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19JUN15 - Chapter 2: The Battle

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    Posted: 19 Jun 2015 at 16:54

chapter II

 

The castle was only half there. It rested precariously on the side of a small mountain as though it had been built whole and then rammed into the mass of rock. Normally it would appear mighty and defensible, but now it was smoking and falling apart from a side where dwarven siege weapons had taken it apart. Smoke issued from several towers, and occasionally a wooden whine would slither across the battlefield and into Rikoo’s ears.

“They’ve been bombarding for a long time, now.” Rikoo said.

He was a dark-green skinned orc with heavy lines of worry around his face. He wore a set of light armor and kept a massive hammer at his side. On the ground, sleeping peacefully, was his massive war-wolf Royal. They were inside a large tent that rested upon a small hill, positioned so that he could see the siege unfold. In the room with him was a large table, chairs, food and drink and several others.

Among these included Tyran; his young elf assistant who featured pale skin and golden hair that was currently tied back into a war braid. Next to Tyran was Dreafah, a young female human with dark skin, a mass of black hair and light leather armor. She rarely said a word. Rikoo wasn’t sure if she ever spoke, come to think of it.

“And they will for a while longer, yeh.” Responded Artefore, a bulky white-skinned dwarf who sat at the large table in the middle of the tent. “Meh cousins will not stop if they are not told to. Bombardin’ is somethin’ they feel the need to do.”

Rikoo glanced at the dwarf then returned his eyes to the scene of battle. A fresh wind caressed his brow and he smelled the fire-scent it carried. At the foot of the mountain, on all sides, wide-open plains fanned out. They ran off into the distance, leaving the mountain alone like a lighthouse. The landscape was broken up only on one side; there was a dense forest that looked as though it was attempting to sneak up and grow on the side of the mountain.

Late in the night the dwarven armies set up their siege weaponry. It took twelve hours at least to move the massive machines into place. Yes, they wanted to attempt the construction at night to help hide from their enemies, but it was mainly to avoid the heat of the day. Dwarves didn’t care much for sneaking and cared less if someone knew they were coming, but heat should be avoided if possible.

They began their assault by late morning and it continued on now, though the frequency of bombardments had slowed. Rikoo watched in wonder as the giant machines moved as though in a dance. If one was damaged or if room was needed for more, they moved smoothly, flawlessly, even over the unfamiliar terrain. How they managed to transport and set up not only on the edge of a forest, but inside it as well, was beyond Rikoo’s knowledge. The dwarves worked hard to achieve machine-like precision in much of what they did.

Suddenly, the massive gates of the castle rose and a wave of cavalry shot out towards the engines. Unfortunately the riders had not understood the dangers of riding into a forest. Their hopes of breaking the siege were dashed on the waiting spears of a host of orcs who were there to provide a guard for the engine-keepers.

From the far side of the castle, caravans of goods could be seen approaching. They had been arriving for some time until a gathering of charioteers flew out of the far side of the plains. They circled the caravans, capturing most and blocking any path into the besieged castle. Rikoo looked at Artefore, who shrugged. The mass of horses created a cloud dust around the caravans, and the cloud rose slowly until it blocked Rikoo’s view of that side of the mountain.

“Damn. I can’t see anything now.” Rikoo said, waving at his assistant, Tyran. “Send my messengers to find out what is going on, and get someone here who can communicate over distances.” The young elf bowed to Rikoo and rushed out of the room.

“I dinna’ who that force belongs to. Looked human. Couldn’t see the standards.” The dwarf said, answering Rikoo’s unspoken question.

“Take your guard out there and see.” Said someone behind Rikoo.

Rikoo turned to see a gray-skinned elf with dark red hair that was braided down the front of her blue metal armor. It was a mercenary named Tock who had recently come under employment by the kingdom, specifically for this mission. “Or are you worried about tarnishing that armor they wear? One suit costs more than a normal army!” she sneered.

“You are not here to demand the definition or use of my guard.” Rikoo said, pointing at her neck. “You are here to fight, and you did so when helping to siege the castle. You will forgive me if I need a moment before I can pay you the remainder.”

“Take the hammer, Rikoo. Use it with your guard. You could make a real difference in this fight.” She responded.

Within an eye’s blink Rikoo undid the Hammer and tossed it at Tock. The elf caught it in her hands. She held it up and gasped.

“It is… it is much lighter than I thought it would be. It feels… it feels almost like a toy.” She said. Within another blink the hammer was gone from her grasp and back at Rikoo’s side.

“It’s no toy, but now you can say you held it during a battle. Now leave us or stay quiet.”

