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Battle of Carrion
Geographical Area: Carrion Valley
Regional Area: Gorgon Dunes
A hail of arrows fell from a cloudless sky, blotting out the desert sun. Azat let out a sharp bark of laughter and waded into death itself. A maelstrom of Qi warriors and charred-skinned horrors raged around him. Swords cleaved. Horrors screamed. Blood fountained across the dunes of the Valley of Carrion. Arrows descended from the skies, and the men of Qi fell in their scores.
A moderate sized buckler lifted to blot out the sun, Azat danced around the crown of emerald serpents lashing toward him. He struck out toward a clutch of venomous cobras. Betrayer sliced into their scales like a sliver of light.
The ashen-scaled creature snapped her fanged jaws, but missed by the bronze skin of his arm. The Gorgon made to coil herself around him and finish Azat in one crushing squeeze. He warded off the Gorgon’s crushing maw with a flick of his wrist. He punched his buckler downward with force enough to send the beast reeling backward across the shifting sands.
“Hew them down!” Afraid to relinquish an advantage, Azat thundered to the scorching sun. “Scorch their bones! Tear them apart! Show no shame before them!”
Qi Warriors scattered across the Valley answered him and moved to reform. An endless storm of arrows rained down upon them and more of their number joined the blood-soaked battlefield. Azat climbed the peak of the greatest dune he could find and stared out into the Valley of Carrion.
He counted a hundred different formations scattered about the Valley of Carrion, separated from each other by leagues of open field. A horde of a hundred-fold the number of the Qi writhed across the bone littered valley like an unnatural sea made from the stuff of night. Once, the Gorgon flood had numbered beyond count, their armies spread from one horizon to the next…
“Qarth rises from the embers of anarchy…” Azat muttered onto the cool desert winds now that evening settled over the horizon. His words were lost in the deafening cries of Qi gathered in their hundreds, counter-charging their enemies.
A familiar voice called out to him from amongst the teeming masses, his volume like a burst of thunder amidst falling rain. A shadow eclipsed Azat from behind, wide enough to feel as if a mountain approached instead of a human. Azat glanced over his shoulder, then lifted his chin by several degrees to meet Aslan’s gaze.
Aslan laid a mighty gauntlet of tanned fur and sunbaked bones upon Azat’s shoulder. “You would have done well… if you cared more for the Qi than your own ambition. Scream to the sun if that’s what you desire, but it’s a shame that’s the only command you understand.”
“Never change, Aslan.” Azat scoffed and barked with laughter. “Did the Gorgons put your eyes out? My advance has only seen success, even under a sky of falling arrows, the Qi that you entrusted to me push us closer to victory.”
Aslan frowned, then shrugged. “The force that I entrusted to you is scarcely recognizable, save a few faces I recognize. I trusted the victory to them… not to you.”
“What do the dead care for any of that?” Azat quipped. “And why do you look so somber, brother? Gaze out toward the horizon with me! Look!” He pointed toward the eastern and western horizons with either hand. “Pray tell, Aslan, but what do you see?”
“Nothing…” A crooked grin broke through Aslan’s placid façade. “A Valley of Carrion, of which our people have labored for several generations to call our own… If only you could learn to do better…”
Azat shrugged and made to regather his weapons. “Your measurements seem off by several leagues, but it matters little… Qarth rises from the embers of anarchy. The Firstborn has scoured these lands, the Gorgons and their endless numbers feel the embrace of the inferno. Soon only their bones shall remain in the Valley.
“Erasyl would be proud of his appointed commander.”
Aslan’s grin widened. “He did not name me without cause… and yes, soon these lands shall earn their name. The Gorgons may have been wolves in their own time, but wolves could never hope to conquer lions… Enough of this. Resume your command, claim our victory, and remember that I shall always be at your back.”
“Never relied on that. Never will.” Azat made a dismissive gesture and marched back into the midst of the battle.
The Left Flank
Geographical Area: Carrion Valley
Regional Area: Pass of the Reaper’s Lantern
“Zar’quin Guard!” Aiman’s voice, warm and languid like a desert oasis bathed in the rays of the midday sun, commanded a legion. “Attend your master! Loose!”
Three thousand men and women locked in formation across the breadth of the corpse-strewn Reaper’s Lantern, lifted their composite bows to the skies. The moon was enveloped moments later by a cloud of flaming arrows.
Embattled at the foot of the mountain pass, hundreds of the Gorgon thrashed and scythed through entire ranks of Qi with wild abandon. Blood mingled into the oil pits hidden in the earth beneath their writhing bodies. Soon the skies themselves were choked with the scent of charred smoke and incinerated corpses.
“Weapons unsheathed!” Aiman cried over the pitiful screams of the burning. She craned her head toward Karah, standard bearer of the Zar’quin and horn carrier. “Karah, do as you will!”
“My will is yours, Aiman!” Karah lifted the horn to her lips and sounded a deafening dirge that rolled across the valley.
Commanded, the Zar’quin unsheathed their blades and shattered their ranks in a momentous charge into the chaotic melee. Practiced and fluid in her art, Aiman plucked an arrow from thin air and let it fly from the ethereal bow clutched between her gloved fingers.
A lance of brilliant light pierced the heart of a Gorgon bedecked in the bloodied heads of her foes. Before the Serpent champion could collapse in on herself, an explosion of magical shards erupted from out of the core of her form. Scores of warriors, Gorgon or Qi, lie shredded from the impact. Yet a woman of Aiman’s talent ensured many more of the foe fell before her own warriors did.
