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Thread: Finals: Arden v. Storm Veritas

  1. #1
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    Finals: Arden v. Storm Veritas

    The final round will begin as soon as this is posted; however, because I am not giving any lead time, you will be given an additional three days to complete the thread. The round will end at 11:59 PM EST on Friday June 15, 2018. If you finish early, I will judge it immediately when finished.

  2. #2
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    Storm Veritas's Avatar

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    The sun rose over the eastern sea, as Storm Veritas and his massive army watched the sun sparkle on the gently rolling ocean. The salty sea breeze overwhelmed the normal autumn odors of must and death, as once brilliant orange leaves continued their fade into mud-coated scarlets and browns hues scattered all about them. With the armies carefully sequestered in their encampments about him, the lightning-wielding enigma unbuttoned his riding coat before sitting on a flat rock about the morning fire. Beside him, his generals picked at their rations of salted meats that had been forcibly stretched further than he had expected. In truth, Storm had envisioned thousands dead by now, and the remaining soldiers feasting on the abundant horsemeat that routinely littered the battlefield.

    “So Shin… he just, what, f*cking vaporized?” The wizard’s eyes looked into the fire for an answer he knew wouldn’t come back, but a smile curled at the edge of his mouth as he looked at Brackett anyway. The legion had dodged a titanic bullet.

    The old, gristled warrior picked at a piece of jerky with a knife, tearing it from his teeth before speaking in his low, even tone. “Hard to say, m’Lord, but Am’aleh works in mysterious ways. We marched to meet with him, and the whole goddamned lot of them had moved on. Perhaps a personal thing, perhaps indifference. Either way, we checked their surrounds with hawks, and no retort for ten miles in any direction.”

    “Count our blessings and march! Mine giants thirst for Radasanth!” Garron raised a large bone surrounded by thick, charred meat as he spoke, eying the Jagged Mountains to the north. Wherever the bone came from, and whatever living thing had previously owned the flesh Garron feasted on Storm wanted no part of knowing. Plausible deniability was a deal with the devil that came with the territory of marching with giants.

    Anything to make you happy, you big idiot. I hope that meat came from a wounded horse and not a diseased soldier, but to say you make me nervous would be a f*cking understatement.

    “Aye, fair enough, big fella. We can’t wait to give Osiris and his thousands a chance to change their minds. We push north, through the Jagged Mountains, and then blow a hole through the eastern walls of Radasanth. How many more days rations we have left?” Storm pushed a cheek-full of tobacco leaves into his jaw, skipping the morning meal in a quiet show of discipline.

    “No more than a week, sir. We planned to march outright, and hit a few farms for their tribute as we cut through the home stretch.” Brackett was matter of fact with his acceptance of the inevitable corruption; he knew that Veritas would never let farmers that had been robbed live to tip-off the Radasanthian guard of the coming horrors, but viewed such a crime as eggs broken for the cosmic omelet.

    Sneering, the mage spit a mouthful of thin, brown liquid into the fire, standing to button his formal topcoat once more.

    “Perfect. Breakfast will be their last meal for a few days. Let the men eat well. By afternoon we mount and move, ride for the mountains. We’re only a good two, maybe three days. There are hundreds of eagles for our archers to pick there, and plenty of cover for us to seek purchase for the final stretch.” Turning his back from the commanders, he heard an affirmative grunt from Garron, followed immediately by the carnal tearing of another mouthful of Gods-knew-what.

    ~~~~~~~~

    His tent packed and men forming, the wizard found himself popped up about the thick muscled back of his trusty steed, Attila. His eyes thin slits, Storm scanned the remaining grasslands and orchards that dotted the countryside west of the cliffs.

    We hug the coast, sneak through the mountains, and then Radasanth is mine. Those fat f*cking morons will never be able to scramble in time to protect an uprising like this. Hell of a time to topple that do-nothing democracy and install some real leadership.

