With Cielmann riverbed, now in flames and ashes under the moonlight, the Madaran army from above was seen to split into several legions, moving towards the direction the river flow towards.
Owl town was left with singular remnants of demolished buildings within every ten-meter radius, and flanking the ruins of the town were countless skeleton soldiers on both sides, the barren lands now reverted to its unilateral sounds of bone clacking.
Between the two endless army lines of the undead were mountain heaps of corpses, the necromancers at that point pre-occupied with choosing bodies near completely intact to reanimate as undead fighters.
The cold snap from the midnight winds of fall, derived from the mountain pass came blowing, seemingly in near synchrony of their eerie spells, leaving the riverbed far more haunting than it already was.
Bloodstaff stood lonesomely against the howling winds of midnight, his Ghoul cloak fluttering as he stood still as a statue, fixated upon a disfigured corpse, one that might have belonged to the Civilian brigade. From the wounds inflicted, it was almost definitely the work of a Phantom of Terror.
Only half his torso was left, his hand still clenching on a rock, one could only imagine how desperate he was to break free of his destiny, but the Phantom of Terror never ceded, and tore his person into half.
Turning towards the far end of the riverbed, the war had ended, nothing alive was left standing in the radius as far as the eye could perceive.
They had achieved complete victory.
As written in the Book of Dark Prophecy, the Eastern Dark kingdom shall rise again.
“Those pathetic Aouine scum must have died not knowing what’s coming for them,” Stood close behind Bloodstaff was a hauntingly pale young man as he remarked, his teeth white as snow.
He had no fangs, and his eyes did not burn with Soul fire as the Black knights did, nor were there any psychic runes on his body. He was no mage of the Undead.
Dressed in a spotless black gown, it was as if he was ready to attend a funeral.
He took a deep breath as he commented, “The magic in these lands was fragrant, sweet as nectar. If this is in the Seas of the Dying Moon, only the Supreme Leader is worthy to rule this land.”
He turned towards Bloodstaff, with pity and arrogance he cynically shook his head, “I can’t seem to fathom, Bloodstaff, how you’d lose to an opponent this pitiful. Regardless, these pathetic insects do not deserve a land this precious, we shall leave this kingdom with only graves and tombstones.”
Bloodstaff scoffed at his remark. These Darkened lords originated from the Seas of the Dying Moon, and legend had it that the Undead mages from those magic-barren lands were ruthless to one another for as long as time was recorded, due to their thirst for magic. Those were the grounds of the Four Wars.
Nevertheless, these despicable individuals were exceptionally powerful, and had invented a spell to draw the half ethereal half bodily Phantoms of Terror from the corpses of Winged dragons, and the spells for Necromancers to command Skeletal Knights, resulting in the greatly improved might of their legion.
With their enhanced armies at play, Aouine was no longer deemed a worthy opponent. To them, be it the Southern Legions or the Vanmier Legions, were hardly any resistance, the only ones they were looking forward to crossing arms with were the Highland Knights.
“There are rumors that the human kingdoms have a White Lion Legion in the north, I wonder how they fight?” The younger of the two proclaimed.
“There was, mind you, for the Southern legion had destroyed them. According to our knowledge, the little princess of theirs have disbanded the army built by her own brother, now it is no longer of any value to this kingdom.”
Aouine’s North-South civil war had only ended for less than four months, Bloodstaff naturally was not clear of the details involved. Regardless, countless rumors and personal experiences from the losing side had seeped into the Darkened kingdom, and he too had chosen to piece the news together into one most would agree to be plausible.
“Then it is not worth a mention.”
The words of contempt from the younger individual resonated beyond with the winds of night, over their heads and into the putrid air. A Phantom of Terror soared through the starry night sky, letting out a deafening screech that shook the earth.
Dozens of similar winged beasts spanned across the riverbed region, ravaging everything that crossed their paths.
From above the clouds, speckles of nether light dotted across the region, forming three immensely orderly rows, like serpents slithering towards its next prey. The serpents’ heads had now crossed beyond the Grinoires passageway and into the Slofavien region. Ahead of them, were the vast low lands terrain.
