Chapter 46: The Battle of Atherstone

The outskirts of Atherstone, 10 hours later…

"Fall back to the city!" The Colonel shouted over the din of battle as thunder rumbled over the battlefield, the rain plastering his hair and bloody uniform. "Fall back!"

The men attempted to hold the line as they retreated back to the massive wall surrounding the city of Atherstone, the large gate standing open as soldiers to the rear flooded through it in barely organized chaos. Beyond the front line high in the air the golden Dragon battled with a multitude of Demons. Unholy magic fizzled against the Dragon's divinely wrought scales as holy fire poured from his mouth while his claws tore them to pieces with relentless fury. And still even more came at him by the dozens while thousands more on the ground clashed with the remains of the First Dawn Command and the Utopian army.

Grabbing one of his officers he yelled in their ear. "Keep the withdraw going! I need to report to the Garrison Commander!"

"Yes sir!" The man shouted as the Colonel raced towards the city gate.

Overhead, Prometheus continued his unending battle with the Demons. After a night and morning of constant battle his golden scales were drenched in dark blood and gore to the point where he could have been mistaken for a black Dragon. Slashing apart the last of the wave that had come against him he took a moment to breathe. Drawing upon the divine power available to him, he allowed its energy to revitalize him and cleanse his scales before he cast a spell. The thunderstorm overhead suddenly became a frenzy of activity before massive bolts of lightning shot from the clouds to slam into the enemy troops below, making them howl in fury. Conjuring more unnatural weather, hailstones and ice rained down upon the enemy as he landed near the front line. Casting a quick eye over the number of troops still fighting, he sighed tiredly.

The First Dawn had been reduced to a fraction of their former might; perhaps a thousand men still fought where before there had been four times that many.

Prometheus's terminators had faired rather better, being far better armored and stronger than any mortal soldier but even they were not invincible against supernaturally strong opponents that wielded weapons crafted outside the mortal plane of existence. Out of the three thousand machines that had accompanied him to the front, perhaps half of their number remained. The losses had not been without cost to the other side either; the remaining demonic horde that had thrown themselves at the fortress of Dour Pentress had been blasted and burned by the Emperor's own power and the advanced weapons he commanded. They would surely have been decimated had they not summoned enough reinforcements to completely refill their ranks with weaker but fresh troops. With numerical superiority great enough to inconvenience even the Ascendant himself the Demons had fallen upon the stone walls with renewed ferocity, murdering with hateful glee the men and machines that had dared to try and hold out against them. With the Utopians unable to utilize their powerful artillery at such close range the Demons had swarmed the fortress, forcing the army to retreat before them throughout the night, their only saving graces the wall of terminators between them and the Emperor's powerful aura that shone like a shield of light as he flew back and forth over the front line, hampering the Demon's advance while his fiery breath beat them back for a short time.

Now they stood at the very gates of Atherstone with the capital of Wintershiven a short distance beyond.

~~Sargent Major! Status report on the regroup!~~ Prometheus commanded, his aura once against bursting forth as he waded into the fray, slashing with his claws.

~~85% of remaining long range assets are in place on the wall.~~ The terminator reported swiftly. ~~50% of the First Dawn Command have moved beyond the main gate and are regrouping at the interior garrison. There appears to be a mustering of internal garrison forces occurring at the request of the Colonel. There are a division of armored knights incoming as well.~~

~~Have them hold back for the time being while we bring out the big guns.~~ He ordered.

~~Understood sir. However, such an action may create up to a 10% loss of front line assets without their aid.~~

~~Enough of their men have been killed already!~~ Prometheus replied grimly as he crushed another Demon in his claws. ~~Have the men on the wall begin their assault once the Colonel has confirmed the withholding. The rest are authorized to fire at will once they are in place.~~

~~Acknowledged.~~

A massive Demon with a bloated pale body leaped towards him with a roar, its massive cleaver poised to cleave his head in two. Sneering Prometheus's fist slammed into the corpulent Demon's body, making it ripple from the force of the blow before it was thrown back, its massive chest and stomach carbonized from the contact as it screamed in pain. Prometheus shouted a command in the language of the Celestials and the Demons nearby roared in pain as the powerful Word bore into their ears like a red hot spike. His tail lashed out as the Demons staggered, slamming them to the ground and each other before a corona of divine power burst from his paws, the energy surging against their front line, consuming dozens as they wailed in agony. Missiles shot from the wall, their contrails creating a vast series of lines across the sky as they slammed into the ranks of the horde, the explosions strong enough to make the battlefield shudder as the pressure waves they created tore holes in their ranks, the Demons' internal organs bursting apart from the unnatural forces assailing them. The terminators on the front lines fought with grim viciousness, their every strike methodical and precise as they ducked and dodged the weapons brought to bear against them while ever so slowly retreating back towards the wall.

