150. Allies (10)
The Evilesse Holy Knights had camped at a vantage point that surveyed the capital of the Aylans Kingdom. Helpharon was stationed at the center of their encampment, next to the main tent. Beneath that tent sat Salem atop his throne, his gaze upon the palace in the distance.
“At last, we meet.”
Salem knew all too well who resided in that castle. That woman, the one who’s amethyst locks and eyes beckoned to him. The beauty he could not forget, even at the expense of his life.
“Her, the ideal woman. She’s right there.”
He lit the censer beside his throne, its scent rising to greet him. He inhaled deeply, a familiar fog gathering in his head, his vision languidly slipping in and out of focus. His breathing coarsened, his expression gnarling into a feral, ravenous face. He let out strange laughter.
“Ihihihihi! A perfect and virtuous creature. How I long to see her brought low before me, her trembling, quaking form, tumbling into despair. I want her to bear it all before me, that beautiful form! My Akareal, it won’t be long before I have you in my grasp, and before your very eyes that pretender, Paulie, will be ripped to shreds.” He crushed the crozier in his hand. “And then her love will be mine.”
One of the knights approached him, a twisted glee upon his face.
“What are your orders?”
Salem’s face snapped back to its sickeningly benevolent facade.
“Isn’t it obvious? They’re heretics.” He wet his lips. “Save the queen and kill the rest.”
The knights sprung into action, moving the Golden Cross Army.
“His Highness has given an order-!”
“Block the heretics-!”
“Hahaha! Let’s enjoy it!”
The ground quaked beneath their forceful boots, 180,000 strong, with ear-splitting roars and clanging metal.
Interrogators and priests in black masks, appointed as the slaves’ commanders, indiscriminately whipped the slave forces. The slaves’ skin ripped from the lashings, their backs breaking. Their troops suffered damage before the battle even started. The black priests gleefully wielded their cruelty, the slaves suffering in fear at their madness. The priests bellowed their orders.
The slave army advanced, ambling in little more than underwear and equipped with simple farming tools and knives, holding ladders and rams on their shoulders. They had no shields.
“Are you all walking and not even running…!”
“At least give us shields…!”
The slaves shook in fear.
“You are shields! Take the bastards’ bows, magic, everything! Give your lives for His Holiness and you shall be saved by God’s grace!”
Some slaves broke formation, fearing for their lives. The Priests whipped them back.
From atop the wall, the Aylans’ forces mobilized.
“The enemy approaches!”
“Prepare the magic cannon!”
“Muskets, take aim!”
“Magic siege detachment! Prepare!”
The cannons, large and equipped with mana stones, were positioned in gaps of the exterior wall. Snipers with magic muskets aimed down their sights. Mages lifted their staffs in unison. Their commander, Count Shabel, watched from atop the exterior wall. His vision clouded for a moment: the slaves, he could recognize some of them. They were Alylans’s people.
‘My god, they have no shame.’
The slaves were a motley of peoples, but there were Aylan citizens among them, of that there was no doubt. A wave of regret bubbled within the Count: he was a Lord charged with the protection of his people, and this was war. Serving the King’s will overrode the reality of the faces before him.
And yet, the reality was that there were his countrymen before him, as shields for the enemy.
“My Lord, they are within range!” A mage knight said.
Count Shabel’s lip trembled. “My God, forgive me.” Then he drew his sword and shouted. “FIRE!”
The heavy, rolling sound of explosions assaulted the ears as the cannons volleyed. Fire spat from the cannon mouths, and flames fell from the sky as Mages struck down their staffs.
The slaves faltered before the sudden bombing and tried to retreat, but it was already late. Flames erupted upon the earth at impact, the shrapnel of condensed mana piercing and burning their skin.
They were filled with holes and reduced to piles of ash, leaving nothing but the stench of burning flesh. Those who were spared of the initial volley recoiled at the horror of witnessing thousands perishing in an instant.
“This is hopeless!”
“Flee for your lives!”
But when they turned to flee, the Holy Kingdom’s spears and arrows greeted them mercilessly. They released their bolts and ran through those who attempted desertion. The others retreated back into their original formations.
“Kill the deserters,” the knight sneered. The Holy Kingdom’s soldiers drew their blades and surrounded the slaves. They were caught between two armies.
“Fuck…what do you want us to do!”
“Those who run away will die! Fight if you want to live!”
The priests whipped and pressed the slaves.
“Looks like were too late, Oskal.”
Atop a distant ridge, far from the battle, Pygni lay on his stomach in the tall grass, his mirthful voice betrayed by his serious expression.
