The Shadows Chapter 7
By Keith Adams
In the desert town of Dorino, a wind swept through the towns square, making sand fly in all directions. The Knights of the Square Table, defenders of Guardia, had assembled here to make their stand. The town of Dorino was not large, with a population of only around 10,000. It was a poor town, with detiorioratin wooden houses, at was roughly circularly organized. Along the southern encapment was a small section of tents behind a makeshift stone wall, the current home of the 4,500 Knights of Guardia transfered here. Patrols were sent out every hour to ensure the Mystics did not suprise them.
One of these patrollers was a young Liuetenant named Gaston, who was being punished for asking a few too many questions of the Knight Captain. He hated the desert; an utterly useless place. The only good thing was that Fiona, with a aid of a strange metal creature, was trying to restore the forest of long ago to the desert. A division of the Knights had already been dispatched to protect her home, and the Porrian Militia was aiding Fiona as well. Gaston always liked Fiona; he had visited her often on his leave from the Knights.
Gaston reined in his horse when he noticed 4 dark outlines casting a shadow from the setting sun. They were large, and on foot, and appeared to have an axe slung over their backs. Gaston squinted his eyes; he had never seen Hench, but he would bet his life they were.
There was some part of Gaston that regretted the loss of the peace between Guardia and Mystic; but Ozzie and Magus had both fallen, and without their leaders, the Mystics were too disorganized to present a real threat. Even the new political group, these Shadows, were just another result of the chaos. An treaty with Guardia could restore order to the Mystics. But another part of Gaston seemed to relish this oppurtunity - he was only 1 year out of the academy for Officers in Choras, and had not yet fought. He graduated top of his class, but the true test was yet to come.
Gaston urged his horse near the Hench --- he knew that if he won the encounter nothing was lost, if he lost the Knights would know the Mystics were coming. The Hench had drawn their weapons - he know reliazed they were not axes but large, 2 handed wooden hammers.
Gaston dismounted -- he had been well-trained. He could handle 4 hench easily. Drawing his sword, he approched the Hench. The Hench were hideous casricatures, with a huge girth and ugly orange skin, massively muscled, but slothful; dressed out in light chainmail. Gaston whirled his sword. Two of the Hench charged him. With a quick, graceful motion, Gaston dodged their charge and sliced his sword along one's back. The Hench quivered a bit, then fell to the sands. The other Hench lost his footing, and fell to the ground. Gaston had no illusions of nobility - once war was declared, war it was. Gaston slid his sword through the Hench's armor. One of the other Hench grinned, showing all his yellowed rotted bones that were called teeth. Gaston arrogantly strode towards the Hench; none of them could match the training of The Guardian Academy at Choras. Gaston feinted to the Hench's head, but the Hench quickly whirled his sword around and around, and then began advancing. Gaston tried to thrust, but the Hench's hammer hit the blow. The hench was unnaturally good, unusually quick for a pile of lard. Gaston could beat him - he knew it. Making a quick slash, the hench moved to parry the blow, but Gaston quickly turned around the direction of the attack, making a long slash across the Henches belly, which began to ooze out green blood. Green blood began to leak out of the Henches mouth. The Hench collasped onto the desert sand, staining it with his blood. The other hench was gone. So the Mystics would know they were ready. All the better. Maybe they would reconsider if they knew the Knights were ready for them, but he could not count on it.
Gaston remounted his horse and began to ride off towards Dorino. After a good 3 hours, he arrived at the base as night began to fall. He went immediately to his Commanders tent, a small, insignifigant area.
"I need to speak with the Commander immediately," told Gaston to the two guards standing outside the Commanders tent.
"Go right in," said one of the guards in a complete monotone.
The Commanders tent was decorated lightly - just a desk and stacks of paper. The Commander was an ordinary man, well built, with brownish hair and dark blue eyes. He wore a iron breastplate, and was sorting through the stack of paper.
"Yes, Lietenant," noted the Commander in a perfectly level tone "What is it?"
"Sir, I have engaged a party of Hench about 20 miles south-west," replied Gaston.