Rikoo turned back to the dwarf.

“Arte, where’s that messenger?”

Within a few minutes the dust began to settle, but in response a hail of arrows arced from the walls of the castle. Some of the arrows were massive things. Shot by giant creatures, Rikoo thought. The arrows did not do much to the siege engines or troops inside the wooded area, but the dwarves who operated the engines or who were unlucky enough to be without cover were beginning to fall. Artefore made a sound of alarm.

“Tock, there. You can see that the enemy demands a response. Have you something to say to that?” he asked the mercenary.

“My trueshots will, yes.” she responded.

Rikoo could not take his eyes off of the battlefield but could hear the mercenary issue a command outside of the tent. The person she commanded yelped the command to someone else, and that person yelled it to another who was farther down the line. Within under a minute the command had reached the hidden trueshot archers, nestled in tall grasses that lined the perimeter of the woods.

Arrows shot up and over the wall while some zipped straight and directly into the open spots that pockmarked the castle’s stone walls. A few screams pierced the crowded air, bodies fell forward and to the hard ground below. The rain of arrows from the top of the wall slowed considerably. Rikoo smiled. This seemed too easy.

“Rikoo, someone is here to see you.” came the voice of Tyran behind him.

Rikoo turned to see Tyran bow and move out of the way to make room for a tall female human in full armor. Her dark eyes were set inside pale skin and dark hair swept over one shoulder. Her weapons were ancient and used, but still strong and deadly-looking.

Rikoo smiled and took a few steps towards the woman.

“Star.” He said. Artefore grimaced at the sound of the name, but Rikoo gave him a quick sideways glance. “You do still prefer Star, yes? I cannot get it in my head to call you The Star.”

“No, Star is fine, of course.” She answered. Her voice was cracked from the dust. “The Star was a given name, brought on by my commanders. They wanted to show their loyalty, I heard, and so issued the name as a proclamation of their stubbornness to follow me anywhere.”

“Ah, as in the southern star?” Rikoo asked.

Star looked at Rikoo for moment and then slowly smiled. She shrugged and the armor made a sound.

“You’re here to help, as we asked. But, we did not expect you, to be honest.”

Rikoo motioned to the table with the map on it. “Koda is in the North, here, with his bears. They attack an encampment of… whatever it is we are dealing with in this castle.” He pointed between the folded opening of the tent and towards the castle. Star nodded and looked at the map.

“Rill and Nokigon are here, to the East. They are holding a pair of cities that once belonged to our enemy. They are analyzing the information they found inside.” He gestured at the map.

“Aurordan is below them, here, with a smaller band of spies. Luna is bound to catch up with him at Rill’s location, then they will all return home for rest and supplies.”

“Who continues to hold the cities?” Star asked. She was known to capture and hold cities with almost minimal effort. She was not only a superior fighter, but strategist as well.

Rikoo waved in the air. “The usual. A force from the kingdom.” Star crossed her arms and the metal skin of her armor creaked slightly. “I am not playing the issue, Star,” he said. “it is simply not something I can talk about.”

She paused, nodded, and decided to drop it.

“You might have seen my charioteers riding and capturing the incoming caravans?” She said.

“So that was you, eh?” Artefore asked. “We couldna’ see the banners.”

“The road kicked up much dust. It would have been hard to see anything from any distance,” she responded, “But we did capture the incoming caravans. Not much inside, which was odd, but we stopped them from going anywhere.”

“Thanks for that, Star. But… I need someone with your army and skills to go inside. I need to see what they are protecting in there.” Rikoo said.

“In there? Into a castle that is in the middle of a siege?” she snorted.

“My dwarves will stop the engines soon, lady,” Artefore said “but I have found out that my infantry has sustained a good amount of damage from a wave of attackers that burst from the castle.”

“Convenient.” Star responded.

“The truth.” The dwarf growled.

“Please. Let’s not.” Rikoo held up his hands to stop the fight before it started. “Artefore will still go in, and I will submit some of my guard as well, if you need the help. After the dust clears some we will be able to see where we should enter. I believe we might go in at different points, but I need to wait to see what the scouts say, if anything.”

“Again, sending someone else to do the work the hammer could do.” Tock cracked. Rikoo forgot she was there. “Use it, Rikoo. I’ve heard the stories and know it… ”

Rikoo quickly slipped the hammer from its belt and pointed it towards the elf.

“This is a tool, not a weapon. I am not its owner nor do you give it commands!” He yelled.

“It looks like a weapon to me. Perhaps next time you could arm yourself with a pair of smithy tongs!” Tock barked.

