Battle
By: Stephanie Bardy

The men rode out of town, solemn, quiet, a little afraid. The wailing from the women faded into the distance as they followed the dirt road into the forest that surrounded the town. Chandora had always been sheltered by the trees. Nestled on the shores of Chandos, the people who lived there had known a peaceful existence. Now that way of life had been shattered by the power of one man and his seemingly unstoppable army.

Ren Daul was no ordinary man. He possessed abilities and powers that where only whispered about in the tales told to small children in the dark of night. His legions of solders were almost endless and well trained killing machines. Word had reached the town months ago that Ren was sweeping across the territories, destroying all who stood in his way. Some believed he was searching for something, some believed he was driven by blood lust and the need for ultimate power and some believed he was driven by something much darker. All believed he could not be stopped.

Every story Merrik heard gave him an almost overwhelming need to face Ren Daul. It was an ache deep within him. His wife said it was just his desire for justice and what was right but he felt like it was something else. He believed it was his destiny to be riding towards this battle. His duty. His true calling. He shifted in his saddle to look at the men who rode with him. Farmers, blacksmiths, merchants. Country folk, not a warrior in the lot, but each willing to fight for their town, their families. They rode into battle with pitchforks and harvesting scythes. Some had bows, crudely made, some had swords but most carried the tools they had around them. None wore armor, none had battle training, but each had a reason to be there and sometimes that was all it took to defeat a foe.

They rode in silence until they reached the break in the trees and the road that led to the Monastery. Sendoro, a farmer who lived on the edge of the grounds had raced to town to tell Bolin that Ren Daul and his army had taken the Monastery. Sister Mandara, her Supplicants and all the orphans had been slaughtered in their beds. The army celebrated their conquest by drinking the wine cellar dry and everything had fallen into silence shortly before dawn. At last report, just before the men left town, all was still quiet.

Merrik and Bolin broke from the group hidden among the trees and rode up to the edge of the forest. Merrik gave a low soft whistle and a man rose from a pile of brush not far from them. Sendoro walked swiftly to the two men as they dismounted.

"What have you seen since last report?" Merrik said. Sendoro looked around nervously and cleared his throat. "All has been quiet. Not one has stirred yet."

"Tell Merrik what you told me Dory" said Bolin

"Was a 'orrible sound that came 'cross the hay field behind the gardens. Seein' as I be livin' not far I came to see if'in the good Sister be in trouble. That be when I saw this mighty army take the Monastery. No sound, no noise came from inside. Just the whoopin' of the men when it was finished. Evil in the darkness I tell ye, pure evil. Then he came." his voice dropped to almost a whisper "The one they call Ren Daul. I could feel his power from where I hid. Like ants on my skin. Nippin' and stingin'. I lit outta there and straight to town."

A tendril of apprehension wove its way down Merrik's spine. Sendoro's recounting didn't feel right. "Did you not tell Bolin all were slain in their beds? If no sound was heard, and you never entered the building, how do you know?"

The man shuffled about nervously, "I..I overheard two of the guards talking as they searched the grounds."

Bolin caught Merrik's line of thinking and looked at the man. "You said you lit out after Ren Daul arrived, how did you hear the guards?"

"They was walking around before. Uh..after the raid, no, wait, it might have been during. I don't remember! It all happened so fast and I was scared to me boots! Why are you doubtin' me? I'm one o' you!"

Merrik and Bolin exchanged a look, dismissed Sendoro back to town and returned to their horses.

"Don't feel right Merrik. His story don't make sense. We walking into a trap?" Bolin asked.

Merrik sighed heavily. He felt it was a trap, that they had been lured to this place, but he did not know why. There was nothing special about their town, or the folks in it. Why go to so much trouble to take one small insignificant town? Or a Monastery full of orphans? Merrik turned to Bolin.

"You may be right friend. I feel it too. Something isn't right. There is no birdsong in the tree's. The crickets are not singing and the wind carries a magic I do not understand. We should turn back. Head back to town and fortify there, but tell me old friend, how do we do that, how do we tell the others without sounding like cowards? They set out to be hero's. They set out to fight."

Bolin grunted in frustration. "I know you speak true, but if the army is as great as Dory said, and Ren Daul himself is here, what chance do we stand? We will all be slaughtered before we let the first arrow fly. Better to live and fight another day."

Merrik weighed his friends words against the feeling that he had to stay. "Speak to the men. Let them decide. I will stay. I must stay."

Bolin walked over to the waiting men, and after a few heated words, returned to Merrik. "They choose to stay. It will be what it will be. None want to return with tails tucked."

They divided the men into three groups. Those with bows would stay back in the tree line, as defence to those in the field. One group would follow the tree's around the back of the building and the other would approach from the front. The bowmen were told if things looked to fail they were to ride to town as fast as they could and get the women and children to safety.

Merrik and Bolin once again sat upon their horses, hidden in the tree line. The Monastery rose in front of them upon the hill it sat on. Anyone inside would be able to see them coming, from any angle. That was not in their favor. It sat ominous, dark and eerily quiet. No sound, no light, nothing came from the windows. Even the grass seemed to be still. It felt empty. Dead. Merrik drew his sword, signaled to his small group and they began to move forward. The second group around back followed suit. The line of archers kept a watchful eye in front of them. They were a small group of maybe 15 and it wasn't until the first 5 or 6 fell that they realized they had been ambushed from behind. Before any could get out a sound, their throats were slit, and they fell where they stood, blood seeping into the dry ground like water after a long awaited rain. Something inside Merrik whispered to him to turn around. He glanced back over his shoulder. A flash of dark purple caught his eye as he saw the last archer fall.

