TThere is no shame in fear. I would challenge any soldier to look out from the battered walls of a once great city and see what I saw a swirling mass of crimson clouds creeping over a field covered with death, engulfing the sun in its final moments of light. To witness the horde of life leeching Basharii and their masters, the shambling forms, the blood- soaked spikes. One would see it all and he would be afraid.
To fear for your life is to know its true worth. In the eleventh hour, when all was lost and our mightiest had fallen, I was afraid. I, like a worthless wretch, simply wished for the end. Most of our army was gone, and that meant all hope was lost.
The retreat had been sounded and, as we fled the battlefield, I saw my brothers and sisters shot down all around me; their wings erupting in
bursts of white plumage. In the cloud of feathers, shredded wings, and torn bodies, I crashed into the base of one of the guard towers and slid to the ground below. When I opened my eyes, I heard them approaching. The thunder of their drums, the heart- shattering battle cries, the smell of iron and blood on the wind; all of this bore down on the ruins of Hadar'Ath. And I would have let it take me if it was not for him . . .
“Fly, soldier! To the citadel, now!” a powerful voice woke me up from my misery.
Weary of the world, I opened my eyes.
“I said fly!”
A blow to my head, a quick hit, and my eyes opened to see a battle-hardened Varion commander, his plate armor catching the final light of the dying sun as its rays covered his stretched wings. He gave me another push toward the citadel as he drew his sword. “The Basharii have won,” I said. “It is over.”
“The sun is setting, I know,” the commander said. “But as long as there are living Elysar in here, there is still hope. Run and take cover. I will hold them off.”
“Bloodlord Yaadir leads the vanguard! He will devour your soul! He will—”
“I wouldn't count on that. Now go!” His voice was strong, although I did see his sword waver as he turned to face the coming horde. He held a Kryndar piece, a sword forged with enchanted metal mixed with the crystals taken from the body of a slain God. Although sullied with the blood of the enemy, the ancient symbols were still glowing underneath the stains.
“What is your name?” he yelled over his shoulder.
"Tyriol,” I replied.
“Tyriol,” he repeated, “I cannot hold them back with you at my elbow. Go now, gather all the survivors you can find, and get them on top of the tower.”
“Light upon you,” I said while struggling to get onto my feet.
“I sure hope so!” he said without turning his head.
The tower was filled with the dead and dying Elysar who had taken refuge inside. The ones who came with me were also wounded but in better shape than the rest of the survivors who had found refuge in the tower. Many of them were already dead. Their deep cuts, broken wings, burned feathers, and torn armors revealed the story of their bravery in the face of death. The lucky ones bled out their essence on the battlefield; us, the survivors, were left to face a fate worse than death if captured.
On the field, the souls of many Elysar had been devoured entirely, leaving behind nothing more than withered husks. It is said that to have your soul ripped from your body is the worst way to die. Witnessing it, is close to second. The body writhes for a moment before surrendering to the hole torn deep inside. Memories, love, precious things that define you . . . all of it slides into that hole and vanishes into the dark hand of the Bloodmage as your body shrivels. You then become an empty beaten shell and they feed your body to their flesh-eating brothers—you become nothing.
Zarya was cradling one of the injured in her arms. As I approached, I saw that the Elysar warrior maiden was sitting in a pool of blood and tarnished feathers. I remember watching her flying in my squad when the battle started. My hopes lifted at the sight of such a majestic creature. After the mayhem, her left wing was broken and she seemed like she would never fly again.
“He is passing now,” she whispered softly. “I would have . . . helped him, but he was so scared.”
I stared into his eyes and saw the light finally, blessedly, passing away. When it did, she closed the paper-thin eyelids and laid him down gently on the blood stained stone floor.