“And perhaps you can arm your mercenaries with fenceposts!” Rikoo responded. Artefore stood back, eager to watch the display.

“My mercs would happily fight, but could you say the same? You have a weapon that could make much difference, but all you can do is commit a few hundred troops in golden armor …” Rikoo grunted and swung the hammer at the air in front of Tock. The elf crackled and split and was gone.

Artefore gasped. “Did… did you…” he asked.

Rikoo, turning back to the table, sighed. “No, she is back with her mercs. She can go away from this field of battle, payment in her pockets, as far as I am concerned. Her deeds are done and my debt to her is paid.”

He looked at the map, turned to view the castle. “It’s dying down,” he said. Star walked to the opening of the tent and looked out. She could smell the sharp odor of the elf’s disappearance.

“We can do it.” She said. “I have what and who I need. We marched up from the south earlier. My charioteers were only a smaller, faster portion of my army. We can do it.”

Rikoo looked at her and then back at the scene.

“I need as many alive as I can,” he said. Star laughed sharply.

“Alive? Alive! As they shoot me full of holes and poke us with their swords, we’re supposed to ask them to stop and come with us? Why this, why now?” she demanded.

“I didn’t say they all needed to survive. I said I needed as many left alive as you can spare.” He said. “You and I both know there is something more at work behind those walls, and this is the first larger castle that we have been given the chance to capture. We need to know why and what.”

She sneered and waved her hand at the scene, indicating the fields. “There’s nothing to know. They are invaders, and need to be contained. Those dead bodies will tell you nothing, nor will the captured fools who heap themselves inside that dying house. This is a strange day, Rikoo.”

He held up his hands. “I know. I know. But I ask this because we feel there is something to learn here. Something, but I cannot tell you what.”

The woman turned and looked at Rikoo for a moment. He’s not lying, she thought. But do I trust him? She turned from the scene and walked towards the exit. She paused and turned back to Artefore and Rikoo.

“I expect a free round of drinks when I return.” she said. Her tone was tense. Rikoo nodded slowly, frowned. He knew what he was asking her to do, what he was asking her soldiers to do.

“Bring back as many alive as you can,” he said. “We need that information.”

“Don’t worry,” she responded “… we’re harmless.”

She walked out of the tent. They could hear her issue a few commands as she walked towards her mount. Rikoo sighed, turned back towards his view of the destruction. He would send some of his guard to accompany Star’s forces, but could not go into battle himself. He was one of the few in the kingdom who knew the influence the enemy held in his kingdom right now, and was the only one who knew this secret while having such access to the king.

“I’m rallyin’ mine, and we’ll join up t’ Star before she goes in.” Artefore said behind Rikoo. The dwarf looked around the table, chewed a morsel of food and a swig of beer and picked his helmet off of a stool. Rikoo looked at him and nodded.

“Thank you.” He said to the dwarf.

“You’ll be paying for two rounds,” Artefore responded.

The dwarf noisily stomped out of the tent. Rikoo wondered how a company of dwarves could ever hope to surprise the enemy. Luckily, they didn’t need to. They wanted their foes to hear them coming. Rikoo’s own people, the orcs, believed in a similar tactic, but chose to take it a few steps farther by making incredible noise as they approached the battlefield. The resulting sound had confused even veterans; after all, you never knew when the host of orcs that ran towards your ranks was actually made up of a few or much larger numbers.

Rikoo stood and waited for the silence. Once it would become quiet, he knew it would had come down to soldier versus soldier inside the crowded streets of the sieged castle.

An hour later, one of Rikoo’s scouts poked his head inside the tent. Rikoo was still standing, waiting for any news. This time he sipped on a cup of hot coffee. He raised an eyebrow and held out a hand, inviting the scout to enter. The smallish, brown-skinned orc dipped inside, bowing.

“We found someone, sir.” He said in a husky, gravelly voice.

“Who?” Rikoo answered.

The scout turned and made a signal to someone who stood directly outside of the tent. A woman, an elf, with white skin and a pinched mouth and dark hair that swept over darkened armor, was pushed in. Her hands were bound tightly behind her back, and her face was scratched. Rikoo frowned. What is this? he thought, they know better than to anger me with slavery.

Behind the elf walked Albine, one of Rikoo’s commanders. He held his sword out, ready to cut the woman down.

“Albine… what… what are you?” Rikoo stammered.

