SKY – Chapter 13
“Keep going! Get deeper into the base!”
“What’s going on?” Hleis asked as panicked soldiers ran through the halls.
“Mastig attack Hleis! They’re coming fast!” Vayling said. “The force we beat earlier was bait… Damn! No! The entire fortress was bait! This was a trap!”
“Their fleet! It was lying in wait when we attacked and they’ve now returned!”
“Can’t we meet them in the air?”
“No time to launch the ships or even arm them! Our barriers aren’t set up yet either! We have to retreat inside and hope we can hold until reinforcements come!”
Strategizing with the other unit leaders kept him awake while his unit rested from the long day of battle. During the meeting he was exhausted, wishing that everyone would agree so that it could come to an end soon, but all the exhaustion he accrued vanished as the adrenaline of warfare kicked in, reminding him that there was no time to rest.
The emergency orders were drowned out by the noise of countless running footsteps and the clangs of soldiers hurriedly equipping their armor. People ran out of the storage rooms holding whatever supplies they could carry with them into the inner sanctums of the keep. Lieutenants marched to each unit’s lodgings in an attempt to provide clear direction during this chaotic time.
Where’s my sword? Hleis thought. I left it back at the beds. Damn it! No time!
Hleis picked up a short sword from the storage room and ran against the tide of people to find the members of his unit. Dust fell from the ceiling. The entire fortress shook from the assault raining down from the skies above. If any soldiers hadn’t made it inside by this point, then they weren’t making it at all.
What a maze the fortress felt like. He didn’t realize just how many people it was built to house. It was far more than just a military base. It was a city contained in a single building. The further he searched, the emptier it was yet the suffocating atmosphere of the narrow halls never subsided. The further he went, the quieter things became, and the more sense of danger grew.
He spotted one of his men. “Hey! Where’s the rest of the unit?” he asked.
“The vice-captain’s already led them to the center! We were looking for you!”
“Good. Everyone’s accounted for?”
“For the most part, they should be. We couldn’t do a head count, but everyone knows where to go.”
“Thanks for the info. Go join them.”
“Captain, you’re not coming? Where are you going?”
“I have to find one more person, don’t worry about me! I’ll be fine! Go!”
He knew Vayling was fine, he saw him earlier grab Traer while directing his group to safety. The soldier just reported that Maltii was safe, but where was Sota? The mages bunked in a separate area of the citadel. He needed to know where she was. He knew he wasn’t being a responsible captain, but his mind couldn’t focus until he knew she was okay. She was strong, he knew that, but if she was in danger he still wanted to be by her side facing it together.
The further outwards he went, the fewer soldiers there were. Others were heading outwards too, to carry injured allies back, to face the mastigs that entered head on.
The group holding the breach was covered in both the blood of their enemies and allies. Never leaving their position, they stood their ground from first contact to final demise. Cruntiq gave commands while slashing enemies and throwing flames at the breach. Before, they didn’t feel disadvantaged in the fortress, but in a defensive position with no escape and no barriers, the numerical disadvantage felt insurmountable.
“We can’t hold here any longer! I’ll hold them off for now! Grab someone and go!” Cruntiq commanded.
The breach was far larger than he anticipated. The front line was held by a crowd of hundreds. Hleis saw her shining silver armor amongst the stage of violence and ran to her. She was holding her left thigh, wrapped in cloth, soaked red with blood.
“Sota! What happened?” He asked.
“Hleis! I’m so happy you’re safe!” she replied. “It’s just a cut, don’t worry about me.”
“That’s too much blood to be just a cut! You’re limping!”
“Hardly a problem…”
“It is. Come on, you can’t continue fighting like this. We need you alive.”
“No, I can barely walk right now. If I’m going to make a difference, I have to do it here…”
“No. You’ll do it another day after we survive this one. I’m going to carry you.”
“I appreciate it, but what are we going to do about this situation here?”
“Look, we can’t hold them off forever. We’ll all need to retreat deeper in.”
Whether it was by his magic or the adrenaline of the situation, her body felt weightless in his arms. Her arms clung around his neck, and he took every caution to not put too much pressure on her wounded thigh for she would wince every time he did. This was not like their usual embraces. Things were desperate. He moved through the now abandoned halls fast, not caring to pace himself or conserve his energy, instead putting all his vitality into preserving hers.
