran,” she said, shrugging. “The Oaken Chalice is mine now.”

The Gods’ Chosen dropped to his knees and begged, “Mercy!”

The mounted Warlord before him listened. She watched him beg; amused, but not impressed. Unswayed. Her heavy spear pierced steel and flesh, and Akran’s life leaked slowly away, as he spent his last few moments still whimpering for mercy. From the gods, or from her, the Warlord couldn’t tell, but Reliasse, The Merciless, as was known to all, knew no such thing.

“Reliasse,” said Akran, his eyes showing a pained expression as he shook his head and drew his last breath. “Remember…”

Reliasse: Another Fight

The fool had begged for something she couldn’t give. Mercy. On the battlefield? In front of both friends and foes? Mercy wasn’t granted to the weak or the strong, to the brave or the coward, to the footman or the Warlord.

Reliasse looked once more to the corpse of the fallen Warlord, a last silent twitch before he fell still. The Gods’ Chosen had been abandoned, had been foolish enough to believe the gods would protect him, lead him to victory. No, the battle was over for The Gods’ Chosen. Yet it was not over for the rest of them.

She turned to her forces as she kicked on her horse’s stirrup and sped back into the ranks. Searching for her lieutenant, she called the orders.

“To the forest!”

She would need to defeat both The Demon Knight and The Bloodbath before she could claim the Oaken Chalice for herself, but not on that terrain. The rough ground made it treacherous for the horses, and there was no cover to hide from the archers. Her cavalry would be torn apart if they fought on The Demon Knight’s ground, on his terms.

The sound of hooves stampeding echoed through the valley as the cavalry made for the forest. The battle-weary soldiers from her enemies’ ranks did not give chase, no doubt relieved by the respite. Sunset wasn’t far off; the battle would resume in the morning.

Her men soon dismounted and began preparing to take shelter in the forest for the night. They were seasoned, well trained, and required few orders. For all the discipline of her riders, it was her lieutenant that dared question her.

“What of the Oaken Chalice, Warlord?” he asked, a slight quiver in his voice.

“What of it?” she barked. “We have a battle to win, and no time for distractions.”

“But,” he protested, “it is your sacred duty. You must secure it, before another Warlord claims it for himself.”

“The Oaken Chalice is protected in the keep. The Gods’ Chosen may have fallen, but his remaining soldiers will defend it to the end. We do not have the men to fight The Demon Knight and The Bloodbath, and still begin a siege at the keep.”

“But—”

“You have your orders!”

The lieutenant backed down. He wouldn’t test Reliasse’s mercy, he knew her far too well.

Camp fires surrounded her as the darkness set in. There was an uncomfortable silence amongst the men. What little blood they had spilt that day was that of unarmed soldiers, defenceless allies. Reliasse may well be merciless, but that didn’t mean her men were too. They would need a good fight to recover, an honourable fight.

But even as she considered her strategy for the battle to come, her advantage was ripped from her fingers. The muted gasp of a man dying as his throat was slit echoed across the quiet camp site. A sentry. The enemy was here.

“Weapons!” she cried, rousing those already slumbering. “They’re here! Weapons, now!”

She lifted her spear and glanced at her horse. The forest, meant to be a sanctuary, would be their undoing.

“Warlord!” urged the lieutenant, “the forest is too thick to—”

“Then fight on your damn feet, fool!” she shouted. “All of you, weapons up, set your backs to the fires. Forget the horses!”

Her shoulder collided with her lieutenant’s as she prepared for the ambush. She should never have trusted The Demon Knight to wait for morning. Even after a day of battle, he pushed his exhausted men to fight in the darkness.

“Brace!” she shouted, as she heard the enemy approaching, rallying her troops before axes arrived. “The Demon Knight fights without relent, without fear, but they are weak from a day of savage battle. We stand now, unhorsed, but not undone. We stand together, readied, in defence of the Oaken Chalice. And we will show them no mercy!”

