Fan Fiction

Tales of Redemption by Jonathan Goss

Part I: Flight of the Crane26 May 2004, 13:49 PM

"There," Thirteen Mountain Storm said with a burst, jabbing a gloved finger into the horizon.

Nine Crane Flooding Wind peered into the direction of his comrade's limb. Yet despite his excellent vision all he could see was craggy tundra stretching for miles. "I think the excitement of the past few hours has warped your mind, friend." He said bemusedly. "Either that or you're just getting senile in your old age." Of course, Thirteen was decidedly older than Nine Crane: two centuries older in fact, but to a Heron Guard it was grain on the beach.

Thirteen grunted with frustration. "Don't you see that shadow? What is that? Myrkridia?"

Nine Crane shrugged. "Of course it is. What else could it be?" The Heron Guard stood silently for a moment beside his brother at arms. "Maybe it's a Trow?"

Thirteen lowered his arm to his side, his eyes never leaving the distant mystery. "No, they're fighting for us now." He paused to rest his eyes. "Besides, it's not moving like a Trow."

"Well, I guess it can't be a Trow anyway." Nine Crane admitted with an amused grin. Thirteen turned to him. "The ground isn't rumbling."

Thirteen Mountain kicked a pebble at his feet out of frustration of the mystery. What would be a silent tumbling of the small rock across dusty earth was as clear as a mortar blast to Thirteen's gifted senses. It wasn't a Trow out there, he knew that. What was left of their shattered race had sided with the Light, and there was no such thing as a splinter tribe among the Trow. Their loyalty was flawless. So it wasn't them. But the shadow was bigger than a Myrkridia, which utterly perplexed the grizzled warrior. Regardless of what it was, something was out there. Something big.

Nine Crane shifted a bit on the sandy earth beneath his booted feet. It was strange to think that all those decades ago he had stood on this very spot. Of course, back then Muirthemne was a shining jewel of a metropolis, a brilliant and magnificent testament to the Cath Bruig Empire. It broke his heart now to stand in that same place in the former capital city and peer out over the dusty slopes and man high sections of wall that used to be the city's outer gardens. It brought visible tears to his eyes to think that he was not here to stay its destruction. But the same could be said for every Heron Guard. It was the kind of shame and regret that would have killed lesser men. But the Heron Guard persevered. They survived. And now, here they were, standing along the parapets and walls of their once great city, swords at their backs, banners flapping in the breeze.

It seemed only moments ago that Alric had been named the new Emperor of the Cath Bruig, and that the mighty Heron Guard were reinstated. Nine Crane would never forget the sensation of loosing the rope cords that held his tiles to him. The liberation of his back from their weight was as a phoenix of his very essence. Nor would the reassuring feeling of his sabres resting confidently in his hands soon be forgotten.

It was magnificent.

It was jubilant.

It was short lived.

No sooner had the former Journeymen cast down their tiles and dusted off their armor than Fulthir, a berserk, came racing into the palace courtyard, shouting at the top of his lungs that the Myrkridians were amassing outside the city walls. No words were spoken among the immortal elites. Every Heron Guard hastened their arming and proceeded without delay to Fulthir's position. Nine Crane could not help but feel a twinge of amusement tug at his lips as he watched the scarred and bare form of Fulthir twitch and fidget anxiously. The berserk waited, albeit impatiently, for the elites to gather themselves together, and Nine Crane could tell as he set his helmet over his long hair, that the berserk was young. The absence of gray from his beard gave himself away. Within moments the force of Heron Guards were racing as fast as they could for the outer walls.

The walls.

Get to the walls.

Behind them had joined three Trow and a pair of Dwarven Mortar brigadiers. As they sprinted across the uneven, broken terrain of the former city courtyards Nine Crane could not help but yearn for the company of some of his former comrades. So many had died in the early days of Balor's war. Nine Crane remembered in particular the first siege of Seven Gates, where twenty Journeymen had lost their lives defending the narrow passes and ravines. It was an appalling loss. Nine Crane remembered the tears that were shed by the surviving Journeymen over the loss of their brothers. The tears wept by them turned the earth at their feet to mud. And where blood and sweat had not moistened the ground, the sobbing of countless former Heron Guards at the deaths of so many alike had.

Nine Crane wished for their company now, if for nothing else than a simple joke as they strode with haste for the besieged walls. But Nine Crane would have to settle for the swarthy and sarcastic humor of the Dwarves. Uni and Duri seemed to let lose a foul comment or arrogant slur every other step as their short legs tried in vain to keep up with the rest of the troupe. And Umbra Tempest, a soot colored Trow, seemed to grow more and more agitated towards them with every word. Or every step. Nine Crane wondered for a moment if the gorgon would sweep each of them up into his calloused hands or simply stomp them into the earth. Luckily, neither occurred.

To Nine Crane's surprise, however, it was Mergus Crepusculum, another of the Trow, who offered to carry the Dwarves in his hands all the way to the front line in order to hurry their pace and alleviate their ill-fated suffering. What was even more shocking to the experienced Heron Guard was that the Dwarves reluctantly agreed. So here they were; dozens of Heron Guards accompanied by three Trow, one of which carrying a pair of Dwarven Mortar brigadiers in his arms like loaves of bread. All being led by a hyperactive berserk. Surely it was not an imposing sight for the allies of the Light. Certainly not a deterrent to the Myrkridian horde that awaited them.

"You know, Nine Crane," Thirteen Mountain began as they sprinted swiftly across the earth. "The last time we fought together I killed thrice as many enemies as you." He turned to his friend who was striding beside him, and gave him a devilish grin. "I bet you I can do it again."

"I bet you can, Thirteen." Nine Crane answered casually. "But you forget, ole chum, that you were on the front line in that one, and I was six columns back with the reserves. Hardly a fair comparison."

"Maybe, but let us not debate minutia. I still bet I can best you in notches on my belt."

