“There is one rule, above all others, for a true soldier,” The Knight of Britannia murmured absently to himself, his icy blue eyes flickering to the road that lay ahead. “Whatever comes, we face it on our feet.” Briefly were his thoughts drawn back to her, and to the letter he had left on the nightstand. All that needed to be said was there. On the hard-packed earth of the West Brittany Road they stretched out, manes and tails streaming back in the blistering noonday light as they raced ever northwards, hooves clattering fiercely upon the path like some violent orchestra of war. Nicholas led the charge, black stallion and shadow-clad rider galloping like a herald of death through the sparsely wooded farmlands and pastured fields that lay just south of the city. Damian’s white gelding, matching the stallion stride for stride, was a pale dart as it sped between the sun-scorched hills and drought-ridden meadows that surrounded them, his orange cloak unfurling like a standard in the wind. To the Guards eyes, it was as though the land itself were dying, succumbing to some dark fate. His eyes shifted absently to Nicholas’ back, and he quickly put such thoughts out of his mind. The rest followed in a tight line, as if all were tied to invisible rope grasped firmly in the lead Knights hand. The Drakðn War, the name by which this conflict might someday be remembered, would ultimately decide the destiny of the Old World and its inhabitants. As Sir Kullervo had warned them the evening before, the Shadowlords dark servants had begun to mass in the southern foothills, a horde of perverse necromancers and lawless brigands whose only purpose was to crush the last bastion of Britannian power and influence in Felucca. Nicholas absently touched the hilt of his broadsword, his thoughts racing to the war ahead. The battlefield, that fabled theater of tragedies, was the City of Old Britain, a ruin long abandoned by the Mother Kingdom and its monarchs. With the former capitol conquered and its protectors subdued though, there was nothing to stop the Shadowlords from launching yet another attack upon the current seat of Britannian rule, New Britain. The Knight craned his neck to peer over his shoulder, and watch in grim silence as a pillar of black and grey smoke arose from the south. There was nothing a small band of swordsmen could do to save the farms of Outer Brittany, except to hope that the villagers had been given enough time to flee. The War of the Drakðn had begun. A scream ripped through the incandescent skies above, a frightening cry that reminded him of a man he once saw being ripped apart by some strange and terrible creature. Wings swooped low over the party, a blast of wind catching their cloaks, the dark shadow rippling over the roads surface. With panicked cries the horses snorted, screaming wildly, but they dare not stop. The wind of the Crimson Dragon’s wings beat at Nicholas with a feel that reminded him of the touch of slime, like something evil bubbling from the depths of some cavernous nightmare. The heavy stench of brimstone and decay filled his nostrils, making him want to wretch. It left his stomach in knots. Briefly he looked up, watching in silence as the fat, bloated reptile flew over them, its massive bat-like wings beating hard to keep the scaled beast aloft. This was not the magnificent creature of bedtime stories and fairy tales, but an overgrown monstrosity that could swallow a man and his steed whole. Nicholas laid low against his mounts neck, spurring the beast onward as the Britain Warriors Guildhall came into view. The Crimson Dragon had seen the seven horsemen, shouting a guttural challenge to the wind, but it did not harass them. To the Knights surprise, it wheeled about in midair, speeding back towards the smoke from whence it came. A scout? The Seven Swordsmen galloped over the Gung Farmers Bridge, entering the Dock District of the City of Old Britain. “Quickly, men,” a voice barked. “They will be here at any moment.” Shouts came from every direction. Smoke hung heavy in the air, a choking miasma that enveloped the crumbling metropolis as its Eastern district burned. The sun had become a faint, crimson sphere high in the skies above. Commotion was everywhere as the makeshift alliance of True Britannians and Knights of the Royal Flush gathered at the First Bank, warriors prepared to give their lives for an ideal. Virtue, and the everlasting promise that all might be free of the shadow that haunts men’s dreams. “To me,” Zackarias shouted in command, the sound of leather scraping metal as his sword left its sheath. Shovel, Eddard, and two others whom Nicholas didn’t recognize gathered around the Knight of the Blue Rose, also drawing their weapons. “We shall see what we can do about the Eastern District.” “Light shine on you,” Nicholas murmured, bowing from the back of his horse. “And the last embrace of the mother welcome us home,” Zackarias grinned, stoic resolve written across his young eyes. “Glory to Dawn and the Blue Rose!” He and his four companions wheeled about, spurring their horses to a gallop eastward along the Harbor Road. “Go with them,” Nicholas murmured, his eyes absently shifting to the Town Guard. “I can be of more use here,” Damian protested. “I am no sheepherder.” “The Shadowlords armies will not simply attack by way of the Southern Road,” Nicholas wheeled his black stallion about to face the Orange-cloaked soldier, a darkness forming in the older mans eyes. “They will attack by way of the Vesperian Highway. They will attack by way of the Samlethe Road.” Nicholas’ eyes shifted northwards, where a mountain range would have been if not for the smoke. “And if history holds true, they will also attack by way of the Serpentine Pass.” “But, I…” The Knight cut