“We found her, sir, out and about and up to something ‘orrible.” The human man grimaced and looked as though he was on the verge of spitting on the woman. Rikoo considered his commander. He was a slight man, sickly looking but tough in battle. He had tanned skin and reddish hair, but was so dirty now that his clothes, skin and hair were all the same color. “She was sneakin’ ‘round th’ camp. We just ‘appened ‘pon ‘er, me and two of me soldiers did, and there she made ‘way with two of their lives. We remaining two caught ‘er but even then she gave us a fight. Luckily Sned caught ‘er wit’ a poison blade, made ‘er sleep for a while ‘en we searched her.”

Rikoo held up his hand, quieting the chatty, dirty man.

“Have her sit. There.” He said. “Put your sword away. Keep an eye on her, get an extra pair of eyes in here to help you with it if you need to, but put the sword away.”

The man pushed the elf onto a stool on the far side of the table. Rikoo poured a drink, held it to her to see if she wanted it. She scowled and shook her head. He put it to his mouth and drank. He forgot how parched he was. Another man came in through the flap, stood behind the woman and set his hands on her shoulders, pressing her into the seat. Rikoo made a sharp look at the man who then released some of the pressure.

“What is your name?” Rikoo asked the elf.

She sniffed and looked away.

“What were you doing here?” he asked again.

She made no notice of the question.

Rikoo sighed, looked around the room. These people had never seen what he was about to do, but they all talked about it. Oh well, he thought, now they can talk about it as if they were there. He undid his hammer from his belt and set it on the table. It looked smaller now, less intimidating. It was less a war hammer and looked closer to the hammer a smithy might use. He set it upright on the flat top of its head and slid it closer to the elf woman. She eyed it nervously but looked away.

“What is your name?” he asked again.

The woman looked at him and stared. She had the look that someone gets while daydreaming; far away, looking through Rikoo more than at him.

“Alyrra.” She answered. Her voice was cracked. Rikoo knew that she had not been offered food or drink while she was captured.

“What were you doing here?” he asked.

“To kill. Kill anyone whom I could.” She answered in a thick accent. The two humans looked at each other.

“Who sent you? Are they inside that castle?” he asked.

“I do not know, but they are in that castle. Yes. They sent me. I was paid by someone who… someone…”

Rikoo let her pause to sigh. She was under a spell, and it tended to tire those it affected.

“They paid me, said their commander needed me to stay away from the battle. Until, until I could… “

“Could what?” Rikoo asked. He sat back, considering his prisoner. She looked like she was fighting the desire to speak. Unusual, thought Rikoo, the hammer will make her talk, though.

“…until I could distract you, somehow…”

Rikoo leaped up from his chair. Distract me? His thoughts screamed, from…

A crack of lightning burst across the landscape. There was a boom, and Rikoo fell to the ground. A great wind tore the tent from its ropes and it fell. Rikoo covered his face as the heavy cloth muffled him in darkness. He could hear another boom, this time slightly muffled due to the thick cloth that encased him. His heart felt like it was being crushed by the shockwave. The ground felt like it was rising like a wave of water.

He could hear some of the guards and knew that they had been hurt. He didn’t hear his prisoner but could tell that the guards were wrestling with her. He attempted to work his hands free, tried to call to the hammer or his wolf, but his body was pinned.

He felt a slight lessening of the weight; someone was attempting to lift the tent off of him. He heard another crack of lightning, an echo, and another. The weight was coming off of his chest. For a moment, he could see a female elf, black armor…

A hot dart of pain thrust up under his arm and into his chest. He began to let out a scream, but his world faded to black.

 

Star opened her eyes. She could see glossy sky breaking through strands of smoke. Her ears were ringing and it took her several moments to will her limbs to move. She leaned up on one elbow and looked around, smelling acrid smoke and tasting blood. Something had hit her in the face. A rock? A piece of wood? Something flew at her when…

An explosion, she thought, the castle? Somewhere? Where did it come from? Where… where am I?

Slowly she stood and could barely make out her surroundings. She was in the clearing of a wall of smoke. It writhed around her, carrying with it bits of burning paper. She adjusted her helm; the old thing had likely saved her life.

What just happened? I was standing… somewhere, watching for any sign that my soldiers had finished their mission... what mission?  I was talking to… to someone. They were telling me about…

Star grimaced. She could feel the words stick in her mind. She held her hand to her forehead and winced. She could not remember.

Suddenly, someone fell into her. She stepped aside, pulling her sword in one quick movement. It was Duran, she thought but didn’t quite remember, a local commander and businessman who had volunteered some troops to the effort. She thought that she saw him back at the camp, but did not know if he sent some troops into the battle.

He was falling to his knees, panting heavily. A cut had settled on his scalp and it bled heavily. He looked up slowly, squinted at her face and smirked.

“Star, is it? Good to… see you… here.” He was obviously in some pain. She reached down to help him up. “Where… where am I?” he panted.

