Prologue: Part II

A Tune of Blood and Death

The serenity of the camp was still ever present after that powerful roar of some unknown creature died away, silence rushing back in to fill the void in its wake with a complete ignorance of Alano's anxiety backed joke. All standing now amidst the gentle and uncaring snowfall that peppered the shoulders of their silver armour with spots of white, the five remained motionless as they all showed extreme focus, straining with enhanced senses to get some clue as to what it was that had broken their perimeter and whether it was coming towards them.

For a moment more this continued, the knights as still as the looming blue-spruces that towered strong and wise over them with their centuries old life, turquoise needles quivering almost indistinctly now as Acario's ears perked up, quickly moving into action with a swift stride over to the pack beside the entrance to his tent, "They're coming, ready yourselves!"

Following the command without hesitation, Eskil turned around and knelt down beside his pack, whipping it about with a heavy hand to reveal the large dual bladed axe strapped on its back. Hurriedly unlatching the single heavy steel head, he followed to pull the handle through the remainder of the resting straps and freeing the weapon for his use. As he did so, the other knights behind him freeing their own blades in a mirroring fashion, Eskil couldn't help but wonder what Acario had meant when he said 'they' were coming. Pushing through his muscled legs, he came back up to his feet, ready for a fight, but confused nonetheless. That is, until the threat that Acario had picked up on graced Eskil's lesser tuned senses, head careening off in the direction of the prior roaring shout as sky-blue eyes went wide.

It was barely noticeable at first, as there must certainly be at least a mile between the Holy Knights who were all now positioned ready for a conflict, and whatever it was that was barreling their way at full tilt, but what began as a subtle rumbling quickly became louder and more daunting. With every passing second, the barely noticeable motion of the branches and needles of the trees above them quickly evolved into a shake as the ground beneath them all started to hum with the pounding of dozens of hammering footfalls. Even more concerning was the increasing yips, howls, screeches, squacks, and even wails that pierced through the air to instill a primal fear in the five that were to be hunted, the effect of them all compounded by the unnerving and gastly form these sounds took, as if they were the calls of creatures that defied the very meaning of what is natural. The definition of a fiend.

"This won't be like any of the encounters we've had since we left Coille ReĆ²ta, I want you all to be careful. Watch each other's backs." With Acario's words cutting through the shallow silence, Eskil snapped out of that momentary shock that gripped him shamefully and glanced over to his commander. Everyone else followed suit, naturally gravitating towards the charismatic tone of Acario's voice as his words were met with the more gruff and jovial tune of Alano's making, "Please, commander, you're going to make Eskil think you care about us at this rate."

Everyone looking to the jokester in question, his concerns about what was coming masked beneath the face of a man who had none, there was only some surprised faces for an answer to his words. Eskil himself wasn't shocked by the fact that Alano would make a quip at a time like this, but was actually reminded of some of the better memories from his past: the pre-battle high Eska warriors would force themselves and their fellows into in the face of the overbearing uncertainty and death to come. It actually filled him with a warm nostalgia that brought a smile to his face just as Viola and Omar broke out into a short bout of laughter. To his surprise, he even saw Acario crack the beginnings of a smirk before he turned to look off in the direction of the encroaching danger. One could almost see the tension that was building slide off their shoulders as Viola added in defense of their commander with a sweet tone, "There's nothing wrong with having a caring leader."

Quickly snapping back in his usual comedic sense, Alano stepped up to the side of Eskil, an amused smirk on his face as he clanged his gauntlet against the plating on the larger man's upper arm with a bit of weight to make a point, "Have you seen this bear of a man? If a cruel prick of a commander doesn't keep him in check, he could end up eating us all whole! Could you imagine the horror!? The great Alano Vasco taken out of this world like he was a tasty cream tart, eaten with one bite? Oh, the world would crumble at the news." Making a show of his exaggerated drama by waving his hands about and ending in a mock mourning pose, Alano succeeded in raising the morale of his fellow knights with his talent for humour and a gift of gab.

