Mialee sat on a lone barrel in the corner of the ship’s hold. Her body was weary from the constant pounding of the ocean waves. She knew in her heart that elves should never travel by sea, but it was not the discomfort that plagued her, it was the anticipation of the fight yet to come. Regdar sat on the floor down below, his armor spread out into a comical shape of a man. He had already polished all of his blades, twice, and now as the time wore on he found nothing better to occupy himself than spending hours buffing his armor plates with whale fat. The smell was unbearable, but it was better than the haunting sight of the flat open ocean above.

“What do you think we’ll find when we get there?” she said, turning her nose away.

“A fight, what else.” Regdar grunted as he slaved over a pauldron.

Mialee considered responding with a cold stare, but that would mean turning her nose back toward the stench. “Sure, that’s what Rellig hired us for, but he was a little vague on the specifics. Then he held us back a week because he had other dealings to attend to. I heard that the battle was sure to start before we even arrive.”

“Then they may well be done with it then. And we’ll still be paid the same.”

That was typical Regdar, everything was about the money. “You know,” Mialee said. “Lidda and the others will be counting on us being there. What if the enemy has spellcraft? They’d be out matched.”

“Sure, maybe. But then they are smarter than you give them credit for. They know how to read the signs, to pull back when they are out matched. If they are in dire need of our support, then they’ll wait for us, for certain.”

“I don’t know,” Mialee sighed. “I just wish I knew what we were up against.”

Regdar howled, “Don’t you be making any more wishes!”

Mialee smiled, remembering. “I thought you liked seeing how the other half lived,” she said.

Then they heard a sound that caught them both off guard. “Land-Ho,” shouted a sailer from above. The coast was in sight and that meant they were now in Lord Durmak’s territory. From here on out they would have to survive by their wits alone. If the city had already fallen they could be sailing right into a trap.

“We’d better take a look,” Regdar said. Mialee nodded in agreement. They both clambered up the slat steps to the deck above.

Everywhere there was activity; sailors hauling ropes, securing rigging, loosening lines wrapping the capstans, dropping the main sail. They worked efficiently with barely a shout of command between them, and they ignored the passengers completely. Mialee and Regdar found a path through the havoc and up to the fore castle. From there they caught sight of the shore peeking out from the morning mist.

Paellon, city on the sea, they called it on the map. Mialee had never been this deep into the south lands, neither had Regdar. The city was a sight to behold, huge spires reaching into the sky, a massive port wall and a deep harbor full of merchant ships, and it would have been an awe inspiring one had it not been scorched and burnt, the walls crumbling, a tower of black smoke rising from its heart, and only the floating remains of derelict ships to greet them.

“I hate arriving late,” Mialee shouted against the wind, swinging her fist in the air.

It took them an hour to make port, weaving carefully though the shoals and debris. No one came out to greet them, no one challenged them. The captain put them to shore in a dinghy, oared by two capable men. He would not bring his ship any closer than the outer edge of the harbor, outside the range of the largest trebuchets and ballistae. As soon as they had been deposited on the beach near the foot of a collapsed pier the sailors shoved off and rowed back to their ship. Captain Harringer had given them his word that he would swing back around in two weeks time, on his way back north. If they were still alive, they were welcome to a ride home.

Regdar nearly toppled as he waddled up the sandy slope in full dress plate, his gear and pack slung over his back. Mialee had an easier time at it, her frame slight and her needs few. They had to walk quite a bit along the rock wall before they found a carved series of steps leading up. Regdar certainly was not going to climb the rock face.

The city was in ruins, roofs burned, doors hacked open, crates bashed into splinters along the seaside walk, and of course there was blood, lots of it, dried in large swaths over the cobbles.

“There’s not many bodies,” Regdar said. He found great pleasure in stating much of the obvious.

“I would suspect that most of the people fled when the fighting broke out,” Mialee said. “There seems to be mainly looting here, the battle must be elsewhere.”

Regdar snarled. “True, but I was more worried about the bodies that should be left to match those spots. They did not get up and walk away by themselves.”

They looked at each other, both in recognition, both in dread, hoping that it would not be the case, wondering if they should have brought Jozan.

“Probably a few left behind that cleared them out,” Regdar said.

“Let us hope.”

They wandered through the city for hours, meeting no one. Everywhere there was destruction, vandalism and gore, but nothing moving, nothing like the regiment of soldiers that Regdar had been hired to lead.

Though as they neared the eastern edge and passed beyond the great stone arch that divided the inner city with the outer grounds, signs of recent battle became evident; tipped wagons still burning, shallow trenches adorned with pikes and caltrops and the bodies of men everywhere, draped over makeshift battlements, spread out across the open ground, split open from swords and peppered with arrow shafts.

Mialee paused, breathing in shallow gasps, trying to keep her stomach settled. She had never seen a battle so gruesome, a war so devastating. In truth, she had never seen so much of a battle between men; monsters, sure, creatures of the dark, demons, winged atrocities, beheaded, dissected, deplumed and cast aflame. But she had never seen the aftermath of war so huge, the horizon littered with the fallen, and the stench of ten thousand bodies rotting in the mid-day sun.

“I guess that would be that,” Regdar said under his breath.

Mialee would have agreed with him, if she had been given the chance. She would rather have walked away, stolen back to the beach, found a boat and taken back to sea, but a faint sound piqued her elven ears, a voice, a plea, coming from the wreckage nearby.

