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Horrors in the Night.

Excerpts from the writings of Johann von Everett.
Imperial Year : 2522
Mention the province of Brettonia to any citizen of the Empire, and they will conjour up images of gallant knights and princely steeds, fighting glorious battles. But their first thoughts will never be of the lowly peasant, who works hard to follow the orders of the nobles, be it in peacetime, or wartime....

The rain came pouring down in heavy sheets from the black skies above, drenching the weary travellers as they marched down the mud churned road. Droplets pattered off their shields and armour, and slid down their sodden cloaks. Wind whipped around the figures, continually pushing against them and lashing the cruel fingers of the encircling trees into them. Bringing his head up from it’s bowed angle, a figure at the head of the group saw lightning strike up ahead, illuminating the sky for a fraction of a second, before plunging the area back into the cloying darkness of the night. As another flash brightened the path ahead, he thought he could see a glimpse of some buildings and flickering lights. Lost, weary, and with no idea of the layout of the land around him, this looked a promising direction to head.
Turning back to the amassed men behind him, he cupped his hands to better raise his voice against the wind and rain. “ Come on lads, I think I see somewhere we can rest up ahead, might even have some food for us” he shouted. His words were met with a weary cheer and the men picked up the pace. This news seemed to invigorate their limbs with a burst of energy to help them reach this place of shelter and seek protection from the bitter weather.

As they grew nearer to the source of the lights, the outlines became clearer, and with a harsh realisation, the men saw that they weren’t buildings anymore. Broken down walls with collapsing thatched roofs were all that met the group, with a few dying candle flames slowly burning inside some. Objects lay littered across the ground, anything of worth to those who had done this taken, either in flight, or as spoils. It was obvious that this dishevelled state was a recent occurrence and many of the men felt shivers down their spines as they wondered how far away the monsters who must have done this were. As they moved cautiously through the small hamlet, a bright bolt of lightning struck nearby, and a monstrous shape loomed over them. Not more than a hundred yards away, a castle wall stood proudly above the forest, it’s dark and imposing shape causing the men to recoil in fear. Wondering how they had missed such a large building, even in the dark, they staggered onwards towards the castle. They cared little whether it be that of an ally or an enemy, only that it could give them shelter. Inhuman cries suddenly sounded on all sides, guttural roars echoing through the night. The men at arms abruptly glanced all around, and their worst fears were proved when glistening eyes stared back at them through the tree lines, and great shaggy heads shook with rage. Some of the men retched as they saw the chaotic meld of man and beast clearly. “Hold firm men”, their leader spoke calmly, “though we are lowly men, the gods watch us still, we will prevail this night.” The beastmen held back as their drums began an ominous beat, thumping out across the surroundings, and echoing back, making the men feel isolated and confused. Their hearts thumping, the warriors hurriedly backed up towards the walls of the castle, eager to get into such a fortified position before the beasts grew weary of their taunting. The warden was the first man to reach the doors, and he hammered on the heavy oak gates, screaming for entrance, hoping someone, or something could hear him.

