The repeating sound of stone sliding along metal was rythmic and determined. It travelled on the western winds through the valley, over the cold waters of the river and as far east as Caenna village, where even the old miller Tyrr could hear it through the cranks and creaks of his slowly turning water wheel.
The white haired man squinted his eyes towards the west, where the first rays of the morning sun bathed the distant mountains in gold all along the horizon. Smoke pillars came from between the hills just half a day's ride out along the river, over by the old abandoned mills. Campfires.
Tyrr knew the place well, for he had built those mills, and abandoned them too when the picts had started to send raiding parties into the heartlands. Now he made his wheat flour inside the relative safety of the village. But the old man knew it would be only a matter of time before the picts would dare themselves further east along the river, make it unsafe for the villagers to grow their crops, and eventually force them out of these rich lands. Caenna would be lost.
The thought upset the man enough to send him into a fit of coughs. He was sat on his bench in the early morning shade outside the shed of his water mill, like he had done every morning for many years now. The air was still chilly from the night and it froze his lungs, but Tyrr was a stubborn man who would not give up his habits. Sometimes, they were worth holding onto when everything else around you changed.
Tyrr frowned at the phlegm he had coughed up, and took up a small linnen napkin to wipe his mouth. He picked up his old pipe and lit up, thoughtfully eyeing the campfire smokes from the west. He could hear more clearly now the playful splashing sounds of the river as it was funneled in below the murky wooden planks where he sat, and into the water wheel. The grinding, sharpening metal sounds from the west had stopped.
They were getting ready for something over there. And Leoric Wulvenbane was among them. The gaunt, white bearded features of the old man cracked up in a toothy grin and he took a deep satisfying puff on his pipe. He leaned back on the bench, relaxing his aching spine against the wooden planks of the house behind him..
Today blood would be spilled.
Last edited by -Leoric-; 22nd February 2009 at 12:03..
Leoric felt a small, delicate hand touch his bare arm, and the blurred vision of a uniformed soldier slowly started to fade from his mind.
"You know what to do, captain. Keep in contact." He mumbled into the void, and the figure nodded and offered a quick salute before the connection was severed completely.
Leoric let go of the mental connection as he loosened his grip of the small crystal he had grasped deep in his palm. His voice was a deep calm, more studied and calculated than you would expect from a brutish looking, scarred Cimmerian such as him. Opening his steel blue eyes then, he looked directly at the owner of the hand on his arm.
She was a lithe woman of Stygian descent, her skin a smoothe chocolate tone. Her full lips had small vertical scars in them, as if from fine cuts. Raven dark hair, a colour similar to his own long mane, flowed down her shoulders framing her differently coloured eyes. One green, one amber. The twin daggers over her hips were marked with intricate patterns, much like portions of her skin was.
She had been waiting, studying him quietly as he finished his conversation through the crystal. Leoric pocketed the small stone, its mystical glow of green and blue slowly dulling into dormancy as it disappeared from view.
"They are ready", he said simply. "What news from our scouts, little bird?"
"The picts remain in their camp, sire. They have feasted all night, and the chieftain appears suitably indisposed this morning." Rashi's voice was soft as silk, yet sharp and serious as the business end of a dagger.
He nodded at her news. A small, grim smile formed on his sharply chiseled features as he laid a large hand over hers as it rested over his arm, squeezing it firmly.
"Let us hope he has made peace with whatever demons he worship then, for today he will meet them in the afterlife."
Around them, the small camp was almost packed up. They were a small band, perhaps twenty souls. Some of them were well trusted Templari faces, others mercenaries contacted through other means, coming highly recommended by certain people that he trusted. All of them had ties to this land, and a reason to rid it of the pict scourge that was savaging it.
Rashi flashed a wicked grin towards Leoric and whispered into his ear, her lips brushing warm and sensual against him, "I look forward to see to that personally."
Last edited by -Leoric-; 24th April 2009 at 07:33..
