The Marlak rose up his mighty branch to the black and gray sky and swung down on Ragnus as he rolled on the hard, dusty ground and pitched a fiery stone into the wicked trees’ brow. The mighty beast let out a monstrous roar that resounded all through the surrounding Walcot forest and nearby rift of Planteer. The stone lit fire to the dry wicked leaves that had possessed the once peaceful tree. As the enraged beast frantically swung his branches all around to put out the engulfing fire, he stumbled on the edge of the cliff. The rock that had once been the Marlak’s support gave way and the mighty tree fell, crushing at the bottom of the rift of Planteer, where his corrupted nature was burned away by the flames in the dark.
Even though in a
darker age, the people of
While cities such as Melasurej, just south of the Karkat mountains and the unknown regions and west of Walcot forest, pull farther away from the dealings of Setats Detinu, as they cling to this new battle as if it were to be praised and were a sign that a change for the better is coming. A city, whose people have seen and dealt with the approaching enemy, is seen as traitorous by the rest of the realm because of their recent dealings with the enemy now at hand. The communication between Melasurej and the enemy has made Setats Detinu cautious and weary of spies and treachery from anywhere. The realm, from south to east of Melasurej in the areas not yet touched by the war, watches and waits in denial that the war will ever come.
Natas Lived, an
old man with a chizzled face and slightly extended gray beard, is the
witchcraft healer of
“People, hear me! …I know that most of you do not believe that this war is real, that it shall never step foot on our doorstep. …But let me assure you, this new enemy will come, and in order for it to not take our lives, we must in turn, take action!”
One man bewilderedly asks, “What is this threat? How do we stop it?”
quickly turns to a grimace and states, “They are the cloaked riders of the
north, they come far beyond the outer reaches of Walcot forest, in the hills of
Karkat just northwest of the
A woman, frightened and confused, asks, “Are they human?”
“Not human…beasts. They cover their faces and bodies with their cloaks. No one who has seen their face has lived. The mere look of their face would drive one mad.”
Some of the townspeople become troubled, including one man. “But how do we stop something so terrible?!”
Natas, trying to bring redemption and hope, proudly proclaims, “With an army. Yet, not like the armies that we so often see, not one of humans, of the ones we are trying to protect, but an army of things not usually meant for war. Think of it, trees, boulders, waters, mountains, fighting for us. This is the grand army I speak of.”
One man, offended by Natas’ confidence, becomes aggravated. “What? How is this possible? How can unliving objects fight for us?”
Mysteriously and confidently, Natas answers, “With the right concoction …anything is possible.”
A few of the people become hopeful, such as one woman. “You mean like a potion, a spell?”
Natas, loud and
explanatorily, proclaims, “Yes,
something that will bring these unliving objects to live, fight, and die for
the people of
Amongst the ongoing chatter of the crowd, a mysterious man, his eyes covered by a cloak, quietly and dully asks, “Why?”
Offended by the man’s question, Natas pompously asks back, “Excuse me?” Quietly and facetiously, the man questions, “Why fight these so called ‘terrible’, cloaked riders?”
Natas, quickly trying to think of a response, loudly proclaims, “Well …because they threaten our way of life, our lives!”
The man, knowing the true answer, confidently asks, “Have you seen them destroy any of Setats Detinu’s people?”
Natas is caught off-guard. Quickly trying to think of a rebuttal, he points questions back at the man. “No …but reports of slaughter have caught my attention. Tell me sir; are you a spy from Melasurej?”
The crowd whispers softly. Without regret to his answer, and with full confidence, the man states, “No.”
Knowing that he has the attention of fault back onto the man, Natas suspiciously asks, “Then tell me, why do you hold such faith towards the enemy that we are here discussing how to stop?”
The crowd’s whispers become louder. Dully, and unafraid, the man states, “Because I am of your enemy.”
As if threatened, Natas springs into frantic action, “You are a cloaked rider? People we must destroy this spy before he lets his people know of what we are planning!”
With the crowd quickly growing angry, and out-of-hand, one man screams, “We must kill him!”
The crowd begins to beat the man and throw him down to his knees. Two other men from crowd then grab him by the legs and drag him to a large, nearby tree that has been in the Modos courts for over one hundred years. As they begin to tie the man up, Natas angrily questions, “Any last words, cretin?”
Quietly and in peace, the mysterious man states, “For the glory of you.”
Bewildered and somehow frightened by the man’s words and their meaning, Natas commands, “Bah! His fowl words poison the very air we breathe, kill him now!”
The crowd then begins to pick up large stones, and hurls them at the man. With every rock, the man slowly begins to die. Blood drips from his face and from his mouth as the sound of breaking bones can be heard as the stones strike his body.
Angered by the time that has passed and afraid of the man’s strange influence, Natas screams, “I said kill him!”
With one final stone, the man is violently struck in the head where his brains begin to seep through the large cracks in his skull. The man’s head then limply folds over.
and proud of the people, states, “It is done.
You have taken your first steps in stopping the enemy from destroying
your way of life. Let all honor and
glory be to the providence of
The crowd proudly
proclaims, “Honor and Glory be to
With the event finally put to rest, and his people addressed of his plans, Natas ponders his influence towards the entire realm, and wonders if the king might soon ask for his help.
most of the realm off to battle and fighting against change,
has been summoned forth by the ruler and king of Setats Detinu, Halles Note,
who’s thrown, sits at the base of
A concerned Halles asks, “We have come under dark and destructive times, Natas Lived, can you help us?”
