It is rare for a single sentence to signify a change in the course of history.
Oh certainly, no-one will deny that words can be a very powerful tool, especially in the hands of those who know how to use and manipulate them to their full effect. The right words at the right moment can achieve the most impossible things, create powerful bonds and friendships and set off ripples that may be felt for centuries to come. As can the wrong words at the wrong moment achieve horrendous atrocities, inflict irreparable wounds and cause untold suffering and pain.
But for a sentence to change history? Not just a few minor conflicts or contemporary issues that seem important at the time, but to truly change history? To set mankind on a path radically different from what came before? To set off a chain of reactions that topple paradigms, revolutionise kingdoms and take thousands of years of status quo only to grind it into dust?
Moments like those don’t come along very often. And when they do, they are rarely recognised for what they are until long after the fact.
In this case, for example, the sentence came in the form of a message. It was a simple message, written by a trustworthy scout, delivered with great haste for the King of a powerful Empire, currently in the midst of invading a distant neighbour. The man’s superior officer took one look at the message, dismissed it out of hand as false and ordered the scout to be flogged for drinking on the job.
But the scout hadn’t been drinking. And, had the King both seen and heeded that message, perhaps he might have recognised the implications of what the message brought. Perhaps he might have realised what the disaster he was walking into, acted accordingly and a great many tragedies could’ve been avoided.
But he didn’t. And so history continued on. And the many things that happened later that day could easily be left at his feet.
As for the message? It read as thus.
‘A flying man has been spotted at Primehall Fort. Please advise.’
The Kingdom of Varia: Year 8391 DE (later re-calendared as 000 AG)
Lord General Krona stood on the hill’s peak and carefully studied his surroundings. His gaze traveled over the sea of teeming steel and the countless legions who were scurrying about around him, busy setting up tents and campfires and the like, He closed his eyes and gently sniffed the air. Nothing but muck, dirt and the wind caressing his face.
Krona set his teeth and tapped his cane firmly on the floor.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “It’s too quiet.”
There was a soft titter of laughter behind him. Krona didn’t need to turn around to tell that the laughter was not in his favour. Nor who it was who was laughing.
“Come now, Lord Krona,” His Exalted Majesty, King Vshkrena VI, the Breaker of Calswell, the Conqueror of Southport and High Commander of the First Akuman Army, let out a piggish snort and helped himself to another handful of grapes. “You sound like an old woman. Don’t tell me you’re having battle nerves already?”
Krona glanced at the King out of the corner of his eyes and kept the scowl from rising to his lips. The King was decked out in a ‘glorious’ golden battle armour, carefully engraved with dozens of gaudy illustrations of the various heroic deeds of previous Akuman Kings. With the money that had spent carefully crafting it, Krona could’ve probably bought new boots for the half the army.
Honestly in spite of all the fancy titles that he had given himself, as far as Krona was concerned, King Vshkrena was still clearly an amateur when it came to actually fighting in warfare. All those great achievements and victories that he crowed about had almost entirely been won by capable generals and subordinates, up to and including Krona himself. Hell, the idiot king hadn’t even brought a helmet with him to the warzone.
“Not nervous, your majesty.” Krona deliberately suppressed his treasonous thoughts and kept his voice carefree. “Merely suspicious. The Varians have been far too inactive for my liking.”
“Bah! Is that all?” King Vshkrena snorted as he nestled back in his chair. “They’re cravens and weaklings, Krona. We’ve rolled over three of their armies by now and half of their levies barely even knew how to hold a weapon. Sir Guyard even slaughtered their new king last month, I believe?”
Sir Guyard gave a single dull nod. Krona suppressed a shiver at the sight of the man whom most of the army had nicknamed ‘The White Death’. Sir Guyard was the King’s personal Sworn Sword and likely the most dangerous man in the empire. His skill and speed with a blade was almost supernatural and Krona had seen him cut down more men than he could count. Seeing King Willis III of Varia, a boy barely into his teens, face him down was like watching a rabbit trying to fight a angry bear.
Now the boy’s head was rotting on a pike next to both his father and his two older brothers, all of whom were earlier casualties of the campaign. And if Krona recalled correctly, all that was left of the Varia Royal Family now was one little girl, not even 10 years grown yet. Krona felt a pang of pity for her. She’d probably end up being killed when they stormed the capital. Either that or be held captive until she was old enough to spit out an heir to watch over the lands in the name of the Akuman Empire.
