Last Stand of the Irinthar

From World of Charun

By The Griffin, first and last paladin of Randar

Contents

I

King Alrinal faced his army, gathered a short distance from Thunder Hall.

The Griffin shivered, a mixture of nervousness and the cold air and a bit of awkwardness at being the tallest one in the crowd. He considered saying something annoying to lighten the mood, but thought better of it. This was not a time for irreverence, not even for him.

"Irintharin!" King Alrinal looked at the assembled soldiers gravely. "Irintharin, hear me!"

The Mórail stood in perfect ranks, unmoving, listening with rapt attention.

"Not since our arrival to these mountains have we suffered such loss of life," King Alrinal continued. "And never in all our years have we suffered as we now suffer! Our homes... overrun by the foul creatures. Our people... slaughtered by the evil from below... AND NOW WE MUST TAKE OUR HOME BACK!"

In one voice the Mórail soldiers responded with a mighty roar that filled the valley and echoed of the mountains.

I take it we're not planning to use the element of surprise in our favor...

The Griffin glanced over at Ethuar. The captain stood transfixed on King Alrinal's words, almost mesmerised by their power.

King Alrinal is one of the most charismatic Mórail I've ever met, the Griffin admitted to himself. Not that it's saying much. But he beats out most Half-men and more than a few humans to boot...

"Come now!" King Alrinal shouted. "Today we march, today we retake what is ours!"

The army responded with a roar, and they were off.

They marched in grim determination toward the great bridge that crossed the chasm to the entrance of Thunder Hall. The Griffin fell in beside Captain Ethuar, who led one of the contingents of soldiers who would be engaging the enemy first.

"War again," the Griffin murmured as he fell in step. "Try not to get yourself killed, eh?"

He thought he saw Ethuar smiling underneath his helmet, but the Mórail said nothing.

As they came to the great bridge, King Alrinal called for the army to halt. He motioned his captains to him, and Ethuar broke rank to gather with the others as they spoke quietly and urgently among themselves. Finally, Ethuar turned to the Griffin and motioned him forward.

The Griffin walked up and looked at them questioningly.

"Griffin," Ethuar said, "we need you to scout ahead. Give us numbers and positions."

The Griffin nodded, and pulling his cloak around him he coaxed out the shadows and melted into them with a whisper.

"Bloody hate when he does that," Ethuar muttered.

The Griffin crept along the bridge, dancing from shadow to shadow as they presented themselves. There were almost exclusively Urmen crossbowmen on the bridge, he noticed. And while they were alert -- they couldn't have missed the Irintharin warcries from earlier -- they were looking in the wrong direction.

They were looking down.

Echoes are a funny thing in the mountains. They think we're farther away than we are.

The Griffin travelled the length of the bridge, making a mental note of troop movements, and finally he came to the wall that enclosed the courtyard outside Thunder Hall. He calmly counted heads and weapons, then turned and made his way back.

He gave a low whistle before he emerged from the shadows, so as not to unduly startle an entire army of nervous Irintharin, then related all he knew.

King Alrinal nodded. "Good work," he said, then turned to his army. "Forward! ATTACK!"

The Griffin readied the Niematharin bow he'd picked up at the Battle of Last Stand and notched an arrow in its string. The bow was exceptionally well-crafted -- reminded him of Windsplitter, the bow he'd carried at the battle of Kurash.

Don't go drawing parallels with that bloody battle. Last thing you want is to get dragged into Hell again...

The Griffin moved up with Ethuar's division. They would secure the bridge, and the rest of the army would take the courtyard. The Griffin didn't bother hiding -- he was marching in the middle of a division of dwarves in plate mail. It seemed somehow superfluous.

Crossbow bolts whistled past the Griffin's head.

"I think they see us."

"Aye," Ethuar agreed. "So we charge. Charge!"

The Irinthar troops surged forward. The Griffin positioned himself at the back, and began firing at Urmen with his bow. One shot rang true, and the Urman toppled back off the bridge, into the ravine below, as the Irinthar surged into the others. The Griffin saw Urmen desperately trying to switch from their crossbows to their swords as they were hacked to pieces by the fury of the Mórail.

"That went well," the Griffin said hopefully.

"Aye," Ethuar agreed. "But that was the easy part. Now we get to work in earnest."


II

The Irinthar had massed outside the gate that led to the Thunder Hall courtyard, and were readying a siege machine to take down the massive doors. The machine did it's work, the doors splintered, and the Irinthar streamed through, holding their shields high to block the rain of Urman quarrels that fell on them.