Nine Crane only shook his head and sighed in exasperation. Why was everything always a pissing contest with Thirteen Mountain? Why was he always trying to one-up everyone he came across? Nine Crane could only scowl at his friend. It was his worst trait, and no doubt his biggest flaw. But, perhaps it was not that bad. Surely there could have been worse flaws in Thirteen's personality. He could have been a drunk, or a blood thirsty killer. Those traits were far worse, and usually reserved for lesser men, such as the Legion's warriors. But if the Heron Guard suffered from a singular disease it was that of arrogance, and pride. Though by no means a deadly flaw, it was one that had proven a problem in the past.

"You forget, Thirteen," Nine Crane added. "That the last time we fought together your bravado warranted my aiding."

"Yes, yes," the other admitted. "How could I forget? But I still say I never needed saving. No matter how many wounds I received."

As they drew closer to the walls Nine Crane and Thirteen Mountain could hear the distant tearing pop of mortar rounds exploding. It was a noise that pierced armor and flesh with its cacophony. Without a word the Heron Guard all but doubled their pace. Yet most of them knew that things were not yet dire. It was never the repetitive sound of Dwarven explosions or the clamorous ringing of warriors' steel that worried Nine Crane. It was when that repetition stopped that his hackles rose. For a ceasing of the noise meant that the allies were no longer fighting, which was never good. It usually meant that they were dead. But for now it seemed as though the Dwarf, whoever he was, was doing a good job of taking it to the enemy: the sickening sound of mortar rounds exploding onto the ground was as a tearing away of some daemon from the earth, screeching and howling in thunderous fury. Perhaps the outer walls were being held, despite the breaches. Nine Crane would know soon enough.

As the reinforcements drew in to the patch of rising mortar smoke and the light colored trail of a campfire, they beheld a near unbelievable sight: twelve berserks and a single Dwarven Mortar brigadier stood practically unscathed. In between them and the breach in the wall was a field littered with the chum and bloody parts of Myrkridia. Only a couple of berserks could be seen wrapping bloody wounds, and even as the Dwarf readied another round Nine Crane could see the archers coming in from the flanks to join them. The elite immortal was impressed. Perhaps they did not need to haste!

"That didn't take long." One of the berserks said to Fulthir as they approached the campfire.

Thirteen moved to the forefront. He observed the carnage wrought by the defenders with a stoic visage and hard expression. "It looks like we could have taken our time, Northman."

"The name's Algir." The berserk said with a seething tone. The animosity between certain berserks and Journeymen had always been prevalent within certain groups. The berserks resented the former Heron Guards for not fighting as they once had, and the Journeymen sometimes thought of the berserks as mindless barbarians with no sense of propriety or honor. Algir and Thirteen Mountain Storm exhibited this now.

"Algir," Thirteen repeated casually. "No doubt there will be more."


"Well, lets get to it." Within seconds the troupe was split up and sent to their destinations outside the wall. It was quickly determined that two ramps would be easier to defend than three sections of broken wall, so the berserks and Heron Guards went with the Dwarven Mortars to one ramp while the archers and the Trow, accompanied by Nine Crane and Thirteen Mountain, went to another. Time would tell if it would prove a worthy defense.

And now, it seemed, time was all Nine Crane Flooding Wind and Thirteen Mountain Storm had. It was nearly twenty minutes ago that they had separated out their forces and set up formations. And so far nothing. Except for Thirteen's shadowy delusions.

"I still say it's a Myrkridia." Thirteen repeated, this time with emphasis.

His companion shrugged. "You may be right." He admitted. "But that's going to be one hell of a big Myrkridia."

Thirteen laughed. "Good, then you can have him." Nine Crane bared his teeth in apprehension at the prospect. Thirteen chuckled at his friend.

In the distance Nine Crane heard the unmistakable sound of the mortars firing their shells. And that was just the beginning.

Part II: Pride of the Mountain26 May 2004, 11:29 PM

"Stay with the archers, Human!" Umbra Tempest shouted as he thundered towards the approaching Myrkridia. It wasn't half a minute since the throng of ravenous demons appeared beyond the broken walls of Muirthemne's outer gardens that the Trow were rushing to meet them.

Three Trow against seven Myrkridia. If Thirteen Mountain Storm knew anything, he could bet on a slaughter. Those Trow were going to pulverize the monsters. But regardless, no one bossed the Heron Guard around, especially not Thirteen Mountain Storm... and especially not by some Trow.

"Don't throw orders around, you oversized salt pillar!" Thirteen shouted to the Trow descending the ramp. Umbra Tempest didn't acknowledge his retort, nor did his comrades. Thirteen grunted in frustration.

Beside him, Nine Crane Flooding Wind stood patiently, twin sabres in hand. His ageless face wore a look of bemused apathy. Thirteen had been his friend for countless years, and despite the endless time given to their deathless order, Nine Crane had noticed that his friend had not changed one bit. He still was an arrogant sot. Despite that, they were friends. They were brothers. They were Heron Guards. And Thirteen Mountain had saved Nine Crane more than once on the battlefield. Loyalty was a staple of the elite immortals, no one questioned that. Beside him, Nine Crane could see Thirteen begin to pace anxiously.

"Easy, ole chum." Nine Crane said soothingly. "It'll come."

Thirteen Mountain whipped his head around to face Nine Crane. "I know it'll come, Nine Crane, I just don't want those trunk-footed Trow to get all the glory." He spat for emphasis.

Behind them the snap of bowstrings could be heard and felt, the six archers at their backs beginning to line up and take shots at the advancing Myrkridia. Volley after volley arched over Thirteen and Nine Crane's heads, plummeting towards their foe. But no sooner had the bowmen begun than the Trow had closed the gap with their prey. As the archers relaxed their yew shafts the maddening thud of Trow pounding Myrkridia reached Thirteen's ears. He and his companion watched in gruesome satisfaction as the hairy bodies of the Myrkridia were flung and splattered across the dusty tundra. The shrieks of the demons echoed in the still desert air. It was a manic chorus of hideous death.

