The Commander’s Final Battle
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WARNING - This story is a continuation of previous tales from the world of Albrene. If you have not already, I strongly recommend reading The Good Soldier, From The Eyes of A Dragon and A Dragon’s Battle, before continuing.
The Commanders Final Battle
The full, even note of the announcer’s horn pierced the air as The Commander and his legion approached the arched entrance to the city of Rabanath. The solid wooden doors slowly creaked open revealing a tall man clothed in ornate black steel armor. There was a distinct gold emblem on his breastplate. Several large spikes were fastened to the shoulder guards, and a long black cloak trailed behind him.
The Commander dismounted from his horse and slowly walked toward the armored figure before him, stopping at the city gates. He bowed toward the man, holding both arms straight as boards by his side.
“It is a great honor Natä’Kkotër. What is the will of our god?” The Commander’s voice was loud and respectful. He measured his words carefully before he spoke, to prevent offending the man before him.
“You may stand, Commander. I am to accompany you through the mountains.” Natä’Kkotër’s voice was soft, yet it carried perfectly through the air, almost as though it had been telepathy rather than an actual voice. “I am not to command your soldiers in the mountains. You will find that I have already arranged some of the necessary supplies for the journey Including two of our experimental F-Class Ballistae. You have until the morning to visit the breeders, rest, and make any preparations for the journey. Resaguka wants this mission completed as quickly as possible.”
The Commander hesitated for a moment. He knew that they would need more than tonight to request passage through the Dragon Fang Mountains. Without that permission . . . His thoughts were interrupted by the whisper of Resaguka’s voice as he reminded him not to question his orders.
“Yes, I will give my men leave for rest tonight and have them assembled before sunrise on the morrow.” All of The Commander's past hesitation had vanished. Black smoke trailed from the cracks between Natä’Kkotër's armor plates as he turned and walked away from the city gates. “Men, You have leave to relax and rest this night. Visit the breeders as is your duty, then sleep and assemble outside of the gates before sunrise tomorrow. We will then march with Natä’Kkotër through The Dragon Fang Mountains.” The one hundred soldiers before The Commander dispersed and walked past the dull, colorless buildings into the city. Most of them headed to the city center, toward the breeder’s mansion. Rather than follow his men, The Commander walked toward the armory to inspect the supplies that would be a necessity for their journey through the mountains. He marched through the well-organized and clean city streets, collecting salutes and bows from workers he passed.
The doors to the armory were large, ornate wooden doors with black steel inlays that had small runes etched into them. The cold, air assaulted The Commander’s face as he opened the heavy doors and entered the depot. The Commander paused for a moment, taking in the sweet smell of wood and oiled steel that dominated the large room. Along the walls were racks filled with all manner of killing instruments. A particular type of sword caught his eye. It was long and curved, but the central section of the blade was thicker than the rest, the sword looked ideal for slicing through armor or the thick hide of a dragon.
A tall man entered the armory behind The Commander. "Hey there, Commander. I suppose you’re the one Natä’Kkotër commissioned the F-Classes for." The commander stopped himself from admonishing the casual disrespectful tone when he recognized the features of the man to be that of a darkling. His skin was pale white and glowed against his pure black hair and dark grey eyes.
"Yes, that is correct." The commander projected his voice confidently and respectfully towards the man as he nodded his head in respect. "Though I was expecting to have more than two ballistae for the passage through the mountains."
"No, No. Not to worry. Once those beasts see what you can do with just one of these behemoths, they won't dare attack you." The chipper casual voice of the darkling was unsettling to the Commander. "My name is Rüakk, That's dark speech for spirit. "What's your ID Commander?"
"AK22-NK2-10-5-6-1" The commander spat out the conditioned reply before he could even register the question. It was a common inquiry, one the commander was always proud to recite.
"So you are of the Akka and Natä’Kkotër bloodlines. That's powerful, very old royal blood, and from such a young breeder." Rüakk's voice was that of amazement. He turned and motioned for The Commander to follow. "I will call you Kedeb from now on."
