The messenger burst into the throne room, face red, his breath coming fast and shallow. “Your Majesty! General Kaza is dead! The Army of the Dragon has fallen! The Horde marches on the Capitol!”
“Can this be true?” The king stood, staring in disbelief at the messenger.
“Sire!” One of his Royal Guard stood at the window with a spyglass. “‘Tis true! I see the dust of the Horde rising from the North. If they approach, General Kaza must have fallen!”
“Inform Commander Gorem at once. Tell him to rally the Army of the Wyvern. They are all that now stands between the Capitol and annihilation!”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
Several men rushed off to do his bidding, and he turned to the messenger. “Was it the full strength of the Horde? Could you see their numbers?”
“Your Majesty, if this was not their full strength, then the Horde is limitless. General Kaza fought them for hours. Thousands upon thousands of the barbarians fell, but for every one we slew, a dozen took his place. The Horde stretched out as far as the eye can see, filling the horizon. No matter how many fell, their lines never thinned.”
“Then… the city is most likely lost.” The king clenched his fists. “But I’ll be damned if I let them walk in. Call in the Reserve Guard. Order the civilians into the caverns below the Citadel and have the Town Guard begin barricading the streets. We will use the time Commander Gorem and the Army of the Wyvern buys us to strengthen our defenses as much as possible.”
As men scattered to obey his orders, he grabbed the arm of his personal servant. “Get me Kallion.”
The man nodded and rushed off. With a heavy sigh, the king strode to his window, looking out at the approaching Horde. They were visible to the naked eye, now. It would only be a matter of hours.
Commander Gorem rode through the ranks of his men, spurring them to greater alacrity. The Horde was closing fast, and the Army of the Wyvern was woefully unprepared. They were a secondary army, only in the event of a sneak attack while the Army of the Dragon was away. No one ever imagined that the Dragon would fall.
A shout from one of the scouts drew his attention from his own men back to the Horde. Their front-runners were cresting the last hill, charging his men.
“Form up! Form up! Shield-bearers to the front, greatswords behind them, pikemen behind them! Other soldiers, rank and file behind them!”
As his soldiers scrambled into position, he yelled, “Archers! Volley!”
Arrows rained down, stopping the first few lines of the Horde, and they fell by the score. Another volley, and another, and another, they cascaded on the invading savages. Hundreds of the Horde died. Still they came. Never slowing, never showing the slightest sign of fear. There were more warriors in the Horde than there were arrows in the Wyvern’s quivers.
When the archers had nothing left to shoot, the Horde crashed into the shield-bearers. The massive shields they bore stopped the savages as the soldiers with pikes and greatswords hacked and pierced them. For nearly fifteen minutes, they held the line. Wave after wave of savages slammed into their shields, until finally one of them, a huge beast of a man, with a battle axe in each hand, smashed through, killing half a dozen of them before impaling himself on the pikes of the back row.
With the line broken, the Wyvern broke as well. The soldiers, unprepared for such an onslaught, were scattered, and the battle dissolved into thousands of one-on-one fights, with the Horde coming out way on top. The Commander scowled and signaled for his bugler to sound the retreat.
As his soldiers attempted to fall back, being destroyed by the unrelenting Horde, the Paladin assigned to the Army of the Wyvern rode up beside him. “Commander, my Knights won’t do any good in the narrow city streets, but we can buy the footmen time to get inside the walls.”
Commander Gorem nodded, and the Paladin raised his shining sword, signalling the rest of his Knights. As one, the armor-clad cavalry charged forward, splitting into two branches, pushing the Horde off the retreating foot soldiers. Their initial charge gave them powerful momentum, and they cut a large swath through the Horde. When that momentum began to falter, however, the powerful warriors of the Horde began knocking them from their horses, slaughtering them.
The gates were open wide, and the fleeing soldiers of the Wyvern rushed in, reinforcing the Town Guard in the barricaded city. Commander Gorem rushed in with them, trying to escape the noises of the dying Knights.
Up in the top of the Citadel, the king watched as the Army of the Wyvern was butchered by the Horde. A voice behind him nearly startled him, but it was nearly as familiar to him as his own. “You summoned me, your Majesty?”
“Yes, Kallion.” He turned and saw the chief of the Shadowy Hand, garbed in his standard outfit, black leather and fabric, with all skin obscured save his eyes. “You’ve no doubt noticed the Horde.”
“I have been made aware of it, your Majesty.”
“It’s going to take the city.”
“I estimated as much, your Majesty.”
