The two Captains stood in front of us conversing about an attack plan. We were lined up in two rows, one in front of the other. We looked like an army ready to charge to victory and yet our enemy was no army at all. It was a single creature, possibly a Human but maybe just an Elf. He was sitting on his black horse on the horizon, completely alone and almost unaware of the troops that had gathered to slay him.
His stealth black robe covered him from neck to toe. The only piece of armor I could make out at this distance was his dark blue helmet. It reminded me of a battle worn helm I had once seen in the Freeport market. On his back hung a long Zweihander that had a whitish-blue smoke pouring from the blade. There was a Paladin standing in the front row that carried a similar sword. Yet the Horseman’s looked much longer.
The snow around his horse’s feet had turned an unusually dark shade of white. Not like the shade that paints a patch of snow as clouds blot out the sun. Instead it looked as if the soul had been melted out of the snow. The ice remained but the life that made snow so enjoyable in the first place had completely vanished. We kept our distance.
The search for the First Horseman hadn’t taken long. We awoke just before dawn and began our trek by heading south, along the coast from Vox’s Castle. Snyde’s group was not with us. We always assume that he’s lurking around in the shadows, keeping an eye on us. Captain Volgo had been seconds away from having his head removed at the blade of the Warlord and it was Snyde that stepped in to save the great Barbarian. Volgo will never live that down.
After about a mile of roaming the western parts of Permafrost, our group spotted the First Horseman sitting on a small hill in the distance. In an odd way, it looked as if he was already staring back at us. His dark blue helm and black robe almost camouflaged him perfectly in the small light of the morning. As the sun took its place in the sky and flushed the region with daylight, the robed rider and his deathly aura stood out like a Halfling in Grobb.
The two Captains had been talking for close to twenty minutes before they came to an agreement. They walked over to Mistwielder and the Wizard, Flamefist. They appeared to be explaining their plan. Mistwielder nodded to Drailis and then turned to Volgo to say something. When Flamefist interjected with a comment, they all seemed to agree. Drailis patted him on the shoulder. Those four are some of the most experienced warriors in Tunaria. At least that I’m aware of.
The two Captains then headed over to the melee units. Trueshot and I were leading this group. I had personally requested to be with their group after having a good experience with the brothers, Selwyn and Elwyn.
“Morning, gentlemen,” said Drailis. “Captain Volgo will be the main tank for this for obvious reasons. I’ll be backing him up. We have organized Mistwielder to direct the main healers and Gadenon Flamefist will be commanding the casters. We have asked Mu Nan and his assistant to protect that group in the event this Horseman gets loose—”
“Fat chance,” interrupted Volgo a grin from ear-to-ear on his face.
I have often noticed how much Barbarians love war. Battle seems to be their pissing contest. Only Dwarves are more infatuated with the art of beheading a beast and that might stem from other issues. Below the belt.
Captain Drailis retook the conversation, “Right. Well your roll in this will be for you and Trueshot to lead your archers around the back and flank the Horseman. The nine of you should have no trouble riddling that creature with holes.”
“We’ll make him sink,” Trueshot said.
Volgo nodded and then said, “I’m sure you will. Just don’t hit me with one of those damned magic arrows.” I couldn’t have agreed more with that statement. Rangers are incredibly accurate but some of the arrows they fire scare even the most experienced Barbarians.
“Now listen, before we get started, I know you can heal,” Drailis said, looking at me. “But we want Quinn to travel in your group. Is that alright?”
“Fine by me,” I said. And it really was. Quinn was as confident in her abilities as Volgo, without the cockiness, of course.
The groups began to organize according to their new directions. The Rangers and I began our sprint off into the distance to fall far out of site from the Horseman. Our plan was to run around a hill on the horizon and wait for Drailis to give the go ahead. We would then flank the Horseman. Quinn was with us and she was in her white wolf form, bounding in front of me. Her loping stride looked more like a lion’s than a wolf’s.
We made our way behind the snowy slope and crouched down, out of site. Trueshot was keeping me informed on what was going on. An Elf has a much more keen eye than a Human.
“He’s still standing,” Trueshot reported, talking about the Horseman.
“And what are Volgo and Drailis doing?”
“They’re moving in, not quickly though. Almost at a crawl but they are spreading out. The two warriors are in front, backed up by the two paladins. Then the monks, healers, and casters.” This was no surprise. Drailis had said that you never run full speed at an enemy you know nothing about.
