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re: Ilridion: Chapter 1 (Final)


They sat down in a far corner, allowing for some privacy due to the distance between the patrons and their own table. The stranger was an odd fellow, his stature was tall but he was thin and wiry. It was as if his time spent in the fringe of the world had a detrimental effect on him. The man’s face was wrinkled with experience. His hair had lost its younger luster and transformed to a silver mane. His eyes twinkled with wisdom behind a curtain of hazel. The man looked at Athanon for a few seconds, his eyes squinting as he examined his face, as if he had seen Athanon before.

“Who are you, Lieutenant?” he inquired.

“I am Aranthyl i’Athanon, sir,” replied Athanon.  Since Prilius seemed to know this man, he felt it was necessary to offer a certain level of respect to this stranger.

“Ah yes, I knew your father, Aranthyl, back in the day when Ridion was in the final stages of its construction.  He is a fine man.”

“This man is named Renaus I’Reinos, Athanon, “said Prilius, gesturing at the third man, “we served together in the Last War.”

Reinos shook his head.  “Those were real battles back then, the kind you don’t find these days anymore.  But the vermin plaguing Varsholm are not your isolated brigand’s group either.”

Prilius leaned forward onto the table, with a serious look in his eyes.  “Alright, Reinos, what’s the current situation?  Our intelligence back at the capital was limited, we weren’t even aware it was you who asked for aid.  The bonfires weren’t even lit.” he said.

“A week and a half ago,” Reinos began, “a large group of men showed up at our eastern gate demanding some gold.  They threatened to burn down the town if we refused to meet their demands, so we gave them what they desired.  As you may recall, Varsholm denied the garrisoning of legionary forces on account of the presence of our own town guard, as per the balance of power between the Arneni and Council.  So we have one hundred and fifty town guards armed by the Arneni, and that seemed enough for whatever came our way.  Of course, we never expected this many outlaws to come forth.  Several times, almost routinely, they have done the same thing; made their demands and left.  We’ve essentially been paying them tribute to keep them from attacking the town.”

“Varsholm is quite large, and has several hard-working men and veteran legionnaires despite the lack of a legion, why didn’t you stand your ground?” asked Prilius.

“We didn’t resist because we didn’t have enough men.  These brigands number in the thousands, and they’re well-armed, so we feared they weren’t your common cutthroats.  We didn’t want to embroil ourselves in a siege.”

“Reinos, you’re sure they have that many men?”  Prilius’ tone was skeptical at best.

“Absolutely.  I haven’t the faintest idea where they all came from but their group is quite large.  That’s why we requested an entire legion be sent to deal with the issue.  I honestly didn’t expect the Council to send the Moonlight Spear legion, but I’m grateful nonetheless,” Reinos remarked. They also sent the smallest legion to deal with thousands of criminals, Athanon thought.

Prilius leaned back in his chair, his left arm folded across his chest and his right hand stroking his chin.  “Where are they…“  A heavily drunk man tripped on a bench, interrupting Prilius’ question.  Laughter filled the room until the man was helped up and sat on a seat.  “Where are the brigands located?” Prilius asked again.

“Our boys found their camp far to the east, in the direction they’ve approached from, in some trees just after a large break in the forest.” Reinos put his elbows on the table.  “That’s probably your best bet for engaging them; trying to lure them to attack you in that field where it’s open.”

“Right,” Prilius said, nodding in agreement.  “Now, do you have any idea who their leader is?  If he’s capable of curbing thousands of souls riddled with larceny, then he can become a threat to another town or city somewhere else in the Empire.”

Reinos spread his hands in helplessness.  “Whoever their leader is, he’s remained anonymous this entire time.  He’s never shown his face; every time they demanded something from us, the demands came from messengers.”

Prilius nodded to this knowledge, his eyes staring upward as he thought.  “He’s smart, a discreet leader.”  He looked to Athanon.  “What would you say is more important; defeating these bandits or eliminating their leader?”

Athanon dwelled on it for a minute.  “Both would yield good results, Badger, but the long-term choice would be the leader.  In-fighting would permeate their camp without someone to keep them abated.”