Still, war was war. And there was something about this particular war that was unsettling Krona.
“It’s not that I think their armies can capably overcome ours, your Majesty,” Although anything could happen in warfare. “More that I don’t understand what exactly they’re doing.”
“What’s there to understand?” A third voice popped up. Krona turned to see Lord Dsina, Royal Commander and eternal suck-up, approach. “From what I’ve seen, the Varians appear to be ‘doing’ absolutely nothing.”
Krona’s eyes narrowed. “And that’s exactly the problem, Lord Dsina.”
Lord Dsina and the King shared a amused glance.
“You really are just like an old woman, Krona.” King Vshkrena said. “But please, perhaps you’d like to explain to us why you feel so threatened by this revolutionary ‘do nothing’ stratagem that our enemies seem to be utilising?”
Krona managed to keep his brow from twitching and instead took a deep calming breath. Getting angry would not help his credibility any. “Very well, your majesty.”
The Lord General stepped away from his vantage point on the hill and instead walked inside his tent to a makeshift conference table, where a sizable map had been laid out, along with parchment listing a variety of messages and reports.
“Now, we’ve already smashed the vast majority of the Varian forces at Peakslit, Saltshore and Greenwole,” Krona explained, gesturing to the locations of their last three battles, “so the idea that the Varians have just given up hope of winning this war isn’t too farfetched. However, if that was the case, we should’ve heard talks of negotiating a surrender by now or at the very least offers from some of their major lords to defect to our side in exchanges for rewards or lenient terms.” He picked up a handful of letters from his desk. “Instead, all anyone’s been sending us is the usual messages ordering us to vacate their lands or risk destruction.”
Dsina shrugged. “So they’ve decided to continue fighting us. I fail to see the problem.”
“The problem is they’re not fighting us.” Krona scowled. He reached over and marked a handful of places on the map. “Look at these areas here.”
King Vshkrena leaned over with a disaffected eye. “Yes, I see them. We passed them days ago without any incidents. What’s your point?”
“My point is, your majesty, that these are deliberately designed ambush points.” Krona said. “Points with the right environment or infrastructure in place for a smaller defending force to hold off, ambush or inflict serious damage on a significantly bigger army. Like ours, for example.”
The King shrugged. “So the cowards chose not to fight us there. Again, I fail to see the problem. Maybe they just didn’t have the men to spare?”
Krona shook his head. “They’d only need a few dozen men at each point to potentially cost us hundreds of troops and slow us down for weeks. And there were signs of recently abandoned outposts at each area, so the Varians definitely recognise the strategic importance of those areas. So why did they just let us through without trouble?”
The King still didn’t seem even slightly convinced at Krona’s reasoning. In fact, Krona would be surprised if he even followed through any of the strategic implications. But, for all his kiss-ass tendencies, Lord Dsina was not a fool and Krona could see him looking closer at the marked areas with an expression resembling deep thought.
“Infighting, perhaps?” Dsina suggested. “The only remaining royal is a 10 year old girl. It might be that the surviving nobles are jockeying for position and deliberately sabotaging each others efforts?” He paused. “Or alternately, it might just an issue with desertion among the lower ranks. We’ve given them a pretty hefty beating, after all.”
Krona shook his head again. “I already considered both possibilities. If the former was the case then, as mentioned, I would’ve expected us to hear from more Lords or Ladies willing to turn their cloak to us.” His eyes narrowed as he started at the map. “As for desertion, every message I’ve received back from my scouts and spies have reporting nothing of the sort from the capital. On the contrary, morale seems to be unnaturally high.”
“That is somewhat odd.” Dsina agreed.
“Oh please.” King Vshkrena rolled his eyes. “You’re both acting like old women now. Even if the Varians did have some sort of trap prepared, what good would it do them? They have barely a fraction of our numbers, resources or talent. The best they could do is give us a bloodied nose and, quite frankly, I doubt they’re even capable of that.”
Krona shared a glance with Dsina, who shrugged. The message was clear. The King had obviously made up his mind on the matter, so what more could they say?
“Now then,” Vshkrena said, leaning over the map, “how much longer until we can launch our final assault on the capital? I’m getting tired of all this marching.”
