The year 79AD is fraught with mythological significance. There was the destruction of Pompeii, terrible Norse rumours of Ragnarok from the frozen North to stormy Lindisfarne. Several prophecies hinted at dark events on the way.
According to history, the worst thing that happened that day was that two Roman towns were buried in ash, killing hundreds in mere moments. Terrible as this event was, it was not the worst thing that happened that year, it is simply the worst thing that people remember…
Asmodeus did a very, very good job in erasing the most significant historical event since, well since anything, from anything but Viking and Celtic legend, which nobody believes anyway.
On August 25th (modern calendar) AD 79, the world ended but it also did not. It was a very close thing.
This battle, called variously ‘Lucifer’s Folly’, ‘The Harvest of Heroes’, or ‘The Neverwar’ , depending on who you listen to, two vast armies faced one another in the shadows of the Megiddo valley in Isreal/Palestine. In the foremost ranks of one army stood the greatest heroes you have every heard of; Nephilim every one.
Opposing them, the seemingly unending ‘armies of Hell’; imagine orcs, kobolds, trolls, giants, ever type of monster you could imagine and some you wish you hadn’t…
“He was most amazed by the fact that it was a lot quieter than he’d thought it would be. He didn’t really know what he’d been expecting but not this. He heard the gentle ruffle of banners being pulled at by the wind, the jingle of harness as the soldiers around him moved from foot to foot or stretched to keep muscles from cramping on them.
Otherwise, silence, pretty much, which only made the waiting worse.
Across the other end of the valley, they were gathered. It looked like a huge wall of shadow from here, so large was the mass of enemies. Some early calculations based on what their local scouts told them, said that they were outnumbered somewhere between 450-1 and ‘it doesn’t really make much of a difference we’re all going to die anyway’.
Of course, thought Fionn, as he tightened then loosened the grip on his spear, they had almost every hero that had ever lived on their side so those were pretty good odds to some of them…but only if you actually believed the stories…
He smiled as he rotated his shoulders and looked around at the men and women beside him.
There was a knot of big Norsemen over there, all axes and hammers with their winged helmets and shiny armour. Big fella with the hammer had sparks jumping all over the place which was something Fionn considered unwise in the presence of so much nervous metal. They were clearly bonnie fighters though, he’d heard that the big one with hair and beard of the purest white had cut his way out of the dragon that’d tried to eat him. He caught Fionn’s eyes and cocked an snow-white eyebrown in greeting before turning his head back to the bigger fellow with the fancy hammer and sparks.
Fionn’s group of hairy, tattooed warriors stood in a loose knot of aggression, clustered around the Big Man himself, him as had brought them here from the Eagle Isles far away in the Mist.
The Wolf was big. He held a claymore casually over one shoulder, its metal full of strange blue reflections which danced along an edge that was, from certain angles, not entirely there. A large bearded axe, heavy with runes and knotwork designs, was being used to draw patterns in the dead desert dust.
Not a good place for fighting, Fionn spat in the dust and watched the moisture vanish almost right away. Already enough death here but he could feel the thirst for even more blood rising from the barren rocks like smoke.
The Wolf looked down at Fionn, or at least his heavily carved silver wolf mask did. Fionn never had figured out how Cú saw through those blue jewels his war mask had for eyes but on those rare occasions the Big Man felt inclined to speak, he’d said “clearer than you can imagine. Like eagles on the wing and wolves beneath a full moon see, I’d wager”.
The azure gaze lingered on Fionn long enough to cause the wiry hunter to finger his fine beech bow with a barely repressed shudder.
“Big Man likes you, so he does” Bran had said through bright red moustache. “The wee giant is his best mate, sure he is.”
At 5’10”, Fionn was small for a giant, slight of build and sparse of beard. His Da had been the giant that’d built the Causeway to get across to where his mother – daughter of some distant cousin of Bran Boru, a nasty lesser Lord of Ulaid- was being held prisoner as was the fashion of the time and Fionn the half-giant was the result.
The Big Man was near a foot taller than him and a great deal older, folk said. He came from the drowned lands under the Morimaru off the coast of Albion. They said he’d fought these fellas, the Fír Bolg and Bálor’s kin before. They said him and that blue-eyed devil with the two most beautiful swords Fionn had ever seen beside him went way back. Back even before the ice left and the sea came in.
“About bloody time,” the Big Man said to no-one in particular. He gestured towards the storm gathering over the Fír Bolg with his impossible sword held loosely in one hand. He bumped the blue-eyed devil, who appeared to be asleep standing up, on the leg with the flat of his axe. “That uncle of yours has decided to show up.”
The odd significance of those words made the hairs of Fionn’s heavily tattooed arms stand up and he gripped his bow even tighter.
“I know you’re in charge here, Sable,” Big Man continued all nonchalant as one of those priests getting off a boat in his dress to chase of the snakes Eíreann never had anyway. “But I’d suggest it’s time for that signal.
The one called Sable appeared to awake and look towards his friend. Fionn felt his gut tighten as those devil-blue eyes brushed his and fought the sudden wave of terror down with great effort. Sable nodded and waved one of his beautiful silver swords up in the air.
Far off, the deep growling scream of a war horn sounded, setting Fionn’s teeth on edge and his heart pumping harder. Another answered it, this one bright and singing like the way Fionn imagined a swan’s one and only song would sound. Across the valley, answering horns and trumpets winded, their discordant cacophony bouncing off the valley walls.
