Chapter 23
The Battle of Greystone

Greystone, Gladius; Gladian Year 603

"We went out on the battlefield with so much confidence. With the mighty King Edgar and the two valiant mage-knights, how could we lose? We may have fallen that day, but among us survivors, our faith remained strong that we would one day rise up to avenge our defeat."
- Excerpt from the personal journal of Abbot Octavius

Luther would have liked to see Nyssa after his trip to Byrn, but he knew he needed to report to Greystone immediately. He was granted entrance to the castle as soon as he reached the gates. Even though he was one of the Twelve Stewards, he had never had the occasion to go to the castle and he was thankful that a servant came to guide him to the war room.
The King, Julian, the Captain of the Guard and the division commanders were already assembled there. Julian's melancholy features brightened slightly at the sight of his old friend.
"You're just in time, Luther," he said.
The King looked at Luther somewhat disapprovingly.
"It would be an understatement to say your trip out of the country had poor timing," he said, "but at least you sent your fighters here in advance. Since you made it here before the enemy, I will forgive your indiscretion."
Luther bowed.
"My apologies, Your Majesty, but it was something that had to be done."
The King did not pursue the subject further. The Elemental Knights were critical to the country's defense and the King owed Luther a considerable debt for saving him from the assassin all those years ago. It granted the Guardian a measure of leniency few other vassals could enjoy.
A map of the area was laid out on the table before them with ceramic figurines representing the castle, the Royal Gladian Army and the enemy. The King promptly detailed their strategy.
"The enemy is moving east through the mountains to this position. They seem to know the location of the castle and are intent on attacking it first. Our forces will draw them into the quarry and engage them there. They will not have much room to maneuver and since we outnumber them nearly four to one, standard tactics should be more than enough to deal with them.
"The front lines will consist of pikemen reinforced with spearmen and archers. Our swordsmen and axemen will come to the front if the enemy makes it past the pikes. The cavalry will act as a rear guard and wipe out the enemy when they try to retreat. Lord Luther, you and your men will move in from the right flank while Lord Julian and his men attack from the left. Your combined forces will meet at their rear and block any escape out of the quarry.
"Our two most important places to defend are the castle and the mining camp. Fight to the last man if you must, but do not let the enemy take either of these. If there are no questions, we will move out immediately. There is no telling when the enemy will choose to make their advance into the valley." The King then raised his gauntleted fist and shouted, "For Gladius! Victory or death!"
"For Gladius! Victory or death!" the Captain of the Guard echoed.
"For Gladius!" the division commanders shouted.
Luther and Julian remained silent. The two Elemental Knights could not stir their spirits to shout like the others. Both carried heavily weighted hearts and that weight could very well prove to be the death of them out on the battlefield.

* * *

In all his years of service, the worst thing Otto ever had to deal with was a small riot in the mining camp. After fourteen years in the army, the thought of an actual battle gave him a rush of fear and excitement that reminded him of the days when he was a young recruit.
As a pikeman on the front line, he would be among those who drew the first blood. He could hardly wait. While these thoughts floated through his head, a spearman took up a position next to him. Though he was slightly taller and more muscular than Otto, by his face he could not be even half the pikeman's age, a fresh recruit. Otto noticed an overlong sword strapped to the youth's back, a far cry from the standard shortsword they were equipped with. How was it that a mere recruit could get away with an extravagance like that?
"Try not to let too many through," the youth said. "I can only take so many of them."
Otto could hardly believe the high-and-mighty attitude of someone who ought to be carrying shields instead of standing on the front.
"This isn't child's play, boy," the pikeman retorted. "And aren't you a little young for this? Who are you anyway?"
"It depends on the enemy whether it's child's play or not," the youth replied. "My name's Edward and I'm old enough to do this."
Edward? That was no commoner's name. He was probably the second or third son of some knight. A big attitude was all the inheritance he got, leaving the army as his best shot for any advancement in the world.
Now was not the time to be wondering about such things, though. He saw movement in the distance. The enemy was coming.

* * *

It was a waste of the cavalry's strength and mobility to be delegated to rear guard. Nevertheless, there could not possibly be a better location for Cadmus and his confederates. The black bands on his brassards declared his hidden loyalty to those who knew what to look for.
He lost some good men in the effort to kill his monster wife, but they were a mere handful of the eight hundred men he had gathered to the cause from all corners of the kingdom and the sacrifice was for the greater good. The tide was turning in Gladius and he was going to be on the winning side.
Cadmus looked at the ranks of light infantry in the rear of the main formation. They would be critical once the invaders got past the defenses of the pikemen. They were also the easiest for cavalry to dispatch. He raised his sword as a signal to the others, then spurred his horse to a full charge. As he clashed with the unsuspecting infantry, he laughed heartily. Today would be a day of victory.

