The Amber Sword - v5c26

Under the forest floors were the fleeing cavalry and their servants. To witness the current state of the battlefield for these unfledged Viero shoulders were akin to that of witnessing the arrival of an apocalypse, leaving them reeling from the terror that had befallen upon them.

Sensing that the Phantoms of Terror were giving chase, they were helpless and distraught, ready for their demise in an unfamiliar land. The privates were shaking as their legs began giving way to the horror befolding. They unabashedly dropped their weapons and scampered into every direction. 

In a turn of an eye, the army was utterly decimated. 

The Phantoms’ claws were like claw machines dangling in mid-air, and with every swift swoop over the hapless mortals below, futile cries were promptly heard echoing into the valley. 

Through the chilling howls and hollow cries, the guts and organs came slipping out of the torso as it was ripped into half. After an ear-shattering shriek, what remained of the disfigured torso came crashing down mid-air as blood splattered across its radius. 

Dropping off worn load, the Phantoms of Terror once again took flight as they shot out of the forest canopy and back into the air.

The High Commander of the Viero army, Count Jacques watched in horror as the events unfolded, three to four dozens of the Phantom of Terrors flapped their wings over the overcast sky, circling over and terrorizing the mortals below. What remained of the cavalry haphazardly ran into the safety of the woods. Due to the disastrous evacuation, many died without even coming into contact with the Phantoms of Terror. Instead, they were killed by the unforgiving forest terrain, be it from tripping, running straight into the outgrown trees and branches, or just mercilessly trampled to death by other soldiers within their ranks.

With the mindless stomping and trampling, a careless trip could mean the end. 

One to two thousand men were chased into the dense forests like scattering rats in the light was truly a depressing yet oddly humorous sight. If they were willing to pause, turn back and give their enemy a second thought, they might have made a more sustainable escape. But here they were, consumed by their own fear and dying unceremoniously as a result. 

A handful of Noble commanders and cavalry members of higher standing from the Viero Legion watched as tragic scenes played out, but none found it hilarious, not even the slightest. 

Count Jacques turned around and murmured his orders, then came a few bishops dressed in red robes and pointy hats, with their holy item in one hand each and the Divine bible of the Holy Cathedral in another as they emerged from within the shrouded darkness of the woods. 

Encircling the cavalries next to them, they began reciting. Before long, a white glow radiated from the Divine bibles within their grasps, slowly rising upwards and intersecting with one another, forming a spherical barrier around the entire legion.

Count Jacques felt the warmth in his heart, it was not from any actual effect of the recital, but it was the barrier that was forming that truly soothed the tension and the sense of impending doom saturating his mind just a moment ago.

It was a blessing of strength, the rattled Noble privates under the recitals of the Holy Cathedral bishops finally found a glimpse of solace.

“This is the barrier of fear. These wailing beasts must be of higher levels,” Jacques held onto his sword as he informed the others.

Compared to his traumatized colleagues, Count Jacques, who was a veteran of the War of Black Roses, was among the selected few that had ever gone head to head with Madaran forces.

On this issue, Duke Viero named him a trusted acquaintance, and previously when the princess came to the Duke for advice with Brendel’s letter in hand he was chosen as the spokesperson in reply.

Back then, however, he heeded no advice from Brendel, for in his rigid perceptions, the dark creatures lurking to the east of Aouine were nothing but pesky lowlifes who were capable of little, and the reason they had even any advantage at all during the War of the Black Roses was that Aouine defenses at the Bucce region were weak and mismanaged in the first place.

The comparison he had in mind was Karsuk, where the Highland Knights stood guard and unsurprisingly the Madarans were kept at bay. 

But fast forward to a year later now, Count Jacques was visibly shaken, for the Madaran armies before his eyes were drastically different from the one he met in Viero.

In his last encounter, the undead adversaries during his defense in Viero, despite their terrifying appearances, were merely disjointed skeleton structures flimsily marching towards them. The Madaran army then launched their attacks through the forests and managed to cripple the village recruits.

