Rise of the Ravenborn
Aquilax' eyes opened instantly.
The sound and tremor of rock and fire blasting against the rocky mountains shook his tent, some objects falling from their place. He managed to stop his longsword from falling from its resting pivot and immediately rushed towards the balcony.
His camp was burning, two great fires already began their devastating work as they embraced tent and flora alike with unnatural speed. The camp was alive, coming out with buckets of water and blankets in order to appease the marching blaze, some of his lieutenants were there. Geowyn and her sword sisters were already handling the situation, with the weathered woman weary of the darkness beyond Lion's Camp's hellfire.
The white-haired man gripped his sword, keeping it close to his waist, his gaze traveling beyond the camp's lower perimeter.
Another ball of fire materialized out of thin air, above the woods, setting the branches and leaves next to it ablaze. Aquilax focused his sight below the raging orb and noticed a slender, feminine figure, knelt below the towering ball, her hands gripping the handle of a glowing red rod elevated above her head.
"She's here." Aquilax said, a small curse slipping from his lips.
He returned to his tent to see the young man he had saved from inquisitory purging, hoping to have his newest ally awake and ready for action.
But the Ravenborn laid in his spot, eyes open and glowing intensely in blue light. Aquilax had seen those eyes before, when Baldur, as he called himself, had dueled Priest Falax briefly and had managed to intimidate one of his most powerful warriors. Now, however, the man lied like a dead man, in a trance, unable to move, speak, nor see.
Aquilax budged the sleeping, slender and pale man, then he pushed him, ending with a strong slap that twisted Baldur's face to the opposing side. No effect.
"By the gods," he said, "The one time I need this guy and he decides to space out."
Rorarix and Gorax arrived, rushing in with their blades already at hand.
"Captain!" The camp is on fire, something apparently exploded within our perimeter. Our men and Geowyn's warriors are handling it. But..."
"Battle stations, we're under attack!" Aquilax interrupted, apparently confirming his two men's suspicions and expectations. They disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, shouting orders to their own men in turn.
"Prepare for battle!"
"To arms men!"
Aquilax took one last glance at the Ravenborn, then he glanced the dark horizon beyond the mountains, beyond the valley below. A red line began to appear, as dim as candlelight, yet clearly visible from his position. Dawn was near. His vision was suddenly blurred by the emerging fire from the lower parts of the camp.
He rushed out of his tent, sword in hand and branding his armor. He passed by the tents as men rushed down the mountain, spiraling down from the path they so carefully protected. Spears rose high and shields cackled as more and more people joined their captain, lining behind him and keeping up to his rhythm.
The new ball of fire came crashing down towards him, he saw it coming, increasing in size as he rushed to challenge its momentum.
"Spirits..." he mumbled, wholeheartedly praying, "You have been with me and before me all this time, I summon thee once more, I beg you side with me in this fight one more time!"
The ball was moments away from crushing him, roasting his body and killing him for good.
Yet his towering sword shone teal, absorbing flickering dots like vacuum drew air, it ignited in spirit fire, three vertical symbols appearing in its sheath, Aquilax' own forehead bearing a glyph of the same color like a blessing bestowed upon him by divine gods.
Without flinching, he sliced the air as the ball met his sword, and the blazing fire set to destroy him, and his men, was cut in half, blown away like blitzing winds on a torch. The ball roared before dissipating.
"The White Lion!" his men praised, raising swords and spears.
Aquilax did not lose his momentum, his speed only boosted by his previous swing, letting the weight of the sword giving him that extra speed. The act only bolstered his troops, as they rushed towards the end of the camp.
Many of the spearmen were already there, commanded by Rorarix, Gorax, and the surprising appearance of Falax, who went close to Aquilax as soon as he spotted him.
"Are your men ready?"
"The Chantry militia stands by your side..." the man in religious clothing stopped, just as Aquilax arrived at the frontline. Light began to cast fiery tones in the sky above them, but for Lion's Camp, the trees created a gray tone as the men looked anxious towards the forest line. "Where is the cursed one?"
Aquilax did not respond, and that seemed to be enough to make Falax angry.
"He brought this upon us, never before had the Noad attempted an attack at this hour."
"Let's blame people later, right now we have the battle to win, and it does not look pretty."
Rorarix arrived next to them.
"Our archers lie on the rocks uphill, they will see those bastards coming."
"No they won't, make them descend a bit more under the mountain slope, and fast." Aquilax ordered.
"Look above, the smoke blinds them from incoming waves, they will be shooting blindly while their archers..."
