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What a glorious day it was, the blazing heat of the sun filtering over Kerrel's features in a mirror of his own lazy contentment. He was on his way, he'd finally escaped the measly squalor of his Village, and would finally be becoming his own man. No more ridiculous chastising from his relatives, they'd be regretting every word when he proved himself here. Before him - the outlandish vista of Hashan's sundered entrance rose, the eerie power that holds the magnificence of the city aloft thickening the very air with its taste.
Pride filled him from head to toe, a daft, lopsided smile splitting across his lips as the future passed before him. Glory, adoration, everything he wanted was set before him like a feast, ready to be ravaged. Tugging up the unwieldy size of his pack, practically everything he could fit from home, Kerrel laboured his way up to the City gates, utterly ignoring the pitch black of the chasm to either side of the narrow path.
There seemed to be a petulant dull abrasion, gradually rising in volume as he stepped towards the jagged steps, reaching a low shriek of grinding and screeching, as though the isthmus that attaches Hashan to the mainland was constantly on the verge of breaking. Aside from the path, a fearsome knight stood, clad in the inky darkness of heavy armour, visor down, a stern hand clasped to the amaranthine hilt of its broadsword. The incessant milling of people back and forth along the path provided no distraction for the knight, its gaze ever set on the unseen in the utmost retention of vigilance.
Happy to be ignored by the imposing visage of the knight, Kerrel continued on his vague meandering towards the gatehouse, the abrasion of the stone falling flat to his ears. He wasn't about to let his first steps into legend be ruined by such petty annoyances, his scrape with the horribly shrieking spectres hadn't even phased him, though the memory did cause him to glance askance once more to the chasm below. Reaching the thick, bronze gates, Kerrel couldn't help but smile and puff out his chest. He even allowed himself a vain brush of his hair, his youthful golden locks unmarred by the horrors of the world, as he was entirely sure his skills would ensure it would remain. How could anything otherwise happen, he was the best swordsman in his village, after all, and the blade that was lashed to his hip proved so.
With a buffet of wind, strong enough to send Kerrel stumbling to the side, heavy pack lolling over one shoulder, an Atavian torpedoed themselves through the gate, a blur of silver and steel. Eternally calm, the black-clad knight tracked the motion with a cant of its head, but did not stir, instead keeping its unwavering watch fixed beyond, stuck fast on the flier's destination.
The reason for the disturbance, Kerrel did not yet know. He was a newcomer to City life, indeed, and everything was new and unknown, for better or worse. Struggling to shuffle the pack back onto his back, Kerrel brushed aside his now unkempt hair, attempting to put on a strong face by taking anything the City could throw at him. Stepping with further, stronger strides, he passed under the gatehouse, into Hashan proper, safe within the protection of the impenetrable walls at Porta Aquila. "Finally… home," he allowed himself to murmur, a deep exhalation following as he relaxed, melting into the atmosphere he was so utterly oblivious to.
Had he been in any way more astute, he may have noticed the wavering murmur of movement that passed through the crowd around him, the building sense of unease and the stifling quiet as one by one, each mouth stopped moving, each head turned. There had been a yell in the distance, though unheard by most through the bustle of the endless crowd. A blanket of darkness fell, the light that was so recently bathing Kerrel in warmth all but extinguished by the dark. It felt comforting, a shield against the unease that had seeped insidiously through the crowd.
Kerrel was halfway down the street as the blanket fell, and the shock hit him in the temple, the sudden darkness sending his feet tumbling one over the other, hands barely managing to catch the unceremonious tumble of his fall. "What is-" he barely managed to grumble as he lurched to one knee, palms torn up by the tearing of the cobbled ground.
Thundering like the beat of thousand drums, a group of heavily armed soldiers galloped past in their wordless stoicism, blurred by Kerrel's disorientation to the point of flooding his senses with the thud of hooves and gleam of weapons. Behind him, the populace were being ushered into houses, the gates being barred, every possible lock being turned to protect those that must be protected.
It was impossible to make out what was going on under the haze of confusion, Kerrel was stuck stumbling to his senses as yet another group of soldiers marched past, weary resignation set on their features at the prospect of the oncoming storm. There was a great void of noise, the sound of air being drawn into a singular point, and a cracking, ear-splitting explosion set the sky into an orange glow, lighting up even the artificial covering of black night. Another, punctuated by screams of unfathomable pain, echoing through the now empty streets in wails reminiscent of the undead.
If his every sense had not been dulled, Kerrel would be screaming too, but his back was pressed to the wall, and he was scrambling to find shelter, feet scuffing along the ground, all his belongings forgotten in a spot further up the street. He finds it, an alley, cloaked in the promise of safety in secrecy, and with a pirouette of a turn around the corner, he slinks in. Palms to his thighs, he bends over, breath catching in raspy gulps in his throat, sweat a sheen that covers him from head to toe in the stench of fear. Safe.
It was quiet, under the comfort of being hidden between two buildings to fight could almost be forgotten, as though he'd stuffed wool into his ears and closed his eyes. Quaint, even, the flickering light from the street revealing the aftermath of a fiery explosion. Perhaps, with such calm, the slaughter was finally over, the raiding complete.
