The Battle of Hallowsfield

So here’s a bit of writing I did for an original I’m working on. I tend to write these types of things to practice with the world/characters and solidify them in my mind before I really get to work on the bigger piece. Bits and pieces of this may find their way into the finished work, but probably not the whole thing.

It’s in the fantasy genre, in case you’re curious.

~~~~~~~~

The Battle of Hallowsfield

The night sky glowed bright as the city burned.

The top of the thick wall encircling Hallowsfield, meant to keep out invaders and attacking forces, crumbled in places too many to count. Daemons, also too many to count, rampaged through what remained of the city, filling the night air with screams, rage, and blood.

Outside the partially intact city wall, amid the crumbled remains of the farming village that grew corn, wheat, and tobacco for the city-dwellers, was brigade number five of the Legionnaires.

Or, more accurately, what was left of them.

Captain Harper peered around the corner of what was left of a ruined farm home. Two daemon corpses lay nearby, the putrid smell of decay already an assault to the nostrils.

He pulled back and looked behind him. Half a dozen men leaned against the charred, broken farm house, the only survivors of his band of twenty-five. They had not come out of this seemingly endless battle unscathed—Barnes was bleeding heavily from the shoulder, and Carter cradled his left arm. It was bent at a disturbing, unnatural angle.

Harper rubbed his eyes and ran a hand over a stubble-covered cheek. He was tired. They all were. The Battle of Hallowsfield, as this massacre would come to be called, had actually begun three days ago when the first rift opened and the first, relatively small deamon descended upon this very village. Things escalated quickly after that, and no soldier had enjoyed more than 20 minutes of sleep since then.

The whole situation was a disaster from the get-go. Too much political posturing, grandstanding, and general over-confidence. Instead of just letting the Legionnaires go out and do their jobs—kill that one smallish daemon before it caused too much damage—the Earl insisted on using the daemon attack to promote himself and his position.

“Hallowsfield will never fall!” he had cried, raising his arms to gesture to the wall he ordered constructed a decade ago. “Nothing can get through that barrier! You are safe within, my people!”

And then, as if the very universe had taken offense to this self-serving boast, a rift 30 feet wide opened directly over the center of the city.

A great beast had fallen to the ground with a thunderous, ground-jarring THUD. It slowly stood, towering over the tallest of the city’s buildings, and shook its massive head. Then it opened its one large eye. Four bulky arms ended in meaty fists, and each of the four fingers was tipped with a sharp claw. Venom dripped from the large, sharp teeth protruding from its enormous maw, and the ground sizzled and boiled where the giant drops landed.

The Earl stood transfixed for a full minute, watching the other-worldly beast shake its head and regain whatever sense it may have had. Three of his guards ran back inside the Great Hall, stumbling over each other in the process. Then the politician’s pants, made from imported silk of course, turned dark and wet as his bladder let go, and he uttered a long, high-pitched shriek.

The great hulking thing flinched at the ear-piercing sound, and turned toward the tiny leader, who continued to scream like a frightened child. It brought one massive fist down, crushing the Earl and two of his remaining guards, and destroying the balcony on which the self-proclaimed savior of Hallowsfield had addressed his adoring subjects not a moment ago.

And then, pandemonium. Screaming, running, trampling. Those who managed to get out of the city ran into the waiting tentacles and mouth of the creature rampaging outside the wall. Soon the North and South Gates were both clogged with bodies, discarded belongings, and destroyed wagons.

The wall meant as the city’s best defense had turned into their prison. Their coffin.

The giant creature inside the walls kicked and crushed, snatching up the occasional hapless citizen for a quick snack. It roared with rage, a great triumphant bellow that rang in the ears of those still running for their lives.

This rampage went on for all of five minutes, until another creature fell from the still-open rift in the sky. This one was not as large as the first, but it boasted twice as many arms, and another head to even the odds. Once it regained its footing, it promptly attacked the first monster, and a great battle of beasts ensued. They roared, rolled, punched, and bit at each other in an attempt to achieve dominance.

That is how things went for these three days. Creatures appeared from rifts that opened and closed at random, appearing in different places throughout the city. Sometimes these beasts would fight each other, sometimes simply went to work killing and destroying.

And sometimes, sometimes the Legionnaires succeeded in taking one down before it got a chance to decide.