~~85% now beyond the main gate.~~ Prometheus's aide reported dutifully.

~~Have the men focus their attack on the remaining flyers!~~ Prometheus instructed. ~~If we're to have any hope of winning this we will need air superiority!~~

~~Acknowledged.~~

Plasma bursts and missiles roared into the sky burning and scattering the horde of Abishai warriors until the sky rained dark blood and grotesque immolated bodies while the Dragon Emperor continued to slash and hack at the ground force's flank.

~~Withdraw successful.~~ The Sargent Major reported. ~~Reinforcements are gathering at the gate now.~~

Prometheus immediately ordered the terminators to withdraw as he flew over the wall, landing in the small empty square near the main gate. The Knight Captain of the garrison quickly strode over to him.

"Under normal circumstances I would pay you the proper deference but I'm afraid we haven't time for protocol." The man stated. "I am Knight Captain Louis Gaston, head of Atherstone's internal defense forces and the Knights Valorous of the Pale."

Prometheus nodded brusquely. "A pleasure. I am Prometheus. I'm sure you are aware of the rest of my titles. How many able bodies do you have?"

"500 so far and a large detachment of our knights though more are constantly pouring in from around the city." The Knight Captain reported.

Prometheus nodded. "1500 of your men and another 1500 or so of mine against around 3000 Demons." He smirked then. "Interesting odds."

The man looked at him incredulously before barking out a grim laugh. "True enough. I have no doubt this will be a fight worthy of my men. Let us hope we can stop them here."

"We managed to kill their winged comrades so they will need to go through the wall. That will slow them down somewhat." Prometheus informed him. "But we must be prepared to withdraw back to Wintershiven and demolish the bridge connecting the two cities if it comes to it."

Gaston nodded. "I'll alert the Inquisition; their wizards can start on that immediately. Do you have any other suggestions?"

"Once my men are through, close the gate." Prometheus instructed. "I have some other assets I can bring to bear once this is done that should help reduce their forces even more and allow us to counter attack. If that fails, create choke points where you can should the Demons manage to breach the gate." He replied. "I will spread my men out through your ranks. They are capable of taking on a Demon in single combat so your men will not be completely helpless should they need to split into teams. What of civilians?"

"Thankfully when we heard the news of Tenh being overrun the Governor was wise enough to listen to my recommendation for evacuation." The man stated. "The majority of the city's people have either taken refuge in Wintershiven or into the countryside beyond."

Prometheus grimaced. "If Atherstone falls Wintershiven will be next."

Gaston gave him a grim look. "More than that, there will be no place in the Pale that is safe before long."

Turning away, the Captain moved to the large column of troops, the Knights of the Pale dressed in shining plate and bearing stout pikes as well as broadswords while the normal infantry was dressed in various types of mail bearing short swords. Ahead of them at the gate the last of the terminators continued to slowly retreat into the city.

"You are men of the Pale and Knights Valorous!" He shouted. "Whatever comes through that gate you will kill it! Let the light of Pholtus our bright Lord shine through you and we will have victory this day!"

As the last of the terminators retreated through the massive opening they began to push the massive wooden doors of the gate shut, the Demons attempting to force their way through the gap. Striding forward Prometheus fired a blast of holy power from his paws into the crowd of Demons making them scramble backwards. The few seconds of retreat allowed the machines to slam the gate shut. The gates were immediately barred with stout bars and several more terminators quickly rushed to the top of the wall, the remainder moving throughout the ranks of the Pale's men with quiet efficiency.

Prometheus quickly scaled the wall, sending a message to the units he had held back out of necessity.

~~Alpha flight. De-cloak and engage from the rear.~~

~~Copy that.~~

Several miles away in a quiet field a half dozen stubby VTOL aircraft shimmered into existence. Their vertical wing engines whining to life, they quickly lifted into the air before shooting forward. Several moments later they neared Wintershiven.

~~Target in sight. Initiate targeting run.~~ The lead pilot stated.

The men of the two cities suddenly stared upward as the alien roar of jet engines filled the sky. Gaston watched in surprise from the wall as the half dozen aircraft quickly flew over the city and beyond the battlefield before slowly turning about two miles beyond the army and slowly flying forward utilizing their vertical engines.

