Thump thump, thump thump.
Feeling as if his heart was going to beat out of his chest, a soldier tightened his grip on the bow in his left hand. He was wearing a full set of what appeared to be some sort of leather armour. He tried to steady his breathing, which was ragged. He needed to calm down, but how could he? How could he calm down, when death was so close?
Lined up to his left and right, as far as he could see, were soldiers wearing the exact same armour as he, all with bows in their hands as well. He looked at each of their faces, as far in each direction he could, and what he saw was fear. As far as he could tell, all of them were around his age, which was 16. They were fresh recruits, having not even graduated from the military academy yet. And yet, here they stood, as the range unit on the frontlines.
Looking forward, about 50 yards ahead of their entrenchment, he could see the backs of thousands of armour-clad soldiers. Grouped together in units, and neatly organized, they stood with spears in their hands, shields on their backs, and swords on their hips. They were all that stood between him and death. No, that’s not right. Death could sore over their heads and still kill him.
He quickly raised his hand to his mouth to muffle the sob that had escaped his trembling lips. How had it come to this? Why was this happening? Why now? Tears were now forming in his eyes, his fear taking over him. Why? Why? Why?!
A soft voice came from directly behind him as a slender hand rested upon his shoulder. He momentarily forgot everything as he stared at the hand, not bothering to turn around. He couldn’t face her, not like this.
The voice was heavenly as it reached his ears. Even in this situation, where death was certain to come for not only him, but her as well, her voice carried kindness, and warmth. Finally, he slowly turned around to look at his partner, his friend, and his love.
The girl was dressed in full mage clothing which covered her entire body. It was completely black, with beautiful blue embroidery etching around the seams. The girl’s face was pale white. It was a soft, caring face; not at all the face of a soldier. And yet, she stood resolutely, a long staff, with some sort of emerald encased at the top, stuck soundly in the ground in front of her.
The words stuck in his throat. How could he be calm? What about this situation could possibly cause him to be calm? Did she not understand what was about to happen?
“How…how can I be?”
She stared into his eyes, and he could feel the warmth that she was trying to envelope him with. And then she spoke.
“Think of me.”
He sucked in a sharp breath. Tears nearly escaping from his eyes once more.
“Think of all the time we shared. The good times. The fun times…the best times of our lives.”
How could she speak to him that way? How could she speak as if she was prepared for death? They were so young, they had their whole lives ahead of them. How? How can she be content with this?
Deep inside him, rage was mixing with sorrow. It was warm, like a fire. A fire that was slowly taking over his entire body. He felt hot. He couldn’t let this be the end. He couldn’t let their lives end, when they were just beginning. He wouldn’t let it. He would protect her. He would make sure no one came near her.
“I’m going to protect you.”
Tears were now streaming down his face as he refused to break eye contact with the girl, who was tearing up as well, a smile curling across her lips. She took in a deep breath to try and steady her emotions, and gave a firm nod.
“I’ll do my best too. So we can see tomorrow.”
A voice came from somewhere off to the right. Nicholas quickly turned toward it, then followed the pointing fingers of many of his comrades. Off in the distance, the horizon seemed to be growing darker. A rumbling feeling shook through the earth, bringing with it the sense of overwhelment.
The darkness on the horizon continued to grow and grow, and slowly, individual shapes could be seen. They were people. A lot of them. It was the enemy. The enemy’s forces were marching toward them in tremendous number, a number that far exceeded their own. Their march was thunderous, and soon the fearsome cries of war could be heard from them.
“Archers! Nock! Mages! Prepare your enchantments!”
The sound of hundreds of archers pulling an arrow out of their quivers, as well as the same amount of mages reciting their enchantments, filled the air. His arrow nocked, Nicholas looked forward to see the warriors in front of him preparing themselves for combat as well. All of their stances were crouched. The shield that was slung over their back was now strapped to their arms, being held up directly in front of them, spear pointed atop them.
