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Chapter 16: Bloody Battle

David Grimdark
Mar 29, 2024

69 Reads

"Fighting the Empire is like impaling yourself on a pike. One simply shouldn't do it."

-Vice Principate Yan

The sound of pounding feet and angry shouts filled the air as a frenzied mob of villagers rushed towards the imposing stone walls of the castle. But standing in their way were a group of artifact plated guards, armed with swords and shields, their determined expressions unwavering as they braced themselves for the onslaught. Nearly three scores of them held that chokepoint interlinked. I witnessed the expression of the front of the mob grow from fury to panic to fear as they realized the guards were holding and that they could no longer retreat. I saw that fear turn into resigned dread as they were pushed upon the waiting blades in front of them. Then the expression faded into regret then finally nothing as their corpses fell and those behind them took their place. The cycle repeated.

With each clash of metal against metal and cry of pain, the guards fought on, not due to any sort of loyalty but from the primal urge to survive. If the mob got in they would be surrounded and die, there was no way out anymore, no one to surrender too. It was fight or die, so they fought. Their only hope was that the mob would falter and truth be told it was likely they would, to most, oppression was better than being dead.

However they had another threat from their back, Ironhold guards continued to release each other after the first few I had broken free. I had lowered the drawbridge for them myself, no doubt they’d have done it soon enough, but it had bought me some measure of respect and freeing them had bought me a little more. It was still pretty damn little, I had after all waltzed in here killed their boss and ordered them to fight a battle they didn’t want too, I had to break a few arms at the start to stop them from betraying me right away but that was a distant wound, further than their families being used as hostages against them. Already I could see them whispering to each other, casting glances at Reji’s guard holding the gate. The very guard who were looking over their shoulder shouting for the Ironhold folk to stay or be killed. Words that fell on deaf ears. Reji had made a mistake using their families against them.

I chuckled, twisting out the kinks in my neck, Reji had fell right into her trap just like she predicted. She was sharp. Three days of fighting had taken its toll on me, my last dose of brutes brew was a little over twenty hours ago and I had no more. I hadn’t slept and Reji had thrown a fucking artifact crystal at me, my ears had rang for hours and my armor barely held. It had mostly been repaired but the shoulder underneath was still tender from Reji’s blade.

Sitting was nice and it took most of my focus to not slip into unconsciousness, it would have been easy for me to kill those guards holding the gate. All grouped up like that I could just run into them and fall on them, let the mob run over me, but that rat Reji would run. 

So I sat and waited, protecting the entrance into the hold ensuring no one escaped from that tunnel. Azeal wanted Reji dead and I did too. I stared up at him on the battlements and grinned at the frustration in his face. I heard a distant curse and saw him scramble down making no motion to come my way. Instead he made his way to his guard and began barking orders at them. Some of them peeled away turning grim eyes towards the Ironhold captives. He had told them to kill them no doubt. 

Reji himself stayed in the gap, slicing a poor lad here and there shouting words like ‘Treason’ and ‘Reward’. But he had made a mistake, only five of his guard had peeled away to dish out death and that would have been enough if they were all still tied up but they weren’t any more, not all of them.

The Ironhold’s didn’t have weapons but they had a determination to protect their families, the bastards threw themselves at the guards without abandoning throwing fists and pulling them into choke holds even as they went down fast to the artifact weapons. It was a desperate struggle until a couple of the guards went down and their weapons were distributed. The other few died quickly after that.

One of the Ironholds, Grimly was his name, glanced in my direction, his face bloodied and tired of a woman and child behind him. His eyes looked at the door behind me with a flash of hope, it seemed he was high up enough to know about the secret route, but I slowly shook my head. No one escapes through this route, I nodded my head at the guards holding back the mob and the hope on his face turned stone cold. He considered me and the pinned guards for a moment, decided which one he had a better chance at, then he swallowed and began barking orders. They were making their way towards the guards.


Only a few of them had weapons but even one man coming from behind was an enormous amount of pressure. Reji noticed them and scowled, ordering some of his guards to defend from behind. Reji and his guard’s were now defending on two fronts.

I watched with satisfaction as the Ironholds continued to fight with determination and desperation. Even without weapons, they were putting up a good fight against Reji and his guard. To my surprise waves and waves of the mob kept coming, not slowing down, even increasing.

