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All's Fair In Love And War - Ch.11

Losenis Mar 29th, 2017 (edited) 436 Never
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  1. Each step gave way to a spongy noise and sensation, squishing the damp grass below their boots and hooves. The raindrops struck against their water-proof cloaks, hitting harder and harder with each passing hour; their hoods did less and less to hide their faces from the drops, as winds picked up further speed to rain water upon their chins, hitting higher and higher as time passed. Such was the rain that came from so many clouds high above, turning the sky into what felt like midnight, with lightning here and there to illuminate their way.
  2.  
  3. "Sire." Called a horseman, rushing to him and following beside.
  4.  
  5. "Speak." Answered Vandire.
  6.  
  7. "Scouts spotted several cultist armies moving north and south from us. They're moving westward, most likely to cut us off."
  8.  
  9. Vandire marched silent momentarily, lowering his gaze for a second. "Noted."
  10.  
  11. The scout then saluted, and gallopped off. Much as Jeremiah followed the scout with his eyes, he said nothing, still staying beside Vandire.
  12.  
  13. "Chances are that the cultist we fought were just a pisspoor insignificant number." Said Vandire. "The manpower the cultists have extends to every man and woman they've converted, and with the number of cities they've already converted... we might be looking at a number of about half a million, should they bring their full might to bear."
  14.  
  15. Jeremiah couldn't bring himself to say a thing, leaving the raindrops hitting their cloaks and the squishy grass stepped over to take over the silence left.
  16.  
  17. "You have the chance to leave." Continued Vandire. "You can save yourself and your army. The plan doesn't count on any of us getting out of Acerrae."
  18.  
  19. Silence. That Jeremiah still marched on ahead with him may have been a better answer than any words.
  20.  
  21. "Our task is to bring as much attention to ourselves as we possibly can. We're not supposed to capture Acerrae, so we'll amass our forces in one single point, pierce through the cultist line, and rush to the center. Then, when we find the lilim, we'll get Indrick out of Acerrae with the paladins to protect him, but we'll remain here and distract the cultists so that they don't pursue."
  22.  
  23. "Indrick will have entire armies chasing after him if they figure it out. Perhaps a few dullahans going with him could help."
  24.  
  25. "No. The more that go with them, the more chances there are of them getting noticed. Twenty is already pushing it. Not to mention that they'll be armored to the teeth, so they have more chances than anyone else."
  26.  
  27. "...Armored?"
  28.  
  29. "Dirk used the prototype. It performed... adequately, from what Indrick saw."
  30.  
  31. Acerrae lied ahead. Jeremiah and Vandire both could see it clearly with each flash, far, far in front, a mere speck in size in the horizon. None had words to comment, continuing the march without clue or hint as to what to expect. The scenery could have served as a damning enough omen, had all not come to the forceful conclusion that reaching Acerrae was the only option they now had. In front, cultists awaited; to the North and South, cultists threatened to join in against them; and far behind, more cultists surely chased them. That Makillae and Aquilae remained safe as a supply path turned into mere wishful thinking in Vandire's mind, though so too did the idea that they'd last enough time in Acerrae to spend all they brought with them.
  32.  
  33. ---
  34.  
  35. "Today, the world is watching us."
  36.  
  37. The deafening lightning strikes all around them left Vandire's words to be drowned out beyond a distance. Apart from stronger in noise, the frequency at which they fell left them as an exceptionally effective source of light, as if half the time the world turned bright, and half it turned black. The, without half a second going by without a bolt illuminating the surroundings. Winds that intensified further into that rivalling a hurricane did nothing to help, with the wind blowing past everyone's ears making such nightmarish noise along with the whipping and rattling of that which wasn't tightly pressed against one's body such as the cloaks all wore.
  38.  
