Shara was once again atop the tall branch, looking out to the camps that had been established along the hills. Seeing how they used their request scrolls to carry their camps with them, it almost made Shara feel as if they had some common ground. If not for their more violent tendencies, she truly believed that they might have been able to understand one another. But now, things had gone too far.
She had already sent word for Danar through the forest, scattering the smaller animal companions of the halflings to serve as messengers, since they would not be able to play an active role in the battle. Looking down from her branch, she saw the halflings already at work, setting up anything that they thought might help them in this battle. They all knew that there was no coming back from this, yet they still worked harder than ever. That alone made Shara proud to be who she was, to lead such a loyal group.
With her eyes closed, Shara placed one hand on her chest, the other supporting her on the base of the tree. “Aurivy, I speak to you now in my final day.” She began, her voice quickly drowned out as rain began hitting the large leaves of the tree canopy directly over her head.
“May you guide my hand and my heart. Although we may not live to see another dawn, I pray that our efforts here are not wasted. May others look upon my actions not with scorn, but hope. Hope that our people can truly stand up for themselves. Against these creatures who know of only violence and hate, I will meet them in battle. For the lives of those behind me, I will do my best to keep them at bay.”
As she finished her prayer, she opened her eyes, determination filling them. She had come up to this branch to watch the creatures, expecting them to charge in at first light. Yet, they had remained in their positions, looming just over the horizon. Unless they were gathering more forces, there was only one thing that she could think of that would cause them to still their charge. And for that, she had to thank the heavens.
Now, they truly had the time needed to prepare for their fight.
Lordrin looked out to the clear skies, sighing with relief. For three days and nights, the storm had raged, causing his army to be halted. Yet now, it had finally passed. Although the ground was still too soft for a proper charge, they were still a day’s march from the forest. Plenty of time for the ground to harden, to allow them a more favorable field of battle.
“Alright, men. Gather your camps, and advance!” He shouted out, issuing a promise scroll to return his own wooden camp to a more portable state. Though, after the constant storm, many of the makeshift buildings had been toppled, a few did still survive. Mostly those of the higher ranking centaurs, who had more experience setting them up.
Their advance was a slow one, yet was no less terrifying to behold. They kept their men evenly spaced apart, the archers and mages at the back of the formation. Although Lordrin had never had the need to lead a force like this before, he was able to determine where to place the troops to use them to their fullest.
There was no sign of the small creatures they were seeking until long after they entered the forest. Although Lordrin told his men to be careful, and they stabbed their spears into every bush they passed, it seemed as if nobody was there. Could they have all run away? Lordrin thought to himself. If so, it would mean that they didn’t have to fight, which was a good thing. However, it would also meant that he had marched five thousand centaurs out of the plains for nothing.
Almost two full hours after they entered the forest, they came across a scene of broken wooden buildings, similar in design to what the centaurs themselves used. Only, these were obviously made for creatures far smaller than themselves. “Alright!” Lordrin said, his voice echoing out among the forest.
“This is their camp. Scouts, spread out and find them!” He shouted out, causing a few centaurs to break off from the group. However, it was at this time that Lordrin began to realize that they made a terrible mistake.
A giant crash, like the roar of a mighty beast, was heard from behind them. Several centaurs abruptly turned around, seeing that a pair of thick trees had collapsed. Beneath them were the shattered bodies of a few centaur mages or archers that had been staying at the rear of the formation. They didn’t even have time to scream before they had been crushed to death.
“It’s an attack!” Lordrin called out, readying his spear. Still, their conditioning of having always fought on the plains prevented them from correcting their fatal mistake. They forgot to look up.
Centaurs had bodies incapable of climbing trees, so naturally it was not in their nature to look up when looking for a creature that they recognized as being even remotely similar to themselves. As such, they failed to see their enemies peering down at them from the branches above. It wasn’t until a high pitched whistle echoed through the trees that Lordrin truly acknowledged his error, but by that time it was too late.
As he looked up, he saw arrows raining down from above. “Above us!” He shouted, raising one arm to protect his head. He felt the sting of an arrow piercing into his arm, but had no time to pay it any mind, for he could already hear screams from his forces.
All around him, centaurs were being slaughtered. Not by the arrows above, for those seemed to be little more than a distraction. No, what was truly killing them were dangers below. But, Lordrin was never able to see that for himself.
Behind him, a wide patch of ground lifted up like a hatch, and a giant insect body lunged out, almost as big as Lordrin’s lower body. With a chittering screech, its front legs wrapped around his torso, and he felt two fangs piercing into his neck. Those near him could only watch as his body was quickly dragged back into the trap door that had appeared in the ground.