This was it. This was the start of the battle. They were outnumbered, probably two to one, maybe even three to one. This was not going to be an easy battle to win. The only upside they had was they were prepared. They were in proper formations, and, for the most part, well rested. They had been at this encampment for a few days, anticipating the attack on the border between the two nations. It was only a few hours ago that the scouts came back with the grave news, and they were mobilized into their defensive positions.
The time leading up to this moment had been so surreal. They kept busy with training, and building trenches, including digging pitfalls along the border. Even though they were preparing so hastily, it didn’t seem real. In his mind, Nicholas had convinced himself that this was just a precaution. There was no way there was going to be a full scale invasion. That kind of stuff didn’t happen. There were pacts and alliances that prevented this sort of thing. Diplomacy reigned these lands, not bloodshed.
All of that was now thrown out of his mind as he was forced to come to reality with the enemy forces closing in on him, and his comrades. They were not here for diplomatic purposes, they were here for one purpose: killing. They were hungry. Hungry for the lives of him and his comrades. They were going to do whatever it took to destroy them. He had to be ready, physically and mentally. He had never taken a life, and never planned to. Military academy was just something they all had to go through as citizens of their fine country. It’s not like it was all military training, they were also taught real world skills.
A deep sigh escaped his lips. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the completion of the enchantment on his arrow. The entire tip of the arrow was glowing green, particles could be seen falling from it and slowly dissipating into nothing. He knew from the strategy classes that this was a wind enchantment, meant to increase the overall range of the arrow. They were going to try and hit the enemy as soon as they came into this extended range. Actually, they would release the arrows a few seconds before they got in range, accounting for arrow travel time.
“Archers! Angle 45 degrees! Hold!”
The optimal angle for the arrow to fly the farthest it possibly could. Nicholas followed the orders, relying on his muscle memory to hold the bow at the right angle. This was something they were periodically tested on at the academy. They had to be precise with their angles, and were penalized for the slightest miscalculation. Nicholas was focusing all of his will on holding the bow at that angle. As long as he focused on that, he would not focus on the thunderous charge heading toward them.
It was loud. Really loud. How could something make that much noise? The cheers and screams of thousands of people. The rumbling of the ground as they rushed toward them. How could the earth move so much? No. No. He must focus on his job. Holding this bow at the best angle, arrow pulled back as far as it could go. This arrow will strike someone in the chest, and that means one less enemy.
He screamed with all of his might, initially startling his comrades around him, but they soon joined in screaming. They were all trying to hype themselves up. Their voices all joined, pushing out to the soldiers in front of them. Soon, a unified yell could be heard from them as well. They were all preparing themselves. They were all talking themselves up. That’s all they could do. It was too late to succumb to fear now.
Finally, the order came.
The firm voice of his partner directly behind him perfectly synced with the release of his arrow. All of the arrows left streaks of green light behind them as they soared through the air at tremendous speed. He didn’t have time to watch the beautiful arcs of green, Nicholas was already readying his next arrow. He could hear chanting behind him, and his arrow tip started glowing green once again.
The order came again. And again. And again.
The arrows fired from the entire unit of archers with incredible sync. It was like they were launching a huge line of green light every few seconds. How many of the arrows had hit? How many enemies had they taken down? None of the archers knew. All they knew was that they had to do their job as swiftly as possible, because as soon as the troops reached the front line, they could no longer fire arrows. If they did, they may end up injuring comrades.
The entire archer unit stopped in unison, each having their arrows knocked, just before raising them to fire.
“Enchanters! Switch to fire elemental enchantment!”
The muttering behind Nicholas was different from before, and took slightly longer than the previous enchantment. He took a deep breath to try and steady himself, the sudden stop in continuous firing was causing his emotions to come rushing back. His mind was starting to wander. In short, he was starting to think about the situation. He didn’t want to. All he wanted to do was focus on his job.
The arrow began glowing just like last time, but this time in a fiery red. This arrow would travel it’s normal distance, which, the enemy should be approaching the maximum range of the archers any second now. This enchantment was more taxing on the caster, needing them to remain completely focused in order for the enchantment not to erupt immediately. If his partner were to lose concentration for a second, they both, and several comrades in each direction, would meet a pitiful end in flame.
