Almarra was one of the smaller cities on the world of Altor. It consisted of a small town of less than a hundred simple wooden structures. The city was surrounded by rich fields of crops. The craftsmen, traders and service workers lived in the small town while the farmers dwelled in smaller huts at the edges of the fields. Near the huts, small pens held a variety of livestock.
But the beauty and quaintness of the small town and fields were marred by a great wall that surrounded the town. The wall stood as high as three men and was half as thick at its base. At its corner stood a small tower where sentries kept watch on the lands beyond the fields. The wall stood as a grim reminder to the people that at any time, their peaceful lives could be shattered by the ever-present threat of demon hordes.
Inside, the mighty wall could shelter the entire population of Almarra, with enough provisions to sustain them for several months. The town also housed a compound where a small group of warriors honed their skills and stayed at the ready while mages practiced their arts of enchantment. Over the past hundred years, the wall and its small band of warriors and mages had protected its citizens against six attacks by demon bands. The bands had numbered anywhere from a few dozen to more than a hundred of the wretched creatures. Each time, the wall held strong, and the demons were either defeated or made to retreat.
Outside the wall, the day had been as peaceful as any could hope and the sun was lazily descending toward the distant horizon. The hard-working farmers hurried to finish their labors while there was still light. Among the farmers were two brothers in their late teens named Chaant and Ky’el. Ky’el was an impressive young man, tall and heavily muscled, with flowing brown hair and piercing green eyes. The briefest glance revealed the fact that Ky’el had chosen the way of the warrior, and he had worked hard to mold his body into a weapon. His powerful arm could wield a sword with tremendous force that few could match.
Chaant was a year younger, taller, and had a flowing physique. Although he wasn’t as heavily muscled as his brother, he still had great stamina and endurance thanks to his years of work in the fields. His fair features and intense blue eyes were framed by coarse blonde hair. Those eyes suggested intelligence and wisdom well beyond his years. Chaant had chosen the path of mage, and he had become quite adept. His teachers marveled at his progress, but he secretly dreamed of the day he would venture forth to find a wizard. Then he could serve him on a quest and earn a powerful talisman. He knew Almarra did not possess the power to defend itself from a Demon Lord and his army of thousands, and though they had not yet been discovered by such a force, their luck would not hold forever. He was therefore determined to earn a greater weapon than he could fashion on his own.
Ky’el and Chaant toiled side by side as they gathered their last harvest of melon-gourds. They each lifted a full basket and walked together toward their hut. They lived there alone, having lost their mother to illness a few years before, and their father a season prior. Their father had been a warrior and he had always encouraged and supported his sons on their paths to warrior and mage. This allowed them to grow in skill from a young age. Their mother was kind and supportive, whereas their father had encouraged the development of their skills, she had helped shape their character.
The sun was setting, and they were tired, thirsty and hungry after a productive day in their field.
“I thought we’d never finish,” said Chaant.
“But we did, and tomorrow we can go to market and get some rest from toiling in this field,” answered Ky’el.
“I for one can’t wait to enjoy some cool root brew,” said Chaant.
“Sounds good, and maybe spend a little time with some old friends.”
“Like Lady Áine?” inquired Chaant.
“Maybe. Are you teasing me, little brother?”
Chaant laughed, “No, I think she’s wonderful. And I’m happy you found someone,”
“And what about you?” asked Ky’el.
“Don’t worry about me, I have plenty of time to find the right one.”
As they walked, Ky’el looked toward the great wall and remarked, “Speaking of time, we won’t be tilling fields and gathering crops for too much longer. Soon, I’ll be on that wall, protecting our people, and you’ll be one of our mages.”
“I’m sure of it, though I dread the day a Demon Lord finds our home,” answered Chaant.
“A Demon Lord?” asked Ky’el in surprise.
“Yes. I know we can handle the smaller bands of demons that have plagued us, but if a Demon Lord with his vast army ever came upon Almarra…”
“No one’s even seen such a force in generations! Remember, we’re far from the larger cities, so I think we’ll remain safe from such a threat,” assured Ky’el.
