Other Side of the Mirror


The following is an alternate reality story in the For Honour and Glory setting. It takes place in Weissland and shows what might happen if Nathaniel Drakkon had been killed by the murderer Lilith Albrecht instead of his brother Arthan Drakkon. As an alternate reality story nothing here is truly official and has no bearing on the official reality and events.

Other Side of the Mirror

Dawn had crept over the landscape of Crint like a lazy eye opening slowly. It brought a bright glare to the stark outline of the city which was heavily built in the Old Weissland architectural style. It was early morning and that made a change because this morning Arthan Drakkon was awake. This was an earth-shattering thing; it could have been the end of the world. He looked out of the window of his bedroom which faced the front of the estate. Out in the far distance, so far it looked like it was made of clouds, was the city of Crint. Arthan had been about to leave but he stayed. He was planning to go eat, spend the rest of the day lounging around and tonight, the usual, drinking and more in one of the pubs or taverns in Crint. But coming towards the estate was a cloud of dust on the road. Cavalry, a group of them and moving fast. It was strange, why would cavalry be rushing out here? Arthan fastened his belt and decided to go and find out what was going on.

As he left his room Arthan passed a couple of maids in the hallway. He walked on beyond Nathaniel’s room. Strangely enough his younger brother was not up. Arthan could not remember the last time he was awake before Nathaniel. He continued down until he reached the entrance hall. There his father and mother had just arrived summoned by the estate master Barnabas Graves. Arthan walked up and said “Father, why are there cavalry hurrying to the gates?”

Rowan Drakkon straightened his clothes, securing the scabbard with one of his prized swords in it. He replied “I do not know Arthan. Where is Nathaniel?”

Arthan shrugged “Who knows?”

Rowan seemed perturbed but said “Very well, let’s go and see what’s going on.” The four of them walked outside into the grounds, with two of the bodyguards waiting a few steps behind them. Across the estate at the gates, four more guards waited to open the gates as the soldiers on horseback neared them. A few minutes went by as the soldiers rode up to Arthan and his parents.

There were five soldiers in all and they all dismounted. The officer, whose name escaped Arthan at the moment, addressed them “Lord Drakkon, Lady Drakkon, I am sorry to be the bearer of such things. I regret to inform you that we have found your son, Nathaniel, dead. He has been murdered. We are of course beginning an investigation.”

Arthan was stunned, he could not say anything. He could not move. His mother collapsed to her knees, tears flooding from her eyes. Old Barnabas had one of the maids sent for to comfort Katrina. Rowan Drakkon used anger to mask his true emotions “Do whatever it takes Lieutenant, you hear me? Whatever it takes! I demand justice!”

As the soldier nodded, he turned to leave. They mounted up and rode off almost as quick as they had arrived. Arthan let it all wash over him; for once in his life he was speechless. And then a voice seemed to grow in him. Small at first, then louder and bolder, and louder still. The voice made sense. Arthan Drakkon swore at the very moment, taking an oath more serious and solemn than anything in his entire life. He was going to train as a mage, gain the power he needed, and then he would hunt down his little brother’s killer to avenge his death. Arthan swore it and he meant it. This was the end of the world.

This was the beginning of the end. Jump forward two years. Had it really been two years? Arthan thought. It was hard to imagine he had spent two years in Ataya training to be a mage. Stuffy old Ataya, stuck in the tower, Arthan had not thought fulfilling his oath would take so long. He wanted it ended, soon. The training was going better than expected. Arthan had thought he would not have what it takes to be a mage, but he was doing ok. Not spectacular, not the best in the class, but good enough. It was that Jessa girl who was the best, and oh how she knew it. Arthan did not have a look in, most women enjoyed his company, but it was as if he was beneath her attention. But what he really hated was the time. Everything seemed to take so long to learn and he did not have the patience for it. He wanted it now; he had waited too long already to find his brother’s killer. But always the instructors said there was more to learn, more to do. The training was not complete and while he was stretched to stay and finish he was compelled to leave.

Arthan had been smart enough to use his wealth here. He had bought a room in the city, rather than staying in the dorms at the tower. Arthan remembered back to several years ago. Both Arthan and Nathaniel had the magical gift, although Nathaniel was more dedicated to it, and they had talked about what they would do. They had planned to leave a short time after the banquet the Drakkons held every year on the year Nathaniel turned twenty and Arthan twenty-two. They would travel to Ataya, begin their training, and purchase rooms in the city for themselves. Adventure and glory and women and wealth awaited them in the future, their names would be heard throughout Weissland, throughout the world. Or at least that was the dream. That was the plan. This was the end of the world.

