Dark days, great deeds
Fall of the Empire
Towerday, 3rd day of Deepsnow, Imperial Year 2,891
Sannos, Imperial Border Fortification
Turiyos, Provincial Administrator of the Northern Marches looked out from the bastion wall and smiled to himself. Across the mighty Hurus river sat arrayed all the collected nations of the Harudish people. Even a few years ago such a vast host would have chilled the blood of any imperial soldier, but Turiyos knew he had their measure.
Rather than as conquerors, these savages had come as supplicants. Forced from their homes by the inexorable march of beastmen and other, darker forces, the Harudish people had taken to the refugee trail en masse and now sat on the empire’s doorstep little more than beggars.
Despite their fearsome reputation, Turiyos knew that the battered host before him could never force a river crossing. The great army before him was a paper tiger. Most of it was women and children, the few warriors were sick and starving. Even though he only had a few paltry regiments of border guards, they and the extensive river works would be more than enough to hold the barbarians back.
His reverie interrupted, the imperial commander turned to regard a young captain as he approached, his breath steaming in the winter cold.
“General, we have word from the northmen, they will send a legation to discuss terms. I understand they wish to settle within our borders and offer to shoulder the burden of the frontier defenses.”
“A handsome offer, but one that is not acceptable.”
“Sir?” The officer looked confused. Despite his low-rank he was the son of a prominent political family and was familiar with the difficulties involved in keeping even a small garrison in place this far from the center of the empire.
“These men are hardened warriors and they are known to be people of their word.”
“I would not expect you to have the proper perspective, but a life of fighting them has given me an understanding of their nature that no schooling could possible provide you.” This last was delivered with a derisive sneer.
The young captain Durvos gazed into the middle distance, “As you say sir. When would you like to receive their chiefs?”
“Not yet, I think we would be better served by making them wait. Let them feel the pressure mount and we will find negotiations far more fruitful.”
“As you say sir.”
Fireday, 6th day of Deepsnow, Imperial Year 2,891
In the Prefect’s chambers
Turiyos listened with satisfaction to the bustle of the garrison. It was long after nightfall and yet the soldiers labored on. Since the barbarians had arrived on the banks it had been a great deal easier to assign fatigue duties to the troops. Fortifications that had been decaying for want of simple maintenance were once again being renovated and reoccupied. It had been a monumental struggle just to keep the surly border guards to the watch schedules, let alone the work details needed to keep the ancient fortresses in repair.
Turiyos snarled, remembering the frustration of trying to get even an ounce of work out of the lazy churls. Most of them were local savages themselves, or half-mongrel bastards without the virtue of true imperial citizens. Thankfully that seemed to change with the presence of the brutal tribesmen in sight across the river. Suddenly repairing the bastions and watchtowers became a greater priority than drinking and dicing with the oppressive presence of a horde of foreigners, even one so pathetic as the Harudish.
“They are disgusting, aren’t they?”
“Who, the rabble across the river, or the one out in the yard?”
“Yes, this place does not suit you. A man of your stature should bear a title with more gravity. Perhaps you will be named Warden here by the council?”
Turiyos snorted with disdain, “The council, they are fools every one of them. They don’t understand that a strong leader is needed in times such as these. They are too busy bankrupting the treasury and buggering elf-children to do anything worthwhile.”
“Perhaps a strong man might take matters into his own hands? A great leader would not wait for permission from lesser men. He would have the strength to do what was needed, for the greater good.”
Turiyos eyed his companion warily. “That is treason you speak. I fear that our leaders lack the virtues that made our people masters of the known world, but part of that greatness was the holy regard given us by adherence to our republican principles. A rebel has never known the patronage of the gods.”
“Is that so? What good has the approval of such beings done for your lords and masters, what has it gotten you? You mouth pious words, but in your heart you know the truth. Your gods have abandoned you, whether for your sins or for their own amusement matters not. You know that no matter what happens here, you are all alone.”
