The mist had lessened considerably in the past hour, leaving the wet ground soaked in tears of blood and anger. Bodies littered the fields like trees in a forest, and the stomach-churning stench of death was prevalent, rooting itself deep in the soils of the land.
“As I gaze upon the
body of man, I see nothing but a machine waiting to expire.” The soldier spoke
as he picked up a crushed helmet with little blood on it. Apparently, it had
parted with its’ owner’s head before someone stepped on it.
Right next to him, another soldier was letting his insides do the talking. Once he was finished, he sat on trembling knees, wiping the bile from his mouth with forced, shaking hands.
“This…” he almost choked out, tears streaming down his scarred, muddied face.
“This was no fight… no war… this was simply a slaughter…” the weeping man couldn’t take the strain anymore. With careful, yet disturbed movements, he leaned towards the ground and touched his head on the bloodied soil, crying his heart out for all the friends and comrades he lost this day.
His more battle-hardened companion didn’t seem as shaken, at least not by the sight of blood and gore. No, what shook his own heart was the fear of defeat, and the knowledge of what came after it. Deep into the distance, fire was still churning as the cogs of war kept turning, man, elf and orc fighting a bloody fight that in the end would leave no winners.
The King had been gravely wounded and his physicians didn’t know if he could make it till morning. His son, the only heir to the throne was missing, presumably killed in the thick of battle.
“It will be a good experience for him.” The king had said “He will understand what it takes to rule a kingdom.” Excuses, excuses, excuses, the king had a faulty plan and not one of his damned advisers had the stomach to tell him. Cowards and backstabbers, what else can you expect of them? You’d think that sitting upon the Throne of Wisdom would have helped any, but no, the king still decided to go on with this battle, to march his armies on the north frontier in the middle of winter!
The soldier left his comrade behind as he stepped forward in the bloody mess that was the ground before him. You could not tell whether there had been grass or not in this area, what with the littered bodies and the red that was prevalent everywhere. In his heart, the soldier hoped against all hope that he could maybe spot the body of a young child, that maybe by some miracle the prince had survived this slaughter. Years of training and experience helped him to ignore the bile, the dizziness, the after-effects of a bloody battle. He concentrated, but all he saw around him was soldiers of either races crying, weeping, praying, paying last rites to the souls that were lost on this day. No one was fighting anymore, orc and man wept together for their losses, ignoring the bloodlust that gave birth to this tragedy.
He was no heartless beast by any means, but he knew what war was like, he knew what to expect, and mutilated friends was among those expectations. His heart had already prepared itself for the inevitable. Yet as he pondered the vestiges of his own soul and searched for the lost prince, his eyes happened upon a man that wore no armor, neither bore any sigils. His hood hid all his features and in the deem light of the moon all he could discern was his human-sized body and the staff he bore.
A necromancer, most likely. A carrion of battlefields and a redeemer of lost souls, this was probably the mystic the king had hired for this battle. Necromancers came in many kinds and sizes, some would use the dead as their personal puppets, others would use their powers to free souls of a bound eternity on Es*. Thankfully, the evil ones were quite scarce.
For a few, fascinated moments, the soldier watched as the mystic stood still and gently, in movements so practiced and precise that it was almost art, twirled his staff slowly in a mesmerizing manner. Green light of decay and death danced about him and the soldier glanced around, noticing that the other survivors had stopped and watched the necromancer work. Some were even on their knees, praying.
Souls of man, orc and elf arose from the corpses around the mystic and slowly walked towards him. Seeing a soul was not uncommon, but not usual either. Only those that dwelled in the arts of magic and death could see souls, but they would become visible even in the eyes of a commoner when a necromancer worked his magic.
The staff stopped twirling in the necromancer’s hands and he gently touched its’ bottom to the ground, the light around the staff fading gently in the darkness of the night. The souls gathered and stopped in a wide circle around him, who seemed to be chanting in a forlorn language. Every few sentences, his voice would boom with power, as he slammed the bottom of the staff hard on the soft soil. With each crescendo of his otherworldly song the souls would step closer and closer, joined together in death by a shared fate, the trivialities that divided them in life now long forgotten.
Aghast everyone around watched as the eerie bodies joined hands and began a lullaby of farewells, a choir that bid this existence goodbye. They all sang with conviction, relief and melancholy, as all they were was now past, as they one by one embarked on their final journey.
The voices subsided and the mystic slammed his staff again, more gently, and again and again, with each resounding sound sending a soul to rest, bringing peace in a place of war.
"Your first time seeing one of their kind?" one of the men next to the soldier spoke, looking at him with wary, tired eyes, his armor in tatters and his sword broken in half.
"Yes... it is a truly... magnificent sight." at a loss for words, the soldier could only look on as the mystic continued his work.
"Hmph. Omens of death they are, crows feeding on corpses." the other man grunted, spitting on the ground in disgust. "All pretty rituals and 'letting the dead rest'... bunch of bull. It's all so they can feed their magic on the souls, I tell you."
"You really seem to dislike them." the soldier answered, bewildered that a man would have such a low opinion of the esteemed mystics.