* * *

King Edgar and his Captain of the Guard, Siegfried Martel, watched the battle from the ramparts. Everything had been going according to plan until nearly half of the rear guard clashed with the main formation, threatening to split it in two.
"What the devil is going on down there!?" Edgar exclaimed. Waving to his Captain of the Guard, he barked, "Siegfried, gather the reserves! We need to stop this madness at once!"
"'We', Your Majesty?" Siegfried asked. "You mustn't go out there! Please, stay in the safety of the castle!"
"My men are confused, Siegfried. They need their King to guide them. I should have been down there with them from the start, but I let those damned advisors convince me to stay here. My decision has been made. Do not question it. That is an order."
All Siegfried could do was bow and say, "Yes, Your Majesty."
Edgar knew he could count on Siegfried's obedience, but who was causing all that chaos on the battlefield? Was it an enemy in disguise? Or was it a traitor? Edgar immediately dismissed the thought. How could any of his subjects betray their homeland to these foreign invaders? It was impossible.
The six hundred-man reserve was already waiting at the gate by the time he arrived. He stood in front of them to give the orders before they departed.
"Stay close to me and Captain Siegfried. The enemy is attacking our flanks. We will be a rallying point to our true comrades and expose the enemy. We move!"
The gates opened and the reserve flooded out. Unbeknown to the King and his men, a handful of dark figures snuck past their formation through the still-open gates.

* * *

The warlock Shadowblight hovered above the battlefield. It was highly likely that Randwulf's horde could win unassisted, but he wanted to expedite things. Pointing his staff at the ground below, he began a low chant. From the earth emerged one, two, four, ultimately twelve of his Red Demons. Another dozen sprang up to join them, but that was not the end. No, the Red Demons were built for slaughter, but he needed to soften up the victims first for the greatest effect. To that end, he summoned the vicious sickle-clawed Threshers. Nearly a hundred of them dotted the ground below. They were hungry and soon they would be fed.
With a wave of the warlock's hand, the creatures surged forward. The humans would not last long against them. The blood would flow, a grand sacrifice. It would be a fine start to things.
Though the warlock found some amusement in the utter carnage the beasts were wont to create, he placed wards on Randwulf's men and Cadmus' traitors to spare them the creatures' fury. Watching his creations run lustfully toward their prey brought a smile to his withered face. He flew toward the castle. Its destruction would certainly devastate the enemy's morale. He always loved breaking the vermin's spirit before killing them.

* * *

As explosions rocked Castle Greystone, panic had taken over. Guards, courtiers and servants ran frantically in an effort to escape the huge pieces of rubble crashing all around them. Crassus Vitellius could not believe such a thing was happening to him.
The chamberlain shouted for calm, but the man was obviously delusional. The castle was falling. Where could they go? A battle raged outside, but inside was no safer.
The he saw it, barbarians cutting down the castle guards. How could such lowly creatures be winning against the King's finest? It simply was not possible. Seeing them come ever closer, matters of possibility and impossibility lost relevance. He had to think of a way to save himself. He would have to cast away his pride, but survival was more important.
As one of them came within a couple fathoms of him, he quickly raised his hands high in the air, waving his handkerchief.
"I surrender!" he cried. "Spare me and I shall give you anything you want!"
The barbarian did not seem interested. Rather, he looked amused by Crassus' pleas, grinning maliciously as he raised his sword.
"Wait, wait!" Crassus pleaded, ever more desperate, switching to the old common tongue in the vain hope the barbarian would understand. "Only I know the location of my family's hidden fortune! Think of it! Gold! Jewels! More than enough for you and your leader! Is it women you seek? My manor has many young maidservants, the finest in the kingdom, yours for the taking! Spare me! I beg of you!"
The barbarian lowered his sword. Crassus' new lease on life would cost him, but riches could always be regained. He had amassed plenty of wealth in this court and he could surely do the same in the next.
"You traitor!" the chamberlain screeched.
Traitor or not, he would survive. The chamberlain would soon buckle at the sight of steel seeking his blood, but Crassus came first. Perhaps he would be the chamberlain of the barbarian's leader. Nothing would be more fitting. Nothing...
His fancies came crashing to a halt when an excruciating pain shot through him. Looking down, he saw a bloodstained spearhead poking through his doublet. He wanted to scream, but could not. Turning his head slowly, he saw that the owner of the spear was one of the castle guards. Why?
"Damned traitor..." the guard growled.
Any other words were cut off by a barbarian's sword driven under the guard's chin. Crassus fell to the ground. It was so gruesomely unfair. He had just won his new lease on life. How could it be taken away so thoughtlessly? He wanted to feel sorry for himself more, but he could not feel much of anything. He could no longer see. Even the noise of the crashing masonry faded away into nothing.