I peered over the edge and could see the magician’s giant fire pet prancing around like the mindless idiot it was. It was the only thing I could see thanks to its bright orange glow. Even from here it looked dim-witted as its oversized legs churned underneath its massive body.
“How close?” I asked, referring to the distance between the Horseman and our men.
“One hundred meters.”
“And the Horseman?”
“Still hasn’t moved,” laughed Trueshot.
It was slightly odd. A creature fabled to be deadlier than anything else in Tunaria is just as still as a dragon locked in a chamber room. I almost felt bad for Lady Vox or Sky. Those gargantuan bodies and yet insanely tiny wings. There was no roof in either of their chambers and yet they never chose to fly away. Maybe they enjoyed the punishment.
“Umm…” Trueshot said. I looked over at him and could tell that his mouth was hanging wide open.
“Our entire army. They’re frozen.”
“What?” I asked.
“When they got within maybe 30 steps of him, the ground turned blue and,” he paused as if in disbelief. He looked me in the eye, “And now they’re frozen!”
Quinn, in her wolf form, began to growl. Her eyes looked as if someone had lit a torch behind their yellow lids.
I tried to keep everyone focused but I had never heard of such a spell as freezing an entire army.
“What’s the Horseman doing?”
“He’s moving. But not fast. He could be talking to them.”
Trueshot had been right. I would later hear that as the army approached, the Horseman’s eyes turned as blue as the sky and the ground around our army shook violently. In an instant, our men were captured in individual ice barriers. They were all very much alive and though some were slightly cold, they had on thick enough armor or robes to keep them warm. Unfortunately no one could cast, attack, or even speak. Not even the twelve-foot tall mage pet, his eyes scanning the area in a panic you could only expect from scared dog.
When the Horseman finally moved, his horse stepped forward and it began to slowly walk between the frozen figures.
He began to circle the Captains and then he asked, “What do you want with me?” He spoke in a very clean and eerily calm voice that suggested he might have originated in a Human town, possibly Qeynos. Our troops listened in fear. “I have had my eye on you since you and your men arrived at Castle Light Wolf two days ago. I could hardly wait for your arrival this morning. You see, Mr. Drailis,” the Captain’s eyes widened, “You’re not the first group to approach me. And you certainly will not be the last. In fact, even if you do manage to some how hurt me, it’ll only be temporary. I’m an odd beast, Captain.”
The Horseman paused in front of Volgo. He studied the Barbarian Captain as if he recognized him, but then shook his head and moved on. He walked to the back and began to review each healer and caster. They too were studying their enemy’s every move.
“What you’re looking for you cannot have,” he said, removing an amulet from underneath his robe. Then he chuckled, “If you have any idea what you have chosen to fight against. You all do look at a little… caught off guard.” He tilted his head a bit as if he had noticed something interesting in the party. “No necromancers? That’s a bit odd in this day and age. I hope you weren’t planning on attacking me without a few necros to pact away on your poorly armored Barbarian up here,” he said. For the first time, he removed his hand from the reigns and pointed an armored finger at Volgo.
The Horseman was still standing at the back of the raid group where the casters were frozen solid. He turned his horse slightly to look at one of the Alchemists. A beaker was in the trapped casters hand. The Horseman nodded and some had said they had thought they heard him laugh.
“You know? These Alchemists were probably pretty sure they would be safe this far back. I’d hate to ruin that,” he said, his tone shifting to sarcasm.
Then, in a move that would have even fooled Snyde’s boys, the Horseman grabbed his Zweihander and slashed across the Alchemist’s neck. The ice disappeared and the caster fell to the ground. His head landed face down in the powdery snow. The rest of his body dropped to its knees and then crumpled onto the ground. The beaker was crushed underneath his limp body’s weight. After a moment, the snow turned a dark red as the blood from the Qeynos warrior began to run out. The Horseman looked down around his mount and then forced it to back up as if the last thing he wanted was blood on his horse’s hooves. As with all who die in Tunaria, the body then disappeared.
At this point, Quinn, the eight Rangers, and I were already running at full speed. I could hear the Rangers loading their bows. We were within one hundred meters and yet we were still too far away. The wind had started to blow fiercely and I could feel my robe getting tangled between my legs. When we looked up, the Horseman struck down the Alchemist. A low growl came into Quinn’s pant. Her mother was in danger of a creature that could kill in a single swipe. It’s rare that anyone comes across such a being in Tunaria.
