Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Last Light - The Punitive Legions

The beat of wardrums sounded from the distance even as the Procession fled. Order was dissolving; men and women were running helter-skelter, heedless of the futile proddings of the soldiers. Thallae ran with the rest, infant cradled in his arms. The baby was sweating, red, and clearly in a bad way, eyes staring glassily up in the air. But Thallae did not have the time or impulse to check on the infant, as he ran for both their lives.

The botched escape was one of the worst undertakings Thallae had ever partaken in. The host of the Dark Ones was far away; if they had gathered together and walked fast they would have outstripped them easily. As it was it seemed like half the entire Procession had gone missing. But it was easy to see upon hindsight; in the terror of the situation all thought had been driven out of his mind except the singular urge to run, and run his legs to shreds.

Thallae looked up and saw that Vash was already turning back, shouting for them to regroup. Vash had clearly assumed that the curve of the undulating hill would block the view of the eastern horizon and give them time to reform without too much trauma. Taking the company's only stallion Vash rode down stragglers and urged them urgently back to the group core. Thallae saw that he had to help. He drew himself to his full height and began bellowing at the top of his voice. In the feverish heat of fear and rushing bodies the task became doubly hard. His arm caught a running boy of seventeen in the chest, sending him sprawling to the dirt. Thallae knew him, Astoras Pemell, son of the breadbaker in his street.

"Don't panic! Stay close to the core! You must not straggle! Now help me rally them!"

Pemell looked up wildly. "Are you mad? They are coming. You saw what happened at Hadon-"
Thallae cut him off. "They are two miles away and unaware of our location. If we panic like this there's a better chance that wewill all die, and not wholly because of them!"
Pemell had always been a bright lad. He nodded, though with a trace of fear, and started shouting.

The army of Dark Ones had in fact come from the northeast, on the other side of the abandoned city. They were moving southwest to lands south of Jadeon when they somehow caught scent of the Hadon Procession. Units of marauding Dark Ones rounded up and slaughtered the stragglers they found, and...absorbed their essences. Then, finding no more, they returned to the core of the departing Dark One army.

Vash's Procession, or what remained of it, hid in the mouth of a nearby cave as they waited out the slaughter. When night fell and the deathly reverberations of the wardrums had at last faded away into the darkness, they finally crept out of their sanctuary, apprehensive but relieved. The procession was now possessed of fifty, eighteen of which were soldiers of Vash's company. Vash and a wounded Nompidi went to the head of the procession as they headed further north, skirting widely the abandoned Knoros and heading for the Pass of the March.

Where from there, Vash could not say. The lands north of the March were unfamiliar to him - only that they were colder and possessed of strange beasts, and belonging to many kingdoms which were at continuous warfare with each other. he determined still to enter those lands, for he felt convinced that the Dark Ones could not have penetrated that deep as yet.

Thallae walked now with Pemell, who seemed to think that Thallae had saved his life. Pemell was a talker, and he showered Thallae with innuocous conversation that never seemed to stop. Pemell continually made reference to Thallae's having saved him in his small talk, in a way Thallae felt was very irritating. But Pemell showed sense when it mattered, and Thallae let him discharge his insecurities because of that.

"And I heard Vash Yellowgrumpus say he didn't have the least idea where we were going. I saw maps before, if I were him I'd take the pass north, those things wouldn't have gone too far-" Pemell continued droning, unaware that Thallae was not even listening.

"Whas' up with you and Yellowgrumpus, eh? Ja always seem t' be scowling at each othah'." Thallae tensed, then relaxed and sighed. "Nothing to hear here. Move along."

"Come on, Thallae. Tell me. Nuthin' gets away from the ol' ear in the end does it."
Thallae pursed his lips again. "Shut up and move on, Astoras."

There was an uncanny silence at that. Thallae was beginning to regret his outburst when Pemell finally spoke. "I s' lost somebody in 'der war?" His voice was becoming more slurred by the minute.

"Pemell," Thallae said, concerned, "you're drunk." Pemell was clearly intoxicated with essence of Bradun, a plant that people chewed for enjoyment in Jadeon.

"Tell me, won't ya?" Pemell said again, and his drunken voice held a glint of steel behind it.

"I...lost my mother. And Sybil, but she'd already..." Thallae let his voice trail off. Pemell was staring at him with a strange, twisted expression on his face, of anguish and guilt and...glee.

"I los' Lacia-" Pemell was becoming less coherent. "She 'scaped with me, I was n'ver so happy when we found each other outside the gates, safe." His voice broke. "She's gone, Thal. Never found 'er 'fter we ran. I lost 'er, Thal. Lost 'er forrver.Those c-c-CURSED THINGS!" he roared, slumping and weeping, stomping away, kicking wildly at rocks. He tripped and fell to the ground, sobbing and beating his fists. He fended off Thallae's half-hearted attempts to help him up, ignored Thallae's halting words of comfort, and stalked off.