“I need you to do something, Kallion. I need the Shades.”
“We live to serve you, your Majesty. What must we do?”
“The city cannot be saved, but my people can. Take the hidden tunnels into the forests, keep my people alive. The Horde cannot remain this large and this strong forever. One day, when they are weak, find allies and bring them down.”
Kallion’s eyes, normally so expressionless, widened slightly. “But, your Majesty… We are sworn to protect you. If you do not leave the city, neither shall we.”
The king reached out and grasped Kallion’s shoulder. “If the Horde does not find me, they will keep searching. I will stand with my Royal Guard and buy you the time you need to evacuate the populace.”
“No time to argue, my old friend. Lead my people. Never forget how great we were. Bide your time. Hold out hope. Restore this city one day, ten, twenty, a hundred years down the road.” The king’s eyes were shining as he released Kallion’s shoulder. “Go now. Gather your men. Evacuate.”
The ninja nodded slowly, then straightened and bowed low before his king. “It has been an honor to serve you, your Majesty.”
“It has been an honor to have you beside me, Kallion.”
Without a sound, the black-garbed man vanished into a secret door, rushing to the secret caverns beneath the Citadel. A half-dozen men, attired similarly to him, met up with him as he walked. “What is it, Kallion?”
“We’re leaving. Taking the people and getting out.”
“But… the king?”
“He’s staying with the Royal Guard. Don’t argue!” Kallion cut off the younger man before he could even begin. “The king’s orders are final.”
His men nodded slowly, then dispersed to begin the evacuation. Kallion went on ahead, his natural pace quickly carrying him through the tunnel and eventually up into the dense forest. He quickly shimmied up a tree, looking back at the city. Fire and smoked rose from all of the lower districts; the Horde had left nothing. Only the castle remained, resisting the onslaught of the invaders. Even as he watched, he saw the gates fall, and the Horde stormed into the Citadel.
He looked back down and saw the first of the citizens coming out of the tunnel, ushered by the rest of the Shades. Kallion looked to the city again, this time focusing on the flag at the top of the Citadel. That flag could only be reached through the innermost room of the Citadel, no doubt where the king would be making his last stand. When the flag fell, he would know that the king had fallen as well.
Below him, he heard his Shades directing the people deeper into the forest, but he kept his eyes on the Citadel. Finally, just as the last citizen came out of the tunnel, he saw the flag fall. The city was lost. The king was dead.
Kallion jumped down from the tree, tapping one of the Shades on the arm. “Where is the princess?”
The Shade pointed to a small knot of people gathered under a large tree. Kallion went there immediately, seeing the young princess with her father’s most trusted advisers. “Your majesty, I would speak with you.”
Everyone looked up at him, eyes wide at his use of ‘majesty’. The princess stood, pale, and walked with him a little ways away from everyone. “What is it? And who are you? I’ve seen you with my father before, but I don’t know who you or your men are.”
“Your majesty, you are now in charge of these people. Your father is dead.”
The princess, normally so composed, let out of choked sob, putting a hand to her mouth. “He’s dead?”
“He sacrificed himself to give us all the opportunity to escape. It was his duty as king.”
She composed herself enough to give him a slightly suspicious look. “You never answered me. Who are you? And how did you know what happened to my father?”
“My name is Kallion. I am the leader of the group called the Shades. We are the secret guards of the royal line.”
“Yes. The Royal Guards protect the royalty from overt attacks. We prevent the more sinister plots.”
“I… see.” She looked up at him. “So what happens now?”
“We establish ourselves in the hills and caves of the forests. I keep recruiting for the Shades, and you keep the royal line intact.”
She gave him a look. “I’m only sixteen.”
Kallion smirked. “I didn’t say now. That’s the big picture.”
“Oh.” She paused. “Can I… see your face?”
“If I’m going to be protected by you, I want to know what you look like.”
He reached up and unfastened his mask, pulling it off. His straight black hair fell down around his pointed ears.
The princess let out a soft yelp. “You’re an elf?”
Kallion nodded. “Your father recruited me before my people left this land. He needed someone better than a human to run the Shades.”
“All right…” She nodded slowly, straightening her already straight dress. “We’ll get through this, won’t we? We’ll be restored eventually, right?”
“It might not be in your lifetime, but yes. I will see the royal line again on the throne, and the Horde destroyed.”
She returned to her advisers, and Kallion looked towards the burning city.
No matter how many lifetimes it takes me, I will restore your kingdom, my liege.