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Chapter 19: The Assault

David Grimdark
Apr 12, 2024

69 Reads

"Nothing has ever been solved with the sword."

- General Tarasque, the Butcher

“Any questions?” asked the Queen in black, she had a casual look to her, like she had just discussed something mundane and not the assault of a heavily guarded palace and murder of an usurper.

As far as plans went it was simple enough.

I and the farmer troops would march our asses right up to the palace and pick a fight. It would be slow, brutal and not good looking. This would give Gezel and his men enough time to go borrow some war camels, a wedge to be driven in after I drive myself knee deep into Empire blades. I’d distract as many from the front line and Gezel’s charge would widen the gap and open the flood gates. We’d defeat the Empire troops, barely, and take the palace plus Reji’s head.

It sounded good, if it actually went that way.

“No.” I said keeping my doubts to myself, wasn’t good for morale to pick out all the things that could go wrong. I looked around the rickety meeting room where three odd characters sat, there was the Queen of the City, cruel and curt. There was her broken captain who gave me the stink eye every other minute and there was me. Azeal nodded, satisfied with our apparent lack of questions. "Good. We leave now," she declared, standing up from her seat. "Ready for a fight?"

I gave her a confident nod, anticipation building in my chest. The truth was, I had no idea if this plan would work. But I was already deep in it and hungry for a fight. The Queen of the City strode out of the meeting room with Gezel in tow. I followed closely behind, my mind racing with different scenarios and possible outcomes, numbers mostly, of how many Empire bastards I could kill. As we entered the warehouse there hundreds of awe struck citizens turned greedy gazes towards us. Their hands still caressing's the priceless heirlooms they had gotten from the ruins. They would be set for life, if they could survive what was to come. Azeal let the silence linger for a moment, observing the room, then she began.

"Today, many of you will die."

Several of the citizens began to murmur amongst themselves, discussing what the Queen just said. Some looked terrified, others excited. I could see the glint in their eyes as they whispered about the treasure they now possessed. But Azeal's next words would snap them out of their reverie. "This is not a time for celebration," she said firmly, her tone full of venom. "We stand on the brink of extinction, facing a ruthless and powerful enemy. The Empire has come, greedy as a hound, and entrenched themselves in the heart of our land. They think themselves invincible, we know they are not." pride flittered through the crowd, useless, silly pride. 

"Those who are not prepared to fight, leave now and take your trinkets with you. A bluff, Gezel's men were waiting outside to relieve any who left of their items, they would be needed but it would be bad to say otherwise now. The illusion of choice was almost as good as the real thing. "Those who remain will fight for this city, for freedom and for revenge." She paused, letting her words sink in before continuing, her voice rising in passion. "I promise to make each of you who fight with me a Merchant and all due privilege's. You will be able to own land and businesses, you will be protected by the City and share in it's wealth. Your names will mark the record and your wealth will grow. ''There was a stunned silence at that, to become a Merchant in the city was akin to being a lesser noble in other kingdoms, I shook my head at the fools. Azeal would deliver this yes, but only to those who survived and to become a Merchant would make them and their families loyal to the crown, to her.  

But that was not all. Azeal's eyes gleamed with a fierce determination as she spoke of her ultimate plan. "And when this war is over, and the traitors lie defeated at our feet, we will rebuild this city into something greater than before. So, who amongst you will fight?"

I felt the things inside me squirm and a tingle of pain, felt the coolness of odd metal on my skin, felt myself close and open my hands in anticipation for the wonderful battle to come. Bloody, brutal battle. All I had left.

The crowd erupted into cheers and applause, their fear turning into greed then into courage and determination. They were ready to fight, to give everything they had for their greed. I chuckled, shaking my head, fools

Most of them would probably try to run once things got tough.

By then it would be too late.

The desert palace stood tall and proud, its grandeur almost blinding against the harsh, sandy landscape. Its walls were made of smooth, cream-colored stone that shimmered in the sunlight, giving off a warm glow. The entrance was guarded by two massive, golden gates adorned with intricate designs and patterns. It stood elevated above the City, a sign of its power and control.

Of course there was an elaborate wide staircase leading up to the entrance, because why wouldn't Merchants make life hard for everyone else?

I let out labored breaths walking up the steps, making my way up to the large double gate entrance that led into the throne room. I had been here once before, long ago, many things had changed.

