Their world was ending, all the heroes were dead, the leaders confused, and their enemies were head and shoulders above them. But there was no one else; they were the dregs, the last worst hopes.
Nehring Ardgour has summoned Skoll and Hati from hell. They have torn through the proud and ancient country of Engevelen and the angelic Methueyn Knights that protect it. Armies have died, cities have fallen. None of the great remain. No brilliant inventors, no powerful knights, no master wizards.
But it gets worse. Farrah Harbinger has looked into the future and foretells the coming of an enemy worse than all the others, a creature of destruction and entropy like no other. A being who will grind all hopes and memory of civilization into dust: the One, True Devil.
Who can stop it? Who is left to even try?
Surely not Val, an arrogant young wizard who no one takes seriously, or Mick, an old man who can’t even remember his name. Certainly not Dav, who cannot seem to tell left from right or up from down, or Aveline, a squire filled with more questions than courage. No one would pick them to save the world, and yet there is no one else left.
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The horn called a single note, which cut off almost before fully forming.
“Run!” shouted the major.
“Run!” shouted Havard.
The call echoed up and down the line, but to Mick it did not look like the soldiers were running fast at all. It almost never does, when you’re watching someone impatiently, and absolutely never does when they might die if they’re too slow. He wondered how he knew this.
The image of Sir Valence playing fetch with Fenris blazed like the sun in Mick’s eyes.
Mick did not shout “Run!” but suddenly, unaccountably, he found himself over the line with a pike in his hands, running toward the struggling rangers. He did not remember grabbing the pike or leaping over the wall. He did not remember if landing from the six-foot height had hurt his ancient knees. Mick did not remember his earlier self-doubt, never worried if he would get to the rangers in time, never speculated that he might not be needed, or if his effort was a fool’s errand, the futile histrionics of a mad, old fool from a house of fools, never wondered if he might do more harm than good or fretted that a wall of monsters might come out of the trees and dwarf any effort a hundred of him could muster. He never considered in any way the question of leaping the wall or not. There was no thought or speech involved at all.
He simply ran.
“Mick, get back here!” bellowed Havard. “For knight’s sake, stop!”
But Mick was gone.
The ground sped by quickly as the rangers grew closer and closer. Two huge, strange shapes broke out of the trees, aiming straight for the soldiers. He tightened his grip on the pike, lowered his head, and charged.
The rangers abruptly stopped and formed a semi-circle. One of them limped on as the rest rotated their spears and planted them, gleaming tips pointing up and back toward the trees. An instant later, the skolves hit them, hard, pushing recklessly into the rangers’ spears, swiping at them with their rusty swords. For a moment, the spears held them there, but could not turn them back. Mick could see the skolves shake from side to side, paws, swords and bodies trying to dislodge the spears from the rangers’ hands and get inside their arcuate line.
As Mick rushed toward the battle, one of the spears broke. The rightmost skolve lunged forward with a roar and was immediately hit on its horse-length head by an overhand sword stroke delivered by one of the rangers. The creature reeled back and fell.
Mick broke left for several long strides, then sharply right into the flank of the skolve still held at spear length. “Last chance!” he roared as he lunged and thrust his pike straight into the chest of the beast, taking it off its feet so suddenly that its sword flew out of its huge paw, tracing a spinning arc through the sky before disappearing into the grass. Ferociously, the old man twisted the bladed end of the pike, which had penetrated a foot-and-a-half into the creature’s chest cavity, and step-pulled it out. Dark red blood sloshed out of the ragged wound, but the beast was done. It could only collapse and curl weakly around itself.
The other skolve was struggling under spear thrusts from four of the rangers. With an incomprehensible roar, Mick leaped forward and rammed his spear into the skolve’s head, just missing its eye. It skittered along skull until it caught at the base of where its cheekbone would be. Mick pushed harder, forcing the skolve’s head roughly to the earth, and the haft broke, making him stumble forward with seven feet of wood in his hands. He stepped between the rangers, shifted his grip, and speared the skolve again in the snout with the broken end of the pike haft. It tried to scramble up but collapsed, bleeding from dozens of wounds, but the soldiers kept slashing at it. No one was certain when it would be safe to stop stabbing. Another ranger was rolling around on the ground, hands to his leg, blood seeping between fingers.
“Pick him up,” said one of the rangers at last, a man with a rough goatee.
Mick shouldered his way in, whipped off his belt, slapped the man’s hands away from his leg, and wrapped it tight twice around, just above a large gash oozing red. “I’ll take him,” he wheezed, picking the soldier up and slinging him over his shoulder.
“Run!” a female ranger screamed. “There’s more coming!” Her voice dropped. “All of them.”
Mick did not bother looking back, knew that there was no looking back once over the wall once the chance was taken. There were, however, consequences.
A vast, high-pitched wail passed overhead. A sheet of arrows. Mick knew the sound from somewhere in the distant past. A storm punctuated by the pounding of arrows as they struck their targets. Mick did not look back.
“Look out!” cried the man he was carrying, and an instant later something heavy struck the back of Mick’s leg. He stumbled and went down. The soldier flopped off his shoulders with a scream. “Ahhh. Fuck me,” the man groaned. “Why?” he cried piteously as he rolled weakly, one arm over his face.
Mick staggered back up, hopped, found that his legs still worked, saw nothing was sticking out of himself, shoveled the ranger back up into his arms, and started running again.
“Grandpa,” the ranger whispered. “Grandpa … don’t drop me again.”
Lee’s interests are eclectic. He is an Ironman Triathlete, hiker, traveler, and an enthusiastic sport rock climber. Lee also continues to work as a geophysicist on Carbon Capture and Sequestration projects, and is a writer for BIG-Media.ca.
The dream of understanding and being understood has never left his mind, and Lee continues that in his works of fiction through metaphor. His works include The Dynamicist Trilogy, Last Worst Hopes and Bed of Rose and Thorns.
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