He had spent the day training. It was what they did most days. Apart from when they listened to lectures from the instructors. Arthan could not count the number of times he had fallen asleep listening to Sir Drone-a-lot, Boralays. Dull discussions which got Arthan no further to what he wanted, and what he wanted was power. Today it had been fire magic. Arthan had to admit, he enjoyed the elemental form more than any of the others. It seemed to have the greatest offensive potential, and that was what he was looking for. Anything which could give him an edge in a fight, and he knew damn well what fight he was looking for. Still it seemed that he had the time to find many other fights as well. He had already gotten involved in a punch-up with two other mages. He was still sporting the black eye from the most recent fight, but he could safely say that he was the one still standing. It seemed like every second night in Ataya he found himself in a seedy tavern or pub, with a great deal of drink and a rowdy rabble of assorted scum within punching distance.

But why not? Who was going to stop him doing what he wanted to do? He was gaining the power, more of it every day. Soon none of this would matter because he would be gone, off to fulfil the oath. Arthan got up from the end of the bed where he was sitting. He dressed quietly, taking his sword, leaving the woman asleep on the bed as he left the room. He needed a drink. He needed a lot of drinks. Even as he walked down the stone steps to leave the building where he owned a room, Arthan was not sure where he would go to drink. He had to pick somewhere he had not been recently.

Drinking was all well and good; it dulled the anger for a time. But it seemed such little things brought that anger back, made it rear its ugly, fiery head and roar. All it took was a spilt beer. After a couple of drinks, Arthan would have laughed and joked about the spilt beer. After the number he had consumed, the number which seemed fuzzy and ever flexible in his mind, it seemed like a terrible wrong had been done to him. Numb legs stood from the chair, slack fingers gripped the shirt of the bastard who had spilt his drink, and a shout rumbled from his mouth “Oi, you spilt my beer.”

“What of it?” The reply was made.

Arthan’s lip curled in hate, as he said “I’m making something of it.” The punch landed before he finished speaking, the offender hammered to the ground. Arthan barely registered the right hook of the friend of the beer spiller. He staggered and swung back, like a pendulum, hitting the new enemy in the nose. Crimson spurts, a warm sticky feeling on the hand and not a good one. Through a haze of blurred images, Arthan fought on. A chair cracked a back, as Arthan dropped the kindling. He was dimly aware that the fight spilled outside; much like that bastard had spilt his beer. He had to hit the bastard again. After all, he had spilt his beer. A few jagged moments later, and Arthan could only see one fighter. He could see a knife in his hand, or was it a bottle? The world seemed to be unwilling to give him a definite answer. Instinct took over, a flash of steel and Arthan’s sword was in his hand, and a second later it swung downward lazily. There was a shout, the man fell. Arthan staggered away from the battle. This will be the end of the world.

A year goes by; it does not seem to matter on the surface. But it eats at him inside. There is an angry little beast in his gut, gnawing at his innards, twisting them in knots. No longer a mage, gone and distant and no doubt forgotten by now. Trouble had plagued him, but he had avoided the worst of it. The fights had not gone unnoticed by the mage lords. Arthan wondered if the Archmage himself had been notified, not that he really cared, just wondered. The death at the tavern brawl had been the final straw, but he had been justified. The man did have a knife, they said it had been self defence, Arthan was protecting himself. But that was not right; it did not ring true to his ears. Arthan no longer felt enough about himself to bother protecting his life. He was protecting the oath, it had to be fulfilled. Nobody else was going to do it.

It was not long before he had packed up and left Ataya, finding himself in other places. They all seemed to blur into one place though, the specifics hardly mattered now. This was the middle of the end, or the start of the end of the end. It was all muddled and confusing, so he tried to drink it away until it became clear. It had not worked yet. Arthan looked around at the Inn room he was in, a pale imitation of a home. Where was he now? Ledek. No, that was months ago. Leaning heavily against the open windowsill he tasted the salty tang in the air. Ordail then or Amei. He did not care either way. The journey. That was what people talked about was it not? Oh, it’s the journey which is important, not the destination. It made no sense to Arthan; the journey was equally as pointless as the destination. It was the vivid and the clear which mattered. The things you remembered along the way, not that you made the journey, or that you went anywhere. It was what you did, what you gained, and what you lost. The blond in Ledek, the brunette in that village Enelum, the legs on the woman from Nairio, and the curves of the wild blond he had met somewhere north of the others. The firewine, whisky, rum, the ever present beer and flagons of ale. A trail of woman and broken, empty bottles leading him away from everything else.