The slender man in the corner of the room smiled, his eyes glinting yellow in the firelight, and a forked tongue darted out to taste the air. He could smell the fear and weakness of the man before him. He knew that the time was nigh to begin the next step.
“But it does not need to be that way. There are other gods, gods who would not abandon you in your time of need. They have watched you for many years. They, unlike your benighted councilors have seen the measure of your worth and they know that it is you and you alone who can save the empire from its own decadence.”
Turiyos stared into the small fire at the center of his chamber, lost in thought. He was not an evil man and in his heart of hearts he recognized this for what it was. The strangers honeyed words floated through his mind back and forth, and the fact that he recognized the manipulation behind them did nothing to lessen their power over him. For he was an ambitious man, and more damning, he truly did believe that he could save the empire if only given the chance.
Finally, he spoke in a voice like a freshly dug grave.
“What do I need to do?”
Moonday, 9th day of Deepsnow, Imperial Year 2,891
Across the river
The two imperial soldiers wended there way through the Harudish encampment. One was a small, dark man with greasy hair and a cruel gleam in his one remaining eye, the other having been lost in a battle many years ago with a war party of the great barbarian chieftain Andelistes. The other, Tiro, was a large bluff blond man who strode through the filth with nary a glance. He was used to such conditions, having been raised as a laborer on one of the empires great plantations until he had joined the army barely a year before. This marked him as an oddity, a genuine imperial at the post. Most of the higher ranking officers were citizens of course, and some of the captains. The vast majority of the men in ranks were locals however, some were tawny-haired westermen or dusky-hued islanders from the Sea of Armagh, although most were simply of mixed heritage, a legacy of the advance of the imperial legions and the plague of bastards they left behind.
“We’re gonna make a mint in this place.” Declared Hahnel, the smaller of the two.
“What do you mean, aren’t we just supposed to find someone to take charge of the relief supplies over here?”
“No, captain said we needed coin ta pay fer tha new citadel. He said since it was ta protect the empire from these ragged-ass barbarians, s’only right they pay for it, huh.”
“It doesn’t look like they have much in the way of money.”
“Then I guess we need to take it in kind from what they do have.”
This puzzled Tiro, even walking the periphery of the disorganized mass of the refugees was enough to tell him that they had little but the clothes on their backs. They had some pack animals, some of the men still had weapons, but most of them were in poor condition and would hardly be worth trading. More to the point, Tiro couldn’t see why the general wanted a new fortress when the river provided such an effective natural obstacle. This was one of the few suitable crossing sites for hundreds of miles and even here the Hurus was close to half a mile across and flowed swift and deep. Even with the sorry state of the imperial garrison and the sheer size of the barbarian host, Tiro did not think they could carry out any kind of assault, let alone a successful one.
His thoughts were interrupted as a large man stepped out in front of them. He was dressed in the mail and fur of a chieftain, and he carried at his side an axe almost as tall as him. Despite this Tiro could see that his once massive frame had shrunk and his eyes had the fever bright glow of one facing starvation.
“Inta-hunye gorsenn ail yeja!”Tiro starred uncomprehendingly, but Hahnel had been chosen for this task specifically. His mother had been a slave taken from her home by an imperial raid and he had been raised among other Harudish slaves.
“We come from across the river in the name of General Turiyos. He had ordered us to bring food to trade with you.”
“Trade,” spat the axeman in heavily-accented low imperial, “You make me sick, what would you have of us, our dying horses, or the rags from our backs!”
At the sound of the barbarians anger, Hahnel saw a small head peek out of the makeshift tent behind him. A girl of no more than ten, with shockingly blue eyes stared at the soldiers. She had been raised to hate these men, but as she set eyes on them for the first time she knew only a deep, formless dread."
Hahnel smiled at the girl, exposing several missing teeth. “There is much call for workers in the empire, there is no reason for your family to starve. Tell me, how many children do you have?”
Wineday, 11th day of Deepsnow, Imperial Year 2,891
In the Praetorium
General Turiyos stared blankly at his visitor. He sat on a padded camp chair he had been gifted by a rich benefactor many years before when he had been promoted to regimental command. In front of him was a battered sea-chest strewn with disposition accounts and scouting reports, after years of inactivity, he had finally managed to goad his command into a semblance of military efficiency.
