Ubassan glanced at the sky, squinting as drops of water contoured the outlines of his helm and fell into his eyes. The sky was moody, with dark clouds outlining the ends of the horizon in thick blubs of ominous red-black color.
A thick set lightning bolt struck the land like a jagged spear a few miles ahead, leaving behind a black corpse of trees that had withstood for more than a thousand years. It was as though the present times were ill-suited to the most resolute and downright suicidal to the under prepared.
The thin drizzles that dotted the sky slowly turned into a heavy downpour. The immediate surroundings of the area was caked brown with mud and swirling motes of dust. But the battlefield was the prominent color of Mother War, running Crimson Red in endless branches of an unrepentant circuitous river fed incessantly by the battle lust and greed of men.
Ubassan inadvertently turned his eyes to see his men, of those who still remained. Only the Blackguard regiment survived. All around them broken bodies of men lay around twisted, scattered and spread out abnormally as though a circus act gone bad, real bad. His men had seen death and destruction before, but what lay before them was utter chaos and a complete massacre, incomprehensive and tottering on the edge of madness.
Few brave men lumbered forward, knelt beside the unmoving bodies, offered prayers to the OneGod and pushed an imperial coin through the mouth as payment to the ferry man to carry the souls safely through the passage of hell and beyond. Few even stole the coins from the enemies purses though Ubassan doubted the ferry man would even notice the difference.
They had come here, at least the Blackguard regiment, expecting a minor scuffle and not a full scale war. Three-quarters of the regiment was either dead or worse. Some time back Ubassan would have scoffed at the thought of something worse than being dead. Now, he was not so sure.
As the descendent of a Noble family, Ubassan had a relatively easy entry into Military. Only then did he discover that all the advertised glory and success in the wars overlooked the merciless slaughter, cruelty, rape, casual indifference to the suffering of others and plain destruction of property. As he understood now, wars were fought just because egotistic maniacs sitting on two different thrones had a difference of opinion on the size of their manhood.
Three decades and many epeen fights later, his once narrow, oblong face with angular cheekbones had turned craggy with many crisscrossed battle scars. His nose had long been broken twice and turned slightly crooked to the left side. His once reserved, thoughtful mind had been shaped to act without hesitation and kill without conscience. His kind eyes had long turned feral and deeply cunning while his close-cropped, blonde hair radiated command. His once lanky frame had turned muscular and he moved with a straight backed, face forward gait that oozed both confidence and strength.
He was recently promoted from Lieutenant and looking at the scene around him, wondered where it all went wrong. He had just scoffed at his wife as she suggested that he retire so they spend more time with their children. Now he would give his arm just to hug her one last time. He was never a man of prayer but he could now find himself clutching involuntarily at the three-cross piece pendant that signified the One God, mumbling, sputtering and squeezing out words through lips of divine songs he learnt as a child.
“Colonel!” someone was shouting at him pointing accusing fingers.
He ignored the call and moved ahead at a slow, albeit measured pace quickening with each stride. Their survival had been miraculous. Most of the regiment had crossed the river to the other side when disaster (or good luck as he thought about it now) had struck in the form of a sudden flood.
The unlucky victims in the middle of the crossing were swept in the flash of an eye under the murky depths of water. Few men even braved the currents for a while, pleading shouts of help and when they realized no help would come forth, spewed a litany of curses on the survivors and prayed to the River God who was only too happy to oblige by sending his pet crocodiles to escort them home.
“Colonel!” someone was tugging at his hands now.
Ubassan shrugged it off and started jogging mildly to the nearest mound. He increased his pace and leapt over the bodies lying tattered, askew and twisted, mouths open in a pitiful final groan, comatose eyes starting upward as if to grasp that life, once full of hopes, dreams and future from slipping away in one last desperate attempt.
“You coward, Die,” rasped a guttural voice, words spilling out as if the throat was unaccustomed to human speech.
