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Chapter 1: The Final Night
Forces stood tall on either side of Hithdor, the darkness within, the light outside. Paladins, crusaders, soldiers, peasants, and any conglomeration of people who would not succumb to Maegamarth stood ready within the walls of the city. After breeching the already scorched walls of the supposedly impenetrable Hithdor, both armies faced one another for the first time. The dragon had fallen, and risen, a new servant to the dark army. It was at this point that the trade was made.
"I want to sway the tides of war with this," Daeris revealed a gemstone from his pouch. The former crusader and fighter of Eryndor spoke to his brother, and they decided who the perfect target for this plan would be.
"Do you think he'll go for it?" Mithris answered, "He's one of Asashi's best."
"He'll have to. You know the power of the Barter stone, and for a mercenary to go back on a contract? He'll never be respected again," Daeris responded. It was a logical answer. So logical that it would raise little suspiscion to Daeris' true intentions for the trade.
"What do I tell them, Major? How do I lead an army so large?" Cross sat in the war tent, pressing figurines across a map idly. "They all could die. Every one of us could die. I know that I'm willing to fight a losing battle for the principles of justice, light, freedom... but who am I to lead the thousands to such a fate?"
"You do it because you have to, and because it is right, same reason I do," The grizzled old veteran replied, his glimmering new set of Belegarian paladin armor flickering in the dim lights of lanterns and candles. "I once swore a vow of peace, nonviolence. Swore I'd never take another soul again. I broke that vow, some reasons selfish, others because it needed to be done. Now, I stand here, commissioned by the King, to lead a battle larger than anything anyone in our lifetime will ever see, and maybe even for centuries to come. We do it because we have to, and no one else will."
"So, you want me, Elite Guardsmen of the Imperial Guard, to fight for you, the Crusades?" He tapped his fingers against the table in his tent, the towering man sat across from two unlikely guests. "What's stopping me from having you taken away right now, tied in chains, or worse yet, killed and risen to sit amongst my ranks?"
"This," Daeris held out the Barter stone, a raised eyebrow to the man behind the table. Mithris remained silent during the negotiations, ready at a moment's notice to defend his brother.
"That must be... why yes, yes it is," A large smile, and a chuckle, "Heh, heh, heh... You've played your cards well, Crusaders. Tomorrow, if your armies can reach the inner walls of the city, we will meet on the bridge. The Barter stone for my allegiance? That is an all-too-fair trade." Pheadrus, being the cunning leader he was, understood what having the Barter stone meant. Regardless of whether light won, or darkness prevailed, having that item would be an asset in the age to come.
"Whatzit say, Edlgrims?!" The boisterous young man stood over his captain's shoulder whilst he quietly read the letter to himself.
"A life debt will be paid in the coming battle, Mav'. Mordan is coming back, for one more hurrah," A smirk befell the man's face, red moustache curling with his smile. "He's also bringin' the traitor Fenris, and that Clipped Wing them Mourners always yappin' about. Seems all sortsa baddies coming out of the woodwork wantin' to be heroes."
"We might all die tomorrow, you know," She slurred quietly as she sat at the makeshift bar in Siro's tent.
"Of course, that's why we're drinking tonight, Nova!" The tender cackled, a little off-his-rocker to begin with, let alone during a heavy night of drinking. The resident, self-proclaimed space elf poured many a-round for his elven brethren and a man who sat quietly in the corner, cloaked in white.
"Whether we die or not," the shadowed man spoke aloud, "I'll have been happy to have called you all allies," his voice wasn't commanding, nor was it loud enough to demand attention, but it seemed to cause all of the elves in the bar that night to listen.
"Aye, friend, if you drink with us, you're one of us!" Siro proclaimed towards the cloaked man, who slipped off his hood and smiled at his present company.
"For Belegar! For Edhelu! For Eryndor! And to Anamanate, friend of the elves!" The young paladin Nova raised her glass, and cheers all around were given.
"Do you not understand? Maegamarth's reign will leave us only as pawns," the old farmer tried speaking sense into his shipmate. "You'll live only to be his dark servant!"
