Chapter 5
Smiting the Dragon

AZ 1455 - Late Spring
The Ruins of Naus, The Darklands

Beasts and vermin, though they be the very spawn of Hades itself, were no match for the Army of Light. Disease and despair were the greater scourges, but those who succumbed to weakness were not fit to enter into their promised glory.
Once the Locusts were cleared out of Naus, the ruined city was fortified as the Army of Light's stronghold while a portion of their forces returned south to destroy the Kobaloi and their forest. All the while, smaller detachments were dispatched to scout in all directions in search of their next opponent. If they ventured further northward, perhaps they would encounter the King's legions, if any of them still survived under the Devil Queen.
Lord Stephanos was delivering the daily report. There was not much to speak of. It had been weeks since anything noteworthy had happened.
Nearing the end of his report, Lord Stephanos said, "And still no word from the eastern scouting party, Your Holiness. It has been three days past their scheduled return. I fear the worst."
"Then perhaps they have succeeded in their mission all the same and shown us where the enemy awaits," the Archbishop mused.
"Perhaps, Your Holiness, but--"
"Recall our forces in the south. The remnants of the Kobaloi can be dealt with later. I want the Army of Light to march in force."
"But, Your Holiness," Lord Stephanos said, "we have no guarantee that it was the enemy. There are many hazards in these cursed lands."
The Archbishop would not be deterred and replied, "Then we will see these hazards with our own eyes."
Lord Stephanos bowed.
"As you say, Your Holiness."
It would take several days to reassemble the Army of Light, but the preparations could begin right away.
Lord Stephanos had barely stepped out when the alarm sounded and voices cried out, "Movement to the east! In the air and on the land! To arms! To arms!"
Stepping out of his tent, the Archbishop sniffed derisively.
"More of the vermin? There must be another nest nearby."
Lord Stephanos was not so quick to answer. He quickly made his way up to the walls with the Archbishop following behind. Once atop the wall, he look out to the formless mass out on the horizon.
"No..." he muttered, mostly to himself. "It is not the Locusts. Something else..."
This gave the Archbishop pause. His eyes were not so keen as they once were, but even miles out, he could tell that the approaching formation did not resemble the swarms of Locusts that had attacked them before. Indeed, it was something else, but what?
The buccinae sounded again and the call was echoed throughout the camp.
"To arms! To arms!"
"Whatever it is, we will be ready for them," Lord Stephanos vowed.
As the men were taking up their weapons and forming ranks, it did not take long for sharper-eyed souls to discern what was coming.
"It cannot be! Dragons!"
Dragons? So the rumors were true. There were Dragons in these lands. The stories only spoke of Dragons appearing one or two at a time, but there had to be scores upon scores of them.
Any ordinary man would be terrified at such a sight, but no fear stirred in the Archbishop's heart, for the Light was with him. This was the day he had been waiting for.
"And so the Noctifer sends the most fierce of his creatures against us. Truly we are blessed!"
Weak-hearted as ever, Father Heraclion quailed, "Your Holiness, they are too many! We cannot possibly stand against them!"
It took all of the Archbishop's self-control not to strike Father Heraclion with his staff. He would make a believer of this coward yet.
"How many works must be wrought before you believe, Father Heraclios?" the Archbishop asked sharply. "This day you will see your doubt perish within you." Raising his staff, he shouted, "Lord Stephanos! Ready the Darts of Saint Mikaelos!"
"Yes, Your Holiness," Lord Stephanos replied.
"The Light is with us!" the Archbishop declared.
All within earshot replied, "It is with us indeed!"
The Darts of Saint Mikaelos were a secret weapon prepared for this very event. The Nanoi had crafted ballistae capable of loosing multiple bolts in rapid succession. During their attack on Kalonis, they very nearly killed the Dragon following around the freelances called the Hawks of Maranthe. When the Archbishop learned of this, he dispatched agents to the Nanoi to purchase thirty of these ballistae for their weight in gold. Redubbed 'the Darts of Saint Mikaelos', these ballistae were held in reserve until now. Now they would see if these ballistae were worth the price they paid.
