Distant thunder rumbled as backdrop to the sound of clanging weapons and harrowing cries. Flashing rays of heat lightning replaced the setting sun, illuminating vast amounts of bloodshed along the Fortress of Altimaer's horseshoe-shaped walls. The experience of the Valorian military far outweighed the Imagians who were nothing more than a band of common folk rising up against the growing threat of evil. This allowed the Valorians to quickly identify vulnerabilities in their defenses and scale the wall to take advantageous positions along the ramparts. This was the Valorians first chance to exact revenge for the lives they had lost in their march up the hill. Up, until this point, the Imagians fought comfortably from the loftiness of their protective wall, without concern, until they were found to be on equal footing. This equal footing resulted in mass Imagian bloodshed. It was then that the Imagians came to the realization that if they did not fight with a greater degree of focus and urgency their lives would be lost, the war would end, and evil would reign supreme.
Therefore, the Imagians rallied against the Valorians with a renewed sense of purpose. They beat back the heavily, armored Valorians into small pockets, dispatching their lives with a combination of swords, axes and spears. Once the wall was re-secured, the Imagians snapped arrows and dropped stones on Valorian heads, and used long poles to tip the hefty ladders away from the wall. For now, the Imagians had successfully reclaimed the upper hand; however, there were still a few pockets of resistance remaining along the ramparts, in which Liviu was heading.
The Roznovian sprinted along the ramparts with a sense of finality, probing his peripheral from beneath his tarnished helmet. Droplets of light rain collected on his black tunic while his boots stomped through puddles of blood. Liviu had to warn Scars’ about the threat that had discreetly amassed under the impeding cover of darkness, but to his dismay, his commander’s post was fresh under attack!
Up ahead, Liviu caught sight of two-dozen Valorian soldiers hell-bent on descending into the fort to open the gate from within. The Valorians had pushed and shoved their way forward with their rectangular shields, thrusting their swords at anyone that dared attack. The Valorians had almost gained access to the stairs when Scar’s slipped conspicuously through a gap in their defenses.
Suddenly, Scar’s flexed his muscles and shook his wet mane. He let out a loud howl while beating his battered, bronze breastplate with his armbands. In that moment the Valorian line of defense crumbled as several soldiers charged at Scars and his brooding long sword. Scars’ beat and hammered away at the incoming soldiers’ armored bodies, knocking them aside as other’s attacked. The Valorian’s knew he was their leader and with him quickly dispatched they could bring this war to a swift end. But Scar’s was not having any part in it. He cleaved one man’s arm off and then the leg of another. He hacked into one man’s torso and split open an artery in one’s neck. At his best he clobbered a man’s skull with a downward swing with his sword.
For all Scars’ hard-earned efforts nothing could have prevented the blade that had whacked him across the shoulders of his bronze armor. The blunt force caused Scars’ to stumble backwards into the wall feigning for breath. To make matters worse the remaining Valorians had formed an elliptical barrier with their rectangular shields to stop the Imagians from rescuing their leader. The situation was not good. Scars' was bent over backwards on the ledge and being strangled by his aggressor.
“This is not how this story is going to end!”
Barreling around the bend, Liviu unsheathed his short swords, gave them a quick twirl, and leaped into the foray! He joined his comrades in attacking the Valorian line of defense, but he did so with such commanding agility over his heavily armored adversaries, that he succeeded in cutting two of the men down that stood between him and his friend. With his path now open, Liviu jutted past the remaining Valorians, lunged into the air with his swords raised high, and cleaved Scars' aggressor across the spine! The Roznovian then turned the stunned soldier around and punched him several times in the face with the hilt of his sword, and flipped him over the wall!
Afterwards, Liviu clasped Scars' by his forearm and pulled him safely to his feet. The two companions hurriedly took cover away from the battle that was eventually won by the Imagians.
Scars’ let out a deep sigh of relief, admitting, "I never imagined the day that it would be you saving my arse!”
Liviu recalled how Scars’ had kept a close eye on his well-being, albeit from a distance, during his years spent hiding out in the Wastelands. Initially, Liviu had perceived he was sent on behalf of Emperor Nico to kill him, when in fact Scars’ was ordered on behalf of the Leader of the Imagians to protect him.
Liviu produced a wide grin, prodding, "I guess we are even!"
Suddenly, Scars', Liviu and every soldier on the battlefield keeled over, covering their ears from a cosmic trumpet that blasted through the firmament above. The decibals were both nauesating and vomit-inducing, and the vibrations shattered any object that could not withstand its resonance. This caused windows to shatter and hollow buildings to crumble. The horn continued to bellow deep into the earth a total of six times until an eerie silence fell upon the land. The intensity of sound left the soldiers reeling as they anxiously edged up and looked out over the wall.