* * *

Well away from the clamor of battle or the crumbling of the castle, Cadmia Adriana sat wrapped in chains next to her brother. A bad-looking man in armor had been left to watch over them. Why was this happening?
The last thing she remembered was falling asleep next to her mother after feeding. Then some people in armor grabbed her and her brother, locked heavy chains around them and left them there to stare at the bodies of all the servants who had been nice to them. Their blood had been so carelessly spilled all over the place and left to go cold. It was so wasteful.
Then their father appeared. Though it had been wiped away, she could smell the blood on his sword. It smelled like their mother. Was her mother dead also?
Then they were taken out into the sun. The evil, burning sun. The sun was out now. It burned. It hurt. She was not afraid, though, because her mother had said the sun could not kill her. But it still hurt.
She was hungry. She needed to feed again.
She noticed the bad man looking at her. She could smell the stink of his bad thoughts.
"You're a pretty little thing, girlie," the bad man said in a bad-sounding tone. "How'd you like to play with Uncle?"
The stench of his thoughts made her want to vomit. The bad man lumbered toward her holding the key to the locks. He knelt down in front of her and unlocked the chains that bound her. The heavy iron fetters clattered to the ground.
He rested his big, sweaty hands on her shoulders and slowly moved them down her body. She remained as still as a statue and glared at him with her cold grey eyes. Though dazed from hunger, her brother must have noticed the scent too as he snapped back to full awareness.
"What are you doing to my sister!?" he shouted.
"Shut up, brat!" the bad man snapped, giving him a heavy backhand.
It was all the opportunity Adriana needed. She instantly clamped down on the bad man's neck and sucked on his lifeblood for all its worth. The bad man tried to pry her off. He tried pulling her hair and pounding her head to make her let go, but she stubbornly held on, ignoring the pain, focusing only on feeding.
It did not take long for him to lose the strength to resist her. When he had been weakened enough to pose no threat, she released him and dragged the body over to her brother.
"Drink while there's still some warm blood left," she said.
He did not get to drink much before he pulled away. She had obviously taken the lion's share for herself, but her brother had gotten enough to last a while. While she was searching the grass for the key to the locks, she heard a voice in the near distance.
"Hey, Gurth! Those brats givin' ya trouble? Lord Cadmus sent me ta relieve ya."
Adriana frantically tore through the grass. Where was the key? Where was it?
"Leave me, Adriana," her brother said. "Run away while you can!"
"I can't leave you!" she cried, still tearing out clumps of sod in a vain effort to find the key.
"Go!" he insisted. "Now!"
"I won't!"
"If one of us makes it, that's all that matters," Adrian said. "Go and become stronger. Then you can rescue me. Please..."
Adriana clutched the piece of sod in her hand as tightly as she could. Her eyes clenched shut, tears began to seep through. She rose to her feet and looked at her brother with steely determination.
"I'll get stronger," she vowed. "I will come back for you. Goodbye, Adrian!"
She turned and ran as fast as she could.
"Hey, you! Wait!"
She heard the new bad man hit the ground. Adrian must have tripped him. She would not forget what he had done for her and she would keep her promise to him no matter what.