~~Weapons free on your orders sir.~~ The lead pilot informed Prometheus.

~~Fire at will.~~ He ordered immediately.

Emerging from their protective casings the mini-guns and missile launchers on the underside of the craft opened fire with storms of ordinance. The flood of incendiary rounds tore into the Demons near the wall, turning them into paste as the bullets pierced their skin before exploding violently inside them. Hundreds fell within the first few moments as explosions and shrapnel turned more Demons into gory hunks of flesh as the newly reinforced First Dawn erupted from the damaged city gate, the Knights Valorous charging forward along with the remaining terminators of the Dragon Emperor.

~~Sargent Major I thought I ordered the men to hold back! ~~ He shouted over his comm.

~~Apologies sir but the Knight Captain stated, and I quote, 'My knights will not stand idly by while there is glory to be won and enemies to kill'.~~

The damn fool is going to get his men killed! Prometheus snarled, punching another Demon hard enough to make its armored chest cavity cave in completely. ~~Alpha flight! Continue your assault on the center of the army! No human casualties!~~

The order was acknowledged and the aircraft began to pull back. At the center of the horrific mass of creatures the General was roaring in anger. Once again the Dragon had managed to bring new weapons into the fight! Grabbing one of his servants, he ordered his blasphemous sorcerers to destroy the flying machines that dared strike at his army with such impunity. Utilizing the power of the storm above them, the General's cabal of arcanists, hidden in reserve throughout the strung out battle, forced nature to bend to their unholy will. Lightning bolts of immense power shot from the clouds to strike the aircraft faster than the terminators piloting them could react. While the VTOL's had been designed to fly in inclement weather and even survive a stray lightning strike such focused destructive power was beyond the hardened circuits to endure. Fires erupted in cockpits as engines ruptured. Hoping to damage the enemy in death the machines smashed into the great horde before their self-destruct mechanisms activated. The craft exploded sending metal debris flying in all directions. The freed turbine blades spun through the air, impaling and bisecting multiple Demons as they passed.

Pelor confound these monsters! Prometheus raged as he tore into the Demons around him. ~~Sargent Major! Report on the air assault and you better have good news! I don't want to hear those aircraft were destroyed for nothing!~~

~~Sir, the last transmission we received from Alpha flight before they detonated suggested a kill count of approximately 960 enemy forces.~~

~~As good as we could have gotten I suppose.~~ Prometheus huffed, his blood still boiling at the ease with which the enemy had managed to take down his strike craft. Damn those mages! I can't believe he held them back all that time!

As if his very thoughts had been plucked from his mind by vile sorcery, a volley of fireballs arced across the battlefield to slam into the front lines. The dark warriors became all the more fearsome as their bodies became wreathed in unholy fire, the Demons' hide impervious to the flames, even as the Knights of the Pale were thrown back by the powerful blasts, their armor scorching to the touch. Men screamed as the unbearably hot metal burned the flesh inside them through protective cloth. Shrugging off the fire the terminators continued to try and hold the line though it was becoming clear the sheer weight of numbers was pushing them back.

~~Sir! Reports from the wall indicate the artillery forces have no more ordinance with which to engage the enemy.~~ The terminator reported dispassionately. ~~Sniper teams are still in position and are able to engage.~~

Things go from bad to worse! Prometheus groaned mentally. ~~Have the artillery begin to set up choke points and natural gauntlets within the city limits! We may need to make use of them soon if we cannot hold here! And inform the Knight Captain of those movements!~~

~~Confirmed.~~

Another round of arcane power shot from the mages scattered throughout the ranks of the army to slam against the front line, sending men flying. Rallying, the Demons began to push hard against the weakened line which drove the terminators and remaining men even further back. Taking to the air Prometheus began to attack the Demons at the front with his breath, allowing the line of terminators and soldiers to retreat through the large archway. Landing in front of it Prometheus continued to use his breath before he himself retreated through the gateway. Gripping the massive doors he flung them shut with a massive thud. Pressing his paws against the wood he muttered prayers of protection and strength. Light blazed as an aura of power surrounded the door and Prometheus stepped back. Moments later the sound of howling Demons could be heard from the other side as the unholy creatures attempted to breach the wards physically, the power burning their flesh. Atop the wall the sharpshooters continued to fire upon the Demons as Prometheus withdrew several hundred feet back to the square where Knight Captain Gaston waited.

"I saw what your flying machines did to the Demons." He muttered. "Most impressive. Would that we had had such machines on our side the entire time this battle would have been over much more swiftly." He hinted darkly.