I was older now, older than most who fight for a living usually make it too, it was hard to tell if that was a blessing or a curse. I was still as hungry as I was before, just in a different way, a worse way. And it wasn’t a party I came for this time, not some facade to blow air up Merchant asses, no, this time I came suited in armor, ready to kill. Behind me a thousand men marched, chainmail clanking and swords glinting in the desert sun. There were no banners, no uniform and very little organization. I had told them to follow me, I doubted they would be able to comprehend any more.

And as I looked up the steps at the palace the silhouettes of armed men began to line the top of the staircase, hundreds of them standing stiff and strong. They had taken the high ground, it was smart, fighting uphill was hard. They were an obstacle and they were a delight, something strong to fight… something strong to kill. Beyond them was the man who I had followed for decades and the man who broke me. 

Beyond that… who knows.

I picked up my pace drawing the dark poleaxe from my back gripping it firmly in two hands, I twisted it to the hammer edge and picked up my pace. The troops behind me sped up as if tied to my waste by rope. I let out a laugh and to my surprise some behind me returned it. I gripped the shaft and the blood filled my ears and a familiar feeling filled my being, like the sound of a drum my heart beat.

I raised my poleaxe and screamed “KILL THEM!” breaking into a run, Azeal’s troops, my troops, roared back. As we closed in on the palace, the Empire troops took a few steps down the stairs bracing shields and pinning swords daring us to impale ourselves upon them. My men and I met them head on, our weapons clashing and our battle cries resonating in the air.

I lunged forward, my poleaxe connecting with an enemy soldier's shield cracking it. As he stumbled back, I swung my weapon again, this time aiming for his head. The force of the blow sent him sprawling to the ground. A blade came through the gap without any hesitation, artifact no doubt and aimed for my weak spot, they had learned. I shifted my weight snapping the other end of the shaft up against the incoming hand, it was covered in metal and weighted to help counter balance but just as deadly when swung with force. The oncoming blade was sent wide and I grabbed the off balance Juggernaut and tossed him down the steps behind me. City folk were on him like wolves within moments, his screams ended swiftly.

There was a sound of a thousand matches being struck and I only had moments to react to hundreds of deadly black spheres being tossed into our forces. “BRACE!” I screamed and bent forward protecting my eyes. Loud explosions rumbled all over pounding against my back followed by horrid screams. I got back up and peered back to see a mess of meat and bodies behind me, few had shields and armor enough to protect them, even fewer reacted in time. 

The line of men beyond the massacre started on in shock hands loose on their weapon I roared swinging my weapon with deadly might and knocked back five enemy troops onto their asses. “FORWARD!” I screamed to them and they shook out from their trances marching through bloody steps with grim faces then slammed into the Empire line like the tide against a rock. 

The battle between my troops and the Empire forces was a ruthless one. Two sides, one with skilled fighters, the other with greedy ones who realized there was no backing down. Stray arrows flew through the air and dangerous bombs kept coming. The clash of metal on metal resounded through the air, the two sides engaged in a fierce struggle for dominance. One side fought for their homeland, the other fought to expand theirs. 

A brutal endless standstill, a symphony of agony and pain, it was wonderful, and it was about time to drive in the wedge.

I took a deep breath and charged forward, my poleaxe cleaving through the air as I struck down any enemy who crossed my path. Using the spear tip of my poleaxe as a ram I dared any to stand in my way, one fool did and the tip took him straight through the throat, a chink in his juggernaut armor. He went down with a gurgle and I continued on without a thought snapping my blade with a fierce grin. I kept pushing and pushing until finally I was through, now I was into the sappers, more lightly armored, I twisted the shaft in my hand switching over to the axehead and went to work even as they began to retreat.

My blade came down like a crescent moon directly into the back of a retreating sapper, it sank deep and he let out a fleeting gasp as his body went limp, with a flick the blade came swinging back, the counter momentum dropping the body with a thump. A twirl of the blade took off a head and an arm, one bastard came up running strapped fully with those explosive spheres and I kicked him like a ball sending him crashing into his comrades with an explosion. I ran towards the group, shoving aside any enemy soldiers who got in my way. My poleaxe was slick with blood and sweat, but I didn't let that slow me down as I swung it with all my might. It was a dance of death, my poleaxe moving in deadly arcs as I took out each sapper one by one.

Slowly I made my way up the final steps and peered over to see the hundreds of Empire troops still remaining, and there on an elevated platform stood the smug officer from before, his eyes burning with humiliation and I knew why. He had sent three hundred of his new troops to kill us in the desert and the fact that we were all here proved they had failed, that he had failed, to some sand-dwellers. I laughed and threw him the finger, his face trembled with fury and he shouted commands, instantly I felt the flow of the troops shift.

