Chapter 22:

Conquest of Balassar (Start of Volume 2)

Reverie's End: Blades of Malice

Day: 7/18/991; Time: 6th hourBookmark here

The season of earth was upon Ethos; the rains were a thing of the past. It was a time for reaping that which was sown and benefiting from the fruit of the land. However, as with all things on Ethos, the good came with the bad. Earthquakes and tremors were not uncommon during these months. But Ethos was not the only thing that could harm its residents; men were quite capable of killing off their own kind as well.Bookmark here

It was on this ominous day that the Dart and his army marched towards Balassar, the capital of Shima. The Blades of Malice arrived while it was still dark with their army of 1000 men and Dart's fire-drake Balmung. It was a small unit but a heavily-trained and elite one. Balassar's force was much larger, although not as well trained. The outcome of the fight was unclear.Bookmark here

The red-cloaked Blades of Malice rode towards the front of the dilapidated gray castle. It had not been repaired in years; the monarchy had been spending their gold on more important things such as banquets and other forms of leisure. King Shima had never considered that there might be uninvited guests at his front door one day.Bookmark here

Dart stopped riding and motioned to the rest of his men to halt. He took off his hood and stared at the ruined capital with his cold amber eyes, while smiling. This was his opportunity to shine and impress his superior; failure was not an option. He got off his horse and pointed his white scythe at the castle. "Today marks the beginning of a glorious era!" he announced to his men.Bookmark here

He did not care about the element of surprise; Dart was confident in their victory. The Blades of Malice had already won the fight in his mind. They were merely going to confirm this reality now. He looked over at Balmung, who was flying around close by. "Burn them all! The day of liberation is at hand!" cried Dart. Balmung roared in agreement and flew straight at the castle with his scaly red body. His fire breathing illuminated the surrounding area, alerting the sentries of his presence.Bookmark here

"Intruders!" yelled one of the guards just before being burned alive by Balmung. Dart's companion was intelligent; his primary focus were the archers stationed on top of the castle walls. He was not fond of projectiles being flung at him. Balmung continued his assault unimpeded.Bookmark here

The bells were ringing and the horns were blowing; all of Balassar was in a panic. The drowsy and drunk soldiers were mobilizing and the common folk were running around in fear. It did not take long for all of Balassar to notice the flames in the sky and the charging horde of screaming red-cloaked men.Bookmark here

Dart and his men had already battered down the front gate and stormed into the city. The red-cloaks were hurling spells and stabbing with blades with such ferocity that the poorly trained soldiers could hardly keep up; they quickly fell. Dart, as any respected commander, led the charge and personally slayed many foes. Whether it was decapitation by scythe or impalement by means of an ice spike, Dart did not halt his onslaught. If there were harmless citizens nearby, these were considered "necessary sacrifices" for the establishment of the new order. The ground was now littered with soldiers in cheap tattered armor and peasants who were too close to the front gate when the red-cloaks broke through.Bookmark here

Balmung was now burning down houses, most of which looked like they were already badly damaged. In fact, most of the city looked rather poor and shabby. It was only the castle by the beautiful lake Balassar that showed any splendor or vibrance. It was this pompous display of wealth that the Blades of Malice sought to destroy. They were liberating the people from an oppressive king.Bookmark here

The Blades of Malice took the initiative, but they were about to face some opposition. Half an hour into the fight, the sound of galloping hooves could be heard from outside the city gates. Dart and his men looked around, surprised at this new development. Before they had a chance to ascertain the situation fully, the doors of Shima castle sprang open and knights came rushing out. Dart was now faced with reinforcements both inside and outside the city walls. These men were not the usual drunk soldiers that guarded Balassar, they were trained knights of House Northgate. The Bear claw sigil they wore showed where their allegiance lay. The tide had turned in favor of Balassar; Dart was now on the defensive.Bookmark here

The red-cloaked men started to panic. Dart needed to restore their morale quickly. He lift up his arm in the air and tossed a "Potion of Bravery". A red mist began to form around him and his men. Dart's men were now under a spell; they no longer feared death. He couldn't retreat now; they had to see the fight through to the end. The malevolent alchemist faced the men of Northgate and charged forward, hurling icicle daggers, showing no signs of timidity. Dart had a mission to complete and nothing would stop him.Bookmark here

