The blood-soaked knights crested the ridge and came to a halt, surveying the scene below. Flames burned bright, lurking creatures hissed and growled, and all around, the voices of banshees chirped their disapproval.
Rain fell heavily on their broad shoulders, clad in scarlet plate mail. Mud-spattered and dented, they had traveled miles through dangerous terrain, had survived flood and famine, had survive the disastrous Herman campaign, to come to this rise. Now each man stared down into the big valley before them.
They had miles to travel before they would reach it. Miles to recover strength and prepare for the coming battle.
Sir MacNaulty, the Artillery Captain was the last to reach the group. His men rested the catapults and adjusted their hide armor as they looked back. Each remembered the trials of the days past.
The Knight Commander Christoph rode up on his steed, a massive white charger clad in red barding. Somehow, the beast stood regal before him, despite the cataclysmic surroundings.
“It’s been a long road,” the Artillery Captain said.
“It has.” Replied the Knight Commander, looking down the road now past.
They had started from the village of Piscataway. They knew the road would be long and difficult, but they forged ahead anyway, knowing the people of the land of Jersey were behind them.
Immediately, they were hounded by vicious Winter Wolves. The Scarlet Knights fought them valiantly, but the beasts were too much. The Knights fell before the wolves, breaking rank. They were forced to run and run they did, barely escaping the thrashing jaws of the husky dogs.
As they burst from the road, raking talons and stabbing beaks assailed them. Giant Eagles surrounded them from all sides. Rushing at them with surprising speed and unseen fury. The Knights again took heavy losses at the hands of the eastern beasts.
Coming to a clearing, the knights caught their breath for a moment, before the roars overtook them. Werebears, gnashing their teeth closed in from the woods around. The Knights closed ranks and avenged their fallen, slashing and kicking, stomping and throwing punches. The state of the bears following the battle was sorry, and the Knights moved on.
They entered a field of maize, taller than they had ever seen. As their company marched through, strange hoots and hollers came from all around them. Bizarre words that had no sane meaning. Suddenly, they were pelted with corn from all sides, husks raining down on them with unyielding vigor. The Knights were once again defeated and were forced to run from the strange corn people.
Their horrors took a turn for the worse as they entered the accursed woods. Dark branches on giant trees arched overhead. They had stumbled upon the wood of the Treants and were to be punished. The air filled with massive buckeyes, hurtling with unimaginable speed. All around them, massive five-armed leaves fell, creating a state of death and destruction. The Knights ran once more.
“The accursed wood was the worst of it,” mused Christoph.
“Aye. I don’t think we were able to even fire the catapults once,” replied Sir MacNaulty.
The Knight Commander nodded, and then took a breath as he proudly remembered how his men rallied.
Staggering from the vile woods, they had encountered a waiting band of fighters. Smiths by the mark of their orange tabard. Their foes had laughed heartily, expecting an easy kill, loving the moment. The Knights had similarly laughed as they left the land of the Illini, victory in hand, the scalps of those fighters littering the battlefield.
Next, it was a band of hammer-wielding dwarves, hands black and gold from the mines. They too haughtily laughed at the mud-spattered Knights. They too fell before the charging hooves of their cavalry, run over and decimated by their charge.
The Knights fought on valiantly, chased through the dale by a herd of Dire Wolverines – nasty, mean creatures with an uncouth disposition. They fought valiantly and with honor, doing their best to turn aside the devious attacks of the Wolverines.
Then, the knights encountered the most bizarre creature of their journey. A massive, gargantuan turtle, bedecked in red and yellow and black, with patterns seemingly changing at random. With a blast, the Knights’ catapults turned it into a crimson and citrine mess.
The rest of the journey was a blood and rain-soaked flight that the Knights would rather forget, which brought them to the rise they now stood upon.
They turned from the road now past and looked to the path ahead.
The path twisted and turned over hill and dale, first diving into a broad field known to harbor wild bobcats. They would be easily dispatched by the heavily armed Scarlet Knights, yet dangerous if disregarded. These small animals should pose no threat to their advance.