The Irinthar entered their homeland with a fury the Griffin had never seen before -- not at the Battle of Last Stand, certainly. This was not just a battle, it was vengeance... and the Urmen armies stationed outside Thunder Hall didn't have a chance: their shamans were cut down before they could launch their spells, their warriors were hacked to bits, their archers and crossbowmen were overwhelmed before they could ready a second shot. In less than half an hour the enemy forces outside the halls had been decimated.

King Alrinal ordered a contingent of Mórail to stay behind to secure the courtyard, and ordered the rest to prepare to assault Thunder Hall itself.

The Griffin found Ethuar near the massive twin doors to Thunder Hall.

"How do you think this is going to go? I mean, not to cast aspersions on the ability of an Irintharin to fight... but we're also dealing with the ability of an Irintharin to build an impregnible fortress, which, unfortunately, is sort of being used against you at the moment."

Ethuar nodded. "I don't know," he said simply.

"Right..." the Griffin looked at the massive doors and sighed. "Not exactly the reassuring answer I was looking for..."

Ethuar grinned. "Since when does Skybreaker's paladin want reassuring answers?"

The Griffin snorted. "Serving Skybreaker doesn't mean I don't want them. It just means I don't get them."

"Ready the first wave," King Alrinal commanded.

Again, Ethuar's troops lined up to prepare for the initial assault. The Griffin fell in with them, bow at the ready.

"In!" King Alrinal ordered, and Ethuar and his men -- the Griffin with them -- obeyed.

It had taken a few hours to force open the doors to Thunder Hall. During that time, the courtyard had been eerily silent, and when the doors were finally opened the passage beyond was dark and silent as well.

Almost as if it were abandoned... though we know that's a load of bollocks.

The troops marched in. "Keep your wits about ye," Ethuar ordered. "We know our foe isn't as weak as some of their kin in the mountains."

Ethuar had told the Griffin about the different Urman breeds that lived beneath Thunder Hall... pure-blooded breeds of huge Urmen that hadn't been tainted with their lesser kin above.

Almost as soon as they landed in the entranceway, the Griffin saw them.

They looked very much like the Urmen that lived in the caves near Elmwood, but they were larger, stronger and faster. They did not focus on glory as they fought, nor did they cry out challenges. They simply fell on their enemies viciously and resolutely -- almost like the Irinthar in that respect -- with obvious skill.

They came pouring out of two rooms to either side of the entrance, while others came charging down the hall. Immediately, Ethuar's men were overrun, and the Griffin had to put away his bow and draw Hope. He tried to assist Ethuar's men, fading in and out of the shadows, cutting into the sides of the Urmen, but there were too many. He turned to face an Urman warrior's blade cutting into his face.

He staggered back as the blade cut again, and again -- into his side, into his legs. Finally it cut deep into his neck, and he fell, gurgling.

Everything went black.

Everything went bright.

He was standing in a darkened room, facing a throne of skulls.

"Bloody hell," the Griffin muttered.

He looked around. He was alone.

"Funny," he said. "I rather expected to see more Irinthar."


III

The Griffin gasped and opened his eyes. The dim light of Thunder Hall still blinded him compared to the darkness of Gesanis' realm, and his lungs burned from wounds that were now rapidly healing.

A grey-haired Mórail stood over him, looking at him carefully.

"I need to save my healing powers, human," the Mórail said. "Stick to your bow."

"That was always my plan," the Griffin muttered, and sat up.

They had taken and secured the hall that led into the great commons of Thunder Hall. More Irinthar warriors were present; they were massing for a push into the commons itself.

The Griffin grabbed his bow and staggered to his feet. He saw Ethuar being treated by another priest, wiping blood -- his and goblin, both -- off of his forehead.

"You look good," the Griffin said.

"You're a liar," Ethuar replied.

"Gather!" King Alrinal commanded, and the Irinthar fell into formation. Down the hall, into the commons, the rhythmic sound of Urman-drums could be heard.

The Griffin hastily fell into place at the back of the soldiers, bow ready.

"Charge!" King Alrinal roared, and as one the Mórail surged forward, pouring into the commons. There the Griffin saw thousands upon thousands of Urmen, waiting to receive the charge.

The two armies met with a sound the Griffin couldn't describe. He began firing arrows at any target that presented itself -- there were so many there seemed little point in being selective.

The Urman shamans were surrounded by a red haze, which seeped into the Irintharin ranks, causing many to fall. The Irinthar priests were surrounded by a brilliant silver glow, and a fire swept through the Urmen, charring bodies and causing many to flee. The Urman warriors pierced through the front rank of the Irinthar, only to be cut down by the Mórail who followed. The Irinthar warriors hacked a path through the Urmen, only to be cut off and cut down by the ones that followed.

