Elias was having trouble lifting his sword, but the memory of his son—now clear as day—had given him strength. His memories were clouded, as though in a dream, but seeing his reflection in a pool of blood had woken him up. He wasn’t the noble guardian, defending his city from the wicked invaders. He wasn’t the fearless patriot, defiantly protecting his loved ones from harm. He was the demon. He was the nightmare. The foul magic that Redhammer had used to seduce the people of this great city… oh, by the Martyrs. What had he done?
Elias was having trouble lifting his sword, but his pain made it clear that there was no other option. The sound of mail on cobblestone drew his attention, and his gaze fell upon a small pack of soldiers, rounding a nearby corner. One of them carried a standard that Elias felt he might have once recognized, but could no longer. Before they could even fully acknowledge his presence, another, larger group of soldiers burst out of a burning building at the opposite end of the street. These soldiers flew no banners, and their bloodstained armor and twisted, rusted weapons told Elias that they were like him. Nightmares.
Elias was having trouble lifting his sword, but he didn’t care any more. The worn leather grip—now slick with his blood—groaned softly as he tightened his grasp and held the blade aloft. He knew what he had to do, and he knew he would be forgiven for it. When they realized what they’d become, they would thank him. He didn’t waste his time looking back at those he would die trying to save. He didn’t waste his energy trying to explain himself or his actions. He didn’t waste his breath on an apology. He simply turned, and charged.
He had been lost in the darkness for too long. He would not die a monster.
Like a shadow in the night, Nalale darted unseen across the rooftops. Not that it was hard; the battle in the streets below was so pitched, she could probably cartwheel around while banging a drum and still pass unnoticed. Like the other Tabai, she’d been sent into the city on support duty, to make sure the soldiers on the ground didn’t get overwhelmed or trapped. It was easy work, and it was—relatively speaking—safe work. Not that she minded, either way. She always enjoyed the thrill of battle.
Noticing a Marauder with a crossbow on one of the rooftops, Nalale notched and loosed a spiral-fletched arrow with one swift motion, and it struck him in the thigh. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but it stopped him long enough for Nalale to take more careful aim and strike him in the throat. He plummeted from his perch, and Nalale dug another clawmark into her bow, just below the grip.
And then, without warning, Nalale was thrown on her back, an incredible pain in her chest. She managed to get a look at the thick bolt in her chest before her vision faded, and she immediately knew she wouldn’t be making it back. So many had died just like this because of her, and Nalale realized that—finally—she knew what it was like.
“HOLD! HOLD THE LINE!”
Iri heard the captain’s shout over the din of steel on iron, and it was like music to her ears. Second Shield-dwarf of the Grayoath Clan, it was her honor to carry the clan’s standard into battle today. She could feel the Ironforge’s blessing upon her as her arms held the heavy banner aloft, and though she did tire, she did not grow weary. Her company had already performed gloriously today, and her heart swelled with pride to be among them. They were responsible for holding a crucial road in the middle of Utica (that would allow the other forces to move throughout the city with impunity), and they’d not only taken it a whole hour faster than anyone expected, but they hadn’t lost a single dwarf yet. Truly, the Ironforge was with them today.
Eosur let out a cry of pain from behind her, and Iri turned to see him on his back, struggling to hold up his shield as one of the mounted Marauders bore down on him. She charged his position, and, using the standard as a pike, rang the rider’s helmet and toppled the horse. She planted the standard and called for a close in the line as she kicked the rider’s helmet once again, to make sure he would stay stunned a little longer. Three Shield-dwarves rushed to fill Eosur’s gap while she dragged him behind the line. His legs were badly beaten, but didn’t look broken. His hammer arm, however, wasn’t quite so intact. Eosur demanded that she put him back on the line, but Iri simply told him that he would be staying with her. “Watch my back,” she insisted.