Prilius grinned. “Correct.  Without a leader, their binding force melts and they can be shattered easily, thus allowing both goals to be accomplished.”  Prilius paused.  “Unfortunately though, we do not have that luxury.  We have too few men to try and strike their camp with the aim of taking down their leader.  That sort of operation would put us in a bad way.”

“So do we go with the least favorable option then, sir?”

“Yes, and you’re going to devise a tactic to fight these men.  Tell the soldiers to get a few hours’ sleep; we’re heading out when the moon is at its zenith,” ordered Prilius.

Athanon and Finrir sat at an iron table off to the side in the middle of the Forum.  The center of the trade center was intricately decorated with multi-colored marbled flooring and columns.  The walls curved about in a wide oval shape, creating a large and open room, with shafts beaming down through skylights installed into the ceiling.  A stream of people walked throughout this epicenter of the Forum - the Forum itself being a center for goods and shopping - the density of bodies clogged the room.  Tables were scattered throughout the cavern-like area out of the way of the pedestrians, and it was there that the boys were seated.

Some doorways opened up into rooms here in the atrium.  They were not stores or shops, those lined the Forum hallways that weaved in a grid towards the center, but were rather the doors in which the Forum administrative staff labored.  Paperwork, monetary reports, room purchases, and other various meetings and business were conducted in these rooms.

The ward-brothers did not notice the activity or these rooms, however.  They had their hands at the center of the table, Finrir’s on top of Athanon’s, and both were concentrating heavily on it.  Such a pose required them to lean forward, as they were still relatively short despite their ages of twelve years old.  Beneath their overhanging chests, two wooden crosses with four strings attached, one to each end, laid on the table, the strings tangled all about the wood.  Athanon had tangled up the one under Finrir’s chest, and vice versa.

“Ready… Go!” Finrir’s words commenced the contest.

Both Finrir and Athanon retracted and set to work untangling their crosses as fast as they could.  Athanon had tied the Impatient Man’s Knot onto Finrir’s cross, a deceptively difficult knot that would annoy the most patient and wise of men, so Athanon had some time to discern how to untie Finrir’s work.  And a masterpiece it was; Finrir had left Athanon in a predicament.  He had tied a simple knot, but had overlapped it three times and tied the strings so tight that Athanon could barely get a fingernail in it.  It proved to be difficult, as he surmised, but Athanon began to fiddle with the inner tie, noticing it was the loosest of the three.  This tactic was far more effective, and allowed Athanon to undo the tangle from the inside, pulling on the strings to loosen the puzzle.

Within two minutes, Athanon enthusiastically slammed his untangled cross onto the center of the table, his mind swimming in the success of his victory.  Finrir’s face was red from pulling on the knot and his frustration.

“What in the name of the spirits did you do with your knot?” he grunted out.

Athanon leaned back and looked at Finrir with a sarcastically wise expression.  “I tied the perfect knot.  I should be paid to do this.”

“Ancestors!” Finrir growled, tossing the cross onto the table in resignation.

“You can’t just pull on it.  They’re so small that brute strength isn’t the way to go about it.”

Finrir snorted.  “When did you become such a master of strings?”

“Father just told me once that finesse and strategy are as equally important, if not more so, than applying the right amount of pressure,” replied Athanon.

“You almost recited it exactly as he would have said it,” Finrir laughed.  There was some tension in his voice though.  “He only gives me the hard lectures about failure.  He doesn’t teach me how to win.”

A feminine voice broke through the murmur of voices from the nearby crowds:  “What are you two doing?”

Both of the boys looked over to see a girl, roughly their age, approach their table.  She had long auburn hair that came down to her back, tied into a simple braid.  Her face bore small freckles, but Finrir and Athanon were both awestruck by this girl.  Neither had talked to one since they were nine, give or take, Athanon couldn’t remember at that moment.

“We were playing Knots,” Finrir answered, his voice smooth.  Athanon looked over at Finrir and then back at the girl.

