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Baja Stratics News: "The End Game" by WarderDragon

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Babbling Loonie
Stratics Veteran
Stratics Legend
The End Game Prologue: Freedom Fighters

By WarderDragon​

“Come,” he murmured to her in tones of quiet steel. The Templar’s cold blue eyes flickered absently over his shoulder, descending upon the woman approaching him from behind. “It is your responsibility to be here, but I doubt they will be waiting for us.” She nodded silently.

Nicholas Tarrant descended the wide staircase down into the basement beneath Vesper’s Tannery, his heavy leather boots landing upon each creaking floorboard with a soft thud. The man moved like a large predator, Magdalena thought absently, his chilling eyes scanning the dimly lit room like a beast stalking its prey. That face was made from stony planes and angles, weathered but unlined despite the grey in his hair. He made Blackthorn’s palace guards look like cur dogs, the way he wore his sword, as though it were a part of him.

She followed close behind, blinking, wide brown eyes unaccustomed to the heavy darkness that now enveloped them. It had only been a couple nights since their confrontation with the Necromancer, Lord Asimov. Only a couple nights since Nicholas’ revelation, revealing just who he truly was. The Queen Heiress knew that there were dangers, even here amongst her friends, unassociated with the false king and his shadowy masters. Another evil that loomed upon the horizon, biding its time, waiting until the appropriate moment to reveal its true nature. She absently touched the hilt of her axe, fingers caressing the smooth, familiar handle. The man thought of himself as her Protector, her Warder in a sense, but he fought recklessly with no regard for his own safety. Only the safety of his friends, those he loved. And that, she thought, would be his downfall. He had the Dark Ones own luck, but someday that wouldn’t be enough.

One day, she thought bitterly, she would be the one protecting him.

She felt the cold, familiar touch of the Templar’s fingers in the darkness, as though he had sensed her thoughts. There was an old saying in Valderia, he thought to himself. Better to have one woman at your side than ten men. Better still, he mused, a woman with an axe that could swipe a Dark Elf's head clean off.

“Sir Tarrant?” a voice called out in the darkness. Zackarias stood up, lifting the vein of his lantern, rays of golden light filling the small antechamber as the pair descended the last step. “And Lady Canzione? You’re just on time.”

“Carai an Rahien,” Nicholas said dryly, catching the Blue Knight’s free hand in his.

“Carai an Valderia, Gaidin,” Zackarias smiled, shaking the older man’s hand. “Kullervo hasn’t arrived yet.

“Kullervo?” Magdalena asked.

“Yes,” Zackarias replied as he turned from Nicholas. The Knight of Dawn crossed his arm over his chest, offering a formal bow to the Queen Heiress. “Sir Nystad was the one who called the meeting.” He rose, looking to Nicholas. “But no one seems to know why.”

Nicholas nodded, his eyes flickering absently to the door. “And our friend?”

Zackarias smiled. “Not here fortunately,” the Knight of the Blue Rose replied. It was the sort of smile that hid a dark secret, one shared between the two Knights. “But some of his cohorts are. You know who I’m talking about. Oh, and don’t worry. I doubt even they would start trouble in front of everyone.”

“They have before.” Nicholas looked back to Magdalena, who eyed the grey-haired man questioningly. “I will explain later.” She didn’t look convinced, glaring at his back as he turned away. Men!

Magdalena finally nodded, shifting her gaze to the Blue-cloaked soldier. “Thank you, Sir Pendragon.”

“Anytime, beautiful.” Zackarias beamed, stepping aside, swinging the heavy wooden door open for them with a loud groan. The familiar voices of several individuals rushed out to greet their ears. Talk of dissent and rebellion, war against a much hated tyrant emitting from the brightly lit common room. Nicholas nodded politely to Zackarias as he entered through the portal. Magdalena followed close behind.

“Lady Magdalena?” Zackarias asked.

She stopped in the doorframe. “Yes, Sir Knight?”

“Where is Ceno?”

“I…” She breathed. “I don’t know.” The Queen Heiress shifted her eyes to Nicholas’ back, the Templar’s broad shoulders outlined by the light pouring into the room. “Nicholas tells me he is safe.”

Zackarias nodded silently as he looked to Nicholas, worry written across the young man’s face.