“Maybe. But we must be prepared, and I fear we’ll need greater magic if that day comes.”
“Brother, at the rate you’re progressing, I’m not sure we need anything else.”
“I might say the same of your skill with a sword!”
Ky’el responded, “Thanks, but let’s pray we never face such a threat and test our skills in that way.”
“Agreed,” said Chaant.
As they reached their hut and put down their heavy baskets, the shrill sound of a battle horn cut through the cool twilight air. Ky’el snapped his head toward the great wall.
“That’s coming from the tower, they’ve spotted a threat!”
“Come on,” urged Chaant.
Chaant and Ky’el ran into the hut, their fatigue and hunger now forgotten. They reappeared a moment later, Ky’el with a scabbard belted to his waist and a sword in his hand, while Chaant had donned a dark cloak with a leather sack tied to his waist.
The brothers peered into the distance for a sign of the threat, and in the last remnants of light, they could discern a sea of dark figures cresting a ridge beyond the fields. Even with the dwindling light, they could make out inhuman creatures of varying shapes and sizes, with some much larger than any man. Chaant reached into his sack and pulled out a flask, gripping it in his right hand.
“Demons! But how many?” said Ky’el.
“Let’s see what we’re dealing with!” responded Chaant.
The young mage held out the flask with his right hand and made a circular gesture over it with his left while uttering the words, “Noctis solis!”
The flask began to glow an eerie orange and he gently tossed it into the air toward the demons. The flask floated higher and higher, and as it did so, it became brighter like a tiny orange sun. It hovered above the fields and moved toward the advancing demons, casting its light on the approaching enemies.
The brothers could now see an endless horde of creatures that easily numbered into the many hundreds. Some were massive, hairy brutes with long and powerful arms and sharp fangs. The majority were squat and mottled, wearing heavy leathern armor and carrying long pikes. And a few were towering brutes that only barely resembled men, with shaggy hair, long broken nails, and garish expressions that revealed long, sharp teeth. Still others hovered over the horde on broad outstretched black wings. As horrible as they were, they appeared even more grotesque in the unnatural orange light.
“There are hundreds!” exclaimed Chaant.
“Likely many more, they’re still flowing out of the forest beyond. And look there, in the center!” directed Ky’el in an urgent tone.
A massive cloaked figure with glowing red eyes road amid the demon horde. He was mounted on an unnaturally large stallion, and black armor glinted under his cloak. He wore a black helmet that covered most of his face, concealing whether he was human or something else.
“I see it! That must be a Demon Lord! Almarra doesn’t stand a chance,” stammered Chaant.
“Let’s get to the wall,” replied Ky’el, his voice and expression revealing his anxiety.
The brothers ran toward the distant wall as the light from Chaant’s enchantment gradually faded. As they ran, they were joined by other farmers and villagers. Thanks to Chaant’s enchanted flask, they had a good idea of what they were dealing with and the proximity of their enemy. But that knowledge also led to panic for many of the people, as they recklessly scrambled toward the relative safety of the great stone wall. There were now more than fifty people streaming from the fields and the small huts, including women carrying crying children.
“My enchantment won’t last much longer, we’ll soon lose all light,” warned Chaant.
“We’ve seen enough to know they’re coming too quickly for everyone to reach safety,” replied Ky’el in a voice that conveyed his concern for the fleeing citizens.
Ky’el studied the people that were running, and he noticed that several were fellow warriors that he had trained with. Like him, they had also taken the time to don their weapons.
“Warriors! Form a line with me! We will hold the rear. Chaant, help them reach the wall!” shouted Ky’el.
Chaant shot back, “No brother, I have enchantments that can help slow them. I stand with you!”
Ky’el knew better than to argue with his very stubborn brother in the heat of battle, and he certainly admired his sibling’s courage.
“Very well, brother, but be cautious!”
