Prelude – Garrick – The Day of Wrath

Day of the Requiem, 0 A.R. (After Requiem)

On the day of Garrick’s first and last official day of command, the gods fell from the sky. Three armies: the Ihlathians, the Zanach and his people, the Halcynians all merged in the valley for one final contest of military might and tact. This would be the war to end all wars. And the death of hundreds if not thousands. His gut twisted and he swallowed hard.

“Status report, Lieutenant” He demanded of the closest officer.

“The right flank is holding steady but the left is being harried by both Ilthian outriders and Zanach fire-throwers. The central force is in a deadlock,” Lieutenant Amin said. He was a bright lad with an easy smile that war had not yet erased.

Garrick brought the magniscope to his eye, a new type of crystal spyglass that allowed him to see the action as if it were mere feet from him while miles away, he perched safely at the Halcynian base camp, which was nestled in the mountains. With the thick forest canopy camouflaging them and the mountains at their back, a surprise raid was all but impossible.

A quick study of the battlefield confirmed the lieutenant’s assessment. The left needed reinforcing but it was holding for now. He noticed something else: a small kink in the Ihlathian flank, a soft spot in their army where he could jab the knife of the Halcynian special reserves.

“Your orders, sir?” Lieutenant Amin asked

“Send the reserve to the Ihlathian flank. Tell them to dig in and push – hard. They’ve left themselves vulnerable to a concerted effort and I refuse to let them ignore their mistake.”

Lieutenant Amin gulped. “Sir? Can you clarify that order?”

Garrick studied him with a flat expression. “Let me guess – You’re afraid that I’ll leave the base camp and myself open to attack. Is that right?”

“Sir, I ‒”

“In that case, send my guard detail, too,” Garrick snapped. “And don’t second guess my orders again. Is that understood, Lieutenant?” 

Lieutenant Amin threw up a tight salute, crossing his right arm across his chest and ran off to deliver his orders. Nothing risked, nothing gained. He hadn’t ascended to his rank without a level of calculated gambling. As he shifted his attention back to the battlefield, his hand found the reassuring weight of his command rapier, decidedly newer than his favorite, but just as heavy and well-forged.

Like falling boulders merging into an avalanche, the Halycinian special reserve coalesced into an orderly marching column and rushed toward the Ihlathian flank. Cries of “For Halcynia,” and “In the name of the Eldred Earth,” galloped on the wind. The light of Oda’s full moon blanketed the battlefield in a shimmering white light. It pulsed and heaved, separating into colored shades at times like light through a prism. 

Garrick assumed its sibling moon, Eir, was somewhere up there, too. But it was as black as the night sky and only visible out of the corner of your eye when you least expected it, like the guilt of a deed you try and always fail to forget.

Heavily armored cavalry, mostly made up of his personal guard, pulled ahead of the mass of bodies surging down the hill. Their bloodlust screamed from their every move as they gained speed. Eldred below, but he longed to be at the front of that charge.

They slammed into the soft flesh of the Ihlathian flank, decimating their rear formation in heartbeats. As the Ihlathians struggled to turn and meet the cavalry, the rest of the infantry, shaped like the dagger he’d imagined, cut deep into the chink of the enemy army.

His chest swelled and his heart raced. First day of command and he was going to win this war, once and for all. For Halcynia, and the Eldred Earth, he would triumph for the ultimate good.

His scribes and officers gasped beside him and he breathed in his success.

“We shall toast our final victory tonight!” he said, his chest puffed.

He turned to his entourage but found them staring not at him or the chaotic battlefield below but elsewhere entirely.

Lieutenant Amin, returned from his errand, followed their gaze, gaping. “Sir, the skies, they…”

His pointing hand dragged Garrick from his prideful daydreams and forced his eyes upward. A swirling black hole rent the gray clouds and bled tendrils of fire that brushed burning fingertips against the earth below. Trees burst into flame at the lightest touch. His entourage covered their heads and cowered further behind cover with each erratic swipe of the flame.

His lieutenant managed to find his voice again. “Should I order the retreat, sir?”

“Some trick of the Zanach, no doubt, and the false god they call the Eldred Fire!” He shouted over the chaos. “A ruse, trying to burn away our resolve. We will show them that we don’t give in to the machinations of charlatans.”

In a lower voice, he said, “Lieutenant, I need you to personally ensure the safety of my wife and child. Ruse or not, I will not put them at risk of unnecessary harm from this foolishness.”

The officer’s eyes darted from Garrick to the expanding forest fires. He seemed like he wanted to argue again, but wisely said, “Yes, sir.”

Garrick watched the man until he disappeared into the forest then tore his focus back to the battlefield. Above it, the obsidian eye in the clouds studied him. He pushed it out of his mind.

The fingertips of fire continued to scrape and gouge out parts of the valley, taking Halycinians, Zanach, and Ihlathian alike, showing no discrepancy. Something felt off about the display like the moment before a brigand attacked from forest shadows. 

Why would the Zanach use a weapon that killed their own men?