She approached their table and hopped up onto the third chair.  “I’ve never played before.”  She paused, and both boys looked at each other with growingly desperate looks.  They didn’t know what to do.  “My name is Myraena.  Can I stay with you guys for a few minutes?  My father is in an ‘important meeting’.”

“Yeah,” Athanon answered.  He smiled, and she smiled back.  He felt like a fool.

“So, what does your father do?” Finrir asked.


The crunch of the boots on the dusty snow made Athanon cringe.  This plan would surely fail if they could not retain the element of surprise.  The sound of steady breathing personified the lives that he was responsible for, but the knowledge that they were willing to follow him to conflict reassured him as well.  An owl’s hoot echoed through the air over the marching of the soldiers.  He scanned the tree line ahead of him, looking for any signs of movement.  The orange glow of the bandits’ campfires hovered over the canopy like a filmy haze against the night sky.  If he stared at the light for too long the darkness at the edges of his vision deepened.  As they continued their steady pace towards the camp, the scent of burning wood and charcoal started to fill the ranks, overpowering the smell of sweat that had lingered in the air since their departure from Varsholm.

Anxiety fluttered in his stomach.  This was Athanon’s first time commanding in a hostile situation.  He trusted in his own instinct in his choice of a stratagem, but doubt dominated the fringes of his consciousness.  He could feel the trepidation inherent in the minutes before a battle in some of the legionnaires around him.

“Alright men, we’re nearing their camp.  These brigands may have us outnumbered, but we are the Moonlight Spear!  Let’s get this job done and go home the way our forebears did back in the day,” said Athanon.

The men who heard him gave a solid cheer, and the shields in the front rank straightened into a formidable wall of steel-reinforced wood.  Shouting and weapons clanging began to emanate from the forest.  They were rushing to prepare themselves; the cheer had alerted them of the legion’s presence.  Whooping and roaring started to replace the initial sounds from the woodland, rising and falling as if being chanted.  The darkness offered them a certain degree of discreetness.  It was foolish to attack the legion - or any legion for that matter - on open ground.  Though the tribes were unaware of this, the bandits would have been well-aware of the martial skill of a legion after the Empire successfully acquisitioned all of Ilridion; they had decades of history to prove it.  However, the darkness obscured the image of the legion, and Athanon suspected that the brigands assumed the garrison of Varsholm had come out to overthrow their robber lords.

The soldiers stopped and tightened their formation. Almost immediately, the brigands charged out of the trees en masse.  Athanon quickly calculated the amount of time it would take until impact.


“Alright men! Beware the swords of these ruffians, no doubt they are rusted and worn by the indecent deeds they have been forced to assist with.”


“Behold their disarray, they run with courage but shall feel the bitter bite of their cowardice before the end!”


“In the dark of night!” The men recognized his words and shouted alongside him the completion of the verse of the Moonlight Spear:

“Our swords shine bright!”

The pressure of thousands of bodies crashing into the wall of steel and wood almost knocked the men back a step. Almost.  But these were warriors trained in discipline of physical might as well as mental stability. They refused to give even an inch. The Moonlight Spear in fact lived up to their name and pushed into the ocean of attackers they had challenged. Like rocks in a river they stopped-up the brigands and forced them to try to flank the shield-wall. Unfortunately for their assailants, this was exactly what Athanon had hoped for. The impenetrable wall of the Legion, nicknamed the Rampart of the Empire, hid the true threat behind its devilish simplicity. Many more of the Moonlight Spear hid behind the large shields and when the enemy flanked the wall they ran into the cold steel of the Legion. Brigands impaled themselves with their own speed. Heads flew bodiless from the lifeless husks of meat that now only served to decompose. This was not to say the wall itself was a decoy. Athanon himself had served in the design of this particular maneuver. Most of the enemy would be forced out wide to clash with the warriors behind the first line. However, the enemy needed more provocation than a mere blockade. Athanon ordered his troops to wield spears crafted of solid steel, the likes of which could cleanly move through flesh as a knife through butter. These spears were tipped with a most unique poison, crafted by the alchemists of Ridion, this poison worked as a coagulant which clotted the blood inside any living thing, quickly reducing them to a feeble creature that was incapable of movement. The brigands who decided to try and out-muscle the line were quickly deterred.