him off. “The True Britannians cannot fight on all sides,” he hissed sourly, fierceness in his voice. “As a Knight of the Royal Britannian Guard, I command you to go.” “A Retired Knight of the Royal Guard,” Damian corrected with scorn. “So be it, Lieutenant. I shall go.” The Town Guard wheeled his gelding eastwards, galloping off after the Knights of the Blue Rose. He did not look back. “Lord Tarrant,” a voice called out through the haze. “Nicholas.” The Knight wheeled his horse about, icy blue eyes searching for the source. A hooded figure emerged from the miasma, approaching him, shrouded in a heavy grey cloak and robes of elven make. A leather-bound grimore was tucked beneath one arm, a Serpentine shield bound tightly to the other. “Sir Yalp,” Nicholas bowed his head respectfully to the Town Guard. “It is good to see you here.” “And you, my friend,” Yalp replied mirthlessly, powerless to hide the bleakness in his features. The Guards black Dreadmare trotted up next to the Knights. “They’ve been attacking farms and outlying villages for the past hour now, but they’ve not attacked us directly.” “It is only a matter of time,” Nicholas murmured, turning his gaze south. “They are hoping we will spread out.” Yalp nodded, his eyes shadowed by the heavy cowl. “Do you think we have any chance of winning?” “Light only knows,” Nicholas placed his heavy hand upon the Guards shoulder. “We’ve been through much worse.” Yalp nodded, but he did not seem convinced. The Guard slipped his hand into his pocket, producing a sealed envelope. “If I fall,” he murmured absently. “Please, deliver this to my family.” Nicholas hesitated a moment. He wanted to laugh. Bitterness filled his thoughts. Who said he would be alive to deliver such a letter when all is said and done? If Lady Fahnzjell’s words were any indication, if the foretelling of Cantabrigian’s widow spoke true, then his own story was coming to an end. But then, he thought back to his own letter, all those things he still wanted to say. The Knight took the envelope, reluctantly slipping the note into his saddlebag. “Thank you,” Yalp breathed with relief, having obviously sensed Nicholas’ hesitation. “You’re welcome,” Nicholas murmured absently, his thoughts returning home. To his reason for living. “Be safe, my friend.” And that is when they attacked. The scream, like some violent bird of prey, ripped through the ashen skies above. A blast of wind, like a tempest rising off the waters surface, hit the two riders like a wall of bricks. The Knight looked up just in time to see the bloated monstrosity descend through the haze, a fireball hurling from its great maw, crashing violently into the throng of defenders beneath it. Screams tore through the air, as the immolating forms of men and women alike leapt from the rooftop to the streets below. Nicholas’ horse screamed, and before he knew it he was falling, tumbling out of his saddle back onto the cobblestone street below. He felt the ground rush up to meet him. The air knocked from his lungs as he landed hard upon his back. “Fire,” someone shouted above the din. “Fire, damn you!” Arrows and Bolts of Conjured Lightning leapt from their hands up at the bloated reptile, most simply bouncing off its thick, armored hide. The Dragon beat its leathery wings, slowing its descent, landing with a heavy thud upon the roof of the bank below, launching yet another fireball into their ranks. “Kill for your supper,” Yalp barked, smacking the flank of his Dreadmare Steed. The demon horse snorted and clawed the ground with its hooves, charging forward towards the Crimson Dragon while its rider turned his attention towards Nicholas. “We can’t be having you lying around like this,” he smirked, resting his hand upon the Knights forehead. “In Mani.” Nicholas felt a wave of cold rush through his body, as if he had been thrown into a frozen pond. He felt his bruises heal, the deep gashes from the night before. He felt his senses revive, alive again. Arlon dug his heels into the war bears flank, knocking another arrow into his bow as the creature rounded the brick building. “Parisa, Kathryn,” he shouted. “The eyes!” Parisa nodded fiercely, aiming her bow at the beasts face. “This is for Heaven’s Forge!” Nicholas sprinted forward, tearing the cruciform blade from its sheath as he dove between the Crimson Dragon’s legs. The Knight swung the weapon like an axe, hewing fiercely, leaving a deep hollow in the creature’s exposed hamstring. The reptile roared in anger, thrashing about as the muscle in its leg tore. Black blood poured from the gruesome wound, splashing upon the pavement below. “Watch out,” a voice screamed. Nicholas leapt free of the thrashing creature, pivoting on the ball of his foot, both hands gripping the hilt of his weapon. The monstrosity lurched forward, its skin bubbling, festering. It burst. The ensuing explosion tore through their ranks, a conflagration that engulfed the surrounding buildings and threw the cities defenders off their feet. Zackarias’ eyes flickered to the skies above. “Damian,” he shouted, lowering his bloody zweihander. “Over there. Look! On the horizon.” Damian followed the young Knights eyes, searching the skies above. And then he spotted them. “The cavalry has arrived,” he laughed. On the horizon, a mass of Platinum Dragons appeared in the distance. Their wings outstretched, their scales gleaming brightly in the midday sun, an army of reptiles descending upon the battlefield. With the aid of the Platinum Dragons, the defenders were able to push back the Shadowlord Faction and save the City of Old Britain. But they never anticipated the price others would have to pay for their salvation, or the sorrowful task that would lay before them. Stay tuned for The End Game Part 2: The Sorrowful Task.