Hours passed. The Halls were filled with the smell of sweat and blood and excrement, and the sounds of rage, desperation and dying. Eventually the Urman ranks broke, and the Irinthar surged through, slaughtering the fleeing forces.

"We've taken the upper halls!" someone cried, and the Mórail broke out into a ragged cheer. The Griffin cheered with them.

"Secure this position," King Alrnal commanded. "We are not done yet."

Exhausted, the Griffin leaned against a wall, kicked a corpse out of the way, and sank to the ground. "How long do you think we have?" he asked a soldier who stood panting beside him.

"Hour maybe," the Mórail said. "If we're lucky."

"Great," the Griffin muttered. "Here's to luck."


IV

The Griffin took a few minutes to rest, then began to gather as many arrows as he could. The Irintharin were busy fortifying their positions. The Griffin kept himself out of their way as best he could; he was not an engineer and would only get in the way.

They ate, the priests prayed, some rested as best they could in their armor. None dared actually remove any of their armor... no-one was fool enough to believe they were actually safe, or that they had won the day.

Sirine favored them by giving them a full hour and a half before they heard Urman drums.

The drums were, coming from the lower levels of the hall. As the drums grew louder, they heard something else.

"Singing?" Ethuar asked.

"Chanting," one of the priests replied.

The skin on the back of the Griffin's neck grew ice-cold, and then, in a very specific location, where the back of his neck joined with the top of his back, he felt something burn. He cried out in surprise as his hand flew to the back of his neck.

Ethuar looked at him in alarm. "What's the matter?"

The Griffin gritted his teeth and forced himself to shake it off. "The demon is with them," he said.

Ethuar's eyes widened. "How the hells do you know -- no, nevermind, I don't want the answer to that..."

"Get ready!" King Alrinal ordered. "They will be upon us soon!"

The Griffin ignored the fire on his neck, which had receded from "agonizing" to "searingly uncomfortable," and readied his bow.

The whistle of arrows and crowssbows flew overhead. "Here they come!" The Griffin shouted.

And with a roar, the Urman army attacked.

The Urmen poured into the commons, wave after wave, and threw themselves against the Irinthar ranks with what seemed to the Griffin like zealous fervor. The Irinthar ranks staggered back momentarily, but the line held, and each time the Urmen attacked they were broken and forced back.

For an hour they fought, and for an hour the Irinthar held. King Alrinal bellowed his orders, and the Mórail obeyed with enormous discipline, never breaking rank, never dissolving into a rout.

By this time the Griffin had emptied his quiver and was forced to melee. Drawing Hope and raising his shield, he skipped into the shadows, emerging only to strike at an Urman who was unlucky enough to wander his way. Each time he did, the room filled with the smell of sea air before a storm.

And then, while he fought, the Griffin began to smell brimstone, and the fire on his neck burned more fiercely.

"It's coming!" the Griffin shouted, but it had already arrived.

The creature burst into the room in the midst of a billow of black smoke, it's wings burning fiercely, a cruel smile on its lips. It reached down with an arm and broke through the first rank of Mórail, scattering their broken bodies across the hall. The Irinthar roared, and tried to press the attack, but the demon cut through them like they were made of paper.

The Irintharin priests prayed their spells, and the demon stumbled. King Alrinal roared a challenge and waded in toward it, striking at it with his sword. The demon fell back, and the Irinthar, heartened, pressed forward. King Alrinal and the demon fought each other as the armies clashed around them, each inflicting grievous wounds on the other. But the demon, the Griffin saw, was weakening. Slowly but surely, ichor seeped out of its body and on to the floor.

If Alrinal can hang on just long enough...

King Alrinal's blade fell upon the creature, cutting a huge gash on its side. The Mórail cheered, and the Urman armies wailed, as the demon rocked back, stumbling...

... and then a pillar of fire surrounded it, and when it stepped out, all its wounds were gone.

The demon smiled.

Alrinal roared, and resumed the fight. Again -- incredibly -- Alrinal withstood the creatures spells and deadly blows as again -- incredibly -- he started to wear it down. The demon was rocked back by blow after blow as Alrinal, shouting "Irinthar!" the entire time, relentlessly pressed his attack.

And again, as a grievous blow by the Irintharin king cut deep into the demon's flesh, it was surrounded by a pillar of flame... and again it stepped out, all wounds healed.

King Alrinal stood before the creature, sword raised in defiance, eyes clear and unafraid. But this would be his last stand; the Griffin could see that Alrinal was grievously wounded, and this time he would not be able to do what he had done twice before.

