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Twenty-Two

 
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Seamus
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 11 May 2009
Posts: 34
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Can Be Found: RhyDin
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:21 am    Post subject: Twenty-Two Reply with quote

The abyssal rift opened with the sound of thunder and a chorus of anguished cries, red light washing over the wave of refugees struggling out of the tunnel into the Barony. The Architect's minions were trying to cut them off -- and Seamus would be damned if they succeeded.

"Matt!" he snarled as he heaved a demon off the end of his battered broadsword with his boot. Blood spilled onto the slick stone floor between them, some of it his own. He'd been wounded. He didn't care. "Call O'Neill off rearguard, bring him up!"

Mathieu stared at the knight uncertainly: he was injured too but less grievously than Seamus, one arm hanging limply at his side while he managed reloading his pistol with one hand. "O'Neill's dead!"

"DeMuer, then! Can't dance without a partner, can I?" Two more demons came hurtling past the picket line of gunners into the tunnel, and Seamus staggered out to meet them. He ducked under its swinging arms and heaved his blade into the creature's ribcage; Mathieu fired past him into the other demon, but not fast enough to stop it raking claws across Seamus' side.

"Seamus, get back here! You're bleeding!" But Mathieu's words were lost in the din of battle and the adrenaline roaring through Seamus' veins. He saw black snarling shapes emerging from the rift and ripping into the refugees struggling to get past them to safety.

There was no hesitation, not even a moment to consider his fate. He found a trio of demons barreling towards a screaming family and threw himself into their path. He felt his body shudder with the impact of each strike he blocked with his blade, felt claws sear across his skin again as he lowered his guard to strike back.

He landed the last blow on the last of the three demons, severing its head from its body in one powerful swing, and on the follow through his legs gave out, unable to keep him upright as he continued losing blood. He fell to his knees as the abyssal rift widened before him and, through his dimming vision, he could make out another wave of demons clamoring to get out into their world.

The link between their two planes shifted and for one terrifying moment they were in a more perfect alignment, revealing the twisted hellscape beyond the rift to Seamus' eyes: black stone wreathed in fire and pools of tar dotting a vista of bones, human and animal alike, as many as there were grains of sand in a desert, all of it under a blood red sky. Hundreds of demons were about to pour into this rift, more than Seamus could ever hope to hold back alone...

"Sofia, 'Lanta! Get him out of here, quickly!" The scarred face of Zakharias Loe, Commander of the Order, swam into view as he reached the edge of the rift; Seamus felt hands on his shoulders pulling him back, and he mumbled an incoherent protest. "Mathieu, you are in charge of the column. Godspeed."

Zakharias hadn't come alone. As 'Lanta and Sophie pulled Seamus away from the battle he could see more of his brothers, twenty at least, fanning out around the rift, swords and rifles flashing in the eerie red light. They would hold the demons back at point blank range, buying the refugees time to escape...

"No! Let go of me!" The horror when Seamus realized their fate, their imminent sacrifice, gave him another burst of strength but not enough to escape the people pulling him to safety. "I have to go with them! They're my brothers, please let me go, I'm begging you!"

He lost sight of them behind the swarm of refugees as they dragged him out of the tunnel. His struggle was draining the last of his strength, and he was losing the fight for consciousness. As he reached the top of the incline, he caught a final glimpse of the knights closing in on the rift. The first wave of demons emerged with a howl and collapsed in a hail of gunfire, but the second wave bounded over the fallen and met the ring of knights in a clash of claws and steel...


* * *

"Twenty-two." It was a cold October morning at the New Haven Lodge in RhyDin. Seamus stood at the base of the lighthouse and looked out at the crowd of men - and women, this time - gathered around him, most of them sitting indian-style in the grass. He took in their faces, some of them familiar, and their eagerness added a kink of a smile to his expression, but it didn't last for long.

Whoever replaced his fallen comrades faced the same dangers. Inevitably, some of them would fall in battle. But the Order had its mission to carry out, and could not do so without its strength.

"Twenty-two," he echoed, lifting his chin. His hand fell to the pommel of the sword at his hip, and he began pacing before them as he spoke. "That's how many of my brothers died in the Battle of the Estmore. They laid down their lives stopping armies of demons surging into our world. Without a second thought they put themselves between thousands of refugees and Hell itself. They saved those thousands of refugees, the thirty-odd thousand people who call the Barony home, and millions, billions more besides in the worlds they wanted to destroy, and for it... they paid the ultimate price."