Between the base of plateau and the forrested treeline amassed a dark cloud above the white foggy plains. This dark inigma appeared to pulsate a fiery crimson as if it were a beating heart. Unbeknownst to those curiously watching from above, the flickering of light came from the egg-shaped orb encased by a reptillian talon on top of General Brannstrom's staff. It was this very object that beckoned forth the condemned spirits of the Strigoli. These opaque silhoettes had crossed over the spiritual plains and into the mortal world upon sacrificing the late, Emperor Claudias Nuncio in the Grand Valorite Temple. The Stigoli were one arm of Raul the Divine's fiercesom army, and they were ready to devour mortal spirits to strengthen the divine spirit through the power of fear.
General Brannstrom relished in this newfound power as he remained fixated upon the Ancient Tome that called to him from inside the temple, directly behind the gate. His wintry white hair dripped along his ghastly features while his violet cape shield his black leather armor from the elements. The eye of the incoming storm had brought early nightfall. Thus, it was time for him to draw this battle to a quick and decisive close, and to recover what was rightfully stolen.
Filled, with a sudden surge of rage, Brannstrom raised his staff to the hungry moans of the Strogili, and shouted, "Through the power of fear vested to me through the divine spirit, I command you to lay siege to the Fortress of Altimaer and feast upon the souls of man!Let no man escape your eternal wrath! And when all is finished, the one who returns to me the Ancient Tome, your spirit shall be made whole again in its physical form. Now go!"
Brannstrom lifted his staff high above his condemned army, and with one forward wave, the crimson orb flashed across the valley. Moments later there came an explosion of lightning followed by a thunderous boom, which released a torrent of rainfall. This awesome feat caused the Strigoli to let out a venomous shriek as they began running across the misty plains, leaping across the small stream, and onto the bast of plateau. The demonic force was in no need to follow formalities. Instead of taking the windy road past Ballian’s post, the Strigoli scaled the sharp hill like a fleeting swarm of insects.
Scars’ could not believe the speed at which the Strigoli were climbing. His startled gaze left him gripping the wall, contemplating whether his plans will work to stop the Strigoli from laying siege to the Fortress of Altimaer. Because if he failed, the pain in his busted nose and aching back would pale in comparison to losing one's limbs, not to mention one's eternal soul.
Liviu clung tightly to the hilts of his sheathed swords while standing beside his faithful commander. Although, his metal helmet helped shield him from the elements it could not stop his dark eyes from witnessing the monstrosity of fear quickly approaching. He then admitted to what Scars' already knew,“There is no way our army is going to be able to stop them through prayer alone.”
The heavy downpour had left Scars' short brown hair matted against his forehead, and his battered, bronze breastplate was cleaned of all soot. He decidingly pushed himself away from the wall to take an upright stance of defiance, reminding Liviu of their secret weapon, “Then let us pray that the bell tower will keep the Strigoli at bay until daybreak.”
"... but will it also save the Valorians? Look!"
Scars’ could not believe what occurred next, exclaiming, “It appears that they have not a clue of who they are retreating towards!"
The Valorians watched with relief along the base of the horseshoe-shaped fortress as thousands of reinforcements ascended the hill. The Valorians had been fighting non-stop throughout the day and were in dire need of rest. Since Ballian had not given them any new commands the Valorian army had become split again in their decisioning. While many of the soldiers had continued to fight a third of the men decided it was time to retire, figuring there were more than enough reinforcements to lay seige to the wall.
The soldiers descended the jagged terrain raising their swords and cheering on their replacements. It was only when the Strigoli were within range did their guts instinctually raise the alarm to their queer, omnipresent evil. But it was too late! Nothing could stop the Strigoli from stampeding right over them.
The Valorians that had accepted the new creed into their condemned hearts were spared and those that did not, dropped their weapons, and tried retreating up the hill. In the end, the Strigoli mowed each one of them over, tearing away at their flesh, and devouring their fleeting soul just as it exited their mortal body!
Liviu stepped away from the wall with his mouth agape.
“What are we to do? We have to save them!”
“I have just the idea.”
Scars' ran over to a fallen comrade and flipped him over on his back. He quickly made a sign upon his forehead and chest before reaching for his tunic. In one swift tug he ripped off the deceased soldier's white tunic and pierced his sword through two corners of the fabric. He then leaped up onto the ledge of the wall, raised his bullhorn to his lips, and blew an old, familiar tune from his days as a Valorian soldier.
It was the tune for retreat.
Immediately, the Valorians drew their attention towards Scars' brooding, long sword and the white tunic-turned-flag that he valiantly waved. His signal for peace caused the Valorians to drop their weapons and gather along the base of the wall begging for mercy while the Imagians remained uncertain as to whether or not they should help their enemy. This was further excerbated when the Valorians placed their ladders against the wall and began trying to climb it in droves. But when they reached the top unarmed, the Imagians forcefully kept them at bay with their weapons, leaving both sides to argue their case as the Strigoli advanced.