The commander grabbed the sword he had eyed earlier as he followed Rüakk toward the large tarp-covered wagons at the rear of the building.
“Kedeb, I present to you the F-Class Ballista,” called Rüakk excitedly as he slung the white tarp off one of the wagons.
Beneath the tarp was a monstrous engine the likes of which Kedeb had never seen. There were three sets of steel reinforced ballistae arms. Connecting each of the arms were several thick cords strung through large metal wheels. Each set of cables was fastened behind a steel plate that appeared to be connected to a gear system of some kind that would pull the plate back, loading the ballista.
Kedeb looked at the base of the engine, wondering how such a massive machine could remain balanced on its own. He found that the Ballista had no base. It was connected to the wagon via a wooden platform that appeared as though it could be rotated.
Rüakk reached into the ballista cart and slid a long heavy box to the edge of the wagon.
“These terrors are the pride and joy of our latest engineering efforts. We call them Vavet’de’ka, Fire-Death bolts. I know, I know… Not my name for them.” Rüakk excitedly unlatched the box as he spoke.
Inside the box were 6 sizeable solid steel bolts with thick fins they were packed tightly into the boxes with som on the back. Rüakk pulled one of the ballista bolts out with both hands. It was nearly 4 feet long, and the shaft was at least two inches thick. The tip was long and tapered to a fine point with small barbs on either side of where the tapering began. Kedeb also noticed a strip of dark silver metal inset on the top of the arrow. Rüakk handed the bolt to Kedab who was surprised to find its weight lighter than he expected from a solid steel rod of this size.
“What makes this bolt so special?” Kedeb was truly puzzled. It looked much like any other ballista bolt he had seen, except for it being made entirely of metal.
“This!” exclaimed Rüakk as he pointed to the strip of silver metal. “This is a special metal that we have found to react violently with dragon’s blood. It actually catches on fire on contact. This heat will ignite the explosive powder filling the hollow cavity inside of the bolt. However, these bolts are also dangerous to store. If the metal gets water or human blood on it, it will explode just as violently as if it had struck a dragon. It is why each cart comes with several untreated bolts as well. If it is raining, you will not be able to use these bolts safely.” Kedab could scarcely believe what Rüakk was saying. Metal could not catch onfire just by contacting water. “I see that look. Here, I’ll give you a demonstration.”
Rüakk walked to a crate near the ballista. He reached in a pulled out a small rock-shaped chunk of metal. Rüakk sat the piece down on the dirt floor between Kedeb and the wagon. He then spat on the rock. Less than a second later the metal erupted into bright purple flames that gave off an abundant amount of heat and purple smoke the carried the pungent order of week-old rotten eggs.
“Our engineers continue to impress me.” Kedeb was still wrapping his head around what he had just seen. He was glad to have such a powerful weapon on his side, but he was wary of the apparent dangerous nature of the bolts. “Here,” said Kedeb as he handed the bolt back to Rüakk. “Thank you for the demonstration, You have put my mind at ease about the journey tomorrow. I must visit the breeders and get some rest. Good night.” Kedab bowed his head to Rüakk before heading for the doors of the armory.
The Commander was already awake and in his armor when the bells rang to wake his company. The smell of lavender was still thick in his nose as he buckled the newly acquired sword to his belt. His thoughts trailed to his time with the breeder the night before. She had been more attractive and skilled than the usual stock.
Kedeb reached the city gates, where his men were beginning to gather as the first glow of dawn began to grace the horizon. The two large ballistae carts were assembled and stationed amidst the troops. He looked toward the city gates to see Natä’Kkotër standing against the wall. The feeling from before, when Kedeb had talked with Resaguka, returned. Once again, he could not put a name to the hesitation in his mind. Natä’Kkotër leered at Kedeb through the small slit in his helmet, his gaze seemed to pierce every fiber of his being. Just as before, the pull in his mind was gone, evaporated by the urgent need to organize his men.