At fifty meters, Quinn and I were the only ones making noise as we sprinted. The Rangers, and especially Elves, have cat-like feet and can walk or even run almost anywhere unnoticed.
I called forth the battle hymns taught to me by an elder and then a boon that could restore any warrior’s mana. The Horseman looked up at us and began to walk his mount in our direction. I then turned my abilities on him and played a shrill tune that tore at his plate armor.
As the Rangers stopped on a dime to draw their bows, the Horseman’s headed turned quickly away from us and to his back. Snyde was unleashing every wound and backstab he had in his arsenal. His two assassins appeared beside him but didn’t help with the assault. Instead, they were shattering the ice that encased our troops. In a few swings, half of the thirty-four were free to move, cast, and attack.
The Horseman’s attention focused directly on Snyde. An agile Teth Elf has no problem dodging the typical bandit or gnoll, but this enemy moved much quicker than Snyde anticipated. A blow was delivered by the Zweihander. It cut a piece of the black chainmail on Snyde’s left arm. He backed up several paces and then vanished. By this time, Captain Volgo had removed his sword and shield and was running like a berserker at the Horseman.
Every taunt, every goad, and every pillar in the book came out of Volgo. The horseman had lost sight of Snyde and he turned to defend himself from the wave of assaults and strikes being delivered by the Captain.
The eight Rangers each released their arrows. Even in the full light of the sun, the area became three times as bright from the fireworks that jetted from each Ranger’s bow. Trueshot yelled for Selwyn and Elwyn to advance with Quinn. They were both Rangers that specialized in abilities that were cast on their blades rather than their bows. When their blades hit the target, explosions occurred that would double, sometimes triple the damage.
This was my cue. I moved close enough so that my war hymns could be heard by all of our troops. It put me right behind the line of Alchemists filling their beakers with dangerous potions. My hymns were barely audible over Drailis’ own war cry. Yet, whether fully heard or not, Bards have a unique way of restoring mana to any warrior and Drailis’ cry became louder.
Captain Volgo was in a chess match with the Horseman. His goal was to keep the attacks focused directly at him while parrying a possibly fatal blow from the massive sword, all the while dodging the caster spells that could burn any man alive.
The Clerics were standing just within range of Volgo. They were continually casting prayers to heal those taking damage from the blasts of energy radiating from the Horseman. These prayers did not go unnoticed. The Horseman saw a weakness in the attack. Just two monks protected all of the healers. His horse leapt from the battlefield, hurdling Volgo, and landing in an open area behind the Captain. The Horseman made a dash for a Cleric that was standing alone on the end of the line. The Cleric raised his shield and attempted to block the Zweihander from decapitating him. But the blow crushed the shield and the Qeynos Human toppled over.
The Horseman lifted the blade again and began to swing as Mu Nan and his monk student jumped in and laid two uppercuts and several combination high kicks to the Horseman’s head. The swinging blade flew past the Cleric, lodging itself in the snow.
Volgo, out of breath and sweating, laid his most powerful assault into the back of the Horseman. A fury of taunts came out of the Barbarian’s mouth. His low voice and strong yells shook the valley. The Horseman, annoyed more than anything, turned his attention back to the Warrior.
Running in a full sprint, Selwyn and Elwyn vaulted over the line of Alchemists throwing their beakers. I took off right behind them, both rapiers out-stretched and ready to swing. The two brothers landed and unsheathed their blades. Selwyn carried two bright green hatchets while his brother was carrying a green saber in one hand a silver long sword in the other. Both were Elven made and most likely family heirlooms.
They made their way up to the mounted Horseman and began to hack at the horse’s legs. Their swings were well-timed and looked almost perfect. Their blades began to proc and the area lit up from the stars rising from both Elves’ bodies as their combination attacks were rattled off.
I came in just behind them with my own combinations. My plan was to do damage and get back to safety. I was best use supporting the real damage dealers, not attempting to be one. As I got closer, I could feel an aura of energy coming from the Horseman. Every time my blade contacted him, I felt a wave of pain rush through my body. Without hesitation, I called for a hymn that would help heal the brothers and me.