The rangers all aimed up to the optimal 45 degrees in unison, releasing their arrows the instant they reached it. The sky was drenched in a sea of flying oranges and reds, heading directly for the enemy’s charging front lines. Nicholas glanced behind him to see his partner with a furrowed brow, tracing his arrow with her eyes, concentrating as hard as she could. She must keep focus until just before the point of impact.
Just then, a few explosions were heard. Too soon. Nicholas turned his head, his fears realized. A few of the enchanters were unable to hold the explosive spell at bay, and more than a few arrows exploded in the peak of their arc. Like a chain reaction, more and more started exploded afterwards as enchanters became distracted. By the time the arrows were at their point of attack, nearly half had exploded early.
The moment the arrows arrived at their destination, the now aware enemy frontline, massive explosions erupted. The explosive fire expanded and twisted into each other, forming a giant firestorm. The shockwave from the explosion was the first thing to wisp by, not enough to knock anyone off their feet, but still tremendous. The flash of light also caused everyone to avert their eyes, at least momentarily. It seemed impossible that the enemy line could simply rush through something like that, but it didn’t seem to affect them much at all. The enemy continued their charge with feriousity, stomping over their burning and charred comrades.
The rangers readied their arrows once again, and were awaiting the end of the new cycle of enchantments. Once completed, this process repeated two or three more times. It was obvious the fatigue the spell caused on the enchanters, as the successful arrows reaching their mark lowered each time. By the time the commander of the ranged unit called off the fire enchantment, most of the enchanters, including Nicholas’ partner, collapsed to the ground. The enemy was now closer than ever, and any further use of the destructive fire enchantment could harm comrades.
As the frontline prepared themselves for the initial meeting, the rangers continued their assault, with ordinary arrows. There was less unison now, as each was firing the arrows as fast as they could. Quantity was more important than quality now. If you fired anywhere near the mass of enemies, you were more than likely going to hit someone.
As Nicholas reached for another arrow, he felt the uneasy feeling of grasping air. His quiver was empty. The next few moments happened in slow motion for him. The thunderous roar of the enemy, that he had tuned out while focusing, overwhelmed his ears. To match that, the own roar of his frontline comrades could be heard just moments before impact. The next noise he heard was something that turned his stomach…it was the shattering sound of shields impacting each other at a high rate of speed, and the screams of death.
He could barely see the frontline due to the mass of people, friend and foe, before him. Clashes and clangs filled the air, screams of lives ending pierced his eardrums. He could hear gurgling deaths, he could hear the screaming deaths, he could even feel the deaths of the soldiers who fell silently. There was so much death in the atmosphere, it was suffocating. The worst part was…all he could do was watch.
“The sounds…the sounds are horrible.”
Nicholas turned to see his still collapsed partner with horror struck over her face, her once confident attitude was replaced with fear and exhaustion. She looked as if she didn’t even have the strength to stand. He had no way of knowing how taxing an enchantment could be, but it must be real, as there were only a few enchanters still standing, and they were leaning on their staffs.
His voice wavered as another unison of screams filled his ears. He winced. He wished he could say so with confidence, but after all, he was the one that was tormented by the idea of death right before this battle, and she had been the one to rouse him. Now, it was his turn. He needed to give her confidence, that they would make it through this horrific scene.
…but no words came to his mouth. He could not openly say to the woman he loved that everything was going to be okay. Deep down, he knew it wasn’t going to be. He knew, sooner or later, they would be given the order to assist the frontline. Not from range, but with close combat. The enchanters, of course, would stay at the rear, having no real close combat training. They would be expected to shoot enchantments at any enemy soldiers that broke through the lines. And, if they failed…then God help them.
Nicholas moved closer to, and knelt, in front of his despaired lover. He sat his bow on the ground, took off his ranger gloves, and took both of her hands in his. Her hands were cold, and shaking. He rubbed them with his, trying to warm them up and comfort her.