But Arthan Drakkon had not been idle. Oh no, no, no, he was doing exactly what he needed to do. He had stopped off in Crint. A short visit to the city garrison and he had gotten access to the evidence and information gathered from his brother’s murder. The arrows, no real distinguishing features to lead far. Except for the feathers used for the fletching, unmistakably gull feathers. That led to the coast, Ordail or Amei, it did not really matter. There were no witnesses, anyone who would have seen Nathaniel would have left his side some time before. The cut, pointed to a sword, no knife did that kind of damage. Everyone had a sword. That was no real help. Nathaniel had shoulder-length black hair. The garrison had found a few hairs on his clothing, on the blood, not underneath. They were long and light brown. Arthan knew who was with Nathaniel that night, they had all been questioned for any information they might have. None had hair like that. This was a clue, a link to the killer. But Arthan was unsure of how to use it.

Perhaps when the cloud around his head floated away, the drink gone the way it always went. Perhaps then he could think of something. A spell, something to link the hair to the killer. To reveal the identity to him, make it real, see it clear, and destroy it. He had put the word out. Stretching into the criminal underworld like a black cloud shaped like a hand. There was a killer out there, who was killing magic-users, and he wanted to know who and where. Arthan had found out about others who had been killed in similar ways, mages trained well, others who had not even started on the road to Ataya. When it reached the right lips and heard by the right ears, it could bring that killer to him. That was what he wanted, no long chase, no questing hunt, just a showdown. He did not have the time or energy to waste it on some pointless journey, Arthan wanted his fight. He wanted blood and cursing and the end of the world.

A few days had past by. Arthan had attempted the spell, but the effect was different to what he expected. Instead of revealing the identity to him, or teleporting him to the killer’s location, it became like a beacon, a guiding light for finding darkness. He fashioned a ring and sealed the hair inside. When he neared the killer, it would glow, brighter and brighter until he reached the end. It was dull at the moment, but brighter now than when he had first finished the spell. The killer was getting closer.

Arthan had to sober up. He could not drink any more; the oath was close to being fulfilled. He needed to be on top of his game, at the most ready. That was partly why he was here, in this house. It was not his, it belonged to someone he had met. Someone who could give him the tools he needed to end this. This man was a mercenary. Money could buy a lot of things, for now Arthan needed to buy training and tricks; he needed to buy back his health. For days they trained, Arthan ignoring the urge to walk away, to give up, to drink his fill, to be distracted by meaningless passion. This was what he needed now, pain, aching muscles, running and fighting. But he still needed it fast, every day the ring got a little bit brighter, his enemy got a little bit nearer, and the end of the world came a little bit closer. Damien Slade, the mercenary, was harsh and strict. But that was what Arthan Drakkon required; it was what he had paid for. He needed to be stone; he needed to be rock, and fire and ice and a multitude of other things which could be used to inflict pain on an enemy.

It was almost a week later when Arthan gained some dark news and useful information. The ring was constantly getting brighter, the killer was moving closer and closer with each passing day. But he had heard rumours, which had become solid fact. There was a shadowy figure travelling north gathering the worst criminals to form an army. These were murderers, cutthroats, and bandits. Criminals to whom killing was the first and last and only resort, many of them required only the chance to kill as payment. Others were less inclined and were more interested in gold and jewels and wealth, because such things brought power and prestige in the criminal underworld. It could be no coincidence, the timing and the route made too much sense for the killer to be heading towards Ordail. Numbers were the problem, because he did not know them. He knew that at least a dozen criminals had joined in Ledek and before that they had been in Adae. Since leaving Ledek they had criss-crossed the road north to several towns before heading towards Nairio and that was worrying. More than this, he had heard of a group which had left Endral in Sirth and met with them in Nairio. From what he could gather they had left Nairio sometime last night. A week or two and they would reach Ordail.