“In the end, we weren’t able to beat Salem to the Kingdom and get in, even though we got here as fast as we could. How fast did they move these forces, that they were able to outpace us like this?”
The report Pygni received said that the army was 200,000 at the start, lost about 50,000 during the campaign at the Aylan Kingdom’s border, and had supplemented their forces with 30,000 slaves. A number of those slaves were definitely Aylan, probably everyone they could subdue between the border and the capital. A violation of the laws of the continent and the faith that at the Holy Kingdom’s helm.
“Reckless bastard. Law and doctrine apparently matter not to a maniac like him. Not that I’m any better. I can’t believe I envied that freak. My life certainly would be different if I went out like all of that! Don’t you agree, Oskal?”
“Your Highness would die in my hand before that.”
Pygni turned to his companion. Oskal’s massive frame was splayed on the ground next to him, low and alert to avoid attention.
“Oh, you’re being dramatic. You know speaking against a king like that could be seen as treasonous. You’d be without a defense if I ordered your execution here and now. You’re lucky I know you too well.”
“You wouldn’t even dream of such a thing, would you?”
“Of course not. You are needed to protect me and Jamong. I forbid you to die, even of old age! Devote yourself forevermore to the royal family, Oskal!”
“It is unbecoming of a king to make such an unreasonable request, Your Highness. Much like laying flat on your stomach, beneath even the dignity of a skirmisher.”
“There are things I wish to see for myself,” Pygni responded, returning to his spying. “There are a lot of them. Our forces are 50,000. We’ll be asking for it if we try to take them head-on. To top things off, our enigmatic Holy Knight order, responsible for defeating the revolutionaries, is there too.”
“So what are we to do?“
“Fighting them head on is out of the question.”
“That is correct.”
“But if word goes around the king is flat on his stomach, terrified, I’d die of embarrassment.”
Pygni got to his feet, raising the banner that hid in the grass. The banner waved openly in the wind, the insignia of a sword and helmet furling and unfurling. Across the field, the Holy Kingdom’s soldiers took notice.
“…Isn’t that Lome Kingdom’s flag?”
They looked up far into the grass on the hill, where some fearless crazy human dared to raise the flag of the enemy, the Lome Kingdom, in full view of the Holy Kingdom’s formation.
“Ha! How foolish.”
“He should be captured. If Salem sees this and is offended, who knows what he will do.”
The Knight galloped towards them on their horses, holding up their lances.
“I don’t know what fool he is, but this guy’s got guts!”
“Fine by me; I was getting bored. I’ll give him a ‘purification rite’ myself! Let’s have some fun with him!”
Pygni clucked his tongue and rolled his shoulders as they advanced.
“Cowards in tin armor are no knights. They may come for us, but they began this fight hiding behind the weak. And they think they will make quick work of me? YOU ALL DENY YOURSELF YOUR GOD! DEGENERATES!”
“Ha! What’s that now??”
“His neck! Seize it!”
Two cavalrymen flew up, their heavy bardings and lances flying through the air, looking to crush and tear the young King’s body asunder. Pygni sneered.
“Oskal, they called Your Highness a pig. How will you answer?”
Oskal snapped out of the grass and caught one of the horses by the neck. His thick fingers gripped and twisted. The horse’s flesh tore, blood flowing through the open wound. Oskal had stopped two cavalrymen dead in their tracks. He glared at the knights.
“…Carnage, Your Majesty.”
Oskal’s fists clenched, the horse’s neck burst, and blood splashed upon the earth. The knight atop the horse fell onto the ground, and the knights chasing from behind hastily retreated.
“Cavalry, with bare hands…?”
The Holy Knights looked at Oskal and stiffened.
“Oskal? The member of the previous hero party and the Lome Kingdom’s guardian knight?”
“Then the guy beside him is…”
The Holy Knights looked at Pygni.
“King Pygni of Lome?”
“Right, I’m the great King Pygni. You damn Holy Knights. Get down on your knees and bow your heads!”
Pygni strained his voice yelling as they fled, while Oskal wiped the blood off his hands.
“…Aren’t you being overconfident, Your Highness? You would’ve died if I wasn’t here.”
“I’m confident because you’re here! And now…those bastards have to get on their knees and beg me if they want to live.”
Pygni stuck the flagpole he was holding into the ground and looked behind.
“So, shall we join them?”
50,000 men of Lome’s army, clad in silver armor, looked to Pygni’s banner, coming up the hill.
— Ω —