Before him stood Telobastes, paramount chief of the Harudish people, king in all but name. The barbarian was livid, he could see the barely-restrained fury bubbling beneath the surface. Despite his outward calm Turiyos quietly seethed himself. The gall of this puffed up savage, to storm into his command post uninvited and dare to question his actions. He vowed to show this petty bandit not to impugn the honor of an officer of the empire.
“I fail to see the issue.” He announced in a disinterested tone of voice.
“The issue! The issue is your men are kidnapping my people to sell into slavery!”
“You exaggerate, this is a simple matter of trade. We find the best way to see to the fair distribution of goods is by exchange. Since your people are lamentably short of goods at the moment, we have magnanimously deigned to accept a period of indentured servitude instead. You should be thankful that we are willing to do so as, quite frankly, few of your people would be worth anything at all in the slave markets of Torre.”
“We have come to you in need, our warriors offer allegiance in good faith to save their wives and children from starvation. You have rebuked our offer and instead trade crumbs for slaves. Truly yours is a fallen people that you could commit such vile acts.”
Turiyos was a soldier of great experience, and he knew that it was vital to maintain your composure during any encounter. Indeed, he had often been described as particularly icy and remorseless man. So it was that even he was surprised at the sheer magnitude of his rage at this accusation. He surged to his feet, sending his stool crashing backwards.
“You are NOTHING to me! I hold the very life of your entire race in my hand, and it is only though my good graces that I have decided not to exterminate you like the vermin you are. SEIZE HIM!”
Momentarily taken aback, the guards hesitated at his shouted command. Bellowing in incoherent rage, the normally composed imperial general ripped his short sword from its scabbard, leapt bodily over his desk and stabbed the surprised barbarian through the stomach.
Carried over backwards by the ferocity of the sudden assault, Telobastes was born to the ground. He was no shrinking violet, as he had one his leadership through feats of bravery in battle. Despite his mortal wound he gripped the sword hand of his murderer and hammered into his face with a gauntleted fist over and over.
In the grip of a bloodlust he had never experienced before, Turiyos tore his sword free and began hacking wildly at the source of his ire. He continued this long after the bloody ruin ceased to struggle. Finally, tossing aside his notched sword and heaving with exertion, he turned to his aide-de-camp.
“Take this thing from my sight and toss it into the river.”
Captain Durvos turned to the guards, “Your heard the general, move it!”
The guards heard the note of command and responded instinctively. Glad to have a clear order to obey so they could avoid thinking about what they just witnessed. They gathered up the ruined carcass, noses wrinkling at the fetid stink of it, and if they detected a smoky hint of brimstone in the air neither of them recognized it for what it was.
Captain Durvos watched the men as they went about their grisly task. When they had departed, he walked back into the generals private chambers to see him calmly washing the blood from his hands as though it were no more than road dust.
“That will be poorly received across the river. He was well-respected and the remaining chiefs might vote for war.”
“So what if they do, they, they would simply break against our fortifications. They have no boats and lack the means to fashion a bridge, we could hold this position for a thousand years against the likes of them.”
“Even so, we have men over there now. Surely there will be reprisals when this comes out.”
“If our men are not able to extricate themselves then they are of little value to us anyways. Surely I do not detect a hint of reprimand from you Durvos. I know you think your father holds some influence at court, but I will brook no disrepect from an inferior.”
“As you say, sir.”
Towerday, 12th day of Deepsnow, Imperial Year 2,891
In the council tent
The council fires burned low.
They filled the crude wooden hall with a flickering and sullen light. This suited Belgarix, he still struggled to control his feelings, this was the first time he had been invited to attend the folkmoot and he knew that this would be the most important one if he lived to be a hundred.