* * *

King Edgar should have led from the front from the very beginning. He cursed the lily-livered advisors who convinced him to stay behind and cursed himself for heeding their thrice-damned counsel. Had he been down there, his men would not be lost to chaos right now, though truthfully they should have been able to maintain their discipline whether the King was there to rally them or not. Was this the true face of the proud Royal Gladian Army?
The foemen alone could not have splintered their ranks so. It was foul treason that caused this madness. Stabbed in the back by their own comrades, none could trust the man to his left or his right. The iron walls of the Gladian lines became as hills of sand. The waves of enemies did not break. Instead their rush was merely slowed.
How could men who claimed the high honor of serving the King--of simply being Gladians--stoop to such treachery? Surely the old patricians were to blame. Their loyalty was always suspect. If any fault could be found in Edgar's great ancestor, it was his leniency to the patricians. It would have been better if he had killed them to the last, but now was not the time to lament the past.
No, now was the time to seize the present, to bring loyal Gladians together under the banner of their King, to root out the traitors and to beat back their foes. The reserve troops would meet the enemy and give the main units the time to regroup and launch a counterattack. That was the plan, but it was not to be, for the King had made a critical error. He did not consider the possibility that there were traitors among the reserve troops as well. He would soon pay dearly for it.
A clamor rose in the ranks as several soldiers turned on their comrades, they were either cut down or restrained in short order, as soon as Edgar turned to see what was the matter. Then more went on the attack, throwing the formation into further disorder. Soon they were no better off than the embattled men they were supposed to relieve.
Edgar had to take action. Bringing the standard bearer to his side, he hoisted up his great sword to rally the faithful.
"Loyal men of Gladius," he shouted, "men of honor, to me! To me!"
As the men flocked to him, they were met by a new threat. Calvarymen, their own calvarymen, rode at them with sword and lance. Several cut right through the broken lines, but at least one or two were brought down. One particularly shameless man struck the King himself with his sword as he passed. The King's charger responded smartly, kicking at the foeman's steed, making it buckle and fall. The traitorous calvaryman could not get away in time and Edgar stabbed at the ground, piercing him clean through.
One less traitor was a small victory, but the distraction left him vulnerable to another calvaryman tilting at him with a lance. Edgar was not able to react in time, but the calvaryman's aim was poor and skewered the King's horse instead. The horse crumpled from the impact, leaving the King in much the same position as the man he had just felled. His leg pinned, he would be easy prey for anyone who wanted to finish him off.
Several men rushed to his aid, lifting the horse up off him. However, one of the traitors was among them and seized the opportunity to draw a knife and take a stab at him. The King narrowly blocked the attack, grabbing the man by the wrist before he could get away. A couple loyal men took hold of the traitor and dragged him off just as Edgar was able to free his leg.
Back on his feet, Edgar saw the first of the enemy to break through the rearmost lines of the main formation. Given the disarray of the formation, it was no great task, much to the King's shame. Seeing the enemy, though, made him forget the shame of his army's miserable performance or any thought of strategy to salvage this debacle. His warrior blood burned and all he thought of was taking up his sword and cutting down the foemen left and right.
Ignoring the cries of his concerned soldiers, he charged forward boldly, heedlessly. Swinging his sword widely, he cut down two of the barbarians on his first stroke. At last he had drawn the enemy's blood. This was how it should have been from the beginning. He should have been the one to draw first blood. It was his duty and his right as King. He would have make up for it by slaying as many of the barbarians as he could.
The barbarians, who had been charging through the Gladian ranks so boldly until now, were not so bold in the face of genuine resistance, a fierce hulk encased in a thick steel shell wielding a mighty manslaying blade. They began crying out for someone, for something, in their incomprehensible barbarian tongue. Edgar soon saw what it was when they began to fall back and mass around it.
This thing they called for was a burly man with a thick beard and a frenzied look in his eyes as he mercilessly hacked through Gladian fighting men with his hefty battleaxe. He was clearly one of the enemy's great warriors, for none of the Gladian soldiers who faced him stood for long, and any hurt inflicted on this monster of a man were like puffs of air. He never stopped, never paused, never slackened his pace. Finally, a challenge worthy of the Mountain King.
Before another son of Gladius could fall to that cruel axe, Edgar changed at the man, bringing down his great sword to cleave him in two. Despite his frenzy, the wits of the wild man were keen and he met the King's blade, matching strength for strength. Truly this was a worthy opponent.
They exchanged a few blows. Both wielded heavy weapons, so neither had any real advantage in speed, and in strength they were evenly matched as well. However, the wild man was tireless, knowing neither pain nor fatigue, and in that respect, he would eventually gain an edge on his opponent. Edgar had to finish things before then.
Sinking his blade in the ground, Edgar hooked his arm around the sword and punched the wild man upside the head. This threw him off balance long enough for the King to move around and put his hands together for a hammer blow that dropped the wild man to his knees. Edgar followed through with a kick to the ribs that knocked him to the ground and a stomp on the wrist that broke his grip on his weapon. This would be the end.
Edgar drew the dagger at his waist to deliver the deathblow when the wild man came back into the fight with a vengeance. Howling like a beast, he took hold of the King's leg--the very leg crushing his wrist--and yanked it out from under him, bringing the King to the ground. The wild man then flung himself bodily onto the King. The wild man carried enough weight for the blow to hurt, and he did not stop there. He began hammering away at Edgar with his good hand, but the body blows did little against Edgar's armor. Edgar took hold of the wild man by the head, unwittingly tearing the helmet right off. Seeing an opportunity, the King turned the wild man's helmet into a weapon against its own, bashing him in the head. Though the first blow barely fazed him, a few more were enough to leave him stunned.
Edgar did not give up the momentum for anything. He continued to bash the wild man's skull again and again, smashing the weaker bones of the face, splattering blood with every strike. The wild man was probably dead long before the King finally stopped, but there was certainly no doubt when it was over.
Edgar slowly rose up over his destroyed opponent. It had been a fight to remember, something for the bards to sing of in the halls of Greystone years after he was gone. There was still much fighting left to be done, but he allowed himself to savor his victory, if for but a little while. That moment of victory was briefer than he expected, though.
He suddenly felt a heavy blow to the back, knocking him flat on his face. Turning around as he rose to his feet, he saw what struck him. Fierce wild men were not the strangest thing in the enemy's ranks, for what he faced now was a hideous lizardlike creature with red skin and the horns of a ram. Edgar's eyes quickly darted over to his sword. It was his best chance of survival, so he scrambled for it.
Unfortunately, he was not a quick man to begin with and his heavy armor did not make him any faster. The creature rammed him again, knocking him even farther from his sword. Before he could rise, the creature planted its foot firmly on his chest. Thinking quickly, he grabbed the side of the foot and heel, giving it a sharp jerk that caused the creature to topple over. He took the opportunity to make a break for his sword, but was stopped again, this time by a swipe of the creature's heavy tail. He scrambled to his feet before it could pin him down again. Already tired from his fight with the wild man, he realized he would be hopelessly worn out if he kept trying and failing to reach his sword. He would do better to fight the beast hand-to-hand while he still had his strength.
He threw all of his weight into a punch that landed squarely between the creature's eyes. It shrieked and recoiled sharply. Even before it had fully recovered, the creature struck back by driving its long claws under Edgar's chest plate and piercing the mail underneath. The King grunted as he saw his own blood spill down the creature's hand. He gave the creature a stiff right hook and the sharpened knuckles on his gauntlet tore open its eye in a spray of blood and other humors.
It howled and made a swipe with its other hand, slashing Edgar's neck. Completely ignoring the cut, he wrapped his arm around the creature's neck, seizing its muzzle with the other hand. In a swift, strong motion, its neck snapped and the creature went limp. Edgar had beaten the dread beast without even using his sword, but he would not enjoy this victory any longer than the previous one. As he staggered to his fallen weapon, he started feeling dizzy and legs gave out from under him.