“Open these gates, by all that’s holy” he screamed into the howling gale “there are beasts out here, give us protection damn it!” His cries echoed round the castle, and the thuds of his fists sounded dull amongst the raucous noises of the drums and the howling cries of the beasts, sounding almost like distorted laughing now. It seemed as if no one would come after 10 minutes of hammering. A few moments later, after much agonising and a few hopeful prayers, the sounds of shouting and the stamp of heavy metal shod boots on stone floors were heard from inside. With a juddering thud, the doors slowly began to creak open. The large wooden gates slammed to a halt, as the portcullis behind slowly rose up to give them entrance. Looking through the gatehouse, the men saw hundreds of warriors in pristine armour, moving rhythmically into positions along the walls and inside the courtyard. A man in similar garb to those of the men at arms marched forward and held out his gloved hand. “Welcome to the Chateau de Brissac, my name is Henri, my Lord says you are welcome to take sanctuary from the beasts here my friends.” His tone was courteous and the warden took the proffered hand, clasping it in thanks, “Thank you, we thought we would be playthings for those beasts out there” he gasped “ I am Arnaud, and this is my unit, I am glad we are still on the Cordon Santaire, but we appear to have missed the fortress we were making for, perhaps..” One of his group cut him off and barged forward “Never mind that, couldn’t you idiots have opened those gates a bit sooner, we could have been dinner for those savages!” He turned to Henri with a scowl creasing his face. “Your rich lord napping was he?” The man never got an answer to the question from Henri, as a mailed fist shot out of the dark, a loud crack rang out as his jaw shattered and he crumpled to the floor in pain. “Insolent cur!” said a voice from the darkness, and then men gasped as a black armoured figure grew out of the night. His dark armour seemed to embody the night, and had he not moved, they doubted they would have known he was present. Rain pattered off his armour, trailing it’s way down to a finely embellished sword hanging in it’s cover at his waist. His visor was down, but they had no need to see his face to know of his rage, his voice hissed with anger as he spoke. “You should be glad I let you in at all, you scum, if I didn’t think more men might be helpful in the coming battle, I would have let you die out there like the dog you are. Turning to the warden he looked down, and his voice calmed slightly, the razor sharp edge still present, “I would teach your whelp some manners if I were you, warden.” With a final kick to the man’s stomach he whirled around and moved into the enveloping darkness, quickly disappearing from their view.

Henri looked abashed as he helped the man to his feet, no doubt due to the rash attitude of his lord. Standing him to his feet, he waved the men forward towards the keep. “You were lucky, I’ve seen him kill men for less” he whispered, “Baron Navarre doesn’t take too kindly to personal insults from knights, let alone from the lowly mouths of men such as ourselves. Now, I can find you a few scraps of food and somewhere to get some rest, but you understand you will be called upon to fight, so I cannot say how long you will get.” He smiled apologetically as he said this, and pointed to a hole covered awning, under which a small pot was hanging over a spluttering fire. A few peasants were bringing plates of dubious looking slices of bread and cheese to a low table. “That’s all we can spare, I’ll take my leave now, I need to assist my lord with the defence.” Arnaud thanked him for his help and shook his hand, before joining his men to savour what little warmth could be gained from the warming embrace of the fire. Unclasping their sodden cloaks, they laid them out on the wet mud and sat down, rubbing their hands near the fire, glad for even the tiniest bit of warmth after the cold chill of their journey. The night sky grew darker, as clouds drifted overhead, the rain easing off every now and then to enable them to see more clearly the area they sat in.

Looking around the dark courtyard, they took a good look at the place they had entered, hindered slightly by the ink black night. Guttering torches flickered along the walls, leading into the distance. The courtyard stretched about 500 feet wide to either side of the gatehouse as far as they could see. The whole area around the keep was full to the brim now with armoured warriors, the black and dark red colours of their armour glistening in the torch light. Detailed banners, emblazoned with the heraldry of their lord were fluttering proudly in the strong winds embrace, as their owners held them to their bodies to keep them stable. Knights wearing almost completely black armour mounted up, onto horses that were darker still than the night. They surveyed their men through closed visors, not one of them allowing a glimpse of his face to get through. Arnaud watched this, expecting the nobles to unclip their helmets and speak to the men, spurring them on to face certain death with hope in their hearts, but they moved past, heads held proudly up, swivelling now and then to look down on the men. The same aura of utter disgust that the Baron had emanated could be felt from the knights by all those nearby, and they bent their heads down so as not to catch the knights unseen gaze. The massed cavalry started moving to the gates, as more armoured infantry fell in behind them or went to man the walls. Scores of archers were lined up along the tiered battlements, spilling over to the areas behind the walls in their multitude, ready to unleash well ordered volleys to the beast men when they came. Trumpets began ringing out from across the Chateau, competing with and then drowning out the braying horns that had been continually sounding and sapping the will of those inside. A mighty cheer rose up from the infantry as the trumpets played their tunes, and Arnaud felt himself stand him up and join in, a mighty cry of “Brettonia” ringing out from the throats of the warriors moving out to battle. Picking up their armour, the men felt pulled towards the crowds of soldiers. All thought of needing any rest was wiped from their minds as they moved into the horde of men, eager to join in with the coming engagement.