Telobastes had been beloved of all his people. A larger-than-life figure whose warriors stood in the shieldwall not for fear of shame or greed for gold, but for love of their chief. He had been the rarest of men, one who could inspire such loyalty in even the most hardened of man. In him, Belgarix had seen what the kings of old had been, and his heart ached because he knew he would never meet another like him.
The details were still sparse, the only thing the assembled chiefs and elders knew for certain was that Telobastes had gone across to parley with the imperials and he had been brutally slain. The first inkling was the keening howl of his hearth warriors. They had been stripped of their weapons and forced to wait by the rivers edge for their lords return. When he came back a corpse they had rose up as one and fell upon their captors with a fury only whispered of in ancient tails. They had failed their lord and were doubly shamed as they had not even been been allowed to be present at his demise. So to expunge this dishonor they had lashed out at the hated imperials and dragged as many down with rocks and bare hands as they could.
The hearthguards were some of the best warriors left among the people, but even so they had been no match for the armed and armored imperials. Thirty-one bodies had been consigned to the river, while thirty-thousand stood on the far bank and watched in mute anguish.
“We must leave this hateful place.” This from Gorantes, an old man who had seen all of his children and grandchildren die on the march. “There is nothing for us here, we must go north until we find a place that no one will want to take from us. Only then will we know peace.”
“Peace! I don’t want PEACE, I want retribution!” A younger man who had not lost nearly so much raged from the back of the council space. “These imperials think that we are broken, but I say they are not invincible.” As he spoke he stepped forward into the light to show that he was still covered in blood, after the debacle at the riverside, those imperials present in the Harudish camp had been hunted down and slaughtered. Over a hundred of the dogs had been rounded up, they had been torn limb from limb by the maddened crowd and their bodies thrown into the river, although this had ellicited no response from the imperial side.
Belgarix knew he needed to speak now. He had inherited his uncle’s position and some degree of the respect he held had been transferred to him, and he knew what Telobastes would say. “I know brother, I know, but how can we cross the river?”
At this, the assembled elders muttered amongst themselves. “I want nothing more than to feel the blood of the one who perpetrated this villainy to run down my sword, but we must use clear eyes; we have no boats, no bridge, and the river is too deep to ford. Our people will not be served if we simply throw ourselves onto imperial swords like pain-maddened boars”
“We could fashion rafts.” Came someone from outside the ring of firelight.
“With what tools,” Belgarix replied instantly. “We have nothing left to us, and our remaining warriors are too sick and hungry to work. No, as much as it galls me, we are too weak to exact our revenge now. We must look elsewhere, if we should attempt the crossing and fail, that would be the end of our people.”
“Your people have already ended.” Croaked an unfamiliar voice from the entryway.
All eyes turned towards the newcomer, standing in the entranceway was a shadowy figure silhouetted by the bright winter moon. The howl of the wind blew in frigid air from outside and those closest shivered, though from cold or unease none could say.
“Who are you?” asked Belgarix.
“I am the voice of the darkest night, the call of wolves on the hunt. I am the Herald of Stiggan and will brook no insolence from a pup like you.”
“There hasn’t been a Herald in over a hundred years,” proclaimed Gorantes, I remember when I was a boy my grandfather told me of when he saw the last one."
The stranger stepped into the council, a chill seemed to follow him and the fire visibly dimmed as he approached the center of the gathering.
“You have fallen from the true path. You were led astray by fools who lusted after tainted gold and soft living. Your people were born in winter, you are sons of the bear and the wolf.”
His listeners leaned forward, each of them had at one time or another been paid in imperial gold, many of them had worn imperial silks, and been drunk on imperial wine. Now they each felt a secret shame, and as the stranger continued their desire to wipe it away grew into a burning need.
“It is time that these perfumed southerners felt the true power of the north, you must gather your warriors, the attack will begin before dawn.”
Belgarix found himself on his knees without remembering how. “But…how will we cross the river?”
“Have faith, and all will be taken care of.”
