The village was ahead of them and it was in flames.
It's hollow shell was clearly no longer inhabited and instead there was only the massing of creatures that had once been the residents of the village. Indeed the blightmen still had tattered remains of clothing alongside their myst-warped bodies and claws. They had milled, seemingly on instinct alone, to one side of the village in their dozens. Indeed they seemed to be bashing and slashing away at a small house.
The only house untouched by fire.
If there were survivors to be found then they were to be found there. Marcus, mounted at the head of the forces that had been mustered on such short notice, eyed the enemy for a moment before bringing his horse back to stand ahead of his allies. There was an unease in the air upon the way they noticed the lack of allies and the abundance of enemies. He eyed them from behind his helmet for a moment.
"Leon, lead the left flank. Abram, the right." he commanded bluntly before turning to Alegna, "With me. In the center."
He could not ask these men to throw themselves into the snapping jaws of death without taking that same risk himself. Taking hold of his reigns, he steadied his horse in front of the assembled men.
"Four to one. They outnumber us four to one and yet I say to you - THEY ARE NOT NUMEROUS ENOUGH!" he roared suddenly, gaining a small stirring from their men, "For when someone charges for their lives, for the freedoms of their people and for the future of their country they charge with a furious force far beyond merely numbers! Unsheath your blades for today is a sword day!"
There was something more in their eyes now.
"With me now! With me into the fray, into the enemy and into the glorious annals of history!" he demanded of them, reaching up to take his helmet off and throw it aside to show them the determination, the lack of fear in his eyes, "Ride with me now! For the kingdom that has fallen but is not forgotten! For the people displaced and enslaved! Ride with me now - for the destruction of evil! RIDE!"
With that last bellow he kicked his horse into motion, charging across the flat plain towards the massed enemy. He didn't know if anyone was even charging with him because in the end it didn't matter; he was charging to what may well be his death but he would be doing to for something he believed in.
If there was any doubt now, she knew it to be truest in her heart when listening to him. This man... was worthy of the highest praise, of the Gods' graces in her eyes... and of her hand. She felt a fierce pride bloom in her chest at his words, at seeing their squires, soon knights of their own rights, take the lead with their own flanks, respectively.
Her heart pounded, she felt as alive as one could be in the face of possible death... and yet, she loved the odds set before them. When he began to charge, she followed suit, her voice out in a warrior's cry after him.
"DEATH!" she bellowed triumphantly, Dorian keeping pace with Floppsy, his nostrils flaring and full body stretched to be neck-and-neck, Destrier and Friesian.
"For Kriege, for freedom! For a red dawn! RIDE! For honor and glory, Death!"
This was for glory, for freedom, for a cause they both swore an oath to, a word she held as dear to her heart as any vows. In hand, she held her sword Ralegna, in her rein hand the shield, pulled low.
Some of the beasts began to charge forward, claws raised up as they limped forwards. From both corners of her perspective, other horses followed, their riders just as eager for the war and glory Marcus called for.
A few ghouls lunged ahead of their brethren, clawed hands raised with a roar. The smack of their flesh against armored warhorses was horrific, and as clawed hands began to rake against plate metal with squeals of protest, she began to swing down, lopping one head clean from its' shoulders and another through the skull; she yanked it out while Dorian was still in stride, but Marcus' words were like a mantra.
Four to one. We must fight them, four to one... Dullias. Give me worthy steel and a heart of fire, keep him alive. Let us pass through the shadow gates of victory and face your Halls with glory. For Kriege, for the Empire. For our people, Dullias, heed my call.
She continued on, hacking into feral hands and screeching mouths. Leon and Abram too, continued to cut paths through, but one clung to Abram's horse, screaming horrendously and gouging into its' flank before being cut down.
They had to keep moving, else the horde could swarm them in seconds.
He could tell that Alegna was beside him, he could feel his horse beneath him and it's thunderous advance. His spear held tightly in his right hand, braced as he had been instructed for years in the past so as to not slip after the first kill. The enemy ahead of him, snarling in almost comically villainous a manner to make it abundantly clear that they were the enemies.
That they were beyond saving and that their deaths were righteous and good.
He didn't say a word as he charged onward and he didn't as he slammed into the enemy, skewering one of the creatures on his spear, trampling two more immediately and thrusting his already laden spear with another body atop the first one. With two bodies weighing it down, he drew his two-handed sword from it's sheath attached to his mount and swung it hard into the meat of more of the creatures.