* * *

Because both sides were hopelessly enmeshed, Julian could not use his strongest attacks lest he take friend along with foe. Most of the House Leon fighters were either dead or mixed into the throng. He wished he could join up with Luther. Surely they would be even more potent together.
Even without his fighters to support him, he continued to move toward the rear of the enemy formation, in hopes of meeting up with Luther. Once he reached the rear, he figured he could use a larger attack with a minimal risk to the King's men. It would do the enemy well to taste the full power of the Defender.
As he made his way around, he saw something truly astonishing. It was a man that had to be nearly nine feet tall. He wielded a truly massive club--more like an uprooted tree--that took three calvarymen off their horses in a single swipe.
Julian launched a fireball that struck the giant square in the side of the face. The brute howled but acted quickly, smothering the fire with his cloak. The Defender then shot two more fireballs that scorched the giant's arm and torso. The giant howled more as he furiously beat back the flames searing his flesh. Julian was about to continue the barrage, but before he could fire another volley, the giant threw the heavy cloak at him, blocking his line of sight.
Hearing the heavy footfalls quickly approach him, Julian knocked the cloak aside and blindly thrust at where he imagined the giant would be. The giant was more nimble than Julian expected, dodging the thrust and smacking the rapier out of the Defender's hand. Drawing his main gauche, Julian stabbed the giant and leapt upward, propelled by a boost of magical energy, inflicting a deep cut that ran all the way from hip to forehead and put out the giant's right eye.
He did not get to appreciate his handiwork for more than a brief moment, though. With a fearsome bellow, the giant swung his arm with faster than Julian could have ever expected. The huge fist hit his head like a sledgehammer. All he heard was the snap of his neck, then nothing.