But with solid footing from his trusted cavalry paired with a swift retaliation, they realized the skeleton armies were not much of an issue after all. What truly posed a significant threat were the Necromancers. Nevertheless, with skill levels tallying to that of his cavalry directly under his command, they were promptly defeated.

Naturally, the Count himself, smothered by his own ignorance, was oblivious of the fact that the troops that invaded Viero were under Frostclaw, who was a Ghoul. Ghouls were the lowest-ranked of Madara’s Dark leaders, equalling only to the direct subordinates of Count Jacques’ cavalry today.

Their surprise assault into Viero back then was only to avoid the powerful Highland Knights up north, while hoping to snatch a tiny advantage for themselves. Like Planchet, they were shallow-minded, and more unfortunate was for them to fall right into Count Jacques’ feet.

They were engaged in direct combat and were on nearly equal footing. Jacques came out of that war losing most of his cavalry, while Frostclaw lost significant numbers of Necromancers, resulting in his fall from grace, before eventually being consumed by other more powerful factions within the Madaran Empire. 

He was further oblivious that the initial invasion of Bucce was actually the elite forces of the Madaran War of the Black Roses, for Yinstar Dragon and Tagus were the close acquaintances of the Supreme Leader. One-Eyed dragon Tagus was even known to be highborn. The Vampire house until the era superseding the Battle of Slanted Forest was the most trusted power to the Madaran Emperor. 

The army that Bloodstaff had with him now, despite his commanders notably less glamorous than that of the Yinstar and Tagus duo, had the additional strength of the Dark Mercenaries of the Seas of the Dying Moon in their formations, and were now significantly more powerful than that of Yinstar’s army back in the War of the Black Roses. 

The stark contrast was now crystal clear in the eyes of Count Jacques, as his heart sunk to the depths of hell.

He might be an experienced veteran, and had shown hardly any change in facial expression besides the inaudible murmuring of “Advanced undead creatures”, but he knew best himself, that it was just words from hearsay. 

Count Jacques’ colleagues clearly knew his theatrics and did not offer much consolidation. They watch the Terror Phantoms behind them, before there came a few dozen more. 

Navigating across the gradually flattening mountain slopes, over the Linden forests, and then atop another row of modest hilltops. As the Terror Phantoms gave chase, despite still a distance away, they struck deep into the spirits of the hapless mortal army.

The peak they were on was facing the Bernicel riverbed, and on the opposite shores of the riverbed, the fleeing cavalries were still several miles away. On the right corner was a stretch of dense pine forest, within it were heavily armed foot soldiers lurking, shielding the crossbow infantry from being picked out. 

This was originally an impressive blockade terrain, the cavalry on the left wing could effectively draw the Madaran legion of the Undead into this open riverbed of two dozen miles wide, earning the Trentheim and Lantonilan legions some precious time. 

However, owing to the fact that the formations were now non-existent and the cavalry was in shambles, the heavily armored foot soldiers and crossbow infantry lost the outward protection from the cavalries, left to fend for themselves. 

One of Duke Viero’s renowned knights eventually managed to distinguish that the Terror Phantoms were at least mid-silver level beasts, which meant they were Class Four creatures at the very least, leaving everyone else petrified.

Over a hundred of these Class Four creatures could single-handedly annihilate all of the nearly four thousand Noble infantry on the spot.

Weighing in on their circumstances, Count Jeelin and Count Bormousse were insisting on a retreat with the reason of retaining the size of the remaining Allied forces.

If they could escape before all four thousand of them were completely obliterated by the time the Lantonilan army arrives, or to withdraw half of the twelve divisions by then, they could at least ready themselves to fight another day. Otherwise, the events of the Cielmann riverbed were bound for a recurrence.

The Noble cavalry were all keen on the idea, all but Count Jacques, who was laughing maniacally. He knew what they meant from that, despite sounding all noble and tactical, it was all just a thin veil of their cowardice. The decision to attack was a unilateral decision earlier when the battle seemed like one they were bound to win, but now seeing that it was no longer the case, their instincts were to gutlessly retreat. 