The roar of battle cries erupted as The Demon Knight emerged from the darkness, and steel met plate while spears bit deep into flesh. The cries of agony rang quick and drowned the war cries as soldiers fell all around, so fast Reliasse could barely tell whose they were. Even as her lines began to fail, The Demon Knight’s men kept coming. More and more, as if they hadn’t been massacred in the battle.

Hidden reserves, she realised, kept secret from her. Fresh. Their axes and hatches swinging fast as they danced around her own men’s spears. They were getting annihilated.

“Shoulder to shoulder!” she called out. “Fall back in line for controlled retreat, make for the clearing.”

She should have known The Demon Knight would been playing games, and that he would never fight a battle with honour. The Gods’ Chosen had accomplished little more than thinning The Demon Knight’s ranks, enough to fool Reliasse, and lull her into a false security, a false hope. But the Oaken Chalice could not fall into his hands; it was up to her to protect it.

She thrust her spear forward and felt it dig into her enemy’s chest, she twisted and kicked him off, watching as he fell back onto another fighter, holding his chest as if his hands alone could stop the bleeding, could stop the blood from filling his lungs, from drowning him as he helplessly watched the battle in his last moments.

But she had no time to worry about him, nor had she any mercy to offer. Without a second thought her eyes swung to the nearest enemy, and her spear was quick to follow, deflecting a lunge with a hand-axe, then pushing him back before sliding the spearhead up under his chin. The soldier went limp immediately, his weight falling onto the up-thrust spear. He dropped, pulling her down with him.

She landed hard, ripping desperately to free her spear, then rolling over into a corpse beside her. It was her lieutenant; a surprised expression clung to half his face, the other half severed by an axe.

Jumping up, she saw her men falling rapidly, their spears a disadvantage against the lighter arms of The Demon Knight’s raiders. They would be butchered there, slaughtered one by one until none was left standing.

“Flee!” she cried. “Make for the clearing to regroup!”

She was among the first to act on the order, quickly followed by the remaining unhorsed riders. A desperate dash through the trees in the darkness; a fall would be nothing less than certain death as the pursuers charged close behind.

Suddenly she burst through the trees onto the open plain, her men close behind in a panicked flight. She searched ahead for ground to take a stand, but found nothing but lines of fire.

The call for release came moments later, echoing across the open field, and hundreds of burning arrows soon lit the night sky. Her heart dropped as she understood; herded, cornered, trapped between two armies. She dropped to her knees and watched helplessly as the arrows fell around her. Death cries surrounded her, and her men fell, undefended, defeated.

She stood up, and began marching forward, her spear held ready. The battle was over, but she still lived. She would never fall without a last fight, and she would not show mercy, even if it were offered to her.

“Warlord!” she cried. “Face me!”

Arrows kept raining down around her, little fires bursting out of the ground, punctuated by the screams of the dying, trapped, panicked, as the blood soaked the battlefield. But Reliasse kept her cool. She could see The Bloodbath standing in his ranks, and she boldly began running right at him.

“Warlord! I will have my revenge.”

Even as she neared him, the arrows kept flying overhead, yet none were loosed directly at her. She could still hear men dying behind her, orders being called. The battle continued, even if she had already lost.

“Warlord!”

The Bloodbath nocked an arrow and aimed for her head, his dark gaze venomous. Even in the dark night, she could see his eyes glowing white in the firelight. Still, she neared him, unafraid of his arrow. Unafraid of death. There was something there, something she saw in in him; a moment, a thought, a memory. Something lost.

“Warlord,” he called to her. “You will have your chance for revenge; but not tonight, not on this battlefield. On my oath, we will have a fair fight on equal ground. You may stand beside me now, bound or unbound, the choice is yours. Wield your weapon once more, and when I am victorious, you will have your chance for revenge. Only then will the victor claim the Oaken Chalice.”

The Bloodbath’s arrow still pointed at her head, held steady in his grip. If he wished, he could kill her right then. His archers continued to rain arrows on the battlefield, and turning to look behind her, Reliasse noticed her own riders were already defeated.

“I choose to remain unbound,” she called to the Warlord.

