Epilogue
The Last Stand of the Iron Wall

AZ 1456 - Spring
Near the Ruins of Talis, The Darklands

The Queen gave her life to destroy the Monarch Lich. Without their master to control them, the fell beasts of the land reverted to simple ravening animals. No great power remained in the Darklands, but it was no less deadly in their absence.
Lord Aristides assumed command and ordered the remnants of the invasion force to withdraw back to Talis to return home at long last. The march was long and brutal, hounded at every step by packs of fell beasts. That was not all, either. The enchantments that transported food and water from Zephyr were broken by the great release of energy when the Monarch Lich was destroyed. They had to make do with what they had. The mages could provide for some of their lack, but precious few remained. Even with strict rationing, there would never be enough to sustain them throughout the voyage home, but this was kept secret lest the men turn on each other or surrender to despair.
When they reached Talis, part of Xenomachos feared that they would not find the fleet waiting for them, but even from a distance, he could see the ships in the red waters of the bay.
"I didn't believe this day would come, milord," Sir Nicephoros said.
"Neither did I, to be honest," Xenomachos replied, "but God in His mercy has spared a remnant of His people."
"Home is still a long way away, milord, but I'll feel better when I see blue skies again."
"Blue skies... It has been so long..."
Xenomachos had almost forgotten what blue skies even looked like. There was no time to think on it, though, for buccinae were sounding the alarm back in the rear of the formation. Xenomachos broke away to get a better look. The hills to north teemed with scores of little black dots. Fell beasts. More than he had seen in a long time. Too many to be a random pack. The last stroke of the Noctifer's cruel spite.
The rear was lightly defended. They could not fend off so many nor could they move quick enough to escape the fast approaching beasts. Something had to be done and even so close to being free, Xenomachos did not hesitate.
"Go!" he shouted, waving the men on ahead. "I will hold them back!"
Not waiting for a word of protest to be raised against him, Xenomachos rode to the rear of the formation. Taking his place in the middle of the road, he steadied his lance and braced himself for the coming wave. These creatures could not resist swarming upon a single victim. Even as one man, he could hold them back for a time, time enough to give the stragglers more of a chance to get to the ships.
He heard the clopping of hooves on the worn pavestones as Sir Nicephoros took up a place next to him. He was then joined by the few cataphracts who remained in the Legion and about as many heavy infantry.
"What are you doing?" Xenomachos asked harshly. "I said I would hold them back."
"We will hold them back, milord," Sir Nicephoros replied.
Xenomachos looked at his men and saw their resolve. He would not deny them this honor.
"Very well," he said. He raised up his lance and shouted, "Steel yourselves, men! We are the iron wall!"
The men roared in assent. Sixty lives in exchange for six thousand. It was cheap price after all the blood that had already been paid. Hopefully theirs would be the final sacrifice.