At Her Mercy
It was becoming the expectation for each clash with the chimera to see The Queen of Light and The Iron Lord charging into the fray on their own and hoping to outdo the other. More than one wager had been made between the Rayward and Rustwatch fighting men about who would walk always with the lion’s share of the glory during any given skirmish. Every night the war camps of the two nations were filled with embellished stories of how their respective sovereigns had fought on the battlefield that day. The silent feud that lay between Dimona and Coal was the single most potent force that drove the joined campaign further from the seal wall of the Iron Lord’s city and ever deeper into the unknown dangers that lay in the wilds of the Ironside continent.
This exchange with the monstrous bests was progressing just like the last half a dozen had gone. The bulk of the Rayward and Rustwatch armies were entrenched in heavy combat that offered little give while Coal and Dimona had both struck deep into the heart of the chimera horde. While the rank and file solders of the Argaian people fought the beasts in a tightly pitched battle, chimera fell in droves as the Rayward Queen and the Iron Lord continued to feed their rivalry with a hail of killing blows. It was like watching a volcano erupting during a lightning storm when the two warriors of legend pressed the attack with their respective fighting styles. Coal fought with a hot unchained fury that saw him transformed into a flurry of blades dealing nothing but death. Dimona presented her killing acumen with all the poise and regal bearing that she brought into all other aspects of her existence. Her moves were precise and calculated but each strike came with a thunderous volume of power behind it. When swept up into the heat of battle they were just as mighty and deadly as any force of nature that touched the world. They were also as reckless.
Dimona quickly returned her arm behind the safety of her shied as she pulled her sword from the neck of a scaled creature that stood eye to eye with her, even while she was mounted atop her white charger. A few rings of chainmail that protected the joint in her swords arm’s elbow were split by the snapping jaws of a similarly imposing creature. Dimona shifted and twisted in her saddle as she kept her body form finding itself ripped open by chimera tooth and claw. She maintained an immaculate sense of discipline as she fought the overwhelming odds. The Rayward Queen passed on many an opportunity to strike a lethal blow because doing so would have meant that one of the other beasts would have a successful avenue of counter attack. Dimona only let her sword fly when the moment was right and she could slay one of the brutish creatures from the safety of heavy armor and a thick shield.
The Queen of Light risked a glance back through the surrounding mass of wretched beasts and glimpsed the battle line where the bulk of the fighting was taking place. Her eyes widened hungrily as she witnessed her knights crushing the chimera and breaking the enemy ranks. She felt a stir of pride as she saw the banners of Rayward at the front of the vanguard. It did her spirit well to see the flags of Rustwatch relegated to the flanks and reserves. Her dalliance was short as a powerful swipe from a bestial claw threatened to cave in Dimona’s skull. Without thought the Rayward Queen swayed out of the way and responded with a deadly thrust that opened a fatal cut on her attacker.
While the skill and magical potency of Dimona was too great for the surrounding mass of chimera to overcome, disaster still managed to find the Queen. Her fortune had held strong but her continued sting of luck was accruing heavy debts against her. The favor that she owed the world was called in when the jaws of a reptilian thing partly recognizable as an overgrown salamander found a small gap in the barding of Dimona’s charger. The horse let out a pitiful whinny as it toppled to the muddy ground and thrashed about in violent death throws. Dimona rolled to her knees just in time to avoid being trampled by a set of large cloven hooves, belonging to something that was equal parts lizard and goat. The Rayward Queen was lost in a mass of claws, teeth and terror but her courage did not wane. With magnificent valor she held her ground as she was beset on all sides with no path of escape. She knew that she would now have to wait until her troops cut a bloody trail from the front lines to her location.
In the thick of combat time seemed to become a sly trickster. Dimona could not tell if her battle on foot had lasted minutes or hours as her aching body was doused with sweat and desperation. Despite her sturdy platemail and broad shield, she moved with the grace and fluidity of royal ballet theater company veteran. Her blade never ceased moving either and Dimona was encircled by a rapidly growing pile of corpses. The Rayward Queen’s killing aptitude was formidable but her enemy’s numbers were grand and her stalwart defense was starting to lose its vigor.
Small cuts had been opened on the few parts of Dimona’s exposed skin, trophies of several close calls with her attackers. Her wounds were increasing in number and frequency as her fortitude diminished. Dimona longed to hear the clarion call of a Rayward cavalry charge braking through the mob of beasts and coming to her aid. The Queen of Light thought that her desire might have been answered sooner than she though as she heard something loud and violent rise above the garbled mess of growls and snarls that overwhelmed her. Her heart fell just as quick as it had risen when she saw the source of the new sound. It was not the valent knights of Rayward that had come to her rescue but the blood soaked visage of the Iron Lord.
Coal Roarkwin exploded through the chimera mob like a never-ending cannon volley. His blades move faster than the eye could follow and the only evidence that he wielded weapons at all was the trail of severed limbs and disembowel monsters that he left behind. The Iron Lord was a living storm of metal ripping the chimera formation asunder.
“I see you are still alive. I thought I was coming in here to find your remains,” Coal laughed at Dimona as he cut off the head of a bipedal hawk with the mane of a lion.
“I will never give you the satisfaction of seeing me dead. I will outlive you by ages you old ruin,” Dimona shot back as she continued deflecting mighty blows with her shield.
