White fog laced with heavy black smoke from the numerous campfires drifted over what would become the night’s battlefield. As the last rays of sunlight began to sink in a pink and orange haze behind the horizon, the far-off sound of inhuman war cries began to waft over the peaceful grassy plain. To the east sat a dense line of trees that cut like a scar across the pristine green field before them. Darkness, even in midday, seemed to cling to this place as if it were a mother protecting its young. It swooped in and around the grizzled branches of the trees and vegetation, providing a soupy blanket that most sane men would not penetrate.
On this night, they had no choice.
It was the year 1704 of their lord, a day when all must be sacrificed for the good of mankind. The encroaching darkness had moved too far into the world of man. They vowed to draw the line here and no farther. These creatures were more like a plague than an invading army. They would attack with sheer animal ferocity, all the while, harvesting the dead soldiers to their own ranks. To send wave after wave of soldiers at them did nothing more than bolster their army, yet this was what the Esgobaeth had seen. This was the way it must be.
Many did not see the wisdom of the Esgobaeth-the High Council-yet Solomon Cole was beginning to. The upcoming battle, while important to the men here today, held significance for the future, no matter the outcome. Tonight would be a defining moment for the Gwyliad Wriaeth. Cole was starting to understand that. Sir Solomon Cole was a knight of the British Empire. He fought for those in the realm who could not do so. This was his sworn duty and he would die to uphold it. It was this belief in duty and honor that led him to the White Guard. Swathed in mystery and disinformation, they were fighting a war they went to great lengths to conceal from all prying eyes. There was greater importance here than the empire’s acquisition of wealth and land. These men were defending the future. Cole could not let this call go unheeded. He was fighting tonight for the very fate of every man, woman, and child on Earth.
Drawing his broad sword from its sheath, Cole listened to the clink of his plate armor as he gripped the hilt with both hands. Clad from head to toe in meticulously crafted armor and chain mail, he sat proudly on the back of his sturdy, powerful steed. A bloody, jagged wound sliced from his left cheek to his throat, spilling blood on the silver and gold breastplate of his armor-a trophy from the previous night’s engagement. His mocha colored hair fell down from his head in curly waves and terminated just above the imperial purple collar of his shirt. His dark brown eyes scanned the empty battlefield ahead as the sounds of war once again met his ears.
The armored segments on his gloves scraped together as he moved the sword into one hand and lifted it high above his head. Turning to look behind him, he surveyed his men. Each clad in various bits of armor and common clothing, they held their weapons at the ready. Hands shook and lips trembled as they faced what they knew would probably be their final moonrise. Some were extremely young, having just entered Her Majesty’s Service, while others had weathered far too many winters. Yet, each was willing to fight and die at Cole’s side, no questions asked.
A proud smile flickered across Cole’s face as he pulled on his horse’s reins and turned the beast toward the men. "You men should all be commended on your courage," he boomed. "You are not fighting for the queen or England, but rather, for the lives of our children, and our children’s children." He began to pace back and forth in front of his regiment. "I do not know what the future holds for us," he admitted, giving the men a brief glimpse of the same fear that ran cold through their veins, "but tonight, mankind takes back the night!"
The men cheered loudly.
"Tonight," Cole paused, "we fight!"
Wild cheers erupted among the men as they clanged their weapons together and stamped their feet. Turning back to the battlefield, Cole saw the first of the golden-eyed demons break free of the trees. Taking a deep breath, he gripped his horse’s reins tightly in his armored hand. Pointing his sword forward, he dug his spurred heels into the horse sending it surging ahead.
As Cole’s army of Wraiths raced across the green field, they caught the first glimpse of their enemy. Looking like nothing more than fragile, gray, reanimated corpses, each creature’s eyes burned a shimmering gold that illuminated the night. As the creatures spilled from the eternal darkness of the forest onto the battlefield, the men quickly spotted a few who had previously been among their ranks. Several of the creatures wore shattered bits of armor and shreds of white fabric-the traditional color of the Wraith. To Cole’s horror, the demons began to change. Their demonic forms melted away in favor of healthy pink flesh and clothes that were not previously there. They quickly began to mimic the appearance of Cole’s army. Cursing under his breath, Cole locked his eyes onto one of the men he knew was an enemy and pushed his horse faster toward the fray.