They were one of the last to enter the inner sanctum. It was a massive hall located deep beneath ground level in a cave carved from the earth. The walls were of stone and dirt. The pillars were thicker than most homes were wide. Torches lit up the space with subdued ambient light. A throne stood atop the pedestal at the end where the ruler would sit in the past. The injured were brought to the back or in the hidden rooms to the sides of the throne, while those who could fight stood at the ready, pointing their blades at the entrance.
Far fewer had made it to the sanctum than he anticipated. From what he could see, he estimated that fewer than a quarter of their army was present. He could only guess what happened to the soldiers who never made it inside, but didn’t want to speculate, still holding out hope, maintaining his personal morale. Maybe they were having their own defensive siege outside, taking shelter in the battleships they flew here in?
Hleis set Sota down near the other injured mages. “Can anyone heal her?”
“Not fully, but I can stop the bleeding and close the wound. Don’t exert yourself too much,” a mage replied while resting against the back wall, tending to his own injuries.
“Thanks,” she said. Warm orange light radiated around her wound as the mage hovered his hands over it. It was far deeper than Hleis thought. “That’s more than enough. Save your strength for those more injured than I.”
“Can you fight through the pain?” Hleis asked. “I hate to make you do this, but we’ll need you for this battle.”
“Ow. Yeah, this isn’t enough to take me down.”
“Ha…I can’t believe how strong you are, but what a mess we’re in…”
“No kidding, well, let’s live so we can laugh about it later…”
Cruntiq, and what remained of his supporting cast, were the last to arrive. He was covered in blood, but he moved as if it wasn’t his.
“Is this everyone?” He asked.
“There may be others still in the halls, but at this point we can’t go out to save them. There are way too many mastigs up above.”
“Then it’s only a matter of time before they find us… Prepare for combat! We don’t know how long we have to survive for. Just kill until there’s nothing left to kill!”
“What a situation…” Traer said. “We were worried about not being able to take the fortress at all, not holding it once we got it.”
“Do you think the mastigs planned this? I could never imagine that they would sacrifice their own to trap us like this.” Maltii asked.
“Yeah, who would expect deception from a race that places their leaders at the front of their armies…” Vayling replied.
“They should have no way of knowing we were coming though? How did they know to hide their ships beforehand?” Hleis asked.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of something like this happening as well. Something is suspicious here,” Sota said while holding onto Hleis for support.
The tension escalated every minute as the sanctum awaited the arrival of the mastigs.
The stairway that led to the sanctum rumbled.
Three disembodied heads rolled down the stairs stopping in front of the waiting soldiers.
Moments later, mastigs swarmed down the stairs propelled by the momentum of the army behind them. They crashed into the frontline as they spilled into the hall. A grand melee had commenced. Any semblance of order was broken by the overwhelming numbers of mastigs that flooded in.
Orders were drowned out by the roars and pained screams that echoed off the walls. It was chaos. Those scattered by the initial crash were isolated and were lucky if they survived the initial slaughter. As the mastigs made it further into the waiting army, things quickly spiraled into a free for all. Formations dissolved as the soldiers desperately fought to survive.
Hleis couldn’t even survey the battlefield to see where his unit was or how many were left. His focus was entirely occupied by the unending stream of enemies. Every time he would look to his sides, he would see another human brutally torn to pieces. Colored lights flashed in the corner of his vision, blasts of concussive force crushed swathes of mastigs, but by the sheer numbers of enemies piling into the room, they were still gaining ground on the humans.
The initial collision separated Sota from his side. He reached out for her, hoping she would grab him back, but had to retract it after a mastig swung at his outstretched arm. Distracted, he shifted his focus from the enemies in front of him to move towards where she was last spotted.
Where was Sota? Are Vayling, Maltii and Traer safe? What about the Captain? Did I lose them in the chaos? Ow! I was distracted… Crap! That’s not a light wound…
Blood gushed from just under his ribs as he focused his vitality to meld the wound closed.Pain coursed through his body with every attempt to move. As more and more mastig weapons swung down on him, he found himself kneeling in order to deflect their blows. He fell closer to the ground as his knees buckled under the weight, unable to magically protect himself while distracted by his injury.
It was too much, he couldn’t keep it up and there was no way he could counterattack from his position. He was out of options and at his limit.
Strikes began connecting to his body.
Hleis’ vision went white. He was losing consciousness. It seemed as if the entire room froze as he fell to the ground in silence. No one moved, mastig or human. Emotion vanished from all their faces as they began fading to grey. Maybe this is what they meant when they said things slow down just before you died.