Prometheus glanced over at the man's reproach. "It would have made little difference." He replied. "Until the skies had been cleared such power would have been rendered useless. Mortal armor can only hold so long against such foes and there were hundreds of them in the beginning. Even now they did not have as much impact as I'd hoped thanks to their mages." He sighed.

Explosions rocked the massive gate as the ward flared brightly before beginning to dim against the terrible onslaught of power assaulting it. Wood panels began to splinter and cave as Prometheus and the Knight Captain looked on grimly. Behind them, their men were desperately creating areas of resistance, blocking narrow streets using whatever they could that could slow the Demons as they attacked.

"Let us pray they are not used to street battles." Gaston stated wearily.

"Are there no other assets you could bring to bear against them?" Prometheus asked.

"The Theocrat has apparently decided that the clerics of the Inquisition and his own forces would be better served defending the council and Wintershiven." The man replied in disgust. "Unless the enemy reaches the bridge we are on our own."

Prometheus thumped a fist against the ground in frustration as he ground his fangs.

"My thoughts exactly." Gaston muttered as another wooden panel burst apart, the ward dimming even further.

"Your presence will do no good here." Prometheus muttered quietly. "Return to your men and oversee their movements. I will hold the Demons here as long as I am able. With Pelor's, and Pholtus's, aid I may be able to thin their ranks just enough."

The man looked at Prometheus doubtfully but nodded. "May Pholtus's light be with you." He stated solemnly before departing.

Prometheus began to quietly murmur prayers to Pelor as the gate splintered further, the wooden sections now almost completely caved in and broken. Suddenly a burst of power slammed into the gate. The ward flared, then died as the gate burst apart. Shielding his eyes from stray sharp beams Prometheus thrust forth his hand. Golden light shot from it, blasting the Demons on the other side of the portal, making them scream.

"You shall not take this city!" Prometheus bellowed angrily.

Fire erupted from his mouth as he attempted to hold the Demons at bay but some were able to slip through. Ignoring them he continued to pour fire into the entrance, the stone arch slowly beginning to melt from the intense, constant heat. Suddenly a great roar issued from the entrance. As he watched his fire was slowly pushed back by the immense demonic General as he forced himself through the archway, a massive shield taller than the Demon itself clenched in his claws. The solid slab of iron and steel began to turn red hot even through the powerful dark enchantments laid upon it by Hell's sorcerers. The Demon paid the powerful flames no mind as his minions began to flood around him through the gateway. The shield quickly became hotter and hotter until it began to glow brilliantly, the unholy enchanted metal losing its cohesion against the relentless energy and fire assailing it. As liquid metal slag began to splash upon the ground he flung the shield at Prometheus's head. The Dragon dismissively smacked away the liquefied shield with a paw before he turned to try and stem the tide of Demons around him. Unwilling to let the Dragon attack his army the General bellowed loudly before running at Prometheus, pulling a massive war hammer free from between his bat-like wings. Snarling, Prometheus turned to face the General as the massive creature closed the distance between them. The Demon leaped, swinging his hammer at Prometheus's snout only to have the Dragon jerk his head back and slam his fist into the creature's flank, knocking him sideways through the air. The General landed heavily but quickly got to his feet.

"So the little man can turn into a Dragon!" The General jeered around his charcoal grey tusks. "How cute!"

"You are a fool if you think you will win this battle!" Prometheus snarled.

The General merely laughed. "We have already won! Look around you! Your gate lies broken and within a matter of hours both cities will be ours!"

"Not while these men have the courage to face you!" Prometheus stated boldly.

The Demon merely smiled perversely. "Then I shall teach them what it means to fear Hell."

Roaring, the Demon charged him again. Prometheus unleashed a blast of fire at the Demon but the powerful General charged through it, uncaring of the holy energies that burned his flesh and scorched his armor. Swinging powerfully, the hammer smashed into Prometheus's nose, the powerful blow snapping his head to the side. Prometheus roared in anger, back-handing the Demon with his fist and sending the creature flying across the square and into one of the nearby buildings. Brick and mortar were disintegrated as the General smashed through the wall completely, leaving a cloud of dust behind. Wasting no time Prometheus charged through the remains of the wall and into the Demon as he got to his feet, sending him soaring through the other side of the building, his war hammer flying from his grip. Regaining his bearings the Demon dodged to the side, barely avoiding Prometheus's fist, his armor and flesh burning from contact with the Dragon's divine power. He quickly ran towards his war hammer only to have Prometheus's tail slam into him like a solid steel beam, sending him flying once again though he managed to right himself with his wings and land on his feet, his torso aching from the battering and his black armor crumpled.