Even Eskil, who could have taken the joke as an insult under different implications given the jabs and slings he had received about his height during his time in the south, expanded a genuinely entertained smile over the smaller form of nostalgia, furthering into a chuckle as Viola and even Omar sounded true laughter in response. Resting a bare hand against the cold metal of her armoured waist and waving the other in the air in front of her, she retorted in a playful fashion, "I can't imagine anyone describing you as a 'tasty cream tart'." Bringing the hand she waved up to her chin in thought, she added, "Although I suppose a minstrel might try to think of some kind of paste that rhymes with Vasco. Something dramatic sounding that tastes bland to the tongue mayhaps." A mischievously humoured glint in her green hues as she finished, Viola continued to chuckle as she watched Alano's stricken reaction to the words, a hand resting on his plated heart as if he had been pierced.

Fluidly transitioning from that into another quip however, Alano fired back with an air of vindication, "Well whatever song they come up with, it's touching to know that you think so highly of me to the point that you would hire a minstrel. I always knew my tale would go down in the annals of history." Winking back at her with some cheekiness of his own, he added, "Maybe it will be you that travels the world to spread the great deeds of your hero, after I get slurped up by Eskil here like some kind of paste apparently." Laughing aloud in a mocking sense towards Viola, who was clearly thinking up another response, Alano was interrupted by Acario.

"I'm glad you are all having fun, but it's time to get ready. We will be beset before the next minute passes." With these words bringing the focus away from the merrymaking once more, Eskil took a single step away from Alano as he looked onward again. That friendly sense of security that Alano perpetrated with the help of Viola was certainly helpful, but as Eskil very soon realized, wasn't as effective as the frenzy he had remembered earlier. That was a different sort readiness, a baser, more animalistic sort. One that wouldn't even factor in the violent quacking in the soil beneath his feet as the opposing forces charged, nor the grim cacophony of the howling fiends which sought to rend their flesh and devour their souls.

But as the knights all focused their minds and came to grips with the threat they were about to face, Eskil realized that this was a far superior frame of mind. The worry that he felt not for just his own life, but for that of Viola and Alano, as well as Acario and Omar, that worry would keep them all keen to protect each other when needed, even amidst the bloody carnage and chaos of battle. Something a berserker mindset could never manage. Thinking about this as he tapped his fingers against the sturdy wooden handle of his axe, Eskil's attention was brought over to Acario again as he started giving the group commands, "We will have to keep them away from the Oghurs, so we can't let them pass through the camp." Waving his hand towards the rough southwest direction of the woods, he went on, "Alano and Eskil, you will take the left flank. Viola and Omar, the right. I will halt them in the center."

Firing off his orders in a quick and concise manner, Acario then began walking forward, deeper into the woods towards the oncoming fiends. "Now spread out and prepare to halt their advance." With this final command, Acario released his aura in an awesome display of power as the very air throughout the camp became heavier as Acario himself became surrounded by a translucent golden gas of energy. Shocked for a moment at this display of power, Eskil couldn't believe that it actually became harder for him to move simply because Acario stopped restraining himself. Actually straining himself a little to begin walking away, he continued to side-eye their leader as the man raised his left hand into the air. When he did so, what looked like a viscous, almost metallic silver liquid started to form in the air around him as some of that golden aura coagulated to form this strange new matter.

Eyes jolting down all of a sudden when he felt an impact against his shoulder, Eskil now looked at Alano walking beside him with a brilliantly inscribed and enchanted sword in hand as he lowered his other from Eskil's shoulder. "Now isn't the time to be getting starstruck my big bearded friend. Not until you've seen me in action anyway." Smirking in a reassuring gesture, Alano gave Eskil one more thump on the arm before he started to walk away from him as all the knights started to fan out a good distance, calling out one more thing before he took more than a couple steps, "But please try to contain the awed comments until after the performance." Another laugh from him was the last thing Eskil heard for a time aside from the pounding of his heart and the thumping of heavy claws, paws, and gods knows what else in the distance.

Trying to keep that unconsciously rising fear and dismay from taking root, Eskil focused on his preparation. Unfurling his left hand from the shaft of his axe, he brought it up before him, palm outward and fingers slightly spread. As he did so, a cyan hue of gaseous aura emanated from his arm and hand, swirling together before his palm for a moment before it took the shape of a large floating sigil. This large formation of energy, which took the form of several outlining circles of varying sizes within the largest bordering frame, started to fill with ethereal etchings of this same energy. Remaining focused on this for the next handful of seconds, Eskil tightened his right-handed grip on his axe as he tensed the muscles in his legs in anxious preparation.

