Three hours in, the first squire fell. A lucky blow from a goblin took her head clean off, riding on the back of the Valkyrie’s megalania.
The Valkyrie simply cursed, and with a pair of blows, separated the squire’s body from the harness, letting it fall into the seething horde.
Not a hair was ever seen of her again.
It was only two hours after that the first Valkyrie fell.
The Spider used her long, long hair in several thick braids to lift herself up, above the battlefield, then dozens of thinner strands of hair with Darkness to puncture through eyes, chests, heads, and more. She would brag of being a “front-line mage”, and gave all sorts of shit to “weak mages who stayed in the backline.” A long running feud with Incandescent.
The goblins had figured her out, and a team of suicidal goblins had thrown what could only generously be called “expired cooking oil” all over her.
A second suicidal team of goblins had jumped on her with torches.
It wasn’t enough to kill a Valkyrie, but with her hair burning and falling around her, she was unable to keep herself up and supported, and fell into the horde with a scream, a sea of sharp blades ready to catch her.
Other Valkyries had seen what was going on, and were charging their way over.
A mage, surrounded by rusty blades on all sides, missing the flagship part of their kit, didn’t last long, regardless of training, armor, Sigrun cutting through half of them, or anything else.
Her body was recovered, dozens of blades held by dead goblins indicating how she’d died.
The Untouchable must’ve died around the same time, mist slowly dispersing. How do you kill a hidden, invisible killer?
The goblin answer was to flood the area with bodies until one bumped into said killer, then start hacking away. The Untouchable was primarily focused on evasion, with invisibility being her strength and forte. Without that, she was weaker, and her tactics left her plight unknown to her fellow Valkyries, who weren’t even aware that she’d been in danger.
Iona fired, and fired, and fired, unceasingly into the endless horde.
It was like half a cup of water into a forest fire.
A full day, defending the pass.
A full night, without a single goblin passing. No low cunning, no tricks, no attempts to flank or sneak succeeded.
The bodies started to pile up.
Eight fast Valkyries behind the main action ran down goblins who tried to dodge fighting and slip through.
The rocks ran slick with blood.
Footing became treacherous.
Nearly irrelevant for goblins. A major disadvantage to them didn’t really matter, with how poorly the odds were stacked against them in a single fight anyways.
Significantly deadlier for a Valkyrie. A horse slipped, going down screaming, pinning its rider’s leg under its crushing body.
Life was so fragile.
It only took one blade finding the right gap to end a Valkyrie.
Feats of heroism at every turn.
Alruna carefully killing every goblin above a downed squire in a single sweep, letting her get back to her feet, buying enough time for The Swift to swing down for the rescue.
Sorok moving into position, wiping out hundreds of goblins with every sweep of its metal-spiked tail.
A squire leaping off her Valkyrie’s mount, tackling and killing a goblin who’d gotten into The Creator’s blind spot, who was moving in to assassinate the coordinator of the fearsome golems.
Any other time, the squire would’ve been Knighted on the spot. Nobody had the time to Knight her.
It was worst for Iona when they ran out of arrows. Well – ran out of arrows for squires. The remaining supply of conjured arrows went to the one Valkyrie who used a longbow, who couldn’t conjure up her own arrows.
Iona swore to get an arrow conjuration skill, to never be left in a pinch like this again.
She looked around at the field, at the situation. Evaluated what she could do. No way could she survive the drop down into the battle. It wasn’t the fall that was the issue, so much as the forest of steel waiting on the other end. Not that they were inclined to let the squires into the battle without a Valkyrie.
Alruna, for example, was far too deep in the fighting for Iona to join her.
The sun began to set once again, and exhaustion began to set in. Wounds started to accumulate. Nothing serious, but the invincible image each Valkyrie had started to crack as their armor bent from heavy blows, bruises accumulating.
Small, slow trickles of blood like the laziest river emerging from cracks in their armor, from the small joints. Nothing big. Nothing deadly. Not yet.
But it accumulated. Slowly. One small cut at a time, with each small drip of blood, they slowed. As time went on, wounds festered.
Poison was in the goblin’s bag of tricks. It wasn’t honorable fighting, but the only creature in the pass that had any illusions of glory was The Vainglorious.
Goblins weren’t insane enough to use airborne poison, nor did they have the desire – or time – to poison the earth itself. Blades, barbs, sticks, claws, feet, gloves, [Poison Bite] skills and a thousand more methods and deliveries the goblins used. It made it extra-hard on the Valkyries. It was impossible to tell if a blow was going to be harmless, or be poison.
Even poison was shrugged off by most of the Valkyries, their massive vitality helping their body fight off the crude methods of the goblins.
Now and then a goblin would’ve found a particularly nasty snake, located a deadly spider. The poison from those wounds would also be fought off, but not before flesh rotted, before muscles decayed.