Big Man nodded and indicated the horizon with his sapphire wolf’s eyes.
“Here they come,” his normally booming voice barely above a whisper. “If you’ve any ginger on you, Atlantan, I think the men’ll be needing it soon.”
Sable nodded and rolled his neck, producing some fine crackles of bone Fionn most approved of. He said nothing and kept those eyes fixed on the black storm-front, crackling with lightning that could not be natural.
It took a moment for Fionn to see how right that assessment was…
The storm was no storm, it was…
In the boiling inkiness of the tortured air he saw them, colossal figures that were nearly not there. They looked like pictures of light projected into the storm…like…like…like ideas trying to take a shape.
They were like the star-creatures dropping from above, trying to become what men said they should be but struggling. He thought he could see four creatures slowly striding through the lightning but they kept blurring and changing like pigment in water, swirling and coming apart before reforming again.
Then, his temples pounding and his eyes threatening to turn themselves inside out, his mind let him see them. His béan sidhe heritage let things hidden from mere men reveal themselves to him.
There were four figures but, seeing them clearly now was not the blessing he’d thought it would be and he prayed for ignorance now.
As big as the sky and each filled with lightning, they strode over the innumerable Fír Bolg.
In robes the colour of the grave drifted the first, his raised hood empty and arm of bones holding a massive scythe whose blade was larger than the sky itself, it seemed. A smoke swirled around it and, as he felt horror knew at his gut, Fionn swore he saw faces in that smoke or, better said, the smoke was faces, millions of them. The scent of long abandoned tomb mounds drifted towards them.
As the second figure moved, the scent became stronger, richer and riper. This figure also bore a scythe in one emaciated hand but it looked normal compared to that which the first carried. The rest of the figure did not look normal. Every inch of its bare flesh not covered by crumbling rags was the deep black-brown of the long and dried up dead yet somehow it retained an unholy gloss to it . Atop stooped and bowed shoulders was the skull of a great ox or steer in place of a head, baleful and sickly fire burning from the eye sockets.
Compared to the bandy, famine-wracked frame of his neighbour, the next creature was a giant. Corroded heavy iron armour covered all but one corpse’s hand and splayed lizard-like feet. In one iron-clad hand, it gripped a vast bow of shining metal and in the pallid, diseased bare one it held an arrow from which unhealthy light did not shine so much as ooze, like pus from a wound. Its face was an outlandish mask of dull material covered in tubes and pipes with an opaque glass plate over its eyes and two great drums either side of where a mouth should be. From these drums a fog of a colour one could only describe as unhealthy huffed in and out periodically as if the creature were breathing it.
But Fionn had eyes only for the fourth figure for it was glorious. Behind it’s heavily armoured body spread vast wings of living flame. Where the other figures appeared to now be waiting and quiescent, this one was in constant motion. In one hand it held a whip which appeared made of broken blades hammered together and ending in a glowing skull of white-hot brass; it coiled and snapped with the sound of a heavy infantry charge with only the slightest movement of the creative’s right shoulder. In its left hand, it held a double-headed axe of molten iron easily as long as Fionn’s father had been tall. Upon its jagged armoured shoulders, brutal fire the colour of burning blood blazed from the dry sockets of the skull of a great ram. The eye wateringly bright fire that filled sockets and skull grew brighter and softer, brighter and softer…as if it were the breath of the creature. As it ‘breathed’, the stench of shit, and blood, hot iron, and fear sweat washed over Fionn and he was certain that the blaze of its gaze fixed upon him and only him within the multitude; weighing him up.
Fionn tore his gaze away, counted, and thought on his impressions of them; they scrabbled at and dug up something deeply primal within him and, when realisation finally broke the surface of his thoughts, the words fell from his quivering lips before he was even aware of the thought that heralded them.
“Oh shit, are those what I think they are?” he wavered. “Now we really are f-“
Sable, who it was now clear had been watching Fionn the whole time, cut in adroitly, his voice level and deep, filled with a confidence Fionn knew his lacked. “That’s them, half-giant,” his voice had a laugh to it for reasons Fionn could not fathom. “This is, indeed, IT”
Fionn said nothing but this time, when he met those blue eyes, it was not fear that he felt, it was hope. He licked dry lips and nodded.
“That one,” Sable indicated the burning whip cracker with one silver sword. “That one is mine, Conan.”
Such was Sable’s quiet assurance that Fionn felt certain that a million Fír Bolg would barely slow a man like that down.
“Everyone’s got to die sometime!” Big Man roared in reply, butting Sable with one shoulder, over the nervous clatter of a thousand suits of armour. “I want to see what colour that big sheepie bastard bleeds for myself!”
It was not even that funny, Fionn reflected as his voice joined the rising roar from the rest of the army, but he laughed along with the rest of them.
“This blue-eyed bugger has killed giants for fun so I’m for getting to that shiny bastard while there’s still big fekkers left to fight!” He roared even louder and stabbed claymore at sky. “Who is with me?”
In a wall of noise; terror transformed into desperate bravado, screams of rage, swords beating shields, and the sounding of horns from a hundred nations which filled the plains of Meggido from end to end, fifty thousand men and women told him that they were.
As they charged forward into certain ruin, the battle at the end of the world began…