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The End of Before


Thomas Alston stood atop the small hill and stared into the darkness. The last stars were fading from sight, and he could feel the gentle warmth of a rising sun at his back. Good, he thought, the sun will be in their eyes. He heard the squeak of leather and the clink of metal, and felt the presence of another man beside him. Neither man spoke for some time.

Thomas was the first to break the silence. “They will come from the wood line and across the field,” he said.

“How many?” the other man asked.

“Too many. I have been watching them all night moving across the bridge from the Citadel. They moved in darkness, thinking to surprise us at first light.”

“Then we will have to surprise them.”

“It will do us little good Aaron. They are too many.”

“Then we shall die free men,” Aaron answered.

“Yes,” Thomas responded. “You are right. Better to die free than to live a day longer under the yoke of the Malenvolk. How are the One Thousand?”

“Resigned. Determined.”

“Will they fight?”

“To the death.”

“One thousand is not very many.”

“They will suffice.”

Aaron Stoneman was well named. Of average height, but enormously broad in the shoulders and thick through the middle, none could heft more weight than he, and none challenged him in the wrestling ring. Like his best friend and second cousin, Thomas Alston, he was a quiet man, not given to boasting, a natural leader. Men followed him, and he followed Thomas.

Thomas, Aaron, and the One Thousand who followed them were Well-Beings, descendants of the original inhabitants of the land of Well. Some generations before, the Malenvolk had emerged from the Western forest, killing any who would not submit to their power. There had been rebellions in the past, but never before had there been a leader like Thomas Alston. He and his band of followers had been carrying on a guerrilla war against Malenvolk rule for a dozen years, but now they were trapped on a small hill within striking range of the Malenvolk stronghold atop Citadel Hill, just across the Runwell River.

“How is your wound?” Aaron asked.

“Given time, it will heal. But I fear the Malenvolk will not grant us time. I am sorry that I have brought you and the One Thousand to this pass. The attack on the Citadel was rash.”“Bold, Thomas, not rash—and necessary. We have fought for many years. Not many of the original One Thousand remain, and new recruits are hard to find. It is time to end this.”


As the sun rose in the East, the Malenvolk forces emerged from the woods, and arrayed themselves for battle. Their numbers were uncountable. They stood, beating their swords against their shields, waiting for the signal to attack.

Thomas and Aaron surveyed the field in front of them. Had it not been for the Malenvolk, it would have been a pleasant sight, a long downhill-sloping green filled with multicolored wildflowers, just now opening to greet the quickly-rising sun.

“They will crush the flowers under their feet,” Thomas mused.

“And we will crush them under ours,” Aaron responded.

Thomas laughed. “Always the optimist, Aaron…” But his thought was cut short. The Malenvolk had begun to move. His men saw it too; there was an audible drawing in of breath as they prepared themselves to face the onslaught.

Thomas’ sword, EndAll, grew warm at his side, and began to glow ever so slightly.Aaron, noticing the glimmering blade, said, “EndAll is eager to taste Malenvolk blood, cousin.”

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“It will drink its fill before this day is out, I am sure of that.”

“As will this trusty blade of mine.”

“What’s that?” Thomas said, pointing to a black dot rising into the pale blue sky above the tree line.

“An ugly blot upon a beautiful dawn,” Aaron answered.

“If it’s ugly, it must be Malenvolk,” Thomas joked, but his amusement turned to disgust as the blot grew larger and larger, and Thomas saw that it had morphed into a giant bat, screeching hideously, and beating the air into tornado-force winds with its enormous wings. He could clearly discern its pig-like snout and short, sharp fangs as it came toward them, open mouthed and squealing. And on the creature’s back—the black-clad Queen Morgana, almost indistinguishable from the beast she rode.

“Vokkillen!” he said, spitting the word out in disgust.

A loud cheer erupted from thousands of Malenvolk throats, and they began a frenzied race across the field. The Well-Beings braced for the attack, holding their line even as the great black beast soared overhead, assaulting their ears with its horrid screeching, and fouling the air with its stinking breath. They held even as the wind-driven dust, dirt, and debris pelted their bodies and stung their eyes. They held even when, above the beast’s shrill shriek, they heard a laugh that seemed to come from Hell itself. The sky darkened, a cold descended upon them, sinking into their bones, and the Queen, in her most horrid persona, leered down at them.

As the thundering Malenvolk horde charged forward, and the giant beast circled overhead, Thomas and Aaron exchanged an embrace, and drew their swords. The ugly bat-like creature rose in a spiral, reached an apex, and dove directly at the two of them, open-mouthed and screeching, while the hideous Queen laughed.

Suddenly the darkened sky was torn apart by a blinding bolt of fire and light that struck the beast in mid-flight. It emitted a horrid squeal, burst into flames, and began a long and erratic, fluttering fall to earth. The wind subsided; the sun returned, and the land was silent. The Malenvolk had stopped dead, and were staring as the horrid beast and its rider fell to the ground somewhere beyond the tree line.

Thomas did not hesitate. Seeing the dismay of the Malenvolk army, he waved EndAll high above his head, shouted “ATTACK!” and led his men down the hill into the middle of the Malenvolk horde.


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