The regimented men filed out of the gates and lined up near the castle walls, levelling their spears at the woods surrounding them, as the beasts started to filter out of the trees, great lumbering beasts surrounded by short, runty looking beasts cautiously advancing to the waiting lines. The knights lined up in front of the shield wall, waiting silently for something, the hushed silence making the field feel eerie. A great blaring trumpet blast heralded the arrival of the Baron, and gloriously armoured knights that could only be the blessed knights of the grail, flanked as they were by frenzied pilgrims, carrying relics, and dragging a large cart behind them, the upright body of a long dead knight strapped to a pole in the middle of it. Riding behind this mass of men, 4 females cantered out serenely on horseback, holding their staffs to the roiling heavens as they set to work on their magicks. Dark fabric covered their whole bodies, with veils hanging over their faces, obscuring Arnaud’s view, but he could tell they were graceful beings, a radiance emanating from them as they rode through the ranks, to positions more suited for their magical talents. Soaring over the walls, regal winged creatures swooped low over the men, the knights mounted on them whooping, causing the bustling crowds to raise a cheer, weapons lifted into the air in salute, slamming back down to their shields with a great clatter. The noise carried across to the tree-lines and a monstrous beast, bedecked in naught but rags and skulls, leapt onto a hillock. Raising his head back and giving his response in an ungodly howl of rage, he swept a great axe above his head and charged forward, his army quickly following behind.

The uniformed ranks of the brettonians rippled with suspense, as the horde of beasts charged forward, their murderous roars screaming from hoarse throats. Baying hounds rushed ahead of their lines, their jaws snapping and globules of drool flying from their mouths as they hungered for the flesh of the army ahead of them. Their lumbering horn covered creatures lunged down and ripped great chunks of stone from the earth below with little effort. Raising them above their heads, they threw their makeshift projectiles at the ranked mass ahead, some missing completely, but those that did caused horrific damage. Mud spray burst up from the impact, and the splintering of men’s bones as the stones crushed them could be heard above the din of the two armies. In answer to the foul creatures, the cry for the trebuchets was raised, and moments later, stones sailed over the walls, careening into the beast-men lines and decimating whole segments of the lines. Stones exploded upon impact, snapping wood and bone, the beasts hurriedly trying to protect themselves from the stalactite like fragments flying out from the craters. Almost immediately after this, the bowmen, having found their ranges, let loose a volley of black feathered shafts, that whistled over the walls, a black cloud seemingly hanging over the horde before thudding home. The forward ranks of the charge toppled back as the sheer number of arrows overwhelmed even their sturdy constitution. Beasts howled as shafts skewered their limbs, punching through their bodies, the sheer force of the arrows descent making swift work of the thick layers of skin and muscle. The charge seemed to falter, but braying calls from the middle of the mob held the lines firm, a sudden enraged look flashing across the creatures features as they leapt forward at a startling pace, uncaring of the continual rain of missiles from the walls. Keen to get to the enemy before the missile fire had claimed them all, the knights reined in their horses and dug their mailed legs into their flanks. The warhorses reared up, their legs kicking into the air before digging into the earth below their hooves. Setting off at a gallop, they moved to engage the charging horde. Holding their lances straight and true, the knights raced their horses towards the enemy, the ground shaking, as they poured out from the lines, the conglomeration of hooves creating a thunderous sound, echoing across the battlefield. The two lines met with a clatter of metal, as the force of the charge pushed the lances hard into the enemy. The rip of pierced skin and the crack of bones accompanied the roars of the beasts as they rose to met the charge. Hulking great monsters grabbed horses in their hands and threw them to the ground, hurling their riders from their mounts. Axes cleaved through the thick armour of the knights, causing them to drop their lances in shock. As the blades bit deep, they buckled over in excruciating pain, barely managing to pull their swords out to block the massing forces surrounding them. The Barons own unit were seemingly unstoppable, not one had been touched by the foul creatures, even as they pushed further into the enemy. As their lances became heavy and caught up in piles of dead beastmen, they pulled out gleaming swords, that sliced through the enemy’s armour with ease. Rallying the other knights to their side, these knights were a beacon of hope and resistance against the seemingly endless horde rushed out of the darkness.