Fireday, 13th day of Deepsnow, Imperial Year 2,891
Along the battlements of Sannos
Legionary Hilert stood shivering on the rampart. He was thickly bundled in many layers of furs and wool. Whenever a man had guard duty his tentmates would donate a blanket or wrapping to make sure he was as warm as possible. This was doubly important tonight, as the temperature had plummeted below anything any of them had ever experienced. indeed it was so cold that breathing itself felt like inhaling little crystalline knives. On top of that the wind was blowing at gale force.
Hilert cursed, he couldn’t hardly bring himself to peek out from under his hood and couldn’t see anything through the stinging sheets of ice when he did. It was utterly pointless for a man to be standing guard outside tonight, no one would be foolish enough to be out on a night like this unless they happened to have a sergeant that hated them. Unfortunately Hilert’s relationship with his squad leader was less than amicable. It wasn’t fair, Sergeant Patorin always gave him shit details like this just because his family was from way out east.
Hilert stood wrapped in his self-pity and was oblivious to what was happening around him. Even had he been unusually alert he might have missed the whispered sounds of soft leather on stone coming from over the wall. The climber froze as he peered over the wall and saw the sentry standing not two feet directly in front of him. At first he thought everything would be ruined by random chance, but when he realized the sentry hadn’t noticed him he grinned. Bracing his feet on the poorly fitted stones below the embrasures he lunged up and over and grasping the imperial by the front of his clothing and yanked him back over the edge. Such was the speed of the attack that the stunned guard did not even make a sound until the barely audible thump as he hit the ground almost a hundred feet below.
In the officer’s quarters
Captain Durvos sat up at his writing desk, the fire glowing in the hearth barely keeping the chill of the brutal winter storm at bay. He glanced down at the letter he was writing. He had been troubled by the conduct of Turiyos for some time now but only recently had it become pronounced enough that he felt he had to take action. The Harudish migration had given them a golden opportunity to secure the Empire’s northeastern frontier and that fool was throwing it away with his greed and sadistic hatred of the outlanders.
He knew how precarious his position was, he was new to the command and had few friends he could count on out here. As luck would have it though an old companion from the Arsus Militarum had recently arrived with dispatches from the Capital. He had had him over and plied him with good wine from the western vine country and finally managed to convince him to return to Torre with a private missive to his father, the very letter he was drafting now.
He was still struggling with how to explain the situation, his distaste for Turiyos and his methods warring with his inbred respect for the authority of his superior officer. His internal conflict was disturbed when the wind briefly subsided and he clearly heard someone cry out. He couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like a shout of alarm.
He stood without thinking and strode briskly to the entrance, sweeping up a heavy cloak without slowing and proceeded out into the bitter night. He paused outside the officers quarters, the wind was picking back up and he could hear no more of what had brought him out.
He was about to turn back around and return to his writing when he noticed that the sentry on the upper wall was not at his post. He snarled, even though the weather was abysmal there was no excuse for deserting your post. That was especially important during nights like this. He begin towards the guardhouse, vowing to have the man flogged in front of his entire company for endangering the garrison. Such was his preoccupation with this task that he passed a full ten paces past before he stopped and turned around. There against the wall he saw the crumpled remains of a sentry. He stepped closer to examine the man, thinking at first that he had fallen or been blown off the wall, but as he leaned in he saw the bloody wound on his neck. Durvos had not been on many battlefields, but he had seen what terrible damage the Harudish battleaxes could do to a man.
“ALARM, ALARM!” He shouted into the night, “To Arms, the fortress has been infiltrated!”
At the Outer Ward
Argatrides grinned at the call of the imperial. Finally they had noticed their sentries being killed. He was relieved, they had managed to slay so many of the guards that he had begun to fear that they would never rouse the garrison. Now he knew that they could forgo the sneaking about and face their foes as the gods intended.
“Follow me dogs, it’s time to start the slaughter in earnest!” He shouted to his housecarls as he unlimbered his massive axe. He and his men were bare to the chest, when the herald had come through to bless the warriors he had felt a strange glow in his heart and had stripped off his furs and mail. His men watched as he began to shudder in righteous fury. They had all joined him as he began to chant the old call of the red demons. He heard the rushing sound in the back of his mind again, the bloody-handed ones had touched him and his men and they could not be defeated today.
