Mors Prope

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…the scuffed and worn axe swung through the air, connecting with its intended victim at the point where the shoulder met the neck, just as Tobias’ father had shown him when he was a boy. The Barrister armour was tough where it needed to be, but there were weaknesses if you knew where to aim.

The tarnished blade continued on its trajectory, burying itself deep into the damned soldier. It did not sever the head, but the man wouldn’t be of concern any more. Tobias took another step forward and spun, momentarily turning his back to the attacking, thousand-strong army. As he did so, he crouched, avoiding the swing of a glistening sword that whooshed over him. Focusing the spinning inertia into his weapon, he drove it through the legs of the man who brandished the glistening sword. The bones popped like burning branches of the clan's campfire the night before.

Tobias heard a scream, but it was one of the dozens that surrounded him as other limbs and bodies fell to the sodden ground. Ground his family had farmed for generations. Ground he’d worked all of the thirty-two hard years of his existence. He knew which crops were best to plant just by the feel of the soil, even the taste of it. But that didn’t matter anymore. It was useless now. It would take years of falling rain to cleanse the earth of what was happening today.

It was on this green, undulating land that his father had trained him. From a young age he was swinging an axe at a tree stump dressed in the regalia of the Barristers. It was like his father knew this day would come. Yet he would never see it, for his last moments were spent at the end of a rope, suspended by three men adorned with the same uniform as that battered and chipped old stump.

The Barrister tumbled to the ground, his shiny weapon at his side and hands splayed around what remained of his legs. Tobias didn’t spare the man a thought as he burst up from his crouched position, swinging his axe upwards and into the jaw of another enemy. The fool was running towards Tobias as best as his cumbersome armour would allow, his sword held high, uncontrolled and uncoordinated. He was yelling something indiscernible that was lost to the cacophony of metal clashing and men dying. Tobias’ axe barely slowed as it tore through the fool's helmet, flinging it into the air and silencing the man forever. The spray of blood spattered Tobias’ painted face and blurred his vision. He blinked quickly in succession and rubbed his eyes with a bound, gloved hand made from rabbit skin. Rabbits that he and his father had snared together the day before the Barristers visited their farm. Tobias’ eyes narrowed at the memory. His focus returned in time to see a shimmering white light fill his vision…

… Fowler wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. He’d just witnessed that Godless bastard take David - his childhood friend - from this earth, and he wouldn’t let him die in vain. The two teenagers grew up near the border, under the constant threat of the savages who crossed the ranges in search of deer. Deer that belonged to Fowler and his family. They hunted wild beasts with their bare hands, roaming the forests like a pack of wolves. Devouring their prey where they fell. Everyone knew this. He and David had come across one such pack many moons ago. They’d hid amongst the undergrowth and listened as several wild-haired, dirty scavengers conversed in some pig-dialect, their mouths and hands stained red from a fresh kill.

Fowler was afraid of them then, but not now. Not when they fell at his blade. Not when they’d taken his blood-brother from him. The sharpened, silver sword sliced through another savage. The sight of the victim’s eyes widening and the stream of red pouring from his gasping mouth fuelled Fowler’s anguish. With each lunge and swipe of his weapon another Wildman fell. The image of his slain friend never left his mind. He would never see him again, and now he would make sure that this barbaric enemy suffered the same fate.

He was surrounded by a blur of conflict, and watched as one by one this plague succumbed to the power of the Almighty. He glanced up at the sun that hung against the brilliant blue sky. It shone down upon them as if pleased with their actions. Proud of their purge. It was then that he felt a pain in his side. It was hot and wet, like dripping wax. He was confronted with what appeared to be a crazed, hysterical woman. Long greasy hair was streaked across her face. The area around her eyes and mouth were painted black, making her appear like a menacing skull. She swiped at him again, her curved blade penetrating the connection between Fowler’s breast and back plate, coming to a stop somewhere deep behind his ribs. He gasped at the searing pain, which turned to a gargled cry as the knife was twisted, churning his insides. The Medusa-like figure filled his restricted vision from the confines of his helmet. She was screaming at him, as if possessed by the Devil. They truly were savages. She leapt up and wrapped her wiry arms and legs around his encased body. He stumbled backwards, clattering to the ground. Sat on his chest, the Medusa raised her hands high into the air, letting out an unearthly shrill as she did so. Fowler felt his warm blood drip onto his face through the visor of his helmet, then the sensation of…

…Mary knelt over the pathetic soldier, stabbing him over and over. A viscous, crimson liquid spilled from the dented helmet. She knew he was dead. He was killed after the first blow. But she also knew others were watching. If these bastards wanted savages, then that's what they'd get. They'd invaded her home and had their way with her. She’d now have her way with them. She screamed as she’d screamed that fateful day, but this time the cry was full of venge...