Quinn had run behind the Horseman and stood about ten meters away. Her eyes continued to glow like before. Then her paws curled inward and she rose from the ground. She transformed from a white wolf into a green wisp. Druids often do this when they need to cast their toughest spells. The area around her floating body turned yellow and then red. She looked to be on fire before raining the matter down onto the Horseman.
At this point, there were two monks, two rangers, two paladins, Captain Volgo, and Captain Drailis hacking at the Horseman. Only the rangers and I were focusing on the horse. We had noticed that the creature was giving way. I turned to the Alchemists lobbing their beakers over our heads and yelled to aim for the horse.
Shit! Now we had to dodge our own ammunition. Not only did the beakers begin to come lower and closer to us, but the Rangers had also heard my order and redirected their arrows. A Ranger can shoot four basic arrows at once and up to five unique arrows. Due to the time to prepare each one of these unique, magical arrows, they can shoot all five only once per minute. The time since the first set of shots lit up the sky had been about one minute.
I looked back at Trueshot, who was still in line with the rest of the Rangers. He nodded to signal they were ready to release their special arrows. I yelled at Mu Nan and his student to back away. The Captains were on the opposite side of the Horseman and were safe from the Rangers’ shots. I grabbed Selwyn and Elwyn by the collar and threw them to the ground. Above us flew thirty lit arrows and then twenty-four more normal arrows. They pierced the side of the horse and the beast began to give way. Selwyn struggled to his feet and with his hatchet, hacked off the back legs. The Horseman dismounted just before the horse fully collapsed. His focus remained on Volgo.
Beasts such as Lady Vox or Lord Nagafen have unique abilities to defend themselves against multiple attackers. Their sheer size alone allows for many people to be able to take swings at the dragons. Yet the First Horseman is the size of a Human. His black robe was torn and his shield had melon-sized dents from the bashing. But for the most part, he was okay. And being small helped keep him that way. The Magician, who had only cast spells, was still unable to send in her pet. For if the giant had run in, he might have trampled the other attackers. A good Elf is twice as powerful as any summoned pet.
The smoke from the Zweihander created vapor trails around the Horseman. It was enormous compared to him but he managed to operate it with pristine accuracy. Volgo and Drailis kept his attention while the damage dealers kept blasting their enemy with everything in their arsenals.
And yet, this presented an entirely new problem. The sides and back of the Horseman allowed for just five attackers. If I had my choice, Mu Nan, Snyde, Selwyn, Elwyn, and one of the other Rogues would be on the front line, cutting down our enemy. Unfortunately this tactic had an obvious flaw. The enemy is much too small for a beaker of kinetic mixture to burst and explode, or much less be thrown without hitting our men. The Rangers, even with their regular pinpoint accuracy, can still miss and hit one of their own. And of course, Snyde and the Rogues were nowhere to be found.
I stepped back and sheathed my rapiers. MuNanwas still back with his student, casting their heals and buffs to help out Volgos and Drailis. I yelled at him to move back in and begin to melee the Horseman. I had to leave an open spot so that the rangers could continue to fire away. The casters could cast through people with their magic, but the Alchemist throwing pots was out of the question. They were far from accurate and their explosions would easily knock a man off his feet, or worse.
I looked at Quinn and her mother had joined her. They floated side-by-side in their wisp forms. They were both casting a mixture of lightning and fire spells. Firefist the Wizard, the magician, and a few of the Alchemists that had learned to do more than throw beakers were casting their comets and fireballs. I could do nothing but watch as Drailis and Volgo passed the aggression of the Horseman back and forth, over and over. My only duty at this point was to keep everyone’s mana filled with songs and war hymns. Though important to the victory, I felt almost as useless as the Paladins and Shamans that were more for buffing and backup in the event something went terribly wrong. And of course, it did.
As the Horseman began to bend and looked as if he was on the verge of breaking, Drailis disappeared. The main Clerics that had been healing the Captains vanished. Three of the rangers, two of the Alchemists, the magician, Flamefist, and both Monks were gone as well. We found out later that when the First Horseman felt that his time is near, he teleported random attackers to various spots in Tunaria. Drailis was sent to Widow’s Peak, Mu Nan and his student ended up on the floating bones by Kratas, and Flamefist was in the back of a goblin cave near Halas.
I had to step in to fight again and this was okay with me. Quinn and her mother continued to cast and the Rangers were firing arrows of all types. They never missed their mark. The Paladins and Shamans finally stepped forward and moved in to support. I have often wondered what was going through their minds before that. They’re fantastic explorers but horrid raiders and for the most part, useless.