He looked up at the soldier with venom in his eyes "One of their kind killed my Pa. I would sooner trust them to bleed on my sword than save my soul."
"They do say that if you look them in the eyes, you will see your own death." another man said from behind them, he too bewitched by the mystic's spell.
"That may be so..." the soldier answered, not in the mood to argue with anyone about the casters. When he turned back to watch the spectacle, he noticed that the spell had already ended, the mystic nowhere to be seen in the darkness of the night.
He felt a drop of water landing on his face and as he turned up, clouds thundered up in the heavens, illuminating momentarily the battlefield. The weather was clear minutes ago, meaning the Orcs had summoned this. But he did not care. He could no longer care. His king was dead and the battle lost. No one around him was fighting anymore, except away in the distance.
He tried to spot the necromancer with what little light the thunder allowed, but had little luck. He sighed, beginning the trek back towards the sidelines, hoping their encampment still stood. Maybe necromancers really had the power to give you visions of your own death, but when one dealt with such powers, he thought, there was always a price to pay. His life had taught him that much.
His boots made of soft leather where anything but ideal for a battlefield. As rain began to pelt his cloak, he cursed himself for not bringing a more appropriate attire. But he had been called on such a short notice, there was nothing to be done about it now. He would simply have to continue on, as was his duty. There was no time to waste, for as far as he could see, no brother or sister of his roamed this place. If he wasn't fast enough, some of them might flee and if he couldn't find them, they would be doomed to roam this place for years to come...
It was never easy, to see this many lives wasted, to have to hear the prayers of the dead for hours on end. It exhausted him, the energy he had to use to cleanse all of these souls. But still, he pressed on, for the alternative was something he loathed far more than simple tiredness.
Amidst the thunder and the rain, the sobs and the curses, he tried to tune them all out, focus on his task, so as to not be distracted and make a mistake. Mistakes in his profession cost dearly, for a soul lost could never be recovered again. Soon he reached one of the more far sides of the battlefield, where the dead were fewer, but still more than he would have liked.
A small sound reached his ears, something that should not be in a place like this. He stopped his march, looking around him for the source of the sound. He heard it again, and again, slowly taking steps towards it, trying to avoid the corpses and the guts, walking slowly amidst the ruin.
As he finally reached the source of the sound, what he found astonished him. A small babe lied amidst the dead, crying its heart out. He stood there frozen for a few moments, not able to believe that a tiny child could have survived this mayhem. Nearby, he spotted the flag of the human kingdom, a sun crowned with an intricate knot, a symbol of bravery and wisdom. He picked up the small child, the linens wrapping it soaked in blood and rain. The poor babe had to be freezing in the cold of the night and he still couldn't believe that it had survived this long.
With the child in his hands, he tried to cover it from the elements with his cloak, but could do nothing to soothe its discomfort. He was no father, he had little idea of how to handle a babe. He walked towards the flag, hoping to at least find the king. There was one spell he could use, one that he very rarely did use, because wars where kings fell were very rare.
He reached the flag and as he grew near, more details became apparent. A warhorse lay dead a few feet away from him, with a man in plate mail fallen alongside it, a golden crown broken two feet away from his head, smashed by someone or something along the way. Rooting his staff on the soft ground, he tried to turn the corpse with one hand, his other still holding the babe. The bloodied visage before him was indeed the king, the one who had called him. He looked on gravely, as he knew the prince had to be around here too.
Indeed, the prince, who had just a few months ago seen his 16th summer, lied crushed a few meters away from his father, his body destroyed by a boulder, probably the work of a catapult, or an ogre. He lied the child down at his feet, gently, thinking it could bear for a few more minutes until his work was done.
Grabbing his staff, he chanted a few words, making elaborate runes shine a white light on the whole length of the wood. He began his chant once more next to the body of the king. Soon enough, the king's spirit arose, shining brightly in the darkness of night.
Powerful souls tended to exhibit that power when revealed, shining in various intensities and colors, signifying just a part of what the creature once was in life. But that didn't matter in his eyes. It didn't make a difference in the end.
As his ritual continued and the ghosts sang around him, through his trance he noticed something peculiar. The cries had stopped. Glancing down for a moment, fearing that the babe had perished, what he saw perplexed him even more.
The child was laughing, looking playfully at the spirits around it, its tiny hands trying to reach for the ghastly figures. He continued nonetheless, and when thunder flashed once more, he nearly missed his next chant, almost breaking the spell.
In the flash of lightning he saw the baby's eyes, a soft orange, maybe red, smiled happily at the redeemed souls.
As the spell ended, he sighed in exhaustion, hunching his back as he leaned on his staff for support. The rain was beginning to calm but with his chant gone, the baby had began to cry once more. He picked the tiny creature up, trying to comprehend what he had just witnessed.
'Maybe I'm mistaken...' he thought, but this was neither the time nor the place to dwell on it. With the child in his hands, he began his way back home, hoping he could find a nurse on the way to help him feed the small thing.
It was a terrible omen, the fact that he found this child amidst a sea of blood and death. Yet again, was it divine luck that it had survived? Those young eyes held a secret he would have to discover, before the child grew up, hoping against all hope that this wasn't what he thought it was...