Nicholas strode into the common room, his eyes scanning the faces of the familiar and the unfamiliar. They had gathered there, all for the same purpose, although none of them knew what that purpose was. They were rebels, partisans united against the Tyrant King. Knights of the Royal Flush and Diplomats from Vasco’s Scythian Delegation. Brigands and Peers of Foreign Realms. All had received the same mysterious note.

The Templar searched their faces warily as he strode across the room, his broadsword bouncing against his hip as he moved across the floor. The Duchess of Dawn was there, sitting on the stool beside Lady Cymidei Fier of the Dark Tower. An odd combination, he mused silently, but not nearly as strange as the thought of fighting alongside his clan’s ancient adversary. But it was the sidelong glances traded back and fourth between the two women that suggested nothing had changed between them. Those antagonistic feelings were as strong as ever, and it didn’t look like they would change anytime soon.

“Soon,” Formotiis murmured to those near him, adjusting the collar of his heavy blue overcoat. “It shall be time for the blood flow to commence.” Wildstar shifted her gaze to the Dawnite questioningly, who smiled in return as he picked his nails with a kryss. “What I mean, is that the blood of a draconian is a marvel when properly siphoned from the enamel of its host.” The man’s manner was methodical, almost scientific. She nodded in response.

The two women were flanked on either side by Formotiis and Oriana. Formotiis, the Templar had been told, was an old citizen of the Kingdom of Dawn, returned from a long expedition to far away lands. The man had hair as grey as his, dressed in a heavy blue coat and matching cape. The color, the stitching, everything about his wardrobe looked familiar. The traditional garb of some foreign culture, but Nicholas could not say where he recognized it.

Oriana sat on the opposite end of the small row of stools, leaning across the table to Sluggy Freelance. “I talk to myself because, well, there is no one to talk to,” She laughed.

“A Duchess without pie?” a womans voice breathed in mock horror. Nicholas thought he recognized the melodic voice of Lady Sara, but he did not turn around to look as he cut through the crowd, guiding Magdalena by hand.

The Templar looked left. Mashira Anya drummed her fingers impatiently upon the oaken table, frustration filling her fiery eyes. Ayassa, Greyheart, and Chemick talked amongst themselves quietly. The Gypsy simply ignored them, her eyes searching for something.

Nicholas reached beneath one of the tables against the wall, pulling a bar stool out from under it. “Princess,” he murmured. Almost teasingly, Magdalena thought to herself. She mouthed a word of thanks, seating herself upon the firm wooden seat. The Queen Heiress looked up as the Templar Knight leaned over her, murmuring something in her ear. That is when he arrived.

A muffled shout rang out on the other side of the heavy oaken door, followed by a loud crash. Nicholas spun about on the ball of his foot, his sword leaping into his hands with a loud swoosh. The man's ebon shirt clung to his broad shoulders. The eyes of a trained killer, a wolf. The sound of steel scraping against leather and the thudding of bar stools toppling to the floor quickly followed as the door burst open.

Kullervo dug his heels in, his riding boots coming to a screeching halt on the recently polished floor. The Ranger’s eyes went wide at the sight of all the swords pointed in his direction. “Oh,” he breathed, raising his hands into the air. “I’m sorry I’m late!”

Nicholas lowered his broadsword, sliding the weapon back into its sheath at his hip. "Figures," he murmured.

Kullervo lowered his hands, breathing a sigh of relief. “I must apologize for not being here on the said time,” he shouted between breaths. “But I am glad that most of you made it.”

“Oh, it’s alright,” Oriana smiled sweetly. “We were just entertaining ourselves.”

One by one, the gathered began sheathing their weapons, setting the bar stools aright. If looks could kill, Nicholas thought to himself, the Gypsy’s eyes could have bored a whole clean through the ranger’s thick skull.

Kullervo approached the middle of the room, absently rubbing the hilt of his family’s ancient broadsword, Ukko. “I have information from Lady Dawn and Aino that needs to be passed on to you.” It didn’t take Nicholas’ trained eye to tell that the woodsman didn’t feel comfortable indoors, especially crowded amongst so many people. He didn’t belong here. The boy belonged in the wilderness, amongst all the untamed things of the world.