The small band of warriors crouched behind the burnt out shell of what was once a farmstead. The landscape around them was flat and farmed, bathing in bright morning sunlight. Single cypresses and olive trees dotted the otherwise abandoned crop fields, and here and there a low stone wall crawled along shallow ditches and an old dirt road, marking borders between the tracts of Poitain land granted by the king.
Leoric felt the soot smear on his hand as he leaned on the burnt remains of a cornerpost, peeking towards the Pictish camp some two hundred steps further down the dirt road. Here some Aquilonian farmer, perhaps a retired legionaire even, and his family would have toiled through their days on the surrounding fields. Perhaps the woman had given him children, and they were free in their own way, making their own fortune. Now they lay dead. The man would have been killed first and the woman's last moments in life had probably been filled with humiliation and pictish flesh between her legs. The children would have been slaughtered like cattle and likely eaten.
Some fortune, he thought, and had to surpress a quiet growl from his throat. He forced himself to calm the spirit inside that wanted to rush ahead and cleave the heads of the savages who had caused this.
The massive Cimmerian looked behind him, to those safely hidden behind the wall. He raised a steeled gauntlet, giving a silent order to wait. The sally from Thunder Keep would come any moment now, and then it would be time to strike the picts from behind.
Reports had it their chieftain was a coward who lead his warriors from the back. Perhaps that's why he'd had such success, Leoric mused. A pict chieftain with more brains than guts would definately throw any enemy off guard; even well trained Templari. The casualty reports Leoric had received over the past months only solidified the pict chieftain's success. It had to end now.
He felt a gentle tug along his spine and inside his head. Leoric gripped his crystal hard in his hand and the vague image of Rashi's grim face appeared in his mind. She was painted black and red, her green and amber eyes staring at him through the ethereal bond.
"They suspect nothing. Two guards outside chieftain's tent. I can deal with them as long as you get the rest."
The voice that filled his mind was sharp and to the point. She was in killer mode, he thought to himself while nodding in satisfaction at her report.
"You should be too, Leoric", her thought came to him and he saw her grin through the image.
"This is the moment of truth, Rashi", he answered. "Dont lose your head." He grinned back and they severed the connection.
He knew she'd be alright. He was more worried about his men and women inside Thunder Keep. Their sally would be a fine distraction, but it would cost many good lives. It was a last desperate attempt. Captain Eurides was in charge of them, and had kept the retired Leoric noted on the situation inside the seiged walls for the past few months as there had been nobody else to report to.
Most officers were lost or dead after numerous breakout attempts, and it had been these reports that had forced Leoric to change his mind about the retirement. His and Rashi's son finally being born out of her belly surely helped too, and the infant was now being looked after by the gentle maid Meren in a safe location. Leoric could not think of a better surrogate mother while the child's parents went to their bloody business.
The distant sound of horns called Leoric back to the present situation. Powerful and long, the deep tone rolled over the flatlands, harbringing violence. He looked further southwards, past the pict camp and towards the blue hazy hills lining the horizon. Beyond there lay Thunder Keep, and Leoric smiled as he could imagine the proud banners of the Templari as they rode outside, determined to meet the main pict army head on.
Last edited by -Leoric-; 16th April 2009 at 10:41..
But a few moments later, Leoric turned to glare at the men and women who sat crouched behind him.
"It's time, friends. Our brothers and sisters have charged the body of the pict army." He no longer cared to keep his booming voice down. "Now let's do our part and sever its head!"
They rose as one and started jogging south down the road in silence. About half ways they could see the startled activity in the pict camp, and how the stationed pict sentries were all facing inwards the camp, where angered shouts were heard. Rashi had struck.
Leoric's group closed the distance to the first pict sentries quickly and shouted no warcries, but rather moved as a quick and deadly unit of tight discipline. Leading the charge, the huge Cimmerian grinned as the closest pict spun around with his spear to face them. The startled expression on the man's low hanging forehead and peering black eyes soon changed into one of battle rage and then once again surprise as Leoric's arm struck out swift as lightning to grab the end of his spear. Riding his forward momentum, the Cimmerian followed the length of the pict's longer weapon with the speed of a cobra, and planted his blade deep in his throat. The man's knees sagged instantly, black eyes staring at Leoric as the last life in them flickered and died.
