“What is the Madaran commander doing?” The First Cavalry Brigade Captain Valerie had the same question in mind. Raising her head, the magic luminescence on the other end of the battlefield from the strange gestures that the army of the undead was doing caught her eye.
The opposing legion was leisurely moving forward, albeit almost lackluster in the face of their aggressive charge. At a pace closer to that of an elderly on the verge of death, the enemy, she was certain would not be able to face them head-on upon collusion.
With the left flank of the Madaran army now exposed to direct assault from two Aouine divisions at once, her deductions were that even if her cavalry divisions were to tear a rift within the opposing formation, they could hardly make it on time to surround them.
It was a golden opportunity.
Yet their enemies’ reply to the charging from Valerie and her cavalries was by separating into two parts within themselves, seeming awaiting their entry. If the enemy were humans, a common explanation was that the opposing army had lost the will of battle and was on the verge of crumbling, and all that was left from them to do was to fend off the remaining army.
But as a captain of the cavalry army and one adapted to the tides of war, notably with an enemy that was ubiquitously known to be devoid of any emotion, could it be the manipulating Necromancers that were affected? She wondered.
Is someone flanking the Madaran legion from the back? Just when she began to see their situation as a fluke, something occurred around the edges of the vision that instantly mellowed her spirits.
She watched as a silhouette began to take shape at the end of the strait from between the Undead legion, it was not the bulky Ghouls or the Crusaders, or even the Black Knights that were churning soul fire from beneath their obsidian armor. It was a peculiar knight, riding on a skeleton of a horse, armored with chain mail black as the night under the new moon.
Shrouded in the mists, riding the skeletal warhorses, wielding lances were just a handful in the beginning, but as the wedge between the Undead legion grew bigger, the actual army size became clearer to the eye of their mortal adversaries.
Valerie was stupefied, her eyes forced wide from shock. Behind the Skeletal archers packed like sardines were an immaculately aligned row of cavalry soldiers, which almost certainly were not Black Knights, as there were never that many. And with a cavalry army lined side by side for almost a mile, the unknown army formed a wall dark as coal.
“Hold, change course!” Greeted by the ominous sight, Valerie felt like a thorn wedged into her heart, she finally came to identify what was actually awaiting them.
It was a trap and they took the bait.
Skeletal Knights, an unforeseen new army rank created by the Kingdom of Madara.
On the other side of the battlefield, a piercing whistle was heard. Valerie turned across to look, and knew Wunce had too noticed the strange knights, they were quick to realize. Unbeknownst to them however were the actual military size of their enemy, but one thing was for sure, they were greatly outnumbered.
If the Skeletal Knights could catch up to them on horseback, the chances of them winning was dispiritingly slim. This could spell disaster for the White Winged Cavalries.
Even though they were effective, they were exposed. If they were bogged down by their Undead equivalent, the tens of thousands of Skeletal foot soldiers would catch up, and there would only be an ending left for the rest of them.
A brutal death, and to be reanimated as one of these feign, soulless monsters.
If the Grimoires passage loses this cavalry legion, that would mean the Cielmann river bed all the way to Karsuk would be left completely exposed, effectively boring a hole to which hostile forces could trample onwards. The region would fall, and it was an outcome Valerie could not even imagine happening.
That could be a replica of the War of the Black Roses once again, maybe even worse. Now that most of the Southern forces were still in Ampere Seale, once Grimoires had fallen, the only semblance of a defense army left would be in Karsuk.
The White Winged Cavalries seemed to have realized the significance of the battle they were in, as the experienced knights almost seamlessly, one after another changed course at top speed. But to Valerie, it was all still too slow. Anxious, she turned towards the encroaching Skeletal knights, noticing that they were gaining momentum, the entire legion functioned like a massive robotic beast.
Right then, the female knight finally understood the true capabilities of the Skeletal knights, and was quickly reminded of another terrifying truth, that this legion, like the Black Knights, does not tire.
She felt a chill down her spine.
Just then, all hope was placed upon the command of Walter the Deputy squad leader. What was deeply unsettling to her was that the commander did not order for retreat. Is he planning to bury the entire White Winged cavalry division here tonight?! To prove the terror of the Madaran army by sacrificing the entire legion?