* * *

The fighters of House Aran, in a mix of overeager zeal and sheer foolishness, had needlessly sacrificed themselves to attacks Luther could have defended against. He thought he had trained them better than that, but real combat showed their true measure and sadly it was not enough. The madness of the battle did not give him any time to mourn, though. He could do no good mingled in with the others, but if he could strike the enemy from the rear as planned, it might make a difference.
Seeing a couple archers loose arrows at him, he blocked with his shield and repaid the favor with a lightning bolt that consigned two smoking corpses to the earth. An enemy swordsman charged at him, but he easily cleaved through both sword and wielder in a forceful swipe.
Then Luther saw him, a man wearing a black cloak and burnished armor. He was definitely above the class of the typical enemy. Even the most elite of the King's men did not wear anything so grand. The flash of a Gem and a pulse of energy told him all he needed to know. An Elemental Knight. With a wave of his sword, the enemy knight sent a wave of earth at Luther. The wave crashed harmlessly against the barrier Luther raised. Pleased at the sight of genuine resistance, the enemy knight grinned.
"What a pleasant surprise," he said in the old common tongue. "I would have never expected to find an Elemental Knight here. The Guardian, yes? I am Randwulf the Conqueror, the commander of these men, my Marauders. Tell me, Guardian, what's your name?"
Fighting an Elemental Knight was the ultimate challenge. The thought of it filled Luther with new vigor. He returned the Conqueror's grin.
"I am Luther the Guardian," he declared, "son of Gregor, descended of Aran of the Eight Stars. I can't say that I expected to see an Elemental Knight either. Since you're the leader, all I need to do is kill you and this army of yours will be nothing more than a rabble."
"Try if you dare," Randwulf replied confidently.
The two ran headlong at each other. Sparks flew off their clashing blades. In the exchange that followed, it soon became clear that the Guardian and the Conqueror were practically equals as swordsmen. Every strike had a counterstrike and a counter for every counterstrike. Their blades danced with each swing, sang with each strike.
"Finally, a real challenge!" the Conqueror exclaimed.
Luther laughed as he made a thrust to the neck.
"My sentiments exactly, but the Defender makes for good practice."
Parrying the thrust, Randwulf could not mask his surprise.
"There are two Elemental Knights in this land?"
Luther grinned, blocking a swing.
"He's on the other side of the battlefield right now, no doubt bringing fiery death to your men."
Randwulf only chuckled as he made a series of quick jabs.
"Then there is no shame in dealing with that warlock."
"What?"
"He lays waste to your castle as we speak. See for yourself."
Randwulf circled around, positioning Luther so he was looking north. Luther saw the crumbling walls and the rising smoke. His opponent had stopped attacking while he stood in shock. Luther quickly realized his inattention and took a defensive stance.
"Even if Greystone falls, your army is nothing without you."
"Perhaps so," Randwulf admitted, resuming the match with an overhead chop, "but that warlock would find someone else for the job. Maybe you."
"Never," Luther growled.
"So you say, but you haven't met him yet. He's not much of a believer in free will."
The two locked blades.
"You're just his puppet then?" Luther asked.
"He would like to think that," Randwulf replied, "but he is giving me all these opportunities to become stronger. Eventually, I will be more powerful than him and then the tables will be turned."
"You're content being used? Where is your pride as an Elemental Knight?"
"A means to an end. My day will come."
"Not if I win."
"We will see, Guardian."
The two warriors broke away from each other to start the cycle anew when Luther felt his heart flutter and his power wane. Only by sheer will did he remain on his feet. At first, he was afraid the Conqueror would take advantage of the opportunity, but he soon realized that Randwulf was similarly afflicted.
"It seems that one of our brethren has been lost," he said. "I understand now... The Gems tell us when our kind draws near... and when they are gone..." He grinned maliciously. "One of my men must have gotten lucky... or perhaps your friend was not the warrior you thought him to be."
Luther felt a dull emptiness in the pit of his stomach. He did not want to believe it, but he knew it was true. The Elemental Gems did not lie to their masters. Julian was gone.
He did not have a chance to mourn the loss of his friend. The sight of his enemy grinning at Julian's death filled him with a rage he had only known once before, when he fought off the assailants sent by Percival to wipe out his household. Howling in anger, Luther charged forward with the fury of a berserker, but even in that fury his wits and his skills remained sharp as ever, perhaps keener still. The two had been evenly matched before, but Luther was quickly taking the advantage.
Randwulf knew rage quite well, but never like this, never burning so pure and hot. The forceful will that had subdued hundreds and slayed many more began to waver. The Conqueror was thrown wholly on the defensive, scarcely able to block the fierce strokes of the enraged Guardian.
Randwulf misjudged a strike and failed to successfully block the attack. The tip of Luther's sword raked across the hilt of Randwulf's sword and cleanly cut off all the fingers on both hands. Randwulf howled in pain, dropping his sword and falling to the ground. Randwulf stared wide-eyed at the bloody stumps.
With his enemy fallen, the greater part of the Guardian's rage subsided. Tenuously holding back the fires of his anger, Luther steadied the point of his sword at Randwulf's throat.
"Do you yield?"
Still staring numbly at his hands, Randwulf did not even seem to acknowledge the question. A voice cried out in the distance.
"Master Randwulf!"
An enemy youth tackled into Luther, nearly knocking him off his feet. Luther brought his elbow down on the youth's back, dropping him to the ground.
Randwulf must have come to his senses in that time, for he shot his right arm out at Luther and a sharpened rock flew out of the ground. It whizzed by, slashing open the side of Luther's head. The Guardian could feel the warm blood seep down the side of his face. It only served to make him angrier.
"Coward!" he snapped.
He raised his sword to split Randwulf's head in two, but the youth interfered again, grabbing his arm. Luther punched the youth in the face as hard as he could. It made him let go, but it also provided another opening for Randwulf.
Despite the loss of his fingers, he deftly threw a knife that sank into Luther's throat. Luther quickly plucked it out but could feel the blood soaking his shirt. He could not save himself, but he would not die alone. Summoning all the energy he had at the ready, he sent a bolt of lightning surging into Randwulf. The Conqueror did not even have the chance to raise a barrier.
His energy spent, Luther fell to his knees, then to his side. As he felt the life fading from him, the image of his wife and child shone in his mind. At least they would be safe...