“He prayed to Silkior in the end,” Zarya said,. “but he could not remember the whole chant. The Gods have forgotten us—”
As if in response to his whispered unfinished prayer, the beat and power of the Basharii war drums intensified before the citadel’s broken doors. A hymn shouted by their cursed mouths began crushing our will and breaking our hearts. We rose and walked to the parapets to witness the beginning of our destruction with whatever pride we had left.
Standing at the bottom of the tower, alone and facing the horde, was the Varion, the commander of our forces himself. His armor sending waves of rays in all directions, his sword drawn and pointed at them.
“I will accept your surrender,” he yelled with a strong and clear voice as the vanguard was approaching.
A ghastly laughter came from the other side. The front line opened to reveal Bloodlord Yaadir, the monster imprisoned in that nightmarish armor, which they say, it has a mind of its own and a more frightening power than all the Haranur legends combined.
"Varion Rexir?! Oh, the Gods are good to me today," he shouted.
Clad in armor of obsidian and red enchanted metal, the shapes oscillating as if they were made out of liquid, adorned with glittering death symbols carefully drawn by Yadomir’s disciples. Bloodlord Yaadir approached Rexir with thunder in every step. Volcanic eyes flashed from beneath his black and red helmet as he loomed over him.
“I can smell your fear, its perfume . . . mmm . . . swathes you,” he said. “You will perish here, Elysar! And I . . . I will enjoy ripping the soul from your body—”
“Yet, here I stand,” Rexir quickly replied.
“And here you shall fall,” Yaadir cried with a blood-chilling sniggle. "This one is mine and mine alone!" he shouted towards his guards while drawing a vicious scimitar engraved with flaming death symbols. A blob made of red smoke, screams, and shouts, dripping large drops of blood on the dusty stones of the citadel, began to rise from his other hand as his armored fingers slowly opened to reveal it. “Mah’rain egri klait verla zil Rexiiiiir,” he murmured to it and the blob began to circle his shoulders while pulsating like it was alive.
“Your filthy blood magic is not going to help you today,” Rexir replied, preparing to charge his opponent. His wings flapped quickly and a swift blow followed, bouncing off Yaadir's armored chest as the fight began. Yaadir pulled back scared and his frenzied eyes began to glow intensely. With each hit, the Elysar was herding his enemy towards the wall of the tower. His Kryndar piece turned vicious in his hands. The sword began to show white flashing runes each time its steel met the enemy's enchanted armor. With each hit that landed, the sword's white glow was growing in intensity—and power, it seemed. It looked harder and harder for Yaadir to keep parrying the attacks.
Rexir was using his wings not to fly around his opponent, but to empower his swift blows. The bloodlord's armor was thick and the tricky red blob seemed to have a mind of its own always trying to get closer . . . and closer. . .
We watched from the tower how Rexir was outmatching the Basharii commander blow for blow, skillfully avoiding the levitating blob that would have poisoned and paralyzed him. For a moment, we allowed ourselves to hope. For a brief moment . . .
Another fierce charge was barely stopped by Yaadir’s scimitar, but his red blob was faster than Rexir’s withdrawal this time and it passed through his right hand, leaving a dark stain on the shiny armor. His hand wavered and dropped the Kryndar. Trying to avoid the scimitar, he stepped back quickly but Yaadir was paying attention. A spray of crimson blood erupted from Rexir’s leg, bringing him down. He briefly flapped his wings to recover his balance, but the wounded leg was not listening to his commands anymore. He knelt before the monster, too exhausted to go on.
“Such spirit,” Yaadir said. “I will enjoy eating your soul—”
He raised his hand and drove the blob through Rexir’s chest. But at the same moment, Rexir jumped to one side reaching for the Kryndar, swiftly grabbing its handle while taking a step back. With his last breath, he charged his enemy and a fierce cry rose to the skies as he drove it into Yaadir's body, piercing his armor. Both cried out and fell away from one another.
Rexir’s plate was scorched as if it had been hit by lightning. The sword stained by Yaadir's filthy blood began to blacken, its glitter slowly fading away.