She closed the gap between them, turning her back as she neared, facing The Demon Knight as his men took to the battlefield. She had little choice but to accept The Bloodbath’s deal, trust his oath. Once the battle was done, she would have her chance.

The Oaken Chalice: Blood Is Spilt

The Oaken Chalice sees all; it knows all. It watches, it listens, it senses. It pries the truth from the mind, it measures, it comprehends.

On the plinth it sat, in full view of the empty throne. At that very moment, it watched the battle as it unfolded. Every life ended, every slash of the blade, every flight of the arrow, every axe and spear seeking flesh. And every drop of blood split.

The silver crown lay on the cold stone floor not ten steps from the plinth; dented, jewels shattered, its power diminished. Were it to sit atop the brow of the King, it would have seen the Oaken Chalice. It would have witnessed the dark red liquid oozing down the rough surface on the outside. It may have marked them for tear drops of blood. It would have been mistaken.

 

Wincel: The Dying Flames

The battle was well under way, with two armies already defeated, one Warlord slain, and another subdued. Wincel, The Bloodbath, had been left with little choice but to turn his arrows on The Demon Knight.

“Draw!” shouted the lieutenant beside him. “Release!”

Another flight of burning arrows soared into the night sky, their burning trails skimming between the stars, and raining down on the enemy raiders. Even at that distance, he could hear the cries of agony from the wounded soldiers – the same wails he’d heard all day as they’d slaughtered the armies of The Gods’ Chosen and The Merciless. The same screams of pain he’d heard from their enemies when the Warlords stood together against a common enemy.

“Draw!” came the order once again. “Release!”

It was too easy by far. The Demon Knight would have anticipated this, prepared for it. Wincel glanced at The Merciless beside him, who shot him a worried look suggesting she had the same thoughts on her mind. Only minutes earlier, Wincel had been slaughtering her men, yet there she stood, allied once more, even if only until she could have her revenge.

“Warlord,” said The Merciless, “is this all your men? Have you held some back in preparation for The Demon Knight’s games?”

He nodded, terse. Wincel didn’t want to give her any more information than she needed. She was a superb fighter, and would be invaluable when the lines closed. His archers were formidable at a distance, but if The Demon Knight could get close in, his raiders would slaughter the bowmen with little trouble.

“There he is, Warlord,” shouted The Merciless.

He followed her spear as she pointed across the battlefield. There, in the cover of trees, The Demon Knight stood, his gaze seemingly fixed upon them, so far as he could see from such a distance. But the Warlord appeared to be retreating rather than pushing forward.

“Orders, Warlord?”

Wincel’s lieutenant stood beckoning, almost pleading. Despite his experience, the veteran was sickened from battle, from slaughter, and he wanted to finish it.

“Allow me, Warlord,” urged the lieutenant. “Let me take a unit to pursue him. Even if I fail, you still have a chance to claim the Oaken Chalice. Your destiny lies yet within your grasp, and it would be my sacrifice to see you step closer.”

Before Wincel could respond, he heard the calls from behind. Turning to get a better look, he could see the rise beyond his army swarming with raiders. The Demon Knights games; frustrating, but not unexpected. But the numbers were too great; Wincel couldn’t understand where they came from. The Demon Knight had suffered many casualties against The Gods’ Chosen, more against The Merciless, and yet more kept coming. He glanced back to search for his enemy across the battlefield, but the Warlord had vanished.

Trapped by charging armies on either side, he was forced do something drastic. He signalled to a messenger, who fired a burning arrow well past the flanks to summon the reserves. Then he drew his sword, calling for his men to do the same. Better to die fighting than keep firing arrows when the enemy was already upon them.

“Warlord!” called Wincel to The Merciless. “You have command of the rearguard.”

She nodded, running into the ranks and calling for them to draw.

“Lieutenant, you stay by my side and take command should I fall. The rest of you,” he called to the lines of bowmen, “we will stand tall against this savage enemy. This battle will be a bloodbath, but the blood spilt will be theirs! The power of the Oaken Chalice will protect us, will lead us. To victory!”