"I do not fear you, creature!" King Alrinal said.

"I know," the demon replied. "Disappointing."

With a mighty swing the creature lashed out at the Irinthar king. King Alrinal, greatest king the Irinthar had ever known, sailed through the air and slammed into the wall with such force the stone cracked. When he fell to the ground, he did not move.

The Griffin was not a stranger to war. He'd fought in the wars waged beneath Thunder Hall centuries back, he'd fought against Garagor's forces in Kurash, and he'd fought -- at least, he thought he had -- fought in many wars in his time in Hell. And he had seen the many ways that armies had reacted when their greatest of leaders had fallen in battle.

For some, the death of their leader filled them with despair, and the ranks broke, and the soldiers fled. For some, the death of their leader caused the leader's subordinates to pull back, regroup, restore morale, and lead them to win the day... or survive to fight again.

Here in Thunder Hall, the Griffin saw the Mórail see their king die. And as King Alrinal moved no more, the Irinthar did not flee, nor did they pull back to regroup. They raised their weapons and closed their ranks, and charged into the thick of their foes. Their king had died protecting their home, and they would do no less.

They fought no less fiercely, with no less resolve, but the tide of battle had turned. The Griffin watched helplessly as Mórail after Mórail was cut down, either by Urmen or the demon itself.

His attention was drawn to a struggle across the hall -- Captain Ethuar was beset by three Urmen, and bleeding heavily. The Griffin slipped into the shadows and made his way there. He emerged and struck down an Urman as Ethuar felled the second. Together, they cut down the third.

The Griffin turned to face Ethuar. "You're hurt," he said, and offered Ethuar a potion. Ethuar took the potion and drank, nodding his thanks, as some of his strength returned to him.

They were in a brief island within the battle. No enemy was around them, and they could see it all: small clusters of Mórail, fighting back to back, surrounded by Urmen, closing in on the clusters resolutely.

"This war is not going well," Ethuar said.

"No," the Griffin replied. "It really isn't. I don't think we're going to get a chance to finish the other one."

Ethuar laughed at that -- half-bitter, half-amused. "No, I think you're right. But you better be going, now. There's nothing you can do for us here."

The Griffin frowned.

"Stop that. We're doomed. Someone should to live to tell the rest of the world about the last stand of the Irinthar."

The Griffin hesitated, then forced his voice to sound cheerful. "Well, I've always said that the human race has always survived by craven acts of cowardice. I suppose we might as well prove it."

Ethuar laughed again, and raised his sword. "Get out of here, Griffin. Your god protect you. Remember me well."

Ethuar shouted a challenge to the room, and charged.

The Griffin sank into the shadows, but he did not leave -- not then. He stayed to watch his friend be cut to ribbons by Urmen, stayed to watch the demon rip Mórail to pieces and scatter their limbs across the halls... he stayed until he saw the last Mórail fall.

Only then did he creep through the massive doors of the Thunder Halls... only to see the devastation repeated again, Mórail blood staining the freshly fallen snow.


EPILOGUE

The Griffin sat in the shadow of the courtyard wall of Thunder Hall, watching the snow fall.

The stain on the ground had been covered by the snow, leaving only a covering of white. The snow was falling quickly enough so that bodies were mostly covered. In an hour, there would be no trace of the battle at all, only the footprints of Urmen as they walked in triumph around the courtyard itself.

The demon had disappeared into the Thunder Halls. The bodies were ignored and left to lie unattended, slowly disappearing beneath the white.

The Irinthar of Thunder Hall are no more.

It was a difficult concept to grasp. All those lives... that massive army... gone.

When Griffin had emerged from Thunder Halls, he saw the Irinthar being slaughtered left and right. When the demon appeared, it only made the inevitable occur faster.

He travelled across the bridge and told the soldiers holding it what had happened. To the last, they all raised their weapons in salute and rushed in to die with their comerades. All Griffin could think to do was watch them die, and remember.

Who is left? A few surviving women and children who escaped... 200, maybe 300 wounded Irintharin on the field of the Last Stand... that's it. Unless there are Irinthar in the mountains somewhere...

The demon's army now possessed Thunder Hall. And the Griffin wondered what they would do next: now that they no longer had to contend with the Irinthar, who had kept them at bay for centuries, would the demon want to extend his reach to other lands as well?

Night was approaching. This battle had started at the break of dawn, and had extended through the day. There was nothing left to do here, the Griffin decided; wrapping himself deeper in the shadows, he began the long journey home.

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