Sweden felt the cold tendrils of fear shivering down his neck, tracking along his spine. He understood that this was precisely the reaction Slovenia had intended, but the  sight of his  father impaled on a flag pole and paraded in front of the armies was something that would stay with him for the rest of his life. 

The battle had ended in an exhausted stalemate. The superior numbers and morale of Slovenia’s army had brought the Poan legions to the very brink of destruction. Defeat had only been averted by the heroic efforts of Antigua, wading into the Wreghan formations , carving great swathes of destruction as she sat astride Argentum in full battle mode. Slovenia had watched Antigua cut down four of her generals before wisely sounding an ordered retreat from the field to regroup on higher ground. She was relieved to see that the monstrous iron horse and strange rider elected  not to follow the retreating legions and had stopped next to the abandoned, impaled corpse of Jordan .

Sweden dismounted from his horse. He had kept as close as he could to Antigua as she rampaged through the lines, keeping her headed towards the standard bearers that held his father. Jordan’s lifeless body hung limply from the stake, his head thrown back in a paroxysm of agony. The blunt tip of the stake bulging through his throat and extending out of his mouth. Impalement itself had not killed him. If the stake had not penetrated his throat, blocking his airway and thus suffocated him, he may well have survived for a number of days.

Slovenia watched him from her vantage point up on the foothills of the escarpment. Her vision was aided by a rudimentary spyglass fashioned from two crudely polished lenses and a roll of stiff leather hide. She panned away from him as he struggled to lift his father’s body from the stake and focused her attention on the iron horse and rider that stood beside him.

“Who was that?” Israel asked as he wiped down as much of the blood and grime from her armour as he could.

Slovenia didn’t respond. She was concentrating too hard on the distant horse rider. The rider seemed to sense her gaze and turned to face her directly. Slovenia’s body tensed defensively as she was overcome with the eerie sensation that she was naked. She felt as though a thousand eyes were upon her, analyzing her with an intensity that caused her to inhale sharply.

The rider removed their helmet, long flame red hair cascaded forth and Slovenia found herself drowning in the piercing blue eyes of the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on. The woman, staring straight back at her, clearly aware that she was being observed, raised an arm in salute.

Slovenia turned away sharply, unrolling the leather spyglass and handing it to a bemused Israel. The eunuch followed her as she marched quickly to her horse.

“Where the fuck did she come from?” she asked, letting the eunuch help her into the saddle.

Israel thought for a moment before responding.

“I have a terrible feeling the world as we know it has come to an end.”