The Silken Road, Alfheim
Mikken led the Guardsmen in place of his captain, Alva. They marched in time, left, right, left. Mud splattered, water sprayed. The heavy groan of marching and stomping, trudging on with armour, sounded throughout the company. Some men chorused together. A cacophony of war cries and anger, blending into something that sent shivers down Mikken's spine. Once, he would have joined in - let the blood and adrenalin surge; ready to fuel him for the next few days until this battle was done. But not now. Now he was the leader of this march.
Sitting atop his war horse, its strong muscles fluid under the coarse, black hair, Mikken held up a clenched fist to stop them from moving forward. The company stopped with a ring of shield hitting the ground. Their white armour was a beacon to those monsters assailing their renowned fortress. Not only were the wraiths and demons destroying so many immortal souls, they were making mockery of the ones left behind. This Bloody Fortress was well-known for its impregnable walls and fierce warriors. So, when Mikken saw the fires licking at those blood red walls and cannon fire breaking through, he could only wonder how?
"Sir Mikken, I suggest you order your men to do something," Eerika suggested. He nodded without looking to her. This was his first battle as a leader of such a large group. He needed to be strong. He needed to be wise. But most of all... The most important thing that will keep him and his men alive (not to mention the High Lady) was for him to be calm. He could not let his sword become cloudy. For then, what good would he bring? Swinging his stallion round to the Guardsmen, Mikken adopted a blank slate for his profile.
"Guardsmen!" He roared. The trees swayed a bit faster as the wind picked up to his voice. "This may be our doom! This may mean our very lives! But if we can take those demons down to Hel with us - then so be it! She will gladly welcome us all to her barren table and cold hall. So let's go kill them!" he finished with the sound of roaring Elves behind him. Staying half-face to the enemy and their army, Mikken began the orders. "Fifth and sixth squadron; engage!" they charged forward, following a half-mad male into battle. Literally throwing themselves into the enemy's lines, they broke up the demon's weak formation. The right side of the demon's forces was nearly obliterated immediately.
"First and second squadron, engage!" Mikken could feel his voice already beginning to grow hoarse. How did Alva do this all day, everyday? The next two squadrons slammed into the demon's ranks, throwing them backwards. They fell to the ground, and were slaughtered by the blades of the Guardsmen. On the wall, Mikken could see the Firesheilds massing with their bowmen. Hesitant at first were they, for their own were in the thriving chaos below. Then the order sounded from their leader. Hesitation was irrelevant.
Mikken knew he must give his own arrows to the demon horde as well - regardless of his men. "Seventh, Twelfth and Fifteenth squadrons - notch!" The arrows were fitted into place. "Draw!" The strings were pulled back. "LOOSE!" Mikken waved his arm forward, for those who could not hear could then see. Arrows flew up and rained down. A silver cloud in the sky, so large were they, that the very sun was blotted out. For just a moment.
Demon scum screamed as the silver touched their skin. They burned. Not with the fires they held in their flesh, but from the purity of silver. Smoke drifted upwards from the corpses of the fire demons. Oh, how Surt would be angry. Not only at his defeat - also, at the strength in the race he had so wrongly thought was weak. "Well done, Mikken. I dare say that your skills as a commander may even surpass that of Captain Alva." Eerika drifted slightly closer to him on her grey horse. Its dark eyes blinked, the fires glowing so well in the reflection of them.
"I thank you, my lady. But I fear that the battle is far from over." Mikken bowed his head. He needed to get her out of the line of fire. He needed to find her son and make sure of his safety. So much to be done, with even more happening. Eerika turned to look at him. Words were hanging on the edge of being spoken. Just as something sent a cold snap down over the world.
Wraiths moved forward. How little they were, and so few, yet they controlled the entire field with just one step. Their dark shadows of limbs stretched out to the Elven soldiers. Breaking apart for the groups of demons regrettably still alive, they could discern enemy from ally. Black mist covered the battle. Foreboding down upon them all. "My lady - we need to move." Eerika nodded as the screams sounded. Her eyes enlarged, those blue irises holding only fear. The High Lady froze from that dread.