Nine Crane could not help but wince a bit at the sight of the Trow kicking the Myrkridia into piles and puddles of goo. He had remembered what it was like to fight them seventy years ago, during Balor's war. The same fate had befallen countless warriors and berserks of the Legion, and now, in mirrored contrast the same fearsome fate was being dealt to the Myrkridia. The poor beasts never had a chance. For a moment Nine Crane thought that he felt a twinge of sorrow for the abominations. But it was fleeting. And false.

In moments it was over, and the Trow stood as a triad of silent pillars. Pillars of iron. The bowmen let out a chorus of jubilant shouts in triumph of the Trow's victory. Nine Crane heard Thirteen Mountain Storm scorn the jubilation under his breath.

"Damned luck," Thirteen muttered more to himself than to Nine Crane. "The bloody trunk-feet get first blood."

Nine Crane laughed a little. "I'm sure there will be plenty to go around." He looked at his friend. "You're such a glory whore, Thirteen." He teased.

Thirteen Mountain smiled with that same old devilish grin. He knew what he was. "I prefer the term 'glory hound.'"


The ground beneath their feet began to rumble as the Trow returned to the ramp where the rest of the defenders waited. Nine Crane gazed across the three massive hulks. Umbra Tempest's elephant like feet were covered in the crimson blood of Myrkridia all the way up to his knees. Mergus Crepusculum, another of the Trow, had bits of hairy flesh gooed into his belt of skulls. Blood speckled on his face, reflecting slightly in the hot desert sun. The other Trow, Magnus Caedes, stood most covered in the gore, bits of flesh and chum trailing behind him as he thundered with the others back towards the defense post. Behind the idle Heron Guards and bowmen stood the ancient and scarred walls of Muirthemne, a few feet away. To their fore was the wide ramp leading to the dusty tundra beyond. And the enemy. Nine Crane looked upon the faces of the Trow. None seemed to exhibit the pain of wounds, nor the exhaustion that comes from an intense bout. In fact, the Trow looked, for lack of a better word, bored.

Suddenly the sound of crackling thunder pierced the afternoon air. It came from the ramp north of them. It was the Dwarven Mortar Brigadiers. Another attack had commenced. Perhaps an ill-timed two pronged assault by the Dark? Regardless, the sounds of mortar fire reminded Nine Crane of the rolling thunderstorms that used to blast the coast in the spring time. It was a never ending cacophony of explosions, no doubt a shower of wrought iron death for the Myrkridia.

"Damn," Thirteen grumbled. "They're really getting it in the dog blossom, aren't they?"

Nine Crane laughed. A genuine, "limbs to the dirt" laugh. "Sounds like it! I hope they don't do too well over there, though."

"Why's that?"

"Because," Nine Crane explained mock-casually. "They'll think it impregnable. And attack over here."

Thirteen chuckled. "I think that's going to happen no matter what."

"Hey!" Shouted Lewis, a lanky, bearded bowman. "Check it out!" He pointed a finger into the distance, towards the sections of broken walls and sloping hillocks. There, mingled among the half visible crouched forms of snarling Myrkridia, loomed a shadow of noticeably enormous size. Far larger than the known Myrkridia. It seemed to pace steadily back and forth behind the wall, just as two ranks of six Myrkridia each gathered on the sides of the brick section.

For a moment Thirteen thought he met the gaze of one of those beasts. In the red eyes time slowed, and the Heron Guard's skin crawled in fearsome anguish. Even for this grizzled warrior, the meeting of eyes with a Myrkridia seemed to disarm him, rendering his lungs useless, and his heart pounding so hard it seemed to be trying to escape its cage. What hellish thoughts and desires festered behind those red eyes? Did any thoughts reside at all in their minds? Did anything except the need to rend and taste flesh linger in that psyche? Would it matter, in the end?

Like a flash of lightning the train of thought ended for Thirteen, and as quickly as the gaze was met it was broken. Half a moment later the beasts were rushing across the broken landscape, sprinting in manic fury towards the ramp.

Towards Muirthemne.

Towards the allies.

The things moved so quickly that the eyes of lesser men would not be able to comprehend their speed. But the Heron Guard were superior for a reason. Thirteen and Nine Crane easily tracked the throng of Myrkridia as they advanced onto their position. The dust they were kicking up obscured the landscape beyond, creating a storming wall of dirt and sandy earth. It seemed to roil and choke the space behind the running Myrkridia, as a sand storm issued forth from the mouth of the Darkness.

Mergus Crepusculum turned to the Heron Guard. "You wish to meet them?" He asked, his voice literally shaking the straps and metal links of Thirteen's armor.

The Heron Guard snapped his head up to them, a lustful smile creasing his face. "I wouldn't have it any other way." Mergus smiled slightly at the man, a look of coy amusement on his chiseled face.

Nine Crane watched the force close the gap between them. Two Heron Guards could not take twelve Myrkridia and prevail. No amount of pride would save them here. He turned to his comrade.

"I think it would be wise to have the Trow aid us this time." He said guardedly.

Thirteen wheeled on his age old friend. "They've had their turn, Nine Crane." He spat venomously. "It's our chance at glory!' With speed that sliced the air Thirteen Mountain reached behind him and produced the twin sabres from his back scabbards. He twirled them a bit in his hands, warming up the metacarpals for their use.

Nine Crane turned surreptitiously to the Trow who stood patiently aside from the pair of men. He met the eyes of Mergus. "You might want to come in a bit behind us, sons of Nyx." He spoke quietly, making sure not to let Thirteen hear him. The Trow captain simply nodded his affirmation, his arms folding across his wagon-sized chest in eased complacency.