Chaant nodded as several young men with swords joined them. Ahead, the group of panicked villagers continued to grow in numbers as the last stragglers joined them. The people were closely packed, and this caused them to bump each other and in some cases trip in their desperate attempt to reach the relative safety of the thick city wall.
But not everyone was retreating to safety. Ky’el was gratified to see a dozen men with long spears fighting their way through the crowd to join him. An older man with a trimmed white beard and a massive axe led them. He wore the simple clothing of a merchant, but his hardened muscles and expression hinted at much more. Ky’el knew this man well. His name was Olan and he was a seasoned veteran who had been responsible for training countless young warriors. The older man took a position beside Ky’el, but his eyes stayed fixed on the advancing enemy.
“Olan, it’s good to see you! What do you advise?” asked Ky’el. Chaant looked questioningly at the older man.
Ky’el explained, “Olan is a veteran warrior and for a time, trained me in special battle tactics. Olan, this is my brother Chaant, a mage.”
“It is an honor, sir,” said Chaant.
Olan nodded to the mage and explained to the brothers, “We have very little time. The Demon Lord will first send his flying vermin to slow us.”
Olan turned and shouted to the nearby warriors, “Men with spears, prepare to repel the Flyers. Tear their wings with your spear tips! Once they are down, those with swords can dispatch them.”
Olan turned back to Ky’el and Chaant and continued, “After the Flyers, he will send the goblins. They are his common troops, meant to test and soften our defenses. They are not very intelligent and can even be cowardly at times, but they are strong fighters. We are too few too hold them for very long.”
“Long enough to let our citizens reach safety,” replied Ky’el bravely.
“Perhaps,” said Olan grimly.
The dozen men with spears formed a line and held their weapons high. A half dozen men with swords stood among them, weapons ready. As Olan had predicted, dozens of winged demons swooped down on the fleeing Almarrans. The men jabbed at them with their long spears, damaging the wings of three in the first wave. The wounded creatures fell to the ground and the men with swords quickly finished them with deep thrusts into their bodies.
The remaining Flyers became enraged and swarmed the men. But they were no match for the skilled warriors and their long weapons, which were designed for exactly this situation. Suddenly, the surviving Flyers withdrew.
“The goblins will attack next,” warned Olan. “Men with spears, fall back and stay with the villagers. Now only swords can help us.”
Just as Olan had predicted, a host of goblins closed on the handful of warriors. The crowd of villagers was now at the main gate and several had reached safety inside the wall. But the gate also formed a bottleneck that slowed the entry of those still outside. Atop the great wall, dozens of archers stood ready. But the enemy was still too far for effective fire in the evening gloom.
Ky’el frowned, “There are too many, we can’t delay them long enough for everyone to reach safety.”
“Every second spares lives,” encouraged Olan.
The goblins were armed with short pikes, and they formed a battle line more than thirty wide with many more behind.
“Use your swords to break their pikes, then a quick slash to the head,” instructed Olan. “Speed is our best weapon against such numbers!”
“You’ve faced this situation before?” asked Ky’el.
“Yes, many years ago. But the horde was much smaller, and there was no Demon Lord at its head. This is the day we’ve dreaded for generations.”
Ky’el replied, “And we’ll survive thanks to your training. Men, ready your swords! Chaant, you have no weapon, stay behind me!”
“Maybe not a sword, brother, but I think I can help,” replied the young mage as he reached into it sack and produced a blue vial.
Chaant removed the stopper and called out, “Fumus venenum!”
Then he hurled the now glowing vial into the middle of the goblin line. It exploded in a cloud of thick blue smoke. The goblins in the smoke doubled over, choking on the mystical fumes. Those to the left and right retreated from the expanding cloud.
“Good job, young mage, that bought our people the time they needed,” complimented Olan.
Chaant nodded to Olan, his face etched in mix of satisfaction and grim determination.
Although the goblins’ attack had been disrupted at the center, others were still moving forward at the flanks, though much more slowly thanks to the effect of the mystical blue smoke and their fear of the next mystical attack. The mystical cloud hugged the ground and seemed to swirl as if alive, with tendrils reaching out for nearby goblins.
