Ravages of Glory Chapter 1
Down the spiral stone staircase, through the granite halls and branching corridors, into the circular chasm of the central commune, into the heart of this stone fortress... with some difficulty he made his way, despite the intense spasms of pain pounding in his chest, from wounds still fresh and raw... struggling to stay afoot as the ground shook violently from below.
Bodies were strewn all about the commune. Perhaps he was still groggy from last night, however he felt a pure vacuum of life in the grim site before his eyes, unable to distinguish between the still dying and the myriad corpses which now lined the floor of the great hall... a pool of death... as cold as the blue-gray stones beneath it.
Another tremor jolted the room. He stammered forward toward the center of the commune, the echoes of battle cries and clanking armor from outside resounded eerily through the hallways. The room shook once more, this time with greater ferocity than had been felt before, and he found himself to weak now to even support his own weight, falling to the polished stone floor below. He managed to raise his head up from ground level, reeling from the pain in his chest, and peered around once more, the screams reverberating from without... the silence of death from within. He knew immediately what was occurring... what brought such death and destruction; such screaming, such shaking... such silence.
"Espers." he said aloud, in little more than a dull whisper.
Suddenly, a new sound came rumbling through, closer and closer... He watched as several dozen swordsmen, archers, mage warriors perhaps (?) jogged past his position, boots clamping, armor clinging... He could only think of the screams that would follow. The screams and then the silence.
Struggling to rise back onto his feet, he now recognized the sounds of a familiar and for all purposes, comforting voice approaching. A scrawny yet commanding figure now stood before him, entirely leather clad, sporting a pair of strong burley boots, a tightly strung layered tunic, a lightweight waist-length cape flapping in back, and his enormous trademark leather gloves, which ran all the way up the man's elbows, and where at least ten sizes too large. Along with his deep hazel eyes, and a mass of frizzled dark hair, the entirety of the man's body was a jumbled mass of various shades of chalky brown and white.
"Tresk..." the man began, with a slightly disapproving gaze at the figure below, offering a hefty gloved hand, which he took gratefully, rising at last to his feet again. He stood more confidently now, suppressing the pain inside with all musterable might, yet found it impossible not to stagger and sway awkwardly as the commune shook once more.
"You are in no condition to be out here, Sir Tresk!" the leathery man began again, a look of worry and agitation on his face, as he struggled to retain his baring. "Do not worry, this situation... is under control... but it is dangerous for you to be wandering away from bed... you must return the infirmary... do you hear me Tresk?"
He slowly lifted his head to lock eyes with the man standing before him, letting out a labored gasp of air, and then turning toward the great oaken doors set in the entranceway nearby. "There are... Espers... I am needed." he at last to let out, clutching his chest in agony once more as another tremor shook through. He stammered backwards a bit, but held his footing, his mind determined to reach the threshold which lie forward. "Tresk... Tresk!" the man approached him, and finally relenting, "Oh all right... you want to go outside? Fine. At least I allow me to keep you from killing yourself before you reach the exit way..." the man sighed, taking hold on one of his arms, and placing it over his shoulder. The man carried him to the corridor, kicking the wide oaken doors outward with a leather boot. They both were quickly immersed in the pervading glow of sunlight from above, and the man let him from his grip. He strode forward, now ignoring the cutting pain at the side of his chest, his eyes greeting a truly horrific scene, indeed.
Standing on the lower section of the west promenade, which bisected the south wall, now outside of the complex's inner chamber, he stared back at the plight gripping this stone fortress. Both intrigued and aghast at the site before him, he now walked along the southern rim of the promenade to gain a better point of vantage.
Of the five main towers comprising the upper complexes and defenses of the fortress, two of these, located on the far ends, were now fully engulfed in flames, thick clouds of smoke billowing above, while the scent of black ash and burnt flesh hung in the air. The western tower had collapsed in on itself; an avalanche of stone, dust, and bodies cascaded off the north castle wall, with no signs of life anywhere in the surrounding area. The main central tower was largely in tact, which was relieving to know, as was the eastern tower, on top of which stood a large disk-shaped mirror reflecting back and forth methodically. Directly above him lay eight strategically placed turret platforms, each sporting a mounted heavy crossbow, manned by half or dozen or so soldiers each. Iron crossbow bolts jetted through the air at an elusive foe he had yet to even see.