* * *

Gunnar Terentius held his injured face. That enemy knight must have broken his nose. His back hurt, too, but at least his leader was safe. Or was he? The enemy knight looked dead, but so did his leader with eyes rolled back in his head and smoke rising from his body. Terentius moved slowly over to the body, shaking it softly.
"Master Randwulf... Master Randwulf!"
There was no response. Terentius could feel tears welling up in his eyes. He believed what Randwulf had said about the Marauders being something more than ordinary men. Pressed into the Wolf-eaters as a child, he never expected to live long, much less amount to anything. All that changed when Randwulf defeated Leif Godi and the Wolf-eaters were remade as Marauders. For the first time in his life, there actually seemed to be a future for him.
With Randwulf dead, though, anyone who did not die here would go back to being bandits. All that work to forge them into something greater was for naught. He did not care if anyone called his tears unmanly. For all that died with Randwulf, anyone should weep.
While he was mourning what he had lost, a cloaked figure appeared in front of him. He jumped back in surprise. It was an old man with a long white beard and hollow eye sockets holding a rod crowned with a skull. Was that the warlock Randwulf had called their hidden light of victory?
"This battle has depleted the suitable candidates for my plan," the old man said to himself. "However, there is enough to salvage here."
With a wave of his rod, the two bodies glowed with a blinding light. Terentius had to shield his eyes. When the light dimmed and the young Marauder was able to see, Randwulf was breathing again. The Conqueror's eyes opened and he rose with a start.
"Nyssa! Mark!"
"Wolfmar, I..."
Eerily, the two voices overlapped. Randwulf looked around in bewilderment. One hand felt his neck and head while the other was held out in front of his eyes as if each had a mind of its own. His eyes were wide with disbelief and confusion.
"Randwulf the Conqueror or Luther the Guardian... which do you want to be?"
Randwulf only stared blankly at the old man, not understanding the question.
"You are neither Randwulf the Conqueror," the old man continued, "nor are you Luther the Guardian. And yet, at the same time, you are both. You must choose the will to rule your heart."
His eyes still wide, Randwulf clutched the sides of his face and screamed. He fell to the ground and thrashed wildly, yelling gibberish in his two voices. Terentius rushed to his side and tried to hold him down.
"Master Randwulf! Get ahold of yourself!"
Randwulf's crazed eyes locked on Terentius. His hands shot for the youth's neck and began to squeeze with dreadful might. Red-faced and gasping for breath, Terentius struggled to speak.
"Master... Randwulf... Stop... please..."
The murderous expression softened and Randwulf released him. Terentius held his bruised throat and coughed loudly. When Terentius was able to breathe normally again, he looked at Randwulf and saw a new control in his expression. The madness had passed.
"You saved me," Randwulf said. "What is your name?"
"Gunnar Terentius, sir... Master... Randwulf?"
"Yes," the Conqueror assured him. "I am Randwulf. You will be rewarded handsomely for what you've done this day, but you must swear under the penalty of death that no one else will know what has happened to me."
"I swear, sir," Terentius replied, placing his hand across his heart.
"Good," Randwulf said, patting the youth on the shoulder. "Now, let's finish this battle."
"Wait," the warlock interposed. "You need more time to secure your will over that of the Guardian. The battle will play out favorably without any additional help. Withdraw for now."
Terentius could see that Randwulf did not like bowing to the warlock's will, but he complied nevertheless. Terentius noticed Randwulf looking at something. The body of the foreign knight was a shriveled husk of what it once was and its hands were missing fingers. He saw Randwulf flex the fingers on his own hand. Was it a miracle that saved his leader... or was it devilry?