  39. The weather had become apocalyptic, a meaning which found its place in the hearts of all present, for none believed it possible in natural circumstances. It had condemned Vandire to only be able to speak to the very front of the prepared army; the vanguard of that which would go head-first into Acerrae ahead, with twenty armored paladins encased from head to toe in an alloy of steel and demon realm silver in the shape of both chainmail and plate, without the slightest hint of skin to be seen past the metal, the leather, and the cloth with Nostum's heraldry proudly shown. Not only did their armor face a change from times of old, but so too did their weapons, with now each of the twenty holding a poleaxe in their hands; axe, spiked hammer, and spike rested at the head, standing a few heads above them in height. Beside and behind them stood the infantry that'd join them in the first step of the coming assault, all sharing the same silent and still atmosphere about them, of hopes of an easy day, or lack thereof of.
  40.  
  41. "Today, we will show The Order that the Nostrian army never falters in the path of its duty." He continued, marching on his horse at the front of the formation from side to side. "We are the defenders of humanity, and come Hell or high water, come beasts or untold horrors, no justification exists to not fulfill our task. When all hear of those who marched into the jaws of death, into the mouth of Hell, they will know who it was that dared. Who are we?"
  42.  
  43. "Nostrum!" Shouted all in unison, a shout unwilling to be drowned out by the storm's cacophony.
  44.  
  45. "Who are we?!" Asked Vandire again, louder still.
  46.  
  47. "Nostrum!" Answered all who heard, even those who didn't way behind, following suit in loudness.
  48.  
  49. "To Acerrae! Glory to the first man that dies!"
  50.  
  51. With a cry to the wind, paladins and infantry took the first step and ran forward in a violent stampede, leaving an earthquake in their wake. Having stepped aside for the formation to charge forward, Vandire stared at how hundreds upon hundreds rushed past, with their steps almost drowning out the thunder and wind itself, and with their outlines glinting and shining by the brightness of lightning over their drenched cloaks.
  52.  
  53. No time to enjoy the view. He turned his horse and rushed to the rear, to find Jeremiah arriving is similar haste on his own horse, both stopping by each other.
  54.  
  55. "Hope you gave the dullahans a good enough speech to last them the night." He said.
  56.  
  57. "Up to them to decide if it was good or not."
  58.  
  59. "We'll see, then. The dullahans better pull their weight if they want to end up in the history books. If we fail in getting the lilim out, nobody will ever know what happened here. They are all ready, I presume."
  60.  
  61. "The moment the first wave gets through, they go in and reinforce them. They know what to do."
  62.  
  63. ---
  64.  
  65. Heavy footsteps lead the way towards Acerrae past the rain and wind. The first few arrows fell, signalling their entry into their range, followed by dozens, and then hundreds. Those unlucky few to be struck fell to the ground, yet against the paladins it did naught but bruise them and damage their cloaks. No matter where he was struck, Indrick felt only the exchange of inertia, without one single arrow to pierce through his armor. A dead giveaway of the cultists' low quality of bows, o lack of strength to draw them in full. More and more fell, some with gasps, others silent, struck by arrows from far ahead, yet Acerrae drew closer and closer with each step.
  66.  
  67. Ahead, cultists gather in ever greater numbers, all with intent to greet them in kind. A massive blob-like formation filling the entire street comprised of hundreds upon hundreds of opponents, with nowhere to sneak through, leaving a violent breakthrough as the only option.
  68.  
  69. "Be ready for blood!" He shouted, receiving in response a quick shout in acknowledgement from those beside him and those behind.
  70.  
  71. The distance between lines grew shorter and shorter. The paladins gripped their weapons ready, pointing the spikes of their poleaxes forward while those infantry around them readied their longsword, and once close enough, the front let out a mad shout disregarding all manners of instinctual impulses for safety and of fear, all frowning and opening their eyes and depleting their lungs just before crashing violently like boulders shot from a trebuchet. A second-long cacophony ensued of bodies struck against each other, demonic metals grinding against each other, yet more shouts still, and waves upon waves of men pushing forward from both sides as the front mercilessly pummeled each other in such claustrophobic space.
  72.  
