“The angels were most proud of the verdant forest that spawned in the wake of the Lifewell. Glorious trees, sprouting and bursting upwards in seconds, their size belying their youthful age. Highlord Tirion fought hardest to keep his men’s morale in check when the forests turned against them.”
The darkness of night was all that stared back at Uther.
He was certain – nay, his entire city was certain – that an unknown evil had been spotted across the river. Uther set his hands on the stone window-ledge and assessed what he could see. The eldritch slime was still spreading tendrils of something deeply unnatural towards the borders of Stromgarde. His paladins raced into their roles as defenders of the realm, huge gilded glaives at the ready. They were a fearsome fighting force but, even from the distance that he was, Uther could sense some unrest in the ranks.
His attention was drawn to the huge cranks that stood either side of the main gate. At the command of Tyr himself, angelic workers heaved the chains and brought the oaken bridge down with a start. It sent an unsettling creak into the night, followed by silence. Uther wondered if the night had an answer.
It did not take long.
Before Tyr could organize the first battalion of elite paladins in front of the bridge, a screech echoed from the mountains at a jarring pitch. A sensation akin to submerging your head in water washed over the denizens of Stromgarde, followed by a horrid and unnatural sound. Many angels clutched at their ears, the unknown sound provoking not pain, but fear.
Gazing out past the bridge, the darkness seemed to move. Like a nightmare, what little that could be made out from the lights of the keep seemed to glitch in and out of existence in fleeting seconds. Mist, clinging to the ground, both appeared and disappeared in heartbeats. Colour drained from the land and returned in the time it took to blink. Then, a figure joined the macabre horror show.
The skull of a ram, somehow shining despite the darkness, seemed to float unnaturally towards the bridge. It covered the distance from where it spawned to the foot of the bridge in a time almost too fast as to be real. Blinking caused the figure to appear back once more, before phasing back to the foot of the bridge as if it had always been there.
Suddenly, it jutted forward and appeared in the light of the bridge. The paladins, stunned by this movement, drew their glaives and assumed a defensive stance, ready to rush at a moment’s notice.
“Hold!” asserted Tyr. The warrior stood with his greatblade – El’druin, or Justicein the celestial tongue – pointed directly at the intruder. “Reveal your name in this holy place, or be judged!”
Tyr’s words were granite, and those around him seemed to draw a modicum of confidence from his tone. The figure, however, did not react immediately. It became clear that the inability to make out its body was not entirely due to its odd magical phasing – its body was a misty, foggy cloak that enveloped it from the neck down. From its midsection, a skeletal hand appeared. In a single, fluid motion, it extended its fingers and pushed.
The fog that had settled on the land around the creature now moved with purpose, buffeting the front line of paladins. They stepped back, fighting against the odd force which now blocked their path.
“Hold!” shouted Tyr once more. “I said reveal yourself, fiend, or be judged by the power of light itself!”
The ram’s skull tilted to the left, as if contemplating the request. Its movements were eerily slow.
Then, something appeared from beneath the bridge. Through the bridge.
An angel – a member of the battalion that served closer to the river – was suspended before the figure. Still salient but obviously paralyzed by some sort of arcana, the angel struggled against his invisible bonds. A cry of distress erupted from across the bridge as paladins sought to burst forward and save their cohort. In vain were these attempts, however, as the misty wall still refused to yield.
Then a voice.
“No darkness without light.”
A second hand emerged from the ethereal midsection of the fiend on the bridge, and in tandem they grasped for the divine creature’s wings. In one motion the intruder spread its arms wide, pulling the wings apart at the shoulder, ripping them from the angel’s back. The angel barely had time to shriek in pain before the divine light of the High Heavens left him, and all that was left of his figure was an unfilled, soulless suit of armour.
Fear had perpetrated the ranks of the paladins. Utterly distraught at what they had seen, thinking themselves free from the woes of mortality, they drew back. Even Tyr could not react, speechless at the loss of one his brethren in such a fashion.
Then a voice came once again from the direction of the figure on the bridge.
But it was not his own.
A pair of radiant, angelic wings spread from behind the shoulders of the fiend. They spanned the width of an eagle’s reach, illuminating the darkness and dispelling the horrid mist that flowed along the ground like a swamp. The mist almost seemed to squeal in terror itself as it receded backwards into the night.
The fiend turned, off guard, before a shard of pure molten steel carved through the upper corner of its ‘body’ and tore itself down towards the ground like a tailor cutting fabric. The arc of the blade’s swing hung in the air as the radiant energy of The Ashbringer burned through the creature, before a short scream gave way to a heap of still-smoldering ash.
Highlord Tirion Fordring stood, covered in blood and ash, the enormous heft of the legendary blade scraping the ancient oak bridge.
“Brothers, we are besieged!” he loosed, catching his breath at the end and falling to one knee.
As the misty wall fell, nobody moved faster than Tyr to join his comrade’s side. His platemail offered no challenge as he effortlessly glided to Tirion’s side, hoisting him up to a standing position.
“I don’t understand brother – what hunts us?”
“A great evil,” Tirion said, turning back to face the river, “across the river. It has already claimed our outpost by the woods. I did not realise their forces were so many…”
“What evil? Who are they, brother?” goaded Tyr, desperate to know what the fiend on the bridge was.
“Demons – they walk upon us in this land we call home. An ancient enemy of the angels has made a bargain with something in the mountain, something the light could not see…”
“We saw horrific, red eyes descending from the mountain,” Tirion continued, “and then an envoy like the one I just slew. They offered us endless riches and spoils in return for our aid. But when we refused, they offered us only death. The camp is lost, a handful of us are all the remain.”
The words hung in the air as Tyr searched his thoughts for the next course of action. Stromgarde faced a great foe indeed – but demons? These spawns of darkness were sworn enemies of the High Heavens, and the knowledge that they had found a way to manifest physically in Lothien was highly troubling.
Tyr heard the cacophony of chainmail behind him and turned. The noise was in fact ranks of paladins saluting their superior – Uther had descended from the keep, eager to join proceedings.
“Tirion’s camp is lost, but Stromgarde will reign eternal before demons breach the gates.”
Uther turned to the paladin to his left. “Seek Auriel. Have her dispatch word of our predicament to Loftenwreathe, Thalassar and Skywall. Advise that they prepare themselves for war, and request their assistance. We face a common foe, and we must unite despite our distance in the face of this enemy.”
The paladin nodded quickly, then ran towards the keep. Having made way, the rest of the first battalion fell back into line behind Uther with echoing stompsand stood with their glaives at their sides.
“Tyr, Tirion, gather yourselves and your men – we march toward the Lifewell.”