Azeal was working up some kind of zeal out there that was pushing them onward in spite of the casualties. Little by little a bit of Reji's guards were chipped away, every once in a while a farmer would get lucky or a sword arm would get tired. They fell, slowly, but surely. My eyes focused on Reji who was in the middle of it all. He'd be realizing the same thing just about now.

He was losing. 

And like any rat stuck in a trap he was looking for a way out, his head flickered everywhere searching for some way out, some hidden insight. There was only one way and soon enough he came to the same conclusion and his gaze met mine. He barked one last order and cut a way through the Ironholds in the rear, downing two of them and breaking free before more could take their place, he was running now, speed enhanced by expensive artifacts.

Running right at me.

At the edge of the southern rim of the desert is the dead forest, a twisted poisoned land where very few things live and many have died. Desert animals would often head to the edge of the forest in search of shade or water. There is a type of spider there that grew the size of a chicken, Anna probably knew of it. It would set a trap of nearly invisible web that would trap limbs in place and the spider would inject its venom, they move quite slow so their pray needed to be trapped. It would move on to consume the victim and lay eggs inside it, overall, an unpleasant way to die. 

The animals of the desert felt the same way, oftentimes you could find a desert Camel or cat missing a leg because they had gnawed off their own limb to escape death. As Reji came rushing to meet me, sword in hand I couldn’t help but think of the same thing.

I rose to greet him with a savage grin and deep laugh, I spread my arms out wide in a grapplers stance, my center of mass low, unshakable. “Brutus!” he screamed leaping to strike me, eyes bloodshot. He was aiming for the thin gap between my helm and chest piece, it was a tough spot to strike with my height but it was the type of wound that would take me down fast, I’d do the same in his shoes. 

I brought one arm up in a boxer style block just as the glint of his blade reached me and the screech of metal on metal grated against my ears I lowered it just in time to see a hammer come from the other side and slam into the side of my helm causing my vision to swim and ears to ring.

Fuck, the first attack had been a feint, rat had picked up and hid a hammer on his way here, agile cunt.  I roared away the dizziness and got back up straight turning quickly to face Reji again but by the time he entered my vision he was already gone again, darting with a speed that blurred him he zipped through my legs, my eyes went wide, he was using every artifact he had to the max, they’d burn out from this. I spun around to see him gone but a moment later felt the weight of a man land on my shoulders.

Not good-


My helmet rang again and I stumbled, I screamed reaching up-


I fell to one knee at the impact pain shooting through my skull and neck. Motherfucker was playing the goddamn drums on my skull! This wasn’t good, if I stopped moving too long it would give him the chance too-

The blade pierced my shoulder and an ice cold feeling spread throughout it followed by a searing pain. The things inside me had been hurt and they screamed, they squirmed and dug in my flesh, the edges of my vision went red and I roared, pulling myself to my feet and slamming myself into a nearby wall with a loud crash. I heard Reji cry out and stumble off me, I extracted myself from the wall and turned to see him getting up quickly from the ground.

You’re dead.” I spat and rushed him.

Despite my opinion of him, Reji danced forward with deadly grace. He knew he had to end this quickly before his artifacts burned out, but none of that mattered, all I see is red. He whipped out a vicious chop and I threw a devastating punch, trusting in my cursed shell. His blade clipped my elbow doing no damage and my fist clipped his shoulder sending him tumbling, he turned the tumble into a roll and skidded to a stop back on his feet. His eyes went wide as my shadow came over him, the things inside me wanted him dead and just this once I was with them. I threw punch after punch laughing madly as Reji danced between each blow, my fist met a wall it crumbled leaving a deep hold, my fist went through where his head had been sending a gush of wind throwing up sand. I stomped where he had just been and the ground shook.

Attack after attack I was missing but I had Reji on the run, his face was growing tired and he was on the clock. He made feeble attempts at attacks here and there but either none of them got through or I couldn’t feel them anymore, not sure which it was, not sure I cared.

Finally Reji stumbled and I saw his face go slack with surprise, one of his artifacts had finally given out. I threw a vicious right hook and in slow motion I saw his face go from surprise to panic to fear, it felt amazing. He leaned back to avoid it but that put him off balance and didn’t leave him time to dodge the kick I threw after, it connected solidly with his gut and sent him crashing through the entrance to the fort and into a pillar inside where he fell twitching to the ground coughing out blood, his scimitar clanged at his side falling from his grasp.

I let out a satisfied breath and the things inside me urged me forward. I had to kill him, end his life. 

Yes, that vile traitor, damn him, I would have his head and maybe a bite. Then I could deal with those drums… drums?