Lieutenant Amin returned and flashed another crisp salute. “My apologies, Sir. I was not able to complete my assigned mission. Lady Lyra sends me with a message.”

“Treating my Lieutenant like an errand boy? That’s brash even for her. Go on.”

Amin unfolded the note and read aloud. “Garrick, my love, I need no protection from the ghosts in your head. However, I could use a husband that will spare me a single glance more recently than Oda’s last new moon. Considering your recent promotion, I am willing to forgive your preoccupation. That is, if you are willing to finally accept the name Elam. Take it or leave it, that is the deal. If not, I have no reservations about seeking solace with the Ihlathians. With love, Lyra.”

Garrick grit his teeth, torn between the desire to return to commanding the battle and to storm down his tent, rip open its curtains, and give his wife a piece of his mind. As in all things though, a compromise was a safer choice.

“You may return to my dear wife with a message of my own, Lieutenant. It’s as follows: Lyra, my dearest wife, it is so nice to hear from you again for it has felt like an eternity since we last spoke. I miss you and I am eager to return to your side. Victory is near at hand and it will mark the first step towards the rest of our lives. Away from here. And forever, away from war. As for the Ihlathians, my preference remains Orpheus, but it is a matter that can be settled following the peace of the three nations of Aetenor. Please accept my lieutenant in my stead as assurance of my intentions while I finish this Aeternal War for good.”

Lieutenant Amin stared at him with wide eyes. It seemed the man’s wife would not have tolerated such a rebuke. Garrick almost chuckled. He enjoyed knowing small details about his people like that.

“I know that you are not about to question me for a third time today. Deliver the message. Protect my wife. Those are your orders.”

“Yes, sir,” he ran off without pausing for a salute.

Garrick could forgive him for that. Besides, there wasn’t time for any further dalliances. A war waited for him, his victory within reach.

The flames from the skies had grown in his lapse, the tear in the heavens even wider still. Like an all-seeing eye, the vortex stared at him and he stared back, daring it to finish its destruction, for the Zanach to show their final gamble so that he could outmaneuver them and end this war once and for all. As if sensing his thoughts and his gaze, the opening birthed a monstrosity. 

A sphere covered in thornlike spikes shot from the void. In seconds, it grew, dominating the entirety of the sky, blotting out even the clouds. A second, darker sphere appeared and seemed to jockey for position as both hurdled towards the battlefield. Fissures exploded in the ground, springs of magma spewing. The earth buckled and heaved underneath his feet. One of his scribes went hurdling off the mountain with a horrible screech and disappeared into the darkness below.

Just as it seemed the spheres could grow no larger, they shrunk in such a miracle as only the Eldred could have performed. It didn’t change their speed though. It took him two heartbeats to realize their direct trajectory. And their imminent landfall.

“Everyone take cover and brace. You need to -”

His words cut short as the monstrosities slammed into the earth dead center to where the three armies of Aetenor clashed. The earth shook with such force that Garrick was knocked to his knees, even miles away. The spheres disappeared into a dark cloud of dust that rose upward like an inverted sheet of heavy rain, impossible to tell where it ended and the skies began. It rushed towards the Halcynian camp from the north. Trees, rocks, everything in its way, disintegrated into nothingness as it passed.

He waited until the last moment, trying to see through the black tide to his army, then instinct took over and forced him to take cover. The wall rose above him, two hundred, one hundred, fifty feet away. He planted his shoulder against the nearest tree and braced.

A blast of wind hammered into him from the East, the wrong direction. An opposing wall, darker than night, followed and clashed with the original. They stayed that way in a meeting outside of time. Then, beams of light started to tear small holes through the wall of black, growing larger with every second, the light clawing its way out of the darkness.

A beam ripped past Garrick, obliterating and cracking the earth before his eyes. Enormous stones ground and shattered in the distance, an awful, impossible sound of the bones of Gods being smashed by great maces of thunder.

Then, nothing.

Silence covered the camp in the dense fog of the dead and dying. The air was thick and hard to breathe. He forced himself to his feet, one leg at a time, coughing. Strange breezes warred, one from the East and one from the West. At times, sound exploded and in others, all noise died, as if Garrick had plugged his ears.

“Amin?,” he coughed. “Scribes? Anyone?” 

His only answer was the silence carried on the Eastern wind.

His hands clawed through the fog for his magniscope. He needed to assess the damage. Needed to send new orders to take advantage. He – 

His mind started to catch up. Who would he send them with? Let alone, who would he send the orders to? Everyone below was ash now.

Garrick’s fingers touched smooth metal and finished wood and he breathed a bit easier before bringing the magniscope to his eye. Blinding light shone from the direction of the impact, breaking through the ash and dust, so bright that Garrick feared to stare at it for too long, lest he may lose his sight.

A vast object, roughly spherical in shape, rested in the center of the valley. It glowed with a pearlescent light that shimmered and distorted around its glossy surfaces like a fire’s heat in the sunlight. Most of its sharp appendages seemed to have shattered or broken off in the impact. A crater fifty times the size of Halcynia’s largest city surrounded it.

