– – –
When the enemy finally turned and fled eastward, Luik heard the entire army of Dionia break into a terrifying bawl. Luik couldn’t help but join them when he saw that even Morgui was fleeing.
The men ran down the enemy stride after stride, cutting them down one after the other. They laid waste to everything that moved, disemboweling, splitting spines, and breaking skulls. They spared nothing and gave no quarter. If the enemy ran, they ran faster. If the enemy screamed, they yelled louder.
Though the work was laborious, not a man among them thought of stopping, not until every demon was driven from Dionia forever. They surged forward, aggression consuming them and victory thick in their heads. For the first time in their lives, they had the enemy on the run.
They had won.
It was a glorious moment for them all. Their heads swirled with excitement as their swords and spears brought justice back into the land. The archers ran forward, sending wave after wave of stinging missiles into the throng ahead. Even the horses routed the enemy, driving into the demon hordes and trampling them under their hooves. Farther and farther east they went, driving the enemy relentlessly. There was nowhere to hide, and the men of Dionia were enthralled in the euphoria of triumph.
Many times Luik could see Morgui’s generals shouting orders and trying to make a stand. But the army’s momentum was too great, and any Dairneag that stopped to oppose was overrun and consumed in the maddening rush.
With every step they took, the Dionians reclaimed their heritage and took back what was rightfully theirs. Most of all their courage to live again. No longer would the hand of an oppressor torment them or dictate their lives. No longer would an invisible iron hand smash them when they least expected it. Tyranny had met its end on the tips of their swords and the shouts of their hearts.
It was too marvelous to comprehend. Everywhere they looked the enemy was stumbling, struggling to keep pace with those in front, some even clambering over the backs of others just to get away. Yet it was all futile. There was no outrunning the Dionians, there was no undoing what the Great God had done. The Mighty Counselor had come, just as promised, and baptized them with fire. They were invincible.
“Push them harder!” Jrio yelled out.
Luik looked over to his swordbrother and grinned. They had dreamed of this day for so long; they just had never planned on it taking this much time, or costing so many lives. Benigan and Boran pushed forward on the right, Cage, Daquin, and Quoin on the left. Gorn was there, as were Li-Saide and Fane. Rab whooped as he exacted payment from a faltering Hewgog, running up the creature’s back and driving his sword into its thick neck, and then leaping off as the giant skidded in the grass. Anondo carried two spears, having sheathed his sword, and plunged them ruthlessly into the backs of demons too terrified to look back at him. Kinfen fought alongside his three brothers, Fallon, Neffe, and King Fyfler.
To Luik, they were all magnificent. They were his brothers.
• • •
The men of Dionia pursued the enemy until nightfall, the glory of the victory keeping them afoot and running. The sky was clear, so the moon and stars continued to illuminate the enemy throughout the night as if purposely assisting the warband in their course. Driven like a mad man, Luik ordered his men onward. Though thirsty, they did not drink. Though tired, they did not slow.
They left a swath of dead bodies in their wake, littering the plains with the corpses of Haides. The long grass of Jerovah was stained with blood, and the ground exulted in the honor. Creation had waited for this moment, for the Sons of Light to be revealed in their splendor. For their presence heralded the soon and coming redemption that Creation had been promised; not yet, but soon, would be the day of its redemption. A new Athera and a new Dionia.
When dawn came the next day, the enemy had been reduced to a fraction of its previous size, routed far to the east. The dead were strewn all the way back to Grandath and the men of Dionia showed no signs of letting up.
Morgui led the retreat and suddenly turned to the south.
“What’s he up to?” Gorn yelled over to Luik and the others, dried blood caked on his face.
“I’m not sure,” Luik replied. His mind raced. What would make Morgui change direction? What was south? “The shore,” Luik said to himself. He glanced to Gorn, and then to the others. “There’s a Sif Gate!”
“What?” Fane replied.
“Of course,” Rab interjected. “The one used to access Kirstell, the southern shore of Jerovah…they even used it to gain the Somahguard Islands.”
“Aye!” said Jrio. “We can’t let them make it through!”
“Beat them down!” Luik hollered. “Beat them down and make them pay!”
With that the whole army turned south and followed the Dairne-Reih toward the Sea of Lens. The enemy picked up its pace, hope for escape being too great a prize to submit to their own mounting fatigue. But whatever speed they took was met with equal zeal from those following, and the slaughter continued. Luik actually wondered how many demons would be left to escape through the Sif Gate, if indeed they made it at all.
The sun was high in the sky by the time the sea appeared on the horizon. It wasn’t long after that a slender archway stood out against the sky, two columns of standing stones spanned by a bridge of granite. And Morgui would be first through.
As the charging ranks of demons and men neared the Sif Gate, it sparked to life, and the strange transparent blue wall filled the center.
“He’s going to escape!” Kinfen yelled, infuriated.
“Faster!” Fyfler screamed. “We must be faster!”
But Morgui was too far in the lead.
“Let him go,” Li-Saide said, and then had to repeat himself to be heard.
The Dibor nearby simply looked at the dwarf.
