The Chained One (Chapter 26)

Brutality and Grace

Byron Torg had been, even before being spirited away to a realm of pain, horror, and confused madness as a youth, somewhat odd compared to most folks around him. Many people, if granted the sort of powers he had at his disposal with his materialization cards, would have brought into being all manner of weaponry and devices or items of protection. But not Byron, no. For some reason, he felt what he was bringing to bear against The Chained One’s forces was even better than ice swords or flame shields or hellfire shotguns.

            He was manifesting cow-sized, rainbow-striped hamsters. He had just finished tossing down a seventh card of this sort when Kathy disengaged from a lizardman who was giving her trouble with his rapier and took notice of him. “What the hell are you doing,” she asked, waving her hand absently at the lizardman and backing up some more as two of her animated armor suits rushed in and pinned her attacker to the ground with their spears at her command.

            “Trust me on this one,” Byron said, offering her a manic grin, his yellow, stained teeth exposed in a flash. She watched as he used one last card to bring forth one of the oversized rodents, making numerous sweeping hand gestures at them before finally thrusting his hands, palms open, towards the approaching chain soldiers coming to join the fray from the direction of the village of Parik. The hamsters began barreling along towards them, starting off slowly, but quickly gaining momentum. Kathy watched with baffled amusement as the giant furballs tucked their forward halves down at the last moments, turning themselves into great boulders that knocked down and bowled over every chain soldier they hit. When their momentum was spent, the giant hamsters then turned and directed their humungous teeth at these fallen men and women, and Kathy saw a few vicious battlefield deaths as the giant, rainbow-striped rodents bit into their targets repeatedly.

            “That’s just awful,” Kathy groaned, turning aside from the sight. Byron remained looking down at the carnage below, taking a moment to catch his breath. The two humans were no longer on the frontmost line of the battle;  Daggeuro had dashed ahead, leading the battalion onward while they two recovered some in the middle ranks, where the fighting was now far less intense and mostly engaged from the flanks. Kathy looked over to Byron’s face in profile, taking in the sorrowful expression he wore now. “It wears off, doesn’t it,” she asked softly. “The thrill of battle.”

            “It does,” he replied. “But I find it easier than you to enjoy it, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

            “Not necessarily a bad thing, either. Just means you’re more aggressive than me,” she said. “Being aggressive is not the same as being an aggressor. You get that, right?” Byron raised one eyebrow at her and led the way forward again, dismissing his giant rodents with a flap of his hand, the hamsters reduced to cards which fell apart on the breeze. His ice armor and matching sword were renewed, and Kathy was keeping her mind’s eye locked into the animated armors closest to the front line, commanding them into the fray ahead of mortal faerie soldiers. Unfortunately, there were more chimeras peppered in with the chain soldiers as they closed to within visual range of Parik on the front line, and for some reason, by either enchantments or other means, those specters were able to bat aside her suits and the wee folk’s spells with hardly an effort. They weren’t dumb beasts, either, ducking, dodging, flying off in complex patterns of evasion. They were there for the express purpose, she believed, of hindering the wee folken.

            When they came to the bulk of fighting once again, Kathy backed up a little, using her bow and arrows to hang back and confidently engage the enemy from a distance, surrounding herself with her animated armor suit cadre. Byron disappeared into the thicket of melee fighting, working his way up toward Daggeuro. It felt odd and somehow dangerous to Kathy for the trio to be so split apart, as if for reasons she would never be able to identify, they were supposed to always stick together.

            While in the midst of taking potshots at the enchanted chimeras, she spotted a large, nimble creature, a sleek black monstrosity with a bullet-shaped head, a scorpion’s stinger tail, and arms that ended in giant claws on the right and sucker-covered tentacles on the left. This creature stood out to her because it was the only specter wearing The Chained One’s Roman-style armored kilt and tunic shirt, though this fellow’s was torn partially away. The creature was bearing down on her, fending off several elven soldiers and killing a lizardman trooper from Daggeuro’s forces by ducking the man’s spear stab and returning fire with his stinger tail to the throat.