Leoric grunted as he placed his boot on the greasy haired head of the pict and pulled his blade out with a violent motion, blood spraying out of the open wound and onto his tasset and bare knees. By now the hundred odd picts still in the camp were all facing the small Templari group. The largest group, which had gathered around their chieftain's tent, already had their spears and clubs up as they turned to face the new threat. The wild, black eyed savages shouted and growled with anger.
Behind them lay the bloodied, headless corpse of their chieftain - next to two of his guards. Rashi used the distraction to make her escape, a whirl of moving muscle and daggers. The huge pict who tried to bar her way screamed in agony as his foot was halfway severed, and the assassin disappeared out of reach.
The picts spread out and surrounded the Templari group, like wolves circling around their prey, all the while howling and mocking. The small group of Templari formed a tight circle of steel and muscle, sharpened blades lurking behind raised shields.
"Quick stabs, men! Neck and knee!" shouted Leoric calmly at his soldiers as the first wave of soot faced picts charged at them.
Last edited by -Leoric-; 16th April 2009 at 10:45..
Jab. Slice. Cut. Stab. Draw and pull. Next. The mechanical motions of personal combat. Up close, face to face with your enemy. You see his eyes. You know one will die. Through the stench of blood, the smell of adrenaline and dust of the battlefield, eyes lock, and you know which one of you it will be. Right from the start, you know. The doomed men react differently.
The ones who fear. The fathers, the husbands, the ones with minds on the bosom of a woman, a good ale, a steak, the fresh air and the sunrise on the top of the mountain. The majority in any army consist of these men. Those who were not here to die, but to fight for a better life. Safety in numbers. They follow orders out of fear of the alternative. The weight behind the blade. Ninety out of a hundred.
The trained soldier accepts his fate. Knows he is born to die on the field. Holds his line. Covers his friend to the left with his shield, and closes the gap when he falls. When his time comes, he sends a prayer to his Gods and bears death, knowing he served his lord and country. These men are the backbone of an army, the disciplined core. The steel of the blade. Nine out of a hundred.
Finally, the hero. The berserker, the protector, the one man who goes beyond what is possible. The wallbreaker, wavebreaker, the safe back behind which others advance or stand fast. Fears gone, distractions gone. Fights until the crimsom curtains covering his eyes are finally replaced with either dark blackness or with the soothing blue of restful bliss, raising eyes to the sky after surviving another battle. The edge of the blade. The who one brings them all home. The one in a hundred.
The small band lead by Leoric tightened their ranks as comrades fell. Mounds of dead bodies surrounded them, the vast majority beings naked picts with their sooted skins. There were Templari bodies as well. Long time friends. Trusted and handpicked. Leoric remembered each one's story. This was the pinnacle of their lives, their purpose. Each one of them took ten or more picts with them in death.
They fought and fell with grim smiles on their faces. They knew they had succeeded whether they lived or died. The chieftain was dead, his head removed from his shoulders by Rashi's blade.
Next to Leoric, his Cimmerian kinsman fought bare chested, swinging a huge club - easily the size of the largest pict weapons. His bare upper body was covered in cuts and stab wounds. The man held inhuman strength, a gift he always said came from the spirit of the bear, and he ignored all his injuries. In front of the two Cimmerians lay a horde of crushed picts at least half of which were sunk by his mighty club. Leoric knew Brannwych was seeing red now.
The raging expression on the man's face took no notice when he was gorged by a pict arrow that came out of nowhere. Suddenly the wooden shaft was simply there, sticking out of his shoulder. A few moments later, Brann started swaying and finally dropped to his knees.
"Poison", he gnashed through his teeth, and fell onto his stomach.