    The plateau on the eastern edge of Corone had been gentle to the Veritas army; the weather cool but reasonable and grasses growing fast enough to keep their mounts well fed. The armies were eager to move out, having been holed up entirely too long to puff their chests at a clever ploy from Shinsou’s army. While he expected some sort of rust getting the great envoy activated once more, the wizard was surprised by the arrival of his advanced scouts, returning back from another twilight ride. Two young men rode straight for Storm, carrying the Blue and Gold Bolt banner indicative of his armies. Both looking under eighteen, their eyes settled somewhere about Attila’s hooves as the older child spoke. The blonde boy’s voice quivered with fear.

    “Lord, it appears a threat remains in our path to the north. A large, diverse army, filled with thousands, positioned and entirely dangerous looking.”

    The hell did he do that!?

    “When the blue hell did Shinsou get a chance to ride ENTIRELY AROUND US and position once more between us and Radasanth? Ranks must have broken – where was the rupture? Whose heads need to…” Eyes wide with rage, the experienced adventurer noticed confusion when he saw it on the young, toe-headed scout’s face.

    “Oh hell, what is it?” Storm continued to glare at the teenager on the small horse, awaiting his infinite wisdom.

    “Lord, it isn’t Commander Vaan Osiris. We’ve never seen this force before.”

    Rage pulsed through the general, his fingertips flickering with blue-white energy as he furiously considered how he could be so consistently snakebitten. With all the means to take over Radasanth (and commensurately, Corone), Storm’s seemingly perfect plan continued to falter under the weight of the fates. Unfazed, he marched his troops northward. The time for diplomacy had come and gone. Whatever stood in his way this day would submit, run, or die. The force of nature would not be denied.

  3. #3
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    “I’m fairly sure not six months ago we stood together as a family and promised to avoid precisely this sort of scenario.”

    Arden raised an eyebrow and turned to the portly merchant stood to his right, remembering the day the Tantalum troupe had made lofty promises of peace and prosperity and staying out of the limelight.

    “We were never any good at sticking to our guns.”

    “So, what exactly are we doing here?”

    “Errr,” the swordsman frowned.

    “No, I didn’t think you knew.”

    “…the right thing?”

    Neither of the duo believed that, and yet somehow the standing force of Scara Brae stood on the Catenae Flats before the city of Radasanth ready to defend to the last the very thing they hated.

    “I bet Valeena was livid.” Leopold chuckled.

    “She will be when she finds out…”

    For a moment, midst a gentle yet ominous breeze the Knights Brae watched the horizon as one. Though their recent conflict defending their own home against the constant array of tyrants and tosspots had tempered their resolve, each man and woman felt the weight of misplaced responsibility anew.

    “Hang on…” Leopold stepped forwards into his brother’s view, eyebrow raised, smile curled into a gesture of contempt. “The queen didn’t give her ascent?”

    “Not in such direct terms…no.”

    “You ordered near six thousand soldiers to Corone to fight on her behalf…without her knowing…”

    “I didn’t need to apply much encouragement, not everyone obsesses with freedom as much as we do.” Arden’s words danced in the wind and fell away like blossoms falling from the last strength of summer. As imposing as he was ahead of an army, with the truth laid bare he became vulnerable, unsure, and just a little afraid.

    “You’re insufferably pious sometimes…” The merchant couldn’t see any point pressing the matter further.

    “Just let’s see to this ‘Veritas’ and leave the queen to me.”

    “Oh,” Leopold scoffed as he fell back into line, pistol in one hand, a hip flask in the other. “Oh no, when you break the news to her I want to be there, front row, and ready to piss on your burning corpse.”

    Arden rolled his eyes. Though Leopold had a peculiar way about it, the swordsman new it was as close to a show of support as he was going to get. In the distance, an insurgent force marched on the city walls with intent, a murderous rallying cry to overthrow what little political autonomy the people of Corone had carved out for themselves in the wake of the Empire’s collapse. Though far from ideal, and still the sovereign power pressing down hard on Scara Brae’s coffers, it’s people did not deserve to be carved and split in the cobbled avenues of Radasanth’s corrupted heart.