Seconds later the Myrkridia were in range of the archers, and the sound of six bowstrings loosing their broad-head arrows one after the other wafted past the Heron Guards' ears. The arrows flew in at all manner of angles, those of the more experienced bowmen finding their marks in the flesh of their targets. The greener bowmen were not so accurate in their archery, their arrows either falling short of the prey or soaring high over their heads. Moments later, Thirteen charged.

Nine Crane rushed to accompany him, the two elites crashing into the wall of hellish fury. Chaos ensued. The glinting flash of unstained steel biting and slashing the dusty air. The howls and screams of their ancient enemy piercing Nine Crane's covered ears. The spray and splatter of blood as he and Thirteen Mountain carved their way into the throng of flesh-eaters. Time seemed to be nonexistent, only the swinging of Myrkridian claws and the plunging of Heron steel resided in Nine Crane's reality. He could no longer see more than six feet in any direction. The dust wrapped around him. The sand and dirt clogged his nostrils and scraped his eyes. It ground into his gums and tore into the small cuts and lacerations of the Myrkridian attacks. He felt his left arm pauldron sunder under the weight of a Myrkridian forearm. The cold, alien sting of claws sinking into his skin. Nine Crane turned in a furious flash onto his attacker, his left hand sabre coming skyward in an uppercut to the beast's sternum, the second sabre arching down across the back of its neck, severing the head in a clean swipe. Blood issued forth in a gruesome stream as the headless body of the Myrkridia slumped to the ground. Nine Crane removed his weapons and inspected his wound. It wasn't bad, nothing half a mandrake couldn't solve when the foes were dead and the fight over.

Thirteen Mountain found himself in a soggy spot: four Myrkridia lunging at him from all sides at once. With ageless agility and god-like speed the Heron Guard twirled and danced among the attacking throng. The world spun and wheeled as Thirteen torqued into a crouched position, his blades slicing effortlessly through three of the four attackers. The last, a small, wiry Myrkridia, halted half a meter away from the embattled Heron Guard. Thirteen Mountain turned to face the thing. And promptly found it useless. The beast was bristling with arrows, one even lodged through the cavity of its left eye. It just stood there, still in the red-soaked earth, still as a bronze edifice. Taking no chances, Thirteen plunged both sabres into its chest, sending the thing back to the hell that spawned it.

A moment later the two immortal men found themselves the masters of the field, a garden of gruesome death and carrion plowed into the earth at their feet. Nine Crane was breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling like a tide under the constraints of his armor. He looked over at Thirteen Mountain, a few meters away. He smiled at his comrade, who he could see was covered in blood. For a moment it reminded Nine Crane of the Emperor's crimson armor, and one could almost envision the man's face replaced by that of Alric, their new emperor. Thirteen raised his swords in honor to Nine Crane, who replied in kind to the salute. After a fashion the older Heron Guard wondered as to the extended gaze of his friend.

"What are looking at now, Nine?" Thirteen slurred through his heaving lungs.

"You just look a fitting candidate for the Crimson Mantle." Nine said, referring to the Emperor's armor. Thirteen grinned, all teeth. "I hope that'll wash off!" He said, pointing a sabre tip to the red stains on Thirteen's armor.

The other laughed. "They keep throwing their troops at us like that and we'll be sure to find out."

Both shared a hearty laugh. But a shadow lingered in the distance of the still rolling dust cloud. It grew larger and larger, until Thirteen and Nine Crane both were overshadowed by it. The two stumbled back a bit, a twinge of uncertain fear entering their armored hearts for the first time in countless centuries. The two Heron Guards began to back up, trying in vain to escape from the ever growing tower of shadow now looming over them. Neither said a word, and even Thirteen questioned the value of holding their easily won ground.

Suddenly it appeared. Out of the dust storm burst forth the most hideous and frightening image ever to sear itself into the eyes and minds of the two Heron Guards.

It was a Myrkridia.

A goliath of a Myrkridia.

Around its corpulent waist was draped a loin cloth made from the skins of lesser flesh-eaters. The thing was a cannibal, the blood and tissue of a Myrkridia still hanging in dripping tendrils from its claws and fangs. The thing was easily as tall as a Trow, and sizably wider. Its hating, vicious red eyes glared with a bloodlust from atop its foetid head. Nine Crane and Thirteen Mountain both felt their blood run cold. What in all of creation was it?

"Wyrd's Nightmare!" Screamed Thirteen Mountain. It wasn't a blasphemy, but a call to their god. A terror induced shriek of their very essence; their souls.

Without thinking the two ancient warriors closed the gap between themselves, drawing closer together. They moved, out of fear and obvious necessity, into a shoulder to shoulder stance, right knees pressed together. They would have to fight as a dias, a pair of interlocked, co-working soldiers. A maneuver used to maximize efficiency. A maneuver saved for desperation. Perhaps this was it? Perhaps the two Heron Guards would die here, in this blood-muddied earth?

As the thing bellowed stifling breath from its lungs, issuing forth a blood curdling howl, the two Heron Guards, Thirteen Mountain Storm and Nine Crane Flooding Wind, raised their swords and braced themselves for the inevitable. This was suicide.

From behind them the ground rumbled, the familiar sounds of tree trunked feet growing more distinct at their backs.

The Trow were coming to aid.

Part III: Call of the Eagle28 May 2004, 12:30 PM

Nine Crane Flooding Wind plopped down onto the ground beside his comrade, Thirteen Mountain Stone. The two had returned to their station at the top of the southern ramp leading to the walls of Muirthemne. Moments earlier they had charged in with the surviving Trow, Magnus Caedes and Mergus Crepusculum, to hack up yet another of the seemingly endless waves of Myrkridia. The demon-beasts had been attacking the walls of Muirthemne for about an hour straight now, sometimes attacking the southern position, held by the two Heron Guards, the two surviving Trow, and six bowmen, and sometimes attacking the northern ramp, held by two dozen Heron Guards and half as many berserks.