Confidently, Natas responds, “The people of the realm need something far more powerful than faith my Lord, we need an army.”
Bringing honor and respect to the brave soldiers of the realm, Halles states, “We have an army Natas, we may not be faring as well as I wish us to be, yet we still fight.”
Natas struggles to hold the fury under his breath. “Not just any army my Lord, an invincible army, a powerful army, an army spawned of creatures that cannot be unmade, spawned of fire, earth, water, and all things that naturally hurt flesh.”
Halles becomes suspicious of Natas’ dealings. “You speak as if this army comes straight from the gates of Hell; I will have no such monstrosity protecting our good people.”
Becoming angered by Halles’ stubbornness, Natas proclaims, “My Lord, we have no other choice. Who stands with us now? God? I believe he left us a long time ago sire. We need real help, real protection, real results!”
Halles is immediately appalled by Natas’ tongue, “Your words of demonic armies darken my halls Natas, leave immediately!”
Natas, hiding the revenge that runs through his head, calmly abides, “As you wish sire, yet keep in mind that when your people suffer and die even more than they do now, you’ll know what is right for the good of Setats Detinu.”
Natas then left the great hall of the king Halles. Yet, as Natas left, Halles remembered the last words that were spoken, how his people would suffer.
A few days have past and Natas has returned to the Modos courtyard where he once again confronts the people. “The king has refused my plea to create an army and protect our people from destruction. I believe it is time that we begin to look towards what is good for us and if our ‘beloved’ king Halles really has the good of the people in mind.”
The crowd becomes outraged. One man cries, “Murderer! He wishes only for his protection, not ours!”
In response, Natas sarcastically states, “As this may be true, we must remember how far we have come because of king Halles.”
A woman angrily yells, “How far we have come? We are in war right now because of him!”
Finally coming to the right moment to pronounce his revenge, Natas enunciates, “Then let us end our turmoil, let us end our grief, let us not build an army for the realm of Setats Detinu, let us build an army for us, for our protection, for our glory, and our kingdom!”
One man, enlightened, and with anger cries, “Yes! Build the army! For our kingdom!”
plan has been set in motion. With the
people of Modos under the impression that the king is unfit for rule, and soon
the rest of
Natas’ plans for the army, he will make a potion in which can be applied to any
object and will bring it life. The army
will have the will to protect the people of
Not all dealings
of the war are in just Modos and Harromag.
While Natas creates his potion, a man by the name of Ragnus Guard tends
to his father’s blacksmith shop. Just
southeast of Melasurej, Dlrow, where Ragnus and his father live, is split
between the decisions of the rest of the realm.
Only a few miles away, some people believe that Melasurej is right in
their views of the war, how they have made peace and treaty with the
enemy. Yet others, like Ragnus’ father,
believe the same that
For Ragnus, all of this means nothing. All he ever wanted out of life was to make his father proud. Being there, at the death of his mother, caused him to believe that it was his fault that he and his father are alone in the world. Ragnus aims to make up for his grief by working constantly for his father’s respect and satisfaction.
Being a young man, 25 years old, Ragnus could easily and respectively leave home and pursue a life of his own. Being physically fit yet not overly muscular, Ragnus never found much attention in Dlrow. He is a handsome, strapping man, with a sculpted face and brown hair. A shadow beard careens down the sides of his face. Even with all these features, Ragnus never opened himself up to people in confidence; hence nobody really knew him well or paid much attention to him. More focused on his work and on his father’s whim, Ragnus always seemed to be the mysterious man of the town.
Dlrow, a small town where everyone knows one another, news travels
quickly. News from
Being the serious man that he is, Ragnus’ father pushes his son to be the same. He addresses Ragnus in a firmer tone than usual. “Son, make sure you clean out and organize the shed tonight, it’ll be a busy day tomorrow.”
Willingly as always, Ragnus heeds his father’s words, yet he senses the change in tone in his father. “Yes father…is there something wrong?”
He pauses before he answers, and sighs in saying, “Have you given thought to which side you prefer in this war.”
Baffled by the
question, Ragnus states the most obvious answer. “Well, I side with you, with
“Do you know the
news of Natas is trying to create an army to fight for
“I have heard only rumors; do believe him right in doing this?
complete confidence. I only wish that this
army would fight for us as well, and not just for
“Surely there must be a way to convince him of helping us.”
“I also heard that
“You want to get the mark?”
“I want us to get
the mark, to make sure that we survive as well.
We believe in
“Yes father, I will write homage to Natas immediately.”
only ever taking the side of his father without knowing all the facts, has no
idea on how to pay homage to Natas through a letter. His father’s will runs through his head as if
it were something he has to do, without any other choice. He quickly thinks of ways to satisfy Natas
through his letter. Yet, only ever focusing
on his father, Ragnus writes the letter, only addressing his father’s loyalty,
forgetting to mention his own loyalties.
In his desperation, Ragnus quickly finishes the letter, and sends it to
the messenger, which immediately rides off toward
looking for a test subject, Natas glances past the window which reveals the
With a growing, fiendish grin, Natas satisfyingly states, “A perfect leader for my grand army.”