"You have already lost this battle." Prometheus smiled fearsomely, displaying his fangs. "You have no hope of winning!"

The General chuckled through the pain at this. "Do you truly expect me to surrender to you? Any punishment you might devise would be a coddling compared to what my masters will do to me if I return in disgrace! You will not dare keep me here in one of your pathetic prisons! Even if you destroy me here, so long as I fight to the end I will have served my purpose!"

"Then I will make your end swift!" Prometheus swore as he charged again.

"I think not!" The Demon hissed before teleporting away an instant before Prometheus would have slammed into him again.

Roaring in anger at being denied his prey Prometheus climbed onto the top of one of the buildings nearby. Down the main causeway the Demons continued to pour into the city by the hundreds. Gritting his fangs he leaped, landing in the middle of the massive street, crushing a dozen of them with his body. Stretching out his wings to their full length to encompass the entire street he forced his aura outwards, creating a living barrier separating the massive column. Hedged in by the buildings on either side the Demons could only scream as fire poured from Prometheus's mouth, the creatures to the rear retreating quickly, desperate for another way through the city. Prometheus forced his way forward, his wings knocking the Demons backwards as they tried to avoid his fiery breath while his tail swiped at any of the Demons behind him foolish enough to try and attack him. Words of Celestial power bellowed from his mouth and a pure tone like a massive bell rang out before him, the holy sound making the Demons howl as they clutched their heads in pain. Charging, Prometheus's body slammed into them, his clawed paws and feet making the street run with dark blood as slashed and tore into them, trampling others underfoot even as they tried to flee until he came to the end of the column. While some at the rear had managed to escape his rampage, nearly 200 demonic corpses lay strewn about the causeway creating a gruesome line of ravaged dead.

Taking a few seconds to refocus he turned to look down the street where masses of Demons were still trying to ravage the city. Fires began to rage as unholy energies exploded against buildings and flammables while screams filled the air. Climbing to the top of another building he took to the air. Suddenly the large column began to disburse down various side streets with some hiding in buildings themselves. While some were able to move about unhindered, the majority found themselves facing primitive roadblocks with lines of men and terminators barring their way. Frustrated that he could not be at each battle at once, Prometheus began to strafe the main column with his breath even as it tried to break apart as quickly as possible to avoid his wrath. Suddenly he felt a blaze of dark power above him an instant before the General materialized, slamming into his back, his powerful body covered in a new suit of black armor from head to toe. Snarling Prometheus barrel-rolled in an attempt to dislodge the creature but the General's gauntleted hands clung to him obstinately. The head of the creature's war hammer slammed into his back, making the Ascendant hiss in annoyance, his paws unable to reach the Demon from his position. Focusing his arcane power Prometheus forced himself to become ethereal, the Demon falling through him with an angry bellow as the Dragon became solid seconds later. Wrapping his wings around himself, Prometheus swiftly began to lose altitude. The Demon barely had time to unfurl his wings before Prometheus's massive body slammed into him with the force of a multi-ton boulder. The General roared in fury as the two plummeted to the ground, Prometheus body slamming into the street with a thunderclap, the General's body beneath him. Clearing his head from the stunning impact Prometheus stood up from the small crater he had made, the Demon's splayed body encased in the ground beneath him. Groaning, the creature slowly began to move only to have Prometheus grab him by the back of the neck and haul him upwards, his arms and wings limp. Gripping the edge of the plate armor covering the Demon's torso Prometheus tore it away with a shriek of tearing metal.

"You…will not…stop us." The General wheezed.

Sneering, Prometheus tore the helm from the General's head, staring balefully into his hateful eyes. "If this was the best you have your defeat is certain." Prometheus declared firmly. "Die knowing you have failed your masters!"

Bunching his claws Prometheus slammed his fist into the Demon's chest with all of his strength. The creature howled in agony as Prometheus's fist burst through his back between his wings, the Demon's gory spine clutched in his palm as dark blood gushed from the massive hole. Crushing the spine with disdainful ease Prometheus jerked his hand back, ripping out the Demon's innards and flicking them away in disgust as the Demon's blood sizzled on his scales before releasing the creature. Coughing and wheezing the Demon fell to his knees, his gaze becoming unfocused before he pitched forward onto the ground, unmoving. Prometheus used a bit of his breath to clean his hand of the lingering taint of Demon blood. Taking a moment to smile in grim pleasure at his work he once against climbed to the top of a building to get a birds-eye view of the city. Off in the distance he could see Wintershiven across the wide river with the large bridge connecting the two cities. Flapping his wings he flew over the cityscape, looking about to survey the enemy's movements as he did so. Spotting the Knight Captain near the bridge with his keen eyes he quickly flew to the large open plaza before it, landing with a thump. Men scurried about creating more barricades to block the streets that led from the city to the bridge as the Captain continued shouting orders to the wizards on the bridge.

