The large vast ruins of the forgotten temple were carved into the cliff-face of the mountain peak. Crumpled arches and tall pillars held aloft misshapen gargoyles of stone. It could have been a shrine to a dwarven god, or a forgotten burial site, the original purpose having been long lost to the ages.
In front of the temple lay an encampment of wild folk with fur skin tents and campfires. The returning force was greeted enthusiastically with drink and food. The lesser men of the small force joined the revelry quickly, while the leaders pushed through to the crumbled and ruined entrance to the desolate temple.
Near the front of the small group of leaders, with his hands bound was Remus. His mouth was gagged, but he stood tall and proud. I crouched low over the edge of the rocky terrain with my followers as we watched the group trail through the camp. It was difficult to hold myself back from killing everyone between the two of us. Instead, I bit my lip as I considered the plight before us.
“It seems we found the stronghold we have been searching for,” muttered one of the riders close to me.
“Indeed,” voiced another in a low voice.
“My Lady, perhaps we should send a couple of riders back to the main force?”
My eyes trailed after Remus as he disappeared into the ruined temple, “Very well I muttered. Send a rider.”
The man nodded and conversed with the others in low tones. I turned my attention away from their conversation as I considered the best avenue to approach this stronghold of resistance. I was frustrated with the lack of time I had to work with, dawn was only an hour away, and I needed to hold up somewhere for the day when the sun was up.
One of the riders that joined me carefully slid away from our watchful perch back to our horses, then proceeded to head off in the direction of our main force.
“What is your will, My Lady?”
“We will infiltrate the camp and enter the ruined temple,” I declared.
“And if we are captured?”
“Then chances are we will die,” I said simply.
The elder of the riders coughed slightly before speaking, “perhaps we should not rush into any hasty action, My Lady.”
I turned to glare at him and met his unflinching gaze.
“We all want to see Lord Remus returned, My Lady, but I strongly encourage we regroup with our forces to siege out the enemy. Attacking now gives us no chance of success. Your martial powers are impressive in single combat but not even you can withstand the entirety of their forces at once.”
I snarled but refrained from outright striking the man, instead, I glanced back over the large gathered encampment of wild mountain men.
“Very well,” I muttered, “I will heed your advice.”
Quietly we retreat back to our horses, then mounted up before speeding off into the night.
I retreated to my tent the moment we had returned and left the preparation for the attack to the men I had left in charge. I slept quietly through the day as usual and awoke early as the sun was preparing to set.
In the last moments of fading sunlight, I quickly donned my armor, equipment, and sword. I was pleasantly surprised to find Timothy waiting impatiently outside. He looked tired and travel-worn, and very irritated.
“My Lady, I had hoped to explain that my skills are best utilized in the capacity of a scholar.”
“You forget your place, Timothy,” I snapped.
He took a few steps and muttered a quick, “My apologies, My Lady. I was merely.-”
“We agreed that you may continue to use the Dark Lord’s library and collection for your research as long as you aid us in combating the Dark Lord’s servants. We need you to help counter the enemy mages and the like.”
Timothy narrowed his eyes at me, “I was under the impression that I was aiding your efforts to destroy the Dark Lord’s followers by utilizing my research.”
“No one really understands your own research Timothy except you. You are also the only one in our service that understands magic.”
“And as your sole magic-user shouldn’t I be kept as far from combat as possible?”
I hissed in frustration and grabbed Timothy while baring my fangs. Color drain from his face as he yelped in surprise.
“You are under my protection,” I reminded him, “and I shouldn’t have to remind you there are a scarce few who tolerate necromancy, myself included. If you feel you are better off elsewhere then leave.”
Timothy stumbled as I released him.
“Follow me,” I ordered.
I could hear Timothy grumble in annoyance under his breath that I choose to ignore. I made my straight to the war council that had been set up in a nearby tent to my own. Vernt and a few others were already present. As I entered nearly everyone bowed in greeting with the exception of Vernt who remained seated while carving an apple.
“Gentlemen, how go our preparations?”
“Everything is in order.”
“Almost everything is in order,” countered Vernt, “We scouted out the area around this encampment of theirs during the day. One of the scout groups became entangled in a skirmish and tipped our hand so to speak.”
“Meaning what exactly?” asked Timothy.
“There’s a chance they know our plan to strike soon.”
“Hardly a concern,” I stated, “We can still move forward with the planned attack.”
Timothy’s eyes darted around the tent, “hardly a concern? This is disastrous!”
