The heroes had been defeated and Maliken stood triumphant. The power of his fallen horsemen flowed into him. Bathing in the glow of this new found power, he settled back onto the ground, bone wings creaking as they supported the weight of the great demon. He surveyed the field.
There lay the Forsaken Archer... and there the Kraken. The beast Gemini has not far off and then the Arachnid Queen. At last, his Electrician, and the demon Balphagore.
They had given up their essence to support his righteous cause. His vanquished foes – Legionnaires, Pyromancers, Scouts and a Valkyrie-- had fallen by the score. Had it not been for the sacrifice of the warrior Flux, surely the leader of the Legion, Maliken's son Jeraziah, would be dead by his demonic blade as well. Content in his victory, Maliken became his human form once again, shedding the essences of his followers. The Horsemen stood before him, weakened, but alive.
“My warriors, go forth and tell the hordes of our victory,” said the great lord of the Hellbourne. “Bring them to me and let us march on my accursed son and daughter. They may have escaped the battlefield today, but they shall not escape the power of the Apocalypse! Let us bring forth the end of all things! Death, War, Pestilence and Famine will spread over all of Newerth! The Conquest shall begin!”
The horsemen bowed before their master and then set off on his bidding. Maliken turned and headed to Hell’s Keep to gather the rest of his generals. As he departed, one of the fallen Legion warriors struggled to his feet. Wiping away the gore from his mines and turrets, the Engineer looked about the bloody plain and was struck with an idea...
Meanwhile, in the fabled City of Iron, Jeraziah addressed his commanders.
“Thanks to the sacrifice of Flux, we were able to escape with our lives, but not without cost. Our friend has fallen to the sword of Maliken and the great Valkyrie did not return with us from the field of battle. Even the Engineer has vanished. My father has grown even more powerful, and it is inevitable that he shall attack once he gathers his forces. Ready yourselves my warriors. Gather the men and beasts. Call upon the Prophets and prepare to Rally to our cause! The wretched horsemen wield power over life and death itself and we need to be prepared.”
At that moment, the door to the hall swung open and a squat figure stood, bathed in the light coming from the fires outside. Jeraziah smiled when he saw who it was. The man who had designed the Legion's weapons of war dropped a bloodied sack to the ground and the distinct sound of steel ringing off the stone hung in the air.
With a weary voice, the Engineer said, “Bring me the Blacksmith and the Bombardier… and I need a forge…”
The hours turned into days and the Blacksmith hammered without ceasing. His calloused hands were scorched by the metal and yet he toiled on. Plates were formed in all manners of form and function, according to the direction of the Engineer. The Bombardier worked the saws, turning plates into cogs and gears, while the Engineer spun gold and copper into a network of wires and conduits. Soon his vision began to take form.
Jeraziah looked on with amazement at what stood before him. Just a few days ago, he had doubted that Engineer's plan could've worked at all. When the weapons for Artillery were salvaged, Jeraziah knew that the Engineer was capable of great things but this went far beyond anything he had ever seen.
Before him stood new visions of those who had fallen before his own blade and shells of the warriors who had died defending him: an Arachna made of Brass, a Balphagore forged of Iron, a mechanized Gemini, an archer made from clockwork cogs, a Kraken recreated from the steel diving suits of the Era of Man, and an electrician made of the corroded copper plates from the ancient statue from the harbor. There was also a scout, who was wounded in the battle and was willing to have machines grafted to his body and be reborn as a new Valkyrie, ready to continue the fight and strike fear into the Daemons. Finally, there stood a new body for Flux. Formed from magnetized Iron and ringed with fragments from his original chassis that the Engineer believed could attract his soul back to the shell.
“While those Horsemen have power of life and death… they do not have power over man and machine,” said the Engineer as he whipped the sweat from his brow.
“When they bring their forces to bear, we will attack them with their own generals and create chaos in their ranks,” said Jeraziah. “I just pray to Sol that your new machines are as effective as Flux was in battling the Horsemen themselves.”
And so the forces of the Legion rode forth with Jeraziah at the head of the army to meet the fallen King Maliken and his Horsemen in yet another brutal battle. The armies finally clashed in the Great Plains near the southern Forest of Caldevar. The men and beast attacked the hordes with a ferocity not seen in years, driven by desperation and fear for what the Horsemen were capable of. Their courage pushed the daemons and traitors back to the edge of the Forest…and then the Horsemen appeared.