“Not long, your majesty.” Dsina said, adapting quickly to the change in subject. “We should arrive at Primehall Fort by tomorrow, where we suspect the Varians are likely to make their last stand. After we take the castle, we should be free to march on the capital and take it for our glorious empire within the week.”
King Vshkrena glanced over towards Krona who, after a moment’s hesitation, nodded. Though personally, he wasn’t too sure about the ‘within the week part’. Storming castles was always a messy and difficult business, even with a relatively small garrison defending it. Krona would much rather had left a small detachment to besiege it, while the rest marched on the capital.
But the King wasn’t willing to leave any castle standing in his wake and Krona had to admit that they did have the numbers and the equipment to pull it off. Even if the entire remaining Varian army were defending those walls, they’d still probably breach the castle and take it within a day or two. And obviously it was far better for a few hundred soldiers to lose their lives unnecessarily than for, God forbid, their King to grow impatient.
Still, something continued to twinge at Krona’s nerves. Why couldn’t he shake this feeling that he was making a mistake? That he’d missed something? He’d gone over the maps a dozen times now, double-checked every last bit of information he’d received from his scouts, spies and outriders, and even tripled the guards on the supply chain to ensue they weren’t cut off by an ambushing force.
However, none of that diminshed the feeling any. If anything, it made it stronger. Something was wrong with this campaign and Krona suspected he’d find it out sooner rather than later…
“In the name of his Royal Majesty, King Vshkrena the Sixth,” Krona announced from his horse later the next day, “The King Regent of the Glorious Akuman Empire, The Champion of Men, The Divinity Incarnate, The Touch of God made Flesh, The Breaker of Causwell, The Conqueror of Southport…”
He paused and squinted at the message scroll. Gods, was the man going to make him read out all of his titles? Not for the first time, Krona was regretting letting the King talk him into personally offering the official terms of surrender to the defenders of Primehall Fort. Didn’t they have some expendable messenger they could send to read this drivel instead?
“Look,” Krona decided to cut to the chase and folded away the scroll. “Surrender this fortress now and you have my word that you and your men will be spared. Resist and you’ll die. What’s your answer going to be?”
“Go fuck yourself!” was the solitary cry he heard from the battlements.
Krona felt his brow twitch. He really didn’t have the patience to deal with this shit today. He’d already had a stressful enough time convincing the King to ever offer terms to the defenders in the first place. Fairly generous terms, if he was honest. More generous than they deserved and all in the name of avoiding a bloody, painful and likely unnecessary battle. But, of course, the defenders were going to make things difficult for them. As if he’d expected anything less.
Honestly, Primehall Fort didn’t impress him as much as he thought it would. Certainly, it was among the strongest of the fortresses he’d seen in Varia itself, with high walls made from thick strong blackstone and enough room within its halls to hold a fairly large garrison. It was also situated on a steep hill, making assaulting it much more of an issue and allowing it to practically tower over his army.
Still, it paled in comparison to the sorts of fortifications he’d seen during his military career. Hell, it was more-or-less just average compared to the normal standard of defensive castles in the Akuman Empire. Primehall Fort was small, basic, bland and lacked any kind of obvious tricks or traps that the defenders could use to slaughter attackers by the hundreds. Heck, as best he could tell, there was only really the one circular wall to keep attackers out. Once they got past that, the entire rest of the town was theirs for the taking.
It should be an easy get. So why wasn’t that uneasy feeling disappearing?
“Men of Primehall Fort.” Krona shouted again. “You should know you’re making a terrible mistake. Your walls will not protect you against the might of the Akuman Empire. We have slain your Kings, destroyed your fortifications and will soon take your capital. This war is already all but won. Surrender is your only chance to escape this unscathed.”
“Hah! You think we’re the ones makinga terrible mistake?” The shout was even louder this time. “You pasty Akuman fucks don’t know the first thing about this castle or its people! And if you knew the shit we knew, you’d drop your weapons and go running straight back to your mama’s teats.”
“If you don’t submit this castle, then we will have no choice but to-”
“What? Die helplessly on our walls?” The voice cackled. “You idiots are so cocksure of your shiny armies and big weapons that you’ve missed the most important thing of all.”
“Oh, really?” Krona’s temper finally got the better of him and he snapped. “And what exactly don’t we know that’s so fucking important?!”
“That this city is defended.”
“Defended?!” The incredulity was thick in Krona’s voice. “I count barely two hundred of you on the walls. You really think you can hold against an army more than 100 times your number?”