That was where the Regional Administrative capital, Kurkel Castle was located.
Further away in the Eastern hills region, around the edge of the forests were a small array of fourteen men.
“One, two, three, four…” A malnourished young man with jaundiced skin counted under his breath upon the lights he witnessed down in the riverbed regions.
The closest patch of light from that distance was only the size of fingernails, those even further away were like specks of glowing sand, panned across the entire Cielmann riverbed, leaving the young man paler than he already was.
Once he was done counting, he turned over to the others, “The White Winged Cavalries must have been completely wiped out. Owl town, Roden, Motown, all destroyed in the wake, I’m guessing survivors must be few and far between. Big Thumb and the others came back just a few days ago from Roden and mentioned there weren’t many who fled.
These people must be all dead.”
“You really don’t need to go into details, it’s painful to hear,” The youths on horseback sneered at this declaration. If it was any other day they would be applauding the demise of the White Winged Cavalries, but today, to witness the massacre of entire towns along with them left a bad taste.
Every patch of fire in the darkness were countless lives, now dead, which reminded them of their hometowns, and like the lord commander once mentioned, maybe one day the entire Aouine would end up like this, it was a thought that weighed on them.
The entire party at that moment reacted almost in unison, turning towards the young man in a vest at the far end. Carglise lowered his brass telescope and handed it over to the fledging White Lion Battalion officer.
After the battle of Ampere Seale, this man along with his equally youthful compatriots had matured beyond their delinquency from when their days in Trentheim, and now resembled more of a legitimate militant.
He watched upon his band of young men dressed in Highlander clothing, amongst them must be the ones the Lord commander had rescued from the Schafflund's silver mine.
Brendel once mentioned that these men were born to achieve. He was initially hesitant, but now, with ample evidence, he could safely admit that the lord was right after all, word for word. His talent in predicting the future was truly impeccable.
The youngster named Cowan led the people away from Schafflund, across the Glahar mountains, ambushing the mines within Southern Tusankard Forest when the Southern armies were absent, broken out an army of penal workers, and led them eastward into the Cielmann areas. From them, a renegade community was created amongst their own within these hills.
Cowan made himself king of the mountains, despite being unable to shed the bandits’ perception of his band of merry men from the eyes of the outsiders. These men that he had chosen to break free were specifically the ones penalized for dismissing Nobles, the most genuine of characters and the strongest of wills. Even though they might seem rough on the edges for many, thick-headed even, but there were merits to be discovered from these selected bunch.
The young man especially was not to be underestimated. Carglise contemplated.
“Mr. Carglise, what now, shall we return for the night?” Right then, a younger man on horseback by the side took to ask.
“Shh,” Carglise raised a finger before his lip, hinting at them to stay silent.
“What is the situation?”
The merry band hastily retreated from the flat peaks of the hilltops into the forests from where they came.
About a minute later, a loud gush was heard from above their heads.
The younger men cowering under the bulky trees petrifyingly watched on as silhouettes hovered over them, there were seven in total, flying past one after another. Carglise was the first to pull his horse from lower ground, the White Lion officer shook his head as he blurted, “That’s not a Bone vulture, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Is that a skeletal dragon?” The youngsters babbled within themselves.
Carglise held his hand over his mouth as he shook his head. It was not a Skeletal dragon, for the Skeletal dragons were still dragons, and they carry with them a higher status among the Madara creatures, instilling fear internally and beyond.
He had also met Aloz at Valhalla and was slightly familiar with the mannerisms of a Dragon species. Those that had just flown past him were notably absent of any sign of pride or status, and even for Skeletal dragons, they were significantly smaller.
“They seemed to be looking for a certain something,” Carglise replied, “We’ll stand back and wait it out. They wouldn’t find us as easily in the hills, we’ll wait till dawn, by then the Undead will retreat to defense positions, we can always return by then.”
