"The pungent smell of blood and smoke is the staple of any war; a testament to war's brutality, and the herald of the fall of entire civilizations. The war that he ushered in however, precipitated destruction like no other wars before it, and most likely no other wars would after it. That continent-altering conflict serves as the greatest testimony to humanity's ignorance and greed, and perhaps is the ultimate reason why the deities descended and brought punishment down upon our entire race." - Historian Yarnell, Records of the Fallen Empire
Against the backdrop of desolation surrounding him, a lone man brushed silently past his surroundings, his disheveled grey hair hanging loosely around the nape of his neck. A grating sound reminiscent of chalk being roughly utilized on a chalkboard was the only sound permeating the ominous atmosphere, as his iron greaves parted the sea of corpses comprising of Verdia's most elite soldiers in front of him. Behind him were the remains of what appeared to be a once prosperous city, now laid completely to waste by the ravages of war, with corpses of civilian men, women and children littering its cobblestone streets.
Click. Clack. The sound of his heavy steps upon the ground stained with the blood of his brothers-in-arms was haunting, carrying a sense of resignation within them. The man seemed defeated; his jet-black eyes were unfocused, causing one to feel as if he had lost all sense of purpose in life. His greatsword appeared to be exceptionally heavy based on the way the man was slowly dragging it on the ground behind him with both hands, although just two years ago, he could easily wield his preferred weapon of choice with a single arm.
A look of pain could be seen briefly flashing across the man's face, each time he walked past the body of a fallen comrade. His eyes lingered on each corpse; men of different builds and complexions, bearing almost no resemblance to each other barring two traits: the terrible maiming of their bodies, with most cadavers missing entire chunks of flesh leaving their inner cavities hollow, and the silver-white badge depicting a gigantic serpent with three swords piercing into its head, from the right, left, and upper sides respectively, displayed proudly on the upper left reaches of their now torn breastplates even in death's cold embrace.
With both arms, the man tossed his greatsword in one giant swing, screaming gutturally as his weapon slashed through the air with tremendous force, travelling in a beautiful arc towards the figure standing in front of him, who was only separated by a few meters of distance.
When the greatsword was about to collide, the figure slowly raised its arm, and chanted a few esoteric sounding syllables. Suddenly, she pointed to the tip of the greatsword, and a grey runic mark was projected out of her forefinger. Instead of hitting the figure, the greatsword's path was completely blocked by the mysterious rune. With a dull thud, the greatsword bounced back off the mystical barrier and landed harmlessly at the figure's feet as the runic mark slowly faded from sight, its energy completely used up. The figure's raven-black hair danced in the violent winds as it inspected the ravaged man who had tossed the weapon at it, slightly inclining its head downwards with a hint of sorrow in its wistful violet pupils.
Upon closer inspection, the silhouette was revealed to be a woman clad in steel battle-garments, the multiple dents on her chainmail armor along with the world-weary look affixed onto her countenance attesting that she was no stranger to war and the destruction that it brought. Her expression was cold, but despite the exhausted look on her face and her stoic demeanor, it still could not hide that she was much prettier than the average woman; her figure was lithe, features graceful, and face charming. However, years of war had hardened out many of the more delicate attributes of her female countenance. Her jawline was sharp, her eyes were frosty, and her hair was dry.
A legion of grim-visaged soldiers clad entirely in black were standing behind her, off in the distance, reminiscent of a flock of ravens blotting out the sun in the horizon.
She silently stared at the man in front of her. The man held her gaze, an expression of hatred tinged with regret reflecting from his jet-black eyes. For a moment, the battlefield was silent, bar the ghostly sound of the violent winds as they swept past them.
"General Lurenhart. Stop struggling, because any further resistance is futile. Uria's gates have already fallen, and its civilians are currently under military detainment. Your king has been executed by our Grand Marshal, and you've personally seen for yourself what has become of Verdia's Baneserpent Corps. Xavier appreciates the talent and leadership that you've displayed in this war, and extends his invitation to you in the hopes that you would join him as one of his generals," the woman said, breaking the tacit silence.