“No.” The voice responded. “We won’t have to do anything. One man is going to massacre all 20,000 of you.”
“Hah!” Krona didn’t even attempt to hide his disdain. “And who is this magical man who’ll decimate an entire army single-handedly? Golinor the God-Slayer? Fillias Firefist? Some other imaginary folk hero?”
For a moment, there was no response. Then came a voice so quiet that Krona almost didn’t hear it. “You’ll see. When he arrives from the skies, you’ll see. And you will despair.”
Sensing that the conversation was more-or-less over, Krona decided not to waste any more time trying to reason with the deluded fool. He roused his horse into action and sent into a trot back towards the general’s tent.
“Well?” The King was awaiting him, decked out yet another set of the most glorious, ostentatious jeweled armour that money could buy. Personally, Krona thought it made him look even more ridiculous, but that obviously wasn’t something he was going to say out loud. “Did the cravens see sense and surrender to us?”
For a brief moment, Krona attempted to wrap his head around the logic of how exactly the defenders of Primehall were cravens for not surrendering to them. Eventually he figured it was the same kind of ‘kingly logic’ that royals usually ran on and decided to ignore it.
“I’m afraid not, your majesty.” He said. “They’ve chosen to continue their defiance.”
“What on earth are the idiots playing at?” Dsina muttered. Krona’s fellow Lord General was clothed in a similarly flashy armour although, fortunately, his seemed at least somewhat more practical than the King’s. “They should know they can’t hold against an army this size.”
And indeed, Krona was very much in agreement with his sometimes rival on this point. Before them stood legions and legions of Akuman troops, professionally trained soldiers whose spears and armour glimmered in the sunlight. Krona wasn’t one to fall much for sentiment, but even he felt a glimmer of pride at the parade of soldiers surrounding the fortress.
This was the backbone of the Akuman Empire, the reason they had stood so strong and crushed so many that aimed to oppose them. While other countries raised peasant levies and limited their training to only the knights and lords among them, the Akuman Empire forged professional armies, trained from a young age to work in lockstep with one another and armoured from the many steel mines of their homeland.
Against the might of this incredible host, what chance did a few barely trained guardsmen stand, even with a fortress like Primehall?
“You’ll see.” The memory of the guardsman’s voice echoed through his brain. “When he arrives from the skies, you’ll see. And you will despair.”
Krona shuddered and shook his head. The tension must’ve been getting to him. Whatever the Varians had planned, if they did indeed have a plan, it certainly wasn’t going to come down to just one man.
“Well, whatever the fools are up to,” the King said, snapping Krona from his trail of thought, “I think we’ve entertained their madness long enough. Prepare the troops. We’ll start our assault when-”
A sudden shout caught Krona’s attention. One of the nearby royal guards was standing slack-jawed, pointing at something in the sky. Krona turned his head to look…
…and saw it.
“Ashken,” He said, motioning absentmindedly to one of his nearby squires. His gaze did not move from the skies. “Fetch my eyescope from my tent at once.”
“My Lord?” The squire tilted his head.
“Did I stutter, boy?” Krona snapped. His eyes still didn’t move. “I said at once!”
Startled, the boy sprinted away to Krona’s tent. Fortunately, said tent was fairly close to where the King had set up their battle headquarters and it only took the boy a few minutes to return with the metal spyglass. Krona immediately snatched it out of his hand and raised it to his eyes to get a better look at what he was seeing.
When Krona had first spotted the shape in the skies, it had only appeared as a speck, a small shadow moving through the clouds. A less observant man might simply have dismissed it as a raven or a crow, but Krona had quickly realised it was completely the wrong shape. In addition, it was far too big to be a normal animal and that billowing black mass on its back certainly didn’t seem to move like wings.
In fact, if Krona didn’t know better, he’d almost say it was a person. A man soaring through the heavens.
A low murmur set in among the army below as more and more troops spotted the odd shape in the skies above them and pointed it out to their fellows. The noise among the troops was discontented. They’d been preparing for a battle, hardening their nerves for the bloodshed to come and now this sense of uncertainty was among them. Krona could even see a few of the archers fixing arrows to their bows long before their commanders had given the order.
The only exceptions to this were the defenders of Primehall. They too had noticed the strange figure and were murmuring among themselves but, from what Krona could tell, through his eyescope, they almost seemed… excited. Relieved. As if they’d been expecting this all along.