Natas steps out of the shed, frantically walking toward the tree. He begins to pull out the potion and pour it on the tree when the messenger rides into the square. There is a sense of urgency in the messenger’s tone. “Sire, a letter for you. It is from ones loyal to you, from Dlrow.”
Natas, intrigued by the thought of outside followers, signals the man to come forward. “Bring it here.”
reads the letter from Ragnus about his father’s loyalty. The letter is written in his father’s point
of view, not mentioning Ragnus at all.
Natas is pleased by the letter as he continues to read it. “Yes…Yes…This
man is truly a follower of
“Yes sire, I shall ride back at once.”
The messenger hops back onto his horse and storms out the city gate. Natas turns back toward the tree. Feeling more in control than ever, he sarcastically talks to the tree. “Now you see…we are fighting for more than you can imagine, don’t fail me.”
Natas takes the potion and slowly drips a few drops of the red dye onto the roots that jut out of the top of the ground. There is silence. A slight moan is heard coming from the tree. Natas steps back. The tree begins to shake, evermore violently as seconds pass. Loud cracks and the rumbling of the ground catch the attention of the people of Modos. The tree begins to come out of the ground, its trunk snapping in half to form two legs. It begins to take the form of a man with tree features. A crowd gathers, as Natas’ loud and commanding voice rings out, “Rise!”
The noise and rumbling come to a halt. The crowd looks around the ripped up and destroyed ground, they glance up to see a 55ft. tall tree in the abstract, bulky shape of a man. Natas steps up to the beast. Only loud enough for the tree to hear, he angrily states, “Make me an army worthy of my power, my mighty Marlak.”
Natas hands the bottle of potion over to the tree. Looking over the city wall, the Marlak looks toward Walcot forest. It crumbles the ground with every step as it walks over the people and heads toward the gate. Natas stands looking toward the back of the beast, his face at a grimace.
A messenger rides up to Ragnus as he stands in front of his father’s blacksmith shop. He dismounts his horse and walks up toward Ragnus. Handing him a letter the out of breath messenger urgently states, “A message for your father, a reply to his letter.” Anxious to hear the news, Ragnus takes the letter himself. “He is away at the moment, yet I shall be able to take the message for him.”
“Very well…Lord Natas wishes that your father come to a ceremony being held in Modos, and that he must come as soon as possible. He would go into no further detail than that.”
“Thank you, I shall tell him as soon as he returns.”
The messenger climbs up to his horse, nods toward Ragnus, and trots off. Ragnus goes to sit in wait for his father to return.
An hour slowly passes, and Ragnus’ father returns to his shop. As Ragnus sees his father approaching, he runs to his father with the urgent news.
“Father! Your letter to Natas was received, and he wishes you to attend a ceremony in Modos, leaving as soon as possible.”
“That is excellent news! We shall pack up and leave immediately.”
Confused by his father’s statement, Ragnus asks, “We…father?
“Well of course. You are the one who has made this all possible, son. Now hurry up, and let us prepare to leave.”
Ecstatic, Ragnus hurries to his bedside in the corner of the shop and gathers his clothes. He reaches under the bed and grabs a small dagger encased in a leather sheath. He pulls the dagger out of the casing, and stares into it with despair.
Excited, Ragnus’ father laughs and yells to Ragnus, “Come on son.”
Ragnus quickly slides the dagger back into the sheath and packs it into a small leather bag along with his clothes. He frantically darts outside to meet his father. Coming from the back of the shop with two readied horses, his father hands Ragnus a pair of reins
Ragnus mounts his horse. “Yes sir.”
Ragnus and his father immediately head out toward Modos, both pondering what they might encounter at the ceremony.
As Ragnus and his father ride toward Modos and the upcoming ceremony, Natas tends to the matters of his army. Mounting a horse in ready to leave Modos, he hears the loud cries of his new-born army coming from Walcot forest. The low tones fill the air with power and anger. As Natas rides out the gates of Modos, he is met by the Marlak.
Natas dully questions the Marlak’s deeds, “You have done what I ask?”
The Marlak slowly nods its head up and down, the large branches swaying back and forth with each movement.
“Good. Now gather your army at the rock of Lebab by
the rift of Planteer. There, prepare the
army for an attack that will happen directly west of Walcot on the Fields of
Blis. My spies have reported that the
white riders move in that direction. I
shall send the army of
The Marlak once again nods its head in understanding, and turns to walk back into Walcot. As it walks away, Natas angrily states, “Do not fail me.”
back to have one last glance at Natas, the mighty tree continues walking, and
disappears into the forest. Natas
continues riding off away from Modos.
With the Marlak having done its duty in creating tree and rock
regiments, Natas rides toward the
Natas steps up to
the beach of the vast
It dissipates and the true color of the water is again showed. Natas commands in a powerful voice that echoes over the horizon, “Rise, mighty sea.”
Ripples begin to pass over the blue mass. Dark and rumbling clouds form and bring the wind up swiftly. Huge tides begin to smash against the rocks of the nearby cliff.
Five fisherman watch, in fear, from a nearby fishing boat. Natas turns to them, and orders in a low, quiet, and angry whisper, “Test your newfound might on the souls of these pathetic fools.”