 Star? The name registered in her brain and it unlocked the gate that held back her thoughts. She could remember standing, looking at the castle. The siege engines had stopped their bombardment and a few skilled archers continued to peck at the troops on the walls. She had just finished watching the last of her troops stomping into the mess of a castle. Strangely, they seem to be receiving very little resistance, at least that she could see. She prepared to follow them in.

She sent a smaller force than normal, and maybe that was a mistake. Maybe if she would have overwhelmed the enemies, what she saw soon after would not have happened.

An explosion, she thought, an explosion! That’s what happened. I sent my soldiers in and the entire house went up in an explosion. It sounded like a thunderclap from heaven, a death-boom hammering across the straight expanse of these bloody plains!

She felt her knees weakening slightly, but her training told her the reaction was based on shock and could be overcome with her will. She stood up straight, looked past the dying Duran and into the smoke.

“Ah!” the man exclaimed, “…the smoke, it is blowing away!”

She could see the dark shape of a small mountain coming to stand before them. Its peak… something seemed different than she remembered. The smoke continued to clear and she could make out trembling bodies in her peripheral vision. Moans and creaking armor started to break through the high-pitched whine in her ears.

The mountain was there, yes. She sent her warriors into the city that rested in the side of that mountain. The city, where was it?

The city had vanished and in its place was left a gaping hole. Rock and debris was still pouring from the wound, piling at the foot of the gray mountain.

“The city! It is gone!” she pointed. Duran, holding a hand over the gash on his head, sank to one knee.

“So it… so it is.” He gasped and slumped to the ground. One of his troops came out of the mist and bent to him, stepping over piles of the dead.

She could hear someone walk up behind her. A hand pulled on her shoulder. She turned quickly, sword in hand. It was her second in command, a mighty human man with dark skin and brilliant pale eyes. His silver armor was coated in fine dust and spots of blood.

“The Star, my commander!” he attempted a salute but his breath was shallow. She could see that he had a wound at his side. Something must have hit him, hard. “I remember. We were standing here, planning our next steps. You were convinced that we should have sent in a next wave of…” he tried to catch his breath. She stepped forward to help, but he held out his hand. “…but then, an explosion. It sounded like lightning, and the entire castle, it, it erupted into the air, pushed by a ball of light or fire.”

She gaped at the man. Her memory came back fully. She recognized the sight, the sound, the smell of the explosion.

It was a spell of Tenaril.

A massively powerful spell, true, she thought, but one that rarely caused damage. It was used to transport entire cities and their citizens across the landscape. Developed by a mage of incredible abilities many generations earlier, it was even used to terraform the landscape, but never as a weapon. What went wrong?

“A Tenaril.” Star whispered into the air. Her second-in-command was standing next to her now. His brow wrinkled at the word. He knew, like she did, that the spell was never used in situations like this. It required not only the most powerful magic users in the city, but commanded that as many citizens as possible to concentrate on the magic user. Without the aid of its citizens, no city could teleport. It was impossible to pull off during the delicate first few days of a city’s settlement and it was very nearly impossible during a siege.

Somehow, the enemy had transformed the mighty spell into a weapon. The thought stuck in Star’s throat. She was someone who had fought in many battles. She saw many horrible things, and many of her people had died in front of her. This was something more than that. This was a weapon that could potentially be used anywhere, even during a siege.

Her sword’s tip dragged in the sand. She felt it catch and instinctively picked it up.

As she did, a mangled monster who a head stood taller than her ran out of the dust; it showed green-black eyes that were embedded in gruesome, wet-leather skin. Its hair hung down in knots, and its armor resembled flesh that had recently lost a scab. She pulled the sword up, drew it back and sliced forward.

The beast fell just before its hands reached her throat; the two halves of its body on either side of her feet. She was awake now; alert and ready. The smell of blood woke her from her dream.

More screams came towards her. Whatever survived the explosion that claimed the plains was coming at her now. After all, the city was long gone… there was nowhere for its defenders to go but towards the enemy. Star looked back to see many of her soldiers coming to and forming defensive lines. It filled her with pride to see her battlemates falling back on years of training and experience.

So, she thought, my arrogance saved me twice. Once when I sent so few into the city, and now when the many remain to defend my flag.

She could see dozens of her soldiers in bright armor standing in a line beside her. They had their weapons drawn, ready and waiting for the enemy to hit.

She could hear the screams of the creatures getting closer.

She smiled and tasted blood.

 

..to be continued.

 



Edited by GM Rikoo - 23 Jun 2015 at 16:35
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