And like that my rage left me, replaced by a distant sound faint against the ears. I tilted my head and closed my eyes focusing on the sound. It was a quiet but steady beat, deep and constant to set a march. I had heard those dreaded drums near the end of the Mercenary war, it signaled death, the Empire had come.

I opened my eyes and Reji was gone, in his place was a trail of blood, the bastard had gotten away and I no longer had time to deal with him. If Empire troops were coming they wouldn’t have any trouble dealing with that ramshack mob outside and they’d have no qualms killing non-Empire women or children. The bastards were bred cold blooded, machines made of armor and swords, indoctrinated to follow orders, kill first and ask questions later.

They were every mercenary's worst nightmare.

I trotted back up the battlements, Reji’s guard had nearly been finished off but that wouldn’t matter much anymore. As I reached the top of the battlements I looked out beyond the city into the desert coated blood red by a setting sun. There in the distance I saw sand getting kicked up like a flag of death. Marching through it were scores and scores of soldiers, two battalions, two hundred men. They marched in two rectangular blocks, strict and orderly.

The rectangle on the block were lightly armed, had more horses with equipment on them, maybe supply? The one on the right made my skin crawl more than it already was, a hundred men in full plate, black iron from the mines of the Empire, carried a solid rectangular shield of a black coating with a gold crown and sword, and wielded artifact maces meant for ruthless brutality. 

Juggernauts. About as far as you could get from conscripted villagers. Recruits chosen from birth and trained into killers, a specialty of the Empire. They were closing fast onto the city and each drum beat made my heart pound. I wasn’t sure what orders Anna had given them but I’m sure it wasn’t good. I needed to get back to Azeal.  

I quickly made my way back through the fort, killing the remaining guard of Reji, some surrendered but they were killed by the mob. I waded through the poor sods who had thrown themselves against Reji's guard and the mob flowed in beyond me. They pushed in with savage intent though there was no one left. I screamed out at them telling them to muster up but they were riled up, undisciplined. By the time they realized the fort was empty the Juggernauts would be here.

I pushed my way through the chaos, trying to make it back to Azeal and warn her of the impending danger. Suddenly things began to clear up and I could see her in the distance, she was surrounded by more disciplined and well equipped men, her old place guard. She spoke with an average man who was all bent and crooked, covered in bandages. He saw me and his eyes burned with hate, then hardened with duty as he told his men to open up. It seemed Azeal had found what remained of her palace guard.

“Azeal-” I began but was cut off by the broken man “Is Reji dead?” he asked, voice filled with venom.

I shook my head “Escaped.” I said and he grunted, eyeing me suspiciously, “Convenient.” Before I could answer Azeal swatted his leg with a new cane she had acquired and he let out a painful hiss “Enough of that Captain Gezel, I have told you Brutus serves me. You and him both.” Gezel looked like he wanted to say more but I had no time for pride.

“Azeal, the Empire has come.” I said.

“I know. Captain Gezel had sentried posted all around the city.” she replied, voice calm “It was difficult but he redirected most of the mob to the city's edge, a few of Gezel’s men lead them. They will set up a thousand man ambush in the streets, citizens acting as citizens until the very last moment.”

“You sent a thousand slaves and farmers?” I asked in a low voice.

“Armed ones, brute.” replied Captain Gezel in her place “They don’t have equipment as nefarious as yours but fighting troops right out of a march at five to one is enough.”

They didn't know, god's they didn't know. 

"It's not too late." I said "we can still make it in time."

"To help them?" asked Azeal, voice growing concerned.

"To call off the ambush," I said looking towards the oncoming forces, two hundred men. It might as well have been a thousand. 

Gezel began to protest but Azeal cut him off her hand "And if we don't?" she asked, voice going cold. 

I took off my helm letting the air cool my face. I turned back to Azeal.

"We will lose our entire fighting force. One thousand men dead." 

As we made our way through the city streets I cursed myself for serving a crippled Queen who had a crippled Captain. It made them less likely to comment on my own disfigurement but they were fucking slow.

It had taken far too long to explain everything to Azeal and Gezel, some things could only be learned through experience and this wasn’t the time to be learning. This wasn’t a matter of the losses being too great, Azeal had shown her mettle ordering citizens to throw themselves onto the pike so to speak, this was about simple mathematics. 