Water swiftly recedes back, as if energy was being gathered for an attack. In an instant, a massive wave in the form of a mouth rises up. The monstrous tide opens its powerful jaws and crushes the boat between the colliding waters. Wood and the scrambled bodies of the fishermen float toward the feet of Natas, almost as an offering or assurance of obedience. Natas folds the hood of his cloak over his face, only revealing the grimace look of his mouth. In silent, dark resolution he states, “Now I have my army.”
A few days pass by, Natas and Ragnus and his father have all made it to Modos. With the sun setting just above the horizon, the ceremony is at its liveliest. With everyone gathered in the town square where the large tree once sat, friends and family visit and eat together at the party. Ragnus and his father mingle and just start to become acquainted with others as Natas steps up on a small box, set at the end of the square. He cheerfully gathers the attention of the crowd. “My brothers and sisters! You have been chosen…as the ones who will set an example for all those of Setats Detinu.” The crowd cheers and whistles at Natas’ words.
pausing briefly between sentences, he explains, “Yet, this comes at a price.
My army is very powerful and will help us greatly in this war, yet it is
also very dangerous. They will destroy
anyone who is not marked by the sign of
holds up a design on the edge of a long metal poll. It is a branding iron. The symbol is the word
“Each one of you tonight, must either receive this mark upon the palm your right hand, or suffer the fate that the rest of the realm will face. You decide tonight who you stand with.”
crowd gathers frantically in large numbers toward Natas where burning coals
heat up numerous branding irons with the sign bent into it. Each person comes up holding out their right
hand, gladly taking the pain in order for their own safety. Yet mistakenly, the blacksmiths spelled the
name correctly on the iron, so that when the people were marked, it spelled out
“siN”, instead of “
Before entering the line, Ragnus and his father approach Natas. Excited, Ragnus’ father pulls himself together and respectively addresses, “Lord Natas, I am the man that comes from Dlrow, the one who sent you the message you replied to. This is my son.”
Remembering the letter, Natas greets his guests, “Ah, yes, of course, I’ve been expecting you. I am glad you made it in such short notice, yet I did not know you were bringing your son.”
Ragnus’ father looks at Ragnus, now understanding that Ragnus did not include himself in the letter.
“Yes…well…he is here nonetheless, and has just as much respect for you as I.”
opportunity, “Really? Well then, we will just have to consider that
won’t we? Listen to me, your father
wrote me a letter paying homage toward me so that he may receive the mark of
Understanding his father’s will, Ragnus accepts. “I shall do whatever you ask of me.”
“Good. I’d say joining the army of
“Yes, my lord.”
father gets in line to receive the mark of
Natas tries to intimidate Ragnus. “They are hideous! One look at them will drive a man mad. If one of them should ever lose or pull back their hood, do not look into their face. Now go, and prepare yourself to join the rest of the army.”
Ragnus becomes even more afraid. “Yes my lord. May I say goodbye to my father?”
Knowing the connection is important to Ragnus, by his evil nature Natas refuses. “There is no time for that, war is upon us. If you return victorious of what I have asked, you will see him again. Yet, if you return alive, yet have not won the battle like I’ve asked, then I believe your father will have no words for you, nonetheless.”
Ragnus looks down at the ground, slowly rising his head to look at his father standing in line. His father eagerly awaits his mark, not paying any attention to Ragnus. Yet, knowing his father’s will, Ragnus stands up straight and begins to walk toward the barracks where the rest of the army prepares for their long march to battle.
Ragnus and the
A horn sounds in the distance. It has a majestic and sweet sound with a powerful, low to rising tone, and has the sense of forgiveness in it. The sound echoes just over the hill which is a short eye-viewing distance away from the soldiers. They stand in 10 rows of 66 men, with all but the front line swordsmen, in which are spearmen. Ragnus stands in the 3rd row, near the center of the line. The soldiers freeze, perplexed and afraid of what might come over that hill.
The lines are quiet. A low rustle of armor is the only thing heard as the soldiers, along with Ragnus, get restless. With Walcot forest behind them and the approaching army from the Field of Blis in front of them, they realize that there is no retreat. Ragnus takes a moment to look at the wide open, blue sky with a few clouds scattered about, and thinks to himself, filled with depression and doubt. “Why must such a beautiful landscape be spoiled with war this day?”
line of 50 pure white horses, with the white riders all strattling their horse,
trots up just over the top of the hill.
Silence clouds the area as only the slight breeze grazing past the
blades of short, green grass can be heard.
The grass waves in the wind, revealing the only barrier between the army
Another horn sounds. The line of horses begins to charge. After each line another set of 50 comes charging right behind the other. A low rumble rushes over the ground. The sound of hundreds of hooves striking the ground sends shivers up Ragnus’ spine. The lines of soldiers begin to step backwards in fear.
Captain Greer, the leader of the army, loudly commands, “Hold the Lines!”
The soldiers step back up. The sound of their commanding officers voice brings courage to the men. There was no sound of fear in his voice. Standing firm and ready, fear suppresses their faces as they stand in wait.
The loud, commanding voice fills the air again. “Ready!”
The first line of soldiers kneels down, all on their right knee. They hold their spears angled just slightly above the view of the oncoming enemy.
With the enemy now only a hundred yards away, all the lines behind the first draw their swords. The stroking sound of blade on metal sends shiver’s down Ragnus’ spine. He pauses. Looking down the line, Ragnus sees his fellow men at ready for the enemy, all exactly like the other.