"GET THOSE WARD SCHEMES SET! I WANT THAT BRIDGE READY TO BLOW TEN MINUTES AGO!" The man shouted, gesturing to the men before turning to Prometheus. "I am glad to see you survived! How did you fair at the gate?"

"Not as well as I'd hoped but another 200 of them are dead along with the General." Prometheus replied.

The Captain's face twisted into a grim smile. "Good. Hopefully that will disorganize them enough to give us a fighting chance. It appears the Theocrat has finally taken notice of our activities; some of the Inquisition's men are beginning to gather on the other side. If we are lucky I may be able to persuade some of them to assist us."

Prometheus nodded. "The army is beginning to disperse throughout the city without the General leading them. There is still a large push down the main causeway but it appears to have stalled for the moment. It occurs to me that we can box them in at the river should they try to cross the bridge while our men attack their flanks and rear."

Gaston frowned. "It could work but I fear we would lose many men if they decide to fight to the last."

Prometheus shook his head. "If we do not kill them all here, they will simply create chaos in the countryside around and perhaps even try to sneak their way into Wintershiven to cause more strife. We dare not let them flee to spread their evil."

Gaston nodded. "True enough and our options are few as it is." He grimaced. "Go now and aid who you can. I will keep things moving here."

Nodding, Prometheus took to the air once again, scanning the Demons' activity as he flew over the city.

We have cut off the head of this army. Prometheus thought to himself. Now we must force the flailing body to go where we wish. I had hoped we could keep them as far away from Wintershiven as possible but that option is gone. The river is our only true blockade now and that is where we must stop them. I only hope Demons are poor swimmers or better yet, adverse to water.

~~Sargent Major, give me sitrep!~~ He instructed over his comm.

~~All long range assets have abandoned the outer wall and are focused on aiding the various blockades within the city.~~ The terminator reported. ~~Approximately 45% of the choke points have been overrun with our men and the Pale's falling back to whatever defensive positions within the city can be found.~~

~~Give me visual.~~ Prometheus instructed.

The nanites in his brain quickly generated a real time holographic map of the city in his vision, marking various blockades in red and orange as well as the position of their troops holed up in various buildings as the Demons continued their rampage.

~~Have all forces abandon the barricades and regroup at these coordinates.~~ Prometheus ordered, the nanites matching his eye movements to positions on the map. ~~Force the Demons to move towards the river and herd them into one large mass if possible. When they near the river attack their flanks and rear guard to push them against the bank.~~

~~Understood.~~ The machine replied.

As he watched, the real time display began to change with troops moving out from their various positions, slowly creating a giant segmented semi-circle around the front and sides of the demonic army as they began hit and run attacks designed to frustration and drive the Demons.

They have become the live bait that befuddles the pack as it tries to chase them down, unaware of its surroundings. Prometheus mused. I am the lion that brings down the stragglers and scouts. Pelor, grant me the wisdom to press them only so hard and no harder that they might fall into our trap.

Landing in an abandoned cross street he quickly transformed into his Ash persona, wearing the plate armor he had previously worn as the Knight Commander and the white battle robe of a war cleric around it. Latching on his helmet he pulled his mace from his belt and began to run towards the nearest pocket of Demons several hundred yards away. Pausing to hide around the corner of a building he sized the small pack. The creatures were prowling the street and sniffing the air to find new prey as they wandered their lanky bodies and massive claws moving in quick, jerky movements. Gripping his mace Prometheus charged. Hearing his heavy footfalls the Demons immediately spun, their claws outstretched. Roaring a battle cry Prometheus slammed the head of his mace against the side of one of the Demons' heads, caving in its skull. Roaring in anger the creatures quickly began to swipe and slice at Prometheus as he twisted about. Ducking under a slash he slammed his gauntleted fist into the creature's jaw, shattering the bone beneath and snapping back its head before another punch to the temple brought it down. A backswing from his mace caused another Demon to stagger backwards, its face a ruined mess as it howled. A powerful roundhouse kick to the gut that would have been impossible for a normal man in such armor rendered another Demon helpless before a mace to the head silenced its angry snarls. Suddenly claws filled Prometheus's vision as the wickedly strong talons of the last Demon slashed at his helmet with a screech of metal, scoring a series of shallow gashes. Prometheus's hand whipped forward grabbing the Demon by the throat and crushing it with his prodigious strength. An instant later his mace finished the job, braining the creature, making its body collapse like a marionette with its strings cut.