            Kathy mentally guided three of her six protector suits at the skilled specter, putting her bow up and drawing out her axe. She was prepared to do battle with the creature, but after it fought free of her armors, she watched it run past, towards the rear ranks of the battalion, without any sign of slowing. He’s running, she thought, bemused. He’s got enough civilized intelligence to know when to cut and run, regardless of who his master is.

            And so lieutenant Kitek disappeared from the battle, and from our tale. Still, there were others who could not get so lucky.

            Several miles away from all of this fracas stood councilman Stahg, his face drawn, long tan duster flapping about him in the breeze. In his right hand he held a piece of parchment; in his left, a walking staff. The healers were behind him, making  a circle out of their wagons, the wee folk among them. He had received this parchment, a missive, several days before. Written in Sir Daggeuro’s tight, angry script, it was a call for aid that he knew the fellin councilman would not be able to deny. His province was home to more wee folken than any other in all of the kingdom, and they had responded to the councilman’s request for assistance with vigor. Or course, there weren’t many faerie men and women of larger size with him, a point that wouldn’t have bothered him much if there weren’t the unpleasant thought of armed men and women, as well as specters, ready to come tearing after him and his without giving a second thought to the tiny, magical winged folk.

            Still, most of those he had brought with him were healers, and there would be need of them when the heaviest of the fighting was over. If The Chained One somehow won the day and his lunatic army prevailed over the King’s forces, then there wouldn’t be much difference between having healers and having barbarians ready to fling themselves in harm’s way, as they would both come essentially to the same end; that is to say, a miserable, squishy and painful one.

            So there he stood, the parchment clutched tightly in hand.  There was one final order on the parchment, and as several of his men got into position, the councilman gave the signal to the fairies, pixies and sprites to make ready. Now, all he had to do was stay safe, and watch the sky for Daggeuro’s signal. He hitched a sigh. “Any time now,” he muttered.

            Byron was not usually one for simply barging through his problems, but in the current circumstances, doing anything less might result in swift and painful death. He had managed somehow to wind up on the far flanking edge of the front line in the battle, and no matter how close he got to the village of Parik itself, he kept getting pushed back by the appearance of more chimeras, chain soldiers and other assorted specters. With the ice armor and sword he had been conjuring for himself he fought them off, using his knowledge of martial arts to deftly combat his opponents with the sword.

            At one point, when he had a break in the combat to breath, Byron jotted down two words quickly on a blank card and tore it. A hellfire pistol blinked into being on his left hip, in the event he should need or want it. He shook off his fatigue and started in again towards the village. This time, when he got to the edge of town, he saw the air shimmer, quiver and ripple approximately three hundred yards away, a curious visual trick he thought at first must surely be an illusion, or a hallucination. But as he cut, slashed and stabbed his way closer, he paused for long enough to look back over his shoulder. The bodies of the specters and chain soldiers he’d just felled were gone.

            And now, as he faced the village again, here they came once more, bright and fresh, as if they hadn’t just been hacked to pieces or decapitated. Byron snarled, drawing out the hellfire pistol and using it to quickly down several of the faerie in chain soldier garb, deftly slashing his way through a few specters. He looked about, but one by one, the bodies disappeared. The Awakened human had only about ten seconds before he was faced with the same foes yet again, so he holstered the pistol, stabbed the sword down into the soil, and drew out one blank card and his pen. He tucked the card between his teeth and crouched down, bringing his ice sword up into an overhead block just in time to avoid having his skull crushed by a lizardman with a mace.

            Several of the veteran soldiers fighting near him joined Byron more directly, fending off and killing The Chained One’s troops, then watching them begin to fade from view, nearly ready to respawn by the shimmering force surrounding the township of Parik. With a clear opening, Byron ran forward, halfway to that wavery force, and tossed down the card. There came a flash of white and red light, and then a five-foot tall, brightly colored brick wall appeared, wrapping partway around the village’s outer perimeter.