“Soldiers! The time has come for us to begin our expedition through the mountains. Each of you was chosen by the great shadow himself. Our mission is imperative to the coming war. We are to find safe passage through The Dragon Fang mountains. Remember, with your trust in our god, we cannot fail.” The sound of chains creaking within the city walls echoed across the quiet courtyard as the city gates began to swing open.
Kedeb mounted one of the ballistae carts, where he would have a complete view of his legion. Natä’Kkotër did the same, standing beside Kedeb. “Together, we march!” Kedeb’s voice boomed over the army and was immediately followed by the unified shouts of all 100 of the legion under his command. The carts lurched forward, marking the beginning of what promised to be a harrowing adventure.
The heat of the noon sun threatened to boil the soldiers in their armor as they marched along a thin river through the foothills and into the mountains. Kedeb found it challenging to look away from the towering peaks on either side of his company. They were genuinely intimidating sights. However, what concerned him was that he had not seen a single dragon in the mountain range he knew to be infested with them. Kedeb could sense that he was being watched, but he could not see anything in the area. There were no birds in the sky, no wildlife in the valley they were traversing. All was still and quiet except for the steady flow of the river, the clap of the horse's hooves as they pulled the wagons and the unified beat of the soldier's boots on the soft tundra beneath their feet. Kedeb looked back to the three supply wagons between him and the other ballista cart. The engineers Rüakk had provided were manning the ballistae diligently, scanning the skies for any signs of dragons. Kedeb was pleasantly surprised by the speed at which the ballistae could track through across the sky, they were indeed a marvel of engineering.
The hair on Kedeb neck stood on end as the distinct but distant roar of a dragon echoed through the mountains.
“Soldiers, to arms! Engineers, ready your ballistae.” Kedeb’s voice roared over his legion. The men all drew their crossbows and fervently began loading them with bolts. “Pick up the pace! We need to get under cover of those trees.” Kedeb scanned the skies nervously, knowing that the line of trees ahead of them was much too far away for them to reach, should a dragon decide to attack now.
A glimmer from the mountaintop to their left caught Kedeb’s eye. His heart skipped a beat as he turned to look at the mountain. Two large dragons, one copper the other silver were flying toward the legion.
“Engineer, aim the ballistae toward the mountains. Take down those dragons!” Kedeb’s command boomed over the men who looked frantically between the two mountains.
“Two others are coming in from the right, they have us surrounded.” Natä’Kkotër’s voice was calm and collected. He was merely informing Kedeb of their situation. He did not appear to be interested in doing anything to help.
“Natä’Kkotër, place a blessing on the bolts before they leave this ballista. It will make the shots more effective.” Kedeb’s voice was stern and urgent, but void of fear.
Without hesitation, Natä’Kkotër placed his hand on the bolt loaded into the ballistae. “Ve’Kkahab vätta. . . viskka de’Tägüka bö” The warrior's voice echoed eerily across the valley as black mist began to flow from him into the steel bolt. The metal on the arrow instantly started to rust and radiate black smoke identical to that which accompanied Resaguka on the sacred plateau.
“FIRE,” Yelled Kedeb at the top of his lungs as Natä’Kkotër finished his blessing. The cart Kedeb was standing on shook violently as the ballista fired its first massive bolt toward the dragons trailing a line of dark mist behind it as it flew. Surprisingly, the first shot stuck true. The copper dragon flying toward them lurched upward and was then engulfed in a cloud of dark purple smoke.
Time seemed to slow as the copper dragon fell directly toward the ballista cart. Kedeb could see a small hole in the dragon’s neck just above its chest. A trail of bright red blood flowed freely from the hole as he rocketed toward Kedeb — What a lucky shot,— Kedeb marveled. This wonder was soon interrupted by the realization that the dragon would land on the cart. Just before the collision, the engineers launched a second bolt toward the dragon still in the air. Kedeb turned, rushing to jump off the wagon, but he was not fast enough. The dragon’s collision with the ballista sent shards of wood and metal pieces flying through the air as shrapnel, while the dragon and cart both slid across the ground. Kedeb fell to the earth as the wagon rolled over him. Everything stopped, fading into darkness.