“They’re now close enough for the archers,” yelled Ky’el.
Dozens of men with powerful bows that were positioned on the fortress wall carefully judged the distance to their enemies and aimed their weapons. Using the light from torches that were affixed to the outside of the wall to guide them, they fired their deadly shafts into the goblins. The creatures screamed in rage as the arrows found their targets. The inhuman sound caused Chaant’s stomach to tighten into a knot. But despite the arrows, the sheer number of goblins was overwhelming, and some were reaching the swordsmen.
The men slashed out at the inhuman creatures as the villagers continued to force their way into the enclosure. The goblins were shorter than their human opponents, but their limbs were much thicker and heavily muscled. Their skin appeared to be gray in the dim light. They wore leathern harnesses and swords dangled at their sides. But their short pikes were their primary weapons, and their powerful muscles drove them forward with great force and ferocity. The archers maintained their steady stream of arrows, but their efforts barely made a difference against the horde.
“We can use another trick!” called Ky’el.
“I’m trying,” responded Chaant as he furiously searched his sack in the darkness.
His expression changed from desperation to relief as his fingers closed on the object of his search, a small silver disc not much larger than a coin. He held out the object and called to his comrades, “Be ready, this will only last for a moment, but it should allow everyone to reach safety! Guard my sides, I need to move to the front of the line.”
Olan patted Ky’el on the back and observed, “You have quite the brother, brave and resourceful.”
Ky’el allowed himself a smile during the grim battle and replied, “Thank you, he’s truly one of a kind.”
Chaant held out his left hand to form a flat surface, and with his right hand, he spun the disc on his palm. Once started, the disc seemed to spin of its own accord, and rays of white-blue light began to flash from it. Chaant waved his right hand over the spinning disc, and the light focused on the goblins.
“Get ready,” he called. “Swordsmen, prepare to shield your eyes so you aren’t blinded!”
“Now!” he cried, as with a rapid movement of his right hand he uttered the words, “Discus de lumine!”
Light burst from the disc in a flash that was brighter than sunlight. The nearby goblins were temporarily blinded, and they howled in rage as they dropped their pikes and threw their course hands to their eyes.
“Everyone! Get inside the gate, it will only last a moment,” shouted Chaant.
The remaining villagers retreated into the fortress and the brave warriors guarding them followed.
“Come on Chaant, you too!” yelled Ky’el.
“Right behind you!”
Both brothers turned toward the massive gate and ran. A short distance away, an enraged goblin that had tripped after being blinded crawled toward them, led by their voices. The creature found a large rock under its hand, lifted it, and threw it at the brave brothers. Chaant was struck in the back of the head and fell unconscious. Ky’el, unaware that his brother had been struck down, was forced into the fortress by the press of bodies around him. As the last of the warriors entered, the mighty gate was closed.
Olan looked around the courtyard at the frightened villagers and exhausted warriors and commented, “We were fortunate, we only lost a few.”
Ky’el anxiously looked through the crowd, calling out desperately, “Chaant, Chaant! Where are you?”
Olan and the other warriors helped look for his brother, knowing they owed their lives to the young mage. But their search was fruitless, and they returned to Ky’el with their heads bowed. An archer on the wall noticed the activity in the courtyard and called down to them, “Do you seek the brave young mage?”
Ky’el looked up with hope and replied, “Yes! My brother Chaant!”
“I’m sorry. I fear he was struck down before entering the gate. I couldn’t see how, but I did see him go down.”
“No! Open the gate and let me out, I have to help him,” shouted Ky’el.
Olan put a hand on his shoulder, “The demon horde outside that gate now numbers in the hundreds, soon it will be a thousand or more. To open the gate would bring death for us all.”
Ky’el bowed his head in defeat and replied, “I know.”
Olan embraced the young man. The other warriors moved closer, putting comforting hands on Ky’el’s back and shoulders.