"I don't think you understand, darkness is my lord, and I live to destroy the light. You'll not see me accompanying you with your traitorous decision," the seemingly young man spat to Veridan. "I won't stop the crew from making their decision, but mark my words, if this ship sails for the Crusades, you'll not see me on it."
Fenris replied, "Ronin, I won't force you to fight alongside us, but the Lady Veris, be her ship or army regime, will fight for the light."
"We're glad you've arrived. The refugees were starting to run low on supplies, and I don't think we were going to be able to hold position much longer," She spoke quietly to the former Hithdorian soldier.
"I didn't think home would be quite so... overrun," Fairion spoke to Kali, "Don't worry, we have weapons, food, and water for those that wish to take back their homes."
"You're... a Hithdorian?" She was taken aback.
"Former soldier. When they refused to join the fight, I defected," He replied, "But that's an old story for another time. Bring me to those that wish to fight, I have use for men and women who know the streets of Hithdor."
Corvus pulled up a seat next to his brother, Erland, glancing down at the wrapped hand, "Is everything all right?"
"The medics said I'll be fine, but it seems I'll be a tad useless on the field. There was a tough skirmish on the outskirts o'town before we made it into the city. Took an orcish hammer to the hand, but all things considered, I'm lucky to be alive," he spoke while he lay on the makeshift bed.
"Don't worry, brother, I'll take many with me in your absence," Corvus clasped the man's good hand, and they embraced in a hug.
"...So, Duindor..." The king knew his way around a crowd, but this one on one arranged marriage felt about as awkward to him as standing next to a green-skin, only with a little less hate.
"Yes, though I spend much less time in the city than I do in her fields and forests," She smiled, and laughed a little nervously, "I never thought it would end up like this."
"Between your armies and mine, I believe we stand a chance, m'lady," The Lugh nodded, attempting to ease her fears.
"No, I mean, I never thought fate would take me to someone kind, responsible, and caring, my king. The other suitors were far less... well, far less gentlemanly than you," She glanced sheepishly to the ground.
Lugh felt his cheeks fill with color under his beard, which hid his embarassment, "Well, my queen, I look forward to our life together after this battle, and the next, and the next."
"The templars ... are paladins in spirit?" Arias raised a brow to the stout man, his dwarven ancestry apparent in his build and beard.
"Aye, in their own way, they serve the lifetree in Belegaria, but were not blessed with light," Atalan responded, "You don't have to be born of light to serve it."
"I'm sorry for never having had the chance to sit down with you, my friend, with all the books that need sorting, and the young ones needing taught... Cross has kept me busy with the task of running the academy," He apologized to the man.
"I'd have approached you sooner if not for the same reasons. I've been training my men just as rigorously. Headmaster Hofner demands nothing but the best from the School of Templars."
"I'm not quite sure which is worse, an adamant scholar such as Hofner, or a persistent and demanding leader such as Cross, but it seems we've both been under harsh scrutiny during these times of distress," Arias laughed, and poured the dwarf's mug with more mead. "On the bright side, we're paid well enough to drink well enough."
"Cheers to that!"
"We do it... because we have to," The young paladin general whispered quietly to himself in the dead of night. His mentor and friend lay curled in a bedroll, having fallen asleep nearly an hour prior. The words echoed in Cross's head, and his eyes finally fell, too heavy to hold open.
And all of those faces were present that day, the darkness looming over the city of Hithdor, its towers standing gloriously despite its decimated walls. The Dark Lord's army cackled, bustled, roared, howled from within, and the warriors of light remained silent. Soldier, peasant, fledgling paladin, veteran warrior, all glancing at one another for direction, until one man stepped forward. His armor gleamed despite the overcast skies, scarred from years of use, but still a commanding suit. The young Cross stepped to the front of the armies. He inhaled. He exhaled. One more breath, and then he opened his mouth to speak.
Cross the Boss.
President of Eryndor 2009-2011
Former High Guardsman of the Imperial Guard
Ragnarok XXIII King of Mardi Gras