As the roars from The Bloodbath’s ranks erupted, so too did the sounds of steel clashing with steel. The Demon Knight’s forces collided from both sides, and the sound of death followed instantly.

Wincel swung his sword at the nameless warrior that had the misfortune to meet him on the battlefield, and the man fell instantly dead. The next fighter was not so lucky, the blade biting deep into his stomach, sending him toppling to the ground, grasping his belly desperately as his gut spilt, the crushed grass and mud rapidly soaked in gore to the sound of the man gasping and choking on his on own blood.

The Bloodbath pushed forward, swinging his blade and slashing victoriously at the enemy soldiers, hoping to attract attention, giving his men the chance to fight the superior raiders. He could hear the relentless war cries of The Merciless from somewhere behind him as she led his own men in battle. It was comforting to know they were in good hands, even if she was his enemy.

Just then, the reserves arrived, and arrows began raining down once more.

Soon, a panic spread through The Demon Knight’s forces as they were forced to push closer to avoid the volleys. The battlefield quickly became a crush, with no room to move, to fight, to cut the man pressed up close.

The bowmen soon closed their margin for error; ignored it. Arrows began falling on friend and foe alike. The panic worsened as the line between ally and enemy blurred. Men began to break from the outside, sprinting away from the fighting. Wincel wanted to stop them, but he knew battle well enough to know that control was lost. The fighting would end when the flight did.

Moments vanished before his eyes as the men tried to decide which way to run. Most made for the trees, while some of his more loyal soldiers ran toward the reinforcement archers. He couldn’t tell if he had won or lost the fight; only that The Demon Knight still lived.

“He will make for the keep,” said The Merciless, panting as she neared him. “He will take whatever men he has left, and try to get there before we do.”

“Surely he doesn’t have enough men left to attack the keep?” asked Wincel.

The Merciless shrugged. “Maybe he doesn’t need more men. Maybe the keep is weakened already. Or maybe, he does have more men, hidden away, waiting.”

“We must stop him. At all costs!” said Wincel, scanning the tattered remains of his army.

“Our deal?” she said. “Truce? Until we have defeated The Demon Knight?”

“Very well,” he agreed, grasping her hand in a heavy shake. “I suppose I’d rather see the Oaken Chalice in your hand than in his.”

The faintest smile crossed her lips, even if only for the briefest moment. He felt something he couldn’t quite explain. A yearning. A memory. Something that he had lost, though he couldn’t recall when or why. The moment passed as quickly as it had arrived, and the two Warlords turned their attention to the keep, and to The Demon Knight.

 

 

Terkias: The Keep

Terkias felt tired and drained from a long day and night. He had lost many lives, and sacrificed even more. The Bloodbath had moved quicker than he had anticipated, and he had turned The Merciless to his favour, even if only after her forces had been destroyed, along with The Gods’ Chosen who had been defeated far too easily.

The Demon Knight had, overall, emerged victorious, though he had hoped to do it more conclusively. While other Warlords lived, he would still be at risk, but even so his chance to claim the Oaken Chalice was now. The keep was defended, but poorly, and Terkias still had two hundred men ready to sacrifice themselves in battle.

Despite his exhaustion, Terkias was ready. His men were ready, ladders prepared to scale the walls en masse. Unlike most of his raiders, these men were better armoured. Defenders hurling stones from the walls would have little luck knocking them from the ladders, unless they dropped burning oil.

“Warlord,” said the lieutenant, “your men are ready. This is your chance to claim the Oaken Chalice, yours by right of power. No one will deny you once you possess it.”

“Few deny me now,” he grumbled. “Not to my face.”

He removed his helmet and washed his face in a bowl of water. In the morning sun, he could see his reflection clearly in the water. Despite the dirt, he recognized the man looking back up at him, just barely. Those blue eyes that had once made him a coveted sight for young maidens seemed to have darkened to a shifting shadow, clinging to the light despite the bright sun. His jaw looked stiffer, his lips dry and cracked. He tried to smile, but only received a grimace in return from the man in the bowl.