It was the first time in over a hundred years that the Heron Guard allowed themselves to take up arms and fight on the front line. It was the first time in over a century that the flower of Muirthemne's armies was again unleashed upon the forces of the Dark.

A part of Nine Crane wished he were at the northernmost ramp, with his fellow brothers at arms. The sight and sensation of fighting with so many of his comrades was something the ageless warrior had not known in a long time. A part of him wished it dearly. But solace was found in the company of his longtime friend, Thirteen Mountain Storm. This older, grizzly Heron Guard was as tough as he was arrogant. A maelstrom of ferocity and vengeance, Thirteen had garnered for himself a reputation of one who cared only for victory, and in many cases, glory. In no way was he the most virtuous of their elite order, but Thirteen possessed a certain sense of leadership, albeit in his own maniacal way. He was the kind of prideful warrior that inspired others to excellence. And that was invaluable.

Of course, now Thirteen was simply trying to catch his breath, while Nine Crane sat on his rear end in the dust, chest heaving. The two had come close to dying more than once out there. And as the day drew on their strength, though far superior, was starting to wane. Nine Crane had lost count of how many Myrkridia he had either killed or helped killed. Even Thirteen had long since given up matching the notches on his belt with the corpses on the ground. It was madness. They just kept coming.

The image of Umbra Tempest, the third Trow, dying in the midst of the third attack was still gouged into Nine Crane's memory. He had watched helplessly from ten meters away as the mighty Trow warrior was surrounded by eight Myrkridia, each tearing off slabs of clay-like flesh. But what finished it for the ally was a Myrkridian Giant's explosive skulls. Their enormous power had showered Umbra Tempest with liquid fire, immobilizing him with the tell tale pain and shock that heralds the near death of a Trow. It was a noble end to the gorgon, but a gruesome one nevertheless.

But Umbra Tempest had made a good dent or two in the ranks of the Myrkridia before he fell. Nine Crane's memory recalled in particular the instance after the second attack when they beheld the Myrkridian Giant. It shocked him that, only moments after first beholding the horror that was the oversized Myrkridian, the three Trow seemed to thunder right over the dias of frightened warriors. The Heron Guard would never forget the site of those goliaths going at it; the Myrkridian Giant clawing furiously at Umbra Tempest, swathing ribbons of dry flesh from his mammoth body. Of course, the fight itself was over in a matter of seconds. No sooner had the Giant began tearing away at Umbra than the Trow landed a fist right into the Myrkridian's teeth, causing the thing to yelp in pain. In a flash the other two Trow were on either side of him, each wrapping themselves around the Myrkridian's man-length arms. They held the beast down while Umbra Tempest pulverized the thing. When it was nearly dead, the three Trow literally tore the monster apart, essentially drawing and quartering it right there in the dust. As a warning to the others the Trow hurled the limbs and torso of the monster hundreds of meters away into the distance where the other Myrkridia were waiting. The head they saved, bringing it back to the ramp as a souvenir. Thirteen laughed openly at the nauseous bowmen who vomited when the Trow returned with the head and dropped it, sloshing gore and all, into the sand and dirt at their feet. After a moment of regarding the thing the Trow silently returned to the left front side of the ramp, ready and waiting for the next attack.

Nine Crane asked Umbra Tempest moments later if he desired one of the mandrake roots the Heron Guard possessed for such wounds and ailments. The soot colored Trow refused the offer as politely as any of his kind could: with a shaking head and a waving hand. With a shrug Nine Crane returned to his post close to the bowmen.

Now he was glad that he still had the healing plant, for his wounds had grown too egregious to further withstand, much less carry with him into the fray. He had to heal himself before the next attack. He looked up at Thirteen, who was still breathing hard. His armor was covered in blood, and in more than one place Nine Crane thought he spied the marks of torn skin and flesh between Thirteen's armor. He suddenly became worried for his friend. Of course he knew that even if Thirteen was wounded the man would never tell him, nor let it show as best he could. Again, the flaw of pride that seemed to run rampant in the Heron Guard. Nevertheless, Nine Crane reached behind him and produced from his belt the small brown miracle twig. Biting into it he felt the surge of energy issue forth into his mouth, and then down his entire body. He convulsed slightly, then froze in that helpless trance all fell into when healed by the mandrake. A shower of light seemed to course over his body, and for a moment he didn't know who he was or where he was at.

"You're going to need more of those, brother." The distant voice of Thirteen Mountain Storm seemed to say. In a rush to his ears and his blood stream the world returned to Nine Crane, and he suddenly remembered everything. "Look." Thirteen pointed to the area beyond the rampart. "They're coming again, this time with friends."

It was true, Nine Crane looked out and saw what had become an expected familiarity. Ten Myrkridia, one Myrkridian Giant, and three ghols were racing for the alliance defenders. The ghols were the swiftest, covering the distance in a handful of seconds. The defenders had by now learned the purpose of these attacks. The ghol would throw various satchel charges and explosives onto the remaining weak points in the wall behind the allies. Then, in a blitzing rush, the Myrkridian Giant would hurl its fearsome skulls at the pile of charges, thus creating a breach in the wall and sending showers of stone and shards of mortar into the backs of the defenders. So far it hadn't worked. Every attack had been repelled by the bowmen. And now the time had come for them to do it again.

The two Heron Guards flung themselves out of the way of the archers as they began loosing arrows in the direction of the ghol. The bowmen didn't really have the patience to wait; the excitement was too much for them, and more than once a soldier found himself clutching at an arrow lodged in his back from an overzealous bowman. Thirteen and Nine Crane had come too far to let this happen to them now.

In no time the ghol were dead and the Myrkridia were again upon them. The Trow mustered and charged headlong into them. Within seconds half the Myrkridia were nothing more than piles of chum and carrion in the dirt and sand. Thirteen and Nine Crane rallied themselves as well, and lunged into the fray. The Myrkridian Giant was still a good twenty meters away, leaving time for the Heron Guard to hack up some foes of equal size.