Regdar turned to hear it too. He raised his sword and stepped slowly nearer. Mialee hung back and attuned her senses. Something lay hidden under a black billowing tarp spread out haphazardly over the structure of a crushed command tower. Of course they were both shocked to hear the name ring out, and then instantly relieved.

“Regdar,” the small voice spoke.

Mialee could see her now in the shadows, lying listlessly on the ground. Lidda looked bruised and weak, wrapped in bandages improvised from shredded scraps of pennants. She looked of death, but her face sparkled with life as they neared.

Mialee dropped to the ground and opened her pack. She withdrew a wooden flask and held it up to Lidda’s lips. “Compliments of Jozan,” she said.

Lidda sipped as best she could, but the bitter liquid made her cough. Eventually, she choked enough of it down. Mialee made a pillow for her head by balling up her cloak, but it did not add much comfort. Lidda’s body riled in agony as the concoction coursed through her veins, working its magic.

“Let me talk to her,” Regdar urged, and then recoiled from Mialee’s sharp stare. “I mean, when she’s recovered.”

It took some time for the healing to take hold. Mialee sung a quiet song, something that sounded kind and soothing in elvish, even to foreign ears. Regdar, stood, fidgeting, looking out of the plains to the hills and mountains.

“It looks like Durmak’s men have a camp, just at the foot of those hills. I can see some siege towers draped in white sails. I wonder if they were signaling defeat?”

“Not defeat,” blurted Lidda. Her eyes were open again now and her head was lifted somewhat. Mialee stopped singing and helped Lidda sit up.

“Thank you, my friends; I thought I would surely die.”

Mialee spoke, but would not meet her eye to eye. “If only we had not been so late.”

“Yes,” Lidda said putting a hand to Mialee’s shoulder. “You missed a great fight. Legions of Orcs raced across those fields and we stood our ground. They let loose wild beasts and we fought them back. We took everything they threw at us and more.” Lidda smiled.

“But this,” Regdar waved his arms about. “If you succeeded, why then all this? Where are the men? Where are the people?”

“Second wave,” Lidda replied. “We won the first one, and we celebrated. But two days later the second wave hit, and this time they brought dragons.”

“I knew I should have been here!” Mialee gritted her teeth.

“It’s okay.” Lidda consoled her. “We fought them off too. It took everything we had, every last man, woman and child. We could have used a strategist like you, Regdar, and I’m sure your special skills would have come in handy, Mialee.”

“We let you down,” Mialee sighed.

“What you say would explain all the destruction in town. The port, the piers, the walls breached, the spires felled. Dragons are a bitch. Yet what of the battle here? There are men split in half, some turned inside out, some diced into tiny pieces. A dragon would not have bothered. It would have turned them into ash.”

Lidda curled her arms around her raised knees. A tear fell to her cheek. “We thought we’d won again. We thought it was all over. But we were only fooling ourselves. The dragons weren’t the end. It only got worse.”

“A third wave?” Mialee surmised.

“Yes,” Lidda cried.

“Bastards, all of them,” Regdar shouted. “There’s no honor in this.”

“They came from nowhere, vast hoards of them, horned, and winged, with razor sharp teeth and fury in their red burning eyes.”

Mialee gasped. She knew her texts. There could be no other possible truth; creatures from another realm, from beyond her own reality.

“Most everyone fled, but some of us stayed and tried foolishly to hold them off. I suppose we tried to buy time for the others, but it was no use. They captured and tortured everyone they found, toyed with them, dissected them. There was no mercy.”

Mialee embraced Lidda in a hug. “It’s a wonder you survived.”

Regdar stammered, “You should have built a phalanx from the beginning. Demons are nasty and brilliant but their egos are their weakness. A well designed diversion disguised as a fool hearty strike would have put them off balance. You could have used the port ballistae to impale them as they turned to attack the line!”

“Regdar!” Mialee held her hand out toward him, a ball of cool blue energy surging in her open palm. “Silence,” she said.

“We just kept fighting,” Lidda bawled. “Fighting, and fighting, until there were only the two of us, but somehow we survived. They screeched whenever they missed me. After a few minutes I could hear nothing but their wails. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go, so I kept swinging, and swinging.

“And then they were gone. I killed the last one and it fell. I turned to strike another, but hit only open air. There was no one left standing, but I kept swinging. When I finally realized there was nothing left to fight, I just collapsed. I woke up hours later and dragged myself back here. I was covered in cuts and my leg was broken. That was two days ago. I’ve been in and out of consciousness ever since.”

Regdar sat down on a broken beam. “So it is all over then. The war has run its course. I know it seems like failure to you, Lidda, but you made it through alive, and Durmak’s men are defeated. We can certainly get more men down here in due time and shore up the city. One day this will all be forgotten, and all there will be left is laughingly short tale about Lidda the brave hero that saved the city.”

“No,” Lidda coughed. “It’s not done.”

“Don’t be silly,” Regdar laughed. “Durmak’s raised his white sails. They have surrender to you, my little friend!”

“No, not sails look again.”

Regdar turned and squinted out at the horizon. “What do you mean,” he said.

Mialee had a sudden feeling of dread. She backed away from Lidda and stood to look out across the field for herself. Her eyes were much keener then Regdar’s, if there were something out of the ordinary. She gasped.

“Those are no sails,” Mialee stated. Horror washed over her face. The giant towers draped in white were marching forward.

“Titans,” Lidda cried. “The fourth wave!”