“What in the name of Solomon…?” The King had apparently noticed the strange mood that overtaken the army, albeit not its cause. “What’s gotten into the men?”
“Up there, sire!” Apparently, Dsina had spotted the same shape in the sky that Krona had. “There’s something up there!”
King Vshkrena turned his gaze upwards. “What the…? Is it a bird of some kind?”
“No.” Krona said grimly, still peering through his eyeglass. “It’s-”
The shape dropped from the sky like a thunderbolt, impacting the ground with an earthshaking thump. The ground cracked beneath its feet from the sheer force of the impact, kicking up a large cloud of dust around the figure and obscuring them from view
Silence reigned among the army. Every eye was fixed on the cloud of dust, every hand still, every breath hitched. Even the defenders were shocked by the ferocity of the new arrival.
Then, as the dust began to clear, the outline of a figure could be seen.
It was a man. A huge man dressed in strange tight clothing, with a large black cape billowing in the wind behind him. Through his eyescope, Krona could just about see his face. He was young, with dark hair, a strong jaw, and a freshly shaven chin. But the entire top half of his face was obscured by a cloth mask with eyeholes cut into it.
Whoever he was, the man’s appearance had been expected by the defenders of Primehall Fort. They flocked to the walls with cheers and shouts, waving their weapons in the air. Moments later, Krona could hear a chant taking up among them.
“PRIME! PRIME! PRIME! PRIME!” The shout grew louder as more and more people took it up. “PRIME! PRIME PRIME PRIME!”
“What are those imbeciles chattering about?” The King muttered, teeth clenched. “Do they really think they can intimidate us with a cheap magic trick?”
Krona didn’t know about that. He’d entertained plenty of would-be sorcerers in his time and he’d never seen a magic trick do anything like that before. And indeed, there were a lot of people among their army who were looking pretty damn intimidated right now.
“Fetch me my King’s Horn.” King Vshkrena ordered, referring to the carved horn that Akuman royalty often used to make their speeches heard by all. “I will offer a dozen silver coins to the man who-”
“Men of Akuman. I am Prime of Primehall. Hear my words.”
The voice that sounded from the caped man was like a tidal wave sweeping over the crowds surrounding the fortress. Even as far away as he was, Krona could hear and understand the man’s every word perfectly. There was a feeling of power from this voice, of authority, of sheer might, the sort that even their own glorious King could only wish to mimic. Even Krona, who was no stranger to meeting powerful or charismatic figures, felt his spine straighten at the sound of it.
“You have entered uninvited onto these lands.” Prime, the caped man said, his voice deceptively level. “You have slaughtered, massacred, raped and butchered innocent people in the name of your conquest. You have rampaged unchecked against those who have done you no harm.” He raised a single gloved fist. “And I say no more.”
There was a roar from the Varian men on the fortress wall behind him. The shout took up once more.
“PRIME! PRIME! PRIME! PRIME! PRIME!”
Prime waited patiently for the chant to die down before continuing. “I will give you one warning. Leave now, throw down your weapons, retreat back to your homelands and you have my vow of safe passage.” He paused as the soldiers murmured among themselves. “Many would consider it more than you deserve.”
“And what if we refuse!” One young recruit, standing near the front lines and thus nearest to Prime shouted.
Prime turned sharply and fixed the young soldier with a glare. Immediately the recruit turned pale and stumbled backwards, nearly knocking over his own fellows in his panic.
“If you refuse my generous offer…” Prime said, slowly drawing out the response, “…then you die here. Every last one of you.”
Krona shivered at the sheer force of the statement. It wasn’t the words themselves that were so powerful, it was the way that Prime said them. Not like a threat or a boast or even a vow. No, it was more like a certainty, the way one would comment that it was raining outside. Something of which the outcome was in no doubt.
Krona felt the sweat running down his brow. What was this man?
“Hmph. Bold words from a stage magician.” Apparently, whatever strange atmosphere had spooked Krona had barely seemed to affect their King… No, that wasn’t it. Krona could see a slight line of sweat running down Vshkrena’s brow. But apparently, their king was the sort of man who responded to a challenge by attempting to bark at whatever frightened him. “Tell me, oh bold man from the heavens, how exactly do you intend to achieve such a magnanimous feat.” His smile grew fierce. “After all, the Akuman Empire has the greatest armies in history! Our twenty thousand glimmering spears will cut down you and your peasants like a farmer harvesting wheat! You say no more to us, sir? Well I say who are you to think you can stop us!”