Leoric snarled at a pict who aimed the tip of his spear downwards to impale the fallen Cimmerian. Without a second's hesitation, he moved his sword to his shield hand, drew the pugio from his belt and hurled the dagger straight into the chest of the pict. The savage was flung backwards by the force of the throw, his scream cut off as blood entered his lungs.
The Templari general hefted his sword once more and tightened the ranks. His new neighbour to the right was Andros, a short but muscled Aquilonian with a contant sneering expression, caused by an old blade cut across his lips. The man was just a year or two into manhood, by all means too young to be part of this by Leoric's reckoning. But he had already proven his valour again and again and had not taken no for an anwer. Leoric and Andros looked quickly at eachother and nodded. Then they took one dangerous step each forward, temporarily creating a small breach in the wall of howling and swinging picts. Below their feet lay the unconscious Brann.
"Rhonius, pull him back!" shouted Leoric before he bit his teeth into the rim of his helmet guard, ignoring the pain of the spear that ripped another wound open across his upper arm. He shoved his shield into the spear, lifting it, and let his blade sweep low, slicing open the inside of the pict's knee.
"Yes sire!" was heard from behind. The young Mitran behind them shouted out a quick order in turn, and together with another man in the back ranks they pulled Brann backwards, into the safety of the albeit shrinking circle of Templari.
Leoric knew they would not make it. The curtain would soon fall and it would be black. He felt a brief moment of regret. Rashi had hopefully made it away after her clean kill. She would take care of Taric. Raise him to be a good man. The main Templari army in the south would cripple the headless beast, and Thunder Keep was safe once more. He smiled at the thought, and the swings of his tired arm came a little easier once more. He could still take a few more with him.
And then, the sea of incoming picts exploded in a cloud of fire. Flames licked the already sooted flesh of the savages, and their screams pitched higher and higher as they burnt.
Leoric looked up, surprised, to the western hills which flanked the chieftain's camp. There stood a lone figure in long red silk. A woman; eyes ablaze and robed arms raised to the skies.
Last edited by -Leoric-; 16th April 2009 at 10:20..
Silence covered the field where scores of men and women had just died. Even the wounded fearfully held their whimpering back in their throats as the red robed figure made her way down the hill, towards them. She wore a silken mask over her face, covering all but the dark eyes.
Leoric looked around him. The picts were destroyed. Their front ranks, those who had been closest to the defending Templari circle, had simply ran straight into the shield wall. Gorged themselves on the Templari blades. The center had been completely burnt, incinerated into foul smelling pieces of churned, black flesh. The back ranks had simply fled. Ran eastwards into the hills, howling frantically. Spread to the winds.
The Cimmerian sheathed his sword and removed his helmet. Sweat, blood and dirt soaked his long black hair making it cling to his cheeks as he squinted his eyes towards the approaching woman.
"Sir..?" a voice whispered behind him.
"At ease, Andros", replied Leoric. "She is one of ours."
Rashi was back with the Templari group by the time the robed figure stood in front of them. The assassin, still painted red and black, nodded quietly towards the other woman.
"Sabela", Leoric said. "You always had a sense for timing."
The robed woman unhooked her facial cloth and lifted it aside. Her clean Stygian features were cold and calculating, just as he remembered his old friend.
"And you never had the sense to ask for assistance from those who are capable of truly giving it", she analyzed in a sharp voice.
Her eyes glinted and a tiny smile played across her thin lips. She nodded in recognition to Rashi.
"Heh! Obviously I didn't try hard enough, dear lady. Still, I'm glad to see you", Leoric let out a quiet chuckle. Sarcasm mixed together with understatement. The robed Stygian smiled further, inclining her head in appreciation.
"We need to move quickly now", he grunted. "Got to close the gap to the Templari from the Keep. They may still need our help with the main pict force."
The three Templari nodded to eachother, and Leoric turned back to the small group of warriors tending the unconscious Brannywch and the other wounded. The tanned face of the young priest Rhonius looked up. He met Leoric's eyes and shook his head slowly.