“It's not like we are trying to plan an ambush, and they knew we would find them eventually,” suggested one of the leaders present. He was someone I had seen around Remus occasionally ever since we left Castilio estate. He continued, “The only thing we lost was an advantage we didn’t expect to gain in the first place. As it stands we still have them reeling on the back foot, if we push forward with a strong offense we should easily wipe them all out and be done with it.”
“I agree,” I said with a slight nod towards the man, “I trust we have the battle plans drawn up?”
“Of course My Lady.”
“Then I will trust your better judgment. Strategy is not necessarily my strong suit,” I acknowledged, “but I want our focus to ensure we can retrieve any and all hostages, especially Remus.”
“I too would like to see the young master returned.”
I glanced at Vernt who had offered little to the conversation other than his brief mention of the scouting efforts. When he didn’t say anything, I turned back to the table.
“How soon can we leave?”
“We were merely awaiting you, My Lady.”
“Very well, let us depart!”
The enemy encamp stirred to life as we approached. The small force that was sent to repulse or possibly delay us was easily stopped. As we drew closer within range arrows began to fly from both sides.
“Form up men! Form up!”
One of the leaders of the central flank of our forces approached me.
“When you’re ready, cut them down to the last,” I ordered. With the prospect of battle looming so near I could practically taste the awaiting blood that will be spilled. My fangs were already extended to their fullest in anticipation.
The man nodded and turned about to face the enemy as he pulled out his sword.
“To battle!” he cried.
The main force of the men charged forward across the way. An echoing warcry replied and the enemy charged out from behind their bulwark defenses to counter charge.
“This looks to be an easy battle, My Lady.”
“Let us hope so,” I commented back.
Eagerly I kicked my horse to join the charge. Like a rolling thunder cloud, we rode. Around me, my men screamed for the charge.
Then suddenly our forces clashed.
I met the enemy line head-on and swung my sword out to strike down those in reach. For a long moment, I lost myself in the thrill of the conflict as I tried to cut down anyone who dared come within my area of attack. Even as someone got close enough to thrust their spear up into my gut I kept fighting. When I had the chance I pulled myself free of the spear charged down the retreat cowards that fled from before me.
At some point, I was thrown from my horse when an axman managed to catch me by surprise with a powerful leap.
I immediately rolled to my feet and found myself fending off a small handful of wildmen. As we squared off, I took stock of my surroundings. By all appearances, I seemed to have pushed in deep into the enemy encampment well behind the main battle line, which left me completely surrounded on all sides by the conflict.
Two of the wildmen attacked and I danced out of reach of one and moved to outflank the other. My sword went under his heavy leathers and left him gutted. Another of his comrades rose up to replace him while the last of the group tried to get behind me. I charged the closest one.
The man stumbled then fell on to his back as he tried to dodge. I adjusted my attack to take advantage of my prone victim with a heavy swing. Then I turned to counter the other two as they hurried forward to attack.
A sword bit into my flank when I went to block. I hissed in anger as I lashed out with a hard kick to send the man flying. I grabbed the last one standing and bit his neck to drink.
In the brief moment where I was enthralled by the taste of his blood, someone plunged another spear into my back. I tossed the body and turned to grab the spear as my attacker attempted to pierce me again. With a smooth motion, I twisted the spear free from his hand as I brought my sword up to remove his head.
More attackers were beginning to jump in to take his place, trying to rally themselves with numbers in attacking me. Reluctantly I started to retreat back to the main battle line as they pushed hard against me. Someone joined me to aid my defense. I gave him the quickest of glances as I redirected a sword lunge aimed for his back.
Gradually more of my men joined up alongside me and my retreat turned into an offense to push back the enemy towards their camp. We continued to press forward and soon a rallying cheer was being taken up by our men as the enemy forces began to pull back.
Vernt caught up with me as I finished the latest of my foolish attackers by drinking his blood. As I wiped the blood from my face I could see disgust evident on his face.
“It looks like we have the battle in hand, My Lady,” he expressed confidently, “With your permission, I will withdraw my men to track down the stragglers that are fleeing.”
“Take only half your men,” I replied, “we may need them to take the ruins.”
He nodded, “I can surrender that much at least.”
With a small flick of the reigns, he turned his horse about and headed off. I turned my focus towards the entrance of the ruins. The battle was thickest there but still in our favor.
As I took a step forward a fierce wind began to pick up that rustled through the broken remains of the encampment. I looked up to see a dark ominous thundercloud advancing in our direction. Lightening crackling in the distance.
A sudden sense of dread began to creep up on me as I glanced back towards the ruins.