Vshkrena finished this speech by dramatically raising his arms in a triumphant motion. His personal guard barely needed signalling to start roaring and cheering around him. You could barely even tell that they’d ever heard Prime’s threat to begin with.
However, for all his posturing, the only response Vshkrena got was little more than an odd tilt of the head from Prime. Aside from that, the caped man was entirely silent.
“Um… Sire?” Dsina pointed out nervously. “I… I don’t think he can hear you from here.”
Vshkrena’s eye twitched quite violently. “Well then, someone bring me my King’s Horn. I will make my words known and then have that craven actor’s head embedded on my-
“Perhaps this might be easier if we talked face-to-face, like men?” Prime’s voice echoed once more around the clearing.
Then, before Krona’s very eyes, Prime began to float. It was a gradual process at first, as his feet gently lifted from the ground, but slowly and surely, the caped man rose into the air, as if suspended on a great invisible platform. Krona could hear a murmur from the men as this undeniable act of witchcraft was performed in front of them.
“I don’t see any ropes or wires.” Dsina muttered more to himself than anyone else.
“Hmph.” Vshkrena’s eye was still visibly twitching. “We’ll see how well he can fly when my men stick him full of arrows. Archers!”
Whatever command Vshkrena had been about to give next went unfinished, as Prime suddenly vanished from where he had been floating…
…and reappeared directly in front of the king.
A blast of air buffeted into Krona’s face as he instinctively staggered back from the man. How had he-? When-? He was the length of an entire battlefield away just a second ago! How had he gotten here so fast? Had he transported himself through some kind of foul witchcraft, or had he simply moved too quickly for the human eye to comprehend?
Whatever the method, here he was. And, if anything, he looked even more intimidating close-up.
“Here I am.” Prime said, his voice quieter, but still every bit as powerful. “To talk. Face-to-face. Like men. Me. The person who thinks he can stop you.”
King Vshkrena, meanwhile, took Prime’s sudden appearance about as well as Krona had, if not worse. The Exalted Royal Majesty stumbled backwards, his eyes bugged out and face pale, lips quivering in sudden shock and terror. “G-Guards!”
One of the King’s personal guards, a young man who apparently hadn’t been as paralysed by Prime’s surprise entrance as everyone else, stepped forward. Hefting a large steel-headed spear in his hands, he thrust the point directly towards Prime’s face.
Prime caught it without even looking. Then he snapped the spearhead cleanly off its shaft, one-handed, before clenching his fist and crushing its solid steel blade into dust.
“That won’t help you.” He said as calmly as anything. “Now are you going to take my offer?”
By now, King Vshkrena’s shock had, judging by the purpling of his face, turned into some sort of deep-seated anger and denial. “Who in the Dragon’s Hells do you think you are?! I am a King, you worthless cretin! Not someone to be pushed around.”
“I already told you who I am.” Prime said. “I am Prime. And I don’t have a king, except the people I serve. The people whose homes you are trampling on for the sake of your ambition.”
“Peasants!” Vshkrena spluttered. “Peasants and nobodies! I am a King! King of the mightiest Empire in the known world! Who do you think you are to oppose me with such trickery?
“This will make this third time I’ve told you.” Prime said, with just the slightest hint of irritation in his voice. “It will also be the last. My name is Prime of Primehall. I gave you the terms of my deal. You leave this land and never come back or you fight and die at my hand. What is your answer?”
“My answer?! My answer is that I spit on your deal, you fool!” Vshkrena roared. “Your treachery will not defend yourself against our steel!” He gestured to his bodyguard and greatest protector. “Sir Guyard! Bring me this man’s head!”
Sir Guyard, who’d been watching the whole affair with a strange air of detachment, sprang to life at the sound of his name being called. He drew his glorious bejeweled greatsword, the sword that had ended the lives of three of Varia’s previous kings and stalked towards the black-caped stranger.
Prime closed his eyes and let out a deep breath.
“So be it.” He said. “Know that I take no pleasure in any of this.”
Then, in a motion so fast that he appeared as little more than a blur, Prime stepped forward and impaled Sir Guyard cleanly through the chest with his hand.