Valerie panickingly turned back ahead, facing towards the hills on the northern side, hoping she would see the predetermined signal, but alas, none was present.
Right then, a haunting screech resonated above the entire battlefield. The mortals all turned their heads to the skies in near unison, and within their sights were rapidly increasing numbers of air-borne beasts.
The town at that point had become a sea of inferno, every corner engulfed in raging blue flames. Besides the defense structures flimsily built in a hurry by the Patrol Knights or the White Winged cavalries, which by now were ransacked and demolished, the town was littered with corpses at every corner. Uniforms of patrol knights, White Winged cavalry, or other police squads, donned by their owners as they took their last breaths. The owners all had one thing in common, they were by then drenched in pools of blood, and were no longer alive.
Evan’s vision ever so briefly paused upon the dead bodies all around himself, as they gradually navigated past these areas of the town, with a small team of other members closely behind. He just received news that the first beast to visit the town, the one first perched on the clock tower of the cathedral had murdered their coach. It was a beast they were all familiar with, the Phantom of Terror.
There was worse news, that Bucce’s first cavalry platoon had been obliterated during the battle of the alleys, Commander Portland was murdered, and the entire platoon crumbled. The very few that lived had no longer any will to fight on but had only one thought left in mind, to make it out alive.
Just a moment ago all of them were enthusiastic to fight for Aouine, the beauty of a dream, only for reality to turn out so brutally painful, a lesson they took like a cold snap in the dead of winter.
The only form of reassurance Evan had at that point was that Lonnie’s carriage had left the town before the battle began. Since he heard arrangements that the White Winged cavalries were fighting in the outer radius of the town, that would mean his lover and her family would have made it safely en route to Darth Venfarno.
Regardless, what lies in the future should be the last of his concerns, he thought. With the Madaran legion of Undead overwhelming their soldiers from all sides, the young man began growing suspicious as to whether they could even defend the town at all.
The rugged group of youngsters crept across the town, one nearly unrecognizable to them at this point. Like vagrants scouring for their next shelter, they were however abruptly halted before they managed to cover any semblance of an escape route.
Across the only street leading out of town, there was a huge ongoing battle between the Madaran skull-heads and the Civilian Brigade, a battle so lopsided it was a massacre in the making.
There were no survivors on sight. The Necromancers reanimated the fresh corpses, soldiers that were just fighting for the glory of Aouine a minute ago, now brought back to their feet to fight another day, as a demonic spawn.
“It’s Rola and the gang, they’re all dead,” A Patrol Knight replied, albeit rather dispiritedly.
Evan’s expression changed from bad to worse. Watching the civilian brigades, townsfolk that he met out and about on any ordinary day in the town, now become something nauseatingly supernatural. Watching the ghastly Necromancers from across the street, he clenched his teeth.
“Shit we have the worst luck, take heed boys, a Necromancer!” Madon the Deputy Captain replied, with his sword out he declared, “We’ve gotta find a way to kill him off, or else we’d be trapped here longer than we should. The Necromancer’s power is in his staff, try catching his attention, I’ll cut off his cursed arms. If we maim him, this fight can still go on!”
Evan side-eyed him upon the remark, clearly not too enthusiastic about it, “Be careful,” He warned, “Look here, there were supposed to be at least three to four squads of Civilian troops. This is the only road leading out from the town, and they were supposed to be the final stronghold.”
“What is your point?”
“Teacher thought us that the Necromancer can lead up to a dozen skeletal troopers, you cannot fight that many.”
“I disagree,” Madon shook his head, “Those are Civilians brigades, they never had any fighting prowess to begin with. We’re different, we’re occupational soldiers.”
Evan noted Madon’s clear reluctance of taking advice of any sort from himself and decisively chose to keep his silence. He then turned back and hinted at the others, signaling them to attack all at once upon notice, to draw the Necromancer’s attack.
The distance between themselves and their adversary was just a mere fifty meters, their concern was not too much on a direct attack, after all, they had an advantage in numbers, and the Necromancer could only summon about two to three Skeletal foot soldiers at once.