Peaceful, at last, Kerrel thought, the furious dance his heart beat a tangible slamming against his chest, unable to be calmed with quick fantasies. His lips were dry, the air foul and slick with the smell of burnt flesh, catching in his nostrils as he bent over in a sudden overwhelming wretch. "Just… have to.."
Sharply spiking his shoulder, a searing pain split his skin asunder, piercing through flesh and bone. The figure that melted from the shadows flashed pearly teeth, dirk flashing darker with fatal intent.
Adrenaline shooting through his veins faster than the poison, Kerrel lost his footing in a leap, an inept flop to the side. Stabbing like a viper, the dirk followed - but gasped a jerk as the wielder's fingers shot apart in shock, another blade slicing through the night air even as Kerrel crashed to the ground.
A troll, massive and etched with shimmering runes stood before him, the jagged blade of his macabre bastard sword twisting through the cloaked figure in a spray of blood and entrails. With nary a cursory glance, the plate-clad troll turned, stance shifting into a tension-filled crouch to face the alley entrance.
The scent arrived first, the eerily whistling wind carrying an unmistakeably vile taste of putrefaction and rot. The scrape of metal on stone, and a disfigured knight sweeps around the corner of the now crowded alley, a mace of black steel clutched in each hand - dripping with the gore of recent victims. Falcons wheeling overhead, the two knights squared off, silent and unmoving as a manic grin slipped over the Infernal's features, as unhinged in the heat of battle as a door ajar.
The daze was overwhelming, and even as the stench filled Kerrel's nostrils his temple grew sodden with blood, a slight trickle to accompany his dulling concussion. It was growing hard to stay conscious, as though someone was pulling a cover over his vision, tugging on the lids of his eyes.
Shrivelled fingers clutching, the decaying knight crouched in kind, meeting the Hashani's stance with a suggestive threat. Both lunge, maces going low in a sweeping crush, bastard sword flashing as the runes come aglow, bearing down on its opponents head.
The caw of carrion filled Kerrel's mind, half-awake as metal clashed to metal, and the wool of his eyes became too heavy, the void of blackout overtaking him.
Heat could be felt once more on Kerrel's features, but it seemed to wax and wane, almost as if it were biting and leaping back. The entire of his right side felt as though it were aflame, though something seemed to be blocking the spikes of pain, to be taking the edge off.
Afraid, confused, his eyelids fluttered, the searing brightness of day stinging his pupils with no attempt at sympathy. With bleary blinks, he stirred, throat dry and seemingly clogged with phlegm. The troll that had saved him was knelt at his side, eyes closed as he rested. While the street he seemed to have been moved held a hanging odour of dust and rubble, the utter vileness of earlier had been banished, all expect that which lingered and the back of his sinuses. With a sputter of catching phlegm, Kerrel reached for the troll "I…" His hand touched to the knight's shoulder.
Seemingly vigilant even whilst resting, the trolls head turned, the blue of his eyes alight with sparkling surprise. He immediately shifted to a crouch, facing Kerrel as he placed a gauntlet to his chest, the rune of what animal which had been sketched to the bare skin tingling to the touch. "You're alive…." the troll mused, a cursory glance assessing Kerrel's features, "impressive, lad."
But Kerrel was in no mood for compliments, or the amused glint in the troll's eyes, and he feebly bat at his hand in building frustration. "I'm alive, but I almost died. Several times. I came to help people, not to have my family grieve the instant Mhaldor comes for us."
Brow darkening, the troll looked warily over Kerrel, as if taken aback by the reaction. In the throes of thought, his steel-clad gauntlet grasps to Kerrel's shoulder, gaze firm and thick with the confidence of perspective.
Wavering, the pain in his side seared once more, a reminder of how close he had come to a final end. "How… how can we fight against that, when it's all they live for? When they'll never stop?"
The squeeze on Kerrel's shoulder emphasised the punctuation of the troll's response, as though with a firm grasp he could impart his sureness through touch. "Young man, freedom and happiness do not come cheap, they come with the screams and the roars of those that hate such ideals, and would chain themselves to a fate worse than death. They will be back, with all their hate, all their ideologies." Reaching out with a rune-clad gauntlet, the platinum-haired troll smiled, despite all that had just occurred, he smiled - as if he relished the thought, and the twinkle of apprehension within his eyes met Kerrel's own, genuine belief in his words unmistakeable within. "The question is, will you be here to stand against it, or will you give in, and allow them to take all that you love?"
With a sore flex of fingers, Kerrel hesitated, thoughts of never seeing his family again adrift within his mind. Of them grieving for his death, of his sister's tears at his grave.
"Will you join us in the fight, soldier?"
Those images flicker, drifting to the ravaging of his home, of shackles and irons on the wrists of all he knows, the Infernal that he had so briefly seen, the stench of his rot in his own home. His fingers clasp tight, squeezing the firm metal of the armour-clad hand.
"Where do I sign up?"