Fan Fiction

28 May 2004, 1:57 PM

Part IV: Song of the Heron by Jonathan Goss []

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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 ~