The Last Blood

Serkan walked along the ramparts of the ancient city of Di'Ral. His eyes looked beyond the walls, out across the plains and to the rising cloud of dust slowly approaching. A messenger of doom to come. The Bolt of the Emperor approached, the mighty hand of the false king of the Asam tribes. Where ever his hand fell, a mighty Asam tribe would fall, and all memory of it would be erased. His army, his men, his friends were all lined up along the wall dressed in their chain mail cuirass, the same armor their fathers had worn, and their father's fathers. This was a proud people, a people that would not bow to a pretentious leader such as the self-proclaimed emperor.

As he walked his men would respectfully bow their heads. The younger, newly initiated boys, and even girls, who had volunteered to defend their home, snapped to attention and saluted, fist over heart. A sure sign that they were sworn fighters for their leader. No one said a word, though; the mood here was somber and quiet. Only the sounds of creaking leather or clinking metal could be heard. A cough would sound up from the street below where more soldiers waited. The crackle of cook fires and falling hooves sounded up and down the streets. The city was ready to fight, her people ready to die. It was a certainty that they would.

News had flooded in at first. Village after Village burned to the ground or was swallowed up by the swiftly growing empire. Then the news began to thin. Less information came in, and eventually stopped all together. The last village to burn was the Ram'Da Asam to the north. Serkan had been there with his troops. He had tried to help. No one could resist the might of the empire, not forever. They would either submit, or they would die.

It was clear to Serkan that his people were willing to die. No one in the village was willing to submit to this arrogant elf from afar. To be sure Serkan's wife, Nawra, had suggested asking the villagers. So Serkan had a vote, and all agreed that they should fight to the last. Boys and girls, grandpas and grandmas and everyone in between had come to the armory or dug antique armor out of their homes. Even tots of four and five wanted to fight, which only saddened Serkan further.

He had begged them to flee into the swamps, to go and hide, wait out the storm. Surely Nayun'Dahr would protect her followers in her own domain. None went, however; every last body insisted on staying, so reluctantly Serkan agreed.

The day passed slowly. Serkan didn't eat, he didn't rest, he only paced back and forth along the wall, watching that clouded doom move ever closer. The day seemed ironically peaceful. The sun shined in a cloudless sky, the birds sang in the trees and the temperature was pleasantly warm. No one took notice, though; every eye was turned either inward or towards the horizon.

Night came quickly and torches were lit and people tried to sleep. Some did, most either lay awake and stared to the heavens, begging the Dragons for deliverance. Others sobbed quietly in a restless, dream-filled slumber. The air held no chill, but every last man, woman, and child could feel their souls growing colder by the hour. Serkan tried to sleep himself after Nawra dragged him from the ramparts. He did close his eyes and he did sleep, but to little avail; he awoke from haunting nightmares feeling only more fatigued than he had before.

The next morning Serkan rejoined his soldiers on the ramparts to find the Bolt of the Emperor set up around the city. Cavalry and mighty and terrifying siege engines were arrayed in a full circle around the last of the true Asam. Serkan's heart didn't sink, for it couldn't sink any lower than it already had. He simply resigned himself to his fate and ordered the gates open as the Bolt commander approached.

The man rode alone up to the gate wearing his full armor, an intricately designed suit of steel armor of the finest craft and made from the strongest steel available. Serkan greeted the man with a stiff nod. The man in all his arrogance bowed deeply and respectfully as one should to a village leader; he did not attempt to hide his mockery. Serkan beckoned the man to follow after hearing his name. Bydwyn Da'Alan. They went to the castle at the center of the town, a small keep with a wall, stable, and smithy, was all it was. In the throne room of the keep Serkan listened to the emperor's offer. He had his answer prepared, a stern but polite no. Bydwyn accepted the answer with no outward sign of emotion. He only bowed his head, did an about face, and strode confidently out of the room.

Serkan returned to the ramparts again, this time his wife joined him dressed in full battle armor and wielding a wicked longbow. A quiver of arrows was strapped to her back. Serkan still remembered the first day he had met Nawra. She was so beautiful, so amazing. Serkan didn't know what he would do if he saw her killed here. There was no doubt in either of their minds that they would die, but Serkan asserted that if he were to die, it would be defending her. With one last, sorrowful goodbye Serkan wrapped Nawra in a hug and kissed her.

The sudden crash of stone on stone tore them apart as great balls rained down, fired from those deadly ballista. Serkan drew his sword and ordered the archers to open fire. Nawra and the rest of the archers pulled arrows from their quiver, knocked them, drew them back and let them fly. A black cloud of steel-tipped drops poured down on the forces bellow. The first wave of charging infantrymen fell to the ground and were replaced by another. The archers fired again and again, but more and more soldiers rushed forward. In only seven shots they had closed the distance between them and the wall and were raising ladders. Serkan ordered that boiling tar be poured down. The order was obeyed instantly and screams echoed up from bellow, but there was only so much tar available. Soon soldiers dressed in full armor and wearing black masks poured over the wall and with swords and axes tore through the ranks. Serkan charged the nearest to him and fought for all he was worth. He dispatched foe after foe but more and more would come to replace the last. Soon he became tired, a weariness that he had never known before. That weariness soon was replaced by numbness as he continued to fight. He called on the Dragons, all of them, to grant him the strength to continue, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Soon he found himself at the gate of the keep.

He and the remaining fighters, all men except for Nawra, closed themselves in the keep and rained fire and arrow onto the advancing scourge. Nothing seemed to slow them down. The gates were quickly bashed down and only Serkan, Nawra, and one other fighter remained locked in the keep. The door wasn't going to hold for long and Serkan couldn't stand the thought of his one and only love's death. With his last breath, he ordered her and the soldier to leave through the tunnel that would lead to the Swamp Temple. Nawra protested but Serkan would not allow her to stay. With one last kiss and a last order to tell the world what had transpired here, he sent them off and collapsed the passage way behind them.

With a crash of wood, the door burst down and, by coincidence or by divine guidance Serkan never found out, Bydwyn entered the Keep. With a scream that could shake even the boldest of warriors, Serkan charged and with the ferocity of a mad bear, he lashed out at Bydwyn, but Bydwyn proved the better swordsman and in the end Serkan's pain and anger faded into the eternal abyss of dream.

A folksong of the Dragoon swamp monks, believed to be derived from the stories of the last of the Di'Ral tribe:

And the last went forth and fought

With the ferociousness of a wolf cornered,

And gave the mighty lightning pause.

To no avail did they toil, for the storm pressed on.

The mighty voice of the eagle was silenced,

And in the tower of old the last died.

By the hand of deceitful evil

Did the last blood flow

Through the rivers and streams

And over his hands that destroyed the last

Of the Di'Ral Asam.