A few squires that stayed made it, the nearby Valkyries picking up who they could.
The only thing that was seen of the rest was a single arm, taken by a goblin as a trophy, used as a demoralizing weapon.
That goblin died fast, even by the standards of the slaughterhouse that Wobby pass had become.
The Valkyries continued to slow. There was no one heroic goblin taking them down, no massive skill coming out of nowhere. Just the slow accumulation of damage, pain, poison, cuts and bleeds.
If there was one small blessing, it was that the goblins weren’t entirely suicidal. They lacked Forbidden Four mages as well. Didn’t stop their poison, but it was small-scale, localized. Less deadly than the occasional Darkness warrior, who tried to pierce and void armor and limbs. A Forbidden Four mage might have done terrible things to the Valkyries – but it would’ve backfired on the goblins even harder.
Rather. It was possible they had some. They weren’t using them if they did.
Did it matter? Iona didn’t think so.
The Valkyries continued to slowly die, the ever present drumbeats echoing throughout the pass.
And as a Valkyrie died, a hole appeared in the already stretched-thin line. Causing each one to stretch more, to cover impossibly more ground.
Letting more goblins stream through.
Mitigated by the sheer volume of dead bodies forming walls.
The fight was ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-shifting. Iona found it impossible to follow, even as her [Gaze of the Stars] leveled like crazy.
The moons rose above the fight, the omnipresent eyes watching and see what happened below. Iona kept thumbing her axe nervously, taking her shield off her back, pacing, then putting it back. She wasn’t in the fight – yet. She was ready.
Why wasn’t she being allowed in!?
Iona looked around, and had a startling moment of clarity as she saw The Shining die.
We’re on the verge of a total rout.
Iona obviously wasn’t the only one who’d seen this, and a trumpet blast rang out, blasting through the battlefield, cutting through the din, blaring over the endless drumming. The Valkyries started to group up, get closer to each other, and fight their way to Sorok.
Slowly dismounting as they got near the brontosaurus anchoring the line.
Covering each other.
Leaving massive holes in the line.
Holes, that goblins started to stream through, stream past, into the widening pass.
Out to the greater kingdom.
Failure, on most counts. They’d barely held for three days and nights at this point.
A knight on a fast mount could cover two hundred miles in a day. They might not be ready for a fight at the end of it, but the distance was manageable. Reinforcements should be near.
And yet. They weren’t.
The Valkyries were grouping up, bunching together in the middle of the pass. A hard rock, jamming the flow of ceaseless goblins.
“Down.” Incandescent ordered, and Iona needed no further prompting.
Four other squires had stayed behind.
Only one other followed Iona.
With the dismissive look the Valkyries gave the three remaining squires, Iona wouldn’t be surprised if they were booted from the order for cowardice.
Not that it would matter.
They were all dead, one way or another. What was the point of being a coward now?
Iona made her way down the ladder, getting rope burn as she mostly let herself drop, only grabbing on the rope to slow herself down somewhat. She hit the ground, and moved to where she belonged.
Covering her side.
Iona had been in fights before. She’d been in extermination missions. These weren’t the first goblins she’d faced.
But seeing the unending horde charging at her gave her pause. Made her hesitate. Caused fear and terror to strike at her heart. [Still Water] helped.
Iona didn’t crush the fear. She didn’t purge the terror from her heart. She simply lived with it, letting it lend fuel to her first desperate strike against a goblin, empowering her blows.
Iona waited for the first goblin she’d have to fight to come to her. Alruna had done a mighty sweep, bisecting a dozen goblins, and only a few had the reflexes and cunning to dodge. Two were heading towards Alruna.
One was heading towards Iona.
Iona felt her heart thundering in her chest. This goblin was using the most gobliny of weapons – a crude knife. Another close-in fighter, like Iona was. She let the goblin strike at her, letting her shield take the blow. Her arm, empowered by stats, by her [Vow], moved her axe, enchanted by the best the Valkyries had, wicked blade gleaming a light cyan by [Blade of the Crescent Moon], simply cleaving through the goblin, with barely a hint of resistance.
[*ding!* Congratulations! Your party has slain a [Shanker Goblin] (Acid, 199)// [Goblin Chef] (Spore, 185)]
Iona did a double take. Two advanced elements? Yikes.
Also, a Spore-chef? Iona did not want what he was cooking.
A rock came whizzing out from the crowd, Iona dodging. Barely registering the level-up notification from the skill.
Hearing a yell from behind her as it hit the back of the head of another squire. A potentially fatal distraction, if not outright fatal on its own.
Another goblin. Iona took a strong blow to her shield.
Another one. A cut to the shin, so bad it briefly forced Iona to one knee.
Another one. Stabbed by a wooden spear, impossibly manipulated through a skill. No room to dodge properly. Weakened by the padded armor, still cutting through some abdominal muscles. A brief chill, a vicious splash of blood, mingling with everything else’s.
A Valkyrie fell. The circle tightened. The speed of goblins slipping through increased, just a hair.
Another one. A rock to the head, Iona’s life saved by her helmet. A cut opened up over Iona’s left eye.
Another one. Iona lost use of her left eye, as blood from the cut made it impossible to see.