“Very well,” he said, putting his helmet back on. “It is time.”

He walked slowly down the line of men, inspecting them as they stood tall, unmoving. His best, saved for last.

“The Oaken Chalice will be mine,” he cried. “I alone can wield its power, its true strength. With it, I will change the world. And you, my elite, will be powerful and privileged. All that stands in our way is this feeble keep. To war!”

The soldiers burst into a war cry as they leapt forward, ladders held over their shoulders. Stones and arrows began raining down on them, but the thick helmets did well to protect his men.

They closed the gap to the walls quickly, and launched the ladders up the side of keep, the weights clanging heavily as they fell onto the ramparts. Instantly, men began rapidly ascending the ladders, war cries still echoing.

In moments, buckets of viscous black liquid were being thrown over the wall, and the flames soon followed.

Terkias reflected that nothing on a battlefield could match the cries of a man burning alive. The dreadful horror of extreme pain as the flesh melted from the bone, the only release was death itself. He watched as several men caught fire, falling off the ladders and breaking bones. Those that could, tried to run, but with no moat in sight, there would be no reprieve.

Amongst the screams, some of his men reached the top and climbed over, and the initial defence was toppled in little time. Terkias followed them up the ladder, landing on the rampart and drawing his sword.

Defenders surrounded him, but fell quickly to his superior strength and training. He felt the power rushing though him, the demons’ strength rising, the lust for blood increasing with every kill. He soon lost count of how many men he had felled, and pushed his way through, his own soldiers wiping out the defences.

The bodies littered the keep, blood seeping along the flagstones. He stood outside the doors to the inner keep, to the throne room, and to the Oaken Chalice itself. He had lost more than half his men to get there, and would lose more, but the power was within his reach, and nothing could stop him.

Crossbowmen lined the shuttered doors. Thirty in all, ready and loaded. Less than a hundred men stood ready to charge them. With a hundred yards to close, he would lose most of them if the crossbows were quick to reload.

“Shall we call the charge, Warlord?” asked the lieutenant.

“You will lead the charge yourself, lieutenant.”

“And I will gladly die for your cause,” he said stepping out ahead of the men. “Charge!”

At full pace, all the remaining soldiers raced towards the crossbowmen. Almost instantly the front row were killed, and those behind stumbled as they tried to avoid the injured and the dead. The crossbows were reloaded with surprising speed, and the second flight of bolts halved the roaring soldiers.

But it wasn’t enough to stop them. The ground was closed and the crossbowmen were slaughtered, but at the expense of his surviving soldiers.

Terkias, The Demon Knight, stood alone facing the inner keep. Groans from the injured carried on the breeze, but it was nothing he would concern himself with. He neared the doors and, with all his strength, kicked them, snapping the locks as they swung open, inviting him.

“Halt!” came a cry from behind.

He turned to see two familiar faces in the courtyard, cautiously spread but keeping close for safety. The two had survived the battle then. No matter.

“It’s too late,” he called across the sea of corpses. “There is nothing The Bloodbath or The Merciless can do to stop me know. The Demon Knight has won.”

“You do not yet possess the Oaken Chalice!”

“No. I don’t. But I will.”

Terkias turned and bolted for the throne room.

 

 

The Oaken Chalice: Here For The Claiming

 

The Oaken Chalice sees all. It saw when The Gods’ Chosen was impaled by The Merciless’s spear. It watched while the armies of the four Warlords slaughtered each other, switching sides and alliances, dying without even knowing for what they fought.

The blood pooled on the plinth under the Oaken Chalice, the throne room empty, save for one who was unable to leave. And then another entered the room.

“I am here!” announced The Demon Knight. “I am here to claim to Oaken Chalice and its power!”

“Not while I still live,” said The Merciless.

“Nor I,” added The Bloodbath.

A weak voice whispered almost inaudibly. The Warlords might have heard it, if they wanted to. But they were more concerned with each other at that moment.