  73. The poleaxes had proven their worth upon first contact, with Indrick's first piercing through one cultist, only for him to disappear and embed itself upon the second, and then third. Though he had lost momentum by pure weight of those he had impaled, the forces pushing against him from behind only propped him forward still, striking against the fourth and fifth cultist in the same manner, just like the other paladins beside him have. More poleaxes appeared above him, those held by the second line of paladins which formed the closest thing they could to a wall of spikes, and once Indrick took the first step forward to push after the charge, the wall followed, impaling relentlessly against the cultists in front. On and on, those cultists stabbed struck the axe-head and hammer of the poleaxes serving as a stop, preventing the same situation as Makillae from occurring, that of cultists sliding through the spear right into the face of the wielder.
  74.  
  75. The first swings came his way. They struck, yet the armor protected him whole, without a chance for the blades and spikes to sneak through even the tiniest crevice. A surge of confidence followed, in which he stepped forward and thrusted into another cultist, before taking yet another step and bashing with his head against the closest, grabbing his own poleaxe higher from just below the head and impaling it upon another, and swinging it up and lowering it like a hammer against the third against the union of the neck and shoulder, all while nothing could do so much as scratch him.
  76.  
  77. "They can't do a thing!" He shouted. "Carve a path through them, the rear will secure it!"
  78.  
  79. As soon as his words ended, he caught Sigismund beside him recklessly throwing himself forward, crashing against the cultists with poleaxe and swinging mad with poleaxe where space allowed and fist where it couldn't. More and more paladins followed, pushing with all their strength, and so too did he join in the barbaric brawl that followed, constantly pushing against an innumerable tide. Unimpeded by the fear of injury, those clad in steel returned in kind the tactic once used by the cultists, that of pressing themselves against the front and making most if not all movement nigh-impossible. The second line with their poleaxes exploited their reached and stabbed on and on, turning cultist after cultist into smoke, allowing those at the front to charge again through the smoke and impale those in front until they bogged themselves down, only to repeat the process over and over again.
  80.  
  81. No longer did it become a slog like in Aquileia. What would've been expected to become a step every hour turned into walking speed with how fast they advanced; that the cultists had been left with no time to relocate their archers with how quick the paladins broke through only made it worse, or better. The paladins advanced, butchering all in their path, and behind them followed the infantry plugging the streets at their sides and exploiting the chaos within cultist lines, cutting them off into pockets within each building and massacring all into smoke.
  82.  
  83. And yet, no matter how many they fell, their numbers seemed endless, neverending. Already two blocks they advanced, and the cultists still rushed against them like before, never subsiding. Three blocks, and the density of cultists never changed. Four blocks, and tiredness had begun to show, a bad omen of things to come if they kept pushing to the point they would not hold should they need to hold the line. Five blocks, and their swings and thrusts had become slower, with panting audible in the air around them. At that moment, while locked pushing against a cultist with his shoulder, Indrick reached for his neck and pulled a whistle hanging like a pendant, raised his visor a mere slight bit, and blew on the whistle as hard as he could.
  84.  
  85. The sharp noise pierced into the ears of the paladins. Without a mere second delayed, those paladins at the second line thrusted in sync and stepped forward through the front line, replacing the first line and taking up the task of advancing despite the blades and spike thrusted their way. Now at the second line, Indrick let go of the whistle and took deep breaths, with the damp air flooding his lungs with each pant; relief in proper rest, with the only thing to do being following behind the line. Due to the exhaustion, he and the others chose not to help the front with the reach of their poleaxes, resting as much as they could in such short time span they would have before the front grew just as exhausted.
  86.  
  87. More blocks down. From what Indrick had seen, the paladins alone must've felled over a thousand cultists already, to say nothing of the whole two armies. The line had grown slower with each step, exhaustion at the front taking its toll. Already he wanted to blow on the whistle again, if his aching arms didn't suggest otherwise.
  88.  
  89. "Dullahans!"
  90.  
