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The Battle on the Arcane Hills (short story)

Posted on January 7, 2010 at 12:55 AM

  “Stay together!” Sole yells out over the vicious war-cries of the Marlock host. “Shield’s locked forthright on either side of the first rank! Shield’s locked headstrong on each successive rank. Flanks stick close to your fellow soldier and guard him with your life!” Sole peers out over the rim of his broad iron shield and glimpses the hideous ocean of metal and flesh pouring down the valley towards them. “Fear not these desert rats,” he whispers to the soldier on his left. “We shall smash them back down into the inferno from whence they came.” He unsheathes his sword and draws it above his shoulder. “Stick together in formation men! Move as one unit!” He commands above the howl of the wind.

  As Sole and his company march down the slopes of Arcane Hills, fierce storm clouds gallop across the sky. One by one the stars are blotted out and the field below bathed in an eerie darkness. Thousands of Marlock soldiers pour in through the mouth of the valley, and advance to meet the armies of Nefornia. Centaur archers assemble along the edge of the hills to reinforce Sole’s charge. Thunder roars, spewing forth streaks of lightning, as the two opposing forces draw to a close.

  “Raise the banner of the King!” Sole cries out above the noise. Rain buckets down, transforming the dense earth into rivers of mud.

  “Signal the archers!” bellows Garth, Sole’s lieutenant. A soldier in the fifth file raises a standard, commanding the centaurs to ready their bows.

  “Faster!” Sole orders. The faces of the Marlock are now within there sights. Their eyes glisten a wicked red; sunken deep within their gruesome, matted faces. Slimy, green scales run down the length of their spiked, arched backs. Course armor and weaponry hangs from them; an awkward attempt at refinement to conceal their savage nature. “First wave!” he cried. The company fall to their knees and huddle closer, drawing their shields inwards as a barrage of enemy arrows rain down upon them. “Stand and advance,” Sole says, jumping to his feet and leading on. “Faster!” he orders again, and the Nefornian’s began their charge.

  “Draw your swords brothers! It’s time to show these lizard-mongrels who it is that they are facing.” A chorus of battle-cheers erupted from the charging mass behind him. “Now is the plunge, bastard sons of Nefornia! Break formation on my command and cut through these savages like a scythe through wheat.” Another cheer raised above the bellowing storm, as the two armies converged on one another. “For Arkland!” Sole shouted; blood surging through his veins and an ardent fire ignited in his belly. “For Nefornia! And for the King! ATTACK!!!”

  Sole withdrew his shield and leapt forward into the host of snarling Marlock. The King’s Legion’s suddenly broke apart and splintered into the fray. They charged, sword first, into their enemy’s ranks—slashing and hacking like mad things. A wave of friendly arrowheads poured down from the valleys edge, felling dozens of Marlock in their wake. They quickly advanced on their foes, fury in their eyes, swinging and cutting; blood exploding everywhere, coating the wild faces beneath their helms.

  Sole sprinted ahead of the pack. He swung hard at a Marlock soldier, forcing him backwards into the mud. Pouncing, Sole slashed his sword through the Marlock’s neck spilling his throat. He pivoted and stuck another soldier through the gut. Sole advanced on a third enemy, this one much larger. He ducked and swung at his knees, but the Marlock blocked him with his shield and counter-stabbed. Sole side-stepped and thrust his shield against his foe’s, forcing him back. He lunged at the Marlock, engaging him in a vicious duel. The Nefornian’s pressed hard in close combat, strengthened by the wave after wave of arrows coming from above. But the Marlock were strong also, and greater in number. Beyond their first line of defense lay several ranks of pike men ready to stick the advancing horde.

  The sky grew pitch-black and rain began to pour down even harder than before, drawing a layer of thick silver mist from the earth. The rivers of mud ran down the slopes in thick gouts, steepening the valley; drawing everything into its base. Every soldier dragged down into the bloodthirsty mêlée that had ensued; arrows and spears from either side raining down upon them. The entire battlefield had become a swirling vortex of mud, blood and steel. Sole, decapitating his opponents at last, shook his sword clean, and sprinted up to the head of the pack.