War strode into the Legion army and transformed a horrific beast. With his hellhounds at his side, men fell by the dozen. Nearby, Pestilence sent his plagues of flesh devouring insects to decimate the armies of men. Famine walked among the beasts, his very touch emaciating their bodies and draining them of life and vitality. And finally Death took the field, his double scythed sword reaping the souls of those who dared to stand against him. Atop his white stallion, Conquest watched and began to smile for the first time in a very long time as his forces took control of the battlefield.
Then the belching of smoke filled the air and that smile quickly vanished. An iron behemoth roared onto the field of battle, devouring the corpses of the fallen and spitting new warriors out to face the hordes of Conquest. Like a living crematorium, the mechanized Balphagore burned a swath towards the Horsemen. The daemons were struck with fear at the sight of their former ally devouring their fellow soldiers and discord set in. War rode to the front to challenge the interloper only to be stopped by another attacker – Mecha Gemini had entered the fray. The newcomer fought against the Hounds of Hell while Balphagore and War faced off amidst the widespread destruction.
On the far side of the field, Pestilence's waves of insects fell upon a great spider. Their mandibles were unable to pierce her brass hide. The metallic spider seemed to almost smile as she bore down upon the Horseman. Her webbing slowed his frantic retreat as her steel spiderling leapt on the insect-like steed. Soon the Horseman was barely moving as the great spider spun her inescapable web.
Near the Forest of Caldevar, Famine withered both plant and beast. Suddenly a pool opened underfoot and great metallic tentacles swept forth. The horseman leapt aside, only to find himself held aloft in a great electrical grip as the steam powered warrior that was once an Electrician pummeled at his thin form. Soon the tentacles of the Kraken reached him as well.
The mighty Death stood among the fallen and watched as the archers bore down on him. He waded into their midst, taking their souls and gaining power with every touch. Then the bright orange form of Valkyrie was upon him, followed by the brass skeletons of the Clockwork Archer. His deathly touch was ineffective against these metal foes. Arrows and javelins rained upon the skeletal rider and he fell apart under their assault.
Conquest’s smile turned to rage as he surveyed the field of battle. How could these machines be stopping his avatars of the apocalypse? He reached out to his warriors and recalled their power once again – transforming into the mighty demon, Conquest, and strode to face these mere machines in battle. Where the machines were able to fend the powers of the lone horseman off, they were no match for the mighty Conquest. Pieces of both man and machine stuck to the ridges of his blade as his fury was unleashed on the battlefield.
Suddenly he was stopped mid-swing by a beam of pink energy. Conquest spun to see his son standing side by side with a Flux made of iron and blue steel. He swung his mighty blade to strike the warrior down a third time, but it fell short, stopped by the protective charm that Jeraziah had placed on the man of metal. Conquest pulled back to strike again, only to be blasted by a beam of blue force from Flux’s palm and a beam of light that burst down from the clouds at the behest of his son. The Blessing of Sol and the power of Flux stripped away the power that Conquest had stolen from his Horseman, and Maliken stood where the mighty Horseman was mere moments ago.
“Damn you child!” said Maliken as he stood before his son.
Quickly, Maliken was joined by his former horsemen and began to fall back. As they moved away from Jeraziah and his metal protector the forces of the Legion pushed back against the horde and the daemons began to flee into the Forest of Caldevar.
The day was not won by either side. Hundreds lay dead on the battlefield. The war machines that engineer had crafted had been destroyed. The fields ran red with blood and had been blackened by fire, but on this day Man and Beast stood together again to ensure that their sons and daughters would see another sunrise. The soldiers will be mourned, but new warriors will rise to take their places, the machines of war can be rebuilt, and today the mead will flow in the halls of Valhalla.
In Hell’s Keep, Maliken seethed in anger. His chambers had been destroyed earlier in the day by his own hand and he left their reconstruction to his servants. He found himself back in the Ancient Cathedral, delving back through decaying tomes to seek new power. He saw the look of pride on the Legion's warriors and it served to make his wrath grow even stronger. He lusted for revenge against those that envied his power. He knew that greed and sloth could be the downfall of man, but needed a way to tap into their gluttonous ways. If man would not fall before his blades, then perhaps they would fall to their own flawed selves…
Then the dark lord made a discovery that gave him hope...
“There were seven great Virtues that man once upheld. For each of these Virtues, a demon rose to hold them in balance. When mankind fails to uphold the virtue, the demons will rise and Sin will consume the word and corrupt the pure.”
Temptation, power and a plan now were in Maliken’s grasp once again. He closed the tome and somewhere far away, the World Tree shuddered…