When his spell was ready, Eskil held his breath as he looked past the gaseous energy with dreading anticipation, the shaking in the ground now louder in his own head than his quickening heartbeat. The source of it all - the thunderous shuddering beneath their feet, the repulsive hollers and shouts that emanated a melody of terror and doom, and the stinging sweat that began to bead up on his brow despite the sub-zero temperature, it all took form before his very eyes against the serene background of gentle white snow that obscured the distant trees.

The wall of death that raced towards their camp like an unstoppable tide was a sight to behold. A final sight. Fiends of all forms made it up, types Eskil had never seen before, and certainly types that he had never even heard of working in unison with each other. Together they made a stunning display of vibrant colourings amidst their mangled hides, furs, and scales; ranging from crimson reds to equally deep violets that streaked through an encompassing mixture of blackness. If anything, Eskil mused to himself for the briefest of moments, they would at least be easy to discern given the landscape.

That being the only calming thought that managed to escape from the whirlpool of panic that started to fill his mind like a fracturing dam that threatened to swell a river, Eskil honed in on the grotesque shapes whose black and red eyes fell upon him. With little more than two bounds, the smaller of the beasts, whose bodies mirrored a form of direwolf with two heads and a pair of wide gapping and grizzly jaws, which leaked out a wafting trail of an almost deep wine hue of gaseous aura; closed the distance between them with an excited chorus of howling and an explosive strength that tore apart the earth they bounded off of. Behind them, with just as much terrifying speed, was a pair of truly monstrous beasts whose rough leather clad bodies and heavily scaled backs stood well over nine feet tall. Their double jointed hind legs, coupled with a long scaled tail that followed through from the back and could slash through a man with a half-assed swipe, were perfectly suited for hunting down its prey with a predatory propulsion and precision. The long arms that came to a vicious end with a pair of reptilian hands that each sported three long black talons made them just as capable and precise with their ability to grab into and tear apart their prey.

All of this killing potential literally coming to a head, as the most prominent feature of the beast's body was the pair of long grisly horns that jutted out above the eye on either side of the head, the points of which could gore three men in a row with ease. These unnatural weapons crowning the jaw that made up the majority of the creature's scaled face, which opened wide for Eskil to see the several rows of serrated and pointed teeth as they both let out a deep and resounding roar that shifted the snow around his feet. A coupling roar that was joined by the other dozen or so, equally as horrific types of fiend that formed the ranks of what now charged towards Eskil with a logic defying pace.

There wasn't even any time to fully process what was before him, as the midnight black wolves were upon him within a second, two of them leaping forward to sink their jaws into his neck and body as the other seven aimed to rush past him, some going to surround him, others to pass, and others still trying to head over towards Alano in the distance. Just behind them was the remainder of the smaller fiends, that including the giant raptor-like monstrosities, lagging by merely a single second.

Just before it all came to an end for Eskil under this tide of Chaos however, the sigil that hovered before his outstretched hand flashed in a brilliant momentary flash of cyan light, a pulse of energy reaching out in an instant as the whole gathering of beasts was suddenly halted in their tracks as the very earth seemed to desire their deaths. Upon the activation of his spell, the entire field before Eskil erupted in a dense collection of jutting staves of ice that filled the air with the snow they displaced as the points found their home in the warm bodies of the fiends they skewered. A grating ensemble of horribly pained screams and yelps filling the air in answer with a sound that remains just as unsettling to the ear as their cries of excitement.

Out of the corner of his eye, Eskil caught a brilliant display of streaking white light to his right that clearly tore through the fiends that fell upon Alano, as their shouts and whinings of pain joined those before him with perfect timing. However, as the initial flush of relief and excitement started to well up within Eskil, the growls and snapping that came from the two suspended wolven fiends before him brought him back into the proper frame of mind. Even now, as these two suspended fiends before him were skewered through by nearly a dozen pillars of ice each, one of their heads completely splattered across the cool translucent surface of one such stave, they fought with a gruesome ferocity to free themselves as the wounds began to mist with their dark energy, melting away at the ice within them as their flesh began to regenerate.