Nine Crane swept his left sabre across the chest of a Myrkridia, opening up the thing's chest. Its pain induced howl was cut short in a gurgling rasp by Nine Crane's other sabre, which buried itself through the neck of the thing. In a flash the elite warrior removed his blades and ducked the attack of an oncoming foe. The second Myrkridia slashed madly at the Heron Guard, only to be launched ten feet into the air by Mergus Crepusculum's well placed kick. Nine Crane never saw where the thing landed.

Far to his right, on the other side of the field, Thirteen Mountain Storm was "limbing" two Myrkridia at once; hacking off the hands, arms, and legs of the beasts until there was nothing but a pair of snarling torsos writhing on the ground. Shouts of triumph and joy erupted from Thirteen's lungs as he finished off the helpless monsters. In his zealous rage the grizzled Heron Guard turned to face the next threat: the Myrkridian Giant. The Trow, however, were already closing in for the kill. Thirteen gritted his teeth, determined to bring one of those gorgons down before the day was out. He rushed forward towards the trio of raging giants. Dodging sweeping claws and hurtling kicks Thirteen Mountain moved in to the right side of the Myrkridian Giant. He plunged his right sabre as deeply as he could into the hairy thigh of the monster, then aiming low, rammed the left sabre upwards into its shin, severing the calf muscle from the inside. The beastly horror lurched and faltered, still clawing at the Trow. In a move of lightning speed the foe torqued to its left, jerking Thirteen's sabre-clutching hand forward.

With a sharp ping the sabre broke, blade lodged still in the Myrkridian's thigh.

In a fury Thirteen retracted his good sabre and began carving the Myrkridian's hips up like he was skinning a deer. But the beast was possessed with bloodlust. It swatted at Thirteen with its left hand, claws ripping the Heron Guard's right breast plate off completely, and plowing into the muscle of the man it protected. Thirteen flew backwards, landing on his back scabbards. He felt his back banners snap, and the wind rush out of his lungs. Time froze again on the field of war. The Myrkridian, somehow free of the Trow's fury, now stood over the defenseless Heron Guard.

Phobos gripped the ancient warrior.

The thing seemed to smile at Thirteen Mountain; a hideous, gore begrimed grin. It seemed to herald Thirteen's death.

"Muirthemne!" Came the howling battle-cry of a familiar voice from behind the beast, and out of sight of Thirteen Mountain. It was Nine Crane. Like a sprinting gazelle he fell upon the giant, slashing away in six successive strokes the muscles that controlled the Myrkridian's shoulders. All before the thing could turn and face him. Then the Trow came. Magnus Caedes, no longer the burnt sienna color of his native pigment but a deep and carrion crimson, landed a haymaker blow right over the brow of the Myrkridian, sending a stream of blood out of its nostrils. It shrieked and faltered uncontrollably, stunned by the blow. As Thirteen rose he saw that the force of the Trow's double-fisted attack had popped out the right eye of the Myrkridia. It hung, swinging, from the thing's face.

"Wyrd's figs!" Was all Thirteen could muster to say. That time it was a blasphemy.

The allies- Heron Guard and Trow alike- worked the Myrkridian Giant over for the next thirty seconds, slashing and cutting away at the thing until it eventually died, disintegrating into the ground leaving only a dark, meter sized stain upon the earth. To a normal man's eyes it looked like a giant ink blot spilled by Wyrd himself.

Nine Crane and his comrade surveyed the scene. In front of them laid a near endless field of Myrkridian remains. The ground looked like a plow field of gore and death. The recognizable black patches of earth left by defeated Myrkridian Giants were found in more than one or two spots. And even the crumbled form of Umbra Tempest, his head cleaved in two, was present in the mess. His one visible eye still stared lifelessly into the void, a haunting expression of rarely seen fear etched into his face. Or what was left of it.

As the four allies made their way up back the ramp to consolidate their lines Thirteen began complaining about his sword.

"I had that thing for six hundred bloody years, Nine Crane." He groaned through blood-stained coughs. "To think I had to break it on that slop-sucker."

Nine Crane shrugged. "Better it than you, my friend." Thirteen only grunted. "At least you're alive."

"If you can call it that."

Nine Crane suddenly caught movement from the north. It was a contingent of Heron Guards. Three of them were coming towards them. They weren't sprinting as they do when there is urgency. They were more just running, or perhaps even jogging. Nine Crane couldn't tell, his vision was getting a bit blurry from exhaustion. Thirteen saw it too, after a fashion.

"I wonder what's going on?" Nine Crane muttered.

"Probably want us to come up there and save their hides!" Thirteen joked, forcing a chuckle through his hacking.

In a moment the Heron Guards were near their two companions. Nine Crane recognized all of them. They were all of equally imposing height and build. All still carrying both twin sabres in their hands, the red streaks of bloodshed striped and blotched on their ancient armor.

Seven Fury Iron Wolf

Four Bloody Dire Stone

One Eagle Morning

These three both Nine Crane and Thirteen had known well. They had all fought together in wars previous.

"They've hit us with Soulless." Said One Eagle Morning, the eldest and most revered of the three. "With think they're getting desperate."

"Glad to hear it's them that's getting desperate!" Thirteen remarked. "We were afraid you were coming down here to ask for our help." He began laughing at his own words, to which Nine Crane followed suit.

"We are."

The laughing stopped.

One Eagle Morning continued. "We think they're getting ready to hit us hard up there. We keep seeing the shapes of at least twenty Myrkridia and four Myrkridian Giants." Thirteen whistled in amazement. "It's coming."

"Well," Nine Crane began. "If we have to go we have to go, right?" He turned to his brother in arms. "You want Mergus and Magnus to stay here?"

"Is there a choice?"

Nine Crane turned to his relative superior, One Eagle. "Lead the way."