“The Thiefmaster has been able to find some very useful information regarding what the Shadowlords and their servants are planning next,” he continued. “We suspect that they will launch an attack on the other factions with the aid of the Crimson Dragons.”

“The Crimsons?” Yalp spat with contempt.

“Yes. We have reason to believe a massive attack will be launched on the True Britannians tomorrow,” Kullervo shook his head. “To take over the City of Britain in Felucca.”

They began to whisper amongst themselves, whispers of concern. Crimson Dragons? Magdalena looked up to Nicholas. The man’s icy blue eyes seemed to darken.

“The other reason for bringing you here,” Kullervo’s eyes scanned the room. “Is that we expect Lady Dawn to return from her quest in a few days. If not sooner.” He cleared his throat. “I will not say much here, but she will need your assistance at that point.”

Kullervo’s eyes looked grim, matching Nicholas’ own. “If is my hope that Fayaxion and her brood will be able to assist us.” But the man’s voice signaled to the gathering not to expect any such aid.

“So before we get drunk,” Kullervo looked up, brightening somewhat. “We need to talk a little more about the battle that might take place tomorrow. Are there any representatives of the True Britannian Faction here?”

Nicholas looked to his left as Sir Yalp stood, crossing an arm over his chest, a respectful salute directed towards the younger man. “There are True Britannians within my household.”

Kullervo nodded. “I believe that an alliance was made the last time the Shadowlords made a move under Lady Melissa. Does that alliance still stand?”

Yalp’s voice was cold, almost distant. “I believe there are others who might speak better of it.” Kullervo nodded.

“The Avatar of Blood shall soon have his offering,” Formotiis mumbled to himself absently, eliciting a sideways look from his Duchess. There was something strange about the returning Dawnite.

Kullervo eyed the two Dawnites, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “If the Crimson Dragon’s are assisting them,” he continued. “We need to be united. Are there any questions regarding this?”

Handalf cleared his throat. “We shall fight them on the beaches,” he uttered in a deep, monotone voice. “We shall fight them in the streets.” He puffed out his chest proudly. "Beneath the Chicken Banner we shall ride to battle."

With a loud and impetuous groan, the wooden door opened again, this time to admit Lady Fahnzjell. The Queen-Consorts ebon skirts raked the floor as she moved quietly through the crowd towards Nicholas and Magdalena. “Greetings, my children,” she murmured gently to the pair.

“Your Majesty,” The Knight replied softly, crossing his arm over his chest, offering her a ceremonious bow. “We have been expecting you, Lady Fahnzjell.” He rose. “I need to talk…” Nicholas trailed off as a sharp voice cut through the common room. A familiar voice to his ears, one that he knew all too well, but one unfamiliar to him at the same time. Magdalena looked up, watching in surprise as those wolf-like eyes shot to the voices source, hate filling those icy pools.

“The Dark Tower will fight for the Crimson Dragons,” Cymidei rose from her chair, her voice calm and fluid. “We have no use for Fayaxion and her brood of weak drakes.” Silence fell over the room like a heavy blanket as the gathered many turned their attention to the Lady of the Dark Tower. Weak drakes? Had she forgotten that the Crimsons ran away in fear at the sight of Fayaxion.

“Bold,” Nicholas mouthed dryly. “But not entirely unexpected. She is responsible for what happened to Ceno.” Magdalena's brown eyes shot up to the Knight as he stepped past her and the Queen-Consort. A wall of muscle and bone, positioning himself between the Lady Necromancer, the Queen, and the woman he would die to protect from harm.

Kullervo turned his attention towards the raven-haired noblewoman, a fire forming in his liquid green eyes. “Well,” he murmured in contempt. “Perhaps we should throw you back into a cell?”

“Try,” she smiled coyly.

“Woman, you honestly believe they will accept your help?” he spat. “The Crimson Dragons aid Chaos.”

“As do I,” Cymidei mouthed back, raising her voice so that all in the room could hear. “The Platinum Dragons are our enemies. Or are you so quick to overlook? I seem to recall Fayaxion abandoning your City of Paladins, Luna.” She took a step forward, dark liquid eyes meeting the young man’s emerald greens. “Dragons and the Wise look to higher ambitions than this.”

“Mayhaps you are not seeing the whole picture,” Formotiis interjected politely. “O' Lady of the Dark Tower?”

