The third book is going great! To celebrate hitting 100k words, I thought I'd post a snippet of the final book in "The Atonement Trilogy", The Shadow of War.
**the oh-so inevitable spoilers below**
The howls of wolves heralded the end.
Ethebriel Marthen, King of Kaanos, stood in his throne room. He found himself drawn to one of the many tapestries that lined the ancient oak walls. It depicted two soldiers in pitched battle, one with spear raised to smite the other. The tapestry told the tale of the brothers Sarma and Agris, who, after defeating their many enemies, turned on each other. The stories differed on the reason, whether for control over the lands they conquered, for glory, or for love. But the reason didn’t matter. The point was that both died in the end. It was a fitting metaphor on this eve of destruction.
Ethebriel sighed, turning his attention back to his attendants who were busy strapping on his armor. The captain of his honor guard, Darian, stepped forward and clamped on his breastplate. Ethebriel lowered his arms, tugging on straps and inspecting clasps. He nodded his approval and let himself be led out of the throne room by a retinue of his guards.
A flurry of activity bustled around him as his attendants rattled off their reports. He walked on, listening to them with half an ear. He knew what he had to do. He knew what lay ahead.
His palace doors swung open, and he stepped out into chaos.
A mass of soldiers filled the palace staging area. Men jogged by in formation, others filing into columns. The air stirred with a cacophony of noises, men barking orders, curses, the clanking of armor, the nickering of horses. His men were well-trained, they formed up quickly, moving off down the hill in neat columns.
It was there, buried deeply beneath the discipline and order, that tension before a battle. He saw the looks in their eyes, fear, horror. It was probably in his own too.
A young stable hand ran up, bowing and handing him the reins to his dun destrier. Ethebriel swung himself effortlessly into the saddle and guided his mount down the road. His honor guard trotted along in a wedge formation, shouting for men to make way for their king. The flow of soldiers pressed thick through the narrow road, but soon, Ethebriel and his guards came to the front of the city. They worked their way through the winding roads and formations of men and stopped before the city gate.
Armeth, his friend and advisor, approached with a bow. Ethebriel dismounted and handed his reins to a soldier. The two men stood in silence for a moment.
“This is it,” Armeth said.
“It is.” Ethebriel sighed. “Let us hope we prepared well enough for this day.”
“All of our troops are in place. We pulled as many men as we could from nearby towns and posts, we have forty-five thousand. It still won’t be enough.”
"We have to hope that it will be. You know what to do if we fail here, if I’m captured?”
Armeth nodded grimly. “I still don’t like it though.”
“You will do it. This isn’t the time to argue.”
Armeth nodded again. Ethebriel moved toward the stairway that led to the wall walk. His honor guard and Armeth trailed after him and they stepped out onto the city’s outer wall. Thousands of men lined the wall, their brown and red armor softly glinting in the setting sun.
The distant wolves howled again, gathering for their hunt. Wolves were rare this far south, but reports said that they were growing in numbers, growing bolder every season. Their cries echoed across the plains, carried far by the chill of an early autumn breeze.
The line of soldiers split for him and he stepped up to the wall. He paused, turning to the soldier beside him. He clapped the man on the shoulder and smiled warmly. The man’s tension seemed to ease somewhat, his frown replaced by a look of budding confidence. Ethebriel looked out over the plains of Kaanos.
Tens of thousands of Acedens surrounded Dun Ara. An infinite sea of black armor swallowed the golden fields, stretching off toward the horizon. Their banners flapped in the wind, that strange sigil of Iscarius swathed in stark white against the black. They formed massive ranks around the city, enclosing it off from a safe distance. Men began digging trenches and sharpening poles while others raised tents. They had likely marched all day. They’d set defensive formations and attack in a few days, perhaps weeks. They wouldn’t be in a hurry; they knew they’d take Dun Ara eventually.
Still, Ethebriel didn’t intend to let them take his city easily. He’d bleed them all for their betrayals. They shattered countries, burned innocence. They broke the world. If the rumors were true, then they killed Abaddon. The world could have seen peace. But instead, it kicked and bled in its death throes.
If the other rumors were true, these Acedens had killed kings, conquered countries, brought the world to its knees. And no one even knew why. It was likely that some of Ethebriel’s own men were out there on that field. They had had far fewer uprisings compared to the reports he’d heard from other countries. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t seek to question it. It didn’t matter. Tens of thousands of men had marched on Kaanos from somewhere, and they moved to smother the last gasps of resistance.
This was death. Destruction. The end of it all.
Ethebriel drew his sword with a long rasp of steel. The nearby men stopped whispering, and soon, all eyes were on him. They watched him anxiously, as if waiting for him to say something. There wasn’t anything he could say that would save them. No, now wasn’t the time for words. It was a time for swords.
Ethebriel Marthen, King of Kaanos, thrust his sword in the air with a fierce bellow. Dun Ara exploded with the roars of men ready to meet their end.
Ethebriel smiled into the face of his demise.