All is Darkness
The heavens open.
The rain falls in vast torrents, and mingles with the hot tears of fury he weeps for the fallen. Carrion crows circle overhead and swoop towards the earth in deeper and deeper arcs, each braver than the last; finally one lands, perching atop the broad chest of a perished warrior, and bows its black head to feed on the still-warm flesh. Its comrades soon follow, descending on the grimy battlefield like a dark tide. The furrowed mud is littered with the forms of the dead and dying. The birds will feast well this night.
He surveys the plain before him. His brethren, having succumbed to the axes and swords of their enemies, lie still in the growing light of the sun. Nothing stirs, save the birds, which will continue to gorge for a good many hours yet; the corpses are many and succulent. He wants to leave this accursed place, this venue of horrors, but he forces himself to continue to stare. Barely four hours ago, he led his warriors to battle, twelve dozen of the finest brawn his nation could muster when the call to arms was sounded.
Over the preceding weeks, messengers had returned to his city’s gates, bearing news of the hideous army of malformed heretics sweeping all before them in their quest to reach the capital, and the many wisdoms and secrets held therein. Some had arrived on horseback, their steeds bloody and terrified, gore streaking their flanks, the men themselves wide-eyed and frantic. Some had arrived headless, tied to their horses. All whispered words to strike fear into the heart of the stoutest man. They spoke of terrible deeds; the rape of man, woman and child; villages laid to waste; tortures inflicted on those unfortunate souls they kept for their own amusement. They spoke of warriors clad in jet-black armour, impenetrable by spear or sword; and of similarly black weaponry, swords barbed and dripping with jade poison.
He had led his subjects to battle, marching proudly and bravely towards what was to become their final resting place. Rousing one another with songs and jesting, their spirits had not been quelled by the tales of their enemies’ prowess in battle, nor had they been vanquished by the seemingly otherworldly nature or their foe. They had reached the plains to the north of the city in the dead of night, and here was the true nature of their task revealed.
The army of soulless monsters lay before them, numbering many more than he had expected. Some stood guard around the camp, ensconced in their hypnotically black plate armour, pikes at the ready. Within the enclosure itself, however, lay the real horror. Even at a distance, he could clearly see the mottled green skin, the cruelly curved fangs, the rangy limbs of the enemy. Talons like daggers extended from gnarled fists, and vacant, lifeless eyes the colour of spoiled milk scanned the horizon with the unmistakeable look of a predator. As the defenders watched, live human babies were thrust squealing into fires, and cooked alive for the delectation of the creatures. Handfuls of innards were shared amongst the groups and wolfed down hungrily. They quarrelled constantly, and more than one was torn to shreds and devoured as the argument escalated. These were no simple soldiers his army faced, but something evil, something from another world entirely.
They had drawn back a little way so as to minimise the risk of their campfires being spotted by their foe, and set up camp. Concerns weighed heavily upon the heads and hearts of his men, and a handful were unwilling to engage such a godless enemy in battle; there was the feeling that, should they not run out victorious, not only their physical bodies but their very souls would be at the mercy and whim of the screaming harridans. He did his best to lift the spirits of these men, and assuaged their fears as best he could, delivering a rousing speech to which his men were altogether favourable.
The first attack happened so rapidly that two score of his men were slaughtered before they were able to draw their weapons and defend themselves. The fiends swept through their little camp, eviscerating men on all sides, and reducing other, battle-hardened soldiers to hysteria at their savagery. He had fought valiantly, as did those of his men who were left, and many of the monsters perished by his hand as the attackers were driven back over the ridge. The creatures beat a hasty retreat, and it appeared the initial wave had been repelled. His fighters rejoiced, but their elation was short-lived. Barely a hundred men stood intrepidly at the crest of the wave of rock that overlooked the plain, where, to his dismay, he spied hordes of them preparing for battle, some already charging at his men, slavering with hunger and ferocity.
The two armies met head-on. The clash of swords rang out amidst the battle cries, and the screams of the dying pervaded the air, just as their blood irrigated the arid ground. To his left and right, his men were falling, most of them surviving their mortal wounds long enough to take two or three of the hordes to the grave with them. From behind him, slicing through the noise of battle like his own dagger, came a blood-curdling cry and the unmistakeable sound of a heavy object whirring through the air. He turned to behold a mounted warrior the like of which he had never seen, ploughing a furrow through his men as inexorable as the tide. His army were thrown like toys to one side and the other as the massive steed, black as eternity, foul steam issuing from its flanks, thundered toward him, its rider bellowing and swinging a morning star the size of an anvil. He watched in slow motion as the fearsome weapon smashed its deadly arc through the bodies of his men, and then the beast was upon him.
His body was pulverised beyond recognition as the morning star tore him in two, and the iron hooves of the monstrous animal ground him into the dirt.
The heavens open.
The spectral king begins to fade, the battlefield in his vision shimmering and becoming almost ethereal in the dim morning light. Desperate to cling to everything he has always known, everything he has always lived for, he reaches out with a hand smeared with mud and gore, but must watch as his incorporeal fist allows the thinning rain to fall unhindered at his feet. A frustrated groan tumbles from his lips as he fades to a mere shadow, and only the battlefield can be seen, rife with cackling and bloodthirsty scavenging birds. His vision slips away as he leaves the bodies of his men, and for him, all is darkness.
Edited by Struff Bunstridge, 21 August 2008 - 10:47 AM.