The flash of lightning silhouetted hundreds of misshapen forms against the storm darkened sky. The wind whipped, cold and biting, the atmosphere so tense it was tangible. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Caoránach floated gracefully above the teeming mass of living nightmares. Cold, exquisite, and terrifying, she was their mother; the mother of all demons, merciless and cruel. Long robes flowed around her, undulating in the winds that swept the cliff top. They were of the blackest black fading to the palest gray as they neared her beautiful face. Large steel grey eyes, framed by long black hair that would have fallen well below her waist had it not been fanned out around her, gazed across the field.
She didn’t spare a glance for the devoted servants who were giving their lives to do with as she pleased. They were nothing but pawns, stupid and disposable. She concentrated on a single figure across the grassy space. Plain and unassuming, his brown hair blew across his face, obscuring her view of his steady gaze. Too confident. How dare he be that calm? He should be on his knees begging for mercy. Her eyes stayed glued on the simple man she knew would ruin everything, given the chance. She would not give him that chance. Him or the pitiful army he had assembled.
The silence, after the din of battle, seemed to grow palpable. Caoránach surveyed the rag tag band straggled in a loose line facing her. They were breathing hard, chests heaving in an effort to get enough air to their fatigued bodies. The battle had been raging for three days and they were nearing the end of their strength and their numbers. A small triumphant smile crossed her full red lips. They would not last much longer, they could not. They were outnumbered more than ten to one. She was too strong for them, as she had always known; as all would soon know.
At some unseen signal, the small army charged, yelling. Caoránach’s smile broadened into a sneer. Soon it would be over. With a raised hand and a small gesture, she sent her banshees flying towards the enemy. They swooped tirelessly, weaving their way through the opposing force. Her smiled faltered as the band kept charging. Her banshees’ wail of death should have been enough to stop a normal man’s heart, let alone ones as weary as these were. Of course…they were not normal men. Her eyes darted to their leader again. She had been unconcerned when he began gathering a following. He seemed no more threatening than any other human who had tried to stand against her. Many had tried, before him, to stop her; none had succeeded. Who could have known that this man would become a thorn in her side, that he would do what none of the others had?
With another twitch of her hand, the remainder of her forces rushed forward. For one small second she believed it would all be over momentarily, and then her face contorted with fury. Vines shot out of the ground, wrapping themselves around her trolls’ legs. The merrows, who had been running so swiftly that the vines could not catch hold of them, were now being slowed as thorns sprouted from the ground slicing their delicate soles. Caoránach could just make out the small human shaped creatures that darted between the clashing warriors. Just as she noticed them, the once distant storm was suddenly upon them, the leprechauns having called it. Rain fell in sheets, hitting so hard that some of the smaller creatures on the field lost their footing. The sprites who had been calling the plants to their aid quickly sought shelter beside the bigger members of their group. So the storm was slowing them as much as her…this could work to her benefit if she acted quickly.
Her battle cry was met with instant action. The trolls, taking advantage of the fact that the sprites were no longer summoning the vines that entangled them, quickly cut through the remaining ones and surged forward. They were met by a line of tall, magnificent Danaans. Caoránach’s teeth ground together as she spotted them. She had not realized how many had survived the first few days of battle. She watched, enraged, as they met her best warriors head on and steadily began to cut through them. Although severely outnumbered, their unsurpassed weaponry skill, as well as their agility made them more than a match for the trolls, whose best asset was brute strength. The trolls were beginning to retreat, so slowly she almost didn’t realize it. Little by little they were pushed back.
Her scream of fury and frustration ripped through the air. It echoed, and Caoránach saw her enemies quail. They were right to fear her. They were insignificant; an annoyance and nothing more. Their leader though, continued to look at her with calm assurance in his eyes, only angering her more. He raised both arms, never breaking eye contact with her and quickly brought them down again. The fighting intensified, if that was possible, and her troops began to retreat at a faster pace.
Lightning momentarily lit the sky and Caoránach triumphant smile returned. Silhouetted on the horizon was her best weapon, her greatest creation; the Dullahan, bringer of death. He was deadly and fiercely loyal, as all good servants should be. His only purpose was to bring souls to her. Particularly the useful ones; thieves, murderers, those filled with hate. Caoránach’s last scream had been a summons for him to leave his duties to aid her. Never before had he been called into battle. His black steed pawed the ground, anxious to join the fray.
Dark cape billowing behind him as he rode closer, he carried his hideous head under his left arm, his beady eyes darting around the cliff top. The Danaan redoubled their efforts to force their way through her army. It had now become a race, who would reach their target first? Druids appeared, chanting, behind the Danaan and Caoránach hissed between her teeth. She hadn’t known that the Druids had joined this doomed cause. She felt small tendrils of her power leaving as their chants intensified. What were they doing? Didn’t they know that none could kill her? She was an immortal. Her contemptuous look froze on her face as she caught sight of the man; the man she should have stomped like an insect the moment he stepped onto the shores of her island. He had a sword raised above his head and he was sprinting towards her. Had this been a normal sword, she would have merely laughed as it glanced off her, but she recognized the gleaming blade, pulsating with its own light. The scream that ripped from her lips sounded foreign to her own ears, filled with terror and desperation.
The Dullahan was nearly there. He gripped the hair of his own head and held it aloft. His gaze finally found its mark. The man with the sword seemed to realize that his breaths were now numbered and he pushed himself to the limit of human speed. The Dullahan pulled his weapon back, a deadly whip made of the spines of previous victims. Caoránach’s eyes gleamed in triumph as it lashed out, almost invisible, with lethal accuracy.
The man never stopped, continuing to sprint ahead of the deluded Druids that had pledged themselves to him. One of the Druids, younger than most, sped up and overtook his peers. He threw himself in front of the man with the sword. The Dullahan’s whip never failed to claim a life once unleashed, and so it did. Rage rolled through her body as Caoránach watched the young Druid fall and the man keep running. He was barely 20 feet from her. She could still feel her powers seeping away at the edges, the inexplicable tide that seemed to be pulling them away suddenly getting stronger.
“NOOO!!!” The blade slashed through the remaining magical barriers surrounding her. She felt the hot pain as it slid through her chest. She knew she couldn’t die, but she had never experienced pain before. As she crumpled to the ground, red-hot anger pulsated through her. She was completely powerless as the cursed druids bound her with spells much stronger than any rope or chain. Her loyal army, released from her spells, was running as fast as they could into the forest away from those still pursuing them. They would pay for this, all of them, every last creature and human on the face of this pathetic island.
She watched, an unfamiliar feeling of betrayal creeping into her soul, as the Dullahan disappeared from view back over the hill he had appeared on. The man with the sword stood over her now, coming to gloat no doubt.
“Caoránach, for your transgressions, you will be banished to a prison built to hold you for all eternity. None can help you now.”
Hate radiated from her, but she kept her silence, partly because for once in her life she didn’t have a reply and partly because it would have been very difficult to talk around the bindings that now held her head to toe. She was suddenly being lowered into a dark hole, deep in the earth. It vaguely registered that water seemed to tower on all sides of them. When she reached the bottom, something slid over the top and cut off what little light had reached her. Never mind that, the dark had never bothered her. She would find a way out, somehow, and when she did, woe to all that had ever stood against her. She would avenge herself against their children’s children’s children.