Seconds later they were racing for the northern ramp.

Part IV: Song of the Heron28 May 2004, 1:57 PM


That's how many Heron Guards Nine Crane Flooding Wind and Thirteen Mountain Storm beheld when they reached the northern ramp, accompanied by One Eagle Morning and the two others.

Fifteen. And a mere four berserks remained.

It gave Nine Crane a sick feeling in his stomach, and made Thirteen wince visibly. The mood was somber among the Heron Guards and their allies. Things obviously had not gone as well for them.

Out beyond the ramp, into the stretching tundra of Muirthemne's outer gardens, there remained a sight so gruesome it was almost too hard to comprehend. Nine Crane's mouth gaped open at the sheer size of it, at the magnitude.

Things had been worse over here. Far worse. Out beyond the ramp, and indeed at the very tip of the bottom slope, there seemed to be nothing but dead Myrkridia. Hacked and severed limbs were intermingled with such cold horror that one could not tell where one body ended and another began, much less where the ground was. The strange, almost ethereal shadows of defeated Myrkridian Giants dotted the landscape like a leopard skin.

But the worst was directly at the ramp. Obviously this had been where the fighting was the worst. Bodies of Myrkridia, interspersed with those of berserks and Heron Guard, were so thick that it seemed to form a wall the height of a grown man. In fact, to call the thing a "ramp" anymore would be wholly inaccurate.

It was a bridge.

A bridge from Muirthemne to Hell.

Thirteen Mountain, for once, didn't even have words to speak. The sight was too terrible to utter a sound. Silently, the man looked at Nine Crane. The two shared a look of both repulsing horror and sheer bewilderment. How could this have been when the southern ramp was attacked as it was? How many were still out there? Could the Heron Guard stand another assault such as this? To his left Thirteen spied a queer sight: a line of clustered bones all crumpled together in a snaking pile dusted with purple powder. The Soulless. In front of the line were the forms of two fallen berserks quilled with poisoned barbs. One of which Thirteen recognized as Fulthir, the herald who lead the Heron Guard to their first battle in over a century. He pointed the corpse out to his friend, Nine Crane.

"Always, the young must die." Nine Crane said sadly as he viewed the dead man's bristling body. Slowly, Nine Crane tore his eyes away from the scene and set his mind on orders. He turned to One Eagle. "Where do you want us?" He asked.

"Protect the Mortar Dwarves." One Eagle said darkly, pointing a gore slimed sabre to the right flank of the bowl-shaped formation of defenders.

Nine Crane nodded and moved, without hesitation, to the two Dwarves on the right flank. Thirteen was not far behind.

As the two companions passed along the line of men Nine Crane could not help but look at their faces. The men, both berserks and Heron Guards, looked exhausted, fatigued beyond awareness. They had fought, for the first time, the greatest horrors ever to walk the earth, and in the greatest numbers any could remember since their imprisonment during the time of Connacht. They looked aged, haggard, and with blood on almost every inch of their skin. Their armor was broken and torn in numerous places on every Heron Guard. The berserks had red-soaked cloth bandaged around more than one limb. Every one of them had sustained wounds. Even the diminutive Dwarves showed signs of fatigue, though their packs now seemed almost bare.

As Nine Crane neared the two Dwarves he asked them how many shells they still had for their mortars.

"Enough to make those daisy-biters think twice." Duri remarked.

The other Dwarf was not so optimistic, or perhaps, he was more realistic. "I've got enough to cover your retreat into the city." He said gravely, but with that swarthy half-smile, half grimace the Dwarves were known for.

Nine Crane nodded solemnly. "With any luck that won't be the case."

Duri laughed suddenly at Nine Crane's feigned optimism. "We're gonna get our fruit handed to us, Heron Guard." With that the little thing waddled off, towards the opposite end of the battle line.

"Where's he going?" Asked Thirteen Mountain.

"He's going to be with Baugi." The other Dwarf answered.


"Are you kiddin' me?" The Dwarf, Uni, looked at Thirteen with a face of annoyance. "It's a whole lot safer over there."

"Ah, I see." Thirteen remarked. For a long moment all was quiet between the three.

Nine Crane listened to the wind singing its song, whispering its message. He remembered what it was like to stand here, along these gardens, and feel the wind brush against his ageless face. The smells of honeysuckle and rose bushes always wafted to him, along with that of tree sap. The lush green vines and roots of fauna would hang and sprawl endlessly off of the small garden walls. The sight of two thousand rose bushes in full bloom again found its way into his psyche. But it was the sounds that he remembered most, that he longed for most. The sounds of children and their parents picnicking, of dogs playfully barking at squirrels and birds, of men and women laughing as they courted.


Sweet Muirthemne.

How Nine Crane's heart broke at her dried, desecrated corpse, at what the seat of Imperial power had become. Nothing more than a dusty, craggy shell.

But that shell was his charge. That corpse was his home. His fealty rested in it, and with the man who sat on its throne. He would die for it today if he had to, as would all of the men around him. Some of which already had.

"Ghol, on the second ridge!" Nine Crane heard a berserk yell, pointing his giant claymore in the direction of the approaching threat. Within seconds the shearing pop of mortar rounds was being issued forth from the left flank, round iron shells arching high overhead towards the loping ghol. The small, dog-like beast jerked to the right just before the shell landed, avoiding its blast unscathed. A heartbeat later a second shell fired from the left, this time in a low altitude heading straight for the ghol. But again the swift scout dodged the attack, the shell exploding harmlessly behind the attacker.

"Shoot the sonofabitch!" Thirteen shouted with manic fury to the Dwarf at his side. Uni snapped out of his apparent daze and loaded his mortar cannon. Both Thirteen and Nine Crane stepped back before Uni fired it. The recoil nearly sent the little Dwarf backwards onto his hind quarters. The small projectile whistled through the air towards the ghol who was now no more than fifty meters away. With a tearing pop the shell exploded, sending bits of rancid ghol in every direction. Uni let out a grunt of satisfaction, clenching his fist and gritting his teeth in a vicious grin.