Dozens of Skeletal knights gave chase across the mountain paths, the metal chainmail on their warhorses clanking and banging as the hoofs clucked across the ground. The galloping however sounded nothing like ordinary horses, they were hollow and empty-ended, easily identifiable as Nether creatures grazing the world of the living.
Eyeing below on towards the valley, the burning soul fire from their eye sockets gazed upon the two frantically escaping human cavalries. They have been taking this route for half an hour now, their mounts visibly reaching their limits.
The leader amongst the Skeletal Knights pointed his Netherworld Iron Scimitar at the direction of the deserters, and upon the signal two dozens Skeletal Knights immediately gave chase, sprinting into the woods and down the slope.
In this terrain, despite the vegetation still being rather untangled, a noticeable number of Skeletal Knights still ran straight into centuries-old trees and smashed their skeleton structures into hundreds of loose bones upon contact. The remaining undead did not bother to turn around to peek at the welfare of their compatriots, for they had only one goal, and it was the track down the prisoners of war.
Running through a hundred meters of forest terrain, they were thrust into grassland territory.
Evan turned back and caught a fair glimpse of the scene. Under the illuminating moonlight, eleven bone structures resembling knights and their mounts sprinted, identifiable by their soul-piercing demonic flames as eyes, came dashing out of the dense forests. Their barren skeletal structures held lances and scimitars gleaming in the moonlight, terrorizing the teenage boy who bothered to peek.
“Shonnary, we’re so dead!”
“Shut the hell up!” Shonnary lambasted, yet deep down knew his life might have come to its timely end in these unwelcoming lands, in the hands of skeletons with infinite stamina to waste away.
They might be giving chase until the break of dawn, but dawn was still hours away. After sprinting at top speeds for thus long, even on mountainous terrain, he knew even the warhorses were closing upon their limits.
“Hey, little brat,” He yelled across.
“What?” Evan huffed and puffed as he replied, his face pale as a ghost, cold sweat dripping down his forehead like he was sick for a plague.
His horseriding skills were the bare minimum and were only trained for leisure horseriding for daily duties. In the face of looming death, however, it was a miracle he had managed to keep the warhorse sprinting in the right direction for this long.
But across all that he experienced within the last few hours, there were more close calls than he would like for several lifetimes, and if it were not for successive strokes of luck, he would have fallen off the cliffs or ran right into the treelines through the dense forests.
“I’ll lead them away, you keep east back into the forests. Once you hit the parts too thick for the horse to proceed, leave her and rush in on foot. Once you get in there you’ll be safe,” Shonnary panted as he advised.
The teenager was petrified. Watching the back of the veteran cavalry, he nearly burst into tears, but painfully tucked it in, “No, we broke free together. You’ve rescued me, I will not leave you, I cannot!”
“If you can’t do it we’re both gonna die you idiot,” Shonnary rebuked.
“Then so be it!”
‘Stop this bullshit kid, we got no reason to give them the satisfaction of getting us both,” Shonnary reprimanded, before he mumbled, “Even if they did, not like it’s that big of an achievement.”
“Then I’ll draw them away. You’ve risked your life for mine once, I’ll repay the favor. That way we’re even,” Evan replied.
Shonnary was dumbfounded as he scoffed, “Cut it out, with your shitty riding skills it’s Marsha’s blessing that you made it this far without dying, now you wanna draw them away? What difference is it gonna make?”
Evan was frustrated beyond means, but none of that said were not the truth.
“Enough talk, you have a fiancee to reunite with, I don’t have anything tying me to this world anymore. I’ll break some chair support in a moment, you’re gonna live and work my part when all of this is over.”
The veteran cavalry shook his head as he continued on, “Listen, newbie, stop acting like a pussy. The favors you owe in battle would stack more than the grains in your dinner bowl. I’ve owed my old comrades too much, and now is my turn to return the favor. You wanna thank me? You best live on.”
Evan stared blankly at him, Shonnary’s determination was clear as day, his resolution decisive and final. Clenching on his teeth, he tried his best not to tear up, yet words could not be muttered as he nodded.