Floppsy, his beloved mount, sped onward despite the wash of former-humanity due to her powerful muscles. He knew that keeping still was the route to death and he had one thing to say to that; not today. Spurring his horse onward, he linked up with Alegna.
"Burst through the back with me and then circle round to the right for a second pass!" he told her with his bloody blade raised high, "I'll do the same from the left! Ride and fear no darkness for we are the righteous!"
And then he was off, bursting through the back of the enemy group to arc round to the left for another attack at speed.
She had stabbed through the neck of another blightman, yanking it off with a grunt of frustration when it continued weakly clawing at her arm, then caught Marcus' words. Nodding once, she spurred Dorian on, feeling the shudder and crunch of bodies beneath the Friesian war horse, pulling through to the right just as he began pulling to the left, passing Abram as she did.
"Do not stay still!" she bellowed, and she saw him glance up. "Keep moving, ride with me. Fight!"
He soon followed, three other horsemen in his wake. One other remained, soon to be overrun if he was not liberated.
When she began passing to the right, one of them caught her sword arm, nearly yanking her off from Dorian. The horse whinnied fearfully, rearing back, and she nearly lost her grip on reins and Ralegna, shouting out once.
"My Lady!" Abram bellowed, but she regained control, slamming the creature in the face with her pommel and gaining a better grip on Dorian's reins, urging him on. What beasts remained attempted to claw up at her as well, but were slashed at by sword and hoof, as she once again continued to charge the melee.
From her arm, however, blood began to drip where claws had pierced through the mail, thin and sharp. For now, she ignored it, continuing onward to meet Marcus at the charge of these feral beings.
"Rarrgh!" he roared to the chorus of riders with sword unsheathed into the air at the call to arms. Atop his chestnut steed, facing down the hoard, he was stirred by the bloodlust of these swordsmen and harrowed by the disadvantage he must overcome. His eyes, lantern-light green, burned to the glow of the Myst as his flesh splintered and twisted with jutting planks of oak over his forearm. HIs horse bucked and, when Marcus and the others charged, Ruždija followed in formation.
Trampled, battered by the clash of forces, ghouls were firstly knocked aside by the muscle of the mares. Steel swords hacked through the mindless creatures. Yet their numbers almost immediately flooded past the formation, into Ruždija's path. He too chopped and slashed at their ruined flesh, the blade sticking to the clavicle of a shrieking fiend. It's arms hugged the blade as its leg caught under the horse's stride. The hoof stomped through bone and tore the creature from its hold, tumbling in their wake with blood-gurgling growls.
Closing behind the screams, a whinnying horse, Ruždija's pace slowed to the obstacle of a stalled ally. Hands and faces snapped at him. He released the reigns to backhand a cheekbone, swatting it from his leg. A set of slobbering teeth bit down on his oak-flesh to no avail, sword hand keeping hold of its grip. Then when haste resumed, he heeled his horse to ride on after Alegna with a rabid, "Yaw!"
After hearing the blightwoman in the chapel in their first meeting with Marcus, Charlie felt a fire in her belly. She wanted so badly to make the woman at ease, knowing the feral creatures had been taken out. Charlie had been flying high over the armored knights as they approached the village. Her hawk form was quick and agile in the air, and she was able to see ahead, a useful skill. She could tell from just a glance they were outnumbered.
The knights began their approach, and as they reached the first wave, Charlie veered for the ground. Before she hit the ground, she changed shape quickly, claw and fang replacing beak and talon. Golden pelt glistened as she raced into the fray, claws and teeth ripping into rotten stinking flesh. A proud lioness, she would not back down. She knew she was more likely to get hurt, so she stayed hyper aware of where her allies were. In particular, she was drawn in to sticking close with Alegna.
Sitting astride his powerful warhorse, Marcus raised his sword high in the air before swinging it in a graceful arc as his mount thundered onward. The momentum of his horse and the height advantage alone would have meant his sword was certain to cleave through flesh fast and true but it's edge was sharp and his form was good. His blade slid through the shoulders of one of the ferals with little resistance and it was good.
Roaring in triumph, his horse burst out of the grouping of the ferals and he turned with the reigns in his hands.
Only fourteen of the ferals remained after the charge and their own numbers remained unshaken. This was the classic example of what would happen when armoured and trained heavy cavalry charged into a mass of untrained, unarmoured peasants essentially. If they were in full control of their minds and bodies then he might have felt pity for them and their lot.