But determination alone was not enough. As the battle continued, the soldiers of Northgate showed their mettle, never flinching. Their steel swords and spears gleamed as the sun began to rise and reveal the bloody castle grounds. They were veterans of war and that made the difference in this fight. The Blades of Malice were now completely surrounded.Bookmark here

Dart then yelled out to Balmung, "Burn them!" The fire-drake did just that and helped his comrades from a tight situation. However, the red-scaled beast had been a nuisance for far too long and the Balassar archers had been targeting him for a while now. Shortly afterwards, Balmung got hit by two arrows, one in the tail and the other in the right leg. He screamed in agony, as he tried to fly away into the forest. Dart had a look of fright on his face. His men he could sacrifice, but Balmung was his friend, and an asset to the Blades of Malice. He held back his tears and continued to fight. All over the battlefield, soldiers on both sides were dying, as well as the civilians that failed to escape in time. Many stories came to an end.Bookmark here

The Blades of Malice were skilled, but even their top fighters were struggling. Elsewhere on the battlefield, Sieg and Era, were beginning to tire. Sieg's lance was slippery with blood at this point, and it was still not enough. He could not rest. Era could barely hold her sword's hilt without her hands shaking, and yet she stood her ground. The two fought side-by-side, watching each other's back.Bookmark here

"I love you.." said Sieg abruptly, during a rare moment of peace.Bookmark here

Era looked over at him, puzzled, and said, "Don't get sentimental… Stop talking like we're going to die." She smiled and said, "Let's save that talk for later." They both turned around and continued the battle. It was definitely the toughest fight that they had ever been in. Their previous combat experience was proving insufficient.Bookmark here

They continued to fight, but perfection could not be maintained forever. Era had just defeated an enemy soldier when she was stabbed in the left shoulder from behind by a man that should have already been dead. It was his last act of defiance. Sieg had gotten distracted for a mere moment by another warrior who he had just stabbed in the chest. Era screamed, and Sieg ran towards her without delay. His worst fears were coming true; he wondered whether the ring in his pocket would ever find its way to her hand.Bookmark here

He took her in his arms and stared into her hazel eyes. "We need to get you out of here!" he said, while stammering.Bookmark here

"But there's a fight going on… Leave me," said Era.Bookmark here

"Never!" retorted Sieg. "The Malice's victory means nothing to me without you," he continued.Bookmark here

Era smiled and said, "Since when… did you… become so weak?" She was growing weaker. Sieg had bound her wound, but they needed a real healer to finish the job.Bookmark here

"Don't argue with me... We're getting out of here," replied Sieg firmly. He picked her up and started carrying her towards the woods, away from the battle.Bookmark here

Era didn't argue. Despite her words, she didn't really want to fight a losing battle either. "They'll execute us for treason," Era commented. She did not sound scared as she uttered those words.Bookmark here

"I would like to see them try. Dart probably won't even survive for another hour," Sieg replied in a cold tone. The Blades of Malice had brought the two lovers together. It was in that moment, when Era's life was in danger, that Sieg finally understood where his loyalties lay. The organization's goals were secondary to the desires of the heart.Bookmark here

Surprisingly, no one had intruded on their intimate moment, or prevented their escape; the battle had shifted to another location. Dart's top two captains had turned tail and ran; their resolve broke with ease. The tall, golden-haired, and blue-eyed man and his brown-haired and hazel-eyed girlfriend had left the battlefield to those more eager to fight for "a cause".Bookmark here

Back inside the city, the battle raged on, and was at a standstill. Until, the loud ringing sound of a bell atop a tower could be heard throughout the city. The noise caused everyone to stop for a moment and face Balassar Castle. After a brief moment of silence, a trumpet could be heard from the king's palace. The red and brown banners, depicting Shima's "Hammer sigil", that hung from the castle were covered up by another banner, also red and brown. But this one bore the sigil of the Bear's claw.Bookmark here

Dart looked up at the castle in shock; they had been played for fools.Bookmark here

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