“Fayaxion did not abandon Luna,” Kullervo hissed defiantly. “Fayaxion and her brood will only offer their assistance against the Crimson Dragons. There were none in Luna. She, if she even is a she, will not suffer our petty human squabbles.”

“Such as the conflict with the Shadowlords?” Cymidei stifled a bitter laugh, seriousness returning to her dark eyes. “Come now, little boy.”

“The Dark Tower has always done what they perceive to be in their best interests,” the Duchess mouthed sourly as she rose from her chair, her eyes flickering to Kullervo’s. “In their best interests alone. Nothing has changed.”

“She is correct,” Cymidei stepped towards the Ranger, brushing her hand gently against his cheek. “Goodbye, Kullervo. When next you and I meet, you shall find yourself thrust upon the unfortunate end of the Blade of Khal Ankur.”

The Necromancer stepped back, a smile forming upon her supple red lips. She turned, walking hypnotically towards the door, a distraction even to her most bitter of enemies. The heavy door opened with a loud groan, and in stepped her favorite servant. In stepped Lord Asimov.

The Cabal of Death was a strange creature, with blackened skin that resembled that of a Dark Elf. But he was not. Asimov was something else entirely. Thin lips, curled into an evil sneer. Skin stretched tight over his skull like a death mask, revealing gaunt cheekbones and a narrow nose. The figure was draped in ebon robes that raked the floor, the hems stitched with strange symbols and ancient runes. A breastplate of thick suede adorned his chest, buckles holding the plated epaulets tight upon his square shoulders. Wisps of green hair, bright and fluorescent, stuck out in ungainly strands upon the high ridges of his skull. All together, the figure could have posed as Death itself. A memento mori. Fitting considering he was the Master Necromancer within the ranks of the Dark Tower.

Magdalena bit her lower lip bitterly, fingers gently caressing the handle of her axe, an instinctive flick of her wrists freeing it of the ceremonial peace knot. Asimov had tried to kill Nicholas only a couple nights before. The Necromancer had accused what had once been a withered old man of being an evil creature, whose sudden youth was proof of his black magic. As though Asimov were somehow a Saint. The Cabal was a murderer, a zealous servant of his Dark Mistress, and he had done everything in his power to keep her away from the Paladin. But why?

The Queen Heiress' eyes flickered again to Nicholas, and then to Asimov. Their eyes had met, icy blue and liquid green. They hated each other, that much was certain. It was Asimov that Nicholas was fighting to protect her from. Had nearly been killed to protect her from. Before that, he had fought Sleath.

It had been a broken table leg, thrust clean through the Knights chest, that had revealed to her his true nature. It should have killed him. It didn't.

Magdalena's attention returned to the present, her eyes flickering to Kullervo. "Well," the Ranger murmured sourly, shaking his head. "You will all have to decide whether your interest lay with the Shadowlords, or with us."

Asimov nodded to Nicholas and turned, leaving the room.

“I will lead an expeditionary force to Britain tomorrow,” Kullervo spoke, his emerald eyes scanning the gathered rebels. “I intend to leave at mid-day.”

The meeting ended without further incident. Some began to speak privately amongst themselves, whispering in hushed tones. Others crowded around Sir Kullervo to inquire about his plans for the following day. The majority made for the door. There was no shame to be had in their actions. There was a great deal for them to consider. The Knights of the Royal Flush had been decimated by this long and costly revolt. They had defeated the tyrant’s mercenary armada twice, snatching victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat, but the toll had been high and betrayal had managed to rip the rebellion in two. The Dark Tower’s own sedition had been anticipated for quite some time, but many still clung to the vain hope that, perhaps, the Necromancers might stay their hand for a little longer.

And now, worst of all, those crimson reptiles were to return in force. They, each and every one of them, now had to consider whether this costly war was truly worth it. Whether trading one tyrant for another was worth almost certain death. Whether or not they could even win.

Nicholas’ chilling blue eyes flickered to Fahnzjell. He held no illusions about the Dark Tower and its fearsome Mistress. They had already betrayed the rebellion, he thought to himself scornfully, but the kidnapping and torture of an innocent man was easily overlooked when the Dark Tower offered such power. “Your Majesty,” he murmured politely.

“My Son?” Fahnzjell turned towards the Knight.