Dimona and Coal fought, not as a cohesive team but as two independent powerful killing forces. Their heated rivalry was stoked by the close proximity they shared. Each one increased the speed of their hands and feet so they could out race the other in the war game. Soon any tally of respective kills had been lost and the ground where Dimona and Coal fought was overtaken with a red mist as the speed which they delivered death to their enemies reached inhuman proportions. Not long after Coal’s arrival in the fray the heard of chimera had been reduced to a single remaining monster. Not to be robbed of the final blow by their rival both the Rayward Queen and the Iron Lord charged the beast like a tidal wave rushing to meet the shore.
The killing contest that had consumed Dimona and Coal blinded them to the peril that waited beyond victory. The two proud military leaders crashed into the lone chimera, Dimona with a solid overhead strike and Coal with a flurry of saber cuts. The creature died instantly at the hands of the Argaian warriors but whoever landed the precise finishing strike would forever be a mystery. The momentum of Dimona and Coal’s charge took them and the body of their last martial conquest over the side of a grassy hillcrest that had been obscured by the hectic swirling onslaught.
Dimona fell end over end. Her world was sky then grass and rocks, then sky again. She fell for what felt like a day. Each time her body struck the slick grass and soil of the sheer hillface her heart stopped for a split second as she awaited the sound of breaking bone. She continued her tumble and managed to catch a few fleeting images of the Iron Lord in a similar state of freefall. She cursed her haphazard charge and the name of the man who had spurred her on to such a reckless rush. Her self-loathing was cut short when a hard blow to the side of Dimona’s head dimmed her world into a jumbled haze before it turned to nothing but black and silence.
The Rayward Queen came back to consciousness with a sharp breath in. It felt like a full regiment of heavy cavalry was parading back and forth inside of her head. Her first though after acknowledging the blasts of pain under her skin was the question of how long she had been unconscious. She knew it could not have been a prolonged period as the day was still bright and none of her recently acquired wounds had accumulated any dried blood. She grit her teeth and willed herself to stand. She hoped to all powers older than she, that the fall down the hillside had not bestowed any debilitating injuries. The Rayward Queen was assaulted with shooting pain from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet but the agony was a welcome price that she paid to stand upright. Dimona scanned her current surroundings, her ears picked up the familiar sound of battle coming to a finish back atop the hill but her eyes offered a most unexpected treasure.
The sight of Coal laying still on the grass at the bottom of the hill filled Dimona with jubilance. She limped over to where her old foe was sprawled on the carpet of vibrant green. Her joy was lessened as she saw the man’s chest slowly rising and falling as he took shallow breaths. The Rayward woman sneered as she confirmed the Iron Lord had also survived the fall. Dimona looked down at the unconscious man and noted the large trickle of blood pouring from where his head had struck some nearby rocks.
The Queen of Light realized that the long fall down the hillside had provided her and her rival with a hefty dose of privacy. As she looked at the traces of Coal’s blood splashed on the rocks embedded in the soft earth she understood she had the opportunity to finish what nature had started. Dimona grabbed up a stone in her hand and positioned to strike the helpless man at her feet. The chance to finally finish the Iron Lord was right before her. She could end hundreds of years of mutual hate with one crushing movement and nobody would ever be the wiser. Dimona savored the moment and licked her bleeding lips with a primal hunger that only Coal’s death could sate.
The Rayward Queen’s moment of hesitation would mean that her murderous craving would have to go unsatisfied a time longer. The sound of a man’s war weary voice found Dimona at the bottom of the hill. “Your majesty, are you injured?” asked the man from the crest of the grassy knoll.
Dimona looked up the hill and saw a congregation of her knights along with a few Iron Men standing fast. “I am unhurt,” Dimona said while flicking her hateful eyes at the slumbering form of Coal. “The Iron Lord is alive as well,” she continued, speaking words that made her stomach ill.
“Praises, your majesty. The field is ours and the last of the chimera here have been ended,” called the knight from the hilltop as he and some of his brothers in arms began making the descent towards Dimona and Coal. “We have received an urgent dispatch from Rustwatch though,” continued the man tentatively.
“What news from the Iron Lord’s city?” Dimona asked with well masked disappointment.
“It is grave, my queen. The city has come under attack once again. This time via the Bone Sea. Much of your navy has been sent to the depths by some great beast as it lays siege to the seal wall,” called the knight.
Dimona quelled her urge to scream at the top of her lungs. Instead her anger was silently manifested as her impossibly powerful grip crushed the stone she held in her hands. Her rage was further intensified as her attention was drawn to the guttural sound of an unmistakable voice.
“Seems we need to cut our little adventure short and return to my city,” said Coal from where he lay on the grass. He sat up and shook his head while investigation the flowing wound on his temple with a probing finger.
Dimona said nothing more and only offered the man sitting at her feet a look that was a sharp as an executioner’s axe. The queen began to make her way back to the rest of her regiment. Each stomp of her armored feet upon the soft earth illustrated the vast degree of frustration she was holding inside.
“Do not worry, I am sure we can make room for you and your lads back home and keep you safe from whatever it is calling at our gate,” Coal laughed after the seething Rayward queen.
Dimona dare not look back at Coal. She knew if she saw the smug look that the man was most certainly wearing then she would lose all control and attack him with animalistic ferocity. She pushed thoughts of the Iron Lord and his overdue demise from her mind to focus on the news at hand. “I will take council in my field tent, then we will make for the city,” Dimona ordered. Temporarily riding her mind of Coal Roarkwin and planning for the new siege at Rustwatch was the only way she would make it to the end of the day. Her reality had been reduced down to bitterness and irritation. If she was to be free of her perpetual vexation then the Iron Lord was going to need to die and die soon. At this point she conceded that his death need not come by her own hand, so long as Coal was forever parted form this world, Dimona would be content.