No trickery. No treachery. No visible weapons. Nothing more than regular human fingers punching cleanly through several layers of thick plate armour and coming out the other side. Sir Guyard’s eyes widened for just a fraction, before he slumped forwards, dead before he even hit the ground.
Prime watched him fall with something almost resembling pity. Or maybe it was just disgust. Either way, it didn’t last long and soon the black-caped monster turned to face the rest of the King’s party, arm still dripping with red ichor.
“Alright then.” He said in that same calm level voice. “Who’s next?”
“Kill him!” The King screeched. “A fortune in gold for the man who brings me his head!”
Roaring, the soldiers of the King’s army charged as one, thundering towards the man who brought down their greatest of knights. Krona himself drew his sword, more out of instinct that anything and, in the corner of his eye, he could see Dsina doing the same.
Still, there was one thought on Krona’s mind, as he saw the hordes of soldiers descending towards the supremely unconcerned Prime. A thought that Krona had realised even before the very first fist Prime threw pulverized the skull of a charging Akuman soldier. A thought that continued as armoured knights were sent flying through the air like ragdolls as the caped man literally tore through their forces. A thought that Krona was as certain of as anything else he’d ever felt in his life.
The King should’ve taken Prime’s deal. Because they were about to lose this war.
And the world would never be the same again.
It was nearly an hour later when the fighting drew to a close and Krona finally regained consciousness.
Honestly, Krona wasn’t entirely certain when or how he’d actually been knocked out in the first place. All he really remembered was charging Prime from behind with several others, seeing Prime’s fist swing towards them at an incredible speed, something knocking the wind out of his gut, a sharp blinding pain in his side and then nothing.
However, when he woke up, Krona found himself in hell. Or at least as close a resemblance to hell as he’d ever seen.
There was blood and broken bodies everywhere, each wearing the familiar red-eyed emblem of Akuman on their chest. Armour had been splintered, swords had been shattered, great siege engines designed for knocking down castle walls now stood twisted and mangled like some cruel giant had bent them into a knot. It looked less like the results of a battle and more like some great force of nature had descended from on high and crushed them within its palm.
Heck, maybe that was indeed what happened, Krona thought. After all, Prime had resembled nothing if not a force of nature.
A sudden motion in the corner of his eyes caught Krona’s attention, rousing him from his still somewhat dreary state. He got to his feet and turned, ignoring the shattering pain in his ribs (yup, those were definitely broken) to see Prime striding straight towards him.
Panicked, Krona desperately thrashed around, trying to find a sword or weapon he could use. Finding his own still missing from its scabbard, he scrambled on the ground, searching for any intact handle or shaft he could wield. He eventually managed to draw a scimitar-esque blade with a glimmering green emerald handle, that a small part of him thought looked like Dsina’s sword.
Regardless of its ownership, he managed to shakily raise it towards the approaching hero, ignoring the way his wounds were screaming at him and how his heart was hammering in its chest..
Prime looked at the sword and raised a single eyebrow. Then he lifted his hand and in a single swipe knocked the scimitar cleanly from Krona’s hands.
Krona watched almost comically as the blade sailed through the air, before coming to a sudden stop into the ground several feet away, nearly impaling the lifeless corpse of some poor sod missing half his torso. Then his legs gave out and he slumped onto his knees, completely drained.
“Fuck.” He said.
That got a small snort from Prime. “Indeed.” He reached down and picked something off the ground, before throwing at Krona’s feet. “I believe this is yours.”
Krona looked down at the object now lying inches from him. It was difficult to initially tell what it was, what with all the blood and grime coating it. Then, once recognition had finally set in, he had difficulty working out exactly who it was, what with the head’s features obscured by blood and grime and the face twisted in an almost unrecognisable expression of horror and pain, representative of the owner’s last terrible moments. Eventually he figured it out though.
“Yes.” Krona said, still dazed. “That is indeed King Vshkrena’s head.”
Prime nodded. “I did warn him.”
“You did.” Krona let out a groan and fell onto his back. “Are you going to kill me now?”
Prime tilted his head slightly. “I had considered it.”
Krona’s eyes flickered towards him. “But you’re not now?”
“No.” Prime said. “You’re a high-ranking officer in this army, correct?”
“Lord General, actually.” Krona corrected offhandedly.