"Guard," yelled the Commander at one of the guards outside his tent. When one entered, the Commander told him: "I need you to go to Captain Alexander and tell him we have engaged .... the Mystics."
"Yes sir," shouted the Guard, who marched out of the tent.
"I would like a full report Lieutenant," the commander told Gaston.
"I was one half way on my patrol route when I noted 4 shapes in the desert. I got close to them, reliazed they were Hench, and engaged them. I defeated them, amd returned," replied Gaston.
"That's it? You did not see a man in black, or someone who the Hench referred to as a Shadow?" asked the Commander.
"No sir. I told you everything, and only saw the four hench," replied Gaston "But, if I may pose a question, sir?"
Emboldened by the statement, Gaston asked "Sir, are not the Shadows a politcal organazation, not another race of Mystic?"
"The Shadows appear to be more than just an ordinary faction, Lieutenant. We have recieved disturbing reports - of men in black who may fire lightning from their hands, that call themselves 'Shadows'," answered the Commander with a certain grimness "We picked up survivors of a caravan headed towards Porre, who spoke of this. They were delirious; they may have been hallucinating, but we operate on a worst-case scenario basis. Dismissed, Lieutenant. I will want you at the Ops Council at eighteen hundred hours."
"Yes sir," said Gaston, who promptly spun around and left.
At eighteen hundred hours, only about half an hour later, Gaston arrived in the command tent, a greenish, large, semi-permanent structure. Looking around, he saw the Scout Commander; Commander Wedge of the Urban Specialist Unit; Commander Vicks, captain of the Warship Zenan and overall leader of the naval fleet in the area; Commander Hans, an engineering specialist; Commander Thadius of the elite Black Century; Commander Kesrop of Special Operations;and finally, Captain Alexander. They were seated at a long wooden table with one open seat. They were all in their 30's - a good many of Guardia's Knights had retired after the war or been killed in it.
"Take a seat Lieutenant," said Commander Kesrop "It's always nice to have a different perspective."
Gaston took a seat, and briefly described what had happened in the desert. As he finished, he noticed many mutters of dissaproval from around the table.
"He should have captured them for interrogation," muttered Commander Wedge in a disapproving, patronizing tone.
"Obviously. Or at least followed them around," said Kesrop.
"His orders were to report any Mystic sighting, not fight them," agreed Hans.
"At least we now have warning," said Thadius, going to the defense of Gaston "Without him, we would not have time to prepare."
The mutters subsided with sounds that sounded like "What's done is done"; "We must concentrate on the matter at hand'; ecetera. Gaston felt a bit of relief - he might have been facing a court-martial. Rumors pegged Wedge as a merciless tyrant.
"I propose that Commander Wedge and Commander Vicks concentrate on evacuating Dorino and ferrying as many as they can to Truce. Commander Kesrop and Special Ops will remain in the city, along with the Urban Specialists, in order to guard our camp. The rest will go into the desert and try to intercept the Mystic army - they will almost certainly be coming from the southwest," proposed Commander Thadius.
"Very well," despontendly comfirmed Captain Alexander. "But we will stay in the encampment until we have confirmed..."
Suddenly a man in the uniform of an Ensign, a young man of around 23, came into the tent. His arm was bandaged, and the color seemed drained from his face. He looked at the high ranking officers surrounding him.
"Sir, we have a confirmed sighting of a Mystic army heading this way along the northern coast. They are already past the outpost at Denador. Our scout reported that it .. the outpost that is, appears to have been completely annihalated. Not a trace remains. And the mystic army appears to be well over .... twenty thousand bodies strong. Their ETA is 8 hours," said the Ensign excitedly.
"Twenty thousand ..... " murmured Commander Thadius.
"An army like that ... if the Mystics could have raised twenty thousands for a place like Dorino during the war, we would all be dead or enslaved in undeath," noted Commander Wedge "And they outnumber us over four to one. Our only hope is to retreat."
"We can't. The people of Dorino need to be protected. We could leave in 8 hours, but take only one fourth of Dorino's population with us," noted Commander Vicks.
"I knew the commander of Denador. He was an excellent strategist; one of the best. There were over one thousand knights at Denador, and some of the finest defenses in Guardia to boot," lamented Commander Kesrop.