Late afternoon, and the cold mountains were almost on them. Vash predicted gloweringly that they would be able to reach the pass by the next next nightfall. The procession had already made good headway against the Dark One army, and because their paths diverged, they would soon leave that threat behind permanently.

Thallae was sitting, his back on a tree, smoking. He thought of Pemell's words from the past day. Had he really been keeping his emotions in so well? Thallae could have sworn that Pemell was positively cheerful. Did it have to take Bradun to excess in order for his inhibitions to fall away? Thallae now understood the quiet weeping he thought he almost heard from Pemell the night they escaped. "Yes," he said to himself, "Pemell does have some hidden strength in him after all."

The resonating sound of horns jerked him awake from his half-doze. At first he was terrified that the Dark Ones had returned, but then, upon hearing the horns more clearly, Thallae could perceive that they had a clear-crystal quality to it that no Dark One horn (he thought) would have the quality to match.

An army! He thought with a leaping feeling in his chest, which subsided at the swirling memory of Hadon that then rose up in the recesses of his mind. Vash was already calling for them to reform, perhaps hoping that they woud be able to rendezvous with the approaching army before nightfall.

As they trudged closer, it was clear that the army, which had already halted and began preparations for the night, had spotted them. Thallae was awed by the sheer size of that legion. Their numbers easily exceeded a hundred thousand, and their battle standards came in hundreds of different crests and sigils. Their fires lit up the land for miles. Vash led fifteen of his soldiers to intercept the leading vanguard of incoming riders.

At their lead was a particularly threatening giant of a man, clad in silvery-black armour and with a most dangerous expression on his face - not improved particularly by the jagged scar that had taken out his left eye. Checkng his horse expertly he dismounted and landed on the ground with a heavy thud.
The huge man stalked over to him, hand on the hilt of his broadsword. He towered over Vash, whose hitherto inscrutable expression had wavered a bit.

"Who are you, and what are you doing here looking like a patch of ragamuffins?" At the sound of the man's voice, Thallae allowed his eyebrows to climb. Not only did this personage know and speak Common, he did not sound remotely like what Thallae had expected him to sound. His accent was marked, but he spoke softly, voice a mellow baritone. That voice gave off all indications of a cultured man.

Vash cleared his throat. "We hail from yonder south, from the city of Hadon, in the Empire of Jadeon, soverignship of his Highness, the Emperor Valligon XVIII. I am Eleindant Makor Vash, commander of the refugees of Hadon." Vash sounded like a barbarian compared to the hulking giant before him. "Hadon was destroyed by the Dark Ones, as we call them, a race of foul-" he stopped abruptly at the giant's upraised hand.

"I know about the Mxvarici, Eleindant Vash," the giant intoned. "They, too have plagued our lands. The news of your defeat is not surprising to us, man of Jadeon,"he continued,"considering the circumstances of your defeat."

His hand left the swordhilt, and there was a palpable release of tension. "I am Grand Xorval Peljjanos Ulaktor, leading the Hundred Legions south into your lands. You may know that the lands north of the Marchpass are divided into petty kingdoms. Well, no more. The Mxvarici," he spat the word out like poison, "have appeared again in the cold winter lands yonder of our realms."

"A..again, Grand Xorval?" Vash asked.

Ulaktor cast him a frosty look. "Surely you know of the Mxvarici Chjinn?" Then, seeing the look on Vash's craggy face, he said, "No, I can see not. Your lands have lost much of their history, after what happened in the Vorsh Cataclysm."

He continued. "The Mxvarici have always been a part of our most ancient lore. It is said they have come before, thousands of years in the past. Not much is said of them, but it is known that their coming was contested, and the Earth was wrought to savageness, end from end. So says the Mxvarici Chjinn. No account is given of how they were finally driven off, but they must have been," he said darkly.

"And now the stirrings have come again, the Great Punitive War is come," said Ulaktor, "And only the worthy, it is said, will have the strength to defeat the Mxvarici and save the world. Even as we speak a larger legion from the Hundred Realms alliance, larger than this army, sets forth to the northlands to drive back the foe."

Vash was visibly preturbed, although he tried to hide it. "But surely, Grand Xorval," he said, "you must know that these...Mexvarisee are nearly impossible to defeat. And the sound of their horns-" he broke off, face sagging with distant horror.

"Mxvarici," said Ulaktor offhandedly, "and we know. Many, like you, have returned from encounters with them. They gibber, they rant. But we know the wheat from the chaff." Vash's lip twitched at this odd expression. "We know they come. And we know," and his eyes narrowed dangerously, "they will die beneath our swords."

They stayed with the army for the night. The next day, Ulaktor had furnished them with fresh supplies and horses, and wished them good luck on their journey to the North.

"The United North will, most likely, take you in. But be wary, for all is not right with our lands." And with that, Ulaktor turned his horse and galloped to the front of the marching army.

The Procession turned North, away from the Legion that would die as they battled with those that would not be destroyed.

Because, in the runes of old, Mx is the eternal symbol for invincible.

Well the response towards The Last Light hasn't been much so I won't write anymore.

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