Kedeb opened his eyes slowly. Every inch of his body ached. He tried to stand, but the moment he lifted his head off of the ground the world began to spin. Kedeb closed his eyes and sat up. The horrible stench of burnt flesh and death filled his nostrils. A sick feeling swelled inside Kedeb’s stomach. He turned to the side just as his body began to force the bile liquid out.
As the horrible wrenching subsided, Kedeb opened his eyes, hoping that he would not see blood in the puddle he was now swimming in. The moment light touched Kedeb’s vision his head began pounding. The sun was much brighter than he remembered. spots darted across the air as everything seemed to move in a different direction. Kedeb dropped back to the ground where he had first fallen. Everything faded to darkness.
The sun was low on the horizon when Kedeb opened his eyes again. The world around him was no longer spinning, but his head throbbed in unison with the beat of his heart. Kedeb slowly rose to his feet. The temperature of the air around him was slowly dropping as the sun fell behind the mountains.
Kedeb stumbled forward, each step making him dizzier than the last. He leaned to his left, bracing himself on a boulder while he closed his eyes once again. The rock was rough and hard, yet warm. Curious, Kedeb ran his hand across the object. He recoiled sharply when he felt the course scaly hide of a dragon. The events of the day flashed before the Kedeb’s eyes. He remembered traveling through the valley with Natä’Kkotër and his men, then the dragon attack.
Suddenly remembering his mission Kedeb opened his eyes and looked around for his men. “Sound off!” He screamed. There was no reply. Only the dead silence of the empty battlefield.
— We should have requested passage. Resaguka would have allowed for another day.— Kedeb stopped in his tracks as the words echoed in his mind.
“Who’s here. Show yourself.” Kedeb’s voice was week and pained. His throat was dry, and it stung to speak. There was no reply, only the still eerie calm of the air around him.
Kedeb walked around the carcass of the slain dragon. As he rounded the corner, he saw all 100 of his men’s corpses scattered across the earth. Some were maimed, missing arms or legs. Others were burnt to a crisp, recognizable only by their armor. He saw the remnants of the supply wagons still smoldering in heaps of ash.
A feeling rose in Kedeb, one he had never felt before. His chest ached terribly, and a knot began to form in his throat as he fell to his knees. The feeling or emotion took over every aspect of his mind as water began to flow from his eyes.
— What is this?— Said the voice in Kedeb’s head as he began to wail. — I’ve failed them. I’ve failed him. I cannot feel him.—
Kedeb sat in that very spot as the tears continued to pour from his eyes. Soon the last glow of sunset had dipped below the horizon. Something inside Kedeb prompted him to get up. Eyes still watering, he pulled a scorched helmet from the ground and placed it on his head. Kedeb saw the shaft of a spear on the earth at his feet. He bent to the ground and tried to lift it. But the spear was grasped tightly by one of his soldiers. He began prying the dead fingers off of the spear when he recognized the soldiers face. It was his most trusted lieutenant. The commander paused for a moment. Something in his mind changed, he was no longer in agony for failing his god. — All of these good men had just perished because the great shadow was impatient— Kedeb still did not know whose voice was speaking in his head, but he knew it was not wrong. He finished prying the dead fingers of his fallen comrade of the shaft and began to walk forward.
— I have to leave this place,— Said the voice.
“Who is talking to me?” The Commander screamed in frustration as he walked south, deeper into the valley and into the web of tall trees that he knew marked the edge of Dragon Territory.
To Be Continued . . .
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Up next – The Dark Road– A continuation of The Forest Path following Ban the earth elemental.
Tales From Albrene
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