by Roland Allnach
Where to begin, now that the end of ends has come, that the march of ten years — ten years of blood fury and cold metal and razing fire — has come to the doorstep of that very place that has been sworn by wrathful parties not to be won or lost without sorrowful penalty, penalty to pale even all that has already passed with so much grief and lament?
Steadily they march, the great columns of men in their red and black armor, trampling the green turf to dust as their Lord watches from a hill on high before the waning westering sun. Long have they marched across the Three Kingdoms of the world, leaving only the choice of capitulation or carnage in their wake. They have marched until there is no prize left on which to march, and so their Lord has led them across the Endless River, against the ceaseless gusting of the Tundra’s Tongues’ dry winds, to cross the Meadows of Morrow and the gray Sea of Senility, only to disembark for this last march.
Glint of blades and glint of eyes, both hard and cold and eager for the piercing of the distant prey, they hunger for the end. And the end, it lies before them now, a windswept city of lofty stone walls like none they have seen, for it is the bastion of the one whom they all whisper has fueled this war of wars, she who bewitched their mighty Lord and drove him to squash the world between them.
There he sits, his expression hidden behind the hard folds of metal and leather that form his helm, the cast of his gaze lost in the shadow of the setting sun behind him. Before him, above the winding, marching multitude of his devastating war machine, stretch on high those very walls of stone to encircle the impenetrable fortress of her for whom he has come.
He listens to the low moan of the evening air, but still he sits motionless. “Form the camp, Kyto,” he orders to his Second. “The sun fades and will not rise in full on this pale land. We begin at dawn’s twilight. It is the best light we will have in this place.”
But Kyto hesitates and, risking the wrath of his Lord, nudges his mount beside that of his Lord. “Lord, none have passed her gates in all the ages before us,” he cautions one last time.
“And in all the ages before us, none have brought a host such as the one I possess,” his Lord corrects. The Lord turns, and there is no pity in his eyes. “Now go Kyto, before I forget you are my friend.”
* * *
And what is it that one sees from that hill where the Lord stood mounted those nights before, that naked outcrop of rock, to look upon the fury unleashed upon the bastion of her for whom he has come, She of the Thousandfold Gossamer Veils, ethereal and eternal, elusive to the eye yet everlasting to the dreams of men, hidden still behind her walls, walls assaulted without parallel, beaten and blasted black by a relentless torrent of flaming projectiles vomited from the very catapults of hell and earth that have been arrayed against her heights?
The days gain count and worse, the nights, yet no purchase is gained. The fields before her bastion are scorched lifeless, the trees are all felled, a deathly rancor fills the air from flaming pitch for the Lord’s projectiles, and scurrying through the heavy roiling black clouds that cling to the ground are the men of the mighty host like some underworld fugitives gliding on the mists of their own heathen breaths.
Bodies fall under silvery arrows that rain down during the moon’s light and, more threatening and perhaps more deadly for their disarming and befuddling beauty, her Espers descend from the walls, screaming on the night air from the folds of their gleaming white robes, to stab at the host with long, vicious blades piercing metal, flesh and bone alike as if they were so many layers of rice paper.
Resolute remains the Lord, and in such desperate hours of the Espers’ fury he charges the bare hill with dutiful Kyto at his side to work powers of his own. Clouds he gathers, black storm clouds belching bolts of violet lightning to challenge the gleam of the Espers. With the moon’s enchanted light obscured behind the clouds, the Espers flee the battle to return to the bastion and its heights, heeding their lady’s call, as she knows their strength wanes in the absence of their silvery moon sister.
And the Lord, he stands in his stirrups, evoking the words of tongues perhaps only he and she know among those who walk the world of the Three Kingdoms that he has conquered. He calls to spirits forgotten from elder generations, and so sculpting the clouds as he sees fit yet in his rage holding them not back but letting them drench the horror of the battle and with a thousandfold drenching of sorrow lets the futility of stones and swords wash from this earth.
“She will not yield,” Kyto cries to his Lord, his arm extending to the Espers as they gather upon the bastion’s heights to loose their torrent of arrows.
“Let them sting, let them strike,” the Lord says beneath his breath, and with a sudden turn of his hands summons a wind to scatter the piercing flurry like so many leaves to the rolling Sea of Senility beyond the battle. “Only one wound shall end this, and it is the one that cannot kill, that cannot heal, that has yet to be inflicted!”
To this Kyto relents. He has no answer, for he perceives that which he has not perceived before in all the tiring years of march and war: the aim of his Lord has little to do with conquest.
* * *
Read the full story at www.bewilderingstories.com/issue477/conquests_end1.html