Chapter 5
The Glory of the Vanguard

AZ 1454 - Late Spring
Outside the Ruins of Talis, The Darklands

Many people found the tales of the Darklands difficult to believe. In truth, they did not go far enough to portray the horror of Hades itself spilled out into the land of the living. No wonder the Darklanders were such a vile, twisted sort. Nothing less could survive in such an unholy place.
Almost as soon as the Zephyrian invasion force made landfall, Duke Cronos approached Queen Xanthe with the request to position his Third Legion at the vanguard. In spite of his failures in Notos, the request was granted and he would have the honor of leading their forces from the front.
"Are you sure about this, milord?" Sir Telemachos asked as they rode to the Third Legion's encampment.
"This is important for the men," the Duke said.
"For the men, milord, or for you?"
"Tread lightly, sir," the Duke warned.
Telemachos would usually defer to the Duke's station when warned, but this time the Master of the Sword surprised him by saying, "I will not, milord. We are no longer in Notos and we are not facing those ragtag rebels. This cursed land itself is more than enough to kill us all, to say nothing of God only knows how many enemies lie in wait for us. Be wary, milord, that your pride doesn't lead us all to our deaths and jeopardize our mission. Remember well that if we fail here, nothing stands between the homeland and all the might and fury of the Dominion."
Telemachos' lecturing inflamed the Duke, but he checked himself lest his passions overrule his sense.
Tightly reining in his anger, the Duke replied, "I do not need you to remind me of our mission, its importance or the threats we face. I am all too aware."
"Are you, milord?"
"I am. The honor of the vanguard and first blood will greatly improve morale. It will go a long to sustain them in the long campaign to come."
"Perhaps, milord," Telemachos said, not sounding particularly convinced.
The time for doubts had passed. The Duke could not afford to doubt himself any longer and it would take all the force of his conviction to drive the men in the face of the horrors that awaited them.
The Duke came upon Lord Hilarion shortly after they arrived at the Legion's encampment.
Lord Hilarion saluted the Duke with a curt, "My lord."
Cronos returned the salute and said, "Assemble the men."
"Yes, my lord."
Shortly thereafter, the buccina sounded and the men fell into formation. Fifty-five hundred men, nearly twice the original size of the Legion before the rebellion broke out. Though still the smallest of the three legions, they were the only ones to have seen much real combat and had already faced the rebels' Darklander allies, making them the best prepared for what was to come.
From the front of the formation, the Duke addressed the men in a loud voice.
"Men of the Third Legion! Here we stand in a land no Zephyrian has set foot upon for over a thousand years. Some of you standing here today were serving in the Legion before I was appointed legate and named Governor-General of the Protectorate. Some of you volunteered for the express purpose of joining this expedition. Some of you are Notians who served in the Olympian Bands, that noble effort to retake your homeland from the rebel menace. And some of you joined at the very last moment in exchange for your family's safe passage to Zephyr. Whether you have been a part of this legion two months or twenty years, we are all one legion.
"I come to you now with glad tidings. His Majesty has granted us the honor the vanguard. We are the point of the spear. We march at dawn! For honor! For glory! For victory!"
In one voice, the Legion shouted in reply, "HONOR! GLORY! VICTORY!"
The Duke drew his sword and raised it high, shaking it to the Legion's refrain.