Upon hearing these words of "appreciation", the man laughed, cocking his head back and roaring manically, tears slowly making their way down his eyes to his prideful chin. "Katia. I've sacrificed so much to help him, and this is how he repays my service? With the cold-blooded, methodical execution of my people, and the ravaging of my homeland? Why? WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DRAW HIS IRE? WHY HAVE YOU LED NUVIAN ELITES TO SLAUGHTER THESE INNOCENTS?"
The woman addressed as Katia didn't reply. She silently bent down one knee on the rough ground, picking up one of a few ash-colored flowers that remained on the battlefield. The one in her hand was stained with the blood of a fallen soldier, and combined with her bloodstained armor, served only to highlight an aura of bloodlust surrounding her.
"You made the wrong choice. You hesitated when, three years ago, he asked you to swear fealty to him," Katia slowly replied, twirling the blood-stained flower in her hand with a solemn expression, "You tried to fight back against the mighty, indomitable river known as fate – and perhaps, one could say that you're currently paying retribution for your foolishness."
The man's eyes widened, utter disbelief displayed by the contorted expression on his face. "His ambition… wasn't just limited to that? Don't tell me that he plans to embroil the seven grand Nation-States into another great war…"
"You've realized it a bit too late," Katia sighed, clenching the flower in her hand tightly, ignoring the brambles digging tightly and drawing blood from her ungloved left hand. "Destiny… before I met him, I never would have believed in such a superstitious concept, an eldritch claim. Unfortunately, he was right. Preordinance does exist, and is closer to us than we could ever hope to think about or even imagine. No matter what we do, we can change only the 'path' that we take down this river and are helpless to alter its final destination. After all, who has the power to defy the Gods?"
"The legacy of the falling star… he's willing to turn this continent into a sea of corpses just to test out if such a preposterous thing is true? Nobody knows if the higher realms even exist!" The general muttered, his thoughts disconnected.
"If the legacy is true, then he'll be called a hero - the savior of humanity, for his sacrifices will be perceived as having had a noble purpose. If it isn't, he'll go down in history as one of the worst criminals of humankind… but that's a risk that he's willing to take, and one that I am willing to bear as well."
Upon finishing these words, Katia said no more, tearing the flower away from her bloody fingers and flinging it onto the ground. She was waiting to see whether or not the man in front of her would bend the knee.
If he would, then General Lurenhart would make her liege's plans go much more smoothly. If he wasn't willing to swear fealty… then she had no choice but to eliminate the man renown as the Monolithic General, because he would be a formidable enemy. Although she wished that the valiant general could live regardless of his choice, she could not disobey her liege's orders. It was much too late for her to deviate from the path that she had chosen to tread.
It didn't take long for her to receive her answer. Bringing his neck up to Katia's hand, his steely countenance already told her what his answer was.
Kill me, the steely look in his eyes said, for I refuse to serve a man who treats those without power like livestock, who is willing to forget all scruples of his morality in order to push his atrocious goals forward. No self-respecting sworn knight of any legion would be willing to bow their head to such a devil. Despite the reasons that you may have, I disdain your decision to grant him your loyalty.
"Very well," Katia muttered, bringing her index finger up to the center of the general's head, magical energies gathering on the tip of her finger in the form of a fiery circular rune that bore resemblance to the shape of a hawk. "Enjoy your one-way trip to the netherworld, old friend."
"What are you waiting for? Men, move out. We're heading to the Haoquin Empire, to meet another one of my old acquaintances, Yan Shin! Hopefully this time, we'll come back with an ally instead of a deceased body," Katia ordered to the soldiers standing neatly lined up behind her, as she finished up coalescing the elemental energies gathering on her fingertips before unleashing her runic magic point-blank at the defeated, yet proud general.
The last thing that General Lurenhart saw before his consciousness slipped off into eternal slumber was the poignant frown on Katia's face… although he thought his eyes were deceiving him as they are wont to do during moments of life-and-death, but it seemed to him as if an eternity of sorrow and remorse were reflected in her pale countenance. However, unbeknownst to both him and Katia, a pale blue light, dimly emanating from the necklace hidden beneath his armor, deftly floated upwards to the sky and disappeared into the horizon, both the light's purpose and final destination unknown.
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