It was outside of this stone stronghold however, that the real horror unfolded. In an open grassy field near front of the castle, hundreds of foot soldiers could be seen scattering in all directions, while scores more lay dying or wounded on the battlefield. For a brief instant, he saw a large smear of color rip through the air and back again. "Was this the Esper?" He was mesmerized by the speed and agility of a creature, which appeared to be enormous in size, watching helplessly as barrages of strange fiery balls of energy rained down upon the unsuspecting troops below. Columns of the soldiers were quickly blown away, vaporized it almost appeared, as the bright orange spheres speeded downward upon their intended victims, then exploding with a tremendous, yet highly concentrated force upon impact, littering the field with dozens of ten-foot wide craters.
Still gazing out onto the expanse before him, he heard the footsteps of the leathery man approaching, and now felt a strange sensation, a hand gripped his shoulder. "I see you've managed to find your way outside the confines of your bedchamber," he turned around slowly to see the familiar figure of a soldier standing before him. The soldier let out a grin, which he obviously could see as an vain attempt to conceal the pain and worry, sadness and perhaps even fear, which weighed heavily on this warrior. Standing tall and with unwavering confidence, tattered rectangular shoulder plates rattling with unease, a bloody gash along the right side of his unshaven face, the soldier now removed his hand from his shoulders. "Gare...!" he began, comforted at the site of his comrade, "How has this happened?" he entreated, almost in tears, "How have the Espers broken through? We are at least one hundred miles from the front lines, are we not?" The smile dropped from the soldiers face, now turning to greet the leather clad man who had finally caught up with the two.
"I am TERRIBLY sorry, Sir Garo!" the leathery man pleaded, "But he insisted on coming out here..." another tremor jolted the fortress. "You needn't worry about it, Rueben," the soldier nodded briskly at the man, now turning again to face him, "We haven't a clue how this Esper has broken so deep past our defenses...undetected," the soldier turned his head at the scorched battlefield below him, "I have never come across an Esper of this power before. It apparently can take flight, my men on the field have been unable to even touch it." ... ... "And you have no aerial support?" he quickly interjected. The soldier only pointed briefly at a mass of burning wood and cloth. "I'm afraid Aerothopters aren't capable of much in this situation..." the soldier gripped his arm as the castle was jolted once more. For the first time, he saw a look of hopelessness and despair building in the soldier's eyes. "This Esper is of incredible determination... and rage. It has taken at least a dozen crossbow rounds in the chest... and appears only further agitated by each injury."
"Perhaps it would be best if Master Tresk retired to the infirmary once more..." the man of leather beckoned him away from the bloody fray.
"Gare, you know what must be done." he let out, ignoring the other man's statement. "No! I will not resort to such measures." the soldier stated definitively, turning away from him.
"Be there any sign of reinforcements, Sir Garo?" the man in leather asked, attempting to add some cheerful optimism to the situation. "Not as of yet..." the soldier stared at the shimmering signal mirror above. "I will gather the remainder of our ground forces and storm the field once more... if our mages can bring the creature to our level... hopefully... we'll manage to subdue it..." the soldier said unconfidently, wiping a ploom of blood from his face.
"Suicide." he let out, scorning the soldier's plan. "You know we have no choice now... there is only one hope to save the fortress... to save the Queen... to save the entire northern front!" The soldier finally turned back to face him, "That's enough, Tresk. I will hear no more of this... the power within that relic is too great for any to wield... It shall NOT be unleashed!" He stood his ground, now standing fully upright, ignoring entirely the pain within his chest, "I like this none better than you... but dire times call for dire measures... that relic is our only hope!"
The soldier stood, angered slightly at this compromise of his authority, yet kept his calm demeanor, "The force within the item cannot be controlled, even by the mightiest of mage warriors... thousands of lives hang in the balance... I will not damn them by unleashing a power we know nothing of and cannot control," the soldier put a comforting hand on his shoulder, "Your thoughts are not rational, my friend. Your mind is still deluded from the effects your injuries. We shall handle the situation at hand... you should best return to your chamber."
