The battle is long since over. The mountainside is now silent, a soft shroud punctuated only by the flapping of wings and croaking of the gathering birds. The bodies littering the rocky slope are all dead, save for one injured man who slowly bleeds to death. All the corpses here fought for that man, at his behest – the men and women who fell on behalf of the other side have been carried away, along with every metal weapon the survivors could scrounge.

The injured man awakes, as shadows drift across his eyes at the passage of the black birds overhead. Barbarian, heretic, warlord – Shard was all these things, and more. The world had trembled at his rise. Cities died at his command. Before him, faith failed and courage turned to ash.

Now, he had been left to die.

“Fools!” he cried out – or tried to, expelling only a bloody cough that echoed over the dead, and set the drifting birds aflutter with alarm. They hadn’t even bothered to kill him – they left him there, amidst his broken blades and slain men, and assumed that was the end of him.

“Never,” he whispered, and this time his voice was clear and firm. He leaned up, forcing his broken torso to rise from the rocks upon which it had fallen, and pain tore through him like a burning wind. He could not feel his legs, could not make them move – but he sat up nonetheless, using his right arm to prop up his body and hold his weight.

Blood dripped down into his eyes, and it was as though he surveyed the field in a dream. The scent of blood and iron was distant, as though he was watching from afar. A pale smoke seemed to rise from the bodies of the dead, and he almost imagined he saw their spirits drifting away from their useless and sundered shells.

“I will arise again,” he muttered through lips grown pale and blue.  “I shall drag myself from this empty field, this false defeat, and find myself a new land of refuge. Men shall again cheer at my words and ride forth before me, and the signal fires of the west will again be lit in fear at my approach. Your victory is hollow, young Prince! I shall crash down upon your world like a black wave, and break your precious walls, and send your people down into the light-less depths of the land below! Before my might, you shall be broken!”

Shard’s voice grew more momentous as he spoke, grew stronger and more confident with every word, such that the last burst forth as a roaring shout that scattered the black birds to the four winds, and left the field empty of any living thing… for such words had also taken the last of his reknowned strength. During his final speech, he had not noticed when his arm crumbled beneath his weight and his body again fell flat upon the stone. He had not noticed when the pain eased and the pink haze crawled across the last of his vision, for he saw not the cold mountain slope around him, but the visions in his own mind of conquest and triumph and war.

Visions that befit the Butcher of Norn… even as they were visions that would never come to pass. His final shout had expelled the last of his life, one ultimate oath of anger and hatred and revenge – a cry that would echo across the mountainside for all of time, caught in eternity amidst the craggy slopes.

His words, immortal, as he would never be.

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