"Save the Darts of Saint Mikaelos for the large ones," the Archbishop told Lord Stephanos. "Spears will suffice for the small ones."
"As you say, Your Holiness."
As the Dragons drew ever closer, Father Heraclios said, "Your Holiness, we should take cover."
"No," the Archbishop replied. "We will remain here and bear witness to our enemies being delivered into our hand."
The Dragons were now close enough that the Archbishop could distinguish one kind from the other. Most of them were little bigger than horses. These did not concern the Archbishop much, but there were others much more fitting the name and dread reputation of Dragons, about twoscore in number. Be it two score or two hundred score, they would prevail.
"Why do you not order the men to march out to meet these beasts?" the Archbishop asked Lord Stephanos.
"These creatures move much faster than any man, Your Holiness," Lord Stephanos replied. "In these ruins, at least, they cannot move so freely."
The Archbishop would rather see the Army of Light take bolder action against these foes, but perhaps this time of testing called for an extra measure of prudence. Whatever bestial intellect the Dragons were supposed to possess, it did not prompt any similar caution, however.
About a third portion of the Dragons' number were winged varieties that flew ahead of their earthbound cousins to claim the first kills. They flew in formation as birds in migration, straight as arrow, with much terrible shrieking and roaring. They could not possible have presented an easier target for the Darts of Saint Mikaelos.
The wretched beasts barely had the chance to begin spewing the hellfire that burned in their gullets when their formation was torn to pieces by the rain of black bolts. The small ones were killed instantly most of the bigger ones fell from the sky after taking three or four bolts. The few that were still in the air scattered. It was a blow well struck, but the battle was far from won.
"Quickly! Finish them off!"
"Watch the skies! There's still more of them!"
"Men to the front! Form up! Form up!"
"Courage, men! The Light is with us!"
The men's attention was now divided among the Dragons who remained in the skies, the wounded scattered about in the city and the oncoming wave of earthbound Dragons. There were men enough to go around, but this did complicate matters further.
The Archbishop paced along the wall to watch the battle continue to unfold. One of the great black Dragons had fallen not far off. It was thrashing about and howling, wounded with several bolts. A swipe of its tail smashed through a low wall as rows of spearmen approached. Their javelins bounced harmlessly off its thick scales and the Dragon responded by burning dozens with its unnatural purple-black flames.
An ordinary ballista was rolled forward and its bolt sank into the Dragons throat. It choked and gurgled on its own blood. Even from a distance, the Archbishop's skin crawled as waves of dark energy swept off its body. Those closest to the beast instantly fell over dead. Holy mages came forward to loose bolts of light at the creature. The black shell of the Dragon's power resisted for a time but was then overwhelmed as the light pierced through its dark power, then seared cleanly through scale, flesh and bone. With a cry, the Dragon collapsed in death.
A fresh howl rose above all the din of battle and ruined buildings were smashed apart as the second black Dragon, the larger of the two, rushed to the side of its fallen companion. Seeing the other dead, it let out a low, mournful lowing that rattled the bones. Its huge body shook and the scarlet of its underbelly deepened. Even its black scales took on a reddish hue. All the while, it was gathering power, so much that even one not attuned the magical arts like the Archbishop could sense it.
When the Dragon's power reached its peak, it reared back its and spewed out an intense stream of white-hot fire in a wide arc hundreds of feet in diameter. Nothing in the flames' path could survive. Even stone melted from the intense heat. The devastation was total, but the breath of fire was the Dragon's last and it too collapsed amidst the fiery ruin it left behind.
With the death of the two black Dragons, a change immediately swept over those that remained. Before they attacked as if they were of one mind, singular in purpose with orderly formation to rival the most disciplined army. Now, however, they seemed to revert to mere beasts, a disorganized mob that turned on each other as readily as the men of the Army of Light.
The flames of the black Dragon's dying breath could be felt even from the distance where the Archbishop stood, but he smiled all the same. The battle was won. All that remained was to hunt down the rest like the animals they were.
The Archbishop looked down at Father Heraclios, who was cowering on the ground, and said, "Do you see, Father Heraclios? At long last, do you see? Nothing the Noctifer can set against us will prevail, for the Light is with us."