Knowing full well of this trait of aggressive regeneration that all fiends possess, Eskil immediately jumped into action in order to take advantage of this initiative his spell granted him. Bringing his axe up with an experienced hand, Eskil guided its engraved edge through the neck belonging to the remaining head of the first wolf, the cold cleansing steel slicing through the matted black fur and tough skin with ease, leaving a burning stump behind as the beast's head fell slack-jawed and lifeless to the snow beneath. Meeting the shaft of the weapon fluidly in mid-air with his free hand, Eskil pivoted his foot to the side as he brought the blade down two-handed on the base of the second fiend's neck, where the two heads joined the body, throwing his weight into the swing as it came down with the finality of an executioners chop, fully ending the creatures abysmal existence without wasting a second before moving onto the next.

Just like this, the looming spectre of a mountainous reaper danced through the fowl creatures with a surprising grace, Eskil taking each motion in stride as he delivered devastating and unrecoverable assaults as quickly as he could, watching each fraction of a second tick by on the clock that screamed at him with more and more insistence as he watched out of the corner of his eyes while the majority of the fiends quickly freed themselves from their brutal constraints; some shattering the ice with their sheer force of might, others eating them away from the inside with their regenerative energy. The remainder of them melting the ice away in sickening flashes of crimson-black flames that burned with the heat of a blue wildfire.

Still, Eskil knew that he had to deal with the smaller pack animals first, as they would be the ones that would inevitably catch him off-guard in a skirmish if he was foolish enough to dismiss them simply because there were bigger beasts to deal with. That being the case, Eskil waved his left hand through the air in a haze of cyan energy as another hundred staves erupted to assault the remaining fiends. Using this time to end the final two wolves, Eskil's axe sang a tune of blood and death through the snow for another moment before he turned on his heels to head into the frey of the other beasts.

Going wide-eyed in surprise when he did so, Eskil watched his axe sing its song through the darkening sky by its lonesome as all the air in his lungs blasted out of him in an instant, mingling with his own blood as his hulking body sailed backwards through the air and crashed into the thick trunk of one of the beautiful blue spruce trees, splintering its bark and forever leaning its proud top lopsided against the sky. Losing his sight and sense when his skull smashed into the wood, Eskil's mind flashed with no thought other than a terrible sharp pain that blurred the passing of time. When he opened his eyes again, a thought of terrible fear filled his mind as he thought he had gone blind. However, the unfocused backdrop of pure white started to come into focus as he saw the contrasting darkness of his own blood dripping down from his mouth and slicking down the silver-steel surface of his armour, pooling slightly in the caved in divot of his breastplate. Coughing slightly, painfully, Eskil brought a hand up to investigate the source of the sharp throbbing pain in his head, ignoring for the moment the similar, more obvious pain that flashed throughout his chest, very clearly the result of some broken ribs and any number of other internal injuries. Luckily enough, as he gritted through the pain of moving with a wince, he discovered that his skull wasn't bare to the world, probably.

With another pained cough, he dropped his heavy bloodstained hand down into the snow beside him as he tried to gather his energy. As he did so, Eskil tried to come to terms with what had just happened in the span of an instant, cursing himself for the stupidity of being caught unaware like he was. Thinking he had skewered the nearest raptor-like monstrosity enough to keep it rooted, he got close enough for it to destroy only the staves that were required for it to swing its body around and whip into him with the end of its tail. It couldn't care less if it caused an unbelievable amount of harm to itself as it ripped itself apart with what was left of the ice, it merely saw the opportunity to kill him, and the bastard took it. This was another reason that fiends were so feared by peasants to knights alike. Just like everything else about them, they had an unnatural cunning and wisdom when it came to killing the living.

Evident by the fact that when Eskil surrounded himself with a thin veil of translucent golden energy and brought his eyes up to finally expand his waning senses away from his own body, he came face to face with the scaly hide of the beast that almost sealed his death with one swipe of its tail, the only thing saving him being his aura enriched body and enchanted armour. Not that either of these would do him any good this time when he could barely even form a word without first healing the crippling blow that marred the back of his head.

All Eskil could do was moan in defiant pain as the blur of scales before his eyes opened into a world of crimson-black flickers and ever expanding rows of yellowish daggers all slathered in a repulsive clear slime. A disgusting liquid that was splashed into his face as the roar of this embodied force of destruction filled his ears and shredded his eardrums with a painful ringing for the last time in this life.