No longer where they were running, now they had turned and were looking to kill, a few Juggernaut troops began moving forward, obviously being left there for this very reason. That officer was new but he was able to learn at least. However this few wouldn’t do, I needed to draw in more.

To do that I needed to go for the heart.

I charged towards the officer, my poleaxe gleaming in the desert sun. He sneered and barked orders for his troops to surround me, but I wasn't afraid. My armor deflected lethal blows and the cursed things inside me granted putrid strength. 

The officer unsheathed his sword, a beautiful weapon with a hilt of ivory and a blade etched with intricate designs. He swung it towards me, but I easily parried the blow with my poleaxe. I could see the surprise in his eyes, and it only made me grin wider. He was skilled and his weapons expensive, more than once a blow that should have been lethal was shrugged off by some hidden artifact he had.

We clashed again and again, our weapons ringing out in a deadly symphony. But as we fought, I could feel the ground rumbling beneath us. I looked down to see an array of explosive spheres on the ground, just under the platform where the officer had stood. Looking up I saw him retreating with a smirk.

Ah, this was a trap- 

The next moment I was on my back and my ears were ringing, my body tingled and it felt like my legs had been pulverized, looking around made me dizzy and all I could hear was a distant shouting and see blurry figures moving towards me, weapons drawn. Blow after blow came down, they were the hammer and I was the anvil.

Then the real pain came, a squirming pain. 

Clenching and digging around every bone and joint those wretched creatures dug in for dear life, somehow they seemed to understand, if I died, they died, so they whipped me hard. Pain was the only way they knew to communicate and they were horridly good at it.

There was a blood curdling scream and somewhere from within my mind I realized it was me.

I was there and then I was gone.

The sun was warm on my back, I could feel the sweat gathering over my brow and the back of my neck, but I dared not stop. I needed to finish harvesting the wheat before another rain ruined my crops. The wheat grew tall and thick this year, a good crop to help us recover from the previous years’ drought. I sighed and wiped the back of my hand across my forehead and picked up my scythe again. I had been working for hours, swinging the heavy blade back and forth in a steady rhythm. My muscles ached with exhaustion but I pushed through, knowing that the village needed this harvest and that I needed to provide it. Each swing of the scythe was precise, calculated. 

I had done this plenty of times before, so I knew how to do this right.

My breaths came in ragged gasps, my sides heaving as I leaned against a tree. Blood soaked through my tunic, staining it a deep crimson. My hand pressed against my side, trying in vain to stem the bleeding from the deep gash inflicted by the boar's tusks. I could hear the beast's last breaths as it twitched from my axe embedded in its head. It had fought valiantly but in the end it was my prey.

I pushed myself off from the tree limping into the brush, bloody axe in hand.

There was more game to catch.

I felt the heat of the forge wash over me, my muscles tense and my eyes focused on the metal in front of me. It was a dark, twisted thing, wrought with deep grooves and jagged edges. It was something sinister, something that couldn't be put into words. A wish, a thought, a legacy.

With each strike of my hammer, sparks flew and the metal responded, bending and taking shape under my skilled hands. It would crack and I would pound it back together, fury welling inside me. I could feel a sense of danger looming in the air, an end, but it only fueled my determination to complete this piece. I added more metal to the pile, useless hunks without purpose beyond fueling my desires.

The hammer came down with a viciousness that seemed to match the very essence of the metal itself. Every blow was calculated and precise, carving out intricate details and sharp edges. But there was brutality to it too, a madness.

More were coming, from the front. 

That was good, I think.

The walls shook as another explosion rocked the castle. I could hear the screams of my fellow soldiers echoing off the stone, their minds teetering on the brink of madness. My heart raced with every deafening blast, my grip tightening on my sword as I stood at my post on the ramparts.

The enemy had surrounded us, their war cries filling the air like a deathly symphony. But I wouldn't let them take this castle, this place that had become my home. A place where blood and sweat mingled with the very stones.

I looked down at the battlefield below, littered with bodies and gore. The sight was both exhilarating and terrifying, a madness that had consumed us all. I could feel it stirring within, it urged me to give in, to absorb it. A grin grew on my face and I wondered; why not?

I almost did, but then I saw her and sanity came crashing back like a hammer. 

The chaos around me seemed to slow down as I regained my senses. My breaths came in ragged gasps, my chest rising and falling as I took in the scene before me. The enemy troops, once filled with discipline and efficiency, now had looks of hesitation and fear on their faces. Bodies littered the floor and the steps ran red with blood.