“You always have such cold hands.”
Tears were visibly falling down her cheeks now as she managed to push out a small smile, as if she was reliving a happy dream.
“Cause I’m cold hearted.”
They both gave out a slight chuckle.
“I’m going to do everything within my power to keep you safe.”
The words nearly stuck in his throat. There was much less power behind the words now, much different from when he shot out the words earlier in the day. He really would, too. He would give his life for hers. The only problem was…he didn’t know if that would be enough. If he gave his life to protect her, and stopped an enemy, what was stopping another from appearing and taking her?
“I…I know we didn’t have long together…and…”
The words were becoming more and more difficult to get out. He could feel tears forming in his eyes. He didn’t care about anything happening in the world at this moment. All he cared about was getting these words out. The sounds all around him were gone. The horrors that were happening mere yards from them did not matter.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I know…I know we always talked about having our own little cabin…and…and having…”
Nicholas then found that his head was buried in her chest. He was sobbing, he couldn’t hold it back. He could feel her chest convulse with sharp intakes of breath, she was crying too. She was holding him tight. Really tight. It wouldn’t be long now. Unless by some miracle they were winning the frontline battle. Their unit was about to join the fight, whether they wanted to or not.
“You don’t have to explain anything. I know. I know. I promise. Whether in this life, or the next. We will have our dream.”
Nicholas quickly locked his lips with hers, as he felt that if he did not do it now, he would never get the opportunity to again. He rested his forehead against hers, willing her to feel his feelings. By the smile on her tear stricken face, he knew that she understood. She understood how much she meant to him.
A strange thought hit his scrambled mind. It had been several minutes since the two opposing forces had collided. It wasn’t impossible that they would drive the enemy back, but extremely improbable. If the enemy was able to successfully form a front line, a wall if you would, then they…would be able to move their ranged units…
“Enchanters! Defensive barriers!”
Nicholas whipped around, his eyes toward the sky, to see a sea of arrows coming for them. They were being targeted. It made sense; strategically. If the enchanters were able to fully recover, they could do a wealth of damage. Same goes for the ranged units, if they were able to get more arrows.
Simultaneous, rapid chanting happened. Small, semi-transparent barriers began forming in front of the archers. They slowly expanded. Too slowly. The barriers that were able to expand at a decent pace merged with the other barriers around them. However, the ones that were too slow, left gaps. Those gaps left those behind them wide open. In the blink of an eye, the arrows pierced through numerous soldiers.
The screams of pain and death had always been in the distance, but now it was up close. Nicholas could see the spraying of blood as his comrades hit the ground, either lifeless or squabbling in pain. He, luckily, was not hit, thanks to his love’s barrier. In fact, she had actually expanded the barrier far beyond him and joined with those to his left and right, protecting more than a few comrades. That’s just how incredible she was.
Before any of them could comprehend just how many of their comrades had been injured or killed, the desperate cry of the commander came again.
“Incoming! Elemental arrows!”
Streaks of red were coming down upon them. In terms of offense versus defense, a number of variables would account for which side would win. The strength and will of the enchanter was foremost. Some of these barriers would hold, others would break easily. The timing of the elemental discharge was another. Too soon or late, and the force of the explosion wouldn’t be directed correctly. However, Nicholas had a feeling that this was going to be bad. Another variable tipped the scale in the enemies favor, and that was the fact that all of his comrade enchanters were exhausted.
The deafening sound of explosions filled Nicholas’ ears. Moments later, the undeniable sound of shattering shield spells could be heard. The next thing he knew, he was forced to the ground, his ears betraying him. A disorientating ringing filled his entire head as he writhed back and forth on the ground. Get up. Get up. He had to get up.
He was finally able to tumble over onto his stomach and attempted to push himself up onto all fours, but it proved difficult. His world was spinning, and the ringing just wouldn’t stop. It was like he had just played an intense round of that game where you spin around and try to run afterwards. All of his senses were failing him. He was desperately trying to focus himself, to no avail.
