Chapter V: Night Attack!
It all started with a warning, a rustling that came to me while I was deep in an unsettling dream. In it, hidden creatures with glowing eyes were staring at me in this "haunted" forest, and they were making noise as they crept through the bushes. It was this that woke me up, but not soon enough...
Screams erupted in the darkness, illuminated only by a small campfire over which Uulrek kept careful watch. The screams were those of men, or rather not only men, but Elves and Dwarves as well if I guessed correctly. Several of them--about ten, if my sleep-heavy eyes did not deceive me--dashed toward us, swords drawn and shields raised. I quickly scrambled to my feet.
I heard a Dwarf shout, the one nearest me, which was strange because Dwarves usually kept to themselves underground. "Kill them all! Send them to Overlord Diktat. Leave no survivors!"
A guttural cry ripped itself from the Dwarf's throat, and I raised my two lowly blades.
"To arms!" I cried. "Fight for your lives, schyas'!"
This meant now.
It took a little while, but only a few seconds, for Yradne to rouse herself from an even deeper sleep than I had been engulfed in. The warriors, however--Haldiros and Bryan Borneblade--responded to my dire command as if I had suddenly struck them with lightning bolts. They sprang into action like wild beasts, slashing at the figures who attacked them as if they were a wolf and bear! If they were so, however, I was a mountain lioness, for my training did not rely upon traditional military discipline. Even though I had been an official Secundant
to Emperor Ilthuul, my combat style was that of the Warlord himself, taught to me by missionary Battle Exemplars of Vysoldat. My way of fighting was based upon pure rage: fury, the unbridled passion of war, the clang of blade upon blade, the sword slashes that drew blood and ended life. The first enemies that attacked me were three men: the lower halves of their faces covered by black masks, their swords bathed in rust and dried blood. Using the double-bladed, dual-wielding style of the most skilled Exemplars, I slashed them to ribbons (or at least oblivion!) in two minutes flat. I also kicked them in the face when I could and heard their jaws snap, one by one.
Three down, seven to go. How were Bryan, Haldiros, Uulrek and Yradne doing?
Yradne, our Wizard companion, was casting spells left and right, screaming the lengthy ancient words for "ice" and "fire" at the top of her lungs. She deflected the sword swings of her attackers with her arcane staff, which I thought she did quite well for someone who had little combat training! As soon as she completed each incantation, they were covered with a near-lethal shower of ice crystals, and their armor was lit ablaze. The two of them who had been concentrating upon killing Yradne soon fled. Good, you bastards!
I thought. Run back to your Overlord Diktat and fall down dead at his feet!
Unmerciful? Yes. Were they being unmerciful? Indeed! The spells that she cast provided light for our skirmish, being magical, and in the sudden burst of illumination I glanced around for the other three of us.
Uulrek, the watcher of the campfire that kept us warm during the night, was picking up hot coals with his rawhide-gloved hands and hurling them at the two fiends, an Ebon Elf and a man, who were attacking him. As soon as the coals hit their faces and bodies, they shrieked like little girls, and I laughed with pleasure at how Uulrek fared with his unorthodox combat technique. He also lashed out with his sword at the two whenever he could, and it wasn't long before he'd managed to slit both of their wrists--one's right, one's left. They fell to the ground howling and clutching their wrists, bleeding out. As for Borneblade, he was being accosted by two Dwarves, and he simply picked them both up and hurled them into the nearest tree with full force. I heard the sickening crack
of their skulls as they fractured, and I shuddered. The joker certainly knew how to fight and use his enemies' weaknesses to his advantage! However, I certainly wondered where he'd learned his skills...
As for Haldiros, he was stealthily creeping around amidst the various stations of our bloody melee, preferring to launch arrows from his elm-carved bow. If he would have had time, I knew he would have dipped the tips of his arrows into the campfire to ignite them, but in the heat of the fighting, I knew he had no time. Suddenly, Haldiros threw himself in front of me, raising his bow and sword. "Wait!" he cried. "Wait, wait, wait. There's someone else coming."
