Anticipation clutched each chest in the army of dozens, boiling and rushing their blood like bellows at work in their veins. They gnashed and snarled like dogs, thrusting their elbows into each other to keep their fighting spirit alive as they waited for the command to charge. The wufbog army was one hundred yards away, close enough for their skilled longbow archers to reach. But they had to wait, because it was dawn. There was no convincing their commander when it was dawn.
The noises of the barely contained army were completely ignored by Allyssa Knives, who even in layers of heavy plate mail took the trouble to kneel, her hands clasped together, her lips resting on her fingers as she closed her eyes and fervently, silently prayed. She did not stir, did not raise her head until the pink shine of dawn turned to gold light in a ring around the crown of her short blonde hair. Then she rose.
The army's shout was a din that could be heard for miles. They continued stomping and waving anxiously as Allyssa Knives casually walked to the front, sliding on her gauntlets and helm. Once standing ahead of her army, she drew her two-handed warhammer, raised it to the skies, then drove it into the ground before her, causing a bell deeply contained in the hammer's core to sound a quaking knell.
The army charged forward with whoops and yells, blades waving, to tear across the gap and bring down their bloodlust on the wufbogs. Knives only stood in place, like a reed withstanding a river's rushing current, as her army flowed out around her. She was alone at the back of the field, standing with her head bowed as she merely listened to the clashing and clanging of the battle ahead of her.
The cries of battle seemed to weaken as time passed, from strength and resolve to exhaustion and defeat. Knives slowly raised her head as she realized that the sighs of defeat came from her army, and her lieutenant was rushing toward her to deliver the news.
"Call retreat," he gasped as he nearly fell to his knees from the run. He wiped blood from his face as he choked trying to catch his breath. "We can't…one monster remains in the outpost tower…not one of our thirty-three able-bodied can mark him…"
Knives nodded. "Call for them to fall back out of the tower, no farther. Hold position there. And wait for me." She helped him to his feet, let him take a couple more lungfuls of air, then the lieutenant took off across the field quickly as his fatigue could carry him.
Cocking the warhammer over her shoulder, Knives began the trek across herself, the weight between her armor and her hammer making the trip slow. But her army steadfastly held their position as ordered, keeping away any wufbogs who had regrouped. As she approached, they made a path for her to the entrance of the tower. She did not slow or hesitate as she went directly inside and up the creaky wooden stairs.
"Oozat?" echoed a rough voice along the stone walls as she climbs. It was a wet voice, like a gurgling swamp. "Ooz cumminta try at der mettel at me?"
She was momentarily surprised at the creature's attempt at the Common Language, but didn't let it slow her ascent. She instead hoped for understanding and began a stern reprimand: "Are you aware of the offense against the realm you have committed?" Realizing she likely needed simpler language, she began again: "Do you know that what you have done is wrong by the King's eye? You have attacked an outpost of his prize city of Lyramond."
"Dunizron?" He coughed up a laugh. "Ron by der kin. Iz not o my kin."
"I would be happy to grant you and your survivors mercy if you vow to go back from where you came and not return here."
"We all iz cumin uveer. War iz yoo cuminuv?"
"I come from no place. I come only from Hellenya the Righteous and her divine orders."
Knives's face rose over the last length of stairs and into the topmost perch of the tower. The wufbog—a frighteningly impressive creature that seemed only to be made of thick muscles and thin fur—stood with his back hunched and knees bent, his hands bearing claws long as daggers. He was covered in blood, and the source of it was evident as Knives took notice of how many of her comrades had been killed by the beast. His eyes glowed brighter as she set foot on his level, shorter than him by two heads. She shrugged her warhammer off her shoulder, holding it before her as though it were a casual walking cane.
"Hellenya has commanded me into the King's service," she said calmly. "In that, I never falter. But she also commands mercy of my enemies when they are capable of the goodness to accept it. Surrender now, and you and your…men…go free. You will not be our victims nor our prisoners if you choose to fall back."
A laugh bubbled out of the wufbog's throat. "Amor iznt gun stop me, ifit meks ya brav." He reached a claw forward, gently tapping her right shoulder. "I kin cut tru enny manz mettel." To demonstrate, he applied light pressure and dragged his claw along her armor. Knives remained still as stone while the claw shrieked through the metal as easily as through paper.
"I must advise you, if you continue in this manner, I will be forced to retract my offer of mercy."
The wufbog merely snickered as he proceeded to carve out the entire chest and abdomen of the armor, letting the plate fall to the ground with a clatter, leaving her in her plain clothes. "To carv ere, at der stummik? Or ere, at der…?" His claw pointed to her heart, which caused him to notice. "…a feemal?"
"I am not in the habit of repeating my warnings. I tell you now, if you do not remove yourself…"
The creature began laughing. "A feemal? I kilt all der mals? To sen a feemal?" His laughter seemed to take control of him, and as it jarred him, his claw dug into her shoulder.
In one movement, Knives uprighted her hammer and swung hard, striking his head and felling him. In an instant, the room was silent.
Down below, outside the tower, the remains of both armies were growing restless. The lieutenant watched the entrance faithfully until he finally saw his commander return to them, missing the front of her plate armor, but lacking nothing else. She removed her helm and addressed everyone, her voice only as loud as necessary: "Both armies must now cease. The wufbog have no one to command them now, so I suggest they all depart for their homes. This outpost was, and still is, in possession of the King's army."
The wufbog seemed to voice some rebuttals, but only one of them attempted the Common Language: "No feemal mek uz! No feemal kill Gklaarik!"
Knives voiced no response, but merely cocked her hammer over her shoulder to head up the tower again. The wufbog began the celebration of what they thought would be a victory while the King's army stood in a limbo of confusion. Moments later, Knives appeared before them again and tossed something into the wufbog's midst: a furred hand sporting dagger claws, crushed.
"What will you say to 'this female' now?" she asked wryly. "Or how about now?" She tossed the other hand to them as well.
The wufbog's crows turned quickly to whimpers as they all gradually decided to take off to the horizon on all fours. Knives's army all turned slowly to her in astonishment, while her face remained completely complacent. "Lieutenant, take ten of ours with you to report to the King that his eastern outpost is secured. While in town, see that arrangements are made to send provisions here for the rest of ours who will guard this station. I will remain as long as is necessary to properly bury our dead, then I will return to the temple."
There was a moment of silent reflection on her orders, then the lieutenant asked, "What about the dead wufbog?"
Knives considered her answer. "If the survivors did not see fit to give their own the proper rites, then they will be left for the birds." She began taking off her armor and called for some men to fetch the dead down from the top of the tower.
The lieutenant began choosing which ten to bring with him, when he caught sight of the wufbog commander's detached hands and brought them to Knives. "Your trophies, my lady."
She shook her head. "Death is not a trophy. It is a tragedy. Even when brought in Hellenya's name." Dropping the last of her armor, she searched her trouser pocket for a small relic wrapped in worn brown paper. The lieutenant looked at it curiously, unable to tell what could be wrapped inside. "This is death," Knives said, letting the relic sit in her palm. "But it is neither trophy nor tragedy. It is a miracle." She clutched it in her fist. "It would be a disgrace to carrying anything else beside it."
The lieutenant asked with indignance: "Like your warhammer, my lady?"
"Containing another relic, another miracle."
"What, that bell?" he scoffed.
Knives stepped closer to meet his eye and said, "What is bothering you, lieutenant? Is it that you find contradiction in my faith, or is it that I sneer at something which you and your male comrades desired?" She did not care to wait for an answer, but immediately crossed to grant last rites to the first dead man pulled from the tower.