Madon might be right, the Civilian brigade must be overpowered in a battle setting like this, there were even instances where Civilian brigades were overwhelmed by mere skeletal soldiers, so it made sense that they were terrified of their encounter and lost their composure.
Notwithstanding however the Skeletal Archers hiding within burning buildings that were causing a great deal of disruption, nearly half of all dead and wounded were caused by just two undead archers within the protections of the crumbling building.
Fortunately for them, however, despite the battle going sideways from their initial expectations, the Necromancer’s puppets were brought down one after another from their hands.
Right at that moment, Madon saw an opening and would not see himself missing it. He subtly dashed to the other side of the building hidden under the shadows, stealthily closing in on the Necromancer, with his sword drawn and ready to blow.
But the unexpected happened.
“Madon, watch your head!” Evan shouted. He was never too confident with Madon at the helm, for he was always fixated on only one direction.
Just when Madon was about to land his stealth attack, a silhouette swooped down from the clouds.
The scene was all too familiar, it was how their instructor died.
Madon belatedly noticed the threat, but tragically for the Deputy team leader of the Patrol Knights squad, it was seconds too late. Pieces of debris and tiles came crashing down on him, and before he could come to his senses, the beast clawed him by the shoulder, its razor-sharp claws pierced through his collar bone and armor effortlessly, and uprooted him from the ground.
Madon howled in pain as the beast was finally visible for the rest to see.
It was like a shrunk version of the Skeletal dragon, only a skeletal structure covering its body, paired with a massive skull with soul fire filling its sockets, like light beams within a chilling void.
It had a pair of razor-sharp teeth, its only difference with the Skeletal Dragon was its noticeable, pointy beak.
“Phantom of Terror!”
Someone took to yell out its identity, but it was easily the worst decision made. It did not save Madon by any means, far from it instead, as the Phantom of Terror snapped the skull of the Deputy Captain like it was a twig, his body then lifelessly toppled onto the ground like a deflated football.
The Phantom promptly discarded Madon’s beheaded body and went on to look for its next prey, while letting out a deafening screech.
Evan could feel a chill to his spine, his mind went blank, everyone around him was much more alert however as they instinctively darted to safety. A Patrol Knight member let out a terrified shriek, then frantically turned around running for his life. Regardless, just steps away, he was shot by a green beam, his body then rapidly inflated into a balloon and blew up like a pop of blood and innards.
That scene left everyone petrified, not to mention the Necromancer that was also within close proximity.
And they were no easy opponents.
Evan watched as the monstrosity lifted its skull staff, and despite his intention to hide, he was completely paralyzed.
Shonnary solemnly held Rosa’s eyes shut. The female knight’s last glimpse of the world before her life was taken was the empty night sky above her. The Necromancer blew a gaping hole through her heart, so clearly defined all the organs within the circular radius were disintegrated and were left completely unidentifiable.
He was dead silent, taking off his uniform to wrap it over her. They have met for quite some time, experiencing the War of the Black Roses, along with a few other significant battles side by side.
Within the cavalries, their battle experience moved them up the ranks, and were now both Non-commissioned officers.
Nevertheless, what first appeared as a border skirmish became the last farewell between the partners.
Even though they were both emotionally prepared for the abrupt departure of their partner many times throughout the past year, it was still not something he could get accustomed to.
As for the opposing side, new army types were built, ones like the Phantoms of Terror, only seen in the battlegrounds of Karsuk, were now visibly present within the command of the Darkened Lords. Even the Necromancer count was unusually high.
If it were not for their premature assumptions of the army size of their enemies, leading to the massive blunder of leaving themselves wide after the first Necromancer and the phantom, providing an opening for the second Necromancer to take its shot, Rosa would still be alive to fight another day. Shonnary was riled up by the rage within him, furious with the scouts that were non-existent leading towards their disastrous ambush.
He watched somberly upon Rosa’s face, giving it the final attention he could offer, before bringing himself back on his two feet and giving his surroundings a good look.
The streets were littered with corpses, many were defaced and decapitated, but there were also a few that were rather well preserved.
Most of which were at least pierced through by arrows one or two. He then halted out of the blue and took notice of one of the faces within the heaps of death. It was one-half of the young couple that was a while ago rather melodramatically confessing their love for each other.