If this was some advanced weapon of the Ihlathian or the Zanach, the war was lost. All of Halycnia’s greatest fighters and weapons paled in comparison. Most were dead now. 

But something else troubled him. If they’d held that kind of power, why had they waited until now to use it? And why destroy your own army in the process? No commander in their right mind would deem those casualties worth the enemy death toll.

Through his magniscope-enhanced sight, Garrick thought he spotted what could be battered standards amongst bits and bones of men, but that could be dark imagination. An impact like that must have obliterated everything for miles until that opposing wall stopped it. There was a clear line on the northeastern mountain side where the destruction ended and the treeline continued untouched.

A pulse from the object brought his attention back to the valley’s center, back to the graveyard of his entire army. 

Stones bury me, my entire army

Light coalesced and grew from its surface, shaping itself into an approximation of an arm and a hand. It reached toward where the Zanach base camp had once stood. Garrick tightened the lens, zooming his sight to its limits.

Gently, the ghostly hand plucked a body from the ashen ground, long black hair tumbling from its shoulders. A woman, he realized. She had lost an arm. Blood soaked her ripped clothes. Her stomach bulged with child. And she was still alive, writhing in the hand of pure light, still fighting for her and her baby’s life. The sight of her reminded him of his own pregnant wife, setting his heart pounding, everything in him wanting to act but unable to tear his gaze away from the spectacle.

One of the fingers raised to the heavens, to the swirling maelstrom in the sky above them. A river of light poured from the giant sphere into the finger, imbuing it with power and brilliance that rivaled the sun. The warring breezes died, leaving the air stagnant. The finger’s radiance reached its climax, then lowered to the stomach of the pregnant woman. Her face contorted in a silent scream.

The world exploded with chromatic energy. A solid beam of light shot into the sky. It reached the iron gray clouds then splintered into brilliant reds, yellows and blues, which shot and swirled in random directions. Some went far into the distance, while others landed closer amidst the darkness and the trees. A final band blasted by him. He turned to follow its path and watched with growing horror as it slammed into the thicket where his wife and unborn child hid unprotected.

In the dying band of golden light, Garrick sprinted, stumbling and cursing, towards his family, his only purpose in this world and the next. 

The corpse of a tree lay shattered in front of the tent, slowing his pace. A stone settled in the pit of his stomach, but he ignored it. He started to climb over it but hesitated. A limp hand peeked from under the tree. Blood pooled there. 

“No, no, no.” He said, digging at the trunk for a handhold. “Please Eldred Earth, no.”

He ground his feet into the ash and heaved with all his might, trying to roll it, but only managed to move it a small distance. His next attempt failed, too. He climbed over, following where he thought the body might be based on the hand. Pushing away a cracked branch, a familiar face stared at him with sightless eyes. His gut twisted, then released. It was Lieutenant Amin. 

He pushed the grief aside, avoiding the thought of the moment he’d have to tell Amin’s wife that he’d died under his command. The only thing that mattered right now was his own.

The tent flaps ripped off their poles in his haste to get inside. Darkness lay in wait. A cry shattered the dense silence and Garrick jumped back. Not the cry of a woman, but a child. He hurried to the oil lantern and lit it with shaking hands. 

His wife lay curled in the shadows on the floor, covered in blood and naked from the waist down. Her eyes were open and glassy. In her arms, she limply cradled a wailing infant, its umbilical cord still attached. Garrick rushed over, his vision blurring. He took the child in his arms, numb to the blood soaking his normally pristine uniform, cooing to the infant and speaking in a cracking voice.

“My love. My love? Talk to me.” He rested a shaking hand on her face. “Please. Say something. Anything to let me know you’re okay.”

Only the wail of the babe and the wind outside answered him.

“I’m sorry. So sorry. I should have been here. I should have protected you.”

A sob racked his whole body, feeling more shattered and broken than the valley outside. His limp hand slipped to her neck and he pulled her face towards him and the crying child. 

In his grip, he felt a rhythmic beat. A pulse.

“My love, please!” He screamed but she still didn’t respond. He felt for her pulse again to reassure himself that it wasn’t just his imagination. It was there. Faint, but real.

The blood pounded in his head, making his vision swim, the corners of the tent blurring. That weapon, that thing, had done this to her. He may have not been here to protect her then, but he was fully here and able now.

With a motion of exaggerated gentleness, he placed the infant in the crib that had been carried across half of Aetenor waiting for the baby’s arrival. For his arrival, Garrick noted. He had a son. Stooping to where his wife still laid, unmoved despite the commotion, he planted a soft kiss on her forehead.

“I will fix this, my love. For you and for…” He glanced back at the crib where the babe now cooed. “For Elam. Wait for me.”

He pushed back outside. A storm raged, whipping his commander’s cloak, ripping off his insignias of rank. And the world was dark, a fuller dark than he’d ever seen. The killing sphere had stopped glowing, leaving the valley in darkness. But even without its light, there should have been…

Garrick’s eyes shot to the sky. Oda was gone.

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