“I assume you foresaw this betrayal,” Nicholas expressed dryly. Magdalena looked up to the Knight. If the Queen had foreseen this betrayal, then why had she kept silent?

“These things I saw long ago,” Fahnzjell sighed. “They were in the cards.”

Nicholas eyed the Queen-Consort, amusement flashing across his usually cold eyes. “You still haven’t read my cards.”

“Ah.” Darkness fell over Fahnzjells eyes. “Perhaps, my son, that is because there isn’t much more to tell.”

Magdalena shot a look to Nicholas, worry filling her brown eyes. Nicholas didn’t look surprised. The Knight nodded in grim acceptance. What did she mean? Was something wrong with Nicholas?

“An army standing to the side,” Yalp growled as he approached, the Town Guard peeling back his hood at he came to the Knight’s side. “Is far more deadly than the enemy before us.”

“Oh, no.” The Queen-Consort smiled, seating herself upon one of the wooden stools. “The Tower is fighting on a side. It’s own.”

“So it has always been,” Nicholas said. The two men clasped hands, offering a polite shake.

“It just so happeneth,” she continued. “That its own side, at least for now, pointeth in the same direction as thine.”

“Your Majesty,” Yalp turned towards the Queen-Consort. “I respect your wisdom, but in this matter with the Dark Tower, I shall not drop my guard. Nor count on their blades.”

“Oh, my son,” she breathed with amusement, shaking her head. “I never said to drop thy guard.” Lady Fahnzjell’s eyes traveled to Nicholas, and then to Magdalena, who had moved away from the three and sat alone in the corner, deep in thought. “Remember, I said sides happen to point in the same direction for now. As soon as the false king is vanquished, it shall not be so.” Her gaze returned to Yalp. “Be alert, my son. But do not fear.”

“I will take what you have said to heart, m’lady.” Yalp bowed politely.

“Ah,” she smiled. “And never underestimate the lengths to which selfishness will go. I daresay, I believe the Dark Tower would vanquish the False King and the Red Reptiles on their own if given cause. But alas.”

Yalp looked to Nicholas, who watched the elf out of the corner of his eye. “Perhaps we should let them?”

Lady Fahnzjell smiled. “Perhaps, my children, you may have to let them.”


Babbling Loonie
Stratics Veteran
Stratics Legend
“There is one rule, above all others, for a true soldier,” The Knight of Britannia murmured absently to himself, his icy blue eyes flickering to the road that lay ahead. “Whatever comes, we face it on our feet.” Briefly were his thoughts drawn back to her, and to the letter he had left on the nightstand. All that needed to be said was there.

On the hard-packed earth of the West Brittany Road they stretched out, manes and tails streaming back in the blistering noonday light as they raced ever northwards, hooves clattering fiercely upon the path like some violent orchestra of war. Nicholas led the charge, black stallion and shadow-clad rider galloping like a herald of death through the sparsely wooded farmlands and pastured fields that lay just south of the city. Damian’s white gelding, matching the stallion stride for stride, was a pale dart as it sped between the sun-scorched hills and drought-ridden meadows that surrounded them, his orange cloak unfurling like a standard in the wind. To the Guards eyes, it was as though the land itself were dying, succumbing to some dark fate. His eyes shifted absently to Nicholas’ back, and he quickly put such thoughts out of his mind. The rest followed in a tight line, as if all were tied to invisible rope grasped firmly in the lead Knights hand.

The Drakðn War, the name by which this conflict might someday be remembered, would ultimately decide the destiny of the Old World and its inhabitants. As Sir Kullervo had warned them the evening before, the Shadowlords dark servants had begun to mass in the southern foothills, a horde of perverse necromancers and lawless brigands whose only purpose was to crush the last bastion of Britannian power and influence in Felucca.

Nicholas absently touched the hilt of his broadsword, his thoughts racing to the war ahead. The battlefield, that fabled theater of tragedies, was the City of Old Britain, a ruin long abandoned by the Mother Kingdom and its monarchs. With the former capitol conquered and its protectors subdued though, there was nothing to stop the Shadowlords from launching yet another attack upon the current seat of Britannian rule, New Britain.

The Knight craned his neck to peer over his shoulder, and watch in grim silence as a pillar of black and grey smoke arose from the south. There was nothing a small band of swordsmen could do to save the farms of Outer Brittany, except to hope that the villagers had been given enough time to flee.