  91. The shout from an infantryman caved his heart in.
  92.  
  93. "Whose side?!" Asked Indrick. "Whose side?!"
  94.  
  95. "Loyalist! Reinforcements!"
  96.  
  97. Felt like divine intervention, to have news of those on their side arrive at the front, rather than the others. Unable to contain his curiosity, he turned his head and scanned the scenery behind him, that of a forest of infantry blocking his view past a mere few meters, yet soon enough there he saw them advancing through the infantry while the others, exhausted as they were, withdrew. The dullahans, with an immediate effect upon arriving to the front swinging and thrusting, pushing through with almost as much speed as the paladins at the beginning.
  98.  
  99. "Paladins, step back! Rest and let them push!"
  100.  
  101. Unanimous agreement followed, with the twenty of them leaving path for those dullahans arriving at the rear to step past them and take up the front. A hint of shame engulfed the twenty, having to let monsters replace them after mere tiredness had left them ineffective, but despite their armor and training, it would've been wishful thinking to believe that just twenty could pull the weight of an army.
  102.  
  103. A quick glance at the buildings on each side gave him enough hint that they drew closer to the center, yet far ahead above everyone's heads, Indrick saw no signs of the hall. Seemed paradoxical, even as he saw the line extending to fill the new terrain, that of the street's opening before the hall that he yet didn't see. Should've been within sight, its numerous floors and conical roof, but it was gone. More and more the dullahans advanced, until he began seeing it: The walls, or fragments thereof, that which the dullahans stepped around to advance. Fragments of the building now left in ruin, with a clear difference between the ground outside and inside the former boundaries of the building.
  104.  
  105. As the line marched on and on eastwards, the twenty paladins stood their ground, slowly and silently walking about the drenched, cracked ceramic floor. With the town hall gone, so too were their ideas gone with it. Absolute nothing remained of it, not even mere books, save for mere dust washed away by the apocalyptic rain.
  106.  
  107. "Indrick." Called Geoffrey.
  108.  
  109. Though he turned his head, through the slit of his helmet he saw Geoffrey not looking back at him, but instead facing at elsewhere towards the ground. Indrick stepped up to him and then followed where his helmet pointed, as did a few others as they arrived, to find on the ground beside debris a descending staircase. Uncovered, with the rainwater running in, leaving all to imagine that the cavern below had been flooded or was about to, judging from just how long ago it had begun raining.
  110.  
  111. "Lantern."
  112.  
  113. A paladin walked towards them taking out an unlit lantern from a large pouch, and put it on the ground. While another used his cloak to stop the rain falling upon it, the paladin lit it, and handed it to Indrick.
  114.  
  115. "Stay close." Said Indrick, taking the first step to descend with poleaxe in one hand and lantern in the other, caring for solid footing lest he slipped on the drenched steps.
  116.  
  117. He soon marched further down enough for the rain to no longer annoy him with each and every hit against his cloak, and with further steps down he only heard the noises outside through heavy muffling. His ears ached over so much noise he had gotten used to, and felt the relief of relative silence other than the water running down the steps like a stream. Behind him soon followed Geoffrey, and then the others, all with their boots clanking against the rocky stairs.
  118.  
  119. The noises from above became muffled further with each step forward, and the lower he walked, the more it began to echo with each step, soon almost drowning out the surface noises. Then, he noticed how his steps no longer let out that quiet noise of water; he raised his visor just enough to look at the stairs by his feet, and to the complete opposite of his expectations, he found it completely dry. He lowered his visor and stared dead ahead as he stopped in his tracks, raising his arm to have those behind him halt, but upon hearing the dead silence that ensued, he couldn't hear any steps coming from behind, as if nobody had been following at all. He turned around enough to glance back, and only saw the gray light from the surface. No rain fell, no water streamed down, and no flashing lights from the storm could be seen.
  120.  
