Blood fell from the sky. The screams echoed, ricocheting off the walls of my mind, until all I could do was clamp down hands to the sides of my ears. Another Agathodaemon fell, his once splendid plumage lit in a blaze against the lightning filled sky. Another secession of arrows rained upon the regiment.
“We aren’t going to make it Captain.” A hand pulled at my jacket. “You must escape.”
Droplets of water slicked down my cheeks, falling as I shook my head. My hand clasped his, slinging his arm over my good shoulder. Together – pressing against the other – we rose to our feet, staggering back to the battlement. If we could only get to the trenches, we might survive the ordeal. Men fell on either side, my heart hammered louder than the thunder. If only I could…
“Captain!” Elias fell against me, giving me seconds to adjust my footing, saving us from meeting the red river below. Jerking my head away from the fallen soldier I previously reached for, I placed one foot forward. Then another.
You can’t save them all, I chanted every time I saw another of my men fall. And still the arrows came. This battle had been a bad idea. Retreat. The command blared, an order that had to be given. My eyes slid over to the trenches. Only a few more paces. Freedom. Another howl whipped my head to scan the sky above. Gold glinted as it plummeted to the ground carrying the soldier with it. One wing ripped from the man’s shoulder yet I knew. There was no way he would have survived.
“Jonathan!” Elias wheezed next to me, blood coated between both our armor. I clenched my teeth.
The retreated needed to be sounded. Our flag bearer fallen. We had lost this confrontation. Still, there was no backing down.
“Stay here.” I set Elias down despite protest. Not another word, nor another glance toward my comrade. Just one look and I would crumble.
The horn gone, lost amidst the carnage, still, we needed to retreat. My heart beat wild, thoughts stampeded incoherent, desperate. Then I spotted it. Our salvation. Pain shot through me, yet I took the calculated steps. Feet from me lay a body ragged and torn, barely recognizable. But I could see it, glinting from the dying flames of the burnt village around. The Kakodaemon horn. My path was set.
“Are you crazy?” Elias screamed somewhere behind me. “Captain Malachai!”
But I ignored him.
Fire shot through my nerves, and the ground rushed up to meet me. Falling on my hip, I groaned feeling the sharp rubble crunch and push into my raw flesh. A cry fell from my lips. Despair or defeat. At the moment I couldn’t define any emotion. Anger. Happiness. Fear. Sorrow. Every one of those and more existed in my being during that time. Yet still I managed to stand; to stagger to the corpse of the fallen enemy.
“Until we are avenged.” Grasping hold of the base of the horn, I twisted. It tore. My stomach pitched all over the cooling fragments. Bringing up my arm, I wiped the sour contents from my lips then lifted up the bloody horn in the sky.
I blew into it. Blood spurted from it, drowning out any sound I could get from it. Inhaling, I coughed feeling blood dip down my throat. Another wave of nausea passed over me. Shaking my head, I glanced around at my enemies. My allies. Both still locked in a battle that no one could win. Retreat. That was my sole saving option.
“By damn they will live.”
Bloody horn in hand, I summoned the rest of my lessening strength and beat down upon the ground with four great wings. They spread, blocking the light despite missing feathers. Each tip touched the blood-stained soil for seconds before lifting back up. Every limb protested, and still I ignored the agony. No. I would not fail this time.
Flying skyward – greeting the storm – salvation in hand, I charged toward the heart of the battlefield. Droplets of blood mixed – friend and foe – raining to the scarred field with its village of ashes. Soon they too became specks as I climbed heavenward. Flicking what blood was left out of the horn, I put it once again to my lips. Inhaled sharp and blew…
One high pitched whistle rang clear through the night. The sound of retreat. Another object flew through the air, tearing into flesh. The horn fell from my fingers toward the earth below. Another scream. This one did not ricochet; it filled throughout every catacomb in my mind, stealing the hearing within. Wind rushed up, cold. Nursing and caressing. One wing dropped faster than the rest yet I could do nothing, not even flail. The numb had already set in, taking freewill. All I did; all I could do, was watch and wait on bated breath for the end…