He needed a plan, and he needed troops. This was not about going to the garrison of Ordail, or any of the mages in the city. They would not give him what he needed. He needed to be in command; he needed his own troops to control. Because the plan was simple, kill the criminals, kill his brother’s murderer. He would not allow anyone else to touch the killer; he had an oath to fulfil. The mages and soldiers would not understand that. He knew where to turn; he needed mercenaries and lots of them. Luckily he had wealth; he had the means to gain their employ. He only had a couple of weeks, and so it was Damien Slade who gave him what he needed, contacts. He did not have the luxury of being able to travel elsewhere to gather these forces; the criminals were too close now. Instead he used his own talents, those of the mage, to send spell sphere to the places closest. The cities of Kynair, Nairio, Valoruin and Koss. He would buy or coerce or convince as many mercenaries as possible from these four cities as well as Ordail. They would be his army, at least for long enough to allow him to fulfil the oath.

Slade told him who to contact, how much they would charge, how to drive their price down and how to convince others to work for the chance of future contracts. Slade was a powerful man; working with him could secure a lesser known mercenary more lucrative work in the future. Slade even called in some favours to get men for free. Arthan realised why Slade would do this. Damien Slade knew that someone going around killing mages upset the equilibrium. Strangely enough most mercenaries liked the status quo; they required the stability of the authorities, the governments and rulers, and militaries. Without it they often became tools of the state. Bought into the military on threat of being branded criminals, which did not pay as well as private contracts, they would become stuck there. Mercenaries walked a thin and careful line between lawful and criminal.

They had arranged a gathering point, away from the city. Many miles south of Ordail, closer to the mountains and away from the road and any settlements, the mercenaries would gather. All except those from Nairio. Travelling behind the criminals, they would be his ace. He had a lot of cards to play with, and his hand would not be revealed all at once. Arthan had waited three years, there could be no more waiting. The end of the world was coming.

As Arthan and Slade and their mercenaries from Ordail travelled south, he continued to train. Swords and knives, a hand crossbow, jagged discs of metal, a proper armoury was at his disposal. His band of mercenaries was impressive, even if Arthan said so himself. He had sixty of the best mercenaries he could afford and even some he would not have been able to afford, had it not been for Damien Slade.

A couple of days more and they had made their final camp. The ring was very bright now, Arthan was sure the killer was no more than three days away. They would draw the criminals to battle and he would have his fight. Nathaniel would be avenged. The only unknown quantity was how many criminals the murderer had surrounded themselves with. At least he had another twelve mercenaries coming from Nairio, only a short distance behind the criminals. Slade was to take out a scouting party. They would find the most advantageous places for ending this. And later, they would discover the numbers the criminals wielded. Arthan hoped he had enough men, but there could be no backing out now. No cold feet, no second thoughts, no seeds of doubt entered his mind. A drink sounded so good right about now. It also sounded like shattered glass, broken dreams, and tattered hopes like tattered robes. Too late to stop now, it was all feet forward and no distorted backwards glances.

Battle day, blood day, end of the world. It was fast approaching. Arthan opened his eyes to look around the tent where he lay. Beside him a beautiful woman was sleeping. One of his mercenaries, one last pleasure before it all came tumbling down like a house of cards. For a while he watched her breathing, in and out, her chest rising and falling. And yet, he felt nothing. As he put on his shirt and trousers, she stirred, waking up slowly. He said quietly, facing away from her “Stay and rest a while. The battle might be soon.” Then under his breath he sighed “The end of the world is on the way.”

The woman asked “Where are you going?”

Arthan replied simply “The scouting party will be back soon, I want to speak with them when they do.” With that he finished putting on his boots and picked up the belt and scabbard, ducking out of the tent into the bright, glaring, cold and lifeless sunshine. There was no warmth, not that he could feel. Not anymore. As he watched from the ridge he could see the dust clouds as the scouts were returning. They were riding over what would be the battleground. The plan was simple, draw the criminals to the plain, with most of the mercenaries concealed in the wooded area on the right flank. The Nairio mercenaries would emerge from the woods where the criminals would pass through, and archers on the ridge here would fire before all three mercenary forces charged. He knew the criminals were coming here, this ridge offered a good view of the surrounding land. Easy to climb from the north and west, difficult from the south and east. They would box the criminal scum in, and then crush them. All that mattered to him was that he fulfilled his oath.

