Ath couldn’t see the five ships yet, but he knew they were there. Large wooden monstrosities with a dozen sails each, hundreds of slaves working the oars, and thousands of soldiers each. He couldn’t sense all of the soldiers, but he could sense something from the slaves, hope. Such a small amount, that maybe the soldiers above them would meet their match and they’d be free. But that wasn’t all, he could sense Her, the Dread Knight. She always had a hope about her, a twisted kind, the hope that she’d get a chance to kill. Ath then turned his senses towards the large islands behind him and smiled, tens of thousands of souls bursting with hope. He had never felt more powerful than at that moment. He turned to the dark skinned men behind him and nodded, it was time to prepare.
They had briefly suggested forming up on the beaches to prevent landing, but Ath knew that water would not be his friend against the Dread Knight. Memories of her slamming away armies off of beaches, capsizing boats, and flooding rivers came from lives long past. He acknowledged them and they retreated. For dozens of lives he had fought the Dread Knight and each of them was with him. Ath over looked the clearing where first contact would be made. Islanders with long spears and shield would form the only path to the center of the island, and hundreds of skirmishers were through out the forests flanking the clearing to put pressure on the approaching army. But in the end they just needed to survive. She wouldn’t put this battle up to chance, she would charge forward with all her might, and he would meet her.
Ath’s entire life’s purpose was going to come to a point soon, he knew it. He turned to the men behind him and gave a nod. Magic wasn’t strong in the islands, but a number still had practiced the Islander art of Windcraft, which was far better than nothing. He made sure they were paying attention before continuing, “Remember, her first pet Blood Mage is gone so she’s down to two, together you’re more than a match for them. Disrupt their attacks and be careful. She won’t appreciate being interrupted. We must not fear them and....” Ath stopped as a hush fell and he turned and saw Her. She had taken a number of forms in past lives, but this one was made for one purpose, fear. She wore light leather armor from the neck down but that was unnecessary, none of the weapons his men carried could harm her. She was still a mile away so he couldn’t make out her features, but he knew them, pure black hair to her shoulders, and the most deadly and sharp features you could imagine. He could feel hope waver around him in small amounts and frowned, this wasn’t like her at all. Back on the main land she had millions that feared her, fed her power, but here so far away she only had her army which she left behind. Ath’s advantage was clear. Voices warned him carefully from past lives, “This isn’t her” “how can she imagine winning?” Ath closed his eyes and stepped into where they were. In his mind’s eye he saw dozens of men long past standing in a circle with himself in the center. They argued more with memories than words and he let them wash over him. She had never in her entire existence came into a fight without expecting to win, but he didn’t see how she could here. Ath opened his eyes again and let the real world show again. It had felt like he had been talking for an hour, but no more than a moment had passed. She was approaching, he turned to his men and nodded, change of plans. It was possible she was planning on distracting him while her men moved around and killed his followers, he couldn’t let that happen.
He stood near the center of the field as she approached, some might call her beautiful if they didn’t mind being killed for it. Fear was her power, that’s all she craved. Ath nodded to her before speaking, “I was hoping you’d get my message” She laughed as she stopped ten yards away.
“Yes, killing a Blood Mage is a good way to get my attention.” he sensed out looking for any hint of hope, but the soldiers were invisible to him. None of them had any hope of anything good coming from this trip, they were probably right too.
Ath decided to keep talking, he had to make his followers hopeful and see him at ease, but inside he had dozens of old warriors yelling warnings “So tell me, what name do you go by here? I fear I’m out of the loop” She rolled her eyes before speaking.
“You are well aware I am simply the Ruler, She, The Empress, Grand General, Grand immortal, Immortal Empress, or so on and so forth. They are all names called used to refer to me” She smirked as she remembered something, “The Empress is a favorite of mine” He snorted at that.
“You would like that, Dread Knight.” he closed his eyes as a suggestion came from an old warrior who had killed Her many years ago. “I think Ace is a name you once had long ago.” she groaned in response.
“Please don’t give me that lunatics name.” Ath couldn’t help but laugh.
“Isn’t she one of the first to gain any notable power? The entire continent you call your empire now feared her unconditionally for almost fifty years.”
“Powerful or not, she is insane. Every one that came since her confirms that she’s always been this crazy. The fear she fed off wasn’t quite as refined as mine and it had... a negative impact” Ath held back a growl. Murderous empress who ruled for several hundred years certainly was different than a serial killer who lit entire cities on fire, but she was even more monstrous than her predecessors.
“So tell me Paladin, before I kill this body of yours, what do you call it? I’ll have to add it to my book. I hardly can keep track of how often you die” Ath rolled his shoulders and moved a foot back to get ready, talking was almost over.
“They call me Ath here.” She nodded as she stored it away.
“Tell me Ath, do they know how many times you’ve died trying to kill me? I believe I’ve personally killed you 14 times. Getting close to breaking the record I believe, and no one’s ever had the fear I’ve had” a deadly smile as she began walking forward nonchalantly.
