Tempest’s End

Short Story

My commander told us that we were heroes. He told us that none could withstand the might of Aloreh and that to even approach us would be folly.

Yora
Creative Team

It's time I wrote this down. My children’s children should know that I was no great hero in our darkest hour, that I was foolish and cowardly and base. They are good boys, and as my vision wanes and my hand becomes unsteady, I ought to leave them with this.

The first memory I can recall begins with the sound of the lapping waves on the shore. Long have we dwelt among the white beaches and felt the Goddess’ breeze at our backs as we labored in the fields. My children and my children’s children and their children beyond will too thanks to those brave men, but I get ahead of myself. I remember the sound of the lapping waves when my commander, a good and honorable man, stood atop the berm to deliver his speech. He was dressed in blue and gold, the emblem of the flowing breeze stitched in silver across his tabard. It's funny, I can hardly recall what he looked like save for his shiny armor and the finely wrought sword he waved about as he called upon us to fulfill our oaths to lord and land.

I suppose that as a young man it was the sheen and sparkle of glory that took my attention, but I’m sure in my age now I would have seen the hopelessness in his eyes even as he goaded us on to victory and to death. I was as much a fool as the rest, young, bold, full of piss and vinegar. I stood straight in my linen armor, the kettle-cap on my head snugly fit and a standard issue spear at my side. We were the divine wind, the untameable sky that danced and brought thunderous fury. At our sides were the masters of machine and metal.

Their gears of war ground on with the Tyrant's cruelty, leaving only rubble in their wake. My commander told us that we were heroes. He told us that none could withstand the might of Aloreh and that to even approach us would be folly. When the crisp sea-foam sails emerged over the horizon I still thought that. When the shelling began I held my kettle-cap to my head and I still thought that. When the man beside me blew to pieces I still thought that. But when the shining lances of Vrovona charged through us, the sky filled with the shooting stars of our bravest knights as they fell to hard earth, my heart began to tremble.

The sea-foam sails on the horizon loomed close when I heard the first shells, both ours and theirs’. The stench burned my nostrils. The sulphur, the reeking heat of steel that emanated from the cannons. My ears rang and my sight grew dim but I looked on with youthful determination. For all the fire and fury I stood atop cool stone. For all that the skies burned with silver flames, the steel of the Knights shone the brighter. I was in a daze for most of it. The foot soldiers had little to do but wait and watch and let their fears begin to build.

A soldier told me that he had only joined for the rations. His farm had failed and he had joined the militia to feed his family. He was mid-sentence when his eyes grew wide and blood trickled from his mouth. It was so fast I hadn’t seen it. A little lead ball had punched right through his linen armor, the same cloth I wore embossed with the emblem of Aloreh, right through his heart. I hadn’t heard the shot. The shells were raining all around us and someone was shouting for us to get down, to get down quick, but then the voice too was lost amidst artillery. A ship caught flame and we raised a ragged cheer from where we were hunkered down. The cool stone was now hot with smoke and blood. The crenellation we sheltered behind were chipped and cracked where stray bullets had failed to meet their mark, had failed to spell the end for another brave young man. 

More shouts, more orders. We were told to rally at a breach the enemy artillery had made. It seemed like only minutes had passed, but the distant sails now clouded the horizon. I realized my ears were ringing, and I the orders coming from behind us seemed otherworldly. Ahead, ahead, they said. The breach was up ahead and we would defend it with our lives. The skies were burning. Gods, I remember the awful yellow and orange. The smoke was so thick that I just held on to the man ahead of me. Where was the wind of Thesse in our battle to strike the skies clean. Where were the great machines of the Daggerlanders to blow away the choking air. A boom. The wing of an airship sheared off as it was wracked with artillery. Little shapes of its crew spilling out to fall to the cruel ground. I heard their screams. Even in the din and the ruckus of the shells and metal on metal of the melee and the shouts of my sergeant, I heard their screams. I still hear their screams sometimes when I ask myself why I ran. Gods, those bloody shrieks as they knew their demise was a few short seconds away and they had to look on all the while. 

When I reached the thick of the fighting the horn was already blowing to retreat. We were ordered to fall back, to hold the next wall. I watched as the poor, foolish boys ahead of me were scythed down like wheat in harvest. Their blades, the enemies’ blades, they burned with some kind of golden flame and there were distant notes of a melody. They seemed to sing as they scythed us down. As blood drenched the fields they sang and they laughed and they pressed on towards us. I felt my heart tremble again and my hands grew clammy despite the broiling afternoon heat. The sun was lost to me in the smoky sky, but then, it came - the piercing call of an Alor war horn. The charge of the Knights to save us.

The crackle of the Storms as they brought their might to bear. I threw myself to the side as the horses thundered past. The blue and gold shone so brightly I nearly wept. But the song of the Vrovonics did not cease, and the world grew dark for me and I felt my body, weary, ragged collapsing where I stood. I awoke just seconds later to the rubble plinking off my kettle-cap and the screams of a dying horse carrying on and on until it was silenced. When I opened my eyes I saw the bodies of men and horses alike strewn through the field. The singing had ceased. I think even they were in awe of the awful reality that had occurred. A single shell was all it had taken to break the charge, to shatter the spine of the Alor army. 

I do not regret running. My limbs shook and I felt like a fevered man in the depths of his sickness. The world was burning, burning, burning. All those poor men. The stench of the salt and sulphur and blood. It was too much for any sane man to handle. I was not alone in my cowardice. Others, even brave knights, flung down their weapons. As I escaped through the milling ranks of my own army I could see the medic’s tent in the back. Men were holding their innards in with their hands. Some clutched bleeding stumps, desperate to survive until a medic could see them. But the line was long and only grew longer as more were brought in, some shrieking, some crying, some mute, their eyes merely staring off into the distance as viscera slipped from their shredded bellies.

I got out through a sallyport in the back to find the beautiful countryside where my father and my father’s father had toiled with the sweet sea-breeze at their backs. Where once waves of amber stood now only gray ash remained. The fires must have burned at the start of the battle. Errant shells had made a mess of the once flat fields. New hills and craters pocked the surface of this hell that I had emerged onto. Later they would bury the bodies of those brave young men in those craters, just pre-dug graves in the gray.  The sun was swollen and red in the smoky skies. The world was not the home of gods, we knew they had long left. That day I learned the world was not the home of men neither. Only devils dwell here. Their fire and brimstone brings hell with them where they go and the cowardly devils flee only to write their sins down. My children’s children ought to know of the devils like me, they ought to know of all those gods-damned devils that brought  this war to their home.