"Get a grip, all of you," said Gaston "You know the risks. I say we take all our people we can, and take the army approaching right now. We can make almost twice their time with horses, and counting an hour or so to prepare, the and if we last 4 hours, if gives Commander Vicks at least 11 hours, and proabably more, to evacuate Dorino, more than enough time."
"No one wanted this war, Lieutenant. Maybe you'll understand if you survive until dawn. With the peace treaty we had hoped the worst engagements in the 600 years of Guardia's history were over," retorted Captain Alexander.
"It's a suicide mission for all of us," said Thadius.
"Then we die," said Captain Alexander.
Half an hour later, the Knights of Guardia, or about three thousand of them, were mounted on their horses and ready to face death, ready to be destroyed for Guardia by an enemy they had been spared from through providence two years ago. Few expected this again; Frog was now God-Knows-Where, and the Mystics were based throughout the Equatorial regions. There will be no mercy, no pity, by either side, and espicially not the Mystics. The Captain rode to the head of the steel clad army, waiting in the night for the order to move.
"Some have called this a suicide mission. It is. We proabably shall all die today. But we shall meet the blackness of eternity knowing that we have died for the safety of over ten thousand innocent civilians. On a side note, if you see a black clad man, kill him. Immediately, above all else," and with that the Captain raised his curved steel sword above his head and slashed downward. The mass of horses and knights began to move foward at a brisk pace. The armor was all polished, and torches atop long poles lit the desert.
Horses, a vast mill of them, carrying human knights wandered across the desert, to face the Mystic army. They journeyed and journeyed for 3 hours. They came to a huge encampment of tents, circular in region, filled with grayish cloth. There were the blackened remains of firepits. In the center of the encampment, like a gigantic obsidian obelisk, stood a massive Black Tent. The camp appeared to be at rest, although it was fairly early in the night.
"Spread out and attack; slaughter them. Remember Zenan," said the Knight Captain to the Division commanders "Attack anything in that Black Tent - it could be a Shadow encampment. If there are Shadows kill them above all else. Remember, the Shadows make Ozzie and Flea look like parlor magicians. Go."
From the night, charged a huge group of knights into the Mystic encampment. The infantry of the Mystics were easily trampled underfoot. Hench, Gargoyle's, Imps - all were felled by the swords of Guardia.
Suddenly a huge chain of lightning lit the sky, causing a huge clap of thunder that caused many of the Knight's horses to buck up and throw the Knights to the ground. The Black Century moved quickly, galloping towards the black tent at the center of the base. Gargoyle's were killed easily as they approached the Century - the Black Century was made up of the finest warriors in all of Guardia. Suddenly, white hot balls of fire erupted from the tent, bombarding the Black Century. Commander Thadius, Silver plated armor gleaming in the moonlight, was hit by one of these balls and knocked from his horse, a huge burning hole in his torso. More members of the Black Century soon joined their leader, as more and more balls of fire erupted from the tent, completely annihalating the Black Century in under a minute.
The other Knights of Guardia were too busy fighting huge numbers of Imps and Hench tugging at them and trying to mount their horses to notice the massacre of the Black Century. Battling huge, ever-increasing numbers of Imps massing around them, Guardia's forces, or what was left of them, charged towards the tent. A lone scout, with a blazing fiery pole approached the tent and lit it ablaze. Fire was soon comsuming the tent, turning it into a blazing infereno. Blacks shapes danced madly in the fire, in the throes of death. Suddenly, atop the tent, a Black Shape lept down from the collasping tent, landing on one of the Black Centuries horses. He was clothed in a hooded black robe, wearing a steel mask painted black that obscrued his face, as well as dark black gloves covering his hands. The man was a Shadow.