    “Have you finished?”

    “Yes general,” Leopold smirked. “It is my duty to offer counsel in times of war.” He added a few choice insults in his head, but the expression on Arden’s face suggested now was not the time. “I hope you’ve got a plan…”

    The oni coiled tightly around Arden’s heart began to stir, the smell of blood on the horizon and the rage of conflict rousing it’s raging hunger. Arden’s stratagem was a simple one, leant credence by the simple geography and the advantage that this was as much their home ground as the Brokenthorn or the meadowlands of the southern duchies.

    “We do as we’ve always done.”

    “…which is?”

    Arden unsheathed his blade, a single edged curved sword tempered by magic older than the mottled, crumbling city walls rising skyward behind them. He pointed its tip along the dusty road and two mounted scouts darted out from the glistening ranks of swan patterned soldiers. They sped out at angles and disappeared into the trees to their south and the peaks and troughs of the heaths to the north. He dropped the blade to his side, the fingers of his right hand loosely holding its spider silk wrapped hilt and smiled softly.

    “Fight other people’s wars.”

  4. #4
    Ride The Lightning

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    Storm Veritas's Avatar

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    The rhythmic thumping of horse-hooves was low and gentle; even the large Attila had his shoe-strikes softened by the rolling peat that coated the plateau. The riding of the three leaders and two scouts in front of the large wall of troops aroused the attention of all the many legions, pulling men into formations as they spread into a regular spread, dispersing giants and wizards amongst the footmen to bolster the overall strength of the team.

    “So if it isn’t Osiris, what are we looking at?” The usual politico, Storm Veritas now looked every bit the combat veteran. Beneath his proper riding coat the warrior was wrapped tautly in dense burlap. Dragonscale bracers – the last remnants of Sunwing and Moonwing – showed at his wrists. Most importantly, his eyes were pulled into slits, blue-gray piercing at his troops as he assessed their impressive health and welfare. A thick bulb popped his right cheek as he sucked the juices of tobacco leaves, infrequently spitting.

    “Six big groups…” the young blonde scout began, his voice steeled by the moment. “Three bands of assorted swordsmen, two thick packs of spearman, and a substantial cavalry, m’ Lord. The boy’s eyes seemed to look up to the heavens as he rode, trying to recall exacted details. “They also had a few camps of additional men around; hard to say how many but not likely more than another thousand men.”

    The sinister grin spread across the wizard’s face as he considered not what they had, but what they didn’t have.

    No giants. No monster cannons. No wizards. That’s a shitload of men, but it sounds like the surprises should be limited. I can deal with straightforward war; it’s the surprises that get you.

    “Fish in a barrel, baby!” Seamus beamed with excitement as he swirled about his horse, the old man’s grin near ear to ear as he considered the moment. “We’re built for this!”

    Garron the mighty considered the old man’s words as he looked at his large hammer, thinking that the old commander meant “built for war” which of course the ghoulish barbarian very much was. Before he could croak out further commentary, Seamus continued.

    “Let’s roll up the footmen. We’ll look imposing, but very much digestible to a force of that size. Draw them forward, pulling them into the open field, in what I’d hope to be a show of force. Then our men high-tail it, to let the archers, cannons, and giants do their thing without any reprisal. Range is our advantage; we have to use it.”

    A whispering wind blew across the grass, a momentary silence as the elder soldier’s idea was considered.

    “Hell, I knew I brought you along for a reason, old man.” The white, toothy grin of Storm beamed with approval, while Garron took the information in carefully.

    A rabble of conversation began to strum amongst the waiting troops, hundreds of small conversations as they attempted to assess what the small conference before them would lead to. The horses began to back away from each other as the leaders made their routes, with their grand leader sending a final message.

    “Garron, charging into a force double your size is the work of the truly brave, utterly ferocious, or completely f*cking mad. Do you know anyone that could lead a charge like that?” Storm didn’t need to hear the answer.

