But none of us could have known that the snowfields on the other side held a trap. By the time the fog lifted, it was already too late; we were surrounded by hundreds, nay, thousands of Goblins, Orcs, and Gigas. Commanding them from high above was a winged figure. This Demon had snared us in the deadliest of traps. Apprehension began to spread in the Tarutaru ranks to the rear. The Demon, as if expecting this confusion, raised his right hand.
At this sign, the encamped beastmen began a full-scale attack. They moved like pieces on a chessboard--oordinated and purposeful. Never before had I beheld such cohesion and planning among the beastmen. All I could hear were the wails of my falling comrades.
Lord Mieuseloir soon appeared before me, striking out at the surrounding beastmen as he shouted, “Did you not hear the order to retreat? Flee back to the canyon!”
I followed closely behind Lord Mieuseloir as he carved a gory path back through the encircling beastmen to the canyon. Near the entrance to the canyon, we could see the fleeing Tarutaru. A volley of arrows rained down on the panicking mages, sending several tumbling to the ground. The remaining casters fled further into the canyon, seemingly unaware of their fallen comrades. None of those rushing for the safety of the canyon noticed the fallen mages.
Though the Tarutaru had, to a one, been spared mortal wounds, none of them were even able to stand.
“Red Wolves! We stand and fight here!” shouted Lord Mieuseloir.
At their leader's command, the Red Wolves gathered near Lord Mieuseloir with swords at the ready. A desperate battle to protect the Tarutaru began before my eyes.
Making deft use of the narrow terrain, the Red Wolves held off hordes of Goblins and Orcs. But time and numbers were not on their side, and soon they began to fall.
It was not long before only Lord Mieuseloir remained to fend off the advancing beastmen.
He was stopping the beastmen in their tracks with a walloping blow, then would then impale the hapless creatures on his sword. As he slew beastman after beastman, his fighting spirit and masterful swordsmanship recalled images of that heroic Gigas we had observed only days ago.
The thwarted beastmen traded stares with Lord Mieuseloir as a black shadow appeared across the battlefield. The beastmen panicked and drew back as one when the lone Demon descended onto the battlefield.
Lord Mieuseloir steadied his sword at the monster as the Demon glared at him, taking his measure. From an enormous scabbard on its back, the monster drew a huge sword that glowed with an eerie light. It seemed pleased as it narrowed its eyes and pointed the sword at Lord Mieuseloir. The surrounding beastmen lowered their weapons and stepped back.
“A Demon with the heart of a true warrior? Then I, Lord Mieuseloir, leader of the Red Wolves, shall accept his challenge!”
It was to be a duel.
This was the closest I had ever been to a Demon. Its inky black skin resembled neither armor nor shell, and its eyes glowed with a faint light. There was something unspeakably evil about this monster that set it apart from the other beastmen.
It seemed as if the duel would never end. The Demon was striking precisely, as if the weapon itself were guiding him. But Lord Mieuseloir had the advantage of speed, escaping each attack by only the slimmest of margins. The Demon was pushing him back.
A metallic shriek tore through the canyon as Lord Mieuseloir's armor ground against the glacial wall. In the next instant, the monster had disarmed the knight. But this was Lord Mieuseloir's plan. Confidence left the creature unprepared; the knight crushed the Demon's hand with his unfastened shield, allowing him to steal the beast's sword.
Lord Mieuseloir swung the Demon's sword with all his might, severing the monster's right arm. The creature beat its wings and leapt back, out of the reach of the knight's sword.
“Impressive... But this ends now,” growled the Demon, its cracked mouth curling into a hideous sneer. He raised his left arm; the surrounding beastmen hefted their weapons and began to advance.
“I expected nothing less from such a dishonorable beast!” shouted Lord Mieuseloir. He then yelled to the assembled beastmen “Step forward and face me if you wish to die!”
All who remained to face the horde were a heavily wounded Lord Mieuseloir and the incapacitated Caster Company. Dozens of beastmen set upon the lone knight.
But a miracle occurred; a ring of light enveloped the Demon, growing into a ball before vanishing with the beast.
And then, the sound of footsteps on snow; dozens of footmen rushed in and fell upon the beastmen. Reinforcements had arrived.
The serpentine emblems on their mantles identified them as part of the Hydra Corps, a multinational division said to be the strongest unit in all of the allied forces.
The beastmen had no choice but to retreat when faced with such a foe. We had all been saved.
Goddess! We offer our humble gratitude for your merciful salvation.
My company lost seventy percent of its numbers in yesterday's battle. Thanks to this sacrifice--and especially that of the Red Wolves--casualties to the Caster Company so necessary for the siege of Castle Zvahl were kept to a minimum.
We have no one to escort the wounded Tarutaru home, so I shall be seeing them to Norvallen tomorrow.
After we had finished our midday meal, Lord Mieuseloir came to see me. He informed me that, in recognition of his valor yesterday, he had been accepted into the Hydra Corps and would remain in Xarcabard.
“I should not have survived the Red Wolves. If this be the blessing of the Goddess, I shall continue to fight until the Gates of Paradise open up to me,” he declared.
I could not fathom Lord Mieuseloir's grief as he stood before me. There was nothing for me to say. He pulled out a coin and tossed it to me.
“You keep this. I have no more need for a silly good luck charm,” he said.
It was a Ranperre goldpiece. He told me it was a childhood treasure, a symbol of his admiration for King Ranperre. I could not accept a gift of such value.
But before I could return the coin, he drew his sword and quietly announced, “As long as I have a weapon with which to fight, I shall want for nothing.”
He turned on his heel and left, leaving me with the words “You must live on.”
I presume he seeks only a battle in which to fall. Is there nothing I can do for him? Will our paths cross again?
The coin is inscribed with King Ranperre's declaration of victory.
Goddess, guide Lord Mieuseloir to a place of peace; a place where he may lay down his sword.