He backed away from the soldier's grip, turning his head toward the field below, "Look," he beckoned to the soldier. The soldier obeyed, turning to greet the scene below. There was no more movement on the blood-ridden battlefield... no more scattering of soldiers... no more clanking armor... only stillness and silence. Bodies, hundreds of bodies lined the grassy field, piled in the smoldering craters. The last moans of the dying echoed quietly... and then silence. "Is this what you shall lead us to?" he entreated morbidly, still fixated on the outward field, "You said yourself... 'thousands of lives hang in the balance'... is this what shall become of them as well...? Is this what fate shall befall our beloved Queen? Or perhaps humanity itself...?" The soldier remained silent. "These creatures shall not be subdued by cautious strategizing. We have but one final option left-" "That's enough!" the soldier finally interjected, his face hardening, "I will hear no more of this. You will escort yourself back to the infirmary or I will have one of my men do it for you." The two men locked eyes, both unmoving.
The leather clad man tried to calm the atmosphere a bit, "Perhaps it would be best if-" but he was soon interrupted by the sound of a tremendous roaring from above. All three gazed up to see the east tower consumed by a dark orange burst, flames spreading outward. Another explosion rocked the tower from below, and all of the men could now clearly see a third fiery ball raging through the sky and impacting the crippled structure yet again, this time delivering a death blow, as the tower swayed, began to collapse from within, stood for a moment, and then toppled over the castle side with an ear shattering CRASH, granite blocks and rubble tumbling in all directions.
The soldier quickly ran toward nearest turret platform and began climbing up the shaft, all the while shouting orders to the men above. He looked up once more to view a ghostly figure streaking through the air just above, with what appeared to be a silvery blade extended from the creature. The Esper swung forward at the platforms, a frenzy of crossbow fire launched in haste, and then a blinding flash cut through the air. He covered his eyes briefly and then turned to hear the shouts of soldiers above as all eight of the turrets came crashing down over the promenade. He shielded himself with his arms and soon found his entire body covered in small stones and thick dust.
Brushing the debris off, and rising to his feet, he looked around desperately for where the Esper had eluded to. A crash came from behind, and he turned once more to view two fiery explosions rocked the south wall. A scream was heard nearby, one that he immediately recognized, calling out as the carnage continued, "Rueben!" Suddenly, he saw a large leather glove gripping the stone masonry of the south wall from the other side. "Hang on, I'm coming!" He sprinted towards the wall, the pain in his chest now slowly resurfacing, and grasped the leathery hand with his. "Give me your other hand!" he called out, yet no answer came. Rising over the edge of the great wall, he suddenly gasped in horror, almost losing his grip. Attached to the leather glove was a blackened and charred skeleton, parts of the corpse still burning, with tattered pieces of leather strewn about its remains. "Reuben... No..." he gaped horror-struck, and then quickly scrambled backwards, releasing the icy grip from his hands.
Another figure now came into view, this one nearly entombed by toppling rubble. "Gare... not you too...!" he ran to the where the soldier lay, unsure of his condition, yet now realizing the sense of urgency to the situation. "Forgive me," he said aloud to the fallen soldier, heaving his body from the granite stones, and searching through his pockets, eventually gripping a rusted, iron key; he examined the object briefly and then pocketed it himself. He rose to his feet and turned toward his fallen comrade once more, "...but I must do what I believe is right." With that he started off, but something caught the corner of his eye; he turned around instinctively, and soon found his entire body paralyzed with fear, "No... it can't be..."
Rising slowly from below the stone ridge, the enormous figure of The Esper stood directly before him. The creature seemed almost human at first, though the true nature of the beast soon came to light. Fully dressed in what seemed to be a thick suit of armor, stopping only at the Esper's head, which seemed demonic and twisted, with huge jagged horns rising from it. The creature held a large rounded shield in his right hand, and a long single-edged sword in the other, which curled with cracks and rivets in its blade, peaking at a sharp piercing point. The Esper seemed to be just as interested in the human figure standing before him as he. However, his more rational side quickly got the better of him, as a small but distinct voice inside commanded, "Run."