It did not take long for Scars' to realize that his idea to help the Valorians was not working, and if he did not take immediate action, they were all going to die. So Scars' pivoted around on the ledge to catch sight of the bell tower, located at the center of the Fortress of Altimaer. The obelisk shaped tower rose above the heap of ruins, having endured countless battles over its history.
At the very top was the belfry. The large chamber had columned pillars that supported its arched windows, and the hexagonal, slate spire that capped its top. Inside, Scars' noticed several torches illuminating the rehung bell and the web of scaffolding surrounding it. However, it was Ronan that he did not see who should have been eagerly watching for Scars' orders.
In haste, Scars’ raised his horn and bellowed out the coded signal to command Ronan to start ringing the bell. He waited a few longs moments, figuring that the young man would have to run around the scaffolding, over to the eastern side of the tower, to draw the rope attached to the bell's bronze tongue. When there came no chiming bell, Scars’ blew his horn a second time and then a third. Still, there was no recoginizable shadows of movement within the belfry.
Scars’ hopped down from the ledge and shouted a mouthful of expletives, while admitting the worst, “That bastard holds our life in his hands! I should have known better than to have trusted him.”
Liviu could not fathom their fellow comrade putting their lives in such jeopardy, let alone his own. So he remained cautiously optimistic in his opinion.
“Something must have happened.”
“Well, it is too late now for us to find out!”
The two men returned their attention to the wall. The Valorians were begging the Imagians to save them from the impending darkness to no avail.
“What now?” Liviu cried.
“We shall protect them and ourselves with Holy Brimstone.”
Scars’ took to his bullhorn and blew another command from deep within his lungs. The blast alerted the spiritual soldiers to take up their post along the stone-carved chute. This time instead of rolling boulders through the wall they got behind one large, iron vat. These vats were not boiling with black tar but rather it was brimming with cold, spring water. The Imagians balked at Scar’s idea and saw this as an incredible way of depleting an important resource that could save them during a siege. But little did they know that their commander had blessed these waters with tiny droplets of holy oil for a far more useful purpose.
Upon Scars’ command the Imagians tipped their large vats forward. The fresh cold water spilled over the lip, splashed into the stone-carved chute, and funneled out trough the hole in the wall. The water gushed down out like a waterfall but its trajectory was not fast enough to spout over the ramp that was used for launching boulders. Instead, the liquid filtered into a stone gutter that coursed its way around the curvature of the fortresses wall.
Alas, when the last of the Valorians had crossed the flowing stream, Scars’ drew his bow taut and shot the holy water with a flaming arrow. The tip of the arrowhead caused the holy oil within the water to ignite into a bristling white wall of uncreated light, shielding both Imagian and Valorians, alike, from the Strigoli that leaped through it with their sharp fangs and talons!
Those Strigoli that crossed through the spiritual barrier to feast on mortal flesh were found kilted over on their their knees as the uncreated light dissolved their condemned spirit. During this process their opaque silhouettes began to lift, revealing their ethnicity and attire customary to the period in which their life was eternally condemned. Once their identity was fully exposed their spirits exploded from the uncreated light’s sheer power of love, expunging their evil from all of existence.
The Strigoli that died as a result of this spiritual feat, made them realize that the Valorians were not their true enemy. It only re-confirmed to them that the New Creed was none other than a ploy to raise Raul’s immortal kingdom.
Quickly, the Imagians assisted their adversaries over and onto the wall as the Strigoli restlessly shrieked from behind the spiritual barrier. The fortress was, for now, a temporary place of refuge that kept General Brannstrom’s demonic army at bay. It was only a matter of time before the Holy Brimstone smoldered out, giving this terrorizing force the ability to attack. Therefore, Scars' needed to get that bell ringing if they were to survive the night. But where was that bastard, Ronan?
Again, Scars’ signaled to Ronan with several blasts from his horn. When his commands were not returned he charged right over to Liviu, shrugged him by his biceps, and urged, “I need you to go to the temple and find out what has happened. That bell is a matter of life and death for us!”
Liviu gave Scars one last, fraught stare, before shooting off down the steps and towards the temple. Something foul lay hidden behind those temple doors and he needed to find out fast. His only hope was that Scars’ suspicions about Ronan did not bare any truth. Because if his worst suspicions held true, it meant that the Imagian’s cause was at risk at stopping this growing threat of evil. And if this were to happen they might just lose the very object that could quite possibly take down Raul the Divine—and that was the Ancient Tome that carried his moniker.
The stolen artifact must be delivered safely to the Leader of the Imagians and Liviu was not going to let this fall through so late in the fight. The Roznovian leaned forward into his sprint with balled fists and clenched teeth.