Seeing their lords in trouble, the infantry began to advance, their shields raised up high and spears pointing out of the impregnable shield wall. The raving pilgrims hauled their icon along to one side, screaming prayers to the lady and the honoured knight they carried aloft. Arnauds ears rang with the sounds of battle, and his breathing quickened as he readied himself for the fight, feeling the rush of adrenaline as he ordered his men towards the enemy lines. Clearing his throat, he began to sing le Chanson du Gilles, the song slowly being picked up along the lines as they moved ever closer. Within moments, the low dirge could be heard far away from his position, drifting through the night air. He stared ahead and saw the beasts massing against the knights as they turned to view this new threat, seemingly drawn by the sombre chant. The hail of arrows continued to fly into the battle, stray shots coming down with a rasping hiss at the knights, whose armour deflected most of the hits. Arnaud could see Henri ahead lifting his banner high, and the walls fell silent as the archers understood it’s meaning. Their part on the battle was over, from now on, it was the hard struggle of the melee that would win the day. The cloaked damsels within their lines conjured great thickets of vines, ripping up out of the ground to cut into the enemy lines, cutting large wedges in the massed lines of beasts. The treetops swayed as great boughs twisted and whipped out at the horde, pulling screaming creatures into the heart of their canopies. As Arnaud walked further he felt himself caught up in a magical storm, his body hardening like stone before his eyes. Clenching his teeth he strode onwards, uncomfortable with the intrusion of magic in his body.

Eldritch energies crackled along the tree line as the shamans that accompanied the beasts added their powers to the fray. A portal of hazy colours ripped into being a few feet away from the men at arms, and a horrific creature pulled itself from it’s opening, it’s presence halting the line as fear gripped them all. It hovered above the ground in a seemingly impossible way, it’s incorporeal and useless wings branching out from it’s ridged, spiky back. A long twisting neck protruded from it’s torso, ending with a misshapen head, it’s large jaws snapping at the air as it moved towards the lines. The song that had been rising up in the air cut off abruptly as the breath of every man became caught in his throat. A stillness came over the men, the terrifying visage of the beast rooting them to the spot, as they saw a living embodiment of death come for them. The pilgrims broke from their chains of fear and launched themselves at the monster, the cart carrying the dead knights body barrelling into it’s side, punching the long dead hero’s rusted and roped up lance into the creature. Hacking at it’s skin with their blades and clambering on top of it, the crazed men overwhelmed it, staking it to the ground with ropes from their cart and slowly stabbing it, hoping to kill it while it was still trapped. Dodging it’s sweeping tail, one of them ran the full length of it’s back and waved at the men at arms. Arnaud snapped out of his fear induced stupor at this and called out to the men. “Come on men of Brettonia, steel yourselves, our knights are in need of the mighty men at arms now!” So saying he snatched a banner from the grip of the nearest standard bearer and leapt forwards, waving it up as high as he could manage. “With me!” he bellowed. Steadily, the men at arms forced themselves to move again and followed him past the entrapped creature, towards the advancing beasts. Plunging the fluttering standard into the ground in front of him, he brought up his spear and stabbed it into one of the beasts, catching it in between the ribs and twisting the point inside until it stopped struggling. Ripping it out he lunged forward again, stabbing at the oncoming mass, the volume of fur and sinew too numerous for any of his wild lunges to miss. Hurriedly, more spears joined in alongside his own as the disjointed shield wall formed up again, pushing back against the tide of beastmen.