“Captain!” a voice called out of the rubble just outside the North Gate. The captain barely heard it over the roars and screams of the never-ending battle around him, and he all but convinced himself he had imagined it until the call came again, this time from a figure running through the destroyed village. “Captain Harper!”

“Soldier!”

As the young soldier neared the downed farm house, a rift appeared to his right, bringing him to a skidding halt. A snake-like daemon slithered onto the blood-soaked ground, and although it was one of the smaller daemons they encountered, at seven feet long with three mouths full of sharp teeth, it was no small threat.

The thing wasted no time heading for the shocked solider, its top-most mouth opened wide for a fatal bite.

Then the captain was there, his sword drawn and slashing at the creature’s scaly body. It hissed and recoiled, readying itself for an attack on its new target. More swords appeared as the rest of his small unit, including Barnes and Carter, formed a rough ring around the monstrosity. Metal swung and hacked at the creature, and in no time the beast joined his fallen brethren.

As the thick black ooze that served as the creature’s blood seeped into the ground, Captain Harper planted the tip of his sword into the dirt between his boots. He leaned heavily on the hilt of his weapon, breathing hard.

He was just so damned tired.

“Captain?”

Harper looked up, barely raising his head, and finally recognized the soldier who had nearly become the lunch of the snake-thing. It was the runner he had sent for new orders nearly a day ago. “Corporal Martins. Report.”

The soldier’s eyes were wide and shiny, and blood oozed from under his helmet. “Captain . . . the General . . . uh . . .”

Despite his aching muscles and extreme fatigue, the captain pulled himself up to his full height and pegged the runner with a stern eye. “Report soldier!”

The man jerked, his eyes regaining focus on his commanding officer. “Sir, yessir! I got word from the General, sir!”

“And?”

“General Blake ordered a retreat before, ah . . . The General’s dead, sir.”

Captain Harper blinked, his fatigue forgotten. “What of Major Briggs? Captains Fittz and Lang?”

The runner, Martins, shook his head. “Dead. You’re the ranking officer to coordinate the evacuation.”

The Captain cursed. He lifted his sword out of the earth beneath him, driving the tip into the soil again and again as his anger rushed from his lungs. The creatures currently rampaging inside the ruined city roared loudly, seeming to answer him.

Retreating would render everything up to now pointless. All those men. All that death. Meaningless.

Once his anger subsided, the captain grabbed the runner’s shoulders. “We’re nearly at the city gates! It took us three days and more than half our men to make it this far. If we fall back now we’re lost.”

“We’re lost already!” Martins screamed, forgetting his place. “The General is dead. Our mages are useless! We’re being slaughtered!”

The Captain released the corporal, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, and sighed. He had nearly forgotten about the mages. Those blasted mages.

The whole ploy had been a tactical disaster. Every time they tried to open a rift to use the Mid-realm’s power to their advantage, it would tear larger and another daemon would emerge, adding to the enemy’s army. The mages couldn’t conjure weapons or armor, and were fairly useless in hand-to-hand combat. All they could do was try and use the very power that birthed the daemons in the first place. And failed spectacularly.

It was left to the potion makers to do what damage they could with blast vials, but they had run out of raw materials. Those who were still alive, that is.

These daemons were like no foe Harper had ever encountered. He’d heard tales of the creatures, vile offspring from the twisted Mid-realm, but he thought them fables meant to frighten children. Bogeymen used to encourage adherence to the straight and narrow, the consumption of vegetables. “Eat your broccoli Little Johnny or the daemons will come and take you away!”

In truth, the actual daemons would be more likely to eat you, Little Johnny.

The beasts were as varied as the stars in the sky, and no two seemed alike. Some hulking, slow, more prone to stomp a man. Others were smaller but more vicious and agile. Some had four limbs, some eight, some defied description altogether. There was only one commonality; each was the product of raw rage and hatred.

Again the captain cursed, a long, protracted, almost artistic rant of profanity, but it gave his rage an outlet and cleared his head. The monsters inside the city roared in response—they sensed his anger and enjoyed its taste.

Harper collapsed against the wall of the crumpled farmhouse, silent, deep in thought. His men gathered around, watching, awaiting their next order. They knew their captain, and they knew he was anything but defeated.

At last he stood and turned to Martins, grim determination set across his face.

“The evacuation, sir?” the runner asked.