“Please, stop this madness,” it said. “Terkias, you are my brother! They are your friends! Stay your sword!”

The Demon Knight held his weapon before him, outstretched, swinging gently between his foes, eyeing them to see who would attack first. Then, simultaneously, they leapt at him, spear and sword. He dodged the spear, spun around swinging his blade down through the air, connecting with steel as The Bloodbath parried, holding with all his strength. The Demon Knight looked down on his enemy as he flailed, weakening, but in that moment he felt the spear pierce through his back.

He dropped to his knees, tasted blood as it began to fill in his mouth. He watched The Bloodbath rise before him, sword ready.

“Please, no,” he begged, sputtering blood. “Wincel. We were friends…”

But it didn’t stop The Bloodbath from beheading him. One easy swing of the blade, and The Demon Knight’s body fell limp, five feet away from the head.

“Please stop,” came the weak voice, but the Warlords couldn’t hear him. “You two are betrothed. Bound. Try to remember.”

The two Warlords circled each other, weapons ready. Not a word between them, just an understanding. The truce was over, and only one could remain standing, the Oaken Chalice the prize.

The Merciless rushed forward, stabbing her spear forward, but The Bloodbath dodged, swinging his sword down in time only to catch air. He watched cautiously, stepping around slowly in time with his adversary. She eyed him, spear held forward, ready to thrust if he made a false move.

“Please… stop.”

The Bloodbath leapt forward, jabbing his blade low, but The Merciless was ready, and she simultaneously dodged his sword while thrusting her spear into his shoulder. He fell back in pain with his back against a wall. He felt the blood spilling from his shoulder, his life leaking away. He felt his strength failing.

The Merciless stepped forward, bringing her spear ready to end his life. Suddenly he saw her differently. Saw something he had forgotten.

“Wait!” he said. “Reliasse, wait!”

He glanced around the room. He saw the dead body of The Demon Knight, his empty eyes looking back from his decapitated head.

“Terkias?”

Then he saw the plinth, stained blood red. The Oaken Chalice sat atop. At its foot, a man lay crumpled. Thin, weak, almost unmoving.

“My King?” he gasped. “What? What happened?”

“Hurt her!” whispered the King. “She must understand.”

Wincel looked back up in time to see the spear thrust through his heart. He choked as blood filled his lungs. His vision faded slowly, his wife blurred before him. In his hand, he still gripped the pommel of his sword.

“My love,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

The Merciless leaned forward to listen to his last words, and with his failing strength, he raised the sword, and ran it through her stomach. Shocked, she stepped back, and fell to her knees, holding the blade with both hands. She looked at The Bloodbath, and she saw him.

“Wincel! No!” she screamed.

“Not now,” croaked the King. “You must destroy it! I am too weak. You must do it for me! Destroy the Oaken Chalice.”

Reliasse wiped the tears. She understood. She understood everything now. The Gods’ Chosen… Akran’s dying words when she had killed him. Terkias’s dying words. Wincel’s dying words.

“How long has it been?” she asked the King.

“Seven days,” he whispered.

“Seven days? The kingdom fell in seven days? Your generals all killed one another in one week?”

“Seven days,” he said. “All for my greed. I thought I could wield it. No one can. You must destroy it!”

Reliasse was in extreme pain, shaking as her blood leaked from her belly. Her husband and her old friend lay dead in the room, the King close to death, and she too was not far away. On the plinth, the Oaken Chalice sat, commanding the room, destroying the kingdom.

She stumbled towards it until she was within arms’ reach. She could feel it trying to control her, trying to win her back. But its power was over the strong, not the weak, and she was close to death. She screamed in agony as she drew the sword from her belly, and with all her strength, she swung the blade at the Oaken Chalice.

It shattered like glass, it exploded like fire, it vanished like shadow in the sun. She could feel it was destroyed, even as her heart struggled with its last few beats. She looked at the King. He gazed back at her with empty eyes.

“Thank you,” he croaked, lifting a dagger to his own chest. “You haven’t saved our kingdom. But you have saved many more to come.”

 

The End


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