The ground quakes and large rumbles fill Ragnus’ ears. The soldiers let out a battle cry. A cry that was intended to seem fearless yet brought even more sense of unrest to the men.
The gleaming white horsemen approach the front line. Horses soar over the kneeling soldiers and crumble into the men behind. Clashing of sword on armor is heard. Cries of pain and shrieks of fear fill the air as blood, armor, and bodies spill over the landscape. The whinnying of horses everywhere sends Ragnus into paranoia and even more disarray. With the only one without his sword drawn, he makes an impulsive decision to try and dodge attacks instead of fighting them off.
The lines begin to break apart and scatter in all directions. With the front lines no longer in their positions, the rest of the white horsemen come up, plowing through the soldiers like boats on the water. Ragnus scatters about, ducking, dodging, and running. He finds a clearing with nothing but dead soldiers and a few dead horsemen. He stands motionless, watching the carnage not 30 feet from him.
In his paranoia, Ragnus spins around to see a white horseman, still mounting its now blood-stained horse. The rider slouches on its horse, weary and battle-hardened. Its cloak is ripped in several places, and patches of light and dark colored blood stain the rider’s once bright white cloth. Ragnus stands with his head erect, slightly leaning away from the frightful figure.
In an act of fear, he swiftly reaches for his sword. The horse rises up its front hooves, planting a powerful blow to Ragnus’ chest. He hits the ground fiercely, now lying on his back. The white rider dismounts its horse. Ragnus, gasping for air because of the resilient strike, lays with his head slightly rose, looking toward the rider. With the carnage of battle still going on around them, the rider slowly paces toward Ragnus.
All noise of the battle is blocked out Ragnus’ head. His thoughts spike randomly with each step that the rider takes. He spots a sword laying a few feet from him amongst the strewn bodies. The rider, now within’ 3 feet of Ragnus, slowly reaches out its hand toward Ragnus. Lunging onto his stomach, Ragnus grabs the sword. With a powerful backhand swing, he chops off the outreached hand of the rider, while instantaneously rolling up to his knees and thrusting the sword into his enemy.
The rider’s hood flops behind its head, revealing a face. Falling to its knees, the rider stares into Ragnus’ eyes. Stunned and devastated, Ragnus peers toward the face of a beautiful woman. A small, clear face, with a small nose, blue eyes and gleaming short blond hair, smiles at Ragnus and falls limply to the ground.
Devastated, Ragnus’ voice trembles, “What have I done?”
Ragnus begins to tear up. He stares into the glazed eyes of the yet living rider. She lets out small whimpers and the look of life begins to leave her face.
“Please…please, don’t die.”
She smiles larger and a small flicker of life comes back to her face. Her joyful and deep eyes dig into Ragnus’ soul. She realizes the affect this has on him.
Out of breath, the rider sweetly and quietly states, “Do not fear; do not sorrow, for the light has been shown unto you. Now all you must do is seek beyond your own borders.”
Distracted by his pain, Ragnus hears, yet pays no heed to the rider’s words. She slowly closes her eyes and still smiling, lays her head down, and dies. In grief, Ragnus kneels beside the limp and lifeless body, and cries as the tears splash against the beautiful face of his enemy.
The battle rages on for another hour. All the while, Ragnus kneels by the body of the rider, in remorse. Silence catches his ear.
stands and looks around the blood-covered field. All though there are many more remaining, ten
of the riders and their horses quickly and closely surrounds Ragnus. They lower their swords, each tip just inches
away from his neck. He glances around
with his eyes and realizes that out of the six hundred and sixty soldiers of
Viewing the dead body of the lady rider at Ragnus’ feet, the horsemen, without hesitation, raise their swords to kill Ragnus. Yet, as their swords are about the smite Ragnus, their horses raise up and frantically scatter about, bucking off the riders. They quickly scramble up to their feet as the horses sprint off over the hill.
The hoods of the riders are now removed and Ragnus gazes upon more chizzled faces of beauty. Six men and four women scattered around, all with short hair for their gender type, all dirty-blond. Only one of the men, which has long shaggy hair and a stout beard, looks differently. Obvious to Ragnus, this is the figure of a Captain, like Greer.
riders stare off into
A large branch cracks in the distance. The sound takes Ragnus by surprise, now puzzled and afraid. The ten riders, now with the attention of all the others plotted around the field, continue to brace themselves for attack. More cracks come, and other noises of movement are heard just beyond the forest rim. Trees violently shake just inside the first row of trees and blackbirds flee as the movement gets closer.
In a powerful and commanding entrance, bashing through the outer trees comes fifty large tree-like beasts. Running on two trunks for legs, they quake the ground with every step. The rumbling is so great that Ragnus falls to the ground, unable to keep his balance. The riders’ eyes open wide to the sight of this new foe. The lieutenant waves his sword over his head in a signal for ‘charge’. The riders lower their swords to their enemy, lean forward, and stride toward the monstrous trees. With the attributes of men: legs, arms, faces, the beasts bare the likeness of a tree, all standing the normal height of a tree from Walcot, forty to forty-five feet.
To Ragnus, it seems that the army itself came from Walcot, and begins to believe the rumors he heard about Natas’ supernatural army.