            Byron and the men and women with him watched as the soldiers and specters they’d just felled reappeared in the shimmer, then immediately either slammed into the brick wall, or tripped over it. The Awakened human laughed to see their struggles, but only for a moment; he was quickly carving them apart with his ice sword once more, while wee folk swept in overhead to begin dismantling the wide enchantment that kept respawning The Chained One’s forces.

            Byron was not the only one dealing with the clever trickery of the respawning barrier. Kathy found herself having to keep fighting off the same specters and soldiers, and she was starting to grow weary. She couldn’t keep going like this, and she suspected Byron would also start to suffer fatigue. The animated armor suits had been reduced in number to only eleven, and she wasn’t sure what she’d do for troops if they all fell.

            Daggeuro was only about thirty yards away from her, Boon and Bane flitting through his enemies without pause. But he too appeared to be fighting the same group of foes he’d just felled moments earlier, and there seemed to be no improvement of that situation forthcoming. Kathy looked down the way, beyond Dag, and spotted a glimpse of Byron engaged in battle. When the brick wall appeared suddenly, Kathy felt some measure of relief, as it gave her and the group of veterans fighting alongside her and her armor suits a momentary breather, a chance to gather themselves. As she leaned on the handle of her axe, metal head on the ground, Kathy felt a grin slowly forming on her lips. No, more than a chance to gather ourselves, she thought. I see a way through this.

            Kathy snatched at one of her allies, an elven man in fine silver half-plate armor, and whispered into his long ear what she wanted him to relay.  The soldier looked to her to gauge her seriousness, and apparently liked what he saw there, because he smiled, saluted, and took off running. She waited only two minutes, which should have been plenty of time for the speedy faerie gentleman to get most of the way to Byron with her message after relaying it to Daggeuro.

            “Form a wedge,” she bellowed at her veterans, and they did as she commanded without question, taking positions so that they formed a protective arrowhead formation around her. Her armor suits hung back near the rear of the unit, and they carved through two dozen chain soldiers and chimeras until they got to the brick wall. Once there, Kathy holstered her axe, pressing her empty palms toward the barrier Byron had erected, channeling her magical energy into it. Tied to his construction, Kathy felt a strange pulse of energy course through her, and she understood instinctively why this should happen; the combination of their two unique powers held an immense amount of power and potential.

            Pressing her will forward into the wall, she allowed her imagination to work freely. When she opened her eyes a moment later, she smiled broadly. Hundreds of arms of brick held and waved about weapons, also of brick, at the soldiers and specters of The Chained One as they reappeared on the other side, quickly cutting them down before they could react. She looked down the line, saw Byron, and nodded when he gave her a thumb’s up. Daggeuro was soon at the midpoint between the two humes, blades held out in an ‘X’ crossing pattern behind the brick wall.

            Some unspoken agreement passed between the three allies then, exchanged looks across nearly a hundred yards in either direction. With a sudden surge, they called their people forward while Byron manipulated his power to lift and push forward the entire wall, Kathy commanding the hundreds of arms and weapons to swing at the enchanted barrier The Chained One had put up to continue respawning a portion of his forces. When they all struck the barrier itself, they could feel its magical elasticity, a spell not intended to be broken outright, but only removed with the proper amount of finesse and skill.

            Or at least that might have been necessary, if the overwhelming brutality inherent in Daggeuro, Byron and Kathy’s attack, combined with the strikes landed by their comrades hadn’t been as potent as it was.  The enchantment snapped with a sound like shattering glass, deafening in its amplification, and all of the chain soldiers and specters they’d just slain remained dead this time.

            With raw savagery the battalion’s troops bowled over the scant final lines on the perimeter of the village, leaving an empty seventy-yard gap between their position and the outer ranks of chain troops ringing the town proper. The Chained One could be plainly seen in the town square, virulent purple and poisonous green vapors swirling around him and the tree he was permanently chained to as he gathered more power to himself for the final stages of the battle of Parik.

            The remaining chimeras laced with anti-wee folk magics prowled in and out of the inner ranks, snarling, snapping their teeth viciously at empty air. Nearly two-hundred men and women stood in full battle armor, rounded shields held up, banging them in time with one another, creating a kind of tribal beat that matched the focused madness in their eyes. Standing at the front of this mass of soldiery was a single elven man, lengths of blackened chains extending from both wrists and ankles, held at the ready like weapons.