Those thousand armed men? They’d hardly dent those fuckers. A big fat thousand lost for zero Empire troops killed. Azeal would be left without anyone loyal and those who might be in the future would see the futility of supporting her. A thousand corpses was good motivation to be obedient. 

Finally we made it to the street which opened up onto the bare desert, the Empire forces were just beginning to enter, marching with their drums but otherwise leaving everything unharmed. That was trained into them, wasn’t a good practice to destroy what you were planning to take. They marched with Juggernauts leading and closing the sides. In the middle horses and the less armored folks marched, a protective shell of metal and discipline.

The street was a chaotic scene, with vendors hawking their wares and customers jostling for space. The smell of roasting meat and fresh produce filled the air, mingling with the pungent scent of sweat and dust. The stalls were packed tightly together, their colorful fabrics and goods spilling out into the narrow street. Merchants shouted their prices and bargains, trying to attract customers with their persuasive pitches.

But as the Empire forces walked through the voices became hushed and eyes became narrowed. Azeal had pitched these troops as invaders from the XYZ kingdoms, leaving out any mention of the Empire. To them this was a fight they could win, I could already see some of them reaching for blades just out of sight.

Without a doubt the Empire forces could too. They didn't react. They didn't need to, nothing here could hurt them, they knew that. 

The people of the City didn’t.

At first, it was just a few angry shouts and a few brave souls rushing forward with weapons drawn. Blood was still pumping with whatever words Azeal had injected into them. Perhaps they thought they could make a difference, or maybe they were just desperate to defend their homes. But as the first handful of attackers were cut down with ease by the Empire soldiers, a stunning silence filled the street. The Empire march hadn't even slowed.

Then another shout followed, an order, the street erupted into motion as stalls were pushed aside and weapons drawn. All at once a thousand armed and angry citizens rushed the marching column. The Empire soldiers were ready for the attack, their training and discipline kicking in as they formed a defensive shield line. The Juggernauts towered over the attackers, their thick, metal armor practically impenetrable. The people of the City may have had numbers, but the Empire had superior weapons and tactics.

With a loud clash of metal on metal, the first wave of attackers were met with brunt shields and swift brutal mace swings. Blood sprayed as skulls and limbs were crushed. The street quickly turned into a chaotic battleground, with screams and cries filling the air.

The Empire soldiers showed no mercy as they fought, no matter if it was man, woman or the rare unfortunate child. 

It all should have left me feeling ill, a good man would have wept, an average man would have had trouble keeping his stomach in. I was neither. Deep inside me I felt something well up, something dangerous and savage. The sounds of the fighting became distant, blurred, all that remained was the heavy beat of my own heart and a single thought.

I want to fight.

The sounds came rushing back in and I found myself grinning, twitching almost.

“Brutus?” Azeal asked loudly and I realized she had been calling out for me. “Did you bring weapons?” I replied and she nodded, snapping her finger, a horse and carriage pulled up with an assortment of weapons, I ran my gauntlet through the shafts like they were gold. I looked upon them until my hand hovered over a large metallic shaft, it was a two-handed weapon, stubby but nearly as tall as an average man. It’s shaft grew in diameter until it’s tip was a long cylindrical mass with rivets and dips, all of a solid black iron. 

A grand mace. Unwieldy, heavy and easy to dodge, but perfect at crushing armor. I gripped it in two hands feeling it’s heft, it felt light in these cursed hands of mine.

“Order the retreat, send back as many as you can.” I said. “It’s not possible Brutus, the masses are… riled, it will take too much time to sow order,” she said looking out over the battle, I saw her catch her breath at the brutality, at the consequences of her order, the utter waste of life “There will be nothing left.” she said quietly.

"Order the retreat," I simply said again, "I’ll get you time." 

I ignored her protests and took off towards the battle, my heart racing with adrenaline. The mace felt natural in my grasp, as if it was an extension of my arm. The sounds of the battle grew louder as I ran closer, my eyes scanning the chaos for a target. I pushed through the thinning mob and found the line of Empire soldiers battling against a cluster of citizens, their shields forming a wall around them. They were close enough for me to reach.

I charged forward, my feet pounding on the cobblestone streets. The soldiers saw me and crouched low, bracing their shields. They meant to hold. I didn't slow down, instead I sped up, using the grand mace as a sort of battering ram. The impact crushed the Juggernaut's shield and rammed into his shoulder twisting metal, the bastard only let out a hearty grunt. He had been pushed back a few feet but was caught by the second line of men behind him holding him there. My eyes went wide as I realized they had held against my charge and I let out a mad laugh.