Lightning poured from the Shadow's hands, it's currents dividing and hitting knights, electrocuting them to death as they screamed and boiled under their metal armor. Lightning hit the Mystics as well, but the Shadow did not seem to care. Captain Alexander charged the Shadow - as he approached, the Shadow spun around aiming his gloved hand at Alexander's torso, but Liuetenant Gaston quickly rammed the Shadow, and the Shadows fire hit Alexanders leg, causing him to fall to the ground. Gaston's sword swung and cleaved the Shadow in the middle of him, slicing him in half. With a puff of dark smoke, the Shadow screamed as he vanished. Suddenly a pillar of light erupted from the ground where the Shadow was killed, sending a clear beacon to the Mystics that their leader was dead.
With that, the Mystics seemed to lose their heart. Listless, confused, teh tide of the Battle sqiftly moved in the Knights favor. Fire Pole bearers soon lit the camp aflame, and the remaining Mystics fell back. The Captains Executive Officer, Commander Themain, issued a loud clear sounding series of notes form his horn, the signal for a victory rally. Fighting still continued in some quarters, but it seemed like the battle was over. Commander Hans and his corps came in, as did Gaston, with the Knight Captain in tow.
The Captain's leg was all but destroyed - the Shadows fire had hit him at the knee and all but severed it. Themain was cheery, having defeated many a Hench this night, with green blood covering his armor.
"Where is Thadius? The Black Century?" asked Themain.
"They're dead. They're all dead. The Shadow I killed slayed them all before giving off a pillar of light," proclaimed Gaston. "But the burning tent - they were no pillars in the tent lit afire. That means that only one Shadow was present, and that one Shadow annihalated the Century."
" One Shadow ... destroyed all of the Black Century. We had better pray there aren't many, or Guardia is doomed either way," noted Themain glumly "And our Captain, young Commander?"
"Commander?" noted Gaston in a questioning tone.
"Lietenant Commander Gaston, if you will tell me what happened to the Captain," said Themain as he gave Gaston a brevet rank, apparently.
"The Captain was hit by Shadow Fire in his left leg; if it wasn't for me, he would be dead now," noted Gaston proudly. He had saved the life of a man he detested. He wasn't sure he should be proud about that.
"Very well. We should return to Dorino," noted Alexander, speaking up before coughing a considerable deal.
"Why?" questioned Themain "The Mystics have been defeated."
"You're as bad as Gaston. Dorino still needs to evacuated. There are more Mystics, and there shall be more Shadows. We have won a great victory, but if in our overconfidence, we ignore the threat of another Mystic army, we shall be annihalated all," responded Captain Alexander.
"Very well. Everyone be ready to leave in half an hour," said Themain.
The assembled Knights barely numbered half of those that departed from Dorino, and those that remained were beaten, weary, and their armor was splattered with the blood of Mystics. The trip was largely unventful, but taken at a slower pace than the trip there.
Gaston was riding at the front of the column. As he crossed over a patilairly large sand dune, he noted smoke coming from the direction of Dorino. As he moved to the top of the Dune, he came to what had been a spectacular view of Dorino. Now, he saw the town aflame. Fire seemed to envelope allthe buildings in the town - huge pillars of smoke arose from it. Even the water seemed to be afire. Upon closer examination it was shown that the harbor, and all the ships there were on fire, even the famed Warship Zenan.
"By the grace of Guardia," swore Themain.
"Quickly men," said Captain Alexander weakly "There may be survivors."
As the Knights approched the streets if Dorino, surrounded on both sides of the stone path by fiery buildings, with twisted, blackened, corpses of what had been humans. There were no traces of any Mystics or Shadows. As the Knights approched the Center of town, there stood a Shadow, atop a black horse in the towns exact center, the eyes beneath his black steel mask burning with hatred, and something else. Impatience, perhaps, thought Gaston.
"Well, I see you arrived, pathetic bag of flesh," smiled the Shadow at Captain Alexander "It's nice to see you. It's always pleasant to meet a far inferior foe. Gives me a nice superiority complex. I am here to give you a message; Guardia is doomed. You are all doomed. There shall be no real survivors of our true success, which is far beyond your simple mind, and shall deliver salvation to all time."
"You're a butcher," coughed Alexander "You killed how many thousands today?"
"No one survives the attention of the Shadows. This was merely the opening move of a game, but you are already checkmated. Farewell Captain - I doubt we shall see each other again," noted the Shadow smugly "And remember: No one survives the Shadows."
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