Bearing no weapons, the trees use their large branches for arms as tools of war. As the first of the riders reach the oncoming force, almost immediately they are struck down. With one swift drag of a branch, the riders are wither thrown hundreds of feet until they hit the ground, or are crushed between the red grass and a tree’s branch.
The remaining three hundred riders desperately attack the beasts, constantly being overrun and struck down. Ragnus, still kneeling on the ground, watches the horror just ahead of him. Already distracted by the rumbling of the great battle, Ragnus does not hear or feel the approach of hundreds of white horses charging behind him. He ducks his head, startled as the white wave of horses rushes by him into the battle.
The trees look up to see all the white horsemen coming toward them. While fending off the already present riders, they prepare for a second wave, leaning forward and holding their branches at their side in poise to attack.
The horsemen only but a few hundred yards away, ride into a shadow of flying rocks that block out the sun. Thousands of rocks come from just inside the forest rim and begin to crumble the horsemen to the ground. At a size from four inches to five feet thick, the rocks not only smash into the approaching wave, yet also cause the followers to stumble and crash into the ground as well. Some of the first lines of the horsemen make it passed the blockade and rush into the fight with the trees.
Ragnus notices the
danger that is coming and realizes that it is no longer at all safe on the
battlefield. He remembers the army that
Natas talked of, and realizes that this is it.
Yet, also remembering that he does not have the mark of
As more horsemen rush toward the battle, they halt, the rocks scattered about in front of them. The rocks begin to roll into bundles, slowly taking shape. They pile on top of each other and morph together to form creatures similar to those of the tree beasts, but with rock attributes. The grinding of rock on rock crackles in the air. The horsemen, momentarily fazed by what they see, struggle to regain their composure and charge the rock monsters.
Slinging stones from their arms, the rock beasts fling their arms over their heads and release a piece of their arm, for the piece only to be replaced by another stone. As the stones strike the ground, they immediately roll back toward their former counterpart, smashing horsemen from behind as they tumble.
The battle rages on for hours. Scattered about, white horsemen and beasts made of tree and rock fight ruthlessly. No clear victor is seen. Three of the rock beasts gather just outside the battle grounds. While the other two stand in ready, one of the beasts crumbles together to create a large boulder. The other two slowly lift the other up, and in a massive thrust, toss the other hundreds of feet into the air. A moment passes and the boulder strikes the ground, shattering the earth’s crust. All on the battlefield fall to the grass as a shockwave ripples quickly across the area. The earth immediately begins to crack and a large crevice darts its way side to side, up and over the hill.
The field is silent. After a few moments, all creatures on the battlefield slowly rise up; baffled at the reason as to why this occurred. In the silence, the sound of rushing wind creeps up. With the grass no longer visible because of the carnage, only the cloth of dead soldiers has any indication of wind. No strips of clothing are seen flailing, nor flags waving. The sound grows louder and more aggressive, then suddenly stops.
Just as the two sides become more confused and bewildered, other than the three rocks who committed the act, an enormous one hundred foot wave rises out of the crevice and smashes onto the battlefield. Covering the entire battlefield in one gigantic blow, the water hides the battle-weary ground and all on it. The water slowly calms and retreats back into the crevice, no longer to be seen again.
In one powerful blow, all of the white riders are killed, smiting them against the battle-hardened ground. Rock and tree beasts slowly come up to a stance, as they were not affected by the blow. As the battlefield becomes quiet in the final chapter of the battle, the trees let out monstrous low roars and moans, the rocks smash the ground like drums, and the water rushes back and forth in the crevice, all signaling their victory.
As Ragnus dashes through the trees of Walcot, he pauses, listening to the sound of Natas’ army letting out their cries of victory. He cringes at the sheer thought of the dead and mutilated that cover the battlefield. Remembering the blood that stained the once green grass and the distorted bodies that were strewn all over, Ragnus is relieved by the remembrance of the face of the lady rider. He ponders about the time when he first saw her face, bringing him peace and renewed faith. Yet, he also sees the image of the blood that covered his hands as he stared into the rider’s eyes, and watched her die.
Ragnus glares at his hands, and begins to cry. A small voice resounds in his head. A soft and peaceful voice; it is the voice of the lady rider. The words that were spoken to him as she died are brought back to him, and unlike before, Ragnus listens. Seek beyond your own borders, are the words that baffle Ragnus. Knowing that the army would soon return to the forest, he turns and heads deeper into the forest. The words repeated in his brain the whole way.
As he travels farther, Ragnus eventually comes to a clearing and views a small, old peasant man standing by a push-cart. Hesitant to enter the clearing, Ragnus stands along the edge quiet and motionless.
The peasant kindly jokes in a crackly, old voice, “Yes, yes, come here, don’t be shy. I might be blind, but you’re of far too great importance for me to not notice you.”
Ragnus cautiously walks toward the man, noticing the grayish, glazed eyes as he comes closer. The man is short and is hunched over, grasping a walking stick. His long, shaggy white beard touches his chest, while his hair grazes just passed his neck. The man scrounges around in his cart as he talks to Ragnus.
Intrigued by the man, Ragnus asks, “Who are you?”
Pausing while he coughs, the peasant says, “Oooh…my name is of no importance…the only one who matters here is you.”
Ragnus becomes confused. “What do you mean?”
Slightly annoyed, the peasant explains, “Questions, questions, they always have questions. You know what I am talking about. You have already met with those who give you wisdom; I am only here to give you supplies.”