            Kathy realized that she had her bow in hand and that Daggeuro stood to her left, Byron on her right, only a foot away on either flank. She turned her eyes toward the kennin High Knight. “Thoughts?”

            “The two of you stay back,” he replied. “That elf is clearly their ranking officer. I will deal with him. The troops will deal with their soldiers. I need you two to figure out how to contend with Melchar, permanently. His magic will be vicious, and the wee folk won’t be able to help until those chimeras are taken down. Start with them, and be cautious at all times.” Kathy and Byron nodded, and Daggeuro raised Boon overhead, slashing downward to signal his men forward. The rows of warriors streaked toward each other, a single trident of white lightning lancing out from The Chained One’s rotted hand near the town square, exploding into a clutch of ten men from Daggeuro’s battalion, ripping them apart and frying them in their armor.

            The Awakened humans hung back, surrounded by Kathy’s seven remaining armor suits and a handful of elven and kennin pikemen as the clash of steel rang out ahead. “This is going to get bad in a hurry,” Kathy said, a cloud of flying ice shards spearing down from The Chained One’s direction, taking out more of the battlion’s members. Though Daggeuro’s forces had a clear numbers advantage now, the tyrannical creature’s magic evened out the odds, and hurriedly. “We need to think of something.”

            “I’ve got a way to handle the chimeras,” Byron said, smiling from ear to ear, eyes twitching back and forth rapidly. “Watch this!” He pulled five cards from his deck and tossed them down. With a flash of yellow light, fifteen oversized, green werewolves with jagged bone blades protruding from their forearms appeared, snarling and growling low in their throats. Kathy gasped, taking a step back from them. She’d seen the miniature versions he could conjure, but this was entirely new. He pointed forth to where the fighting was getting heavy and proclaimed, “Find the chimeras, and kill them. Everything else is so much piffle, all to be avoided.” The green lycanthropes saluted him roughly and took off running, leaning far forward for momentum. He wavered on his feet suddenly, dropping to one knee. Kathy swooped down next to him, helping keep him upright.

            “You can’t spend all of your energy yet,” she said, kissing his cheek.

            “I’ve still got some left, but now I don’t know what to do with it,” he replied, drawing short, sharp breaths. Kathy put her arm over his shoulders, looking off toward the village, gripping the handle of her bow tightly.

            “Don’t worry about it for right now,” she said. “We’ve got a couple of minutes to rest.”

            “Do we?” Kathy let her vision float into the eyes of one of her scout figurines, which floated about some twenty feet over the heads of the combatants, watching Sir Daggeuro do what he did so terrifyingly well.

            “Oh yeah, we’ve got a couple of minutes,” Kathy said.

            A step forward, Bane raised overhead in a downward slope angle to deflect the sword coming at his neck, and Daggeuro twirled about, swinging the blade tightly, handle pressed against his own breastplate. The soldier whose attack he’d blocked fell dying with his throat split open, as had the five other enemies just moments before. When he finished his back pull, Daggeuro turned toward the elven man who was The Chained One’s general, the two men facing each other squares across a twenty yard clearing in the fighting around them.

            Daggeuro pointed Boon’s tip at him.   The power of the Word of the Knight flowed through him, the orange lights associated with it pouring from his eyes and mouth. "Speak thy name, and be true," he commanded deeply, no trace of anger or hostility in his tone. There seemed instead a hard nobility, one born of necessity and long experience. The chain-wielding officer, clad in a sleeveless cuirass and armor plated kilt, his feet bare due to the thick chains fused to his ankles, took a step forward and bowed formally at the waist.

"Behold, sir, for before you stands now General Quintus, second of The Chained One, commander of his armies." He stood up, taking on a loose combat stance, one hand held up in a fist under his chin, the other hanging limp against his forward hip. "I already know who you are, sir, but would offer you the opportunity to declare yourself and your intentions, so that all who yet remain might understand the weight of this day." Daggeuro looked around and found his heavies already starting to protect the commanders' ring of combat, allowing for a contest between these two without outside interruptions. Or, at least, mostly so.