Of course, it was not something Count Jacques would find hard to believe, after all, he himself was hardly a noble person. But are these bastards idiots? Does it still look like the ball is with us?! He was furious. 

As he contemplated, he was trying his best to soothe his nerves. In comparison to his compatriots, he was at least more of a strategist.

Count Jacques thrust his sword into the ground as he sneered, “The count authorized me to command this Allied army, because he trusts that I would be loyal and true to our Mother Nation of Aouine, to be the voice of reason to you lot. That said, do you think there is honor in a retreat without a battle?”

Count Jeelin as a close friend of Jacques was dumbfounded. What the hell is he thinking? Has he gone mad?

He had encountered those madmen of the royal sect, he knew his friend was not like them. Peeking over, he was anticipating the reveal of what his true intentions were.

Other noblemen had the same thought, but from their gazes upon Count Jacques, there was notable tension and hostility.

It was an unspoken rule amongst the wealthy circle, if one was to be completely fair and unyielding, one will have to keep it starkly isolated from the benefit of other Nobles, or their lives. If either was breached, then it was no longer within the protection of the law on the discrimination and intolerance from within the Noble circle.

The Aouine of today was far from its glory days of the prehistoric era, as Brendel had put it. The nation-founding King Erik’s court of Nobles was respectable and honorable, carving from these barren and untamed lands a kingdom of their own. But generations after, their descendants had long lost the drive and dignity of their forefathers and were now just scheming and power-hungry scums.

But what Jacques was beginning to piece together was the utter confusion on how short-sighted and remarkably stupid his fellow well-off friends were. 

Eyeing the disgruntled fools with a sense of disgust he decidedly took to clarify,
“So you boys are thinking of a retreat, don’t you? Oh, so all of you can outrun those Skeletal knights now? Or can you outrun those flying bastards in the sky? Whole bunch of idiots, this is our only chance of survival, we have to fortify this stretch of the forest until the Lantonilan army arrives. Naturally, if you‘d like to run just go for it, if you like the odd 1 percent chance of you squeezing past the horde of undead right outside these woods!”

Count Jacques’ words were stern yet solemn, as he let out a prolonged sigh. Not sure why, in the face of death I’m glad I said what I said. Somebody has to be the sane one here, and for once it’s nice to know that’s me.

Everyone else was stupefied. 

These Noble lords, despite carrying the title of Viero’s regional guards and cavalries, were mostly just inherited positions from being wealthy and respectable figures within the region.

In the face of war, they had no experience of tactical skill to speak off. For the citizens of Viero, deep within the boundaries of the kingdom, war was a far-fetched tale, the closest event to one that they had experienced was the conflict between Duke Viero and Radner. 

Those curfuffles deemed less noteworthy than border skirmishes in Brendel’s eyes, were akin to village rivalries, and yet they had the nerve to named the young Nobles as “commanders” and “generals”. 

As Brendel had repeatedly put it, ‘What a disgrace.’ 

And amongst them at some point was Count Jacques himself, which now himself embarrassed to even be affiliated with those cowards.

After moments of news passing from the comrades or friends closest to Count Jacques across the far end of what remained of the legion, many fell dead silent. His words struck deep into their hearts, although some intellectually challenged junior soldiers even took to ask if they can surrender to the Madarans.

Of course, they all knew, that surrender was up on the table, but only when they were dead.

It naturally was not a result any of them, upon realization of the options available, were keen to accept. This was where the Madaran Kingdom differed from any mortal kingdoms or any kingdom of that matter.

During an armed conflict between nations, surrender and ransom paying were commonplace, and when Nobles were captured and imprisoned, they would be fairly treated while the captors await the ransom from the Noble Houses themselves. Once the deal was completed, the hostage would be set free back to their home nation, and would receive a hero’s return. It was fair knowledge to most. 