  121. He looked forward again. The light seemed dim enough to see without the luxury of a lantern, God knew where the light came from, and the bottom of the staircase felt inviting enough for him. Then, he turned to see at the surface once more, as if contemplating turning back. He took a slow, deep breath, gripped his lantern tighter, and turned to march down below into the depths, alone.
  122.  
  123. The air grew thicker. Noises could be picked up, ones far different than the muffled storm that once was. Couldn't identify it, other than the certainty that it came from below. A few steps further, and he finally reached the entryway to the former town hall's underground, same as the last time he saw it save for the great many cultists he saw present. Same old tower, though this time surrounded by what must've been two hundred cultists, all kneeling in various lines forming circles around the tower, all kneeling and moving their upper bodies around in place, and all humming prayers to themselves. Mist gathered around the cultists, most concentrated around the tower's base itself, of that old recognizable black and red color and of the same electricity-like appearance. A glance at the cultists closest to him revealed beyond the mist part of a sigil, a circle of titanic size pulsating black and red, that in which the cultists sat along the boundaries of.
  124.  
  125. "The man himself." Greeted a voice.
  126.  
  127. Still in partial disbelief, Indrick slowly turned his head to the source, to find Melanie standing a few meters away facing him with a smile. Before he could say a thing, he heard a set of steps coming closer and closer, and when he turned to see it, he found Nyarlathotep with her old smile marching towards him, with a backpack on her back repacing her old bag.
  128.  
  129. "Enjoying the view?" She greeted.
  130.  
  131. That Melanie and Nyarlathotep did nothing served as hint that perhaps the cultists knew of his presence since time ago, yet chose to ignore him, or were given the command to do so. Melanie and Nyarlathotep, both as each side of Indrick a fair distance away, soon turned their heads to the tower without giving a single additional word to him, compelling him to look at the tower himself.
  132.  
  133. The mist intensified, growing and growing in height and width. A humming noise came from the tower, as if it echoed in itself the constant cultist prayers. As seconds passed, the mist and the noise became greater and greater, and soon enough the noise became a rumbling throughout the whole cavern, one Indrick could feel even in his belly.
  134.  
  135. And then, a flash, yet pitch black like that which he had grown used to seeing from his rosarius around the affliction. A blinding black flash, with a wind burst emanating from the tower like an explosion forcing him to bring his arm to cover the slit of his helmet. Such was the wind that it deafened him and threatened to tip him over had he not taken a step back, caught unprepared. When the wind subsided, he no longer heard the humming of the cultists, nor the rumbling, or anything at all. He lowered his arm and saw the cultists all staring forward towards the tower in silence, watching intently, some quietly standing up and looking in smiling awe. There at the center, right beneath the tower's supports at the man-sized space it had free, writhed something. Much as he tried, 'something' turned into the most accurate description.
  136.  
  137. A slime, yet at the same time, not. A violet entity of gelatinous consistency, dripping from the many tendrils it had, most of them at the bottom of its melting-looking mass. The mist had been blown aside by the gust of wind, leaving not only its clear silhouette to be seen, but so too its traits which only caused a headache on Indrick's part; paradoxically placed mouths, tongues, and teeth, yellow eyes throughout most of its body without clear purpose or connection to any biology he knew of, an eldritch creature he knew not the words to describe other than an aberration which made slimes look sacred and pure. Of all the traits it had, one rendered stunned Indrick's mind almost enough to partly shut down his mind with so heavy an effort to understand; the surface of its slime body, at least on the parts most humanoid, resembled an outfit fitting for a maid.
  138.  
  139. Stupefied to the level of a child, he glanced aside to Melanie as if it were a desperate attempt to find normalcy, wishing deep down to find a mocking grin that told him it was 'planned', but only found Melanie with a cheek raised perplexed and in absolute confusion. So too did she gaze towards Indrick, both locking eyes and slit for a mere moment.
  140.  
  141. "Ooooh!"
  142.  
