9 - The Battle of Defiance
The pendant glowed like blue fire around his neck as the ranger called lightning down from the sky, striking the throngs of orcs and ogres. He fired arrow after arrow into their ranks, felling one after another of the cruel beasts.
But he knew it wasn't enough.
The army of Qeynos was vastly outnumbered. Though storms raged above them, the Rallosian legions were drawing closer. Giants from the east uprooted boulders and used them as weapons, hurling them against the city walls. It seemed certain the gates would soon be breached, and then all would be lost.
The ranger signaled for his archers to fire at the giants, but the massive brutes were difficult to take down. And the orcs... the orcs were everywhere.
"For Qeynos!" shouted the ranger, and his troops cheered. They fight bravely, he thought to himself.
"For nothing!" replied a loud, hissing voice from the center of the Rallosian ranks. The ranger looked up. The wall of giants parted, and there, above the orcs and ogres, towered a being that seemed to be made of fire itself.
Niffet drew close to his leader. "What is that creature?"
"The Avatar of Flame," the ranger replied. "The chosen of Solusek Ro."
"Oh. Well, I have no doubt you can defeat it," that halfling announced, a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
The ranger drew his swords. "Keep taking down the giants. The city gates must hold." He began slashing through the mass of orcs, making his way toward the being of fire.
"The Militia is falling back, General. Freeport will soon be ours."
Urduuk smiled. "As I told you it would, Ignara. I will have Lucan's head on a pike by nightfall."
The ogre surveyed the battlefield. His troops swarmed everywhere, overpowering the city's defenses in both number and ferocity.
"Beautiful," he muttered.
"Indeed it is," a familiar voice replied. Urduuk turned to face the massive being.
"Avatar!" he exclaimed. Have you come to witness my victory?"
"You have done well, Urduuk. This chaos is extraordinary. I look forward to your army decimating the other continents as well."
"This is only the beginning, I assure you. When Antonica is cleansed, we move to Faydwer and--"
"General!" Ignara shouted. "We are being attacked on our southern flank!"
Urduuk looked toward the desert. A small but powerful force was cutting into his ranks, striking at the Rallosians with considerable power.
"The cursed monks have joined the fray," he muttered angrily.
"Why weren't they eliminated already?" The avatar asked. "The servant of the Tranquil will be imparting them a strength your oafish legions do not possess."
"I ordered them to be destroyed, but my incompetent lieutenant betrayed me! I will show her the price of failure!" Urduuk drew his sword and advanced toward Ignara.
"Wait, General!" Ignara cried. "Something else approaches from the south!"
Urduuk turned. A thick cloud rolled rapidly across the sands, darkening the sky with a dense green haze.
"What have you done, Urduuk?" the avatar asked him. "What did you do to unleash this madness?"
The cloud was moving quickly toward the Rallosians. As it reached the edge of the army's ranks, the ogres it touched fell lifelessly to the ground. The general watched them gasping for air one moment and twitching on the ground the next.
"My steed!" Urduuk ordered. "The son of Zek must live to fight another day. Bring me my steed!"
But no one was left to obey. The mist encircled the general, killing all those around him. Ignara struggled to breathe, reaching out to her leader. Finally even she collapsed.
"Fool!" the avatar shouted at Urduuk. "It is you who brought this fate onto your own people! The orcs are my only hope now. I will deal with the monks myself." The massive figure marched toward the center of the orc army.
The mist coalesced around Urduuk, leaving him no escape. He swung his sword at the green cloud, but there was nothing solid for him to hit.
Defiler! it whispered to him. The time has come to pay for your crimes.
"What... what are you?" Urduuk stammered.
I am the voice of the one you betrayed. Your pride has brought your people to their downfall, just as it was in ancient days. But this time, retribution shall be mine.
"I betrayed no one!" he shouted back, swinging his sword wildly.
Liar! Fear could have been your ally. Instead you entered its temple and enslaved its children. Your insolence shall be the death of your people. But your soul, defiler, will know Fear for all eternity!
"No!" he screamed, but there was no reply. The green mist enveloped him, seeping into Urduuk's lungs and stealing his breath. All around him the general could see his fallen soldiers, the lost remnants of his once unstoppable army.
The mist pulled at him, lifting him into the air. Below, Urduuk saw his own body crumpled on the sand. He tried to cry out, but had no voice. The mist carried him southward toward the darkness that lingered hungrily.
The defenders of Qeynos cheered as the mist receded, leaving the bodies of the ogres strewn across the grassland.
Aimara felled another orc and called out to her husband. "That cloud did half our work for us, Murbeck. Now all we've left to do is wipe out the orcs, giants, and goblins!"
"Child's play for a Halasian!" shouted Murbeck. "We'll finish these beasts up in no time."
She laughed and swung her sword again. She relished the battle, but knew the odds were still slim. The orcs were off-balance and confused, but they still held the advantage in numbers. Soon they would realize this fact and resume their advance.
Aimara looked across the field of battle. The Avatar of Flame towered above the orcs, rallying the Rallosian forces and directing the giants to hold their ground. The avatar waved its hand, and suddenly a line of gnolls covered in flame charged toward the Qeynosians.
"By the Tribunal!" Murbeck shouted. "That beast set those pitiful gnolls on fire to use them as living weapons!"
The gnolls yelped in pain as they charged madly into the defenders' ranks. The tactic had its desired effect as the army of Qeynos began to fall back.
"Enough!" cried a booming voice, louder even than the thunder. "You will pay for what you have done to the children of Brell!"
The battle grew still for a moment. The voice seemed to come from the ground itself, as if every rock had suddenly been given a voice.
