resh off the heady victory of the first true battle in the war they were starting,the rebels – ever watchful and vigilant – returned from the Battle of the Barracks with glory in their eyes and blood on their hands.
Many dreamed of their wives, their children, their lovers, their friends…many told and retold various stories of heroism, narrow escapes and daring do to men who’d seen it all themselves, yet smiles were shared and backs were slapped.
Victory tastes sweeter than the famed ichor of the gods.
But as the exaltation of the day wore into the bone-weary darkness of the night, the rebellion rested a well-deserved rest. Plans were made, preparations were readied, goodbyes were said and avoided in equal measure…until the torches shone in the distance. Until the clanking rose over the wind, soft at first before rising to a cacophonous crescendo.
The day’s fighting was not done, it seemed. War does not follow the schedule of the heartless sun and moon.
The phalanx of loyalists approached the well-defended and fortified gates…and the rebels awoke to Death knocking at their door.
But they’d prepared; they’d readied.
Up the stairs, down the stairs, up again…oil flasks, arrows, archers, and many, many large rocks…all and all, up and up, the supplies went, readied at the walls. Below at the Gates, Markus and Erik, along with the vicious natives behind them, waited as a last line of defense, should any somehow get beyond the gates…
Gods, how they prayed none would, to any and all god or goddess – long gone or very much still aware – that they’d heard tales of in brothels and bars.
And then they got closer. And the arrows flew once more.
The stones fell on skulls; brains could be seen oozing out of many a gleaming helm in the flicking light of the conquering torches. But they kept coming.
The arrows rained on the formations, but with massive shields raised, they were like mechanical bugs marching along, as in a children’s toy designed by the gnomes of the old days. And they kept coming.
Bran, arrow after arrow through the narrow arrow slits; Caithas too. Both killed men they never saw fall. Only Caithas enjoyed it. From above, on the wall, Tumult and Ark and Subaru, angles in their favor, rained death on any and all too foolish to venture near.
Jules led at the van, like a leader, crossbow in hand…and, as it had happened time and again for the now-scarred nobleman, he was shot and felled in a matter of moments. But he crawled on; he clung to life like a virus. He lived. He lived long enough to tell Caithas to watch out for his wife; he also lived long enough to be told he should be doing it himself.
He lived long enough to see the one man approach that he never wished to see again. As the oil fires began to truly rage, around then being when the loyalists decided that pulling the gates down with massive chains from afar beat getting cooked alive – they were, as villains so often are, right -, Jules looked into the eyes of Aurelius. And in them he saw madness and hate.
His voice carried.
His voice carried to the half-elf, who’d already pulled Elana from her post as a heavy-weapons operator (and not a terrible one at that) after a particularly nasty concussive blast and was up on the wall, shooting at whatever moved. When he heard the name Aurelius hollered above the din, he grabbed his rope and unsheathed his blade.
Grunur heard the name too, as did Bran, both down on the ground level. Bran recognized it; Grunur hadn’t the slightest clue. But the dwarf knew big and mean when he saw it. And Aurelius was one mean sonofabitch. He was as he cut Erik to visceral pieces where the Svodun lay on the ground, tripped by a wayward bolt of Elana’s Grease. He was when he smiled doing it. He was when he ripped his blade across Commander Markus’s chest.
Until Bran’s mighty blade combined with Grunur’s hammer. The warrior, who’d fought bravely but mostly futilely in the day’s early battle against juggernauts, dealt a blow to the man that left Aurelius nearly limbless. Grunur’s hammer, often so ineffective as well early on, comes around in a crushing arc, obliterating the loyalist leader’s kneecap.
And on a knee he went. And Grunur…Grunur reared back – both hands on the handle of the hammer, in a manner (recognizable as “holding a baseball bat” to the few intelligent species on a miscellaneous blue planet some fourteen trillion light years away) as if one were about to crush a fly against the wall – and he swung that hammer at Aurelius’s suddenly eye-level head.
And, as the man’s teeth sprayed out across the bloodied cobblestones like tics on a dog’s back, those same few species would have quantified such a stroke as a “home run”.
But the roar of battle raged on; one man didn’t end oncoming Hate. And the screams of the dying pierced the night with streamers of pain.
And the gates trembled…