  143. Nyarlathotep's cheer broke the silence, and both Indrick and Melanie snapped their eyes at her who joyously skipped over towards the creature. Soon enough she arrived to it past the cultists with her palms together in front full of expectation. Melanie and Indrick couldn't help but stare on, seeing the creature slowly popping a grin like Nyarlathotep's until it reached it's full extent.
  144.  
  145. "Tekeli-li." Said Nyarlathotep to the creature.
  146.  
  147. "...Tekeli-li." Soon said the creature. "Tekeli-li. Tekeli-li."
  148.  
  149. "Tekeli-li!" Repeated Nyarlathotep, with a composure not unlike a child with a new toy, saying it together with the creature. Then, she stepped forward and hugged it, who returned the hug back, both tipping to each side in unison as if it were some manner of reunion or celebration. "Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!"
  150.  
  151. The embrace then ended as Nyarlathotep stepped back. She took off her backpack and handed it to the violet entity, who cheerfully took it and put it on itself.
  152.  
  153. "...Hey, Nyarlathotep?" Asked Melanie, stepping forward. Curious, Indrick followed a fair distance behind.
  154.  
  155. "Yes?" She asked, seeing Melanie arrive in front, and Indrick standing a few steps back.
  156.  
  157. "What's... that supposed to be?"
  158.  
  159. "My new assistant."
  160.  
  161. "Assistant...?"
  162.  
  163. "Yes. I'm gonna need someone to carry my things, no?"
  164.  
  165. "So... What about our demon?"
  166.  
  167. "Hm? What about it?"
  168.  
  169. "You promised us a demon!" Retorted Melanie. "A demon to help us! We spent this much time summoning one thinking it'd help us turn everyone over to our side, and you ended up summoning... this thing!" She pointed her hand like a knife at the creature.
  170.  
  171. "Yes, that's a demon of chaos, and she'll help us."
  172.  
  173. "How?!"
  174.  
  175. "By carrying my things. It gets pretty tiring, you know."
  176.  
  177. "What about us?! Are you saying we're still gonna have to go around stabbing people?!"
  178.  
  179. "...Did you have something else in mind?" Asked Nyarlathotep, tilting her head as if a question mark would visibly pop out in the air.
  180.  
  181. Much Melanie she tried to respond, only grunt came out, interrupting herself and finding herself at loss for words, until she gave out a furious scream mixed with a sigh while holding her head in her hands and facing up to the ceiling. A proper, calm sigh in defeat followed after a few seconds, dropping her arms and lowering her head and shaking, before turning back and walking past Indrick to the exit. One by one, the cultists followed, though as much as he tried to decipher what they felt, Indrick couldn't find much in their expressions, as if they cared not or knew what they were in for, or just followed the cult regardless of what they did. Eventually, the last cultist stepped out of the cavern through the staircase.
  182.  
  183. "You're here for Victoria, are you not?"
  184.  
  185. Startled, Indrick turned to face Nyarlathotep with the spear-tip of his poleaxe aimed at her. There she was with her ever present smile, now with a demon of chaos staring with similar grin at him, and with such unnerving, glowing yellow eyes. He took a few steps back, left his lantern on the ground, and gripped the poleaxe tight with both hands.
  186.  
  187. "Quite the knight in shining armor, to sally forth with two armies behind you in search of the damsel in distress."
  188.  
  189. "Where is she?"
  190.  
  191. "Oh paladin, you've still got long ways to go."
  192.  
  193. "You said she was here."
  194.  
  195. "She is, and at the same time, she isn't."
  196.  
  197. "You lied, then?"
  198.  
  199. "I'm sure you'll understand it this way. You can be somewhere, leave, and another person can take your spot; the two of you will be in the same place, but time decides that you are actually not. Here, rather than time being the deciding factor... it's something else that you'll find."
  200.  
  201. The vague response, on top of what he believed had been a trick to not only waste his time, but also doom two entire armies, gave him a surge of agony and anger. In response, he gritted his teeth and thrusted forward, impaling Nyarlathotep through the chest.
  202.  