I heard nothing--well, except the noise of our companions whacking, slicing and burning the attackers that still remained to try and slaughter us! My Ebon Elf rescuer, however, sensed another sound amid the cacophony of fighting and death. Then--we both saw--the eyes, the moonlit, searing eyes.
"A Death Knight," said Haldiros in a voice that made my blood run cold. There was a shadow of a figure that looked seven feet tall, perhaps eight. It brandished a massive sword that looked twice as long as one of its arms. Was I dreaming, or having a nightmare? Alas, no, even though Death Knights were the villains of parents' tales meant to frighten children into behaving. Unlike the usual phantoms of such tales, Death Knights were real. They were usually Men who had traded their true humanity for necromantic powers. As their power grew, their humanity lessened until they were little more than shells of the sentient beings they had once been. They were almost undead, though not quite. This Death Knight was one of their finest and fiercest.
"We'll work together," Haldiros said, almost out of breath. "You fight him toe-to-toe, and I'll launch arrows from a distance. With luck, he'll be dead before he even knows what hit him. Whatever you do, don't let his sword cut you. It's coated with poison--a sentient kind that steals your life away and eventually turns you into a Death Knight the quick way. Within twenty-four hours, you'll be one of them, so avoid his sword at all costs. To arms!" I rushed forward, and Haldiros took cover behind the nearest tree to begin his deadly archery. The both of us would take this infernal minion down!
We fought, and it was hard--harder than any fight I'd ever been in since I'd first begun combat training at five years old. The Death Knight knew some extremely advanced techniques that even I had trouble counterattacking! With two blades, I was able to fight on the offensive with one and parry incoming sword slashes with the other. It was a fight that took every ounce of strength I had, every sinew of my muscles, every fiber of my being! As for Haldiros, his arrows were finding their mark, but the Death Knight did not fall. He was incredibly heavily-armored, and I felt sorrow for my Ebon Elf friend.
I cried. "Fire! Find some way to ignite the arrows with the flame from Uulrek's campfire! Hurry!" It was our only option, and Haldiros, being a soldier in attitude if not in title, ran to obey. I continued parrying and trying to fend off the Death Knight's fist and venomous blade, but almost to no avail. This was a foe I could not defeat, and as a former Secundant
of Ilthuul'xtat, I was taught that defeat was not acceptable. If it did not mean death on the battlefield, it meant death by Lord Ilthuul's own hand. That was why I had never lost a fight, yet I knew I might lose this one.
Haldiros returned with some ignited arrows, and he aimed one straight at the Death Knight's iron-helmed head. At the very moment it struck, the fiend, startled, launched a wild and uncontrolled swing that I...couldn't...parry...
The fire burned straight to the flesh beneath the metal, and the Death Knight collapsed on the ground. He tried to rip off his helmet, but it was too firmly attached. I closed my eyes and ran to Haldiros' side, burying my face in the trunk of a tree so I wouldn't see his head smolder and his arms and legs kick in the throes of death--final death. Suddenly, I felt blood ooze down my thigh, for I'd put my right arm and wrist down at my side to rest.
I'd been wounded. The slash had not hit any of my tender veins or arteries, but it was definitely more than a cut to the flesh. It was all over for me.
"Haldiros," I moaned, weeping, "he cut me. He hit me. I have lost!"
"There's no cure," said the Ebon Elf, "for a Death Knight's blade poison. Within twenty-four hours, you yourself will become one." I heard his deep voice tremble. "I'll try and enlist the others into trying to do something--anything. I will, too. At the end--don't worry--it will be quick. You will not become like the one we have slain. Upon my very life, Vtorym,
it will not happen!"
Tears were streaming down my cheeks. "Ubeite menya!"
Two words had never meant so much to me as they did at that moment:
I had just told Haldiros to kill me. If not now, then before I succumbed...