* * *

Though Siegfried Martel had fought against the enemy with all his might, the men around him were all dead and he did not last long without support. If he had had the opportunity, he would have fallen on his sword before the enemy could take him, but he had been overwhelmed too quickly to spare himself the dishonor of capture.
He was placed in shackles among the hundreds of prisoners that had been taken. He could see the broken spirits of the men around him. There were far too many there. After all, it was no credit to be taken alive when your comrades lay dead on the battlefield. Worse, torture and imprisonment had become their lot and the release of death would be delayed out of the cruel spite of their enemies.
Siegfried cursed himself for his weakness. If only he could have stayed at the King's side... He hoped the King was still alive and fighting, but his heart told him otherwise. If the King was dead, then his liege lord had found the better of the two fates.
His thoughts were disrupted by a horseman arriving on the scene. It was a Gladian cavalry officer. Was he boldly trying to free the prisoners on his own? No, the truth was far from it. The rider and the guards exchanged waves of acknowledgment. A traitor... but who?
"Captain Siegfried, what a fine catch you are!"
The rider raised his visor to reveal his face. He was a count serving in the Cavalry Regiment. Cadmus was his name.
"You dog!" Siegfried shouted. "How could you betray your own kingdom!?"
One of the guards struck him with the butt of a spear. Cadmus only sneered.
"This kingdom failed to recognize my talents, Captain. I've found people who can appreciate my qualities. I will be a great man in the new order. I hope to be there when they break you."
Siegfried would have throttled Cadmus if he could, but he could not go far chained to the other prisoners as he was. Words would do nothing to the dastardly man. Instead, Siegfried glared at him, a glare that concentrated all the hate and outrage of the betrayed kingdom of Gladius.

* * *

Edward had barely managed to stay alive after the rear of the formation had been betrayed. His sword had played a large part in his survival. It could kill a handful of enemies in one stroke and they never seemed to be able to believe someone so young could wield a blade so large.
His unit had been wiped out and he was making his way to regroup with the survivors. It was then that he noticed an ugly red monster lying on the ground. Beside it was a man in familiar armor. The realization hit him like a steel-toed boot to the stomach.
"Father!" he exclaimed.
He ran over to where his father lay. He was deathly pale from loss of blood, but still breathing weakly. His eyes could only open halfway to see his son.
"Edward...?"
"Father! We need to get you to a healer! I'll find a horse!"
The King grabbed his shoulder as he turned to leave. His grip still had some strength.
"It is... too late... for me..."
"No, Father! I can save you!"
"Just... listen... please... Run... Run away from this place... When the time comes... take back our kingdom... For now... lay low... set plans... and one day... retake the throne... I know... you can..."
His body went limp before he could say anything else. Edward shook the King's pauldron while tears streamed down his face.
"Father! Father!"
It was to no avail. The Prince rose and looked at the battle that still raged on. His pride urged him to go back into the fray and die alongside his valiant countrymen, but it was not to be. He would honor his father's wishes, fleeing for now and returning to take back the throne. Until that day, that blessed day, he would make the enemy learn to fear and hate the name of Edward of Greystone.