    Hopping off his horse with a wide-eyed smile, Garron the Mighty raised his enormous warhammer overhead with the ease of a boy foisting a drumstick. Sharpened teeth spread as he roared to his men.

    “The enemy lies before us! Bring out the guard, and bring out our reserves! We will march straight over them! Let the archers and cavalry come in to clean up the rubble!”

    A thunderous applause as 3,000 heavily armed footmen marched forward, each considerably armed, well-fed and well-rested. They marched upon the enemy, ferocious and confident, not knowing they served as the pawns in the greater chess match.

  5. #5
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    “Something’s wrong…”

    Leopold wasn’t entirely sure how he knew, but the churning in his stomach had started far too early in the day for it to be the result of his slowly intoxicating malaise of bourbon and misery. He pointed along the road to the bulwark of the enemy army as it began it’s thunderous, encroaching advance towards them.

    “You ran out of booze?” Arden shrugged. He could only see the smaller details, an endless course towards pain and suffering that he was powerless to stop. “Do you need a light?”

    The merchant pouted. He put his hip flask away and took several defiant steps forwards. Behind him, as they became aware that the hour had finally come, the front row of the Knights of Brae’s best unsheathed their blades and raised their golden, winged shields. The sound of metal plates rubbing over chainmail was cacophonous.

    “Look.”

    Arden did so, though his red tinted eyes saw only a distant line of men at arms. They appeared no different to their own front lines, though perhaps more rested and less beleaguered by their conflict with the demonic hosts in their homeland. As he looked from easterly flank to westerly, nothing jumped out at him that was unusual.

    “I don’t see anything.”

    “Precisely,” Leopold shouted. He produced his pistol from a whorl of azure light and checked the barrel. “When have you ever seen a first charge be so damned uneventful?” The rising panic on the merchant’s face instilled a sense of urgency in the swordsman, who instinctively moved his right hand to the hilt of his blade and bit his lip.

    “It is a little quiet…”

    He reflected on the many wars in which he had fought, and died, or stood triumphant since his birth centuries ago. A collage of cavalry charges and rain slicked mudbanks clotted with the dying, bloodied corpses of men and women pressed into service riled his senses. For a force that had come, as far as his intelligence could tell, to usurp the fragile government of Corone and rule with its own hand they were making a paltry show of it.

    “Where did you send the scouts?”

    Arden hesitated. One to the east. One to the west. He hoped to gauge enemy numbers by having them sneak around the flanks and see out into the low and open plains beyond. His teeth turned into fangs, the rising power of the oni enraging his senses to action.

    “To their death, thayne’s be damned!” He unsheathed his sword, which glowed umbral red and sent an arc of crystallising blood onto the dancing blades of grass yet to be downtrodden by war.

    “Complacent. You? Ruby will never let you hear the last of it!” Leopold found a moment of humour in the sudden realisation they were being bull horned, ever the one to try and turn a bad situation into any old excuse to get pissed. He glanced over his shoulder and began to run the numbers.

    “If you whisper a word of this to her you’ll be fishing your balls out from the well in market square.” Arden pouted. He readied orders in his mind and replayed the possible outcomes over and over, desperate for a way out.

    “If I had any I’d be shaking in my boots, but today my good friend we will win!” He cheered, and the frontline cheered in response. Arden turned around. “Form a retreated flank position, shield wall tight, speared to the second line!”

    The central block of knights did so, and the square turned into a half pentagon, the edges of the line facing any would be flank charges whilst leaving a heavily protected frontal force to act as a battering ram. Arden shrugged.

    “You heard the man?”

    The increasing thundering of the advancing army mingled with the reorganisation of the Knights Brae. Leopold sent a raven to each flank, commanding the archers and specialists to retreat behind the wall and the cavalry, what little they had left from Revenant’s gulling to spiral out onto the northern front and perform what he described as a ‘firm kick to the scrotum’. As the hooves pounded the daisies to dirt, the twitching men tried to make sense of what he meant exactly but were glad to have any excuse to me on horseback and away from the impending bloodbath.