He ran. He ran without a second thought away from this creature, looking back only briefly to see the Esper swing his enormous blade, and the blinding silver light that proceeded. He ran back around the promenade, and through the great oaken doors, just as a great tremor rang through the halls, which he could assume had been the south wall collapsing. He waded through the bodies in the commune, and turned to greet a large iron door just off to the side. As another shaking jolted the castle, he pulled forth the rusty key acquired from the soldier, and, his hands shaking with anxiety, a similar key from his tunic. Placing and each in its respective locks, the keys turned themselves, opening the sturdy iron door slowly. Inside stood a square stone room, which light from outside cascaded into, right onto the room's centerpiece, a great wooden treasure chest.
He now moved to stand in front of the chest, slightly hesitant to unleash a power, as the soldier had accurately put it, which he had no means of controlling. The violent shaking of another tremor from underneath quickly belayed this doubt. "Thousands of lives..." the soldier's words echoed in his head. Extending an arm outward, he opened the palm of his hand, calling forth, "I call upon thee..." he thought for a moment... "Er... Re- Rema... Ra- That's it!" he let out, triumphantly, "Ragnarok!" At this, he fully expected, as had occurred the last he summoned the great weapon, for the great sparkling blade to emerge from its wooden chamber and rest at his palm... but now the chest was still, completely unmoving. He stood there, arm still outstretched, and called out again, "I call upon thee! Ragnarok!" Still, his words had sparked no reaction from the object. He yelled out once more, this time almost in desperation, "Ragnarok! I CALL UPON THEE!" he fell to his knees, stunned and unsure how to proceed. Another quake shook the castle, and to his amazement, the wooden chest opened, falling off one of its hinges, covered in scorch marks and splinters from within. It was empty.
He stood up, shocked at the site in front of him. "This weapon... this savior... gone...? It cannot be..."
Suddenly, from above a great crashing came, as the entire stone ceiling was unroofed with a silvery flash. A dark creature flew past, and he noticed briefly the tail of a fiery energy ball speeding right towards him. He ran from the square room just as a great orange explosion engulfed his surroundings. In desperation, he tried to shield himself by slamming the iron door shut, but the blast shot both the door, and him, hurdling backwards.
He landed on his back, as small tentacles of pain worked their way through his body; he cried out in agony as they reached his chest, shaking profusely. Gritting his teeth hard, he managed to grasp a small glass vile hanging from his belt, uncapping it and drinking the white fluid inside. The pain subsided, but he could no longer feel the left half of his body.
With some difficulty, he dragged himself along the stone floor back into the commune, where he perched his head upon the coldness of the granite wall, sweat dripping from his face, and simply lay there, unmoving. The great hall shook once more for several seconds, which he imagined was the sound of the central tower collapsing, and then silence fell. "The Esper has entered the castle..." he told himself, yet it seemed really to matter little. He knew not who, if anyone had survived the assault, yet that as well did not occupy his thoughts for long.
Lying there, amongst the many corpses and bodies of the commune... this was a scene he by now knew all too well, yet had never become accustomed to it... he could never get used to a scene so horrific... so silent.
"What have I become...? Am I just as they... just a pawn to this wretched war...?" he pondered, "When will it end? If ever...? How many more friends must I lose...? How many more battles shall be fought and mass graves dug before these creatures are vanquished...? Or perhaps it is we who shall be defeated... perhaps then might peace resound...? Peace in death, yes! But must there always be death to achieve peace?"
His head began to spin; such questions had troubled him before, but he knew there was no escaping the harsh reality before him... This was his life now... and perhaps would even be his death.
As darkness fell from outside the stonewalls, his thoughts turned away from the future... away from the pain and suffering it held... and to the past... which once... he recalls... did hold a shred of sanity to it...?
He thought of how he came to this point in life... how this war had all began... Had it been months now... years? It didn't matter. He thought back, before this war which had consumed his world, enslaved his existence, tortured him from within.... This war for which only death and pain and silence have come... This war fought between humanity and the creatures known as Espers... This war of madness... of futility...
This War of the Magi.