Dawn came, shy.
It had risen from a dead night, its light leaking bleakness and morosity upon the Illiræn Warcamps.
By noon, dark clouds over-arched the plains, cowaring as a dark age had shattered every old nations. Cornered by warlock kingdoms and barbaric tribes, the Empire had survived destruction for over a century. Now, its legions followed Kel, the red-caped rider, into battle.
The year was 7 before Founding, winds carried thunderclouds upon the grey battlefied.
Lurking at every corner of the plain, this gray death had approached Ismair Kel twice, only to be refused.
Luckily, another arrow missed, flying right above Kel’s widened eyes while a sword swing failed to reach his throat.
Why? Kel thought. Why me?
Barely readjusting himself to face the swordsman for the final exchange, Kel saw a horse charging towards them, its late rider already struck by a dozen blades. Both Kel and his opponent noticed the rampaging mount, but none of them reacted professionally, for both were exhausted and barely breathing. Desperately catching air with the mouth, Kel foolishly closed his eyes, a mistake he instantly took notice of. When he stepped back to dodge the raging horse, his eyes opened only in time to catch his enemy’s stare, frozen in incomprehension. Carried away and crushed by the weight of the stumbling horse, the swordsman didn’t scream.
Mud and blood spattered Kel’s armor, while at the time he noticed his remaining soldiers falling under the rain of fiery arrows. Allowing himself a second to contemplate the world, Kel smelled the stink of human flesh and struggled to contain his disgust. Around him, he finally witnessed the meanness his foes and allies alike displayed during this folly of a battle. Both sides had enjoyed their mutual slaughter, and both armies had pointlessly bled. Suddenly Kel realized that, for a reason beyond the warring kingdoms, he was still standing – very much alive. Hundreds of arrows had slain both mighty and foolish warriors, all of them now lied in the dirt in a tranquil equality.
Why does it always have to be me? Kel asked himself, grieving for his fallen companions – and enemies, for whom he would be lonely – as the opposing cavalry charged towards him.
Falling on his cheek, a tear dried quickly, as Kel dropped his shield, driven by the awareness of his despair. His gauntleted hand reached his sword, and he composed his emotions by hearing the steel of the blade leaving the dark scabbard. Always, this familiar lullaby had always reminded him of the beauty of his work. Relaxing his shoulders, Kel opened his arms, his grip tightening over his sword. Your body must be relaxed, his basics always echoed at the most appropriate moments. Your limbs must be flexible like a snake. Focusing on his belly, Kel reached an awkward serenity, the one of a man ready to die.
During a clash of swords, Kel always saw clearly. If calm returned, his eyes would loose this supernatural accuracy that only bloodlust could provide. A Bloodlust which enhanced his all self, in flesh and spirit. Furious, the horsemen, all ready to bring him down, didn’t bare any faces. However, Kel knew perfectly well that their souls would be to his eyes clearer than water once their steel had met.
Around him, the plain was covered by a grey sky. Even if winter was coming, the heat had an infernal taste, sweat falling on Kel’s lips. Bodies covered the center of the field, and the red legions of the Crimson king approached. The final stand was coming.
Usually quiet and stoic, Kel surprised himself when he screamed his wrath as the warriors approached. Somehow, he let this filling exaltation surpass his reason and his war cry seemed louder than theirs. They might kill him, but they would all die with him.
With sheer luck, again, his own cavalry passed him. Confused, Kel angrily watched both armies colliding with a grim violence.
Taking the opportunity as horses and men dropped like flies, Kel rushed into the melee, slicing with accuracy a rider trying to stand. Another once jumped at him before an arrow pierced the ground in front of him. Shocked, he briefly hesitated, a precious time Kel used to reach his throat with his sword. The wound widened as Kel performed a circle with the blade ready to take down another fighter.
More aggressive than most, this one didn’t blink before jabbing, and his red eyes didn’t hint any target. This one is good, Kel thought as he blocked before launching a combination. Agile, the draedar had a subtile defense, however he failed to block a minor strike which cut his finger. Kel had often thought swordplay was the most exquisite form of fighting. A single mistake ended the exchange, Kel remembered as he entered the blade into the draedar’s stomach. Staring at his prey, he enjoyed the contact of their eyes, as Kel felt he now knew the fallen warrior better than most. The red eyes shut down, filled with hatred. He hates us more than I hate them. Are we really the heroes of this war? An arrow just missed his cheek. The survivors shall decide. Kel performed another circle with his sword as he ran into the battle.
Swords clashed, a draedar fell and Kel pursued another one until he had slain him. When an odd feeling seized his guts – probably fear – Kel turned back to see another draedar, an axe ready to strike. Is he the one? Then, the draedar collapsed, an illyran horseman had cut him down before being caught in the neck by an arrow. Luck again. Why me? After the way cleared, Kel noticed his friend, Stryga, wearing his expressionless mask, his swords at hand, nodding at him. Nodding back, Kel cleared the path by cutting a handful of enemies. At each other’s reach, they didn’t exchange words when their backs met.
Once his enemy, Stryga the Keshian, had proven his loyalty in the years following his duel with Kel. Covered in a crimson armour – like the draedars who trained him -, Stryga had been the paramount enemy of Kel’s career. Having him to cover his back was now a blessing.
Waves of swordsmen approached them, but both of them had gathered their steel to cut down these demon-sons. They would never yield. Swordsmen came after one another, to no avail as their mutual battle rage seemed unstoppable. There was nothing as satisfying like a rampage of two synchronized artists of death. Kel almost smiled, but the blood stank too much.
All around the battlefield this exaltation was palpable. From every corner, champions of both sides triumphed or failed, falling into the mud or rising covered in blood. Fear had yielded its throne to utter madness. Kel didn’t care anymore of the countless cuts on his body, of the blood on his swords, and of the decreasing number of his friends. Nothing made sense anymore. Why?
Both Kel and Stryga, standing next to one another over a pile of corpses, were motionless. When am I going to die? Kel wandered. Will luck save me each time I drop my guard?
Suddenly, the burning wind howled over the battlefield, and the two rampaging forces held their breath. All started to shake, all but Ismair valenKel. Finally. An insane smile on his face, Kel gazed at the falling flames in the red sky.
At last, Shand had arrived.
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