“KRANG, KRANG, KRANG!” He raised his axe over his head and pointed down into the courtyard as the first of the imperial soldiers began to coalesce into their rigid formations.
In the Inner Ward
Turiyos glared at the bloodied courier. The man had come through to the command post from the fourth company area from Capt Anillis begging for reinforcements. “The devils swooped down on us from all directions and we barely managed to keep them out of the armory, everyone is barricaded up in their trying to keep them out.”
“Your commanders incompetence does not interest me, perhaps if he had been more rigid in his enforcement of discipline instead of trying to curry favor with his underlings some of your companions might still be alive. You will go to the eastern campus and inform the officer in charge their to sally out into the training grounds and clear the walls in front of him. This is entirely too large an effort to be merely a nuisance raid. We must reoccupy the river fortifications and be prepared for the possibility that they might attempt a crossing.
The courier slapped his chest and scurried off into the darkness. Off to the east the first faint glimmerings of sunrise could be seen. If he was any judge Turiyos though the day would break in less than an hour. At that point he was confidant that his men could be organized and crush these barbarian reavers. He was duly impressed with their daring but he knew that their could only be a very few of these raiders on this side of the Hurus. There was some danger only because of the surprise of the attack and the difficulty of fixing the attackers in place.
“Durvos, come here.”
“I am going to order the Vallian militia over that way to clear the secondary courtyard there. That will secure your flank. I want you to take the Guards detachment and the rest of the fifth company and push forward to the walls. We need to get a look at the encampment over there and see what is going on.”
“As you say sir.” Durvos surveyed the battle raging around him, or what he could see of it in the dark. There was some sporadic fighting throughout the compound but as yet none of the major strong points had been taken. He knew that there was fighting up on the wall and if more barbarians managed to cross they could easily scale the walls if there wasn’t anyone up there to stop them.
He gestured to the drummer and a rally signal was beat out. Slowly the men assembled around him waiting for instructions. “We have been tasked with retaking the main fortifications. I want a wedge formation with the guards in the van. Fifth company fill in the flanks and rear. MOVE!”
The men turned to obeying his orders, the well-trained guardsmen sliding into formation with practiced ease, the raw border troops somewhat more raggedly. They locked shields and started forward in unison. No sooner had they come within sight of the wall then a mob of barbarians came from out of the various outbuildings and began to form an opposing shieldwall. The result was less regular, less coherent than the imperial formation but no less effective for that. Their shields were smaller and round, and what armor they wore was far less sophisticated than the imperial scale that the guardsmen had. Nevertheless they had their own advantages, the wicked bearded axes that many of them were armed with was purpose built to hook on the upper rim of imperial shields and drag them out of position, and each one of those men had been born and raised in a culture that demanded that men be strong and hard, inured to the rigors of battle and incited by the clash of arms.
All of these thoughts fled from his mind at the first clash, Durvos did not consider himself heroic, but he placed himself at the very apex of the wedge without thinking and this kept many of his men in place that might otherwise have shied away. Durvos drove into the barbarian across from him with his shield with all the force he was capable of. The impact was of unthinkable intensity and he felt his shoulder strain with the blow. He lashed out with his sword and was rewarded with a cry of anguish and he felt the pressure decrease slightly. The man next to him was forced back by a giant in dirty fur and mail, he tried to force his way deeper into the imperial line to cause it to buckle, but Durvos stabbed him in the kidneys and watched the light fade from his eyes. The battle was so closely fought that the man could not even fall after he died, only slowly was he dragged down and trampled by his own side and his enemies.
Durvos’ momentary distraction was almost the end of him, he heard a solid thunk and turned back to see an axehead hook onto the rim of his shield, without conscious though he his guard down to the ground to release it, and lifted it back into position and slashed underneath the cut his opponents hamstring. The man screamed and lost his footing.