Dropping the body to the ground without a second thought he continued to move about the city, murdering small pockets of Demons wherever he could find them and occasionally assisting some of the fire teams that were trying to goad larger groups into following them. Gradually, the Demons began to succumb to the relentless prodding, the large group that made up the majority of the army slowly marching towards the river, intent on following their last orders to sack the capital as the Pale's men appeared to retreat before them, sniping and attacking their front line and just as quickly disappearing before the Demons could charge. While frustrated at the constant biting attacks the Demons seemed to be unconcerned given their greater numbers and the progress they had already made. As the various groups began to slowly converge on the large bridge the Pale's troops and Prometheus's own quietly began to encircle them from the rear and sides, keeping out of sight and scent range while Prometheus once again joined the Knight Captain at the bridge. On the far side at the edge of the river for hundreds of yards stood a line of grim clerics in white and silver robes, each of them clutching staves of white while behind them stood columns of knights and warriors.

Prometheus took a moment to scrutinize them before turning to Gaston. "I take it they have a plan?"

The man nodded. "So they say though the only thing they told me was that we must push the Demons into the river but not let them emerge from it. Let us hope the High Inquisitor has not taken leave of his senses. The wounded have already crossed over to the other side and the bridge is ready to be brought down on my order."

Prometheus nodded and the two men quickly marched across the wide stone bridge connecting the two cities, the deep, large river flowed loudly beneath them as Prometheus relayed these new orders to the men. As the two reached the other side the Demons began to emerge from the various streets, the large army slowing as they reached the mouth of the bridge, massing their entire strength as a wide front along the river bank. The Demons carefully looked at the force arrayed before them on the other side, Prometheus and Gaston remaining carefully silent as both men prayed their gamble would pay off. Hideous dark laughter began to emerge from the ranks of the unholy army as the ones in the center prodded their fellows forward, confident in their superiority. Grinning horribly the creatures began to charge across the bridge, howling for blood as they came. Gaston tensed at the hundreds of terrifying horrors that bore down on them with animalistic roars. As the Demons reached the halfway point Gaston raised his right hand in a fist. Suddenly arcane power flared across the bridge as lines of magical script activated, placed there by the Inquisition's wizards. Explosions turned the bridge into flying pieces of rubble and the entire structure quickly collapsed, dumping the howling Demons into the churning river below. Some were swept away though many barely held their ground against the powerful current. At that moment the army struck, attacking the remaining Demons with renewed ferocity. Harried and furious the rest of the Demons were slowly pushed into the river, forcing their comrades forward even as the water came up to their chests. As the front line slowly drew closer to the river bank a cry issued from the rear of the clerics' line.

"Inquisitors! Show these fools the power of our god, the Blinding Lord! Let His power be known to all this day so that none may doubt His supremacy!"

The clerics at the edge of the river suddenly raised their staves in unison with a powerful shout and the weapons in their hands began to glow with actinic white light. With a single thrust hundreds of staves stabbed into the water. Power flared from the weapons as a thunderclap echoed across the river, the rushing water instantly filled with potent divine energies, turning it brilliant white. Screams of pain issued from thousands of throats as the mass of Demons were boiled alive in a rushing river of pure and energized holy water. A second imperious command issued from the rear and a surge of blinding white light shot from each of the clerics' hands creating a mighty wave of power nearly a mile wide that roared over the Demons like a tidal wave, the very air charged with holy energy. As the light slowly cleared the river once again became visible.

Not a single Demon remained.

From the rear of the crowd a tall imperious man in rich white and silver robes came forward.

"The High Inquisitor himself." Gaston murmured to Prometheus as the hawk-faced man strode to the edge of the river bank to examine it for himself. Nodding, he turned to face the crowd and raised his hands.

"Our city has been cleansed by the power of Pholtus! Praise be to His blinding light! We have victory!" He shouted.

The men raised their arms with a great cheer as they began chanting Pholtus's name. Nearby Gaston glanced over at Prometheus with an unhappy frown. The High Inquisitor turned to look at the two of them and smiled coolly.