Invigorated in the presence of such titanic force, the Zar’quin crashed into the melee. The first of their number scrabbled up a hill of dead as they fought, either struck down back into the mountain pass or slaying their foes without effort. At the fore of their ranks, Karah strode across the colliding lines, glimmering crimson gilded in gold filigree fluttering in the embers on the wind.
Ibrahim, Oracle of the Seven Oasis, cast an eye over the overall scope of the battle. “How much longer can these brutes hold their own against such numbers? For every arrow you cast into the enemy, you fell the Twelve’s bravest warriors as much as you rend Gorgon flesh.”
“Are you preaching your omens at me now, Ibrahim?” Aiman glanced over her shoulder to stare the priest in the pit of his enigmatic eyes. “Spare me your fearmongering. You speak of the Gods’ disfavor, but the Gods have already commanded me to hold this mountain pass until blood flows like a river back into the canals of Tu’shik.”
A mirthless smile spread across Ibrahim’s morose features. “It’s always a pleasure to correct your misguided faith, but this is not the time. Listen to my council with more than your deaf ears and you’d know that I only ask what you need of me.”
Aiman scowled her distaste at the Oracle, but shrugged in resignation. “As you desire, then. Bring the moon down upon them. I’ve always wanted to know if your might was more fable than fact.”
“Caution, I’d advise. The endless might of the old gods is not to be trifled with… I must beseech Ny’mira, Mother of the Solar Wind. Qarth rises from the embers of anarchy!”
“Qarth rises from the embers of anarchy!” Aiman affirmed. “Do not leave me disappointed, old man.”
Ibrahim nodded with grim finality. He pitched his head in the moon’s direction and droned the most ancient of litanies.
“She is the purity of the full moon in the unforgiving cold of the desert night. She is the ebb and flow of the tides pulled from the void between the heavens. She is the oasis that wanders betwixt the barren lands, seeding her life blooming waters into the deprived, famished, and despairing.
“Ny’myra, mother of the Solar Wind, Goddess of tranquility, and the balance of the stars in the heavens and the worlds that spin between them… lend your might to this insignificant dust! Plant into this parched soil a seed of your many glories, that your children may bear witness to your strength… may they honor your name with oaths of fealty for eternities to come…”
Aiman listened to Ibrahim beseech the Old God that had chained him in mind, body, and soul… but the skepticism that would seize her heart and make it cold was drowned under a sensation that she could not place. Her heart pounded in the core of her chest, and her lungs struggled to hold down air. She felt as if she would recede into herself, carried away by the sensation that spread into the very essence of her.
Something not born of her own will kept her on her feet. A strength that she had never felt before overcame her limbs. The ethereal bow in her hands burst into magical powder from the tenseness in her fingers. The memory of joyous emotions felt distant and forlorn, scattered by the crashing waves of a sudden, swelling terror.
Aiman watched as the Zar’quin Guard, overcame by the same force, surged into their mortal nemesis. Warriors once broken and maimed, suddenly dragged Gorgons down into the blood-soaked sand by the strength of one limb and rent them apart. Others still on their feet bisected the serpentine creatures by the flicks of their wrists, and hewed other Gorgons apart in a flurry of blows.
“Ibrahim,” Aiman craned her head in his direction, disgusted beyond all reason. “What have you unleashed? This… forbidden magic is foul beyond all reason.”
Ibrahim glared at Aiman with oily eyes seeping with some foul magic. “I’d save your strength; the Solar Wind has not yet arrived. Harden yourself, lest you be drowned in her wrath. Your misguidance has blinded you well, Aiman. Know now that I speak in truths… Listen to your truest emotions… the Old Gods are speaking to you.”
Aiman tilted her head in askance, disgusted beyond words. “You’d murder us all for our sacrifice?”
Ibrahim sighed, but remained silent.
Aiman uttered the words, the night sky itself tortured and rent over their heads with swirling hues of color that one’d find on a rare opal gem. An unfamiliar sound of a ferocious, swollen sea erupting onto the shore thundered over Reaper’s Lantern. Aiman was convinced that no end of the Valley of Carrion could not have heard the oncoming dirge.
“Stand your ground, Aiman.” Ibrahim’s words were not a command, but Aiman did not flinch from what could be seen on the horizon. “We must all face our destiny, on one day or another. The Zar’quin Guard have all sworn their oaths, that such a day would be any if needed.”
Aiman cracked a smile that showed nothing but her unsurfaced terror. “There is no honor in this manner of death… but make no mistake, Erasyl and Hazan shall avenge us.”
Ibrahim shrugged, then pointed toward the oncoming tidal wave that threatened to touch the stars themselves. Upon its black waters, corpses beyond number were ensnared in it’s crushing grip. The cries of thousands of Gorgons were silenced beneath the dirge that crashed upon the mouth of the mountain pass.
Ibrahim shrugged. “So, you never asked yourself what the Twelve sacrificed for such power to begin with? Gaze, Aiman, then reflect upon all of what you have seen. I have some intuition that you are not done until Ny’mira has had her due… but now we journey through the cycle of death. Prepare yourself!”
Aiman stared into the abyssal waters until the moment of her instantaneous death, her mind crushed by the void that lurked between the stars.