“Powerful as you may be, you’re nothing on my island.” With that he flung his hand out to the side and a sword of white fire appeared there, it was time to go. He charged forward. She was still going to be getting a good amount of power from the fear of so many people in the capital city even if it was half a world away, but he had no intention of fighting fair. She hadn’t even bothered drawing a weapon yet, which was perfect for him. He called out in his mind “Ready?” The warriors cheered in response. Ten yards, 5 yards, 2 yards, she hadn’t even raised a hand yet. That’s when he stabbed the sword into the ground, and the field changed.
Darkness surrounded them in every direction. He had seen it in his minds eye many times before, but he’d never personally taken his body here. He was in the realm of the Paladins now. She looked around confused for a moment, but he wasn’t going to let her get her bearings. He couldn’t feel any of the strength from his followers, they were on a different plane of existence, which meant she wouldn’t be able to either. But he did have his fellow warriors, and they were ready to destroy her. Out of the shadows they jumped by the dozen, wearing armors and weapons of every kind and age, every skin color and size was present, they leaped to war. The woman smiled and for the first time fear shot through him, something was not right at all. She lifted her hand and caught the first blade coming towards her, a great sword held by a man in giant plate, and he burst. Ath stared in horror as the impossible had happened, she had killed someone who was already dead, but she had just started. She laughed and whipped her hands out, fire blasted across the endless plane. Dozens of warriors dodged and struck between the flames, but where ever one of the warriors met her power, their very essence seemed to be blown away. He knew he needed to do something, but her power was unfounded. The warriors left glowing scars down her skin that vanished almost instantly, and in return they were blown to mist. What was once dozens were now just a handful, the battle had been over before it began. Her laugh seemed to envelope the entire endless void as he charged, he had to get her out of there. A bolt of black energy launched towards him and he threw down a shield of light, he ducked at the last moment as the bolt passed through the shield as if it wasn’t there. One simple thing was clear, she was in control even in another realm. Another warrior was hit in the arm and dissolved. A bar of light came forward from his hand and he slammed it to the ground in front of himself and his opponent, the light flashed as he blacked out.
He wished he hadn’t awoke. He was alive, at the center of the island still, and not an ounce of hope existed on it. The Empress stood easily nearby and his heart dropped, thousands of Islanders were being herded towards the boats. If she had joined the battle after doing whatever she had done, it wouldn’t have lasted a moment. He turned his head again towards the forest to confirm his fear, and they were all ablaze, most of the island was probably on fire. She had probably gathered her army in the clearing and lit the entire island on fire. He had no idea where her strength came from, but he knew she could do it.
He must have made a noise as she approached with a dark smile. Ageless and deadly, he was wondering why he was even alive.
“Hello little Paladin. I’m assuming there is no hope left on the island, yes? It appears we both brought a trick to this battle, but mine is far better” Ath could do nothing but hold back tears. So many hopeful people, so much power he had thought, they were gone, all of them. He barely choked out a response, “What do you want Ace?” She laughed at that.
“I guess that’s fair since the entire island is on fire, isn’t it? Isn’t that smell wonderful? Many of your troops never left the woods, they just figured you’d do some miracle and save them. Absolutely silly of course. The ones that launched a counter attack of course died, the ones that surrendered died for the most part also, I have so little room on my boats. But I do have one request of you.” Ath called out in his mind for help, anything, but there was nothing but a whimper, she had done something awful. He groaned and attempted to stand, but then he was flipped on his stomach faster than he could see and could feel her hand on his back. “It’s very easy what my last request is, it’s simply this.” Then he felt it, pressure, then pain. Her hand was going straight into his body, “ It’s that you never come back” he felt it for the briefest of moments, pain, then a ripping, then a pressure, and then overwhelming fear as he felt her blow away his very essence.
Emth stared in horror at the mists around him. He had stayed out of the fight that had taken his fellow Palandins and had been far enough away from where Ath had been that the recoil from him being destroyed hadn’t damaged him. But even so far away he had felt a powerful tug trying to pull him apart. He sat down amongst the mist, the scattered essence of the fallen Paladins. He was the Paladin before Ath was, but had died at only 9 when the Empress’s forces found the pirate hide away he lived in. But usually he drew knowledge, power, and assurance from the others, but not today. He knew that his power alone wouldn’t be able to do anything. It would take all of them together to craft a new body, he fell to floor and the mists around him swirled, and tried to form together. He watched them with curiosity. Each little speck of mist was a slightly different color, and once the same colored mists connected they seemed to absorb. They were all varying colors of grayish blue, but he was certain what it meant. All mixed together the colors couldn’t reach one another, but he could do it. He could sort through them and make the essence of the other paladins get back together. He stood up and looked out across his empty home, the mist spread out to about his knees for about as far as he could see. Looking around he found a chunk of mist slightly larger than the others and carefully cupped it in his hands and pulled it away from the others. Scanning carefully he found a bit the exact same color and kicked it upward, carefully moving the mist into the tendrils he smiled as the same colored pieces connected. Looking out he wasn’t sure how long it would take to rebuild his fellow paladins, but he figured time was meaningless and he had all eternity, so no time like the present.