Rangee heard a scream, unexpected and in discord with the harmony and power of their song. He looked around and suddenly there was a confusion of leathery wings, rearing horses, shouting men. A Rep dove at Rangee and he smashed it with a backhand that sent it tumbling to the ground with a shattered skull. Reps were easy to kill. The trick was not to let them sneak up and stick you.
Rangee hurled through the air as his horse collapsed. A Rep clung tenaciously to its rear flank, its proboscis already inserted and pumping in its foul acid. Rangee pulled his sword and cut the Rep in two, just behind the head. A mist of blood, mucus, and acid sprayed out, nearly blinded him as it burned the eyes and exposed skin. The stench twisted his stomach, and the squeal of his dying horse tore at his heart.
The shouts of other Rauders and the sounds of battle gave him no chance to grieve. He leaped to his nearest companion and slew two Reps that were diving from the right, while the man stabbed another that was coming in from the left. All the horses had stopped now and Rangee shouted orders for the men to form protective circles around the horses. He cursed the almost total darkness, and tried to spell for light, but there was too much pain in the air. More from the horses than his men, Rangee suspected; but it made no difference so far as magic was concerned.
The attacks continued relentlessly. Rangee ordered archers to lay down a suppressing fire, but in the darkness few of the arrows found their marks. Swords and fists at close range worked well enough, but for every dozen Reps killed a horse was lost. Worse, in the initial surprise attack at least a hundred Rauders had been killed. Rangee wondered how many of the damned winged lizards were out there.
A pale light appeared in the eastern sky; dawn was approaching. Reps hunted at night and Rangee expected them to withdraw. But the attacks continued. The archers at least began to have better success, but the stupid monsters failed to learn respect for the Rauders. The attacks continued until the sun was completely clear of the horizon; all the Reps were dead. None had tried to escape, even when it was daylight and it was clear that their attacks were futile.
Rangee had lost nearly three hundred men and over five hundred horses. He estimated that three thousand Rep bodies lay strewn around them. He had also lost several hours and was beginning to suspect that their intended surprise attack on Kratia’s fortress had been discovered and parried with an attack of her own. Still, if this were the best she could do the day would end in feasting and sweet song.
He ordered the horseless men to double-up with the rearguard; said a brief prayer for the souls of the fallen warriors; and resumed the charge. Hornblower was only two hours away.