Legion of the Sands
Part Eight – Memories of the Red Day
It arrived with a remarkable silence, a curtain of sand and dust that rolled into the square well before Nhaqosa had expected it to. The last rays of sunlight danced across it as off to the west the sun sunk beneath the horizon. For that moment, the dust shimmered in the colours of blood and of gold.
At the instant that the sun vanished, from out of the wall of sand figures began to emerge. Legion Men; marching in a tight shield wall, their banner fluttering proudly and spears levelled before them.
A shout went out and the spears went back before being hurled upon the enemy. They fell in a flurry among the disorganised ranks of the desert men. Man and beast fell as the darts struck home, throwing them into further confusion. The giant Behemoth, with a handful of spears lodged in its side, bellowed and thrashed about.
There was another command and the Legion Men began to trot forward, maintaining their formation as they drew the swords as their sides. They crashed into the milling desert men and the swords began to stab from behind the shield wall with lethal precision.
Nhaqosa could spare little thought for the Legion Men and their battle, hard pressed as he was. He flung aside another hound before resuming his double handed grip on his maul. From above, Lakach dropped down from the wall, a blade held in either hand. With the melee roiling across the square outside the barracks, there remained no real targets for his crossbow. He fell onto the back of a scorpion that was rearing up to stab at Nhaqosa with its twin stingers. Lakach drove down with both blades, punching through the chitinous armour that encased it at the base of its head. The beast squealed and lashed about as Lakach jumped clear, rolling to his feet and coming up alongside Nhaqosa.
“About time the Legion Men made a return,” he told the minotaur.
Nhaqosa grunted as he launched a fierce blow at another scorpion that was skittering through the gates, clambering across the bodies of those that had already fallen. The force cracked open the beast’s carapace, fetid ichor oozing from the wounds.
Time lost all meaning as the evening darkened and the sand blew across them. Nhaqosa and Lakach held the gates against the flow of beasts, striking down each that came at them. The approach was limited, and hindered by bodies, and yet they kept pressing forward with a mindless ferocity, seeking to overwhelm the defiant pair. It was a matter of cutting down one before the next scurried on, swinging blow after blow until their bodies ached with fatigue. When at last the attacks halted, blood flowed from a score of cuts and scratches across the both of them.
Out across the field of battle, they could just make out the Legion Men through the swirling sands, finishing off the attack, though many of their number lay fallen, their bodies scattered among those of the desert men and beasts. Less than half the company were still standing, and of those there were wounds on most.
Nhaqosa leant against his maul, breathing deeply. Lakach looked spent as he supported himself half slumped against the wall of the barracks.
From among the Legion Men, Vasra Fal walked across towards them, blood on his left arm from a cut across it, and another on his chin. He looked the pair over as he drew near, a slightly quizzical look on his face.
“I had not expected to find you here still,” he told them.
Nhaqosa responded with a weary shrug. “It turns out we were. Your arrival was most welcome.”
“We could not arrive any earlier,” Vasra Fal replied. “It is the nature of things.”
“It was most welcome none the less.”
Vasra Fal shook his head and a look of puzzlement fleeted across it and then just as quick was gone. “This night we will not be troubled by the desert men and the monsters they are in league with, for which we have the storm to thank. We can rest easily this night. In the morning my men and I set out to confront them and destroy their threat.”
It was not the first time that Nhaqosa had heard those words, or ones similar to it. “You said that last night,” he told Vasra Fal.
“Last night?” The same vague, troubled and puzzled expression returned to Vasra Fal, like that of a man trying to remember some moment that for ever slipped through his grasp. “Last night was…” He stopped and there was a look of concentration, of trying to recall those details evading him. “Last night we returned to Hafrata with grave tidings, all of us that remained of our Legion.” He shuddered at some though. “The things we saw, they are beyond belief and understanding.”
“What was it you saw?” Nhaqosa asked. Whatever had happed to Vasra Fal in the past was bubbling to fore of his memories again.
“The death of an Emperor. The death of an Empire.”
“The Red Day?” Lakach asked. “That took place years ago.”
“No, no, that is not right,” Vasra Fal replied, the troubled look intensifying. “It has been mere days.”
Nhaqosa and Lakach looked to each other, though no words needed to be said.
“What happened at the battle?” Nhaqosa asked.
A far off look glistened in Vasra Fal’s eyes as he spoke. “Desert men and monsters and things far worse than that came sweeping up out of the desolate places in hordes innumerable. We knew of a growing darkness in the east and so we went forth to meet it, to crush it utterly. There we stood, in glittering, gleaming ranks, Legions and Knightly Orders from all corners of the Empire. You should have seen it; the proud banners and standards rippling in the warm morning breeze, the thunder of a thousand drums and the peals of trumpets calling. We were confident and why should we not have been? The Empire had never known defeat, and never before had we gathered an army as powerful as ours in one place. The Emperor was there to watch over us, and his sons and all the nobles with their retinues.” A shudder etched Vasra Fal’s features, one of horrified remembrance. “How were we to know just what darkness was arrayed against us, what horrors there were? We saw only men and beasts, vast in number and wild, blanketing the horizon, but we had fought their likes before and not so many that they were to strike fear into us.
And then the came at us as the ground trembled beneath our feet, and they unleashed their true horrors upon us. At first it was the Behemoths by the dozen, and then came far worse; the Wyrms. Shield walls that had never before shattered could not halt the stampede of a Behemoth, and no amount of armour could save a knight from their terrible maws. Wyrms erupted from out of the ground to devour men by the dozens, and dark creatures flayed at our minds, seeking to break our wills.
It was upon the Emperor that the heaviest attacks fell, drawn to him like a lodestone to iron. A wall of dead was formed around his person as they enemy fell upon us in wave after wave. Yet we fought on, oh how we fought on as they day grew long, and the enemy paid dearly. No matter how many we slew, it was not enough.
The Third fought as hard as any, and at the last, when all hoped appeared lost, we were ordered to cut a path to freedom alongside the remnants of the Eighteenth and Twenty-Third, to escort the youngest son of the Emperor to safety, the only one of the Imperial Family to survive. The new Emperor. This we did, yet the price was heavy, for of us all only my company survived. We had done our job though. The young Emperor we brought through safe, and all through the night and on into the next day we pushed hard as all that remained of our once glorious army battled on, trying to win free, yet hounded all the way until at last they were destroyed.
Then there came a raging storm of sand, blowing against the wind. It enveloped us and turned us about, clawing at us with a howling intensity. It felt like our skin was being flayed from our very flesh. We pressed on into the teeth of it, coming at last back to Hafrata, bringing the young Emperor to safety.”
“The Emperor’s son still lives?” Lakach asked, coming abruptly alert. “Where is he?”
“He is within, recovering from his wounds. Once he is fit to travel we shall escort him home, to reform the Legions and Knightly Orders and meet once more the foe at our door.”
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