The Howling

Celina looked towards the hills. Framed by a sky of frozen grey, their apparent tranquillity was disturbed by the screaming howls of the advancing De'Tessed beasts. Quietly those behind her fell into formation, taking their cue from the swift signal of her left hand. They knew their duty. And she knew hers.

Her troop had known their lives were likely forfeit upon their realization of their charge, but, like her, they would have rallied to defend their land had they not been under order. They were the elite. The Allied Territory's best chance. And they would do their duty.

The vanquished evil wished to make the Allies pay. If those of the shadow got past her Defenders, they, the guilty, would be made to suffer. The Allies must resist. They, who had so long ago condemned these creatures to live, must now condemn them to die. They must prevail or all would be lost.

And so here they stood, a small number of men and women, courageously standing against numbers they had no hope of triumphing over, each of them ready to die for those whom they cherished. And die they would.

They were cornered. It was hopeless. But that was how it had to be. The Forgotten had to believe that there were not many to hold the Arc Pass. Had to believe that Prince Adriel of Arcadia was heeding their ultimatum and not using his extraordinary ability with the Gold to get as many men as he could to the Pass and thereby destroy the flood of evil that threatened the life of every man, woman and child. They had to believe it or all would be lost. And so the death of her Battalion was likely inevitable. But it could not matter. Only with their sacrifice could the Allied Territories have a chance of triumphing against those time had forgot. And so she would lead her people to death. But also to victory.

So when the Scouts of this terrible race had skirted around her Battalion, they had had to remain silent. They had had to stifle the urge within them to slay in order to protect all they held dear. They had let the twisted ones go.

No one could have imagined the damage that their forefathers orders of exile had caused. No one could have foretold the forced interbreeding of races that had created such a terrible evil within their world. No one could have imagined the damage they had unknowingly inflicted upon themselves for centuries. Oh yes, they were guilty. And now these actions threatened their very way of life. And her last breath would be in its defence. Her passion for life gave her no other choice but to destroy those who threatened her people.

The screaming howls came again; louder, hungrier. They were getting closer. Celina could not help the slight shiver that ran down her spine. She turned her head to the left, taking in the faces of the battle ready Defenders standing behind her. Ah, Keira. Her sister and shield. Catching her eye, Celina inclined her head, pressing her palm to her heart. Her sister replied in kind, her eyes becoming haunted as the harsh screams of their enemy came again, already prophesising victory over those under her command. The Scouts must have reached them. It would not be long now.

She turned back towards the opening of the Pass, her light cloak fanning about her as she shifted her position. More howls. So many. Too many. She felt the soft hairs on the back of her neck start to prickle.

Her Defenders were too few, the De'Tessed beasts too numerous. All she could do was hope. Hope that they could hold them off for as long as needed. Hope that the armies of the Allied Territories would reach them before those behind her now standing succumbed to deaths embrace.

Her fingers tightened around the sword she held drawn, limp but ready, in her right hand. They must hold the Arc Pass. And so they would; she would see that her Defenders held. Come what may, they would hold. They had no choice. They would stand firm and resolute, unflinching against the screaming evil, against the twisted figures of nightmares, against the soul eaters blades. Against darkness they would stand firm, they, a beacon in the light, turning away the devastation that threatened their world.

Shadows flickered across the darkened walls of the rocky Pass. They were almost upon them. Her gaze flickered up towards the niches that held her archers hidden. The shadow spawn did not know of them. They had one advantage at least. One advantage to slow the advancing hordes before they sacrificed their lives for their people.

The herded Mingolls all too soon came screaming and snarling towards them through the narrow valley of stone that funnelled the black-eyed evil towards her Battalion. Her face a grim mask, Celina nimbly leapt to meet the forerunners in combat as her archers loosed a hail of death upon the bottlenecking mass.

She dodged the first soul takers deadly blade easily and feinted to the right before twisting just in time to take its head. And so began the dance of life and death.

***

For how long they had been engaged in combat she did not know. Only her wearying state and the darkening heavens above gave testament to the countless hours waged.

Death had come on swift wings once the battle had begun. All around her she had heard the screams of her enemy. And of her allies. Agonized screams. Frenzied howls of rage. Screams of triumph. And those of desperation. But all of them drowning out the quieter groans of death, the last breaths of those who had fallen. And still they were falling, leaving her Battalion's show of strength much weakened.

But they must hold.

She was now fighting back to back with her sister. They were amongst the small number still standing. Too many of her command had been forced into death's waiting arms. Too many of hers littered the battleground, now hindering the fight the living still raged. But worse was the fact that some of the creatures they passionately fought against had gotten past them. But the main swarm was yet to get through, the narrowness of the Arc Pass blessedly working in their favour.

It was then that her sister and shield slammed heavily against her, forcing her breath from her burning lungs. She could no longer rely on the woman who guarded her back. And so she stepped away from her, all the while hating the unfeeling calculations she instantly made that gave her no other choice.

Too many had fallen. They had held as long as they could but there were just too many. She could give no order to retreat. That was not their aim. But without more to stand firm the Forgotten would achieve their hateful objective and the Allied lands would soon become a mirror of the desolate wasteland of those time had forgot. Already their discordant howls were starting to regain their previous strength of achievement and purpose.

"Ahh," came her pained cry. Her eyes widened as the cold steel slid easily into her chest, before the creature before her roughly wrenched out its blade. She fell limply to her knees, her eyes staring stupidly into oblivion, the world fading to a muted drone. No, this could not be. She needed more time. Desolation gripped her, failure held her. Prince Adriel was not yet here, and all but a few had fallen. They had failed him. She had failed him.

Agony seized her. Not for her mortal wound, but for the catastrophe she was now helpless to prevent. And now her lifeblood was rapidly staining her armoured attire, spilling uselessly down her front onto the frozen earth beneath her, thwarting any future resistance she could have offered.

It was then that she saw the Gold. It was then, amidst her darkest hour, she saw hope. She knelt dying, but her death, and the deaths of her people, had now not been for nought. The Arcadian Warriors had come. Prince Adriel, the man standing silhouetted by the Gold's brilliant shine, had arrived. Howling cries, once of victory and bloodlust, now betrayed fear. Finally. Finally were the creatures wrought of the dark afraid.

A smile curved her colour-faded lips. Her hands found new strength as they curled around her sword's hilt. And the once gloating creature before her lost his triumphant gaze, his unnatural scream ending in a gurgle of blood as her sword plunged into the heart of the evil that had taken her life.

She fell limp then, her body sprawled awkwardly on the blood stained earth, her head lolling to the side, her view of the glorious Prince gradually fading. He caught her eye then, and raising his sword arm high she watched as he saluted her, fist pressed to heart. They had held. They had done well. A single tear slid quietly down her cheek. They had held.

And so it came that she was smiling when death finally took her in her sweet embrace.