Elsewhere, creatures of every variety had begun to appear out of nowhere. For some, like the spider that had taken Lordrin in the opening moments of the battle, they appeared from underground. Others burst out of the trees, where hollows had apparently been hastily carved and covered up for them.
With Lordrin gone, it was up to the other two knights and the captains to rally the army, which had grown chaotic from the ambush. Yet, that led to another problem. Every time one of the soldiers stepped up to lead, whether it was one of the captains or a Knight of the Round, they immediately became the focus for a group of attacks.
It was only after the first captain of Lordrin’s forces died that the small creatures descended from the trees. Arrows had begun to be fired up, as well as several spells that had set the trees themselves ablaze. Had it not been for that, their enemies would have preferred to stay in the branches longer, biding their time while their forces dwindled away.
Yet, when they descended, the battlefield only became even worse. The archers and mages were unable to properly cast their spells in a chaotic battlefield, for fear of friendly fire. Only those with the Power of the Archer at a sufficient strength could accurately target enemies, yet those were few and far between.
Thus, despite the centaurs having an overwhelming advantage in numbers, the battle was not going well for them. That is not to say it was going any better for their enemies, as they repeatedly crushed or stabbed anything that attacked them. Yet, the losses were far from even, and the loss of leadership even caused several centaurs to flee the field of battle.
However, how could it be that simple to get away? The path that they came in was blocked by a pair of thick trees that had fallen down, so they had no choice but to run around. What they encountered on either side sent chills down their spine.
On one side of the trees was a lone enemy, standing with a pair of bone knives in his hands. Seeing that, the centaurs had the idea to trample him and escape this hell of a battle. But, as they approached, he let out a cry in a shrill voice, calling various snakes and birds to appear. All manner of small critters swarmed at the centaurs, ignoring what would normally be their natural food chain. Even if their favorite meal was standing beside them, they treated the centaurs as their mortal enemies.
On the other side of the trees were a total of five enemies. Each one had a bloody hand print on their chest their faces covered in dry mud to offer them some light camouflage. As with the others, the centaurs that fled this way had the thought of charging through the few enemies here to escape outside of the forest. Yet, when they approached, their targets seemed to vanish into the shadows, their bodies moving in strange ways that caused the centaurs to be unable to track them.
Some began to flail their spears or daggers wildly as they charged, and even managed to pierce through one of the assassins as they had been about to strike. The one who had made that strike managed to open up a gap that he could charge through, not looking back for a single moment as he left the forest at a full gallop.
As for those that had not been so lucky, their bodies littered the ground. With every death the enemy took, they fought even more viciously. Their rage only grew, abandoning any thoughts of defending their own bodies as they focused purely on their attacks. For every one of them that died, they took at least three centaurs with them. When their numbers dwindled further, until there were not even a hundred left, they began taking out ten centaurs for every one of them that died.
Yet, even with that being the case, the centaurs did not stop fighting. No, to be more accurate, they couldn’t stop. They had heard the terrified screams from those that had fled the battle, and knew that escape was not an option. They knew that they still vastly outnumbered the enemy, and so they continued in their single-minded attacks. Where originally rage and righteousness had fueled their actions, now it was only terror and the will to live.
The battle raged for nearly two full hours before the last of the little creatures had fallen, as well as the last of their monsters that they could find. When the sounds of battle had begun to die down, those few who had blocked the path of retreat swarmed in, throwing away their own lives as they showed the centaurs what true fear was. Yet even they eventually fell.
When the last of them had died, and the forest finally became silent, those who were left looked around the forest in terror. They had come here with an overwhelming army, fifty companies of a hundred men each. And now, they could not begin to count the number of bodies laid out in the forest. Nor did they want to try. Their knights had fallen in the first minutes of the battle, their captains following soon after.
At this moment, the centaurs wanted nothing more than to flee the forest, and that is exactly what they did. With nothing left to stop them, they ran. They ran as if the shadow of death was chasing them, they ran in any direction they could manage as long as it took them out of the forest. Where they had come here with five thousand men, they now had less than a tenth of that number, and what those remaining had seen would be burned in their hearts forever.
The truly unfortunate ones were not those that died. It was not those that ran away. No, it was the injured, those who had been abandoned. The ones with a broken leg, unable to move. They could only lay among the corpses, screaming in agony. Some chose to end their own lives, while others pitifully wailed, hoping for the slightest chance of rescue. Yet, what would await them was only the harshest of truth.
They were in a new land now, with new laws. Now, they had to abide by the laws of the wild, where the weak were devoured. And as the carrion beasts emerged from the forest, descended from the trees or crawled out from the ground, they realized something. They were the weak ones now.