Ubassan ducked in time to feel the gentle breeze of a swishing knife hovering over where his neck would have been few moments ago. He levered his right elbow backwards and felt the bone crunching thud of shattered ribs followed by the –‘Whoosh’ as all breath was taken away from his assailant. Ubassan spun on his heels to see the figure lying down, with hands on the ribs he had broken.
However, the short victory turned to surprise as the man began prodding his rib area gently, then more forcefully and dug inside prodigiously and finally dragged out his ribs outside after a sharp crack. The man—or thing that looked like a man, threw the rib bones away and gave a lopsided grin at him.
Ubassan drew a sharp, shivering breath and drew the long sword from the gold enameled sheath hanging at his left hip . It was a military service longsword with many pilfered wounds, but the edges were sharp, the weapon itself was sturdy and had kept him alive over the years. Freaky—as Ubassan had come to name his attacker, dropped his knife, wrenched a club from an unlucky victim’s head and pounced on him.
He parried the mace, kicked the left knee out and thrust his sword at the exposed belly. The blade slid easily into Freaky, too easy in fact, giving a semblance of absent bones, sinews and bodily tissues. Freaky twitched and swung the club which thunked solidly against his pauldrons, the impact absorbed mostly by his plate armor but rattled his teeth against his lower lips. Freaky snarled and shot out its left hand to gouge his eye out, but Ubassan swayed to his left, lurched out his sword, grabbed the extended limbs, bent his knees and sent Freaky flying over his shoulders.
Freaky slid into the arms of an outstretched spear, point-first. It didn’t harm Freaky in the least, but gave the opening for Ubassan to snake out with his sword, catching Freaky’s willowy neck and parting it from its shoulders. The head fell down and exploded in a dank and musty cloud of dust.
As the adrenaline rushed out, Ubassan sat down and allowed his ragged, wheezing breath to settle. He rummaged the backpack for his last canteen of water, opened the lid and tipped over the contents into his mouth. He sloshed the last mouthful, spat over to his side and squeezed the last drops of water over his head to cool it off.
Ubassan let his tired eyes wander the environs for any sign of enemies. After a brief moment of hesitation, he stood up and went uphill again. He had to reach the hilltop. That was his goal. At this point in time and as he thought back, never in his life has he had such a single, utmost desire. It was race—a race against time. Time of which he had very little.
He was almost there. He had to do it. There was no one else, alive or otherwise to do it. Ubassan took long strides, the crest in sight, urgency propelling him forward until he was but running on all four limbs, sweating, scratching, grunting, anger welling inside, tears bursting up from his eyes, his left hand still clutching at the three-cross pendant and mouth mumbling prayers of anxiety.
The sweaty palms of his left hand quivered, his mouth clenched against his teeth as he went the last mile and clambered up the hilltop. His searching eyes riveted against the dark shape, hooded and ominous sitting near a small campfire of sorts. The figure slowly turned its head to look at Ubassan through empty, socket less eyes. Ubassan froze at the glance, his teeth trembling, and thoughts of swiftly climbing back down passing through his alarming mind.
“Yes—” the figure hissed, the voice note ending with a bony click at the throat.
“Err…Well…” mumbled Ubassan, his thoughts scrambled.
“Havest thou comest in search of thine Deliverance,” enquired the dark robed figure, darkness slowly oozing out from its side in deathly fumes of black smoke.
“Or…” cackled the inhuman voice, “…Doest thou wishest me to deliver it to them?” asked the figure, rubbing grime from the robe, slowly standing up to meet his eyes and pointing its skeletal fingers at the battlefield around them.
“Or…” the figure drew in a deep breath, if such a thing were possible and with an emphasized note, murmured, “…Just Deliverance for all.”
Before Ubassan could muster a decent reply, the figure’s hands snaked out and after a firm squelching of fingers, Death watched the body of the soldier fall down and looked at the still beating heart clutched in his hand.
“Ubassan, colonel of the Blackguard regiment, First son of Arlumus fist, I accepteth thine sacrifice. Deliverance it is…..for all.”