    “I thought I was the general?”

    “General of pain, dear brother. So, be a dear heart and lead these men into a jolly old ruckus whilst I sort out the cluster fuck that is bringing too many guests to a four-chair dinner table.” He didn’t leave Arden the chance to retort, diving instead into the ranks to begin a tragically quick re-assessment of their battle plan.

    The crimson swordsman watched him disappear, tophat poofing behind feather caps and gambisons. He turned silently to face the encroaching horde and rested his blade on his shoulder.

    “Forward, march!” he cried, the dragon bound around his heart giving volume and a growl to his command. They marched forwards, lurching away from the city walls and into the unknown.

    More precise details of numbers to follow when I can remember what's in my own army...

  6. #6
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    Storm Veritas's Avatar

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    “How far up do we want to let him run? The footmen won’t be able to retreat at speed, and if they send cavalry we could lose the lot of them before we can move the archers into range.” Brackett was confident and strong in his plan, but offered words of caution to the general before Storm transferred from a cheek full of chaw to a victory cigar.

    “Right, but we need to get them to take the bait. If they see the giants loom on the horizon, they’ll back up and tuck tail to Radasanth. Out here in the open we have the best chance to rout them; they get holed up in the city and we’ll be the fish in the barrel.”

    From over the top of his mount, he could see Garron charge forward towards a large mass of oncoming soldiers. The echoing thump of footfall increased in frequency as the men began to jog, roars of war beginning to sound as the men convinced themselves they weren’t terrified.

    “March everyone up a bit. Protect our flanks with the giants; roll the archers inside them in the back along with the wizards as we pull up closer to range. The cavalry can run up the gut, let them lead the second wave forward but keep them out of sight if we can. Make sure our archers keep eyes up for birds; there’s no doubt if we’re sending hawks out they are doing something similar.”

    These footmen are probably screwed, but if Radasanth has already shot their load, the men are a loss we would have suffered anyway. Only one way to know for sure…

    Storm turned his gaze upon a bizarre brigand, a group of 500 or so drunken louts that had served as little more than a means to help reduce whiskey stores and provide a touch of comic relief. Dressed in plainclothes, the men reeked of alcohol, cigarettes, urine and broken promises. Attila charged on them in seconds, leaving many of the flotsam drifters wide eyed and terrified. While they feared his retribution in the wake of their general malaise and laziness, his charm immediately covered the warface, pivoting on a dime.

    “You bunch of goddamned drunks aren’t meant for this sort of work. I’ve got another important job for you.” With a quick flip of his shoulder, a burlap satchel rolled across his frame, and the wizard produced a healthy fist-sized pouch from within. He callously tossed the small fortune at the feet of the frontmost layabout, grinning from ear to ear as he continued.

    “One thousand crowns. Race to Radasanth; don’t sleep. Spend every last piece in that town, and tear it the f*ck down. Start fights, raze a few bars, screw some whores, and get the attention of every patrol in town. I want a full-fledged riot. If these assholes across the field have oversight to govern the city, I want to split them. If they stay put, we know there is a second force waiting for us at the gates.”

    The front man, a lout whose beard grew twisted with mottled mud and prairie blown dirt, smiled a stained flash as he nodded willingly. A diminutive, pudgy man, his competence served a considerable point of question. Fat and happy already applied to this man, and the wizened general decided motivation was in order.

    “You gents get the cush job in this whole racket, but it’s no less critical than the real men out front swinging swords. I paid for your patronage, and doubled down to fund your little mission. Don’t forget that you are part of an elite fighting force, regardless the bunch of sloppy disgraces you may look.”