Mikken drew his sword. Steel of glimmering white could bring any foe near them. He only wished that such a thing as a black sword existed. Then they would not be so painfully obvious. Lowering his hand, the step-in-captain thought of what to do. The seventh, twelfth and fifteenth squadrons were still firing - but for how long? Would they last another hour? From what he could see, their were half as many demon casualties as there were his own. "First, second, fifth and sixth squadrons fall back!" Mikken ordered. Eerika snapped out of her fear and turned to him, anger across her face.
"What are you doing? We need to break through their lines! My son is in their - your Captain is in there!" the High Lady faced him full-on. "Sir Mikken, I asked you a question." Fear, anger, grief and misery caught her voice. Tears were in her eyes, how ever much she tried to hide them. Her horse whickered at the oncoming wraiths. They moved slowly through the many bodies, as if they were swimming through oil. "Please." Eerika begged one last time. Mikken hated it as he had to look at her with unyielding eyes.
"Retreat!" he shouted. Their camp was thirty miles into the forest. Against many of his men's wishes, he had ordered them to set up their tens there. It was an abandoned place with much cover. Good enough for him - who cared for the stories that frightened children in their beds? Now the men seemed to be grateful for Mikken's disbelief as they ran straight into the forest. Eerika almost charged for the fortress gates before Mikken grabbed hold of her reigns and pulled her along into the gloom of that forsaken forest.
"They have vulnerabilities after today, surely?" one of Mikken's under-commanders asked. Without looking, he could see all the men's head droop as the male spoke those words. He was the one at fault, he had said at the very beginning that it would be worth everyone in their army dying if it took down those demon as well. That was before he had seen the wraiths. They were angels of death. One kiss and eternal sleep was yours.
One of his men scoffed at the question, "After today there are no vulnerabilities accept from in our own company." He turned towards Mikken. "If the young commander there hadn't gotten all arrogant, we would have had twice the men we have now. You hear me?" the man roared as Mikken merely studied the ring in his hand. It was Alva's ring. Simple proof of her birth right from the red gem in its silver frame. She had not been able to take it to the Bloody Fortress with her. So he had bought it. It only made sense for her to be buried with the only piece of her parents. "Do you hear me, Mikken Terrar?"
"I hear you," he raised his dark head. He stood up from the chair, that was placed at the head of the table, they had idiotically brought. "I hear you all. I accept the fact that this is my fault - but badgering about what we should have done will get us nowhere. We need to think of a better plan than straight on attack." Mikken rested his palms against the rough oak. Their maps lay scattered on the table, blocking the view of some and partially hiding the others. "Where's the map that depicts the fortress?"
Someone handed it to him gingerly.
"Thank you," he studied the ancient yellow parchment for a while. Something caught his eye. A passage that led straight to the main hall. That could be useful, Mikken looked to the others. "What is this?" He laid the map down not the table - atop many more - and pointed to the passageway that he had not seen before. The other commanders peered at where he was directing them to. Many shook their heads, having no clue for what Mikken wanted to know. Then one at the far end, directly before the tent flap, piped up.
It was the scribe.
"It's one of the tunnels that leads to the catacombs. There are many more of them, most aren't shown in case of attack or theft of the maps." he was a merely a young boy. His hair, that burnt like flame, was just past his pink-tipped ears, curling round them in a lover's embrace. His eyes were solid black, not giving away anything in his mind. Mikken looked at him, no on ever noticed scribes. They hardly did anything but write - no scribe was very renowned, but he had the feeling this one would be.
"What is your name, boy?" Mikken asked, receiving some sniggers from a few older men who thought him a boy, as well. The scribe darted his eyes for a few moments, having remembered his position and shy personality. He bowed his head, flush creeping up his neck, turning most of his profile red with it. "I'll need to know your name, boy, and don't stop writing while we speak - if you could." the scribe caught up to where they were in the conversation. His quill scratched along the parchment hurriedly.