  “Reform the lines!” Sole cried. “Reform the lines!” The Marlock, despite their numbers (or perhaps because of them) were scattered all over the place and could not form a coherent defensive structure. The Nefornian’s closed together behind Sole, as he bolted into the enemy’s second wave. The two armies smashed into each other again, filling the air with hacking and moaning. Again, the enemy was forced back by the Nefornian advance. The Marlock ranks were scattered and afraid, and the Centaur archers were encircling them from the east. Victory looked certain …

  Suddenly, a bloodcurdling roar echoed through the valley, and a terrifying, black shadow stretched out across the sky; blotting out the moon and stars and staining the earth with its horrible aura. It soared above their banners; a body of crimson red scales, twelve stallions in length; it stretched out its horrible wings twice this length, its sheer magnitude engulfing the gaping figures beneath it in an terrifying darkness. Its glowing demon tail whipped out behind it like a snake; razor-sharp spikes running down to its tip. The monster bent down, beating its wings against the night sky, and let out a deafening screech that trembled through the hills. Men fell down to their knees all around, covering their ears in pain. Sole stood their, paralyzed, letting his blade slip into the mud.

  “What hideous creature of Arkenielle has spawned thee from the realm of shadows,” Sole whispered to the night. The monster curved down to its awestruck prey; it’s eyes flashing a wicked red. Sole fell to his knees; overcome with fear and wonder. The beast then inhaled deeply and belched forth an avalanche of flames onto the Nefornian’s. Screams of torture filled the air as a flood of fire poured forth from within the creature’s belly, burning the soldiers into charcoal. Sole watched in horror as his beloved troops, men he had fought and bled with for years were incinerated alive. The host of Marlock let out cries of triumph, raised their banners and resumed their fierce charge on the ranks. War-drums beat in the north as Marlock reinforcements began to march over the Arcane Hills. The monster swerved around to the Centaur archers, who had already begun their retreat. Sole looked around at his men, unable to comprehend this sudden change in the battles tide.

  “Garth!” he cried out. “Garth! Lieutenant Garth!” But his cries for order fell on deaf ears, as the fear and chaos of the situation took its hold on the men. Sole watched in horror as his troops abandoned their ranks and fled east with the Centaurs. Others fell to the ground weeping, while the charred corpses of the rest sunk into the thick mud; the remains of brave men disappearing with a bitter gurgle. No one stood to fight, and who could blame them? The Marlock legions, combined with their auxillory troops were now 10,000 strong, and charging into the fray. This would be a massacre if Sole didn’t act fast.

  “Nefornian’s!” he roared above the storm. “RETREEEEEEEAAAAT!!!” The winged beast swerved around for a second assault, as the Marlock’s charged sword-driven and banner’s high; bloodlust in their eyes. While the rest of his men fled east to take refuge in the Centaur outposts, Sole ran up the western wall of the valley, to hide in the bordering forest. His feet beat the sides of the hill furiously, but the sliding mud kept sucking him back down. Looking around frantically, Sole unhooked his shield and armor and threw them aside. He continued to scramble upwards, snatching at tree roots and dry clumps of earth for support. He struggled to the edge of the cliff, and, grabbing at some overgrowth, hoisted himself up. Sole glimpsed the mouth of the forest.

  “Almost … there,” he strained. He had to get out of the open. It was his only chance. The monster let out another roar and a chorus of screams rang out. Sole was drenched in sweat. He noticed tears streaming down his face, but whether they were out of sorrow or fear, he couldn’t tell. In one last burst of energy Sole heaved himself over the rim of the valley, and collapsed in exhaustion. His mind was racing, but his body was drained.

  “Come on soldier,” he told himself. “Get up! The forest is near.” Sole clambered to his feet, and continued on. The thick spider trees and tall redwoods beckoned him inside. A Marlock screeched close by, and he heard the twang of a bow-string. His shoulder wrenched forward as the sharp arrow pierced his right arm. Sole cried out in pain, but staggered on. The forest was cloaked in an eerie darkness that he knew would protect him. Another arrow wedged into his back. The pain was unbearable, but he kept staggering towards those calm swaying trees. He could hear several Marlock trying to follow him up the hill. They spoke with savage tongues, but even they would not dare to cross this threshold. Sole knew the creatures that inhabited these woods.

  Lightening flashed and thunder roared, but Sole did not deter from his course. He moved forward into the shade of the forest, nursing his throbbing arm. He was losing blood, but kept going; kept pounding his feet against the forest floor. The roar of the battle died down, and Sole’s heavy breathing filled the air.

  “Just a little further,” he told himself. “Please,” he prayed. He could feel his heart pounding. It was no good though. The forest began to sway, and Sole felt very dizzy. He tripped over a tree root and smacked his head into the trunk of a spider tree. Clutching his blood-soaked arm, he prayed Arkenielle for mercy; he prayed his men would find safety in the outposts … he prayed for his darling wife and child to be kept safe. Tall shadows flickered in his eyes and a powerful fatigue overcame him. The trees swayed to and fro.

  “Helena …” Sole wept. “My dear Helena …” A dark veil drew over the world, and all turned to silver glass.

Categories: WRITING, Short Stories

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