But Madaran did not take living prisoners, to lose to Madara would be to die. In a war with the Empire of Madara, even the most cowardly would be reluctant to surrender, most would choose to fight to the death.

And now, it was Count Jacques’ choice too. For there was no other path, to fight and maybe die in it, or to die as a deserter and a coward.

“What if the Lantonilans are not coming? What if they know we are done for and chose not to die here with us?” One of the Nobles could not resist clarifying a looming thought in all their minds.

“If they dare!” Count Bormousse erupted. But after that, he found himself tongue-tied. It was them who broke their agreement in the first place, after all, which they promptly took to realize. 

Now the Lantonilan army actually had a valid reason for not coming to their rescue, they could very well revert back to being their harshest critics from far away. Unsurprisingly, however, from the perspective of the Nobles, it sure will not be their own faults if that happens, and Lantonilan’s pettiness would be to blame.

The forests went drop-dead silent for moments.

Count Jacques worried about the spirits of his army as he replied, “Calm down, Count Trentheim might not be coming, from what I’ve known he is such spiteful a person.

But Lantonilan’s legion commander Eikkel, I know that guy. He’s an idealist knight, if he gets to come, he will come for us. Naturally, you guys will have to stand up for yourselves until then. Unless we make it until the reinforcements arrive, or their journey here would be to retrieve your corpses.” 

With Count Jacques’ speech, along with the reputation Eikkel built for himself from the Battle of Ampere Seale, the Viero Nobles were finally able to breathe easily.

The truth was there were already private conversations mentioning Eikkel’s personality as if the Knightsman himself could hear them from dozens of miles away.

With the reinstated hope within his ranks, Count Jacques could finally lift the spirits of his army back from the solemn depth again, but not to win. Absolutely not. Nobody cared about winning at that point, all that mattered to them was to survive. 

Viero’s army once again regrouped and began fortifying their lines within the forest. Their actions, however, quickly arrived at the ears of Bloodstaff through the Phantoms of Terror.

The Madaran Dark leader was determined by then, for they were certain they could identify the unknown identities of the adversaries before them, they must be Lantonilan or Viero’s men.

What mattered most was that they were decisively not the Highland Knights. 

As for Count Trentheim? Who the hell is that? It hardly batted an eye amongst the Dark leaders of the Seas of the Dying Moon.

To them, it was good news clear as day, that the foolish Lantonilan and Viero armies had completely no knowledge of the Madaran army. They were different from the previous Grinoires army and resembled more the human armies from Aouine a year ago. And that army, be it to Bloodstaff or the untamed Dark Mercenaries were nothing.

Not even worth comparing to trash, for they were nothing.

“Seems like they have a reinforcement army,” The younger individual with pitch-black hair gave the map a subtle knock, as he remarked into the ears of Bloodstaff, “This army should be within our vicinity, but I do not fathom how the Aouine people can create a major blunder of this sort.

Alas, they are no significant threat to us. For even if we pinch our pockets, with their fighting capabilities alone they are just a worthless pack. Besides, they have already squandered any chances of even an attempt of an assault, let us sit back and devour them piece by piece.”

He chuckled, “It’s nice that they sent reinforcements, directly to us.”

Bloodstaff laughed maniacally, the half-witted attempts of the Aouines left the Dark Mercenaries baffled beyond means, but now seemingly getting used to their half-hearted schemes. 

Their encounter with the Vanmier Legion’s White Winged Knights was an unexpected affair, far exceeding what they were initially expecting. This before them was what they rightfully perceived as actual Aouine army standards.

Fixated upon a bleached white map drafted on the hide of an unknown animal, it seemed just like they were monitoring the lands from above. The Legion of the Undead were now marching on a terrain a few miles wide. Unless the humans were able to completely barricade the entire area, otherwise, there was no stopping them. 

Sure, at least they had their chances, but their opponents were pathetically foolish. 

“Send the skeletons to test what they’ve got,” He stoically replied, setting on stone his war strategy.