As Slade rode along the western flank of the ridge and up the gentle slope there, he came to a halt near Arthan Drakkon, his horse neighing and whinnying as he pulled on the reins. Slade dismounted and passed the reins to another mercenary, as the scouts trotted off to where the horses were being held. Slade walked over and stood beside Arthan as they both looked out at the plain below them. Finally he said “We found the camp of the criminals. Given the distance and the fact that they are on foot, they should reach the plain this afternoon. The ridge would likely be their next camping site, so they will not be fresh from their march.”

Arthan nodded. This was it, it was so close now that he could taste it. Coppery tang, ashen bitterness, a waft of smoke and the rush of adrenaline. Battle was coming, these things and more were constant companions with battle. He said “Good, this is going better than I could have hoped for. But what of their numbers Slade?”

Slade was about ten years older than Arthan, still quite young despite the level of experience and skill and respect he wielded as a mercenary. He replied “That is not so good. We confirmed their numbers properly, double-checked them. They have almost two hundred all told.”

Arthan’s face hardened, colour fading “They outnumber us more than two to one. It’s too late to back out now. Can we win?”

Slade said conservatively “These mercenaries are worth more than two criminals. We have the advantage of terrain, the element of surprise, our troops will be fresh while they are tired. It will be difficult and we will take casualties but I think we can win this. It would be better if you were willing for us to use our ranged advantage more. They don’t seem to have any ranged troops, they are only outfitted for close combat.”

Arthan was adamant “No, there is too big a risk of you killing the leader. The leader belongs to me and only me.”

Slade replied “That makes it more difficult for us.”

Arthan thought for a moment before sighing “Very well, the archers on the ridge can fire two volleys if they are quick about it. Coupled with our ranged attacks as we charge, that should thin their ranks enough.”

The mercenary nodded once “It will be as you command. I will begin to detail the men.”

Arthan stayed silent as Slade left. He continued to look at the plain, as if he could stare at it until it burned. A few hours and it would burn, along with them all. The end of the world was almost here.

Everything was in place. The pieces were set, but this was a lethal game. No gentlemanly board viewed between sips of wine, this was shockingly real. This was steel and flesh and bone and bloody cries between the whistle of arrows and the twang of bowstrings. There were twenty archers lying flat on the ridge, watching for the enemy. Arthan crouched in the wooded area with forty of the mercenaries. The group of archers led by Slade standing up was the signal. Arthan would lead his forty men forward from the trees, fire one shot from their crossbows and short bows then drop them and prepare for close combat. Hopefully by this time Slade would be down at their flank with the Nairio contingent arriving in time to make a sneak attack on the enemies’ side as Arthan charged. Now they just awaited the signal. The sign which would herald the end of the world.

As Arthan sat there hidden in the woods, he gripped the small hand crossbow tightly. His sword was sheathed, and he had an assortment of other weapons. He turned his head and scanned the view between the trees and branches to the plain beyond, then up to the ridge. Still the signal had not been given. One of his mercenaries got his attention and made a series of hand signals. The enemy were beginning to leave the forest cover and enter the plain. Soon, so very soon, it would begin, it would all come crashing down. It was irritating simply waiting there, and Arthan fought everything to remain still. Every second seemed like an eternity of jagged thorns and paper cuts. The enemy force moved in a ragged fashion, straggling and not uniform. There was no formation, no military precision, unlike his mercenaries. But they were outnumbered and it would only be luck and surprise and planning which would bring his enemy within reach of his sword. Slade waited, waited so long Arthan could barely contain his anger much longer. Finally, as the enemy began to pass half of the plain, drawing almost parallel with Arthan’s force, Slade stood with his twenty archers, arrows already prepared, beginning to draw the bowstrings back and raise their bows up to aim. It was done with expertise and precision, Arthan could see the art in it. In unison, twenty one arrows were launched down at the criminals. Arthan stood and swept his arm forward, the forty mercenaries with him surging forward.