  203. But it did nothing. She didn't budge a mere millimeter. Her expression did not even change at all. No reaction occurred, as if he had done nothing at all. She then lowered her head to look at the poleaxe, then raised it to Indrick's eyes again.
  204.  
  205. "You pobably think this dream-like reality you are in leaves me immune to demon realm silver, mister Indrick." She chuckled. "Truth is..."
  206.  
  207. She extended her hand and took hold of his, the one closest to her. As much as he tried pulling away, he could not, her hand not moving a fraction of a hair's width. It wasn't a matter of lacking strength to struggle against her grip, a grip better described as limp and nonexistent, but as if reality itself denied him the ability to break away. Despite the lack of visible grip, he couldn't slip out, no matter how much he tried, even despite letting go of the poleaxe with said hand. Whatever Nyarlathotep was, he now knew for certain did not come from this world.
  208.  
  209. "...When you fight fire with fire, you're bound to get burned."
  210.  
  211. With her other hand, she slowly reached for his head. Panicking, he thrusted with one hand the poleaxe, messily so yet stabbing her nonetheless, only for it to have no effect at all. He let go of the poleaxe which slid out of her, and grabbed her arm to stop her, yet he could do absolutely nothing despite his best efforts, for her hand moved forward as if there was nothing to stop it. He even raised a leg and put her foot onto her to push himself away, but no matter what, he could not break free. Then, Nyarlathotep's thumb met with the forehead of his helmet.
  212.  
  213. ---
  214.  
  215. 'Glory to the first man that dies!'
  216.  
  217. ...
  218.  
  219. The echo of their footsteps and their rattling equipment followed them on and on through the dead silent forest of giant trees, reaching far high to the sky beyond anyone's ability to see. Though great open areas lied around each tree trunk, the mist left them unable to see past just a couple dozen meters, leaving them as blind as they would be in a normal forest. Such were the northern woods, as unnerving as the tales would have had them be. There was safety in numbers, one would be lead to believe, yet even with a hundred soldiers led by a paladin, none felt as calm as they would be, and not just due to the forest's macabre appearance, but what lied beyond the mist, that which they patrolled for.
  220.  
  221. Something caught his attention, a noise afar he could only imagine felt out of place. He halted and raised his palm, to which the hundred soldiers a few meters behind him marching in column silently acknowledged and little by little halted in place, with their steps diminishing until an absolute silence took over. Indrick glanced from side to side, scanning the scenery with narrowed eyes full of suspicion, staring into the mist wherever it lied, and soon thereafter he saw a silhouette coming through towards them. Then, a second, and a third, over and over, and wherever he looked, more silhouettes came from the mist from any and all directions. The hundred soldiers stared with just as much surprise, readying their weapons and slowly falling into a formation resembling a circle. Such scene left it clear that they were surrounded.
  222.  
  223. Their image came to light, as grotesque as they were. Horned aberrations mutated beyond any semblance of humanity despite their humanoid appearance, of a human torso and arms covered in filth and hair, and with the head and legs of goat-like animals, with twisting and turning horns of all manners. Monsters, as all would recognize in a mere instant, who stopped at a fair distance and stared at the group. All of them carried some manner of weapon and armor, be it axes or clubs, mere planks as shield or proper greaves and chainmail.
  224.  
  225. One in particular caught the humans' notice, of lengthy horns curving past its back, snorting and drooling, agitated and furious, soon taking a deep breath and letting out a thunderous roar to the sky. Throughout the forest of giant trees, its echo sounded and resounded over and over after it stopped. Whatever it did, neither Indrick nor the soldiers knew what it was, nor its purpose, though clarity lied in that none of the possibilities favored them.
  226.  
  227. No surprise. The monsters were what they had come for, a hunt and kill task.
  228.  
  229. "To me, sons of Nostrum!" Shouted Indrick, before raising his poleaxe high. "For God and country!"
  230.  
  231. Loud warcries followed, and once he stepped forward towards the monsters and began a charge, the soldiers caught up and joined him. At the same time, those monsters directly in front gave out an equal roar before charging against the humans.