“You mean the lady rider?”
“Yes, yes, that and many others you have come across in your lifetime. Ah, here it is.”
The man takes his hand from the cart, and holds an object out in front of Ragnus. He looks down only to see a rock covered in foil. The man opens the foil slowly, never touching the rock. The red diamond-like rock shimmers as if there were a small flame in the center. Ragnus reaches for the rock.
The man aggressively pulls back the stone. “No no no! Don’t touch it! Are you an idiot? Items like these must be handled with the greatest of care.”
Ragnus, startled by the peasant, asks more questions. “I’m sorry…what is it?”
Further annoyed by Ragnus’ curiousity and lack of attention, the man says, “I told you, it’s your weapon.”
Ragnus’ confusion grows. “Yes, but what is it exactly, and where did it come from?”
“Ugh, does it really matter? All that matters is that it is in your hands and you must use it to defeat the Marlak.”
“Defeat the Marlak?!”
The peasant sarcastically states, “Yes…didn’t anybody tell you? Oh… well… yes, you have to defeat the Marlak in order to save humanity. You’re the savior of the world! Have fun.”
“But wait…how do I defeat it? I cannot defeat such a beast!”
“How many times do I have to explain this? With your weapon! Is that such a hard concept to grasp?”
“How does it work?”
“You simply toss it at the Marlak. With his dry, withered, old leaves, he’ll catch on fire faster than dry pine needles.” The peasant laughs.
“Will it burn me?”
“Of course it will! It catches him on fire doesn’t it? Oh…but don’t worry; I’ve got just the thing to help that.”
The old man reaches back into his cart, rustling around items until he pulls out an old pair of gloves. He hands them to Ragnus. “There, these should stop the burning long enough for you to throw the rock.”
“I simply just…throw it?”
“What would you rather do…spit it at him? The questions they ask these days. Now move along, you still have quite the hike left, and I have to be moving on.”
“Where are you going, and what were you doing here in the first place?”
The man changes his voice to a soft and mysterious tone. “Ah…now there’s a smart question.” The man once again laughs. “So long.”
The man picks up his cart and begins to roll it toward the edge of the clearing. He moves faster with every step, and when he reaches the forest, he disappears. Amazed by the sight, Ragnus stands looking toward the area where the man disappeared.
Still puzzled by the peasant’s words, Ragnus continues on through Walcot forest.
As Ragnus walks through the forest, little by little the light is blocked out. The deeper he ventures into the forest, the darker the path becomes. He soon loses his sight of the path and is now wandering aimlessly. As he travels, Ragnus becomes weary and discouraged. Beginning to wonder if it is all worth it, he sits down on a nearby rock and ponders about turning back or ending it, right there. The discouragement and fear takes over. “What am I doing here? Huh, where is here? Why am I ‘the savior of the world’? Surely there are others more capable than I. Surely there are those who have lived a better life than I, my life is lost.”
Ragnus slowly pulls out a dagger from his side sheath, and holds it flat in his hands. He glares lovingly at the small sword. “Is this the answer to my sorrows?”
Ragnus holds the grip of the dagger tightly between his hands. A small light cracks through the trees and shines down on the rock that he sits on. He stares up into the light, a light brighter than any one he has ever seen. As he stares, he begins to feel relieved, and stands up looking into the deep and dark forest. “I know what I must do.”
Ragnus continues to walk through the forest, with the path still not visible, he walks straighter yet. He views a large dirt clearing just ahead, right in front of the Rift of Planteer. The dim light shines through as the clouds have set in since he had been in the forest. He stands many feet in front of the clearing, preparing himself before he enters the battle arena.
Ragnus stands, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath in. As he mentally prepares himself for the fight, little does he know that the fight has already begun. With his state-of-mind off in another realm, the Marlak quietly sneaks up behind Ragnus, raising his branch to crush him. Yet, the Marlak raises his branch too high, rubbing it against the other trees around him. Ragnus is alerted and spins around to find the gigantic beast only a few yards from him. The Marlak lobs down his branch; Ragnus ducks and rolls out of the way as the wood crumbles the ground. He runs to the clearing. Angered by his failed attempt, the Marlak bursts out into the clearing, almost completely knocking over a few of the trees.
Remembering his purpose, Ragnus reaches into the pouch of his cloak where he pulls out the fiery stone. In desperation, he unwraps the foil that covers the stone and without the gloves, places it in his hand. Ragnus holds his pain as the stone begins to burn through his flesh. He remembers all the people that have taught him their wisdom, including the lady rider and the old peasant, and puts it to use.
Peacefully, and with humble grief, Ragnus states, “Forgive them Halles, for they do not know what they have done.”
The Marlak charges and rises up his mighty branch in order to smite Ragnus against the dusty rock. As the branch comes closer to destroying him, Ragnus simultaneously rolls to the ground and hurls the fiery stone into the hedge just above the Marlak’s face. The mighty beast lets out a monstrous roar as the flames engulf him. The Marlak becomes a large ball of fire as he stumbles on the edge of the cliff, on the rock where he commanded the demonic army spawned of Natas. The rock gives way, and the Marlak falls tumbling down, thrashing against the side of the cliff, small kindles flying every time he strikes the wall, until he hits the bottom of the ravine. All that can be seen in the dark depths of Planteer are the kindling flames that burn away the corrupted soul of the Marlak.