…The feral creature’s head was removed with ease. The Commander barely broke his stride. He was surveying the battlefield before the thing’s head was rolling across the red earth. His men were putting on a noble show. Their King would be proud. It was a shame that his earlier… persuasive methods had not swayed these animals, and that many of his men would come to an honourable end here today. But the King’s law would be respected.

Through the thin slit of his helmet, the Commander sighted his next victim. He marched towards it, his weighty armour clanking with each footstep. In his peripheral vision he saw another animal attempt an attack; it’s flimsy hammer - cobbled together from twine and a hunk of metal - ricocheted off his shoulder plate. The creature’s roar morphed from fury to pain as the Commander’s engraved, ornate sword sliced through its belly, spilling entrails onto the ground. A lenient sentence for its crime, the Commander mused.

He felt a weight on his back, then what felt like tentacles reach in under his helmet and begin to tug. With a hefty, lumbering arm he swiped at the attacker, but to no avail. He spun on the spot, trying to throw the assailant off, but the tugging continued. The helmet started to move, sliding up his sweat-covered face. With his sword at his side, he gripped at the helmet with his free hand, but the metal-plated glove restricted his dexterity. Inch by inch it was lifted, with the Commander rocking from side to side, until finally it was flung from his head, and the thing responsible for its removal fell to the ground.

The stale atmosphere of the helmet interior was replaced with the fetid stench of death. It was a scent he’d never grown accustomed to. It stained his nostrils and coated the back of his throat. Raising his sword, he turned and scowled at whoever was foolish enough to attack him. He was met by a small boy, maybe ten or eleven years old. His soft features and startling blue eyes reminded the Commander of his son, who waited for his return once this final conquest was over. He stared down at the child. His grip relaxed around his weapon and it fell to his side…

…Evan watched the arrow leave his bow and sail over the carnage, eventually striking its target between the eyes. He smiled to himself as the metal-clad soldier collapsed in a heap, and reached down for another arrow. The tensioned string quivered between his fingers as he peered down the sight and across the unfolding conflict. His aim was true, having spent his life hunting on these lands. Lands his ancestors had presided over, cared for, and were now being ravished by this invading threat. Evan watched his brothers and sisters fight bravely, knowing that the gathering around the campfire would be smaller tonight. Seeing another exposed enemy, he took a deep breath and tensed his body, ensuring that no arrow was wasted.

The sound of galloping rose above the roar of mutilation before him. It increased in intensity, the approaching thunder interspersed with the unmistakable groans of war horses being pushed to their limit.

Evan spun around to be greeted by a charging cavalry. His mouth fell open at the sight of it. The poised arrow flew uselessly into the air, over the tops of the galloping hooves that engulfed him…

…hot breath bellowed from Steeler’s flared nostrils. Forced on by his master, the humans fell below him like a scythe through a cornfield. Through his iron-plated hooves he felt bones snap and shatter. But still his master did not relent; unconcerned with the unstable ground or the plight of his fellow-kind. It was not always like this. They had run before, together, through green open fields with no other humans in sight. At a time when his master was kind.

Steeler felt pain across his powerful, black body. Tight areas of heat burned with the flexing of his muscles. The blistering pain spread and grew, becoming more intense as it did so. Suddenly, something exploded inside of him, launching him up…

…the thick pike that Jacob held disappeared into the body of the charging beast. He watched as the rider was flung from the saddle and plummeted into the depths of the ensuing chaos. But the slain horse bucked and kicked out, falling onto its side before Jacob was able to move away. It was impossible to resist the weight of the steed, and it crushed Jacobs’ legs and torso as it fell. The initial flash of agony was replaced with an icy panic at the realisation that he was pinned, unable to move, with the air being slowly squeezed from his lungs. This was no way for him to go. He was a kind, caring man. He should have never left his peaceful home. His wife was sick, their children too young.

Footsteps approached, pulling Jacob’s attention back to the present. He was facing the other way, unable to turn to see who it was. Maybe it was a fellow clansman, coming to his aid, saving him from this plight. He would be carried home, back to the hills and fields of his childhood, and his loving family of five.

Something was muttered in a language Jacob didn't understand, and a cold implement was dragged across his neck…

“That’s for Steeler,” Marcus said, wiping the knife across his tunic. The knife was a gift from…