  232.  
  233. Indrick ran up to the very first monster running up to him, and gripping his poleaxe tight, he swung it with the hammer's side in collision course with the aberration. Though the beast attempted to give the first blow, Indrick did so first, striking with his poleaxe against the skull, shattering it and sending the beast aside and against the ground. More monsters rushed in, to which Indrick swung again against one, chopping half of its neck with the axe, taking it off and trying to swing it at yet another, but the third beast had begun swinging already. He dodged the weapon by crouching, a massive axe, and struck the beast's leg, chopping into the bone and pulling to make it fall; then, he dislodged the poleaxe, raised it, and brought it down with all his might against the roaring beast's head. The hammer dug into its forehead, with an awful result of bone fragments and fluids indescribable, and yet more fluid drenching his hammer as he pulled it out.
  234.  
  235. A quick glance back, and he found the soldiers engaging the monsters in a mess of a melee; the monsters had broken through into the group, leaving any hopes of proper formation as mere wishful thinking; no lines existed, no formation, nothing other than a bloody tavern brawl, one where more humans died in gruesome ways than the others. Stabs, chops, strikes, broken bones and screaming, bloodied bodies and dismembered limbs, such was the strength of the abhumans.
  236.  
  237. "Stand your ground--" He shouted as hard as his lungs aloud, but before he could finish, all turned silent.
  238.  
  239. Something struck him in the back of his helmet, rendering him barely conscious, just barely able to see the blurred image of the world rotating as he fell until half his view had been taken up by the forest's soil. Down on the ground, without strength to move, all seemed to happen at a far slower pace, making it ever more painful for him to see the last few of his soldiers be killed, some with the hope in their faces having left completely as they saw Indrick down.
  240.  
  241. Then, he saw the goat legs. He turned his eyes, barely able to turn them at all, and saw the same monster as before, the one to roar first, with a maul in its hands. More and more monsters began surrounding Indrick, and just as he tried moving, if only to get up, the hooves of the other monsters stomped him and kept him down. The long-horned monster then slowly raised his maul, ready to give the finishing blow.
  242.  
  243. An arrow flew in, striking the beast dead in the eye and making it fall back, an arrow bright as the sun as if it were made from pure light. The beasts by Indrick turned to its source and charged with furious roars, and when Indrick turned his head to see, he saw those few beasts be fought off and subsequently killed by a winged figure with a sword in elegant agility, divine in grace and lethality. As those monsters within the mist gathered, the angel-like figure quickly grabbed onto the underside of Indrick's shoulders and began dragging him away from those that now stalked them.
  244.  
  245. Too weak. Couldn't think properly. All that rested to him was to say mere prayers, finding strength in faith if nothing else. To himself, he spoke word after word, all while the winged woman still dragged him away from danger, until she stopped for a moment, and threw him aside while jumping in the opposite direction. Something struck against the ground, a titanic being which shook the earth, and when Indrick kneeled up from where it landed, there he saw it, a minotaur standing twice as tall as him. A minotaur, holding an axe fitting its size.
  246.  
  247. "Almighty maker of all, God of this sacred earth..." He continued praying to himself as he stood up, now with poleaxe in hand and pendant in the order. At the same time, the neverending number of monsters grew closer, as did the minotaur. "Grant me a miracle, a blessing, the strength to destroy that which corrupts this world with its existence!"
  248.  
  249. A ray of light pierced through the mist with a thundering cacophony, landing where he stood. A surge of energy erupted within him, and as the ray of light dimmed, his poleaxe began emanating a great light like the greatest fire, with a crackling noise of embers heard from the holy energy imbued within his weapon. A blessing of the Chief God, those reserved to heroes alone.
  250.  
  251. He took a step forward, an action which the minotaur followed with a deafening howl. Then, both took speed and ran towards each other, and with a furious shout, Indrick swung his weapon against the minotaur.
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