They cleared the woods in skirmish lines, the front group went to one knee and fired, even as Arthan and the second line stood to one side of the kneeling mercenaries and fired. At the same time Slade fired a second volley. The effect was shocking and devastating. Eighty hurtling, death-dealing projectiles unleashed in a torrent. Almost every one fired by a highly skilled soldier for hire, almost every single shot gained a kill. Arthan had no time to count, but he was sure more than seventy criminals already lay dead. He dropped the crossbow and drew his sword in one fluid motion even as he began to jog forward, that jog increasing into a run, further hastening into a charge. The ring was still bright, his enemy was still alive. His oath could still be fulfilled. He raised his sword and bellowed “Charge!” The forty mercenaries had no need to wait for his instructions; each was running with him, the front line about five paces ahead of him, weapons ready. As he ran on, the former mage heard the bird call. From the lips of one of his mercenaries, it signalled that the Nairio contingent was approaching at pace stealthily, preparing for the flank attack once Arthan held the criminals in combat. Without looking up he knew that Slade was bringing his troops down the side of the ridge and would join him at the other flank. There was still everything to play for, in this deadly game.

The first line crashed into the enemy and seconds later Arthan was in the fight. He slashed left, parried high, thrust and moved on, two dead by his hand already. Adrenaline flashed inside him and Arthan Drakkon made his presence felt. He called out the words, distantly remembered, casting a ball of fire at a criminal. Such was the overwhelming emotion behind it; the fire was strong enough to smash through the criminal and three others, burning them to death in an instant. By this time the Nairio mercenaries had sprung the next part of the trap. Moments later Slade led his troops into the other flank of the criminals who were now starting to fight back viciously. Controlled, disciplined martial skill met raw brutality and ferocity. Deaths were caused on both sides and only time would tell how the battle would turn out.

Arthan hacked out twice, killing two more criminals. Almost as if by strange circumstance he found himself in a space near the centre of the battle, a clear area with no combatants. Except one. Opposite him was a woman. She held herself like a warrior and Arthan almost mistook her for a mercenary. But almost was not good enough. She was a criminal, clad in armour which was a patchwork of plate, scale, leather and a wolf pelt slung over one shoulder. In her hand she held a longsword which glowed faintly with magical runes. She also carried a shield. Her hair was long and flowing, with several braids as well. Arthan took a couple of steps forward as did the woman. He said “You’re the one. You’re the leader. I’ve been looking for you for a long time, never expected a woman.”

She said slyly “I’m Lilith Albrecht. I’m the leader of this army and you’re a magic-user. I’ll enjoy killing you.”

Arthan bristled with hate. Still, he had to remark, she was rather attractive in a feral way. He raised his sword and said “No, you’ve got it the wrong way around. I’m going to enjoy killing you; nothing is going to stop me from fulfilling my oath.” Arthan and Lilith began to walk towards each other, to finish this for good or ill. As they walked two criminals ran at Arthan Drakkon from the sides. He blocked the attack from the first and gave him a sidekick in the gut, knocking him to the ground. The noble spun to block a strike from the second criminal, parried and then slashed through the man’s chest. He returned to his steady walk.

Lilith was attacked by a mercenary with two short swords, but she quickly disarmed him with her sword and tripped him onto his knees. Moving behind him she thrust her sword through the back of his neck before leaving the mercenary to fall dead. She said “Don’t worry, I won’t be so merciful with you mage.”

Arthan kept his sword ready, noticing casualties were mounting up on both sides. The criminals had taken heavy losses early on, but now their numbers were allowing them to gang up on the superior skilled mercenaries. If things continued to go this way, the battle would be over in ten minutes. From the looks of it, there would be no clear victors, only a handful of survivors on one side. As the two combatants reached each other Arthan said “Why do you hate mages so much?”