"Here they come!" Another berserk shouted.

In the distance approached what looked to be a single snaking line of dark gray horror. The Myrkridia were so numerous, so thick, that it did not seem as individual monsters, but as a single roiling line of death and chaos.

Thirteen Mountain could only shake his head. "Why do I have the feeling that this is it?" He asked grimly.

"Define 'it,' my old friend." Nine Cane mumbled.

Thirteen turned to him, that same devilish smile on his face. "I think we're going to meet Wyrd today, Nine Crane." He placed a hand on his friend's shoulder pauldron. "I'll see you on the other side."

Nine Crane looked down at the elite immortal's free hand. "Do you want to go get another sabre, Thirteen?" He asked.

The man shook his head. "I'm not going to pilfer the dead, Nine Crane. Besides, I only need one of these pig-stickers to get the job done."

"Fair enough." Was all Nine Crane could say.

Suddenly from both sides the Dwarven Mortar Brigadiers unleashed their fury onto the Myrkridian horde. Round after round soared, screeching, high into the air, then came down to shatter their enemy. The explosions burst Myrkridia apart, punching holes and pockets in their thick lines. The Heron Guard watched as those that were near death went into a state of possession, as the Myrkridia do when close to death, and began tearing at anything they could. They clawed at their fellow monsters, at the Giants that strode behind them, at the earth, and even at the clear open air. Yet they still drew closer, closer, closer, until they were under the range of the Dwarven elites. Nine Crane only grimaced at the insanity of it. Those things truly were "nightmare made flesh."

Moments later One Eagle Morning ordered the charge.

With a resounding chorus the Heron Guard, all nineteen of them, rushed to close the gap between them and the enemy. In front of them the berserks leapt into action. All four of the brave men were torn to ribbons in moments, surrounded by the abominations. Then the Heron Guard met them.

Nine Crane found himself in a world of madness. Claws ripped at the air, or any space where there might reside human flesh. The screams of dying immortals and the howls of Myrkridia mixed into an operatic ode to hell and anguish. Blades of sabres slung dark blood in showering sprays. The burst of small bits of flesh and armor ricocheting off of Nine Crane's form. He strode into the battle as best he could: swinging and cutting at the enemy with god-like agility. Beside him Thirteen was doing much the same, his one sabre dismantling every attack the enemy brought near him. The two Heron Guards gave everything they had, dodging lightning fast attacks only to counter with graceful forms of their own. The death was endless. The carnage insatiable.

In the midst of this fury the Myrkridian Giants committed to battle. There were three of them. Nine Crane watched as a pair of Heron Guards, fighting as a dias, cut the legs out from underneath a Myrkridian Giant. And even though the two decapitated the thing it still clawed madly at the open air in a vain attempt to kill.

For an eternity the Heron Guard fought, moving in and out of range of the Myrkridia's claws and teeth, countering with agility unknown to normal men. Their swords bit and cut like a wheat thresher, chewing the lines of Myrkridia to pieces. The Giants, now doubled up to each others' backs and trying to hold their own, began throwing their subordinates in front of them, to catch the edge of the immortals' blades.

In a moment of tremendous heroism Nine Crane and Thirteen Mountain witnessed One Eagle Morning, his helmet gone and his left arm severed below the elbow, leap into the air, his feet nimbly launching off of the embattled Myrkridians' heads, and plunge his sabre into the collar of one of the Giants. Immediately the ancient and honored warrior fell beneath the Myrkridian, and was lost to Nine Crane's eyes in the chaos. But regardless, the massive beast lurched, blood gushing from the wound, until at last it turned to dust, sinking with such speed into the ground as to make one think that relief waited for it in the earth.

Thirteen Mountain found himself standing atop a pile of dead Myrkridia, carving like a windmill into Myrkridia after Myrkridia. It was endless. It was hopeless. They just kept coming. At one point Thirteen Mountain looked down to see a Heron Guard, someone he did not know, punching and biting at a Myrkridia who was clawing his face off. Seconds later the man was dead. A heartbeat after that Thirteen plunged his sabre into the spine of the enemy, sending it into deathly convulsions atop the piled dead.

Suddenly Nine Crane was there, at Thirteen's side, his swords singing in tenor glory of struggle and combat. Without a word the two formed the dias and set themselves for a final stand against the onslaught. In the midst of all of this Nine Crane felt Thirteen falter, a Myrkridian claw slashing his ribcage. Yet they fought on.

Wave after wave of menacing Myrkridia fell upon the exhausted warriors. The two men fought on in known vanity, moving as a single entity, their swords protecting one as the other dealt death. The dias had saved men in times past, perhaps it would save them now.

The Myrkridia seemed to plunge themselves onto the two Heron Guards' swords, one after the other. And as time drew on the two began to notice an ever growing span of seconds between attacks. Five seconds, twenty seconds, forty seconds, on and on until rarely a Myrkridia attacked them.

Then they saw it.

The field had grown nearly quiet.

The light could again be seen from the sky.

The Myrkridia were retreating.

In the first time since their unleashing upon the West the Myrkridia were turning around and running for their lives. The Heron Guards watched in unbelieving joy as the half dozen monsters limped back into the distant horizon dotted by the broken walls and sand dunes. A moment of reverent, exhausted silence fell upon the field. No one could believe what they were witnessing.

Then, from behind, Nine Crane, who was standing protectively over Thirteen's wounded form, heard one of his comrades bellow a single word.

Then another.

And another.

And another, until the entire contingent of Heron Guards were chanting, shouting, bellowing at the top of their lungs a single word.

The battle cry of their order.

The song of the Heron.

"Muirthemne! Muirthemne! Muirthemne! Muirthemne!...."

The End.

~ You have reached your journey's end ~