“What do you mean?” Luik finally asked, slowing in step with the dwarf.
“Let him go. Kill those who wait in line, but let Morgui run.”
Luik still didn’t understand.
“Do you not remember in Adriel?” asked the dwarf. “The Dairne-Reih were slaughtered on the walls, only to reappear from the Sif Gate much later. It was unending.”
“So you’re saying we cannot kill Morgui?”
“Slaughter his body? Surely. But he would only reappear in a world where he does not need a body. He is spirit, as are his minions. We cannot kill them. Only the Creator has the ability to utterly destroy what He alone has fashioned.”
Luik’s mind went back to their previous conversation in Ot. “Then, if we can’t kill them, what are we doing this for?”
“Teaching them a lesson,” Gorn interrupted. “And showing them what they’ll face if they ever try this again.”
“Right,” Luik smiled grimly. He thought for a moment. It was then he knew what must be done. He raised his voice so all could hear. “When they slow, circle around and destroy the Sif Gate ahead!”
The orders were passed down to the rest of the Lion Vrie and the Immortals, and they began to fan out in preparation.
Luik strained ahead and watched as Morgui neared the gate, ducked his head, and slipped through the shimmering blue wall. It was the last of that enemy Luik would see for a very long time, perhaps present for his final humiliation and eternal imprisonment one day in the future.
The Dairne-Reih, on the other hand, jostled for position, shoving each other out of the way. Soon a brawl started, and their retreat was completely stalled. The pursuing army collided with the slowing Dairneags, yet continued to dispense their bloody vengeance. With nowhere left to run, the Dairne-Reih attempted to fight back, but they were too weary, and too disheartened to give much of a fight.
“Varos! Now!” Luik ordered and waved his sword around.
The kings nodded in assent and gave orders to their Captains and on down to the soldiers. The right and left sides of the army flanked the Dairne-Reih and converged quickly on the Sif Gate ahead. The body of the enemy was too consumed with their survival to even notice the force about to close off their escape for good.
Luik watched as his men met on the opposite side of the enemy army and began their assault on the Sif Gate. At first the Dairne-Reih didn’t know what to do: defending the gate meant giving up their place in line. They would start out against the men only to pause a moment later and go back to fending off the other demons from stealing their position. But when the warriors started pushing as one against the backside of the columns, the demons couldn’t help but engage them. About two tens of men in all worked the stone columns while the rest kept the demons at bay, slashing wildly to keep them back.
The columns began to move ever so slightly as the men pushed against them in a steady rhythm. At least two men lost their lives in the ordeal, one falling off balance and tripping through the gate into Haides; another swinging his sword against an attacking Dairneag only to be flung into the blue wall, backhanded by the monster.
Eventually the men rocked the stone pillars off their bases, but a host of demons were on the other side, staying their means of retreat. It took more men charging in on the flanks to cut away those that resisted the inevitable destruction of the gate. Once clear, the arch fell forward and collapsed in a blaze of light. The stones exploded, and bits of molten rock shot up into the air.
Then all fell silent.
The demons stared at the ruins, their failed route of escape. Then reality set in: their defeat would be total.
A beat later the men set upon them with shouting, swords swinging and spears jabbing. From all sides men assaulted the remaining pack of demons and worked their way inward. Not a single Dairneag was spared in those final moments; the men would not rest until the only things that breathed in Dionia were beings intended to be there in the first place.
Luik stood back and watched as his warriors finished the war that had been started so long ago, bringing justice to the unfinished battles of his father and his father’s father before him. All the way back to the very beginning, when those who had fought in the First Battle had thought they had expelled the enemy for good, Luik knew this was the end they had dreamed of. The end they had wished for their children. He wished Lair were here to see this. He missed him.
Luik lowered his sword and let the tip touch the ground. His hand was stuck around the handle, and gore oozed between his fingers. His arms and legs were trembling, and he realized his lungs were screaming for air. He hadn’t stopped warring in over a day and had run the enemy of his people right out of the land.
As the men converged on the final demon—riddling it with arrows, spears, and swords—Luik felt a hand rest lightly on his shoulder. He turned.
“It’s finished,” she said.
The look in her eyes was captivating. She had never seemed so at peace, so whole. Strands of hair had worked their way from her braid and stuck to her sweaty face. Her skin was soiled, as were her clothes, and her armor tarnished. But she had never looked more beautiful to Luik in all her days. Despite his horrific appearance he threw his arms around her and picked her up. They twirled twice before he kissed her and set her back down. Then they both laughed deeply and held each other there.
It was over.
Suddenly a shout went up from over the last fallen demon and all the warriors started chanting. “Vic-tor-ry! Vic-tor-ry!”
Luik and Anorra linked arms and addressed the massive crowd. “Vic-tor-ry!” they cried. “Vic-tor-ry!”
Swords and spear shafts beat against shield rims, fists pounded the air.
The air shook with the declaration. The blood of their fallen loved ones had been avenged at last.
From the plain of Jerovah to the shores of Ligeon, from the mountains of Tontha to the gleaming jewel of Adriel, the call would go out far and wide that Morgui had been defeated once and for all.
– – –