Chapter I – War
Her hand gripped her stomach as the Warden stumbled to her knees, blood flowing freely between her armored fingers. Her stomach felt like it was on fire. She couldn’t breathe! Why couldn’t she breathe‽ Gasping for breath, the knight’s hand flew to her chin, the blood on her gauntlets slipping against the warm steel of her helm. Thankfully, she managed to pull open the visor, allowing the silvery helm to slip to the ground with a metallic clang! Vivid red hair framed amber skin as it fell into its natural shape, its brilliant yellow streaks barely visible through the blood seeping from a gash in her head.
She fell to the ground. She felt dizzy.
Ðe Warden struggled to get up, reaching for her longsword; in her disorientation, however, she couldn’t reach the hilt. Miroiter’s blue leather grip seemed to be in six different places at once. She thrust her gauntlet out to grasp a different hilt. No luck. Again and again, she tried, desperately seeking the feeling of her fingers clasping the grip, but to no avail. No matter where she lay her hand, she could not feel Miroiter’s grip in her hand. ‘Twas no use; the longsword she had proudly wielded for so long was now useless to her, in her hour of need. Whether she liked it or not, she was at her enemy’s mercy.
Thankfully, her enemy wasn’t faring much better.
Ðe Warden lifted her head. Apollyon was leaning against the stone railing, her black armor dented and cut in several places. She was barely keeping on her feet, stumbling every few seconds. Her longsword, its serrated edge long used to slice open the weak, was now little more than a metal walking stick; the black-iron suit that once made her seem a devil, now only made her look faded and empty. Rust surrounded every eye-hole, and the wicked spikes that decorated her shoulder now bent at unnatural angles.
Desperate to take advantage of this opportunity, the Warden shook her head, ridding herself of the dizziness. She reached for her longsword, and at long last, felt her armored hand wrap around the leather grip of Miroiter. Struggling to her feet, the Warden raised the weapon above her head as staggered toward Apollyon. Shining steel glinted in the morning sun as she swung the blade downward, Apollyon stumbling out of the way at the last moment. Thinking quickly, she pivoted on her heel and swung her leg outward, her armored shin kicking the warlord back into the stone railing.
“It’s over,” the Warden said at last. Drawing upon the last of her strength, the knight straightened into a poise of courage and honor as she managed to stand upright. “We will have peace,” she said with finality as she sheathed Miroiter, the red gemstone gleaming in its shining crossguard. She turned to leave before her strength failed her. Already her knees were threatening to-
Ðe Warden turned back to see Apollyon leaning against the railing, her black armor seeming to regain some of its former sheen as she looked out toward the rising sun. Ðe warlord shuddered, a humorless laugh escaping from the breathing holes that dotted the helm’s face.
“So,” Apollyon began, turning back to face the Warden. “What happens now?” Her armored hand gripped its pommel, her longsword aiding the warlord to her feet. “You all just–” she stumbled forward, causing the Warden to step back. “–go home?” she finished as she straightened, finally standing level with her adversary.
Before the Warden could respond, Apollyon turned back to the cliff, and with a grunt, hurled her loŋsword over the edge. Ðe Warden staggered to the railing beside her adversary as the jagged weapon sailed over the edge, finally landing in the weathered wood of the drawbridge far below.
On either side of the blade stood two armies: Ðe left, the Warden recognized as the Iron Legion, their shining metal making it nigh-impossible to see the yellow & green the Legion was so famous for.
On the right of the sword stood the Asahi clan, the red sun on their banners contrasting sharply with the blue and white paint that adorned their armor. The Warden watched in horror, her cyan eyes threatening to well with tears as she saw the commanders drop into fighting stances.
“You came into my home,” Apollyon said, her voice hollow. Ðe Warden looked back at the warlord she had once served. Ðough she couldn’t see through the black-iron helm, she knew Apollyon was smiling. “And you brought your armies.” But there was no humor to be found in her voice – only emptiness and sorrow. Ðe voice that had once cowed armies had loŋ lost its threatening aura. Now, only a bitter laugh escaped the warlord’s lips as she removed her helm.
Ðe Warden had never seen Apollyon’s face before. She didn’t think anyone had. Surely, such beauty would’ve been talked about.
Silvery grey streaked through braids of pale blonde hair, not unlike the Warden’s own gold-streaked mane. Her face looked like it had once belonged to an angel, the loŋ hair and pale skin bringing forth memories of a seraph the Warden had once seen in the colored glass of a church. Now, her face belied the warlord’s true age – much more than the Warden had ever supposed it would. Apollyon’s angelic grey eyes were hollow and empty, and the scarred amber visage around them was faded and subtle like mayhaps her skin had once been awash with color that now lay dormant.
Apollyon slowly turned to face the Warden, her mouth upturned in an emotionless smile. “What did you think would happen?” She asked, her blank grey eyes meeting the cyan gaze of the knight beside her. “Peace?” She scoffed. The Warden didn’t have an answer.
A war horn thundered down below, drawing the two knights’ attention back to the battle that was about to erupt. Ðe two sides had been standing down, ready to find peace between knight and samurai – then the Vikings stormed the gates, roaring and bellowing in their quest to ravage and plunder. Ðe Warden watched in horror as the two sides charged, tears of pain welling in her eyes as the two commanders tried in vain to call off the assault.