    As quickly as it had come, the smiling visage of the magician vanished, replaced once more with the scowling monster. Extending a hand, Storm took ethereal hold of the lead slob’s belt-buckle, an electromagnetic field grasping it no less tangibly than if he wrapped his long fingers around the piece directly. He foisted the man an awesome fifteen feet in the air, the hapless little alcoholic hanging from the waist, as though a great beast had taken hold of his buckle about a tall tusk. Opening his hand, Storm sent the man screaming to the earth, saved only by the same wizard clenching his fist once more a fraction of a moment before his fat-addled carcass would crash to earth. Incapable of holding the strain, his belt snapped with a whip sound, sending the man tumbling harmlessly to the earth from only a few inches above.

    “While the grown-ups do the fighting, you’d best not fail me.” Without another word, Storm Veritas charged back to lead the second line, a thick parade of cavalrymen alongside Commander Brackett.

  7. #7
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    Arden stood ten paces ahead of the frontline, his torso glistening with the lurid sweat of anticipation and hunger. With one hand resting on the hilt of his blade and the other loosely by his side, he held a certain charisma undeniable. He wore loose fitting slacks wrapped tightly below the knee and a pair of cloth shoes in traditional Akashiman style. Nothing about his appearance suggested skill or finesse, save for the expression on his face, half covered by strands of long, auburn hair.

    “Shields up!” he roared as the distance between Us and Them narrowed. Now, he could see the whites of their eyes, as eager to clash blades as he.

    The Knights Brae raised their shields and laid them across one another, sword tips protruding from between the winged curve on the right edge of each sheet of metal. The white plumes atop their helmets rocked in unison, and unspoken stratagems and dusk till dawn drills began to pay dividends.

    “Hold steady!”

    No charge came. Only an undeniable advance. Arden retreated and fell naturally between two of his men. The shield wall broke only to allow him to take his place, forming behind him and moving in time with his languishing gait. At the far flanks of the line, the wedge formation kept their sights set on the rugged landscape, trying to gauge wherever or not their enemy was trying to outmanoeuvre them. A single, scraggy looking raven flew over the battle lines, cawing indiscriminately and odalisque eyes silently observing the pieces far below.

    ---

    Leopold fared a little worse than Arden, running back and forth between the cadres of archers and scouts that formed the army’s rear-guard. They had not anticipated such an intricate engagement, given the bulwark of the city walls behind them and the relatively uncomplicated terrain on which they were to make their stand. As he barked orders left and right the merchant regretted vehemently only bringing one bottle of bourbon. Whenever he got a chance, he slipped a hand into a purple whorl to fish about in his otherworldly armoire and swore louder and louder each time his clenched fist re-appeared holding yet another long lost trinket.

    “Ordman!”

    A plucky redhead appeared out of thin air, white shirt soaked with sweat.

    “Yessir!”

    “Run to the northern lines and tell our special little guest to do his thing.”

    “His thing, sir?” The young recruit looked puzzled. Leopold could never be sure if it was his intellect or the fact he shouted every order in an increasingly inscrutable Scara Braen twang.

    “He’ll know what you mean.” He shooed the boy away.

    “Yessir!”

    As the frontlines closed and battle broke out on the plains, a war of another sort raged in the shadows of the colossi walls of Radasanth. One between a merchant, his bird, and his increasing need to abandon sobriety.

    “Count your arrows, and string your bows!”

    Five hundred good men and women did just that, eager to let their weapons sing in defence of their homes. Before each groups of marksmen were mounded white fletched arrows, steel tips barbed and swanlike. Far from yet another homage to the heraldry of Scara Brae, they were designed less to kill, more to ensnare and encumber and turn a close-knit engagement into a savage pitfall.

    “Wait for the signal, then fire like you’re shitting yourself!” Leopold produced a top hat and set it on his head, along with green lensed goggles and a rather excessive hunting rifle and scope. He checked the barrel and retreated to the city walls, atop which he would find a suitable position to carry out his own little coup de grace. No matter how dire the hour, he was not about to let Arden Janelle have all the fun.

