The Sun beat down on the sand of the Great Desert, burning the blood slowly soaking the endless dunes. Hundreds of armoured bodies, stretching out across the granular waves, some slowly shifting as the sand moved under their weight. And at the centre, a mighty mound of vanquished warriors. The very last of the United Cities detachment of Samurai that had marched from Heft, across the boundaries of Cannibal controlled territory and into the lands of the Holy Nation.
It had been a glorious march. The two hundred strong band of Samurai warriors had crushed the cannibals that sought to engage them, the heavily armed and highly trained soldiers easily outmatching the cannibals in one on one combat at the worst of times, now the combat was entirely one sided now that the only advantage the cannibals could every have laid claim to, numerical superiority, was reversed by the huge invasion force.
They had marched into Holy Nation lands with their heads held high, into the green valley between Worlds End and the Holy Nations interior. The valley was named for Okran, a name of evil omen for all those of the United Cities.
It was a glorious march.
While it lasted.
It had ended here, on the blood-soaked sand. Pushed back from their siege of Okran's Fist by an even larger force of Paladins, and Inquisitors. The conscripts of the Holy Nation died quickly, but the Paladins fought on equal terms. Deep in enemy territory, surprised by the presence of a vastly superior force than expected, the Commanders ordered a retreat.
The retreat, by contrast, was not glorious.
Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The Holy Nation had pursued and harried them as the retreating Samurai stumbled towards Stoat, the closest UC settlement that close to the Holy Nation. The unmitigated disaster of a military operation came to a head on the UC side of Bast. The Holy Nation pursuing had been stopping periodically to finish off patches of resistance that had fallen behind. This had allowed the ill-fated invasion force to remain ahead of them, until now. The cannibals had been waiting and watching for an opportunity to pay the Samurai back for the massacred patrols. They struck as the Sun rose.
The once proud and indomitable Samurai, now starving from the lose of their supplies somewhere on the long, arduous trek back from Okran's Valley, heavily injured to a man, and without hope, formed a battle line for the last time.
The cannibals from the front, between them and the safety of Stoat. The Holy Nation from behind, rapidly gaining ground. The jaws of the nutcracker closed, and the Samurai strained to push back.
It was a valiant last stand.
But a last stand it inevitably was.
The cannibals had their fill once the battle was over. The Holy Nation troops found it was their turn to retreat. So far into UC controlled territory, surrounded by cannibals and with little time to loot the dead, they left the wounded to their horrible fate. The cannibals preferred their food wriggling.
Night fell, and eventually even the cannibals tired of attempting to carry away the massive buffet of bodies. Simply too many for even the endless hordes to make use of. So, the battleground was left, finally devoid of all life.
A hand shifted, and unceremoniously shoved the corpse of a Samurai warrior aside as if it was nothing more than a sack of strawflour. He was a tall man, a Greenlander, dressed in the garb of a Holy Nations Inquisitor. The highest rank and honour a man could achieve in the Holy Nations, only surpassed by the High Inquisitors and the Lord Phoenix himself. You would have probably expected such a man to be the embodiment of all the Holy Nation believed in: Okran's foremost servant, a defender of the Holy Flame. In truth, he was probably the embodiment of the less noble side of that society.
He was soaked in blood, none of it his own, because he had hidden under the dead Samurai when the battle took its worst turn. Not honourable in the least, from the point of view of the Holy Nation. He fought for the Holy Nation not for belief or glory, but for convenience. As a human male, the Holy Nation was a place where he could survive and thrive in the wastelands, and the Holy Nation put his less reputable skill set to effective use. When he wasn't abusing his position as Inquisitor to steal, pillage or extort.
Pulling off his dented helmet, he tossed it aside and gazed off into the distance. The trail left by the retreating Samurai was pockmarked with bodies, and the Holy Nation was no longer in sight. A shame really, he'd had a good thing going as an Inquisitor. But he had no desire to cross back over the rocky earth of Bast to reach Okran's Valley once more. Besides, it had been a while since he'd visited the United Cities. They were always welcoming to someone with his skills, and he had tired of playing the role of a religious fanatic. Okran and the Phoenix could take the Holy Flame and shove it where the sun dares not shine.
Slowly, he unstrapped his armour and let it drop to the ground. He stripped off the Hessian uniform, the plated longboats and the chain shirt. They all bore markings of the Holy Nation: they could not follow him where he was going. Salvaging what he could from the battlefield, mostly blades that bore no distinguishing markings and could be sold easily, he pulled on some non-descript pants. His feet were soon covered in a thick coating of bloody sand, and his stomach rumbled with hunger. He set off towards Stoat. He decided that it would be best to sell his gains in Stoat, buy supplies and continue onwards to Sho-Battai. If the Samurai began looking for survivors, once knowledge of the massacre reached them, he wanted to be far away from the closest settlement. People would not question where a new face came from in Sho-Battai, central as it was to the four cities in the Great Desert.
He considered the road ahead. The life of a drifter was a hard one. He had lived that life for a long time before he joined the Holy Nation, and its lessons were well known to him.
The former Inquisitor trudged away from his old life once again, to start anew.