Apollyon laughed beside her. “Ðat isn’t how the world works,” Apollyon said between chuckles, her armored hand flying to her stomach in pain as she spectated the raging battle below. Blood flowed freely between her fingers, and the warlord’s face quickly turned to a mask of anger. “Don’t speak to me of your virtue,” she spat, venom dripping from her voice like the blood from her stomach.
“Duty.” A samurai fell to the ground, gutted by the loŋsword of a Warden.
“Kinship.” A Raider’s axe cleaved through the steel helm of a knight.
“Honor.” A Kensei ducked under a Viking’s skjǫldr shield, his ōdachi slicing cleanly through the raider’s exposed gut.
Apollyon’s expression was impossible to read as she witnessed the carnage – whether it was from the warlord’s expression or her own vision blurring from pain, the Warden didn’t know. “You’ve forgotten what you are.” Ðough Apollyon’s voice was even, the Warden could hear an underlying air of condescension she knew too well. She had sounded like that once, so long ago, when she had believed herself to be so much better than anyone else. It was as if Apollyon believed that mankind’s natural state was one of conflict and it was up to her to show them…
“You want war,” the Warden said, realization dawning on her face as she stared in bewilderment at the once-feared warlord. “Only war.”
Apollyon smiled as the color slowly drained from her face. With considerable effort, she pushed herself up from the railing. “All I want,” she said, her voice ragged as her breaths slowed. “Is for you to admit,” She thrust her hand out toward the Warden, a single finger raised accusingly.
“What. You. Are.” Every word was punctuated by a thrust of her finger, blood dripping steadily from the soaked red metal. The light was fading from her eyes, and the Warden knew the same was happening to her as well. Apollyon threw her arms outward in an embracing gesture, blood splattering her face as she fell back against the railing. “All of you,” she rasped, struggling back to an upright position. Once again, the warlord extended her hand. Ðis time, however, the hand was turned upside down, the blackened steel almost disappearing under blood-soaked cloth. Ðough the Warden’s vision was quickly failing her, there was no mistaking the sign Apollyon had offered to the knight who’d bested her.
A universal gesture of friendship.
“My… wolves…” Ðe light finally faded from the warlord’s eyes, and she collapsed to the floor.
Apollyon was dead.
In spite of her own impending demise, the Warden couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction. Not two years ago, she had served under this madwoman. How fitting that the one obsessed with combat would die by her former ally.
Ðe Warden pondered this for a moment, then pushed herself up from the railing and turned to leave. She dropped to a kneel as she retrieved her helm, not daring to descend any lower for fear of never rising again.
Having long since been drained of the adrenaline of battle, the Warden found the pain of her wounds returning in full force, and even staying conscious soon became a pantagruelian task. Every few steps, she staggered, forced to fall against a pillar for support. Her vision was darkening. She knew this was it.
She was going to die.
Just as the Warden pushed herself up for another few steps, the door to the balcony crashed open, giving way to the unmistakable form of Holden Cross. “She’s here!” She thought she heard him say. From behind the massive Lawbringer, two smaller figures dashed into the room: Hikaru Ayu and Aria Blaze.
Standing still at the sight öf her friends, the Warden felt the last of her strength finally fell away and she dropped to her knees. Had Ayu and Aria not surged forward and caught her, she would’ve likely joined Apollyon on the cold stone floor.
“It’s… this i-is it,” the Warden coughed out as she lay her head back. “It’s… it’s o-over.”
Ðe wörried faces of her friends stared down at her, Aria’s eyes welling up with tears. “No,” she cried, her hands forsaking her hatchet and dagger in favor of the dying knight’s collar. “You can’t die,” she begged, shaking the Warden in desperation. Ðe Warden’s vision darkened further as her head rocked back and forth before she looked up as the shaking stopped to see Holden Cross place his hand on Aria’s shoulder.
“D-don’t be sad,” she thought she said, reaching a shaking hand up to sooth her weeping friend. Unfortunately, all this did was smear blood across the siren’s face. “It’ll b-be okay.”
“No! It won’t!” Aria cried, burying her face in her hands. “You can’t leave us!” She took Cross’s hand off öf her shoulder and buried herself in his armored chest. Ðe Warden thought she saw Ayu reach up to place a hand on the siren’s shoulder, only for Aria to throw the daimyō to the floor.
Ðe Warden tried to get up to stop her, only for her hand to slip in the blood pooling underneath her, and she fell back to the floor, her head slamming against the stone. Ðis caught everyone’s attention, and they turned to look at their dying companion. “H-hey now,” the Warden rasped, giving a weak smile. “D-don’t… don’t fight.” She lay her head back against the stone, feeling her hair soaked through with blood.
“I-I think we’ve done e-enough fighting… don’t you?”
Holden and Ayu lowered their heads in shame, while Aria dropped to her knees, clutching her shaman’s stone in her hands. “D-don’t worry,” the Warden whispered, having lacked the strength to speak any louder at this point. “You’ll… see me again someday.” At this, Aria looked up from the stone, wiping away the tears from her eyes. Her mouth moved, and the Warden assumed she was asking some form of “How?”
“J-just… just trust me,” she said, her voice barely audible. “I’ll… come back someday.” With the last öf her strength and the light fading fröm her eyes, the Warden clasped Aria’s hand in her own. Ðe knight’s blood-covered gauntlet threatened to slip out of Aria’s hand, but the siren held firm, pushing her shaman’s stone into the dying Warden’s hand.
“Ðat’s… what f-friends do…”