This was when Athanon’s next form of attack presented itself. With a mighty roar Athanon swung his shield forward, up and behind him, drawing his sword in a fluidity only matched in flowing water. His men followed suit and soon the battle was truly joined. Athanon stabbed an approaching brigand through the midsection, crushing his vital organs and causing a pool of maroon blood to spill from his abdomen. The brigand’s eyes grew lifeless and as quickly as the winds could turn he targeted another unfortunate soul. Drawing close to his victim Athanon sidestepped a clumsy swipe, parried a desperate chop and moved inside his opponent’s weapon range. The fear in the man’s eyes was almost tangible. Athanon relished in the distress he caused and thrust his sword through the man’s chin. The end of the blade exited the top of the brigand’s head. The Lieutenant threw him aside and watched as Brutus, the largest man in the Moonlight Spear, was attacked by many bandits. His mirth was palpable and as Athanon watched, Brutus lifted a man by the neck, crushed his upper spine into a series of fragments, and just drop the limp body.

Time began to slow down for Athanon as he watched his warriors; those he trained; those he came to call brothers, show their true colors in warfare. The merciless nature of their style made Athanon giddy to his core. Athanon returned to the battle just as a ruffian swung his sword in an all-out attack towards another one of Athanon’s allies. The legionnaire would never see the assault coming. Athanon had to react quickly and he did so, throwing his short sword he hit the broadside of the attacker’s blade with his own. Knocking the ambush awry and causing enough noise to watch his comrade swiftly turn and without hesitation, slash with startling speed, through the man’s shoulder to his opposite one. The attacker stared dumbly for a moment and then the torso finally stood singularly in the air as the lower part of his head separated from the body in a shower of red liquid. The legionnaire took one glance at his lieutenant, nodded a thanks and dashed off to continue the skirmish anew.

Hours later Athanon was still fighting. The bandits were resisting to the bitter end. One could only wonder what force could create such blind loyalty in such cowards as people who subjugate small towns to their dark will. He had already two of his allies fall under the throng of enemies that assailed them with a constant unorganized fashion. The legionnaire Athanon had saved at the cost of his own short-sword, now lay at the top of the piles of bodies. His eyes staring into the sky in the sweet embrace of his forefathers. He had gained entrance into the Hall of the Remembered. Athanon grimly smiled in reverence to his dead comrade and swore many would yet still fall to his mighty blade. More enemies came to meet his tireless onslaught. He hacked away limbs, caused mortal wounds and generally crushed any opposition that could possibly be brought to bear against the Moonlight Spear. Then an unfortunate block from a brigand jarred his arm awake. The adrenaline was done coursing and the blood lust was sated from his very soul. He began to slow. His slashes became dogged swipes and his precise thrusts became clumsy stabs. He willed his legion to persevere through the arduous bloodshed they all were facing but soon he was realized they should retreat. They had lost a total of fifteen in the first encounter. That was fifteen too many.

“Pull back!” Athanon shouted. “We must retreat!” They had to regroup into a more defensible location. The tired warriors gave inch by precious inch to the bandits. They were wearing thin and they had to continue to the town. Athanon allowed a hint of worry to permeate his usually concrete demeanor. The Moonlight Legion continued to pull back, across the field where they had fought and further still to the edge of the city. The brigands dogged their retreat the entire way. Then Athanon smiled.

“Of swords and knives!” he roared.

“Pointed at the sky!” came the resounding reply. It echoed across the treetops and through the armor every combatant wore. Confused, the bandits halted. Their lives were forfeit the minute they gave chase to the “fleeing” warriors. Arrows poured down upon the brigands from the rooftops and walls; daggers shared their deadly sting from the trees. Then the Moonlight Legion joined the battle anew.  Varsholm’s gates opened and the city garrison came forth to reinforce the tiring legionnaires. The feigned exhaustion left the limbs of the beleaguered men. The deadened limbs swung with more power than ever before. This was the price of inflicting harm on the Empire. This was the price of fighting the best warriors the world had ever seen. Athanon was here to collect.





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