My body was covered in wounds, deep gashes and stabs that throbbed with pain. My armor was dented and broken, there were gaps and cracks so large a hand could fit through. I could feel the life draining out of me, but I refused to give up. No, the things inside me had refused. I had come too far, fought too hard, to let these cowards take me down and the things inside would accept nothing less.

I stumbled forward, my poleaxe propped against the ground weakly, the troops around me took an instinctive step back.

“Come on,” I said, lunging forward, but it was too slow and easily dodged and yet they didn’t come in for the strike. That made fury rise up and a quick back hand folded the fool in half, I took another step and my leg shook at the strain “COME ON!” I screamed.

The enemy troops finally snapped out of their daze and charged towards me, their weapons poised to strike. But I was ready for them, my poleaxe swinging with a ferocity that surprised even me. My mind was consumed by a primal rage, a madness that threatened to consume me whole.

Blood sprayed from open wounds and screams filled the air as I fought with every ounce of strength left in my body. Near the back the snide officer desperately urged his troops forward, to kill me. I could taste a still end, rest at last. 

But then the stone began to shake.

Then it began to rumble from the sound of hoofs on stone and the deep unsettling snorts of war camels. I turned back to see them come up the edge and pierce into the weakened front. Huge things that moved slower than a horse but were heavy and covered in chainmail and metal plates. The riders atop, Gezel and his men, swung newly retrieved artifact plates from their perch pushing aside pikes and cutting of heads.

The front crumbled, weakened from my distraction and a breach formed, the city folk swarmed in. The war camels charged forward, their riders expertly wielding their weapons and creating a path for the city folk to enter. I felt a sense of relief wash over me as I saw reinforcements finally arriving. My body shook with exhaustion and I could feel the weight of my injuries bearing down on me.

A camel pulled up beside me and it's rider eyed me, looking me up and down taking in my wounds.


I expected words of disdain but instead he spoke simply. "A good distraction, the line was weak." Then he was gone, leading the charge anew into the belly of the Empire formation. It was shattered but they were still trained fighters and given the chance they would reform.

I was hungry, and tired, and hurting, but I refused to give up, not when victory was so close within our grasp. With a renewed energy, I pushed myself forward, my poleaxe swinging wildly, taking down every enemy soldier in my path.

As the enemy ranks began to thin, I could see a glimmer of hope in the eyes of the city folk. The chaos around us began to die down as the battle turned in our favor. With every enemy soldier I brought down, the city folk grew more confident and began to join in the fight. Their cries of triumph mixed with the clash of weapons and the screams of dying men. The once overwhelming Empire formation was now crumbling under our combined strength.

I caught glimpses of Gezel and his men as they fought their way towards the center of the enemy formation, pushing back the remaining soldiers and carving a path for us to follow. I followed closely behind, my legs heavy and my body weak, but determination and adrenaline pushed me forward.

With a final burst of energy, we reached the heart of the enemy formation, where their commander stood surrounded by his most elite soldiers. He took one look at our forces and ordered a retreat, his men pulling back inside the palace. Already half of them were dead, more than half of us were too.

If this turned into a war of attrition we would lose, so we pushed on without respite. Our forces flittered into the palace chambers, where the king would usually take on requests, and found it fortified. Here the camels would prove useless.

Worse yet we found that the panic on the enemies face had been replaced by one of glee, this was beginning to smell putrid, it was beginning to smell of a trap. My eyes met Gezel’s and I knew he realized the same.

“Gezel, we must retreat-” I began but was cut off by screams coming from behind me to see an enemy force showing up behind, blocking our retreat. I could hear the panic in our men's voices as they realized we were now surrounded on all sides. The enemy had lured us into their trap, and we had fallen for it.

But there was still hope, it was a thin line of Juggernauts and sappers holding the door, not even thirty. We could easily break through, especially with the camels. All Gezel had to do was order a charge and we could escape, regroup and re-plan. I turned to tell him but what I saw was a pale face and as a voice sounded out I realized why.

"So nice of you to round yourself up for me," it was a voice that I heard over the years and one that made my blood boil. It was the voice of the man who had taken away my freedom and then my hope. I looked back to see Reji with a dagger in hand and Queen fucking Azeal in his grip. A snide grin grew on his face as dread grew in my gut. 

"Now, if you don't want your Queen to get her throat slit, I'd suggest you all surrender now." 


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