“Hear me well, then, all before us. I am Sir Daggeuro, High Knight of King Ovin’s court, Lord of the Watch, santo of divars, wielder of Boon and Bane. I am the commander of this battalion, sent at the behest of my liege, King Ovin. Thou have but this one chance to set aside thy arms, and to surrender to our forces peaceably. These men and women, many of them are of the kingdom born. Release them from their servitude and all may yet be well, man.” Yet even as he spoke, Daggeuro could see the look in Quintus’s eyes, understood well the look of despair just beneath the steely, blank glare. This man couldn’t surrender; if he even so much as hinted aloud that he might consider the conditions of defeat, his own master would rip him to pieces.

“I will not,” said Quintus. “Now, let us do what needs must be done.” Without further word, the elven warrior sped up the spinning of the chains fused to his wrists and ran at Daggeuro, swinging them down in a crossing X. Daggeuro saw the attack coming, allowing his legs and back to go loose as he rolled backward, his armor clanging around loudly as he performed this awkward-looking backward somersault. It felt natural to him, even if it looked foolish, and it kept him from being struck. As soon as he was upright again, he sprang forward and launched a vicious counterattack thrust kick, hitting Quintus square in the breastplate, flinging him back with a grunt.

The elf used his momentum and did a backflip, whipping out the chains on his ankles. Unprepared for this unorthodox attack, Daggeuro yelped as one of the chains caught him hard on the underside of his jaw, knocking him back. As he regained his balance, Quintus was coming once more, swinging his right wrist chain down at a diagonal, his left chain across on a straight horizontal. The kennin warrior brought Boon overhead to block and Bane to the side, blade-down, but the horizontal blow wrapped right around the profane blade and bashed into his side. His armor held, but dented in slightly at the blow.

Quintus followed up with a flurry of blows, moving naturally through a progression of strikes, each blocked by Daggeuro’s blades. A couple of glancing blows found their mark, but his armor continued to protect him. The kennin played defense for another half a minute, before finally he saw and exploited an opening in the elf’s movements. As Quintus brought a double-overhead blow down, Daggeuro sidestepped and lashed out with a vicious slash of Boon, the blade carving through Quintus’s cuirass effortlessly. A thin gash across his belly sprayed blood, and he grunted as he stutter-stepped backward, one hand going instinctively to his gut. He wheezed, standing there with blood flowing down over his lower torso and legs.

What came next was a dance of death from Daggeuro, his motions similar to those of a ballet performer. Boon and Bane rang as he twirled and dipped, his blades slashing and stabbing, each strike aimed carefully. Quintus floundered, trying to block the attacks and succeeding only in making them slightly less fatal, redirecting stabs that would have taken his heart and stomach into his lung and lower intestines, his armor useless against the legendary weapons wielded by the kennin warrior. In less than fifteen seconds, as Daggeuro stepped back and flicked blood and gore from his weapons, the elven general was made into a bloody ragdoll, barely able to remain upright. Crimson ran down his arms and legs, his forehead split open and pouring blood into his eyes.

“You are, as glorious, as I had heard,” he croaked, trying to raise his left arm but unable to. One of the stabs from Bane had struck the nerve just below the collarbone, rendering that limb dead. “Please, Sir Daggeuro, forgive, me, my rebellion.” Daggeuro let the power of the Word of the Knight ebb away, his eyes no longer glowing orange as he brought Boon and Bane into a cross before his snout.

“Of course,” he said, leaping forward and flashing out with his blades, sweeping them forth in a single fluid motion. Quintus remained where he was for a moment, a thin line of scarlet appearing across his throat. He tried to mouth something, and despite his inability to speak, Daggeuro understood what he was trying to say. He looked away, took a deep breath. “You’re welcome,” he said. Quitnus’s head rolled off of his neck, his body soon following it to the ground.

He was free of The Chained One at last.