For the first time since the battle had started, there was nothing except blessed silence. Then, that damned voice again, but this time choked with blood and much less arrogant. “It is only a matter of time now,” Yaadir said as two of his giant Sharadim guards took him away from the field. He looked up at us and called out again. “You have seen your last sunset!”
Soon after, the drums stopped . . . cursing us with a few more hours of life. When they had gone far enough, Zarya and I crept down to the courtyard to retrieve Rexir. His sword lay next to him as a promise to another bloody dance with death. He was still alive, his chest plate smoking like a crater. When we tried to get him to his feet, there was a sickening crack followed by a weak, pitiful scream. We laid him down again and I removed his helmet to allow him some breath.
“He has been drained,” Zarya said. “At least partially. No doubt his blow to Yaadir has saved him from losing his life.”
His skin hung from his body like an old beggar’s, the shape of his skull plainlyvisible beneath his long white hair.
“Armor’s too heavy,” he moaned. “My leg is cut . . . God’s, take the armor off—”
We did as he asked, allowing the night breeze to blow softly upon his wounded body. We sat with him as the sound of the drums started again and began to close in on us, filling the dark night with thunder. Hope was finally leaving this cursed place. The darkness was tightening his embrace. Zarya and I sat with our dying hero, thinking of how we will meet our ends but ready to face the horde and the thunder of their drums without any remorse or regrets . . . like Rexir did.
But it was then that I realized the thunder was accompanied by light. Not just light, but lightning. The sky was filled with flickering lights.
“Let me see,” Rexir croaked. We sat him up and together we watched from the hillside in the courtyard as lighting lit the dark night.
“More of the enemy’s magic,” Zarya mourned.
“No,” I said. “Look, just there in the middle of the field.”
A vortex of light was opening before the Basharii army. Lightning shot out of the vortex and into their ranks. The drums of battle had given way to screams and the battle formations began to break and retreat from the white light on the field.
“Finally, they have arrived," Rexir whispered. “Tyriol, as long as Elysars draw breath, hope is never lost. Remember this moment!” he whispered again while trying to smile.
There, in the middle of the vortex, stood a giant figure accompanied by two other beings. The light did not swirl around them—it swirled from them, their white armors flashing the light all around. The figure was awfully familiar, we'd all seen it many times . . . especially inside the temples of Beothan. And then it came to me, it was Beothan swinging his holy sword left and right, dismantling entire battle units with a single thrust. With him, Mazzur was blowing in his magic horn, making the enemies explode all around them and Yarael spreading her holy light on the fallen Elysar welcoming them back from the dead.
“It's not over yet,” Rexir said, trying to sit up. “Rally every survivor and race to help them. I’ve given you a fighting chance now . . . Tyriol," he whispered.
"Yes, Commander," I replied, still not being able to take my eyes away from the magnificent sight in front of me.
"Take the Kryndar, it is yours now," he said, putting the handle of the sword in my hand. "Lead our kind into battle. Prove that you are worthy of such a gift," he said with his last breath and softly closed his eyes while being held in Zarya's embrace.
I tightened my grip on the Kryndar’s handle and raised it towards the crimson clouds. I felt its power invading my body, healing my wounds, soothing my fears, and empowering me with its might and ancient knowledge.
"I can see it clearly now—there is no fear, only victory!" I whispered to myself. "BROTHERS AND SISTERS, RALLY TO ME," I shouted. My voice filled the area like a shout coming from a thousand mouths, empowering their hearts, healing their wounds, and strengthening their resolve. From every corner of the crumbling citadel, the Elysars were rushing towards me. "LET'S SHOW THEM WE ARE WORTHY!" I shouted again with the Kryndar raised.
The tower of the citadel shook behind me as the Elysar found their worth and charged to the field, bathed in the light of their legends and Gods. In that moment . . . we knew our worth and we embraced our fear . . .
To be continued...