As the battle was joined, a fallen horse’s scream shattered the cool evening air. The creatures surged ahead into Cole’s ranks, clawing and destroying as they went. Moving almost too fast for the human eye, the first wave tore through the Wraiths with pure, animal ferocity. Men were ripped from their mounts and flung across the battlefield like children’s toys, while others never had the chance to strike. It was as if a dark tide washed into the army and sent them sprawling helplessly across the ground.
Several of Cole’s men fought ahead undaunted, their silver blades carving a swath through the darkness. As a man was picked off from behind, Sir Gerard, one of the few of Cole’s fellow knights to join the Gwyliad Wriaeth, lifted a fallen banner from the ground. Holding it high as he cut and slashed, he forged ahead, even though his horse had been killed. Five men followed Gerard’s lead and fought brilliantly through wave after wave of oncoming demons. However, luck was not on their side this night. One by one, the creatures dismantled the unit.
Holding the banner in his left hand, Gerard struck ahead with his sword, embedding the blade deep in the heart of a golden-eyed soldier, now more determined than ever. Snapping his gaze to the right, he saw three pairs of gold eyes materialize out of the darkness. Ripping his sword free of the demon, he spun on his toes just in time to cut down the first and second attacker. The third leapt over the bodies of the other two and came crashing down onto Gerard’s chest. The knight let out a grunt of pain as the breastplate crumpled into his ribs under the force of the blow. Focusing his eyes on the creature pinning him in place, he could see nothing but the glistening, pearl-white fangs. Mustering every bit of saliva left in his mouth, Gerard spit at the creature’s face. "I die for the glory of Her Majesty."
The creature sneered, "You think so?"
Snapping Gerard’s head to the side, the creature lunged for his throat. Gerard gnashed his teeth together as the creature’s fangs broke through the flesh of his neck.
Slashing down with his sword, Cole easily lopped the head from his first target. Bright blue flame surged from the creature’s body as it writhed on the ground in agony. Slowly, red embers began to flit into the air as its body was reduced to ash. Snapping his head around, Cole struck again and again. As an unholy blue fire blazed around him, he lifted his sword high into the air. "Death to all vampires!" he roared.
Turning, he saw his men falling quickly to the advances of the vampire army. Rage gripped him. This was not a battle they were destined to win. The vampire’s numbers were far too great. The Esgobaeth had sent them carelessly to their deaths. All his men would be sacrificed on this field. For what cause, for what future purpose would this serve? Hundreds would die here tonight. Gritting his teeth, Cole decided, at that moment, he would not be one of them. He would fight until there were no vampires left standing. Spinning around, he charged blindly into the waves, killing everything he saw.
As the last remaining soldiers under his command fell, he found himself surrounded on all sides by leering golden eyes. His steed whinnied and bucked, almost knocking him free of his saddle. He held on tightly knowing that the horse was his only advantage. The wave of darkness surged forward again, ripping and tearing at him. His steed whinnied and bucked again and again as it tried to escape the claws and fangs, but it was no use. There were simply too many of them. As his horse was brought down, Cole continued to fight, slashing wildly with his sword. The screams of his men filled his ears as his mount came down hard, pinning his right leg beneath it.
"The Wraith will never give up," he grunted in pain. "I promise you!"
The scores of golden eyes hovered around him in the inky darkness, hissing and giggling with glee. In one horrible movement, they surged toward Cole. He flailed wildly as the razor-sharp claws and fangs dug into his exposed flesh. Piece by piece, his armor was ripped away, exposing the clothing and flesh beneath. He roared in rage as the claws of unseen bodies began to tear at the golden crest of his family emblazoned on the purple shirt he wore. As the claws ripped through his shirt, he lifted his eyes toward the heavens. Blocking out the pain, he uttered a silent prayer in the hopes that God would look after his wife and child. He screamed in agony as the first set of fangs dug into his flesh.