Back and forth the combat raged, until slowly Durvos could feel the opposition ease, after what seemed an eternity but in reality was only a paltry few minutes the pressure slackened greatly and he watched the barbarians turn and flee back into the alleys and cross ways they had come from.
“No, rally to me!” He called out as some of his men fell into pursuit. “We’ll see to them later, first we have to secure the walls.”
He surveyed the situation on the walls as they approached. He could see there were some scattered skirmishing their, but the arrival of over a hundred imperial troops should be more than enough to bring them fully under control. As they ascended the first series of switchback stairs to the top he began to detail out his men to secure gatehouses and towers. he kept only a small detachment of fifth company men with him as they reached the top of this section of the walls. He spied a group of northerners just coming over the walls. The two groups saw each other at the same time, there was no time and no space for formations of maneuvering. They simply rushed at each other by mutual agreement in a mad desire to kill.
At the River Wall
Belgarix led his men up and over the wall. They had had no contact with the infiltrators but judging by the confusion they had been successful. As the last of his men joined him a group of imperials climbed the stairs. He pointed with his weapon and shouted in rage and hatred. The two groups came together with a resounding crash and almost immediately half of them were cut down. The frigid stones beneath their feet were soon slick with blood. Belgarix cut down another of the imperial soldiers and spied their leader. A man with fine scale armor and a silvery-bladed sword in his hand. He charged forward, bowling over two other foes in his haste.
His initial strike was met expertly by the face of his enemies shield. The little sword snaked out like lightning towards his belly, but he dodged back and turned it with the shaft of his axe. Over and over the two slashed and hacked at each other, Belagrix was bleeding from a half dozen minor wounds and finally the imperial had to abandon the tattered remains of his shield.
He felt a strange stirring in the center of his being. He had drank the foul brew given him by the herald this morning. The hooded one had said it would give him great power in battle. Suddenly a white-hot rage flared into being and all of the world disappeared from his view except for the hated tormentor in front of him. He knew something unimaginable was happening to him, but there was so little left of his rational mind that he spared no thought to the changes taking place, he simply dropped his weapon and lunged for his prey’s throat, screaming in incoherent rage.
On the Battlements
Durvos gasped in surprise, the young Harudish chieftain he had being fighting with suddenly stopped, grimacing in pain and began to change before his very eyes. His hands began to curl into long vicious claws and his face elongated into a blunt muzzle. His eyes began to glow with a baleful yellow light. The creature let loose a deafening roar and attacked.
Durvos watched the creature fly through the air in slow motion, he knew that he watched his death approaching in the razor toothed maw, yet he was calm. Instead of trying to meet the assault head on, he merged with it, absorbing the impact and letting it carry him over onto his back.
As a younger man, before the army, before the politics and the compromises, Durvos had been something of a promising wrestler. This was something that was encouraged in young men of prominent families but after his school days he had left it behind. He turned to that training now and even as he felt the iron-sinewed claws reach for his throat he brought his legs up into the creatures abdomen and pushed with all of his might. The foul thing was lifted over the prostrate soldier and catapulted off the wall, arms windmilling and screaming its hate. Durvos rolled onto his side to see the creature laying motionless on the ground far below. He clambered to his feet and turned to see the remaining barbarians fleeing down the parapet. They would no doubt be a nuisance but right now they were a problem for someone else.
The sun had finally crested the mountains and the stinging sleet had quieted. For the first time since this whole episode began he could see clearly. With the dawning of the new day he felt the first stirring of hope that this incursion might be repelled. He ordered his men up to the wall in case any other enemies might appear. As he stepped up to the parapet he looked out across the fortifications and felt the courage flow from him like water.
The only sound on the wall was the clatter of his sword as it slipped from nerveless fingers. below him, he watched as the nations of the north approached on foot. The river had frozen solid over the night and now they came unimpeded by the tens of thousands. There was no more thought of victory here, or even survival as he saw that some of the numberless hordes were sweeping out behind them even now.
There was only time left to curse his commander for his shortsightedness, and to pray that this did not signal the end of the Empire.