"Knight Captain Gaston. You have done your part well in this battle and you have our thanks. Rest assured you will be greatly rewarded for your valor here as well as the men you fought alongside with. The Theocrat is most pleased with how you have comported yourself in the face of overwhelming odds."

"And Colonel Masterson of Dour Pentress?" Gaston asked with quiet insistence.

The man smiled indulgently. "I have not forgotten. He too shall be rewarded as well as the First Dawn. There is no shame in withdrawing against such a force when one can fall back to a better position and take them unawares. The two of you concocted a masterful plan indeed and we provided the final blow to destroy them utterly. Beautiful!"

The Knight Captain frowned at the insinuation. "Are you not forgetting the Dragon Emperor's assistance?" The man asked with barely disguised irritation. "Were it not for him—"

"Take care!" The Inquisitor stated sharply before glancing over at Prometheus and turning to face him fully. "We do not forget our allies' aid in this." He stated formally. "You have the thanks of the Theocrat and of Pholtus for your service to us. Be content with what blessings He may bestow upon you in His generosity for humility before Him is praiseworthy indeed."

Without waiting for a response the man turned and walked back into the celebrating crowd as they began to move towards the city, the line of clerics slowly dispersing through the crowd. Prometheus stood there stonily, glaring at the man's back as Gaston clenched his fists in anger.

"He dares much saying such to your face!" The man hissed angrily. "How dare he talk to someone of your stature in that way after all the aid you gave us?!"

"Be at peace." Prometheus sighed, resting a hand on the man's shoulder. "It does me no good to take this away from them and neither the Inquisitor nor the Theocrat will change their minds even if I insisted. Let them have their victory and their honors; they will need it far more than I in the days to come. For myself, I am grateful to have saved so many; knowing that they will live to see tomorrow's sunrise with their families is all I require."

Gaston sighed, releasing the tension from his shoulders and nodding. "The Emperor of Utopia is wise." The man stated with quiet humility.

Prometheus smiled quietly. "And thus Pholtus brings illumination to you even through a heathen such as myself. Are His ways not mysterious?"

The man chuckled quietly. "That I cannot deny, though I will never call you heathen after today. A false image of Pholtus you may worship but it is close enough for me. For what it's worth, you have my thanks. Should you need my aid, and assuming my masters do not command me otherwise, the First Dawn and the Knights Valorous of the Pale are yours to call upon if need be."

"You have our aid as well." A firm and slightly high-pitched voice stated from nearby, causing the two of them to look over.

A man in black plate armor with long curly brown hair and a rough lean face strode forward through the departing crowd and stood before them. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Knight Commander Lukosia of the Knights of the Gloaming."

Prometheus inclined his head to the man. "I am honored to meet you Knight Commander Lukosia. I am grateful for your willingness to aid me but I am curious as to the reason."

"Even if what was done here was not enough, there is another reason." Lukosia stated. "These Demons did not emerge from Tenh by coincidence. They were brought here by foul sorcery and a portal of great power. My brethren and I consist of a small but powerful Order devoted to the destruction of Demons and their ilk at the command of the Inquisition. Sadly we could not take part in this battle for our numbers would have been too few. Our specialty is not open warfare but rather the tracking and destruction of individual Demons that work in secret. We have also been charged with the destruction of any device or portal that allows such filth into our world. Normally we trace rumors of such vileness to their source and eliminate it quickly before the threat becomes realized but this has caught us completely off guard and for that we must atone, even if it means working with those the Inquisition consider heathens. Fortunately, we do not share the Inquisition's views about outsiders."

"Go on." Prometheus nodded.

The man smiled thinly. "We were not unaware of you and your empire, not to mention your many personal accomplishments. But we became much more interested in you when we learned that you had become a temporary conduit for our Lord Himself when He chastised the Theocrat some time ago. We have learned of what is to come for this world and we know the mechanisms by which Demons may enter it, and how to destroy them. Though the Theocrat would desire otherwise even he dare not oppose Pholtus so directly when He has made His will known. Like it or not, you are an ally of Pholtus and so that grants us leeway when desiring to work with those beyond the Pale. With your resources and our skills combined we stand a chance of destroying the portal to the west before more Demons can emerge to trouble us again. And if by chance we should learn of other portals in need of destruction, well then," the man smiled cunningly, "all the better. After all, we are simply doing the will of our Lord by hunting His enemies and keeping the Pale safe."

The man held out a gauntleted hand. "What say you to this?"

Prometheus smiled in return, clasping the man's hand. "I believe we can do much for each other Knight Commander."