Not even an hour after night had fallen the Vampires had reached the borders of their land. From his place in the Keep’s chapel he’d heard the shrieks of the Apelat as the flood of their forces slammed into the wards which had been erected in days past, pushing against them with the crushing force of their ever multiplying numbers even as those at the forefront were vaporized by the defensive magic threaded throughout the barriers. He’d sent a forward battalion to meet with them but had little hope towards the success of their efforts even as he knelt before the small altar drowning in the doubt that had now fully overtaken him.
Though the wound in his neck had all but healed, now, he had noticed in the days since his return that the formerly darkly etched line of the Dagaz rune had begun to fade away. Once black, they had now reduced themselves to the thin silver white of a burn and were steadily becoming less and less obvious. Fading further and further the more that the resentment at what had come as the revelation that he had never been more than just another expendable pawn in the power game between the light and the dark grew and solidified. Becoming a black mass which rested on his heart like a boulder.
He couldn’t even manage a simple prayer anymore.
The doors flew open with a loud bang and Eros looked up sharply as one of his men rushed towards him with wide eyes. “My Lord AshHand,” he yelped in a panic, “I’m sorry to disturb you, Sire, but the forward forces you sent have been obliterated! The wards have fallen! They’ll reach the castle in a few more minutes!”
Rising to his feet, he turned his back on the altar and nodded. “Go back to the front lines and let those who are left know that I am coming to join them in the battle. Whether we live or die, we go together.”
“Of course, Sire! I’ll let them know right away!” As the soldier fled from the room the Order’s leader hesitated for just long enough to run his fingers along to contours of the all but vanished Rune before rushing towards the stables.
Outside of the Keep he could clearly see the fires burning in the trees, caused by the dropped torches once carried by his now dead forces. Smoke filled the night sky in choking clouds which chased the moon and stars from the heavens above, but the harsh glow of the inferno raging through the canopy was enough to reveal the torn forms of men and horses salting the earth and the dark shapes of the red-eyed monsters which darted through the trees. his eyes scanned the sky but found no sign of Kharon as he ducked into the stables.
Glory was in a fit by the time he arrived, bucking and screaming with the door of the stall shaking beneath the constant assault of hooves. The war horse’s saddle and armor lay on a rack nearby, but the animal was far too frightened and there was no time to waste. Opening the door of the stall Eros leapt onto the stallion’s back when it bolted, grabbing fistfuls of mane to keep himself in place and directing it as best he could with his legs alone. Stone shattered beneath sharp hooves as the war horse charged down the path towards the battle raging below, plowing through the line of Apelat rising towards the Keep like the high tide that fell away to shards beneath the pass of his rider’s blade.
A loud screech rang out, passing through the ranks at his appearance on the battlefield. As it echoed off into the night a winged shape rose above the trees and bore down on their bedraggled forces at terrifying speed. “Kharon!” The harsh snarl left his lips just moments before the Dhampir’s dark form collided with him. Claws raking over armor with a grating screech as he lifted him out of the saddle and carried him upwards over the treetops.
The ground fell rapidly away at a sickening speed. The battlefield spinning out of focus into a blur of trees and fire as each downstroke of his captor’s wings carried him higher. Glory, in a frothing panic and now riderless, kept running in a desperate effort to escape sharp hooves flying even as the stallion disappeared beneath a wave of Apelat.
Kharon’s face sneered down at him from mere inches away, the savage burnout below them and the moon overhead as they broke free of the smoke providing just enough light for Eros to see his own horrified expression reflected back at him against the flat blackness of his demonic gaze. Seeing the hunter’s fear, his pale face twisted into the scorn-filled sneer of a hellkite.
“What’s wrong, AshHand?” he jeered sharply. “No wings to go along with your righteous fury? No Angel to catch you should I decide to let go?” if such a thing were possible, his expression became even more terrifying. “I guess I’d better take you back down to earth, then.”
Kharon’s wings folded tight against his back a split second before they fell from the sky. The sensation of plummeting like a stone clawed its way free of his stomach and up into his throat, accomplice to the wind rushing past in crushing his lungs to silence his scream before it could even form. The Vampire pulled up a mere fraction of a second before both could meet with the earth, the instant drop in speed as he released his iron grip just enough to prevent the force of colliding from killing him instantly.
Eros felt his shoulder crumble away beneath the immoveable solid ground, red dots exploding before his vision as the side of his head slammed into a rock. The contours of the gnarled roots breaching through the soil rending into his flesh and driving punishing blows into the softness of his torso as his body tumble like a rag-doll head over heels before finally coming to rest. Pain. He could taste it through the blood and bile that spilled from his lips, more rising up from the devastation left behind when something vital deep inside him had ruptured from the fall. Mortal internal wounds filling his belly and lungs with blood even as he rolled slowly up onto all fours to remove Cenuşă from where the blade had bitten an inch deep into the flesh above his hip.
Kharon landed nearby with the soft flutter of wings, his cloak fluttering lightly over the leaf-strewn forest floor as he drew slowly forwards to stand over him. “Humans. So very fragile, with your brittle bones soft flesh and fleeting mortal lives. The very fibers of your being so very easily unwound. Amazing to think that you, even once in your most far flung flights of fancy, could even conceive for the most fleeting of moments that your kind could ever stand a chance against us.” Crouching down in front of him, the Dark Mother’s second son took him roughly by the chin, turning his head to the side to observe his neck where the Rune had been. Dark amusement flooded his face at the sight that met him. “It’s gone?” the sneer from earlier returned. “What a pitiful and wretched thing you are, AshHand. Even your God has abandoned you.”
Pulling his lips back from teeth drenched in his own blood, Eros responded with the closest thing to a growl that he could muster.
“The lion at last lies beaten.” Kharon released him, drawing his hand away from his face to reach instead for his sword. “Once I’ve removed your blade, it will be clear to all including you that you’ve been utterly defeated.”
When the pale fingers met with his wrist Eros dragged his arm upwards with a savage cry and the last of his strength. Blood, both his and Kharon’s, splattered the forest floor anew as the Dhampir reared back with a howl of enraged agony. He’d meant to take off his head in much the same way as he had Aser’s, but the strike was aimed too high in his bowed position and the tip of his blade had lain into the face of his opponent instead.
“Damn you!” The sword at last fell from his hand as Kharon’s foot crashed into the center of his chest, knocking the breath out of him and forcing him onto his back. His pale face appeared once again seconds later in his line of sight, painted with the red blood which gushed from the deep slash to drip from his jawline and down along the curve of his throat. Already struggling for every breath, the dying warrior forced out a constricted groan as the Vampire’s heel pressed into the softness of his throat.
“You couldn’t possibly hope to even begin to comprehend how badly I want to see you lying dead at my feet, AshHand!” Kharon snarled at him as he watched him struggle weakly to free himself. Hand grasping at his ankle and pushing futilely against his boot. “How much I wish that I could simply grind you into the dirt you’re lying on until you were reduced to nothing but a bloody pulp beneath my heel! To watch as you slowly drown in a sea of your own blood! To witness, for myself, the light go out of your eyes and then feed your corpse to my Apelat but this,” he removed his foot without warning, allowing him to gasp desperately for breath, “is as close as I will get to that. I have my orders, and death is not in my mother’s plans for you.”
Turning to another who had come up on them and was now standing out of Eros’ rapidly collapsing field of sight he ordered “take this filth away!”
The last thing he felt before his wounds dragged him from the waking world was the vice-like grip of frozen talons dragging him aloft.