Battle of Scarlet Banners
Twin fingers of moonlight shone down from the midnight sky, cloaked in a calm abyss. Aurien danced along the faint glimmer of the illumined woodland paths, a shadow cloaked in the dim of night. Only the soft rustle of the leaves foretold of his approach, carried upon a pleasant breeze at his back. The fay enchanted Land of the Eternal Summer continued its song of life, oblivious to the presence of such a black hearted murderer.
A clarion call, distant at first, but soon swelling into a banshee’s wail shattered the tranquility of the forest. It was a blood curdling moan, birthed from the darkest Hollows of the Gloom Wood. A singular cry for the briefest moment, before it grew into a sonorous war cry echoed from a hundred throats.
Aurien gazed upon the warm glow of a hundred lights nestled in the hills over yonder. The miniature shadows that bathed in the light of the encampment jerked and zig-zagged back and forth in the hazy light. A booming dirge that followed their movements a moment later gave birth to a myriad of panicked cries.
The cacophony assaulted Aurien from every direction and he joined the chaos with a shrieking cry. Aurien’s heart hammered in the depth of his chest, beating furiously with the effort of sustaining his rapid pace. A whistling noise whizzed by him and terminated with a meaty impact into a Leaves-of-Luriel behind him.
The breeze at Aurien’s back surged into a strong wind. Two fingers of moonlight swelled into the image of the full moon, and suddenly all shadow was peeled away. A hundred lithe figures, hidden in the abyssal night before, were revealed in all of their horrifying splendor. Lithe figures garbed in glimmering chainmail and vivid crimson, and wielding weapons of vicious repute.
Another boom from the encampment’s war horn stirred some of her outlying guardians into a counter assault. Arrows whizzed through the untamed forest and brought a handful of the shrieking apparitions down. Small bands of warriors charged into the midst of their assailants, too quick ascertain the scale of the assault.
“Enira!” Aurien bellowed over the cries of the dying and enraged. “Hoist the standard! The Bloodied Banner shall follow it right into the heart of their foes! Let murder follow in our wake!”
The clamor of battle echoed through the Gloom Wood, but Aurien pushed past the chaotic melees and stormed through the encampment’s rapidly shutting gates. A glimmer of steel caught his eye. Aurien countered the thrust with a wild parry, his other hand flashing out from under his robes with a handful of throwing knives.
Useless against armor, certainly, but the throwing knife had its uses. The russet skinned warrior before him had scarcely enough time to equip the hand axe he chopped in Aurien’s direction, let alone to armor himself. With cruel abandon, Aurien flicked his wrist and a pair of knives embedded themselves in the Black Wolf’s throat.
A throaty war cry assaulted Aurien from behind. He scarcely had time to react, but the thrust of a spear caught the foe before he could close the distance. A flurry of other spears thrust from out of the night and finished the wounded warrior before he could even spit blood.
Aurien glanced behind him and caught the Red Standard fluttering in the wind. As the gates closed shut behind, a score of the Bloodied Banner rallied to Enira and had made it into the encampment.
“Someone get that gate open.” Aurien cracked a mirthless smirk. He waited for one of the Bloodied Banner to break away toward the gate, before stomping down on the neck of the writhing Black Wolf at his feet. He bent down and scooped up the battered knives from the corpse’s throat. “The rest of you. What are you waiting for? Slaughter and burn, you murderous sirens!”
The warriors hoisted their weapons high into the air. Aurien listened to their deafening shrieks and waited for the sky to split itself open in response. When the moment never came, he made a cutting gesture and the Bloodied Banner surged into the camp.
Aurien did not wait for reinforcements to arrive, but threw himself into the nearest clutch of war tents. Nameless foes scrambled to meet him in combat, but his swordsmanship was deft, and ended their lives with vicious strokes. Others still struggled to equip themselves, oblivious to his murderous streak. He painted their tents with vivid blossoms of fresh blood.
“Aurien?” A vicious voice, too brutal to have ever known civilized life, roared in front of him. “You strike from the shadow, coward, so there could be no other bandit in all of the realm other than you. Stay your hand from murdering my warriors and come out into the light!”
Aurien emerged from the blood splattered confines of a war tent and pitched his head in the direction of the voice. His dark emerald eyes settled upon one brute of a Half Lani, Half Human warrior of scarred russet skin and unkempt coal black hair. The nameless figure glared in Aurien’s direction with eyes just as dark of emerald. He clad himself in a thick hauberk, cushioned with several layers of padded armor and ebony silk cloth.