Another one. A strong slice on Iona’s axe-arm, as she misjudged a distance.
Another one. Iona’s axe was wrenched out of her hands, made it a few inches away, then magically returned to her hand, letting her bury it in the surprised goblin’s head. Her life saved by the enchantment.
Another one. Iona felt her shield-arm crack in the most disconcerting way, as a particularly burly goblin smashed a large club into her.
A companion fell. The circle stayed the same size, the stegosaurus’s incredible bulk forming a natural wall of steel and flesh.
Iona was sent to guard the back, to kill goblins trying to make their way over the corpse. Or through it.
And the circle shrank, just a hair, by the absence of a single squire.
Iona nearly died as she slipped on the smooth stone slick with blood.
Drowning in one of the shallow stone depressions was a real risk. It was how they’d killed The Inviolate. Tripped her and drowned her in a pool of blood. Sigrun had been otherwise occupied, unable to flash to her rescue, rescuing a dozen others instead.
Not all the goblins were idiots. Crafty, smart goblins were legion, and once they’d noticed The Swift was no longer picking goblins off left and right, some seriously powerful goblins took to the field, raining Lightning down on the circle.
Incandescent demonstrated what “an emergency” was, as she filled that particular section of the horde with an ungodly number of blasts. A smooth, glassy circle was all that was left of the spot when she was done.
Only for blood to start seeping in, pooling and filling it.
The hydra roared, as a head was cut off, and Iona watched in sick fascination as two heads grew from the stump.
Rapidly snapping at goblins, who screamed and tried to flee. Too many goblins pressing in gave them nowhere to run to, and they went down the hatch.
The sun rose. The sun set.
Half the Valkyries were left.
Half the companions were left. Not always the same half.
Only a small number of squires left. Mostly the lucky few who’d survived with their Valkyrie so far, or who hadn’t left Sorok of their own volition.
It was noon on the second day when it hit Iona - delirious from a lack of food, from having sweated out most of her water, yet another crude poison coursing through her veins, causing her vision to swim, making her hallucinate – when the truth of the matter became reality for her. She’d denied it in her heart of hearts, believed that this would just be another tale, her moment of glory.
Ha. Glory. There was no such thing here. Just butchers. Chop. Chop. Chop.
I am going to die here.
This was her grave. This was her funeral.
Iona shook her head, casting aside the fatalistic thoughts, getting a small ember, a small spark of hope.
I will survive.
Alruna seemed to have come to the same conclusion, a grim look on her face replacing her usual calm demeanor in fights.
The goblins had figured out how to make the Valkyries angry. Drag a companion’s body away. Cook it in front of them.
Eat it in front of them.
The goblins that did so were of the particularly stupid variety, as not only were they making it harder for their fellow goblins to get into the fighting, but they’d all die, as the Valkyries targeted them.
Targeted them – over closer, more dangerous goblins. After all, a detached [Strategist] would note that goblins eating mid-battle was no threat. A [Historian] might note the poor decision making.
Who were they, what were they, to pronounce judgement from so far away? When had they seen their friends, their companions, their lifelong partners eaten in front of them? Anyone would be enraged.
Nobody broke. Not anymore. Nobody ran. Not after the squires had bailed, only for whooping goblins to run most of them down. Nobody offered surrender.
What was the point of breaking?
Where could you run to?
Death was preferable to surrender at the hands of goblins.
The only thing they could do was stand, and fight.
Fight to the last woman standing.
Fight to buy time.
Fight to slow the horde down.
If they were not here, this tough bunch of Valkyries, the horde could pour through uncontested. As it was, goblins couldn’t physically pass through the Valkyries, had to engage them. Had to fight them. It was only on the fringes, the edge, where more cowardly goblins slipped through, down the pass, out into the plains.
A few – only hundreds per hour, as opposed to the tens of thousands – was a manageable number. Difficult. Damage would be done. But possible to hunt down, to exterminate. Cities wouldn’t be sacked; towns wouldn’t be pillaged. Only villages would be burned.
Iona was hellbent on there being one less village burned. One more life saved. It would be her invisible, unknown legacy. Someone out there was going to be alive because of her actions here, today. Iona had no idea who it’d be. They’d have no idea who Iona was.
Her. Actions. Mattered.
Could there be a finer end?
“Out!” The Creator yelled, and the circle shrunk again, as the golems were left on their own for one last set of attacks, before running out of mana.
Left frozen, they were quickly dismantled by goblins, never to be reanimated again.
A goblin swung at Hrund, and she weakly attempted to parry. She was unable to keep a grip on her blade, pure exhaustion having weakened her.
She barely resisted as she was run through, glassy eyes staring at the sky. All the strength, all the speed, all the dexterity, didn’t matter before the cruel realities.
Injuries. Wounds. Bites. Scratches.
Exhaustion. Fatigue. Weariness.
Exactly what Alruna’s build was designed to defeat.
Exactly what Alruna had insisted Iona build around to beat.
Boundless energy. Peerless penetration. A build unsuited for tournaments. Perfect for slaughter. Why injure, when you can kill? Why overpower, when you can outlast?
The sun set, and there were eighty in total. A rider with a red banner, not a Valkyrie, flew overhead. Circled them once.