“Where are the men?”

“Most are scattered in burned-out buildings around the perimeter.”

“Alright, you make your way around the west side. Gather as many as you can. Tell them to group and withdraw. Stay together!” He barked the last. “I don’t want everyone scattering, I want as many as you can muster from the west side to withdraw toward Hallowsfield. The beasts will be coming at you, so you fight as you withdraw. Send as many of those daemons as you can back to hell. Troops on the west side only! Got it? But send the mages to me. Here. Now. Go!”

The runner took off. The captain called two of his remaining men to the fore.

“You,” he nodded to a young man with dried blood streaked across his cheeks, “go to the south side and gather troops. You,” he turned to the other soldier, who sported a dirty bandage across one eye, “gather from our east side. As soon as we see the group in the west withdraw, we converge on the east wall.”

The two men exchanged an uneasy glance. The east wall was still holding strong. Both city gates were blocked. And the mages were unintentionally helping the enemy. Was the captain mad?

“Am I clear?” the captain snapped, drawing his men’s attention back.

They nodded curtly. “Yessir!”

“Then you have your orders,” he said, and the two turned and ran to their commanded tasks. Before they disappeared into the darkness, the captain shouted, “Send the mages to me! I need every mage that’s still alive! Every last one!”

As they ran off, Harper turned to the four men left with him and gave them a wry smile. “The east wall is solid. They’ll see us coming, but they won’t care. Don’t worry, over-confidence is a universal trait, in daemons and men alike.”

~X~X~X~

As the troops on the west side gathered and withdrew, Captain Harper jumped the ruined farmhouse wall and lead his few but faithful men through the ruins toward the still solid east wall of the city.

The military force grew as they wound through the twisted rubble that were once streets of the little farming village. Troops came out of buildings and holes, most sporting injuries of varying severity. They moved as quickly as their battered bodies would allow, their faces set on their goal.

As their numbers grew, so did their spirit, if not their confidence. Most believed this was their final night, that they’d soon see loved ones in the Beyond. Still, the charge itself seemed enough to rally even the most fatigued Legionnaire.

The captain was at the front. He didn’t know a single man around him, his most trusted lieutenants were long gone, his own few remaining men lost in the growing crowd. Yet he felt a kinship with each of these soldiers. Each was brave enough to face death alongside him, and that was all he could ask.

Then the mages appeared. First one, then another. They joined the growing ranks, walking alongside these warriors as one of them. Normally reserved, even cold, tonight the mages were cheering, chanting. The intensity and surge of the crowd around them had spurred a deeper sense of camaraderie, lifting their spirits, and firming their resolve.

Daemons came, taking a few men with each attack, but they were quickly put down. The cautious run through the village ruins became a bold gallop, and finally a full blown charge as they crossed the open terrain to crash against the east wall. Daemons atop the structure hurled fiery debris down, but barely made a dent in the crowd of eighty shouting men.

“Against the wall!” Captain Harper cried, cupping his hands around his mouth for the words to carry. “They can’t hit us from the top!”

The crowd hit the wall and flattened against it, the falling rubble from the top crashing behind them. The creature perched atop the wall roared in rage, and leapt down to finish the men the old fashioned way. Ready for the attack, the group swarmed the monster once it landed, and finished it off in record time.

Harper gathered the mages, seven of them left from a coven of fifty. “I need you to open a rift. A big one. Right there,” he said, pointing toward the field they just crossed.

The mages exchanged a look. “But captain,” a mage with thinning hair said, a hand clutched tightly at the neck of his robe. “That hasn’t helped thus far. A rift would only unleash the enemy upon us, and the larger the rift, the larger the daemon.”

Harper offered a sly smile. “I’m counting on it.”

The mages exchanged an uneasy glance, but went to work as they were ordered.

Harper gathered the soldiers into a tight group, as the mages banded together to open a huge rift. There was the familiar feeling in the back of Harper’s head, one he’d felt countless times over these three days, a sort of prickle inside his skull. The rift opened, a literal tear in the fabric between dimensional planes. It was a massive one, standing at least 40 feet tall. A low growl emanated from within, making his chest vibrate.

He prayed to the gods, all of them, that his gamble would pay off. If not, he had just sentenced each and every one of these men to a senseless, violent death.