"Who dares speak to me this way?" hissed the Avatar of Flame.
"The one who will make you pay for looting the dens of Brell's creations!" answered the voice. "In your hunger for power you sought to consume the entire world, but now it is you who will be devoured!"
The earth shook violently and tore open huge chasms beneath the feet of the Rallosian army. The orcs screamed as they fell, their cries muffled as the fissures sealed up and buried them alive. Orc after orc was swallowed by the angry earth.
"No!" hissed the Avatar of Flame as its remaining forces began to scatter and flee. "Hold your ground, I command you!"
The ranger signaled to the knights waiting upon a nearby ridge. They charged down and circled the flaming creature. "Now," said the ranger, "we finish this."
"So you think the Avatar of Below has turned the tide, monk? I will show you that the power of Zek cannot be denied!"
The monk circled the massive being, fists clenched. "It was the pride and ignorance of your own armies that led to their downfall. Urduuk defiled the Temple of Cazic-Thule and made an enemy of the Avatar of Fear, while the enslavement of the gnolls caused Brell's avatar to strike back at the orcs. Now all that remains is to put an end to you."
"Fool! You cannot best me in battle!" The avatar drew his flaming sword. "If all else fails, I will at least have the pleasure of grinding you to dust."
The monk leapt into the air and struck first, kicking the Avatar of War and knocking him back. The avatar swung his sword but missed, leaving him open for a series of punches.
The avatars clashed, striking at each other with the power of their opposing planes. The ground on which they fought began to rise, forming a plateau beneath them. On the flatlands below, the Ashen Order and the Knights of Truth fought the remnants of the Rallosian forces. The Freeport Militia drove the orcs away from the city walls and advanced upon the site of the battle, a helmeted figure in dark armor leading them forward.
The knights slashed at the fiery creature with their swords while the ranger called down winds and storms against it. The avatar was weakening, but it still struck with deadly fury.
The ranger looked around. Most of the remaining orcs were fleeing northward, though a few pockets of resistance held out against the Qeynosians. He could see a fierce battle going on between a group of barbarians and some of the stronger orcs.
"Yield to me, knights!" hissed the avatar. "I will share all the truths that the ranger is keeping from you!"
"Enough of your lies!" cried the leader of the knights. "Back to the abyss from whence you came!" He drove his sword deep into the center of the avatar's chest. The creature crumpled to the ground, flames sputtering as its essence began to fade.
"Fools!" it hissed weakly. "Your victory means nothing. The people of Norrath have not yet begun to suffer!" The avatar collapsed into a smoldering pile of ash.
The ranger touched the pendant at his neck and calmed the storms overhead.
"What did it mean?" asked the leader of the knights. "What suffering is yet to come?"
The ranger didn't reply. He drew his sword, the blade inlaid with ancient runes. He offered it to the knight. "For your service, I give you Maelstrom, Blade of Storms. It will serve you well."
The ranger turned and walked slowly toward the gates of Qeynos, stepping carefully over the bodies of the fallen that lay all around him.
The monk unleashed all his fury on the avatar, striking him down with a final blow. The Avatar of War slumped to the ground, defeated. The monk knelt on the ground to recover and heal his wounds.
An armored rider on a black horse reached the top of the summit and dismounted. He walked to the body of the fallen avatar and lifted the sword from its lifeless hand. The blade burned with unholy fire as the dark knight held it aloft.
"D'Lere!" the monk called out. "That sword doesn't belong to you."
The Overlord removed his helmet to reveal a scarred, smirking face. "Of course it does, fool," he replied. "Soulfire is now where it was always meant to be. I thank you for bringing it to me, and for delivering the true enemies of Freeport to justice."
"True enemies? What do you--"
Lucan walked to the edge of the plateau and faced the army below. "Citizens of Freeport," he called out in a booming voice that carried across the battlefield, "your Overlord has brought you victory this day! Now is the time to bring justice to the criminals who have returned to our lands! Turn your swords against the Knights of Truth and the Priests of Marr and let none of them escape!"
"Are you insane?" the monk asked angrily. "You have a chance to wipe out the rest of the orcs, but you'd rather feed your petty desire for revenge?"
Lucan laughed as he donned his helm again. He climbed atop the black steed and pointed the edge of Soulfire toward the monk. "Be grateful I let you live, Avatar. Don't think I have forgotten our history. I suggest you return to the desert and show your face in my kingdom no more." He turned the horse and rode down the side of the plateau.
The monk stood wearily. "It never changes," he told himself. He clenched his fist and hoped he wasn't too late to aid the followers of Marr who had risked their lives by trusting him.
The ranger wandered the battlefield looking for survivors. There were so many fallen, so many who had lost everything for this cause.
He saw a barbarian kneeling on the ground, her face stained with dirt and tears. She cradled the fallen man in her arms, rocking him gently back and forth. His armor was cracked by arrows that stuck out from his lifeless chest.
"Are you injured, milady?" The ranger asked softly.
The barbarian looked up at him. "Murbeck chased after the orcs, even though I told him we'd already beaten them. He didn't notice the archers taking aim. He never saw the arrows coming." She dropped her head and sobbed.
The ranger looked down. He had no solace to give, no answer for her pain. He knew that soon he would leave this realm, and that it would be left to mortals like her to prepare for what was to come.
"You fought well, my husband," she whispered to him. "You died as a Halasian, and one day your name will be sung in the great halls of our people. You will never be forgotten."
The ranger swallowed hard and turned away, leaving the barbarian to her sorrow. The price was too high, he thought to himself. And this was only the beginning.