He clasped his hands over his ears and pushed his forehead into the ground. The pressure felt good, like when a soft hand rubbed your temples when you had a headache. Slowly; much too slowly, the ringing started to fade. His eyes were closed, but he could sense his vision was starting to straighten up as well. Silence fell upon his ears as the last of the ringing faded away into nothingness. Then, his sense were assaulted once again, by a very different set of sounds and sights.
Screaming. Wailing. Crying.
Death. Blood. Suffering.
All around him people were crying out to someone…anyone. Anyone that could help them. Blood covered the entirety of the landscape where their range unit once proudly stood. Limp bodies were mixed in with those desperately seeking help.
Their entire range unit had been destroyed by that last volley of elemental, explosive arrows. Those that were left were desperately trying to help their comrades, their friends, any way they could. Some weren’t even trying to help. They were just holding their dead comrades in their arms, all fight having left their bodies. The scene, in a single word, was horrifying. Though not even that word could describe the scene that was pouring into Nicholas right now. His brain simply could not process it all.
That’s when it hit him.
He screamed her name. Again. And again.
He desperately looked all around.
Nicholas turned toward the sweet, yet weak, voice as quickly as he could. He saw her. She was kneeling on the ground, leaning fully on her staff. Her once beautiful robes were covered in a mixture of mud and blood. Her eyes gazed weakly upon him. She looked exhausted, like she would collapse at any second.
She had to be the only reason he was still alive. If she had not been able to hold out her shield spell, the two of them most certainly would of met the same fate as so many of their comrades did. She had held out. She had won that decisive moment; if barely. Though she had won, the toll they both took, and those around them, was still great. The enemy’s barrage was just that powerful, and their defense too weak.
Nicholas knelt down next to her. The chaos that was swindling around him slowly began to fade, as a realization set in. This was likely going to be the last moment they shared together in this life. He didn’t feel scared, or angry. He felt tired. He was exhausted. The fight that had begun only a short while ago had already taken its toll on him physically and mentally. All he wanted to do was close his eyes, and let himself part from this world.
It was so tempting.
Just give up. Give in. Let it all end. Take himself away from all of this pain and suffering around him.
He and Amanda’s eyes locked. Their exhausted eyes refusing to look away from one another. If they were going to go, it might as well be together. After all, what more could they do? A mage without magic and an archer without arrows. They had done their part in this battle, and they had lost. All they could hope for now was a quick death.
Nicholas felt his body getting heavier. If he felt this way, he couldn’t imagine the torment she was going through to stay kneeling. It felt like he had sand bags attached to each of his limbs and chest. Everything was so heavy. There was no way he could get up and run if the order to retreat ever came.
There was no retreat. He fully well knew that. They were the only ones here. The first and last line of defense for their country. They could not retreat. There would be no backup. They were their backup.
The next few moments seemed to happen in slow motion again for Nicholas. His ears, which had tuned out everything going on around him, picked up the desperate cry of a single person. He had no idea who that person was. It could be his commander, or just one of his surviving comrades. At this point, it could of been the whisper of an angel. He didn’t know. The words slowly crept into his brain…
They? The enemy? They’re coming?
A weak voice escaped his lips, probably not even heard by Amanda, who was right in front of him. If that’s the case…that means the frontlines have fallen. The enemy was penetrating the frontline and were pushing as far back as here. All was truly lost then. There was no way that exhausted and injured archers and mages could beat back the ironclad warriors of the enemy frontline units.
How long had past since the start of this battle?
Would this go down in history as the quickest defeat in the history of the world? What will the neighboring countries say about this battle, in which a small, yet proud, nation stood bravely against indescribable odds…but were brutally murdered so quickly?
Nicholas pushed away his random final thoughts, and focused on what was in front of him. That’s when it hit him. The slow realization of shock and horror creeping into Amanda’s eyes. Her eyes had slightly shifted toward over his shoulder.