He knew now for sure this was a trap. He called out for Bolin. As Bolin turned towards his friend an arrow pierced him from behind. Merrik screamed as he watched crimson blood spread across the front of Bolin's shirt. A look of shock and confusion crossed Bolin's face as he slide slowly from his horse. The next arrow took him in the back of the head and he was dead before he hit the ground. The men started to holler as they quickly dismounted and bunched up together. Merrik sat, in shock, on his horse. He looked up at the Monastery in front of him, and saw a man standing on the balcony of Sister Mandara's quarters. He held something in his arms and it took Merrik's brain a few moments to work out what it was his eyes were seeing. It was the Sister's head. The man, tossed it carelessly over the balcony and Merrik watched it fall. His eyes returned to the man, and their gazes locked. A voice spoke but it was inside Merrik's own head. It was not his voice, but the voice of the man.

"There you sit. Ripe for the kill. I have searched many centuries for you Warrior. Gone to a lot of trouble to find you and draw you out. Now you sit before me, weak and defenseless. This is almost to easy, save for the trouble it took to find you. I am Ren Daul and I will be the end of you. The prophecy was obviously misinterpreted as I stand here, above you, and you quiver in fear. You have great power, which I have feared for many an age, but I do not feel it on you now. It has not awakened. I finally found you before the Watcher did. You will die here today, but not before you see your friends die." Ren raised his hand then paused. "Oh, one more thing before I go, know that you die a coward. Hopeless and helpless." With those final words, Red Daul again raised his hand and was gone. Vanished into thin air with nothing left but a purple glow where he stood.

Looking around he could see that they were surrounded on all sides. Ren's army was cutting down his men like they were wheat grass and the air was permeated with the sounds of dying and the smell of blood. He dismounted from his horse and ran into the fray. They would not die in vain. He would fight until he died. He would not die a coward.

His sword clashed with the first man he came too. Steel on steel. The sound rang out sharply and his whole arm vibrated at the force of the strike. Ducking to miss the next blow he spun and cut the warrior across the open side of his armor. The warrior fell to one knee, bending his head forward as he clutched his side. Seeing his opportunity, Merrik drove his sword down between the helmet and the armor severing the man's spine. Merrik placed his foot on the mans back and pulled his sword free. He fought like a man possessed, taking as many as he could. He had sustained a cut to his arm, one across his back and one to the hand. His grip was beginning to slip as blood covered his hands. He took a quick survey of the battle and soon saw that most of his men were dead or dying. A handful remained, some still fighting, some trying to flee back to the safety of the forest. As the few ran towards the tree's arrows took them down.

The ground now ran red with blood. Its metallic smell was all that filled Merrik's senses. The screams had begun to fade, and the victorious cry of the warriors filled the air. Sword ready but shaking he tried to shake off the weariness when he felt a warmth spread down this thigh. He looked down to see an arrow sticking out of his leg. It had gone straight through, fletching at the back, the point protruding out the front. He knew that this was his death blow. He snapped off one end, and pulled the arrow free. Blood flowed slowly from the hole in his leather britches, and he knew that the snugness bought him some time but not much. As he raised his sword, his wife's face flashed before him, screaming. It startled him disrupting his focus long enough that he didn't see one of his men falling into him. They both went down. He struggled for a moment, but his hands, slick with blood just slipped across the big man who lay on him. His last thought before he lost consciousness was of his family.

Merrik came too enveloped in darkness. Night had fallen at some point and the makeshift battle field now lay quiet. He used what strength he had and got out from under the man. He was still alive, but knew he was dying. He dragged himself into the tree's and found an old branch to use as a crutch. He had to make it home.

It took along time but he made it. He closed his eyes and pictured his beloved. He turned away from his home and he felt a hand rest gently on his shoulder. He felt, more than he heard, the air fill with the sound of wolves. They howled mournfully, almost with a heartbroken wail. They were the Guardians of the after life. The carriers of the souls between worlds.

Their call, and the vision of his family let him know they were lost to him now. He heard the wolves again. They had come to take him home. Merrik closed his eyes, ready to accept his fate and join his beloved when he heard a voice.

"Not yet my son." Merrik's eyes flew open when he felt a hand on the wound on his leg. Bright white light greeted his gaze blinding him. Wolves howled and snarled as a searing heat spread through his leg. A scream erupted from Merrik's lips.

Just as suddenly, the pain stopped. Merrik pulled himself up to see an old woman sitting on the rock outcropping, two great wolves at her side.

"Now is the time to fight Merrik. You must awaken the Power within you. You are The Warrior. The only one who can defeat Ren Daul."

Merrik sneered at the old woman. "I have no reason to fight. My family is gone. My village, gone."

The old woman looked at him patiently. "They will not rest peacefully until you do. What you saw, the images of them waiting for you, was a trick. A mirage created by Ren Daul to eliminate you once and for all. For centuries you have bested him, you have survived. He almost took you this time. He holds the souls of your family, of all the families he has destroyed. They fuel is power. Until he is defeated, until he is dead, they will never rest, but forever be his slaves."

Merrik tried to speak but she was gone. Just as quick as Ren Daul. The only thing that remained was the ache in his leg and the sound of the wolves. He pulled himself up to stand. He looked down on the small village that had been his home, seeing it now with clearer eyes. Houses still smoldered, smoke rose from the charred remains of buildings and an eerie silence filled the air. Something inside him broke. With that crack came the sound of thunder and a great pressure built inside of him. He opened his mouth and screeched in agony for it felt like his insides were being ripped apart. Light began to flow from his eyes, his mouth, his fingertips, like blood. He dropped to his knees as the Magic filled him. Centuries of memories raced through his mind, knowledge of the old ways, languages long forgotten became his.

When he stood again, he knew. He was Merrik. Warrior. The battle had just begun.

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