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A WARBAND DIVIDED
Anondo swung his Vinfae ferociously, too fixated on the battle at hand to allow the overwhelming odds and imminent end to discourage his blade. If he were going to die, he much preferred his end to be met valiantly, and as late as possible. If his heart were to engage with what his head knew, he would have neither the strength nor desire to press on a moment more.
The appearance of the enemy had been swift and sudden, a perfect tactical assault in his mind. They had swept down upon them from the road running north into Tontha, the one side from which no one had anticipated an attack.
The force with which the Dairne-Reih battered Anondo’s men was much akin to that of a spear driving through and splitting a target in two. It was the simplest of all tactics, but remained one of the oldest and most effective.
The enemy war host had run into their camp largely unheralded. Those men at the head of the defending line had taken the brunt of the barrage, driven back and run over, their bodies beaten to a pulp in the stampede. Only a few had managed to keep their wits about them, Anondo being one of them.
Demons flew overhead, leaping off the backs of their cohorts, vying for prey as the spearpoint of their assault continued to bury itself deep into the throng of unsuspecting men.
“Watch your back!”
Anondo spun around, sword arcing in one hand, spear in the other, both aiming toward a Dairneag of no unusual size. The beast raised a horned fist, but the twin tips of Anondo’s weapons sliced through the demon’s gut, spilling out its innards. Suddenly the carcass pressed toward him in the crush, his body quickly enveloped by the creature’s gash, covered in its blood and bile. He stumbled backwards, trying to move away from the momentum, knowing that if he were to fall it would mean his end. At the last second his back struck something solid, another man or beast perhaps, and his fall righted. To his relief, the carcass of the demon was suddenly flung skyward, being hoisted by another Dairneag behind, this one of considerably larger size.
Anondo jabbed without hesitation. His spear drove into the demon’s loins, producing a deafening screech from the foe. Enraged, it swung a scaly hand full of horns, each bathed with glistening fluid. Anondo ducked but felt the burn of sharp daggers sweep across his shoulder blade, tearing into his flesh. The demon raised its arms high, double-fisted. Anondo followed his spear jab with another from his mighty Vinfae, slightly above the previous penetration. The Dairneag bellowed again and then slammed its hands down on Anondo’s back with devastating power.
The crushing blow delivered to his spine sent Anondo to the ground in a gasping heap, his sword and spear still in the midsection of his attacker. The beast raised its arms again for the deathblow.
Anondo rolled over to watch. He saw his weapons dangling just above his head.
The double-fisted blow came.
But in the time it took for the demon to lower its arms, Anondo had retrieved the spear and righted it, pointing it straight up into the oncoming hands of his attacker.
The demon wailed, his hands now bound together, flailing, completely forgetting about his target. For the demon it was a tragic mistake; for Anondo, it was all the time he needed.
He rolled to his knees and shook his head, trying to shove off the pain that nearly immobilized his body. He took a deep breath and reached out for his Vinfae. The weapon withdrew easily from the wound, and Anondo shoved the blade directly upward, a third and final cut into the Dairneag’s midsection. The injured beast moaned and then finally fell to one side. Anondo was quick now to regain his feet, knowing the battle was far from over.
He retrieved his spear.
Two more Dairneags closed from either side. One was temporarily sidetracked by one of Anondo’s men, which allowed Anondo to take care of the second. He feinted a wide swing and then a follow-through jab for the demon. His own attack was countered and taken by the beast’s bone-plated forearms, glancing off wildly. The Dairneag reached for Anondo’s head with both hands, but the attempt was slow. Anondo ducked and sidestepped the monster, plunging the twin points of his weapons into its side. The Dairneag tried to spin to face Anondo, but the effort only furthered the wound and eventually sent the beast to the ground.
Sadly, the first Dairneag finished with Anondo’s kinsman and then turned for him once more. Fresh blood stained the monster’s hands and mouth. This particular foe was covered with small horns protruding from individual plates all over its body, a sort of spiked defensive armor. Anondo couldn’t recall ever seeing anything quite like it. Despite his fatigue and injuries, he couldn’t help but suspect that these Dairneags were somehow stronger that he had ever remembered. And now, seeing a new type of armor, he wondered if in fact his conjecture held any merit.
The beast glowered at him, uttering a growl from within its throat, a distinct indication of intent to converge. Anondo was in no condition to take his time and decided he must look for the swiftest means possible of felling this foe. The giant strode to within an arm’s length of him and drove its spike-laden knuckles forward like a battering ram.
Anondo leaned out of the way.
But instead of pulling back its arms, the Dairneag swung them laterally, striking Anondo’s shoulder. He stumbled sideways, but remained on his feet and turned to face his opponent.
The monster huffed in pride and swung again, a backhanded blow blocked by Anondo’s spear shaft. It then drove its other fist forward as before, aiming once again for Anondo’s comparatively smaller head.
This time Anondo would strike back. He ducked the blow, and as before, drove his spear at the Dairneag’s loins. But the spear bounced off the protective plate and left nothing more than a scratch.
Not only that, but Anondo was too slow.
The Dairneag reached down and with one mighty hand pinned him at the waist. He felt a horn puncture his abdomen. But the burning was forgotten when the demon hoisted him off his feet and threw him into a mass of men and Dairne-Reih. His head slammed hard against a fellow warrior’s helmet, and he felt the breaking of ribs from within his chest. His right arm went numb from searing pain, and it was all he could do to keep his vision from going black.
He squinted, desperately holding on to consciousness.
The spiked demon charged. Anondo was convinced he saw it smile, its wicked eyes gleaming from between plates over its face. He felt the rumble of its stride travel through the ground and pound in his head. His left hand still clutched his spear, but the shaft was broken and the spearhead gone, his Vinfae surely lost in the tumult when his right arm had broken. The vibration of the ground increased with each pounding step the Dairneag took toward him.
The demon pulled back its fists a last time, ready to drive them into Dionian flesh.
There was nothing he could do.
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