As it was, all he felt was a grim sense of satisfaction that their first attack had been so successful. With his sword raised high again, he let out another wordless roar and charged back into the enemy, this time allowing himself to get bogged down in the group, having only cleave another one in half during the charge. Now that their numbers were so limited compared to the knights it was simply going to be a matter of cleaning them up.
None could say that the ferals were to be underestimated however. They were perpetually cornered animals and they were as vicious as that implied.
There was a bitter sort of pride at seeing the enemy's numbers so dwindled. Beyond them, fires still raged on through the rest of the village, and though one building still remained, mostly intact, she had heard nothing within, only the screams of these feral undying and the sickening crunch of their bodies and the dull thudding as swords and lances met their marks.
With her bleeding arm, however, a few of their lot attempted grasping at her; Dorian snorted and charged on, heavy hooves thudding into the dirt. She became aware of other beings along with her, but snarls and growls were lost in the melee, and smoke was beginning to drift in from the village as the winds began to turn on them. Two more fell to her blade as she charged, but she knew it was too soon yet to claim any victory.
And then, there were screams from within the untouched hut as the fires crept closer, attracting a few more of the feral beings. She urged Dorian on, intent to take down these creatures before they would attack whomever was within.
And hopefully rescue these innocent beings from the certain, slow agony of fire if she was in time.
Rounding the terrain with a slowing gallop, striking up tufts of soil and weed with thumping hooves, Ruždija found himself at enough of a distance from the tide of the hoard to realize his surroundings. The horse turned on itself with an agitated wheezing, as he himself heavily breathed with eyes searching the land from smoke filled skies to charring huts. As his mind raced, crumbling oak shards cracked and fell free of his arm.
He sheathed his sword with a mind to apply his position in battle. The magi lowered his gaze, outstretching his arms to the battlefield from atop his mount. A guttural verse drawled from his lips, seeping into the smoke, the air, and the earth. Vibration stirred beneath the footsteps of the creatures. Then his hands upturned with culmination and the ground violently belched forth a hideous tree in the form of tangled gray roots. The mushroom shape had erupted out from under several creatures, skewering one and knocking others from their bearings, breaking the formation of the ghouls and flinging them from their footing.
Ruždija groaned at the climax of his focus, chest caving in, sound returning to his ears in the form of growling snarls. His clouded mind questioned the source before a blackened canine on four bloodied legs chomped at the thigh of his horse and it reared. With a shriek it kicked and threw Ruždija from his perch, nearly flipped in his stupor and thudding to the ground with a heave. The horse kicked and jumped in a fright as the rabid canine snarled at the frenzied impediment.
Charlie had been on the heels of Alegna's horse, watching enemies be torn asunder under her command. Charlie ripped the rotted flesh with tooth and claw, the rot seeping into her nose and making her eyes water. The numbers seemed to be dwindling as they continued fighting their way through. Alegna seemed to have reached a purpose, and Charlie stained her ears to hear over the feral cries. She could hear some sort of distress but could not make it out. She was determined to follow the knight, when a different sound reached her golden ears.
Charlie was torn, help Alegna who was aiding potential innocents, or help an ally who may actually need aid. With a roar, she spun on her paws and raced towards Ruždija, his horse panicking and under attack while the man himself lay upon the ground. With a growl, she launched herself at the beast terrorizing the horse, sending herself and the canine tumbling in a golden and black blur. She ripped into it with a frenzy, teeth flashing against it's flesh as she bit in.
They wrestled in the grass for what seemed an eternity, and then it was over. Charlie rose, pelt matted with blood, a long gash against her flank. She shifted back to human form and collapsed in the grass panting. Now was not the time for rest, she slowly started picking herself up as blood gushed down her leg and into her boot. She stared at the magi, and couldn't help but give a toothy grin. "Mind giving me a lift back into the fray?"
His sword arm was beginning to tire and already he could feel his horse beginning to flag beneath him. After another charge into the increasingly thinned out number of ferals, he waved to Leon to gain the attention of his squire as he pulled his horse to a stop a few yards from the flaming hut that contained more rationally thinking beings. Dismounting, he passed the reigns to his squire.
"Take the horses back to the hill and rest in case a large group returns and we need a charge." he instructed his squire, "I will attend to the non-ferals within the hut here. The day is already almost won."
Indeed the number of ferals left alive around the area of battle was dwindling to the point that the centurions and knights who had ridden into battle began to outnumber them. In large part this was due to the magics of the Maji who had come with them.