Lilith Albrecht did not answer; she only leapt lightly forward, bringing her sword down in an arc. Arthan dodged aside at the last possible second and swung his sword sideways at her, the blade gouging a deep groove in Albrecht’s shield. The fight was on in earnest; all combat around them was forgotten. There was a cold ferocity in Lilith’s sword style but it was matched well by the disciplined, focussed hatred and revenge in Arthan’s technique. Block answered strike and each thrust was knocked aside. When Arthan swept Lilith’s sword wide and used his free hand to toss two throwing discs at her. They were small flat circular pieces of metal about the size of large coins and twice as thick. They had been sharpened at an angle to give the entire circumference a razor-sharp quality. Albrecht tried to get out of the way but only succeeded in avoiding one of the discs. The other grazed her upper cheek and a thin line of blood appeared there, starting to seep down her cheek in ragged trails. At a distance it looked like she was crying blood. The fight continued, Lilith taking the initiative and going on the offensive. She made three quick slashes followed by an upwards strike and a thrust. Arthan backed off, energetically blocking each attack. But it took a lot out of him, and it was clear to see that each block was slightly weaker than the last. He might be able to maintain this for a long time still, but unless he made attacks of his own, eventually his guard would be breached. Lilith Albrecht made a powerful swipe at head height, but Arthan ducked under it and took his chance. Propelling himself forward he crashed into the woman, their armour cracking together as they fell to the ground. Arthan straddled Lilith and pinned down her sword arm as he tried to raise his sword for a killing blow. As he raised the weapon, Albrecht lashed out with her shield, knocking him sideways off of her. He landed on his back and tried to shake the cobwebs from his head. Luckily his helmet had taken much of the blow from the solid metal shield. It was instinct alone which made him move his head to one side as Albrecht plunged her rune-inscribed sword into the ground beside him. He used the moment well, kicking one leg up at her to knock her shield arm out of position and then struck across his body with his sword. It bit into the side of her leg, and while her armour was thick it managed to breach it and cause a solid wound. Instantly she dropped her shield and clutched at her leg even as she pulled her sword free and prepared to attack again. Arthan blocked a strike while lying on the ground, swept up with an attack of his own which forced Albrecht back and allowed him to roll backwards into a crouched position and finally back to his feet properly.

Both combatants circled each other nervously, the tension was palpable. Lilith looked the worse for wear with the freely bleeding cut on her face and the wound on her upper leg which she tried to staunch with her hand now that her shield was discarded. But Arthan was getting tired; he did not have the same level of stamina as she did. A momentary glance about told him that there were only about twenty or thirty left on either side excluding himself and his foe. The battle had been brutal, bloody and short so far. Arthan wondered if Slade was still alive, but pushed the thought aside. He needed to concentrate on this fight and this fight only. He was too close to lose focus now. With a few moments to rest they began again. Arthan made a couple of swipes but they were parried. Lilith was fighting one-handed, still clutching at her leg wound. Despite this she continued to press her advantage of speed and stamina to attempt to find an opening in Arthan’s defence. She made large sweeping arcs diagonally with her sword, forcing Arthan back and hammering his sword about. He tried to keep deflecting the barrage of blows. Eventually Albrecht changed tactic and made two slashes followed by a downward strike. This managed to knock the sword from his hand. Arthan had no time to react. Lilith Albrecht slashed out with her sword slicing through Arthan’s chest plate and arm across the bicep. The wound was deep. She stepped towards him and to one side before sweeping his leg backward, sending the man crashing to his knees. She was preparing for the killing blow. Arthan was hurt badly, but he bided his time. As Lilith held her sword with both hands and raised it up Arthan struck. With a concealed dagger he stabbed up between the gaps in her armour, burying it deep in her side. Lilith howled in pain “Aaaahh! Damn you!”

Arthan replied “Too late for that.” Lilith managed to pull his hand away, pulling the dagger out. She raised the sword and brought it down as Arthan looked up. The sword slashed down across the side of his head and into his shoulder as Arthan slumped sideways to the ground. Lilith staggered back holding her new wound. Looking around she saw the last of the mercenaries, the only survivors. All three rushed at her and Lilith swung out with the sword, hacking open the throat of one man, seeing him lifted backwards into the air from the speed of his run coupled with the strength of the hit. She spun to decapitate the second mercenary, watching his wide-eyed expression as his head tumbled away. Finally she reversed her grip on the sword and thrust backwards to impale the female mercenary. Lilith drew the sword from the falling bodies. Silence descended on the littered battlefield. Lilith stood there for a few moments looking down at Arthan’s body. He breathed fitfully, still clinging to life. Lilith had lost a lot of blood; she became dizzy and then fell down beside him. The end of the world comes to us all individually. There is no avoiding it. The end of the world happens when you lose everything you have including your life. When you cannot perceive the world around you, it is the end of the world.

The soldiers searched the battlefield quickly. One man called out “My lord, we’ve found a survivor, a woman. The rest are dead.”

The black-robed mage rode forward with a cadre of Seekers marching nearby. The elf looked down at the woman in patchwork armour still clutching a sword with runes on its surface. His face was completely shrouded in his heavy, hooded robes, and it was only the subtlest of movements which indicated that he was looking down at her. The sword was glowing brightly. He pointed a gloved hand and spoke the words to a healing spell, just enough to stop the bleeding and keep the woman alive. Mordain Thaendil said “Bring her; she may be of use to us. We ride on, prepare to move out!”

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