  8. #8
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    Storm Veritas's Avatar

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    (modifications are available; feel free to respond to my PM)

    Death was never easy to stomach, however Storm had steeled himself more to the notion than most anyone in the land. He had sent men forward, knowing many would die, sacrifices in the grand chess match for the greater good. Those lives would ultimately be needed for the liberation of Radasanth, the chance to tear down the tyranny of a long-run council and elite-serving politico once and for all. Nevertheless, the lingering itch of reality pulled at him, betraying his better logic.

    Do THEY think this is worth the sacrifice? Will their wives and children be happy for my grand victory?

    The chattering grumble-shout of thousands of feet falling in unison reverberated across the plain as the army led by Garron closed faster and faster upon the wall of oncoming Radasanthians. High atop Attila, Storm averted his eyes at the first twanging sounds of metal clashing barely preceded the roars of death.

    “Glad that big bastard is on our side.” Brackett’s deep, gruff voice whispered above the fracas before them. Seamus had sky blue eyes piercing across the field behind his tanned face, his square jaw not yielding from the horror before them.

    Garron, for his shortcomings in articulation, relished in war. His bellowing voice roared across the battlefield as he swung the heavy hammer with speed, finesse, and incredible raw power. Soldiers apart from him ducked and dodged where they could, but the tornado of muscle, leather and steel terrified his enemies and rallied his own troops. With one tremendous swing, the hammer caught the underside of the jaw of one young enemy soldier, the force of the blow tearing flesh wide, the neophyte’s head flailing back, muscle torn from jaw, skull twisting and falling over his back like a knapsack as he collapsed to the ground in a heap.

    Gods… Storm’s eyes were fixated upon the mountainous creature, horrified at his glory. It was only the shimmer of steely raindrops that caught his attention and redirected his terror.

    Arrows were coming down from the distance upon the troops at war, as men twisted and fell in seemingly random, anguished pain. The field of arrows coming down seemed countless, as hundreds upon hundreds of them created seemingly boundaryless arrays in all directions. There was no shelter as they fell, many making thud and ping sounds glancing off armor and steel, many driving deep within flesh. Helpless from range, Storm and Seamus watched as Garron heaved his heavy shield, stopping a dozen arrows with the slab or iron. On perfect cue, an errant arrowtip dove deep beneath a rib, skewering his thickly muscled abdomen and bringing him to a knee with a groan.

    “Garron... Shit. Trumpets and banners; retreat. Roll the archers for cover, giants up.” Seamus’s words were terse and intentional, and seemed to be directed at no one in particular. Of course, the battle-hardened veteran knew far better.

    “Sir! Immediately!” One of the scouts, riding dutifully behind the leadership tandem, signaled to the squad leaders behind him, who ushered out their orders with corresponding barks, hand signals, and direction. Like a massive transforming monster, the legions of Storm Veritas twisted into its next direction.

    A series of foot soldiers sprinted to the front line, holding their flags down in the command to retreat, gleaming metal bulbs at the base of their flagpoles. Trumpets blasted in sorrowful unison; a single long bleat followed by three quick, quacking bursts. The cavalry spread to let the archers pass, who cocked their own thousands of arrows, ready to fire upon anyone chasing the foot soldiers. Dozens of giants stepped forward, holding large boulders, cocked for their own volley.

    Come on, Garron, get the hell out of there.

    The massive commander barked at his men, ordering them back as they walled to protect him. He staggered with a heavy limp, barely able to move in the fray with his deep wound. He was slow, and the opponents could likely thin the numbers further by attacking as the Veritas forces retreated.

    “We can fire behind them, keep the enemy back, and allow a safe retreat.” The voice of the chipper scout seemed optimistic, knowing the Corone Rangers could shoot out the sun if called upon.

    The wizard said nothing, knowing the trap was well-set, if he could stomach the losses. Seeing his own men, the hundreds and thousands of soldiers that had given their lives for him fall and paint the fields with blood and viscera twisted his stomach in knots.

    Don’t make them die for nothing.

    “Hold. Let them follow. If they get within three hundred yards of us, shoot their fucking eyes out.”

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