"Sir.. I.. can't say if he lives or not." The Mitran's voice was shaking as he continued. "His body has gone into some sort of state from the poison. I'd surmise a guess that he is probably struggling against it. He needs a bed and plenty of rest, sir. The rest is up to Mitra."
Leoric nodded at the report, and turned towards his men.
"Andros. Yeris. You two will follow behind us on the wagons with Rhonius. We're bringing our dead home with us for a proper burial. Rhonius, stay close to Brann at all times."
He shifted his gaze. "The rest of you, come with us. We're meeting our boys from the Keep and help them mop up if needed."
Without further talking, the small group sprang into motion. Horses and wagons were brought from the hiding place behind the burnt farm. Leoric, Rashi and Sabela and eight more men saddled up and rode south. Rhonius and the other two proceeded to tend to the dead and wounded, loading them into the two wagons for transport back to Thunder Keep.
Last edited by -Leoric-; 28th April 2009 at 12:40..
The black smoke burnt his old lungs, but Karon knew he must not give in to the pain each breath caused him. Not now. Not after all this time. All this work - it could not be lost.
The old man stumbled in his sandals as he rushed down between the book shelves in the library, a young, heavily armoured guard hurrying along in his footsteps. The man behind Karon constantly kept looking over his shoulders, flinching at each sound from the outside.
"Sir, the Nemedians are almost inside. We do not have time for this", barked the younger man in a voice on the verge of panic. Karon closed his eyes and hoped he had not made a mistake trusting him with this task.
He turned around, coughed once and then grabbed the man by the shoulders, looking him in the eye. Old brown meeting young steelish blue. Despite his age, Karon's stature was still impressive, his white hair matching the still clean Atlantean style white toga he was wearing and he was easily as tall as the Cimmerian guard, which meant a good six foot and a half.
"We have time for this. This is what we have lived and died for, soldier. Now follow me and put what I give you in that pack of yours!" He knew there was little chance the young guard captain would survive and make it out of the burning city, but an attempt must be made.
The aged scholar hurried along the shelves and picked out tomes seemingly at random. The old man, however, was very aware of what each of them contained; both in actual content and in value to the Ordo Templari. The guard's pack was soon filled with what was by some deemed to be the most valuable sources of information of lost Atlantis on the entire Hyborian continent. Finally Karon approached the young soldier with a chest, small enough to fit in a large man's arms.
"I know this is heavy, son, but you must protect it with your life. Use these to", he was once again attacked by a fit of lung wracking coughs, "to rebuild us. Please do not ever forget your purpose. Do not forget what we have taught you!" And with that he shooed the young man away. "I will die in this library son, and you know that. Now go and preserve the legacy of Atlantis!"
The soldier suppressed whatever feelings he may have had, saluted Karon one last time, and then ran as fast as his legs could carry him out of the library, into the smoke filled ruins of the lost Templari haven where so many lives had been extinguished this day. Workers, merchants, peaceful scholars, their children. The Nemedians made no distinction in their cleansing. The Templari guard captain saw patrols of soldiers going through each house with drawn swords. Eyes ablaze in anger and frustration, he knew there was nothing he could do. One large patrol was advancing on the library, and he barely avoided their attention. A horse waited for him behind the large library, a building he had spent so many boring hours in with Karon and other teachers. How he wished those days back now.
With a face full of soot, tears and determination, the lone Templari dashed down the road on his horse - away from the Temple City, into the unknown future.
The Poitain winds ruffled his raven mane, lifted and tousled it against his cheeks as he stared out across the inner courtyard from high up on the battlements. Thunder Keep. Once more full of life, full of Templari.
Services had been held for the fallen heroes of the recent siege. New scholars and adventurers flocking to the cause. Expeditions and disciples spreading out from their base in Thunder Keep. So much safer than the Temple City had ever been. And yet there were new challenges. New dangers to be faced.
"I have done what I could, teacher. I hope it was enough", muttered Leoric into the carrying winds.
Last edited by -Leoric-; 9th October 2009 at 10:11..