“What a pity,” He mumbled as he walked towards him.
“I guess it’s fate that I’ve seen you before, kid.” He grunted, “Let me do you a little favor so this doesn't look too tragic,” He thought to himself as he dragged the body from within the debris.
Just as he held onto those motionless hands, he was rather spooked to feel a pulse, warmth even, “This bastard’s not dead,” He came to his senses, applying pressure to his chest, even slapping him on the face in attempts to wake him up.
Evan regained consciousness and was greeted by the blood-stained face of Shonnary, a face he too found familiar. They met eyes when he was by the Administrative building, the prideful fellow was with a female knight, “I can’t believe you’re dead too…” He drowsily uttered.
“What the fuck are you rambling about?” Shonnary smacked him on the face, “Wake the hell up you twat! It's your lucky day that you met me. If you’d like to meet your little girlfriend again, get your shit together.”
“I’m not dead?” Evan appeared instantly invigorated by the revelation, “Really?” His tears began flowing down his cheeks the next moment.
Shonnary was dumbfounded by the pathetic boy before himself, on the verge of just kicking him back on the ground for good. But after giving it a fair thought, he sighed and turned back longingly at Rosa.
“Alright alright that’s enough, be a man for once,” He reached out and helped the teenager to his feet, “The town is completely wiped out, there are no other survivors left here. I’m guessing you know the way around here, take us out of this cursed place.”
Evan looked him in the eye and frantically nodded.
Valarie understood that the White Winged cavalries were done for, yet what she could not fathom was why the Deputy Squad Leader did not provide any response at all. Could he have left long ago? But that made no sense to her.
She watched as the Skeletal knight thrust the lance into her heart, with a twist she felt her life rapidly seeping out from her body. Painfully lifting her head to make a final glance of her surroundings, all she saw were heaps of corpses of her forgone allies.
But that meant nothing, for now, she was on her way to join them, she thought.
Wunce was dead, now Valarie too, the remaining White Winged knights were crippled and scattered, countless Phantoms of Terror prevented their chances of escape. The entire battlefield at this point was like a cursed painting of death and catastrophe, soul fire from across the hills manifested itself forward.
The Skeleton army hunted down the deserting cavalries. On foot, it was only a matter of time before the tireless undead caught up to the weary soldiers in a stamina race mortals could never win.
Evan stood petrified as he watched the events played out before his eyes.
He had always assumed the tragedy that befell the town was just part of the war, but now it seemed less of a war, but more a massacre in session.
Shonnary was equally disheartened. He knew for a fact that the White Winged cavalries were obliterated, he knew better than Evan did, but he never thought the battle would be this one-sided, he was certain that the Second and Third Brigade would be able to make it out alive.
In the worst possible scenario he could think of, the Second or the Third brigade, upon being cut off from the rest, he was expecting at least one of them to make it out alive. But now, all hope seemed to be lost, what he could think about at that point were that the remaining Madaran legion could now march across the Grinoires passage unhindered.
The Southern border had fallen.
And now with just the two of them left against the odds of the entire visible night sky plagued with the Phantoms of Terror, his final objective was to escape in one piece.
“What...what’s gonna happen to us?” Evan stared at the knight as he timidly mumbled. The horse that he was riding even belonged to Rosa. He wasn’t too accustomed to riding a horse just yet, but with the circumstances he was in, he was hardly given a choice. Thankfully for the Patrol Knight training he had, he was ruled out of being strapped to the horse.
“Go east,” Shonnary gloomily replied, “The Eastern Molehills are our only chance of survival. There are some bandits and rascals within those mountains, let’s hope they are keen to offer refuge to the likes of us.”
Bandits and rascals.
Evan instinctively stared at the direction, vaguely recalling that there was indeed a band of petty criminals of the kind, but they were mostly the responsibilities of the Civilian brigade and the Knights patrol, and less of theirs.
“They seemed to be from the Tusarkand, truly the most brutal among even misfits, will they even take us in?” He couldn’t help but ask.
“Bandits or phantoms, choose one.”
“Bandits.” The boy replied almost instantly.