The War of the Drakðn had begun.

A scream ripped through the incandescent skies above, a frightening cry that reminded him of a man he once saw being ripped apart by some strange and terrible creature. Wings swooped low over the party, a blast of wind catching their cloaks, the dark shadow rippling over the roads surface. With panicked cries the horses snorted, screaming wildly, but they dare not stop.

The wind of the Crimson Dragon’s wings beat at Nicholas with a feel that reminded him of the touch of slime, like something evil bubbling from the depths of some cavernous nightmare. The heavy stench of brimstone and decay filled his nostrils, making him want to wretch. It left his stomach in knots. Briefly he looked up, watching in silence as the fat, bloated reptile flew over them, its massive bat-like wings beating hard to keep the scaled beast aloft. This was not the magnificent creature of bedtime stories and fairy tales, but an overgrown monstrosity that could swallow a man and his steed whole.

Nicholas laid low against his mounts neck, spurring the beast onward as the Britain Warriors Guildhall came into view. The Crimson Dragon had seen the seven horsemen, shouting a guttural challenge to the wind, but it did not harass them. To the Knights surprise, it wheeled about in midair, speeding back towards the smoke from whence it came. A scout?

The Seven Swordsmen galloped over the Gung Farmers Bridge, entering the Dock District of the City of Old Britain. “Quickly, men,” a voice barked. “They will be here at any moment.” Shouts came from every direction. Smoke hung heavy in the air, a choking miasma that enveloped the crumbling metropolis as its Eastern district burned. The sun had become a faint, crimson sphere high in the skies above. Commotion was everywhere as the makeshift alliance of True Britannians and Knights of the Royal Flush gathered at the First Bank, warriors prepared to give their lives for an ideal. Virtue, and the everlasting promise that all might be free of the shadow that haunts men’s dreams.

“To me,” Zackarias shouted in command, the sound of leather scraping metal as his sword left its sheath. Shovel, Eddard, and two others whom Nicholas didn’t recognize gathered around the Knight of the Blue Rose, also drawing their weapons. “We shall see what we can do about the Eastern District.”

“Light shine on you,” Nicholas murmured, bowing from the back of his horse.

“And the last embrace of the mother welcome us home,” Zackarias grinned, stoic resolve written across his young eyes. “Glory to Dawn and the Blue Rose!” He and his four companions wheeled about, spurring their horses to a gallop eastward along the Harbor Road.

“Go with them,” Nicholas murmured, his eyes absently shifting to the Town Guard.

“I can be of more use here,” Damian protested. “I am no sheepherder.”

“The Shadowlords armies will not simply attack by way of the Southern Road,” Nicholas wheeled his black stallion about to face the Orange-cloaked soldier, a darkness forming in the older mans eyes. “They will attack by way of the Vesperian Highway. They will attack by way of the Samlethe Road.” Nicholas’ eyes shifted northwards, where a mountain range would have been if not for the smoke. “And if history holds true, they will also attack by way of the Serpentine Pass.”

“But, I…”

The Knight cut him off. “The True Britannians cannot fight on all sides,” he hissed sourly, fierceness in his voice. “As a Knight of the Royal Britannian Guard, I command you to go.”

“A Retired Knight of the Royal Guard,” Damian corrected with scorn. “So be it, Lieutenant. I shall go.” The Town Guard wheeled his gelding eastwards, galloping off after the Knights of the Blue Rose. He did not look back.

“Lord Tarrant,” a voice called out through the haze. “Nicholas.” The Knight wheeled his horse about, icy blue eyes searching for the source. A hooded figure emerged from the miasma, approaching him, shrouded in a heavy grey cloak and robes of elven make. A leather-bound grimore was tucked beneath one arm, a Serpentine shield bound tightly to the other.

“Sir Yalp,” Nicholas bowed his head respectfully to the Town Guard. “It is good to see you here.”

“And you, my friend,” Yalp replied mirthlessly, powerless to hide the bleakness in his features. The Guards black Dreadmare trotted up next to the Knights. “They’ve been attacking farms and outlying villages for the past hour now, but they’ve not attacked us directly.”