The chilling sound of a thousand arrows pierced the sky, ignoring the spearmen and directly into the firing line of the archers.
"Order those men to take cover!" Rorarix ordered, cursing his lack of adaptation.
Aquilax looked at the terrain before them, the line of trees was not a problem, but the small bushes and shrubs that lived next to the short grass and fallen leaves. To make matters worse, the cool temperature and the rising sun heat began forming a mist that blinded his infantry.
"Form a line!" He shouted.
His men responded with a howl, bearing their green shields, brandishing rough white lion markings on their wood, the tips of their numerous spears against the fog. Most of them were sharpened sticks, while others, fewer, more favored men used iron-tipped spears. Aquilax knew his army was not as trained as those commanded by the great houses of Ivernia, nor the legions from the Empire to the West, but he trusted his men with his life, and he knew more than anyone their resolve to defend the mountain pass.
He dragged his words, so to make sure they echoed across the battle formation. Either way, his lieutenants shadowed his commands across the line.
"Archers ready." He uttered.
"Archers ready!" Rorarix shouted.
The surviving archers prepared their bows, aiming at the gray mist.
A roar of a thousand men was heard beyond the shroud, making some spears hesitant, a battle cry full of savagery and bloodlust.
The cry continued, growing stronger. Then the tremble of thousands charging was felt on the ground. Aquilax readied his sword.
"Wait..." he repeated.
The warcry grew louder. The Noads were getting closer.
A volley of arrows flew into the mist, disappearing. The sudden cry of wounded and dying men gave off the actual distance of the enemy. Aquilax was now ready.
Bearing their shields, spears steady, the men began to run, attacking the mist, led by their captain, their lieutenants, and their sergeants.
It was not long before Aquilax spotted the enemy line, also rushing against them. They were men with their chest laid bare, tattooed with blood markings, swinging rudimentary axes and sporting winter trousers, some of them bore full leather armor and thick animal furs covering their shoulders, but all of them wore the same mask without fault. It was a skull mask, made from the flayed victims the Noads took for whatever unholy reason they had.
Both armies rammed each other furiously, shields clashing and the stingy metal sounds of swords and spears crossing everywhere. Aquilax quickly created some space between him and his opponents, circling his sword, not caring whether it hit shield or flesh, all he cared about was to create enough distance for him to outmaneuver them. He then thrust and swung, killing skullpeople as he advanced. His men marched behind him, finishing those he felled or dueling their own. Arrows came and went as both sides shot at each other at will, the volleys flew past the frontline and into the rear, seeking to cripple their morale.
Falax shouted not far from Aquilax' position.
Satisfied with his share of blood, Aquilax brought down his sword on one last enemy, breaking his skull mask in the process as blood gushed into his face, then he retreated behind his men.
"Our lines are faltering!" Falax said, "They are not as energetic as the Noads! I bet those demons made sure we didn't eat! Our men lack the strength to continue..."
Aquilax tried to look over his men, but the spears were too many and both Noads and Ivernians were entangled now. Surely, attacking at dawn before your enemy could fully prepare was smart, but it lacked honor.
"I bet she had something to do with it."
"Captain! There is another wave incoming!" Gorax shouted.
Aquilax saw them, they were contemptuously marching towards the battle, these were even more armed than their brethren, and showed long white spears, their skull masks even more sophisticated and ornamented than the meatshields they had sent first.
"This doesn't look good."
His eyes went farther, looking for the one that had sent those giant balls of fire at his camp. After some moments and one dead Noad later, he saw her. The fog coincidentally gave way to a better view, and there she was, kneeling on top of a boulder, her face covered by a simple mask, not a skull, but a fox, hooded and mysterious as always.
"If only I could reach her."
Another Noad reached him. He parried one axe swing and cut down the belly, ending the skullman instantly.
He glanced at his men, faltering and slowly falling back before the sheer pressure of many bodies pushing at them fiercely.
Like a swift answer to prayer, the ground before the boulder where the girl rested cracked in blue light, intensifying by the second, then releasing its accumulated energy into an explosion of incandescent, ardent energy. The chaotic battle and its deafening cries of agony and fury quieted down as both Ivernians and Noads turned towards the hooded girl's position, blasted away by a sudden explosion.
Only Aquilax was looking elsewhere, as his eyes opened wide before the slender figure of a man standing on a rock, several feet up into the mountain, the smoke dissipating and the heat of the campfire wearing down. The man was bare-chested, with glowing markings spread on his arms and sternum, but most majestic of all, his eyes burned with steaming blue, the color of ice.
Baldur had taken the field.