"The lousy bastards left me behind," he added with a laugh, shaking his head; there was a low rumble of laughter from some of the candidates, and many more uncomfortable looks. "They did, it's true. And they will. If you join us, chances are you're going to outlive some of your brothers and sisters in the Order. We don't all die young... but many of us have, and more will, too, and you'll feel the pain of it. But I want you to think about why they died, what was worth so much to them that they'd give up their lives for it."

"Second chances. The Barony's where people who don't have a home anymore go to make a new one. Twenty-two of my brothers died because they believed people deserve to live decent, happy lives. Raise their kids without fearing for their safety... practice their beliefs without fear of persecution... see the fruits of their labor to enjoy as they will, free from bondage. I know you believe that too -- I don't doubt that for a second, else you'd never have come all this way."

"These people need you. They need people like the twenty-two who died at the Estmore, people willing to work endlessly to better themselves and apply that skill to defending our Baron, our country, and always, always the innocent, wherever we may find them. We've saved so many lives... and I know you can help us save more."

"Most of you won't make it." Malcolm had counted more than two hundred, and as Seamus took another long look from one end of the crowd to the other, he knew his estimate wasn't far off. "One in ten. So fight hard, better yourself, and prove yourself to us. And if you're lucky... you'll be one of the Order's twenty-two new brothers and sisters."

"Welcome to Phase I of Knight Candidate Training." Seamus bowed his head, and graced them with a smile. Somewhere out there, in the crowd, were the newest members of his family waiting to rise to the challenge... "May God have mercy on your souls."
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Alain DeMuer
Ancient Wyrm
Ancient Wyrm


Joined: 18 Jul 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2012 1:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The first snowfall each year transformed New Haven into a new neighborhood: the frosted coat on the rooftops and icicles dangling from the eaves nearly fooled Alain into thinking it was a quaint coastal village apart from the narrow and crowded streets that made up the rest of RhyDin, more like the isolated communities in the Barony or the fishing villages up the coast from his fallen home, New Brittany.

Even the Lodge looked different, a warm and inviting refuge from the winter instead of a school where men and women dedicated their lives to studying the art of war. The long lake it overlooked was frozen over already, and the sloop at the docks would stand a frozen vigil for the rest of the reason. But the Baron's eyes didn't wander long...

"Formations!"

One thing the coming winter did not change was the Order's rigorous training, nor its need to replace its fallen comrades. When Seamus shouted the command over one hundred knight-candidates divided into six perfect squares, crisscrossing the yard and brushing past one another to their assigned locations almost seamlessly, navigating by the paths of their brothers- and sisters-in-training in the Lodge's featureless yard.

"What lovely choreography," Seamus half-sang at them. "But it's not a dance. Don't get me wrong -- great metaphor, I'm sure you've heard it all the time, but combat's not a dance. Tonight I will take a number of you aside and you will be assassins. Tomorrow morning you will take down your assigned target on their way to formation. Any assassin who fails to take down their target will run two extra miles. Any victim who is taken down will run two extra miles. That should stop our little exercise resembling your prom..."

Seamus paused; he knew the feeling when someone was watching him, and looked back to his shoulder, glimpsing his Baron standing in front of the chapel. His grin tightened for a moment, but he pressed on: "...and if it does, I envy your high school years. Twenty minutes for chow, then meditation. Dismissed."

One-hundred-odd fatigue-clad candidates broke formation and funneled toward the dining hall, finally letting loose the jokes, the insults, the other signs of their growing bond when they thought the Knight-Captain wasn't watching -- though this time he wasn't. He bee-lined across the yard to his Baron's side: this was his first time observing the knight-candidates up close, and so Seamus' immediate question was, "Is something wrong?"

"I'm fine," Alain dismissed the question in the next breath, and a beat later his eyes smiled, crinkling at the corners. "Past time I caught up. Don't you agree?"

Seamus was thrown off-balance by the question. The last he had gleaned from the Baroness through bits and pieces, the last he'd had time apart from training the candidates, the Baron was in no condition for most of his duties, shutting himself off from anything he found painful.

Alain didn't wait for him to recover. "We lost more today, didn't we... Send me full reports on all of the failed candidates, and send them on to assist with the Newbreton survivors for the rest of the week. I'll have alternative job offers ready for them by Friday."

This time Seamus managed, "Of course, milord. It's... good to have you back. Is there something... anything else I can do for you?" he pressed, searching the other man's countenance for some little sign of what still plagued him.

There was plenty that still haunted Alain DeMuer, but one after another he was finding places to chain up his ghosts so he could move forward again. He shook his head: "Just keep up the good work, and I'll see you again soon." There was nothing else to say. He pushed off from the wall and jogged away from the chapel, off to the truck waiting for him and his next appointment.
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