The growl came again, and out galloped a massive beast, fangs dripping, blind rage in each of its six eyes. It saw the group of men, huddled at the base of the wall, and charged them without thought or plan.

“Hold!” Harper shouted, and he could feel the men at his sides tensing like coiled steel.

The beast approached, closing the distance in seconds. The growl turned first to a snarl, then a roar. Mounds of earth flew at the pounding of the thing’s three hoofed feet.

“NOW!” Harper cried, and the men scattered.

The beast, blind in its rage and too determined in its mission, never slowed. It smashed straight through the thick wall, killing itself and creating a beautiful breach into the burning city.

The men streamed in, the captain in the lead. They fought their way through the daemons, their spirit renewed and strength recharged, and made their way to where the only untouched building stood—at the center of Hallowsfield.

It wasn’t the castle. It wasn’t the great hall. It was a relatively modest library, unimpressive even in a city as unimpressive as this had once been.

The daemons continued to come. The men continued to fight. The creatures this close to the library weren’t as monstrous, typically man-sized or smaller, but they had speed and numbers on their side. Harper’s group, eighty large when the wall fell, quickly dwindled.

It was a mighty battle to get past the last line of enemies, but at last the captain, bloody and torn, broke through the doors with the last dozen men alive. They turned to slam and bar the doors shut against the still raging army of daemons outside.

Their mission was nearly complete. They had reached their objective.

As the daemons pounded the doors at their backs, the men looked inward to the center of the large, open building. A single man hung ten feet above the floor, suspended by a blinding beam of light.

This was him. This was their last hope. The Elgin Hawkins was the only one who could stop this incursion from Mid-realm. The greatest mind in the empire. The greatest scholar in Onan, and most knowledgeable of Mid-realm, of the Beyond, of the Power.

Harper approached the dangling body. His heart pounded. Had they come all this way for a corpse?

The Elgin’s arms hung limp. His legs dangled, listless. His head rocked back so only his open mouth was visible. Directly above him floated an open rift. Never had Harper heard of a rift open for more than a few moments, most lasting only seconds, but this one was open, stable, and pulsing with the light of raw Power from Mid-realm.

But, instead of Power coming out, it seemed energy was being drawn into it.

After a long moment of observation, the captain could see the man suspended in the light wasn’t dead. But he was close to it. It must have taken every last ounce of his strength to keep fighting. His own personal battle. One of spirit. One of soul and emotion. Who knows how long he must have hung there, fighting, dying a little with each passing moment.

But, what could the captain do? He had made it to the library, to Hawkins’ sanctuary. An entire Legion, over four hundred men, had died to rescue the Elgin, to get him safely back to the capitol where he could advise the Emperor. But it was never suspected he’d be embroiled in his own battle. Harper had never felt so powerless.

The utter silence of the room was a stark contrast to the prolonged battle to get here. To the violence and noise still raging outside. It was as though the sound was being drained from the room through the open rift. Even the color seemed pale.

It was so silent the captain could hear Hawkins’ whispers from twenty feet away.

“Don’t let her . . .” he strained. His strength was nearly gone.

“Elgin,” Harper said, his voice little more than a squeak. For the first time in his career he had no plan. No idea what to do next.

“There is only one way . . . one way to stop her . . .”

Tears streamed down the Elgin’s face. At last, his strength gone, his fight spent, a brilliant flash of light burst forth from his body. He screamed, twisted, and finally went limp as the rift above him slammed closed with a terrible clap of thunder that sent the captain and his men sprawling.

Hawkins fell to the floor. Crumpled. Limp. Lifeless.

“No!” the captain screamed as he ran to the Elgin’s body. He looked up at his men, utterly defeated and without hope.

Slowly the color and sound returned to the library as the daemons outside pounded the doors and walls. Hundreds of them, enraged, and with nothing but the urge—the compulsion–to tear the captain and his few men to pieces. The door splintered. The ceiling shook as daemons on the roof clawed at the timbers.

The men drew close together, swords drawn in fear against the oncoming cascade of beasts. The captain, on his knees with the Elgin in his arms, looked skyward awaiting a dishonorable death for his utter failure. A failure that would surely lead to the fall of not just the empire, but of the entire world.

He could swear he heard the cackle of laughter.

~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve already changed a few details, rendering some of this outdated, but it still kind of sets the scene and tone of the story I’m working on.

Thanks for reading!

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