The night was full of wispy fog. Noman wondered if it had come in with the night or with the demons. It made the going slow, but not impossible. A bright moon shed light on the world, and with the radiant green stone held high as a beacon he led the way towards the forest. The knights of The Iron Order followed with weapons ready. For some it would be their first time fighting demons. For others, it was only the latest battle in a lifelong war. Alderick was one of the latter, Noman knew. He glanced over shoulder at the old man. Alderick saw him looking and nodded grimly. There was no time to doubt now, no chance to second guess. It was time to do or to die.
They reached the edge of the forest. Noman knew this was where they would find the demons. It was a certainty that came, he believed, from Airea. He could feel the goddess' eyes on him, watching as her new champion led those who had pledged their lives to her service. "Here," Noman said. The knights spread into a ragged line behind him, the metal of their armor and weapons clanking in the darkness.
"I don't see them," the night commander said in a hushed voice.
"They're out there," Alerick spoke softly. "I can feel them."
"Come on, damn you," Noman hissed into the night. "Come on."
Their eyes were the first to show through the fog and darkness, baleful red coals floating towards the knights. First there were just two... then four, ten, twenty, and Noman stopped counting. They were here, and it looked like all of them had come. If he looked closely he could barely make out the shadowed silhouettes of their bodies as they moved back and forth, prowling like cats on the hunt. But they didn't attack. It was like they were waiting for something.
"Now what?" one of the knights asked.
The knight commander looked at Noman, who nodded. "Now we do our job," he said. "Attack!"
Noman led the charge, sprinting ahead with his sword in one hand and the stone in the other. The demons responded in kind, breaking from the cover of the forest's edge and running out to meet the Order. The two ranks slammed into each other, demons leaping through the air to land on knights or become impaled on their swords. As the night became filled with the cries of demons and men alike Noman found himself running towards a demon that seemed to be an unholy combination of a cat, a reptile, and some sort of insect. It sprung forward at him as he neared, aiming to take him to the ground. He dodged to the side, swinging his blade out to the side as he sidestepped. The sword struck home, burying itself deep in the beast's side. But the creature was still alive, and it wrenched itself away from Noman with a cry of pain, pulling the sword from Noman's hand as it did so. The sword fell to the ground leaving a gaping, ragged hole in the demon's side.
Wounded and angry but still full of fight the demon sprung at Noman again. Defenseless without his sword he tried to jump out of the way. This time the tactic failed and the demon caught him by the waist, slamming him to the ground and pinning him there. He felt claws dig through to the bone. Desperately he lashed out with the only weapon he had left - the stone. He clubbed the stone against the side of the demon's head, and as it impacted it went through as if the demon wasn't there at all, the black flesh of the demon's head scattering away like so many ashes. The rest of the body reared back, jerking, muscles spasming as the rest of the body fell slowly to dust.
Noman stood, the pain of the wound in his hip gone. A quick look around found him his next target, a demon that was going in circles with a knight, hissing and swiping with it's claws. The knight's shield bore deep claw marks and the demon sported several wide wounds across it's flank. Another swipe knocked the knight's shield away. Noman charged forward and managed to hit the demon on the shoulder. It shrieked in pain and pulled back, but it was too late. First it's limb dissolved into nothing, and then the rest of it followed suit.
"Noman!" the knight who'd been fighting the now dissolved demon exclaimed. The man ran forward, grabbing Noman by the shirt as if he expected him to fall over at any moment. "Gods man, how are you still standing?"
"What?" Noman asked, confused.
"It got you right across the gut... can't you feel it?"
"I..." Noman looked down and found that there were rends in his shirt. Putting a hand on the wounds he found they extended deep into his stomach... yet there was no blood, no pain. "No," he said. "I can't."
The man opened his mouth to say something. Whatever it was got cut short as a demon came streaking in from the night to bury it's claws in the knight's back. He went down with a strangled cry, dragging Noman down with him. The demon kept clawing at the felled knight, perhaps trying to get at Noman. He managed to get an arm free, and the stone did it's work again.
The rest of the battle was a blur to Noman. He destroyed demon after demon, one after another, until he was covered in the black powder they dissolved into at the touch of his stone. When the last one went shrieking back to whatever fate awaited it in the aether Noman stood in place, turning in circles as he tried to see where the next would come from. But there wasn't another demon. In fact, there was no one.
He stood listening to the night. All was quiet, broken only occasionally by the cawing of a raven. "Hello?" Noman called. He held the stone higher in the air, trying to see through the fog. Bodies lay on the ground, knights slain by the demons. Too many knights. "Anyone?"
For a moment he feared the worst. Then, through the fog, "Noman?" Alderick seemed to step out of thin air before Noman. The old knight held his side with one hand. Blood dripped from between his fingers.
"Alderick, are you alright?" Noman asked.
"Am I alright?" Alderick asked in return, "Gods above boy, you should see yourself. Looks like you had a demon or two using you as a chew toy."
"Alderick, I'm serious," Noman insisted.
"Pah, I'm fine," Alderick dismissed Noman's concern. "Really, I've had worse. Not much worse, mind you, but worse. And you... you look terrible. You're not bleeding, did you know that? If I didn't know you were on our side I'd be tempted to think..." He pressed his lips together, leaving the thought unfinished. His blade came up abruptly, flat side slapping Noman on the upper arm.
"Hey!" Noman protested, jumping in surprise and looking at his arm. "What was that for?"
"Just checking," Alderick said apologetically.
"How's everybody else?" Noman asked, eyes lingering on his arm. The skin was torn apart, revealing the flesh and bone beneath with not a drop of blood oozing out.
"We lost a lot of people," Alderick said heavily. "But we won. If you hadn't been keeping those monsters occupied we wouldn't have gotten out of this one with as many people as we did."
"Where is everybody?"
"Securing the village," Alderick said. "We've got enough people to do that, at least. We'll keep watch until morning. Gods as my witness if we missed anything it won't enter that village so long as we're there."
A raven's call sounded nearby, followed by the flapping of wings. Noman and Alderick watched as one of the birds glided to a stop on a nearby body, where it turned one eye on the two of them. It cawed again insistently.
"Alderick," Noman said, mouth dry. "I... I have to go."
"Go?" Alderick asked, watching the raven suspiciously. "Go where?"
"Wherever Airea tells me to."
"Airea? Ah... of course." Alderick nodded, expression understanding. "So, it was the hammer then was it? I'm sorry, lad. I really am."
"Don't be," Noman told him. "She gave me a chance to save your lives, and the lives of everybody in the village. Now I have to go do it for someone else."
"Just like that, eh?"
"Yeah. Just like that."
"What do I tell them?" Alderick asked.
"Tell them... heh. I'm not one for last words, Alderick. Just tell them I'll do my best. And tell Ella I said goodbye."
"I may embellish that a little," Alderick warned.
"I expect you to," Noman said with a grin. "Goodbye friend."