“And who are you?” Aurien demanded with a toothy grimace. He pointed toward the dozen precious earrings and piercings that decorated the warrior’s battered face. “More a peddler of fine jewelry than a primitive barbarian, am I not right?”
“I am Jarkal!” The Black Wolf Chieftain thundered. “Son of Erath and proud member of the Black Wolves. Truly, what foe would waste his time with an attack on a foe he cannot name?”
Aurien chuckled and shrugged. “Well, there must be something to be had in this misbegotten hovel. Whether that be some measure of glory for a nameless man’s head or whether it be to indulge my every whim tonight.”
Jarkal studied Aurien intently for a lengthy pause before he continued. “And have you slaked your thirst for either ambition? I think you’ll bleed the encampment dry before you’ll walk away satisfied.”
Aurien snarled and shot the Black Wolf an incredulous look. “Is that a challenge?”
Aurien cleaned the blood from the wicked longsword in his grip. No sooner had the last drop of blood been expunged from the cold steel, did Jarkal pounce forward, axe and shield in hand. A devestating sweep of the axe flashed by Aurien and crunched into the chest of a female Bloodied Banner with enough force to throw her into mud.
Aurien did not know where she came from, but he could not bring himself to care. Suddenly with advantage, he planted one foot forward and thrust low for Jarkal’s vulnerable gut. His foe leapt backward, the shield in his off hand pulled taut across his waist to absorb the impact.
Aurien ripped the sword free in a spray of miniscule wooden shards and parried a quick sweep of the Black Wolf’s axe. Jarkal pounced and threw the bulk of his flank into Aurien. A vicious elbow caught him across the bridge of his nose, followed by the rim of Jarkal’s shield across his face. The force of Jarkal’s momentum shoved Aurien violently onto the corpse of his freshly slain comrade.
Aurien made to quickly spring back to his feet, but Jarkal bashed him back down with his shield. Before the Black Wolf could pin him in place, the Bloodied Bannerman managed to secure the grip on his longsword and cut from one side to the next in a fierce defensive measure. The counter defense forced the Black Wolf away, but Jarkal, prepared for another sudden attack, pushed back in.
The weight of a shield slammed against his sword, and Jarkal’s sheer bulk pushing it closer toward his chest, quickly throttled the energy out of Aurien. The chop of an axe came down and planted itself in the mud a hair’s breadth away from the Lani Elf’s chiseled features.
“Off of him, you rabid beast!” Enira’s voice cut through the den of battle, which raged around Aurien from every direction.
A quick spear thrust hit into the surface of Jarkal’s shield and was halted. A dozen other spears lanced forward to strike Jarkal, but was interrupted by an abrupt volley of arrows. Screams torn from the throats of dying bannermen blasted Aurien even as he continued to defend himself Jarkal’s onslaught.
Jarkal somehow fought himself off of Aurien and into the confused ranks of bandits arrayed against him. A chorus of guttural howls erupted and blurred outlines poured in from behind Jarkal’s charge. Relieved, Aurien sucked in a long breath as several blurred shapes collided into each other. By the time he recovered his wits and fought back to his feet, several of the blurred outlines clarified into still bodies from both sides of the conflict.
Aurien spared a brief moment to ram his sword straight into the gut of the nearest black wolf. A hand reached out of the chaos in that moment and pulled Aurien out with irresistible force. Aurien fought the hand off momentarily, retrieved his blade from the dying cadever at his feet and fought on before he was dragged out of the fight again.
Aurien was spun around in the chaos and came a breath’s length from Jarkal’s scarred features. The Black Wolf leaned in to stare Aurien down, the frosty breath from his nostrils streaming over Aurien’s blemished face. He pushed something fleshy and wet onto the length of Aurien’s blade. Aurien did not need to look to know whose head it was. Einra’s.
“You’d do well to know your enemy from this day forward. Run back to your master, Aurien Veil-Hand. Tell them that you took the Black Wolves by surprise and were hacked down anyway. Tell them that Ishali Winterwood and her Marked have bested you this day.
“And make certain you look into the faces of all those that died in your name tonight. That will make you remember. Now get lost!”
Jarkal threw Aurien back into the mud amidst a grueling melee. He had scarce time to think, but he could clearly ascertain that his warriors were somehow falling in great numbers. He looked into Jarkal’s triumphant gaze, a bleak grimace etched on his lips, and then scrambled onto his feet to beat a hasty retreat back into the untamed wilderness beyond.
Defeat stung sharply, but Aurien’s thirst to mend his wounded pride fanned a flame that would never dim until the day he could claim his vengeance. A twisted grin formed on Aurien’s features, Jarkal had no idea that this war was only beginning.