This would be good.

I let out a mad laugh. The feeling of adrenaline coursing through my veins was addicting, the thrill of battle was like a drug and I couldn't get enough. I raised the grand mace above my head and let it down with brutal precision smashing the nearest soldier's head in. Without pause I rammed my shoulder into the gap not wanting them to have a second to reorganize. There was a moment of resistance but as I leaned in with all the mass of my armor I broke through into a group of waiting soldiers with small balls in their hand sparking with smoke.

They threw them at me and they exploded on contact, it was loud but weak, not even close to what Reji had thrown at me. I peered at them through the smoke and for the first time I saw a look of worry on their faces. In a blur of swinging mace and flashing sparks, I pushed forward, taking down soldier after soldier. My mind was consumed by the chaos, my heart pumping with the thrill of battle. I couldn't hear the cries of pain or the clanging of metal anymore, all I could see were my enemies and the next move to take them down.

Deeper, I had to push deeper into their formation, at the center would be their commander, the heart of their formation. Something to protect at all cost.

It was working, the line had stopped their advance, Juggernauts were pulling back from the edges rushing to support, I should pull back now.

But I didn’t, because I saw him.

A thin man in a fine plate waving his hands and sending orders in the middle, he would occasionally cast a glance my way, unworried, as if I wasn’t a threat.  I charged towards the commander, the grand mace swinging fiercely in my hands. I could see the disdain in his eyes as he realized that I was heading straight towards him. His guards rushed towards me and while it would take too long to kill them a strike from my mace would put them out of commission.

The commander raised an eyebrow and spoke to a soldier nearby him, that soldier ran off. Soon enough despite my best efforts I was surrounded, a wall of Juggernauts stood in front of me and surrounded me loosely from behind. He was smart, leaving me a way out not wanting to trap me in. Animals were unpredictable when trapped.

I only grinned and pushed forward eating mace after mace on my armor, some pounding painfully in my skin causing the things inside me to squirm. Pain shot through my body giving me new strength and I swung without abandoning knocking heads from shoulders and crushing limbs. For each hit I took I dealt back ten. Somewhere deep inside I knew this couldn't last but seeing the frustrated look on the enemy commander's face made it worth it.

Frustration makes people do dumb things. The commander looked away to give another order but he hadn't realized I was close enough already. I swung my mace pushing back my attacters giving myself space to spin. I spun and spun holding the great mace at the very tip reaching a maximum speed before letting go with a grunt.

The mace twirled through the air and in slow motion I saw the commander's face go wide with fear and saw three diligent guards with shields jump in front of them, they all took the blow for him and went tumbling. A moment of stunned silence filled the troops around me as they looked back, it took a moment but eventually the commander got up, bruised but alive.

Time to make my exit.

As the commander regained his composure and barked out orders, I took the opportunity to disentangle myself from the Juggernauts who had finally realized the gravity of the situation. With a loud battle cry, I charged towards the opening in their formation, slapping and tossing aside who I could.

Blow after blow fell upon me and I felt my bones creak and a rib crack. But I kept moving. I could see the exit now, just a few more steps and I would be free. My vision was blurring, it still rang from when Reji had hammered it. They were shouting now, roaring, cursing me, and I pushed harder, using the last of my strength to break through the enemy's line.

As I stumbled out of the throng of soldiers, I could see that our forces were nearly all gone, Azeal had done her job, but it had been a costly mistake. Hundreds of citizen bodies littered the floor and blood ran freely through the cobblestone. As the thumping in my ears began to quiet and the tinge of red faded it was replaced by painful moaning and screams of injured city folk. Already the Empire column behind me was reforming and beginning to move forward again, they were too disciplined to chase after me without orders and their commander was too smart to order a chase in unknown lands.

I could get easy enough but the wounded couldn’t and as the column began to march forward again making their way toward the palace Empire soldiers would swiftly finish off anyone on the floor, moans and pleading cut short by a swift strike. At least they weren’t cruel about it, just cold and efficient. I took a deep breath through my nose, the metallic scent of blood stinging my nostrils and wondered how soldiers like these could be beat, how the Empire with battalion after battalion of these could be opposed.

I wondered and gave up, my job was only to fight. I picked up a few injured citizens on my way, tossing two onto my shoulders and carrying two in my hands. The sorry fools thanked me profusely and I only shook my head as I made my way into the alley.

We’d need as many bodies as we could get for what was to come.


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