Marcus knew no magic personally but he could appreciate how useful it was.
Approaching the hut, he raised his sword high and with a powerful cry he swung it hard at the door. The door had initially been broken to stay closed to avoid the ferals breaking in but it was now trapping those non-ferals within the hut. Cleaving through some of the wood, he pulled and heaved to fling some more of the panels aside so he could check out the inside.
Already he could tell that things were not good. There had been a small family unit of five people at one stage but the father had been crushed by a falling beam, the mother was impaled on some nasty-looking splinters and the three children was on the ground. If it were for the screams of one of the children he wouldn't even know they were alive. He reached in through the gap he had made.
"Children! Come to me - we must get you away!"
One of the closest children managed to hobble over and Marcus grabbed the blightman child tightly even as the flames licked at his armoured arms. The metal of his armour heated and he gritted his teeth to keep from screaming as he pulled the child from the burning building.
"Water! For the love of the Gods, fetch some water! There are children in here!"
Marcus had beaten her to the punch. Her heart raced wildly as he charged the door, pulling up Dorian and scrambling off to help him get the children out. She could feel the heat even from here; more cries rang out from within. She dragged him off to the side, and uncorked the waterskin from her side pouch. With a deep breath, she began using it as a whip, lashing back some of the fire to encourage the other two children to her. Heat licked up her arms and she yelped, but gritted her teeth. Smoke billowed in front of her and she coughed hard, feeling small arms wrap around her neck.
She tugged the second child out, but the third was the smallest, flattened against the wall. It cried out, arms over its' head as more burning thatch fell, and she didn't think but reacted.
She slammed her shoulder into the door and it splintered even more. She staggered in, and immediate rush of heat made her reel back. If it weren't for the child's cries, she would have left. The mother and father were too far gone; an ache of pity welled deep in her heart as she picked up the last child, who thrashed at first at being handled, then wrapped their arms about her, sobbing openly.
It was getting hard to see, and hard to breathe. Every breath felt like iron bands around her throat, and she staggered towards the open doorway, hauling the child towards the closest arms she could find.
She almost made it out when the last of the roof caved in. A piece of it caught her on the shoulder and she cried out, collapsing to the ground. The child cried out, scrambling out of her arms towards the closest safety of whomever was behind her. Abram bolted over, attempting to drag her, but her ears rang, and she was oddly numb.
At least Marcus made it out alive, along with their companions. Darkness began to tint at the corners of her consciousness, and she struggled to keep awake, to move. The battle, it seemed, was over... but she couldn't afford to rest now.
The ensuing scuffle was a blur of teeth and blood to the recovering magi. Pushing up to his hands and knees, he watched through the strands of his disheveled hair. He blew at it. He shook it from his eyes, whipping dead grass free of him, witness to the snarling tumble of two beasts tearing at each other, light and dark. He stayed low. He stayed still, helpless to assist as he stared, fiercely fixed to the fight and awaiting its' outcome.
Finally, the golden creature emerged and Ruždija awaited its' next move. But when she fell, tumbling from beast-creature to woman, he lifted up to see the state of her body. He tentatively stood with jaw agape, slow to press on through his appreciation for her magical nature. His studious eyes traced the trail of blood down her leg, and his breath was hot. Dumb and mute, it took her request to shake him from his stupor.
He shook his head in disbelief with the beginnings of a smile, walking towards her with opening arms, "You are incredible." He scooped her up over his shoulder rather roughly, bending her bottom up to the sky, and brought her back to his horse. He prepared the calming horse with a, "Whoa," and then plopped her bottom down upon the mount. He hitched his toes to the stirrup, mounted its' back, and straddled behind Charlie. But his gaze fixed on the black creature below, a lingering thought frustratedly frowning at it with a hesitancy to leave and return to battle. He whispered, "Such mystery."
The horse turned in place, still strutting out its' nerves, and Ruždija would reach around Charlie's waist to grab the reigns and synch her hips tightly to his with his wrists so that their bodies wouldn't jostle too much in the coming gallop. Blood kissed his wrist and he realized that she might be worse off than he had first presumed. He noted her reaction accordingly, but continued.
"You're strong, aren't you. Fearless. But there's more to Myst creatures than tearing them asunder." As he kicked his horse to ride back towards the remnants of the ghouls and away from the burning huts, his show of appreciation fell short, as did his sense of camaraderie. His mind fixated on the creatures and their qualities. Again he whispered, lustily, "I must have one."