"My name's Bain, sir." Bain flickered his eyes up as he included himself in the transcript. Mikken smiled, straightening himself. The other commanders were frowning, some whispering with each other. All surprised and wondering what was to happen next, Mikken nodded to them. They quietened themselves immediately.
"Well Jon, tell me more about these passages and tunnels, would you?" Mikken grabbed a goblet, filled it with wine and took a swig. His throat was severely parched from the shouting he had done during the morning, and now the talking at this elongated meeting. Bain looked once more between the commanders, "Well? Go on," Mikken ushered him to speak with a flick of his wrist, wine sploshing out of the cup, onto another useless map.
"The tunnels lead to many places within the fortress. They were built for sneak attacks and can only be accessed if you know where to look. This specific tunnel goes straight to the hall at the centre of the fortress. It will be dark, though, and carrying torches wouldn't be advisable." Bain paused, thinking of what to say next.
"Why can we not take torches?" a man to Mikken's right asked. He was a well seasoned soldier and commanded many with their respect.
"There are some parts of the walls covered with oil. You see, the whole fortress was made on top of these tunnels. The ones that hold most of the structure up could be burnt away. That way the whole fortress could be burnt down - along with all its secrets. So, if you used this tunnel, you would have to rely upon someone with light magic or just use your senses." Bain scrawled down all they had said about the tunnels. A blast of cold air came through the flap, shaking the red canvas of their tent.
"What makes it certain the enemy won't find us?" the same commander, who had blamed Mikken, asked.
"That is the first map I've seen with even a part of the tunnels. They won't know that you are coming until you have. Besides, it gives you the advantage here, the tunnel leads straight to the hall. From there you can move with a small group through the fortress and get to the gate."
Many commanders grunted in agreement. At least Jon was proving to be more useful than simply write a transcript. Mikken glanced around the table. Everyone was happy with using the tunnels. He was just about to give the order for the commanders to choose one man each for a singular party to go down through the tunnels when- "Wait just one moment. Even if we were to use the tunnels - how would we get the rest of the army into the fortress? And who's to say that our men will be able to find the hall from that passage? As you said, the party will not be able to hold torches, otherwise the whole fortress would be raised to the ground. If the party did succeed and got to the gates - there's still a whole demon horde out there blocking the way for our army to get through!" The commander slammed his hands down onto the table. "This plan is futile - better to ram the bloody demons with all our fore and die trying with bigger odds on our side!"
"Bain," every single face lazily turned to Mikken, "Could you show us the way through the tunnels?" The little scribe nodded minutely, daunted at he fact that he was about to go into the midst of battle. "Commanders," they snapped to attention, "Give me one man each, and I will see that their names go down into the history books. I will lead this party into the tunnels. Then, I will find Captain Alva and the Lord Steinar. We will open the gates," Mikken faced the commander who had given him so much trouble from the start of this meeting, "and you better be ready for when we do."
"Fine, but when we are all dead on the battle field - I will only wish that we two were alive, so I could punch you in the gut for our losses." With that, he angrily strode out of the tent, almost crashing into Eerika. She blinked, watching the enraged commander's cloak swirl in the wind. Stepping into the tent, everyone took to the knee. She gestured for them to rise.
"What is our plan, Sir Mikken?" now, his lady was back. Strength poured from her eyes - she wanted nothing but her son. And winning this battle would complete her wish.
"We are going to use the tunnels underneath the fortress to get inside, find your son and Captain Alva, then open the gates for the Guardsmen to come through." Mikken summarised the past few hours shortly. The arguments of before were no concern of hers. They were done, and that commander who had obviously abandoned them, would be dealt with later.
Eerika studied the map with the tunnel on it. Nodding, she connected her blue eyes to Mikken's brown ones. "Good," she clasped him on the shoulder, "I'm coming with you."
"Of course, my lady." and with that, their fates were decided.