She fetched up her standard in time to hear a series of gruff howls from the northern flank. She wasted no time in falling in with them, but it didn’t take her long to realize it was too little, too late. Iri volunteered to cover their retreat, and the rest fell back as Iri hefted up her shield-sister’s hammer, having traded off the standard for it. The Marauders were piled nearly to chest-height before Iri’s fatigue finally caught up with her. She died knowing that she had bought her brothers and sisters all the time they would need to recover, and she went to meet her ancestors knowing that she had earned her place at their side. And that was good enough for her.
Leaon’s arm was gone. He was having a hard time dealing with that.
He’d signed up for the warband after he’d heard what happened to Fearon. He wanted to see justice. A lot of men did, and a lot of men had signed up with him. The Dawn Patrol had proven themselves to be honorable, and if anyone was going to help the Drens get the respect they deserved, a lot of people knew it was them. No-one regretted signing up to help them with their quest. At least, they didn’t while they were still alive.
The council had assigned the Dren war party to the southern advance. Based on the scout reports from the night before, there was expected to be a lot of fighting there. But, the Duke had brought more soldiers than anyone else, and no-one doubted that he’d get the job done. When Leaon’s warband got separated from the main war party, everyone expected they’d meet up around the next corner. Roadblock after roadblock after roadblock, however, seemed to be arguing that such was not the case. They ultimately got surrounded and stuck in with a particularly large pack of Marauders. Leaon figured there had to be a few survivors, but he was in no condition to go looking for them. One of his legs was broken beyond use, the other was pinned under a fallen horse. Oh, and his arm was gone. That too.
A nearby crunch made him thankful that he hadn’t lost his sword arm, and he snatched up the blade as he searched frantically for the sound. The rush of activity made him profoundly aware of how much blood he’d lost. Through blurred vision and a pounding headache, he managed to focus on three soldiers, walking towards him. It took him a moment to realize that they were Marauders. Leaon tightened his grip on his sword, and struggled to hold it aloft. As they approached, he whispered an oath that he would fight them until his last breath.
If the Marauders understood him, they didn’t respond. But, they did help him fulfill his oath.
Torgyr smiled as the demon’s blood splashed across his face. He had always enjoyed killing demons, but there were so few of them in Haven. Seshik had told him it was because he was so good at killing them, that they ran in fear of Torgyr. They were right to do so, Torgyr had thought, because he would kill them all if they came around. He did like killing them so much.
Torgyr smelled his brothers and sisters calling on their Dragon blood for strength. He’d never been very good at doing that, but Seshik had told him it was okay. “The Ironfangs have never been the strongest,” Seshik told him, “but we’re still in charge, aren’t we?” Torgyr liked that too. His little brother was clever like that. Torgyr was having fun today, because they combined killing demons and protecting his brother: Torgyr’s two favorite things.
With a mighty swing, Torgyr split another demon in half, and then another again. He was so good at killing the demons! He liked splitting their soft, pink skin with his axe, and he liked the way they cried out when he killed them. Dragons never did that when he killed them. He noticed his axe was red with demon blood, and he thought it looked silly because it reminded him of paint. Who would paint their axe? He laughed at the idea. But he laughed too hard, because he almost missed a sneaky demon that was trying to get to Seshik. He killed that demon too, but then his back started to hurt.
He tried to reach the spot on his back where it hurt, but he couldn’t, and that made him mad. It started to hurt worse, and he kept getting more and more angry! He was so mad, and it hurt so much, that he didn’t realize he’d dropped his axe. But it hurt so bad! Torgyr didn’t notice the other sneaky demon. This one was really fast, and Torgyr was hurting too much to keep up. His knee hit the ground really hard, and suddenly, Torgyr was hurting in a lot of places.
Torgyr didn’t want to close his eyes, though. He hurt so much, and he was starting to get so sleepy, but he didn’t want to close his eyes. He didn’t want to stop killing the demons, and he didn’t want his little brother to leave him behind… and even though his eyes were getting heavy, he didn’t want to close them.
But he had to. So he did.