Prime’s eyebrows climbed slightly higher. “Even better.” He kicked the severed head of King Vshkrena closer. “I want someone high-ranking to return to Akuman and tell them what happened here. To tell them what you saw. To tell them what will happen to any other armies they choose to send here.” He snorted. “A lot of the men from your army managed to escape once they realised how the tide was turning, but I doubt the story will be taken as seriously from then as it would be from you.”
Krona made a non-committal hum. Some of the soldiers had the common sense to retreat, huh? Rout was probably more of an accurate description, though. Ah well, either way, it was the Varians who were going to have to deal with them pillaging and banditing their way through the countryside to afford a trip home.
“Anything specific you want me to tell them?” He asked, sitting back up.
Prime thought a moment. “Tell them… Tell them that the rules have changed. Tell them that they no longer have the rights to trample over smaller countries- over smaller people as they please. And that this doesn’t apply just to them, but to Kingdoms and Empires all over the world. That the downtrodden and helpless are no longer their prey. That they have a new champion working to defend them from injustice.” He slowly clenched his fist. “And that I am no more than the first of many.”
Krona stared at the caped man as if he’d never seen anything like him before. Then, with another deep sigh, he nodded. “I’ll make sure they get the message.”
Prime looked back at the older general lying before him. Then he returned the nod, raised his hands to the sky and shot off into the heavens like an arrow. His form pierced the clouds above and seemed to almost soar through the sky moving faster and more gracefully than any bird or animal Krona had ever known.
Krona watched him go and collapsed once more onto his back.
“There was one thing you got wrong, Prime.” He muttered, more to himself than anyone else. “It isn’t just the rules that have changed…”
“I am no more than the first of many.”
Krona’s mind whirled with thoughts and possibilities. Of Gods made men, of champions of the people and of indestructible beings clashing on the battlefields. Of all the potential wonders and miracles implied by Prime’s words, and all the horror and atrocities that said power would invite. Of the old order collapsing into dust and something new rising to take its place.
Krona closed his eyes.
“It’s the whole world that will never be the same again.”
The Battle of Primehall is widely considered by many to be the very beginning of the era of those ‘Gifted by the Gods’ (or ‘Gifted’ as they more commonly became known). While concrete evidence of the existence of Gifted has been found dating back at least several months before the battle (in particular one pub brawl that had many have identified as Mightiest’s work), it was the actions of the hero known as Prime that really threw the burgeoning phenomenon into the spotlight.
Tales of his daring rescue of the Castle-Fortress of Primehall against the 20,000 strong army of the Akuman Empire spread across the world like wildfire, not least by the survivors of the army themselves. While many nobles and kings dismissed the details as merely fanciful tales at first, time would soon prove them wrong and reveal that the spark had been lit on what would soon become a dangerous new age.
Indeed, much like Prime had stated, he was merely the first of many of these Gifted to emerge. Soon, more and more news of incidents involving infamous figures with superhuman powers and abilities began to engulf the world. Names like Prime, Dynasty, Mightiest, Lax the Thinker and Armourer began to circle the courts for their infamous works and deeds. And, after that, news of much darker figures like Devil Black, Scarmonger, the Baron, Scratch the Trickster and Emperor Gier. More and more Gifted began to emerge from all walks of life, from nobles, knights, maidens, farmers, peasants and so on and so forth. It was only a matter of time before they began to shift the very fabric of society around them. But that’s a history lesson for another time.
As for Prime himself, several years later, he infamously joined with six other of the greatest and earliest Gifted of the time to form the Order of Heroes, a team dedicated to preserving justice and peace across the continent. However, it was many years later, after much hardship, strife and Prime’s eventual fall from grace and death, that the seven ‘heroes’ were gifted their more common modern-day title.
The Seven Precursors. Warnings of what was yet to come.
And as for General Krona? He returned to his homeland and dutifully and accurately reported what had occurred, before laying out his personal theories and fears to the Akuman Senate.
Two weeks later, he was executed for dereliction of duty and general failure in the face of the enemy.
But, as the book closed on one corner of the world, so too did it open on hundreds of others all around the world. A new Age had begun. An Age of Heroes, of Villains, of Soldiers and Sidekicks, of Knights and Kings, Princess and Pirates, Rebels and Emperors and everything that lay inbetween. An Age of Gifts and those who would wield them.
This was the Age of Capes and Cowls…
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