“It is only a matter of time,” Nicholas murmured, turning his gaze south. “They are hoping we will spread out.”

Yalp nodded, his eyes shadowed by the heavy cowl. “Do you think we have any chance of winning?”

“Light only knows,” Nicholas placed his heavy hand upon the Guards shoulder. “We’ve been through much worse.” Yalp nodded, but he did not seem convinced.

The Guard slipped his hand into his pocket, producing a sealed envelope. “If I fall,” he murmured absently. “Please, deliver this to my family.”

Nicholas hesitated a moment. He wanted to laugh. Bitterness filled his thoughts. Who said he would be alive to deliver such a letter when all is said and done? If Lady Fahnzjell’s words were any indication, if the foretelling of Cantabrigian’s widow spoke true, then his own story was coming to an end. But then, he thought back to his own letter, all those things he still wanted to say. The Knight took the envelope, reluctantly slipping the note into his saddlebag.

“Thank you,” Yalp breathed with relief, having obviously sensed Nicholas’ hesitation.

“You’re welcome,” Nicholas murmured absently, his thoughts returning home. To his reason for living. “Be safe, my friend.”

And that is when they attacked.

The scream, like some violent bird of prey, ripped through the ashen skies above. A blast of wind, like a tempest rising off the waters surface, hit the two riders like a wall of bricks. The Knight looked up just in time to see the bloated monstrosity descend through the haze, a fireball hurling from its great maw, crashing violently into the throng of defenders beneath it. Screams tore through the air, as the immolating forms of men and women alike leapt from the rooftop to the streets below.

Nicholas’ horse screamed, and before he knew it he was falling, tumbling out of his saddle back onto the cobblestone street below. He felt the ground rush up to meet him. The air knocked from his lungs as he landed hard upon his back.

“Fire,” someone shouted above the din. “Fire, damn you!” Arrows and Bolts of Conjured Lightning leapt from their hands up at the bloated reptile, most simply bouncing off its thick, armored hide. The Dragon beat its leathery wings, slowing its descent, landing with a heavy thud upon the roof of the bank below, launching yet another fireball into their ranks.

“Kill for your supper,” Yalp barked, smacking the flank of his Dreadmare Steed. The demon horse snorted and clawed the ground with its hooves, charging forward towards the Crimson Dragon while its rider turned his attention towards Nicholas. “We can’t be having you lying around like this,” he smirked, resting his hand upon the Knights forehead. “In Mani.” Nicholas felt a wave of cold rush through his body, as if he had been thrown into a frozen pond. He felt his bruises heal, the deep gashes from the night before. He felt his senses revive, alive again.

Arlon dug his heels into the war bears flank, knocking another arrow into his bow as the creature rounded the brick building. “Parisa, Kathryn,” he shouted. “The eyes!”

Parisa nodded fiercely, aiming her bow at the beasts face. “This is for Heaven’s Forge!”

Nicholas sprinted forward, tearing the cruciform blade from its sheath as he dove between the Crimson Dragon’s legs. The Knight swung the weapon like an axe, hewing fiercely, leaving a deep hollow in the creature’s exposed hamstring. The reptile roared in anger, thrashing about as the muscle in its leg tore. Black blood poured from the gruesome wound, splashing upon the pavement below.

“Watch out,” a voice screamed. Nicholas leapt free of the thrashing creature, pivoting on the ball of his foot, both hands gripping the hilt of his weapon. The monstrosity lurched forward, its skin bubbling, festering. It burst.

The ensuing explosion tore through their ranks, a conflagration that engulfed the surrounding buildings and threw the cities defenders off their feet.

Zackarias’ eyes flickered to the skies above. “Damian,” he shouted, lowering his bloody zweihander. “Over there. Look! On the horizon.”

Damian followed the young Knights eyes, searching the skies above. And then he spotted them. “The cavalry has arrived,” he laughed.

On the horizon, a mass of Platinum Dragons appeared in the distance. Their wings outstretched, their scales gleaming brightly in the midday sun, an army of reptiles descending upon the battlefield.

With the aid of the Platinum Dragons, the defenders were able to push back the Shadowlord Faction and save the City of Old Britain. But they never anticipated the price others would have to pay for their salvation, or the sorrowful task that would lay before them.

Stay tuned for The End Game Part 2: The Sorrowful Task.

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