“That’s a good boy.”
Shonnary seemed to be mumbling on to himself, before then unanticipatedly let out a war cry, clenched onto the ropes on his horse, turn his mount around, and went charging towards the Skeletal Knights.
Under the howling winds, it sounded like the roar of a beast.
The teen eventually managed to phrase his words together. “For Aouine.”
Evan then adjusted his gaze forward, tirelessly pushed his warhorse forward, as Shonnary gradually faded into the background.
On the other hand, Shonnary rushed into enemy lines, his sword quickly cut down a Skeletal Knight from his mount, then proceeded to slice through their formation. The simpleton undead was caught off-guard by the sudden change of reaction by their mortal prey, some that had gone beyond stiffly changed course back towards him.
From Evan’s perspective, both his ally and his pursuers vanished from sight. For now at least.
Seconds later, he caught hold of a faint howl from within the corners of the forests.
“You damn skeleton bastards, go back to hell you fucks!”
Evan began coughing vigorously, it was as if the air choked on his windpipe. Yet, he knew that the diversion that Shonnary gifted to him was limited, the skeletons would catch up soon if he falters, he needs to stay vigilant. He needs to make it to the forest.
In the horizons were open meadows at the base of the mountains, flat as the eye could see. Slightly distant were loose forests that were wide and spaced out. It would not suffice to evade the chasing Skeletal Knights.
He frantically pushed his mount forward, circling past the large patch of open forests, strode across what felt like endless grasslands, and then beyond the far edges of the horizon, was a faint patch of black.
Evan was exhilarated. However, it was short as it lasted knowing how far away it was, at least several miles of meadow more. He wouldn’t even place faith on the warhorse going this far more.
Hollow hoofbeats were heard once again across the far end of the horizon. Turning back, his soul froze. There were indeed several Skeletal Knights giving chase by the edge of the preceding forests. As they all came to sight, there were seven in pursuit, four were brought down by Shonnary alone, but even then, he was gravely outnumbered.
“No, I have to live on!” Evan clenched his teeth. His life doesn’t just belong to him now. He had to fight on for his fiancee, for Shonnary, and no matter what stands between that, he had to fight on.
He tightened his legs on the mount, hoping the spurs could push the warhorse a little more, breaking the distance between himself and his pursuers.
Yet right then, Evan could feel his torso lighter than ever, like a huge force dragging him from behind as he hovered into the air, and then painfully collapsing on the ground.
His fall was ill-prepared and as a result, he belatedly felt the pain from the bruises all over his body. It took a while to process what he had just experienced, but as he clawed his way through the dirt, he took a glimpse of his mount, now collapsed on the ground, foaming within its mouth.
Evan can’t help but scream into the night, just about a hundred meters more to safety, but at the nick of time his luck ran out.
He struggled to his feet but promptly collapsed onto the ground from immense pain.
Only then did he realize he fractured one of his legs.
Evan was distraught as the nightmarish riders closed in to where he sat, he held his eyes shut, accepting his fate.
Just then, a silver beam shone through the darkness of the forest before him. A silver beam he felt, prompting him to open his eyes once more, was almost unfathomable to Evan.
Before he could react, the Skeletal Knight first in line came crashing down his horse. His hollow skull pierced through with a still vibrating arrow, right at its core.
What seemed like a light at the end of a dark tunnel was just merely the beginning. Before he could fathom what was about to come, roughly two dozen silhouettes came dashing out of the forests, they were cavalries, but were not affiliated with the White Winged brigades. As the third party approached them, he got a good look at their armors, shimmering under the moonlight, and on the armors, the golden mane of a roaring lion.
Knights brushed past him from the opposite direction, thunderous gallops were heard, the teenager felt like he was dreaming. Within the deepest corners of his memories, he recalled that he was once informed of this specific army.
“Soldiers, keep close to me, we’ll crush these boneheads!”
Carglise’s roar echoed through the valley.