Volgo absorbed two quick swings from the Zweihander. His legs were bent, the left foot in front of the right. His tower shielded was blocking his head. He slashed with his blade, given to him by the head Warrior in Halas. A cracking noise rang out as the breastplate of the Horseman started to give way. Captain Volgo backed up a pace and then lunged forward, running his blade into left arm of his enemy. The Horseman released a cry of anger.
“Ten seconds!” Trueshot screamed out. They were ready to go again. This time there would only be three bowmen, but it would be enough.
The Horseman had been on fire for the last several minutes thanks to Quinn and her mother. I had been counting down the ten seconds in my head. Even in the mayhem of battle, I could still count four-four time. And apparently the Rangers could too. The arrows, lighting up the sky once again, rained past us and lodged themselves into the Horseman’s back. He raised his head and let out a yell that was the first sign of true pain.
Volgo, seeing the door open, drove his sword forward and into the chest of the Horseman. A horrible noise rang out as the blade burrowed itself in the heart of the Horseman. Selwyn and Elwyn forced their blades deep into the back of the enemy. I took a step back. The fight was done.
The Horseman lay on his back, holes pierced his body, yet no blood ran free. Volgo reached down and picked up the Amulet of Ice that had hung around the Horseman’s neck. This was one of the four items needed to fight the Angel of Death.
The Captain was breathing heavily from the long fight. He removed his helmet and a scar on his right cheek looked to be darker than usual. He slid the Amulet into his bag and looked up.
“Well done, well done!” He said, raising his sword. He then looked around and noticed that people were gone.
“Where are the others? This is only half of what we started with!” he shouted, sounding sick to the stomach. Of course, I have already told you that they were teleported to random parts of the world. However, at the time, no one could answer his question. Any tank feels a strong sense of guilt when others die in battle and Volgo was no different.
Quinn and her mother came out of their forms and stood as Elves, side-by-side. I had never seen her out of her wolf form, or at least noticed her. She was beautiful. Her short brown hair was pulled back and even after the fighting, it still looked good. She looked at me and saw that I was staring at her. I blushed and nodded back. She nodded back.
Volgo snapped out of his guilt and looked down at the body.
“Looks like we can get the helmet, the gloves, the big-ass sword, and prolly the robe off this guy,” he said, referring to what could be looted. “It’s the size of a human,” he said, referring to the robe. We pulled off the pieces dark blue plate armor that hadn’t been too damaged in the fight. The robe was in tatters but that could undoubtedly be fixed. It was meant for a human but I knew it could fit an Elf equally well. I folded it and put it in my bag. Volgo took the rest of the armor with him. We figured we would divvy it up later.
As we packed up and headed back to Castle Light Wolf, Trueshot, Quinn, and I were in a group with the Ranger brothers and Quinn’s mother, Mistwielder.
“So… what now?” asked Trueshot.
I looked over at him. He had grey hair and was much older than I had first guessed. An elder Elf still looks much younger than a middle-aged Human.
“Well, we’ll have to head to Highpass and then to this Angel of Death. I guess he’ll tell us where to find the Second Horseman,” I was guessing. All I knew is that we had the First Horseman’s Amulet of Ice.
“We’ll need to resupply and recruit more, of course,” said Mistwielder. “I know quite a few citizens of Teth that would be willing to join.”
Trueshot chuckled, “I bet those Fayspirers will want in too.”
“Country-club snobs,” said Selwyn. Jokingly, of course.
“What are you planning to do with the robe?” asked Elwyn. I already had the vestment and didn’t need another.
“I think I’ll give it to Snyde,” I said. “He saved our asses twice now.”
“True. Where he’s at anyway?”
The Teth Ranger must not have been familiar with Snyde’s style. Hell, I wasn’t familiar with it. The guy is completely on his own schedule.
“For all we know, he and his guys could be walking in our group right this very second,” I said. Of course, we would later find out that they weren’t. In fact, when the Horseman had begun teleporting individuals, Snyde and his assassins were standing in the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on the casters and healers. And then, all of a sudden they were standing on Kerra Island. But no one would have known since they were invisible in the first place.
We hiked on in the snow hills of Permafrost. It would be a day before we were back in Castle Light Wolf.