Without a healer, there was no restoring a leg with a gaping hole in it. A bitten arm would have muscles weakened.
The System improved what was already there. A warrior with 500 strength was stronger than a painter with 500 strength. A bear-kin was stronger than a human. When muscles rotted away, when poison took its toll, there was less for the System to work with, less for the System to improve and amplify.
Fighting was generally quick, brutal work. Fights were fast, even faster if they were deadly. A short struggle, a knife across a throat, a blade between ribs, a skill in the right place at the right time – a fight lasting more than fifteen seconds was exceedingly rare, and usually only happened when both fighter’s had better defenses than attacks.
Battles often lasted for hours, but again, it was rare for an individual to be involved in a battle for more than a few minutes of screaming and blood. A front-line soldier was the only one fighting, at least until they slowed down, and died.
To be replaced with a new front-line soldier, joining the bloody fray.
Or, you know. The commander might be sane, and just rotate out tired troops for fresh ones.
As for armies, the vast majority of them were made out of conscripts. Peasants, given a spear and told to march in a particular direction. Some were smart or lucky enough to have a [Soldier] class, the rest were farmers with a pointy stick.
Armies like that tended not to have huge amounts of cohesion or discipline, and fell apart quickly once they started to take losses. As few as 2% losses were enough to break and rout the army, and a single, extremely powerful, Classer could do that alone.
The Valkyries? They’d been at it for an entire day. Then a second day. The attack had started at sunrise, and as the shadows grew long, they were still at it. The sun rose, and goblins continued to die. The sun set, just as it set on the goblin’s lives. The Valkyries had taken significant losses, but showed no signs of stopping, of giving up, of routing. If anything, they simply dove into the fray once more.
And with slightly fewer of them.
Shiva slowed, her deadly whirling glaive becoming just barely visible to Iona’s eye. Small gaps started to appear in her defense, and she retreated to a more defensible position.
The Swift had slowed down on her snipes, a goblin every four minutes becoming a goblin every five. Every six.
The Unstoppable. Every volcano cooled after erupting, every storm blew itself out.
The Banshee, whose voice was getting hoarser and hoarser.
Indeed, as Iona looked around, there was one group, and three Valkyries, who weren’t slowing down.
The squires, stuck on top of Sorok’s platform. Unable to reach the thick of the fighting, for now. The future of the order, protected somewhat.
Frustrated. Angry. Watching the girls they’d grown up with, trained with, lived with, get cut down, one after another. Watching their mentors, their teachers, die, one at a time.
Honestly somewhat useless with the current formation. They didn’t have the combat capabilities to be in the midst alone, the armor, the levels, or the stats. Squires were paired with Valkyries for a reason.
Sigrun, the Grandmaster. Leaning on her monstrous levels and stats, leaning on her Verdant element.
The Creator, with golems that never tired, never needed a break. They wouldn’t slow – if they ran out of mana, if the Arcanite in them ran dry, if The Creator ran out of mana, they’d simply stop.
Alruna, the Perpetual. A build terrible for tournaments, for honor duels. A build designed for war, for large-scale conflict. She just kept going and going and going and going and-
“Iona.” Hrund said to her, in a low, urgent voice. “We can’t stay up here.”
Iona slowly nodded in agreement.
“We should ask Incandescent to leave.” Iona said.
Incandescent worked by firing bursts of burning Radiance into the horde, then pausing. Iona knew she was sitting on a ton of Arcanite, but hadn’t used any of it.
Iona was judging Incandescent somewhat for it. Sure, she knew the theory that it was only for emergencies, but if this wasn’t an emergency, what was?
“We did. She said no.” Hrund whispered back.
“Then it’s a no.” Iona said.
Hrund shot her a look, but left, talking with other squires.
Iona watched them, conflicted.
She glanced at Incandescent. Incandescent looked back, frowned, shrugged, and fired off another burning ball of Radiance, exploding once it made contact.
“I know what they’re doing. I disapprove, but I can’t stop them. Too busy.” She said. “Stay.”
Iona stayed. Stayed as the rope ladder was thrown down. Stayed as the squires “stealthily” climbed down it.
Walked over as the last one went down, and pulled the ladder back up. It felt cruel on one hand, but Iona wasn’t going to let the goblins have an easy path up. Easy access to Sorok’s flanks.
Winced as Sorok didn’t give two shits about the squires, and kept moving as he needed to, as he was directed, crushing one underfoot with a sickening squish, a scream cut short.
Watched as the squires formed a solid shield wall, working in concert.
Watched as most of them got ripped apart. They didn’t have the gear for what they were trying to do, not at the level they were at. There was a reason squires were paired with Valkyries. There was a reason they’d been told not to go down.
A number of squires broke at the casualties, turned and ran.