Much unlike the bobcats loomed dark shadows beyond. The cursed wood of Horse’s Shoe. The same groans of Treants wafted through the valley, their wails of might echoing across the canyon, repeating more times than a person would care to hear. Yet something about these trees felt less terrifying than the dark wood they had just emerged from. Perhaps these knights would have a less harrowing ordeal than their last flight through leaves and buckeyes.
Swirling over the forests, a flock of enormous, bright blue and red birds of prey stalked the knights. They knew they would do battle soon, though their shields would defend them well and their catapults would make quick work of the birds’ frail defenses.
Beyond the hawks, reanimated corpses of Buffalo long expired shambled about a bog frozen with winter wind. While sure to put up a fight, the Paladins’ ability to turn undead would surely cause a fetid stampede, if not destroy them outright.
Under the hawks and darting in between the zombified herd, the Knights saw – nay, heard the most irritating, offensive, and bizarre obstacle in their way. A Gibbering Mouther. A disgusting, vile beast prone to vocal outbursts in a craven stream of nonsense, this massive crimson pile of stinking flesh sat deep in a quarry, it’s dozen mouth holes each producing a cacophonous, nonsensical, ridiculous din that made even the most steely Knight cringe.
“We’ll have to silence that one for sure” said Zu, a diminutive, fiery Knight.
Beyond the mouther, another band of blue and orange-clad fighters lay in their path. Perhaps once impressive, this group seemed worse for the wear. An easy target that the Knights would love charging down on their ride to freedom.
“This could be easier than we thought,” Artillery Captain MacNaulty mused.
“Look beyond the quarry, beyond the rif raff.”
MacNaulty surveyed the land. Their target – a bowl-shaped valley at the end of the path – would require them to break through against one of a half dozen enemies.
A stinking bog and another gargantuan turtle, covered and crawling with yellow, red and black crabs lay in the forefront. They had defeated such a disgusting beast before and that might be their best chance at escape to the bowl. If that was their path, the artillerymen would have to be ready.
Just beyond, an ivory tower rose up from the ground, bedecked with purple tapestries. At the pinnacle, a score of Mind Flayers – lavender evildoers focusing on mind over matter – sipped on drink and nibble on crudité. While preposterous in appearance, and laughable in form, they would be deadly in the trenches.
Nearby, alone, a single badger happily sat in a clearing. It wiggled its bottom in the early morning air, tramping around the clearing. All around it lay the horribly mangled corpses of cougars and gophers, birds of prey, and the remains of another disgusting, revolting, horrendous gibbering mouther. The Badger slowly wandered around the field, nibbling on grass, seeming to smile at the rising sun.
“Let’s hope we can steer clear of that one,” Christoph said, shuddering. “I raised Badgers before I was knighted. They are the stuff of nightmares.”
Beyond, a massive pack of ravenous Wolverines prowled the countryside. More than the knights could handle and insufferable for even the most fearsome opponent. There was little chance the Knights could defeat those monsters.
Perhaps the most disturbing of all the enemies they faced down was a gaggle of dilapidated Werelions wandered around the mountains ahead of the bowl. While terrifying, both in demeanor and in action, the Werelions were a laughable nightmare of unimaginable proportions. Something a child would dream up before it was capable of reasonable thought. Something no person could ever love.
“You see over there?” said the Artillery Captain. “Truly, truly horrific. It’s as if someone took a lion and burned the insides out then filled it with pure evil before beating it with a stick.”
“Someday,” Christoph said, looking into the distance. “Someday we shall return to vanquish those disgusting lions. Today, we just fight to get to the bowl.”
Beyond the vomit-inducing, nightmare-fuel, most-likely-inbred lions, another terrifying group of mohawk-bedecked warriors awaited the knights. Their warrior skills honed from years of masterful training, their defenses were impenetrable and the knights would have great trouble in finding a path to victory.
“Are you sure we can make it?” The Artillery Captain asked.
The knights hefted broad sword and shield once more. The coming campaign would be a bloody one, but they were ready to fight their way through. Behind them, the knights of scarlet and the Kingdom of Jersey willed them forward.
“The 52 brothers have survived worse,” replied the Knight Commander. “We will leave our enemies in ashes, or we will drown them in our scarlet blood.”