Someone was coming.
Nicholas felt a shattering inside himself as he belted out the scream that willed his body into action. In one fluid motion, he pulled the dagger from his waist and twirled around on the spot. He immediately identified the downward swipe of an enemy soldier coming right for him. He caught the blade and deflected it off course just as he had countless times in the academy. As the strike’s momentum pulled the enemy toward him, he could see the shock of the man underneath the metal helmet as his dagger pierced the small gap between the helmet and chestplate.
Nicholas ripped out the dagger, causing blood to spray all over as the soldier collapsed. A gurgling noise came from behind the visor as he desperately tried to hold his hands over the wound. A few moments later, he was dead. Nicholas picked up the sword that meant to end his life with his right hand, holding his dagger point down in his left. The sword was heavy, but he could use it.
The melee of a battle filled in all around him. Another enemy came at him, looking to end his life. Instead, Nicholas took his. He was quicker than his enemies since he wasn’t wearing heavy armor. He used that to his advantage. Another enemy charge. He put him down. Another. Down. Another. Dead.
His arms were starting to feel like jello. Every time he deflected a sword with his, he felt a stinging sensation shoot up his arm. He could feel his movements getting slower. Just as he realized this, he received a shield to the stomach and tumbled backward. The enemy jumped on him in a heartbeat and went for the stabbing strike.
A small fireball smashed into the man about to end Nicholas’ life, sending him flying backwards a good ten feet. Nicholas flipped around onto his stomach to see Amanda barely standing, a look of determination on her face. Honestly, it was a miracle that with everything going on, she hadn’t been singled out yet.
Nicholas’ words caught in his throat as the piercing sound of an arrow flew by his ear. He snapped his head back to see a man reloading a crossbow. It was a bolt. He charged at the man. He couldn’t let him get another shot off. The expression of shock and fear once again filled Nicholas’ vision as the enemy soldier realized he was upon him. In a moment, he was dead.
Panting he patted all over his body. He wasn’t hit. Did he miss? Yeah, he had to of missed. Unless…
His eyes shot up to see Amanda was no longer standing where she was just moments ago. Instead she was lying in the spot. She wasn’t moving. Her body wasn’t reacting to anything going on around her. His eyes were drawn to a bolt half embedded into her body…in the middle of her chest.
Right as he began to sprint toward her, something hard and cold smashed into the side of his face causing him to lose balance and fall to the ground. A searing pain filled the side of his face, and he could see blood dripping off of him onto the ground. What had hit him?
He turned and lifted his eyes in the direction he was hit. What he was met with was a single, harder hit that sent him right into the ground. His face was buried in the mud of the battlefield, and he could feel his senses scattering all over the place. He felt a kick to his ribs that caused him to flip over.
A sharp pain now stabbed his chest with every breath. He could only take short intakes of air, and even that was difficult. The pain intensified as a metalclad foot stomped on the lower part of his chest, pushing with it the entire weight of a man in armor.
He couldn’t breath. He couldn’t take in air. It hurt too much.
Through his blurry vision he could see the man slowly raising a crossbow at him. An evil sneer plastered across his face. Nicholas heard the familiar “thunk” of a crossbow bolt hitting a target, but he did not feel the bolt embedding itself into his chest. His body had had enough. It was telling him it was time. He had felt enough pain.
Nicholas’ head fell back into the mud as the man removed his foot and walked away. The sky was swirling and blurry. This was it. This was how his life would end. He would die here. In the mud. His family would never find his body. He would not receive a proper burial. He would become food for the wildlife that would pick over the area once the battle was over.
Honestly…he didn’t care. He was tired. So tired. He had done his best…hadn’t he? Even when he knew death was near, he fought to protect her. He had done enough…right? She wouldn’t hold it against him that he couldn’t protect her…would she? Would she understand…if he just closed his eyes now and rested? Just a short rest…that’s all he wanted…
“Of course you’ve done enough. Close your eyes, my darling. Let yourself go, and come with me.”
That heavenly voice.