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The Lords of Ambros (Chapter 9, Part 3 (continued (1)))

Table of Contents: [b]Chapter 9, Part 3 (continued(1))[/b] Timur did not himself join in the melee, electing instead to remain at a distance, and to watch. His pause was born neither of fear nor any sense of self-importance, but was rather one of necessity. [i]One more sword[/i], Timur thought, [i]will make little difference.[/i] Though he had not, assuredly, wished for such a demonstration, the validity of the scholar’s assertion was soon evidenced before his very eyes. His warriors closed in, perceiving themselves to hold the advantage characteristic of a cavalry charge, only to find themselves in the next moment flat upon the earth, their steeds felled by the spears of Chosen or the gunfire of those at the heart of the Ambrosians’ seemingly unbreakable formation. Those nearest SynIva’s ranks were uniquely unfortunate, for, as they were thrown from their dying mounts, many landed among their opponents. The warriors of Albios seized upon this opportunity without hesitation, sending the Ghosts of these Wolves into the abyss alongside their charges. Timur watched as a quarter of his force was lost in an instant, never to rise again, and ordered a retreat. The other Lords responded to this command with a speed which betrayed their profound relief at (and expectance of) its utterance. For some, this eagerness proved fatal. While a sizable portion of the Iron Lords were able to escape with haste under aid of their Light, the remainder, who had become drained throughout the short course of the attack, were forced to flee through more conventional means. Of the latter, two died their final deaths in their effort to withdraw. The first-a scholar just as Timur, though of fewer years-fell to the thrust of SynIva’s spear as he turned to flee, his Ghost subsequently crumbling within the Warlord’s grasp. The second met his end as an orb of void energy, having landed along his course, detonated at his feet, and he was tossed lifeless into the low fog yards away. His Ghost, in full view of the forces of Albios, met its fate in the sights of a rifleman. With over a third of his host now gone, and with nothing of consequence to show for their sacrifice, Timur was forced to alter his approach once more, directing the survivors to fall back to the distant position of their initial approach: a slight ridge far outside of the Ambrosians’ optimal engagement range. Once this was done, Timur called his Risen to a halt, and offered a brief word of encouragement. “If our enemies will not break formation,” he began, “then we will break it for them. Let them taste of the death which they crave. Fire at will.” Calm reigned for a spell following the scholar’s instruction, as those in his company set about in preparation for the task at hand. Timur himself felt a pang of regret, and of shame, at his sin. [i]We have fought on their terms, now they will fight on ours. There is no dishonor in that.[/i] This attempt at consolation was, Timur knew, a futile one. He also knew that it was a lie. He did not seek forgiveness for the use of any arm at his disposal. He did not, in truth, seek forgiveness even for that which he had just ordered. His sin was unknown to any but himself. His sin was unforgiveable. Most damningly, his sin was yet to come. The call of sniper-fire at his side tore Timur from his thoughts, just as it rent the silence which had facilitated them. This was followed by a thunder of similar rounds, accented by the regular reports of smaller-caliber rifles. In response, two of those Ambrosians who stood at their formation’s front-most rank, as well as another in that immediately behind, collapsed to the earth. Taking note of this, and intent upon barring the Warlords’ return to life, one among Timur’s force shifted his aim from the mass of Risen before him to an exposed Ghost at its anterior edge. Within an instant, an iridium-cored round sailed across the sea of fog which separated it from its destination, en route to the drone’s central eye. In an apparent effort of self-sacrifice, SynIva charged forward, positioning himself so that he might catch the bullet upon his own shield, rather than witness its extinguishing the Light of his fellow. As had been previously evidenced, however, the Ambrosians’ shields were incapable of effectively denying the force of rounds such as this, and so, it seemed, the Warlord was to trade his life for that of his lesser. Yet, before the projectile could pierce that metal which stood between itself and the life which it was to claim, the energy of the Void poured across the shield’s surface, beginning at its center and expanding outward, its behavior reminiscent of a viscous liquid. Upon striking the shield’s coating, the sniper’s round seemed to evaporate, disappearing as an ethereal wisp. Despite having served its initial purpose, the ward of Light continued to expand outward from the Warlord’s shield, curving backward gently to glide across the proffered shields of his fellows behind, who had arranged themselves into the semblance of a Greek Phalanx. The ward closed at the warriors’ backs, forming a sort of oblong whole, and encasing the entirety of SynIva’s host-both the living and the Ghosts of the dead-within its bounds. This, unfortunately for SynIva, left the Ambrosians’ spears, which protruded from their protective ward, as their only means of offense. The onlooking Lords of Iron made note of this, and one among their ranks sought to utilize their adversaries’ self-induced handicap to his advantage, striding forward to cross much of that distance which separated their forces and flinging himself skyward, a ball of void forming in his hands. Before he could unleash his attack, however, the Risen was struck down amid the sharp reports of several rifles, the rounds which they denoted having caught him first in the right shoulder, and then several times in the crest of his helm. His killers-several of half a dozen Warlords situated atop the very cliffs which he had so brazenly approached moments prior-quickly and similarly disposed of his Ghost, delivering both into the cold grasp of death, which was for the first and last time in either’s recollection wholly unyielding. Timur, alongside the remnants of his dwindling force, watched on in grim acceptance as another of his brethren in arms died a true death. Yet the scholar had little time for sorrow, as a fresh volley of rounds soon rained down upon his host’s position, threatening to share with those living the fate their dearly departed. The delivery of this most recent barrage, however, was not the work of a lonely few of SynIva’s Chosen. Rather, it was the undertaking of a great many individuals-both Men and the Warlords for whom they fought. To most among the Lords of Iron, this development-while certainly an unwelcome one-was of no particular consequence. They had known the Host of Albios to be composed primarily of SynIva’s subjects, rather than his inner-circle. This was an inevitability, and an unremarkable one at that. While the Iron Lords, as the self-styled guardians of humanity, refused to allow Men to die by their order, the Ambrosians were not generally opposed to the practice. So, those in Timur’s force decided, they would fight on all the same, and kill, however grudgingly, all who stood between themselves and their greater good. These sentiments, while prevalent among the gathered Lords, were not universally held. Some showed far less restraint, though fought for a common cause. Others-mostly former Warlords, still undergoing the process of moral conversion-relished in their killing, no matter of whom. Yet only one disregarded thoughts of philosophy altogether, despite his being the greatest of their philosophers. No, to think would only prolong his pain, and his regret, at what he was to do; at his sin. He could not think. He [i]must[/i] not think, lest he be destroyed by the failure of inaction. He must only do. Timur ran forward, breaking from the cluster of his beleaguered fellows, and called upon his Light to demand that he be released from the chains of gravity, which bound him to the earth. The universe listened, and obeyed. When next the scholar felt, he found himself far from ground. Still, he pushed ever upward, ignoring the bite of hot lead on his flesh, and the taste of his own blood. Again, Timur fought the burden of awareness, and was without thought. His next conscious effort was to clutch the amulet at his breast, and to channel into it all that he could-both of his Light and of his life. His shields broke. The blood stilled in his veins. The whisper of death beckoned him. His last thought was of a spark, surrounded by darkness-flickering. He was fading. And then the spark steadied, and began to expand. His mind’s eye burned with the light of a great flash. In an instant, the spark was gone, and Timur saw only dark. ________________________________________ [Continued]

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