Not knowing if any of the knights had survived the onslaught, Arnaud chanced a quick glance at the last place they had been in. Not seeing anything through the darkness at first, he suddenly spotted flashes of metal. Up by the tree line, the knights could just be made out, their swords rising and falling in unison, slaying dozens of the beasts from the seemingly endless horde that flowed out of the forest to surround them. Their armour gleamed in the moonlight, and Arnaud felt hope rise in his chest, this battle was not over yet. Gripping the standard, he pulled it from the ground and brought it up to wave proudly. Moving forward, men flocked to his call as he led them onwards into the enemy. More beasts turned from the encircling masses to engage the advancing men at arms. Roaring incoherent howls into the sky, their hooves stamping into the ground and their weapons clanging together, they picked up their pace into a loping run. The two forces rushed forward, their lines meeting with an almighty crash, the strength of the beasts taking a terrible strain on the men at arms. A flurry of blades swept back and forth all along the lines as each side fought for dominance in the struggle. The wide, frenzied sweeps of the beasts slammed hard into the men’s shields, forcing them back as they struggled with the creatures. In response, lunging stabs from the back ranks over the shields quickly dispatched the first wave of beasts, the men moving over their twitching bodies to cut down more of the enemy. Arnaud felt a hand on his arm, as Henri moved beside him, his spear making short work of the enemy in front, as Arnaud shielded him from return blows. Nodding his thanks to Henri, he waved the flag yet again, the knights finally catching it’s movement as it whipped out in the wind. Wheeling round in the confined space, they began to cut through to the area the infantry were slowly clearing.

Howling orbs of light spat out over the men, and they cowered in fear before they realised the damsels in their midst had renewed their efforts in the battle. Where the shining orbs landed, lightning suddenly coalesced into being, striking down swathes of the enemy where they stood. Horns sounded all around from the darkened woods, and moments later spears of eldritch energy stabbed out. They punched through the ranks of infantry, and sliced through armour as if it were parchment, before fading away. Arnaud, waved the men onwards through the hail of missiles, the stone like layer hanging over his men that the damsels had cast over them earlier still holding fast against the onslaught. Screams of pain cut across the ears of everyone nearby as men were scythed down by the amber lances. Arnaud heard an inrush of air, as a swooping vortex rushed out of the darkness. Peering closer as it whirled through their lines, he saw the multitude of crows swirling round to form a deadly funnel of slashing claws and beaks. The vortex suddenly exploded as the crows came flying out in all directions, swamping the nearest men under a deluge of black bodies, plucking eyes and organs out, leaving men prostrate on the floor, crawling in agony, seeking safety. Men flew out of the swirling rush of blurred feathers, stripped of flesh and muscle, their bodies falling clumsily to the floor. Henri hurriedly pushed past him and took a small item from his pouch, kneeling down quickly. Though he could not see what he carried, moments later Arnaud realised it was some form of burning powder, as the spear Henri had been carrying lit up in blue flames. The crows shied back from the burning weapon, those that were too slow dropping to the ground as the flames swept up onto their feathers. Other men from the chateau, placed their spear tips near Henri’s the flickering fire jumping across to theirs, helping keep the crows at bay. As the crows retreated, moulting feathers, the flames slowly died out, the powder keeping them going having burnt up.