Yet, even as victory was finally reassured and peace could finally stand strong, the almighty hero, Ragnus, lay battered and crushed at the top of the cliff. Blood splattered over the rocks and small pieces of bone continually snap as the pressure slowly lifts off the flattened body. A frightful reminder of the Marlak’s striking resilience in battle, even to its utter destruction.
Word spread quickly though the lands. Soon, all of Setats Detinu was informed of Natas’ deception, and how Ragnus defeated the Marlak.
Just outside of
The rider reassures Halles. “Do not be frightened, my name is Gabriel and I bring news of deceit in your kingdom.”
Gaining some composure, Halles still doubts the rider. “What deceit?”
“The one named Natas is what I speak of. He has betrayed you; it has been his armies, not ours that have been ruthlessly killing and plotting to take Setats Detinu.
“And why should I believe that what you are telling me is true?”
“Did he ever speak to you of creating an army?”
In resolution, and beginning to believe Gabriel, Halles sadly says, “Yes.”
“Then you know that he created that army.”
“I would not allow him to create his demonic army; he did not seem pleased when I cast him out of my halls… So he has created it then?”
“Yes, he has been plundering mine and your people alike.”
“Have you stopped this army, is that what you have come here to tell me?”
“We have patrols
destroying the remains of the army that roam outside the providence of
“Why have you come then?”
“I have come to talk of the one who has truly saved us all…Ragnus Guard of Dlrow.”
“How do you know of this?”
“We know only what we need to know, and that is beside the point. Ragnus has destroyed the Marlak in the depths of Walcot forest, by the rift of Planteer. The Marlak was Natas’ General who commanded the entire army; he was the strongest, made from a tree that had been sitting in Modos’ courts for a hundred years.”
“Why is he not with you?”
Gabriel looks at Halles in recognition. “Ragnus is our savior, and yours alike. He will have not died in vain, do not let him die in vain.
said you are taking care of the remains of the army outside of
“You know what you must do.”
The rider then pulls his hood over his face and walks out of the castle towards his horse. Halles watches as Gabriel mounts his horse and rides off over the hills just outside his castle.
Devastated by the news, Halles immediately calls upon his armies and all the armies of Setats Detinu. He did not hear the final cries of Ragnus, yet Gabriel’s words swirled through his head. He knew what had to be done.
After a few days, all the armies that Halles could gather are standing at the foot of the mountain where Halles addresses them. Random cries echo from the crowd. “We must defeat them, we must destroy them.” “We cannot let Ragnus die in vain.”
“My friends. You have all heard of the treachery of Natas
and the providence of
Cheers begin to fill the air, and as Halles continues speaking, it turns to silence.
“Yet, even as this
threat is revealed, we have lost the one that has given us this knowledge,
Ragnus Guard, of Dlrow. An almighty hero
that shall never be forgot. And let us
not forget his name, let us not forsake his family, let us not forsake what he
has given us, let us not forsake this night, the night that
Loud cheering and
chanting conjure up once again as all the armies of the realm signal in
ready. As the horns sound in the
distance, the great army begins the march toward
As the army approaches Modos and Harromag of Nis, Natas grows frightened and angry. He stands atop the Modos city wall, and addresses the troops below. “Fools! You have failed me! You have failed your people! You have failed yourselves! Do you not see the army that approaches?”
Natas looks over the wall toward the south where a line of catapults come closer into range of the two cities.
A soldier, in hysterical confusion, finally sees the truth. “Why not join them? Surely that is better than death.”
Natas immediately signals his guards to kill the soldier. Three of the guards walk up to the lines, drags the man out, and snaps his neck. There is an eerie silence.
“You have brought this on yourselves, just as he has brought death upon himself.”
Another soldier stands up against Natas’ words. “He did nothing! He merely made a suggestion.”
Knowing Natas’ will, the three guards walk up to the line, drag out the soldier, and snap his neck. Many more soldiers begin to speak out, each one killed by the guards, until Natas hears the inspired voice of a soldier atop the wall. “Look!” He looks toward Harromag where the army is frantically running out of the gates and approaches Halles’ army. Knowing that they are running to surrender, Natas becomes enraged, grunting, “Do not fail me here!”
A few of the soldiers see the wave of their brothers through the gate. One states, “They run for forgiveness!” as another proclaims, “We should as well!”
“No! Guards! Kill them!”
Yet the guards are too few. They are overwhelmed by the army as the soldiers rush for the gate. Yet, just as the first few soldiers exit the city, a loud command is heard in the distance. The soldiers stop.
The line of catapults set loose a barrage of stones doused in oil and set on fire. As the first of the fireballs comes ever closer to the city walls, one soldier realizes the truth. He proclaims quietly to himself, “We were too late to act; this is how we failed ourselves.”
The first fireball grazes just past Natas. He doesn’t move, yet his cloak catches on fire as the stone passes by. Standing motionless and in silence, his entire body becomes engulfed in flames. In his final words, Natas’ angrily defeated voice quietly shutters around him. “Curse you Halles.”
Fireballs strike the city all around, screams are heard and destruction is everywhere. Another fireball flies and hits the wall just below where Natas is standing. The wall crumbles beneath him and Natas falls, smashing against the ground below. As pieces of the wall crumble around him, Natas lays motionless, burning away to ashes.