A great roar echoed behind the men as a blurred shape threw itself into the massed infantry. Men were thrown screaming into the air, as the beast that led this horde picked them up in his talons and launched them into the forest. A blade stabbed through it’s arm, blood pouring out as it ripped through muscle and arteries. Wrenching the sword out, the creature swung his fist round and grabbed the man, squeezing his head until it popped, spraying lumps of flesh at the men moving cautiously towards the beast. Gripping his banner tight in his hands, Arnaud launched his spear straight at it’s chest. Flying through the air, it thudded into the torso with a satisfying crack, the beast bending over in shock at the impact. Drawing his sword, Arnaud went forth to slay the creature. Seeing a foe coming towards him, the beast plucked the spear out, and slung it into the melee around him. Reaching across his shoulder he unhooked a gigantic war axe, it’s curved edges already slick with blood, and brought it down towards Arnaud. As he hurriedly blocked it’s downward path, a juddering impact travelled along his arm, driving his whole body back. Slashing out at the beast quickly he almost missed another sweeping blow, diving forward out of the way to stop it slicing him in half, but still receiving a sharp blow to his side. Looking up he saw beast raise his axe high in the air, a guttural cry ringing from it’s throat. Quickly stabbing up at the beasts hands with the standard, Arnaud raised himself up and plunged his blade through it’s throat, feeling the blade snap inside. It’s axe fell behind it, and it’s body slowly bucked as it entered it’s death throes, monstrous arms squeezing around Arnaud’s body, cracking ribs and puncturing internal organs. With one last fading roar it released the broken man, and collapsed on the floor.

Gasping for breath, Arnaud looked up to see the beasts slowly registering their lords death and seeing the knights now unhindered, they began fleeing into the forest, hotly pursued by the remaining men. Coughing up blood, Arnaud struggled, to raise himself, and felt blinding pain grip his body. His chest wound had worsened from the embrace of the dying beast, and he struggled to remain conscious. He raised himself up slightly to survey the battlefield, and to see the glorious knights for the last time in his life. His eyes slowly clouded over as he lay there, the view flittering in and out of total darkness. As his last breath exited his body, his failing eyes watched the retreating creatures, a triumphant smile forming on his lips as the world faded into black.

The Baron cantered his horse through the chaotic lanes of the battlefield, surveying the carnage that the beasts had caused in the light of day. Coming to rest at where the most horrific melee had occurred he looked down at the nearest body. “Henri,” he called in a questioning tone, as his warden sidled over “who was this heroic peasant?” Following the direction of his lord’s outstretched arm, Henri saw Arnaud, hand clutching a banner pole in his death grip in one hand, and a broken sword in the other. Piles of beasts lay around him, with his men and many others forming a circle away from his resting place, their bodies shredded and clawed by the beasts. A large horned monstrosity was sprawled in front of his body, a sword blade sticking through it’s throat. Henri coughed, “His name was Arnaud my Lord, he rallied the men and led the charge to assist you from the entrapping horde” Nodding, the Baron slid off his horse and looked out among the dead. “Well, it only seems fair, that I return the favour these men did for me then, for helping rid this place of those tiresome beasts” he chuckled.

Unhooking his helmet, he took it off, shaking his mane of dark black hair. Grinning wildly, his sharp teeth showed as he stretched out his hands and unleashed plumes of energy into the earth. The men’s bodies began to twitch, and along with the other bodies, Arnaud began to rise, his banner still firmly gripped in his hands. They shambled forwards with flaps of flesh hanging off their torsos, picking up discarded weapons, with bony fingers, before forming up into a line in front of the Baron. Corpses of both man and beast rose up to join the ranks. Glancing over at Henri, he saw the warden cackling, as the countesses walked down from the chateau to meet him, their black dresses swaying in the wind. The rest of the army moved out of the chateau, showing their true visage as they stepped out into the daylight. Winged monstrosities flew over the horde of skeletons and other undead creatures, the once glorious knights changing to snarling fanged monsters, atop nightmarish steeds. Raising his head back, the Baron laughed heartily at the sky, his raspy cry ringing out. “Mousillon Lives!”
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