Alexandros: Ch. 12byJoeBarnosky©
Captain Marcello and her men were on open ground before the castle gates. The captain cursed at herself for this unexpected development. She knew the area before the castle would be cleared, but she had hoped for a smaller area.
"Fan out men!" she yelled waving his hand in both directions. She didn't like having her men spread so thin, but then again she didn't like the open ground either. She saw what appeared to be archers gathering at the top wall and pressed on harder, giving orders along the way. "Keep your shields high! Watch for the archers!"
The archers let lose the first torrent high into the night sky. The group stopped and prepared their defenses. Arrows slammed into the ground all around them and into the shields of the waiting men. A small number of the arrows made it through their defenses, striking in various body parts.
Captain Marcello stood from her crouch and looked around. A few of her group were injured and at least two were dead. She began to hope Alexandros would make it in time. "Get behind some cover! Help the wounded!" She yelled beginning her charge again.
Get your ass here Alexandros.
The second volley was about to begin.
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Climbing the path toward the castle wasn't too bad for us. There weren't any more attacks but that didn't mean we were going to let our guard down. Our focus was to get to Captain Marcello's aid.
The path ended abruptly as the ground shot straight up into the air. The wall of earth would slow us in a climb yet we didn't have a choice.
"We climb," I said simply.
I took a look at the men's faces and saw the doubt that crossed their faces. These were battle hardened men that were use to battling against other men whether on the sea or land. Fear caused the doubt. A small amount of fear had even settled in me.
"I know you all weren't expecting what we faced. I didn't even expect it, but we have survived it and now we have a commitment to Captain Marcello. If you want to quit now then go but remember you are abandoning your comrades and your captain."
The men all looked at each other before turning to look at me. My expression showed all the seriousness needed. Without a word they started toward the wall.
"Sir! There's a hidden path over there," one of the men said pointing to a patchy area. At a glance one couldn't tell there was a path, but upon further exploration I could see where one lay. It was overgrown with thick, thorny plants and didn't appear to have been used in quite some time.
Captain Marcello and her men were pinned down as the archers seemed to not run out of arrows or the strength to draw the bow strings.
"What's going on Captain? They don't seem to be tiring," one of her men, Amatus said.
"I don't know but I certainly know this is nothing that I expected," Marcello replied. "How many do we have injured?"
"Over half of our group is injured and four are dead."
"Damn," Marcello said shaking her head. Another volley of arrows rained down on their heads. They settled tightly against the rock and covered their heads with their shields. "We need to push forward before they tire and decide to come down and bring the fight to us."
"How can we do that Captain?" Amatus asked, a look of disbelief crowding his face.
"We have no other choice. If we run we'll be shot down." Conviction filled her. "We grab the dead and use them as a shield. We use every ounce of strength and push it to the castle."
"What about the wounded?"
"Shield them with the rocks. We'll come back for them when this is over." Marcello peered over the rock. "Relay the message."
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It only took minutes to take the path around to the east wall of the castle. The ground sloped steadily bringing us to a crumpled wall. The climb over was much easier than the cliff I initially planned to take the men up. Using the fallen stones as steps, we quietly transcended the wall. Once atop the wall we had a bird's eye view of the entire castle and the open field beyond.
"The Captain is pinned down," one of the men cried in a whisper.
"And that's what's holding them down," I said pointing to the line of archers. I squinted trying to focus on those archers. My senses screamed warning. There was something that didn't quite appear right with them. "We need to get over there and take them out. We'll split up and attack from both sides and meet in the middle. Be ready for anything that comes out of the cracks once we begin our assault."
Marcello stood as soon as the last volley of arrows fell. "Forward! We don't stop until we are all dead!" She yelled leading the charge.
As soon as she took her first step an arrow struck her, hitting her in chest and sending her to her knees. Another arrow then struck her midsection.
"Captain!" Amatus yelled. He ran and tackled Marcello as another arrow struck, this time in Amatus' back. Amatus grunted from the pain of the arrow as he fought to lift Marcello up against the rock.
"Captain, are you alright?"
"Of course I'm not alright, damn it!"
She reached up grabbing the arrow and breaking it off then she did the same with the other. "Get me up." She spat.
"Captain, you're injured."
"So are you. Now get me up!"
Amatus helped the captain to her feet. The rest of the men were charging toward the castle as arrows flew past them. A few of the arrows hit their mark resulting in only injuries but no deaths. Those injured got up and pressed on, ignoring their injuries and focusing on their target. Marcello with the assistance of Amatus followed the men, her sword raised and yelling a battle cry.
To everyone's surprise, the arrows suddenly stopped.
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Once I came into better view of the archers I was appalled at the sight before me. Instead of living, breathing people they were less than they once were. Flesh hung like torn and ragged clothing. Bone not covered by muscle or tendon gleamed in the pale moonlight. These poor bastards had lived a life and in some way died only to be brought forth from their rest and brought here. I don't know what each individual was like in their lifetime or why or how they died, but I was going to send them back to the hell they came from.
I closed the closed the distance between myself and the first of these violations of humanity. As soon as I was within range I leapt with my shield held out in front on me and my sword high. With a crashing blow, I landed with my shield slamming into the pour soul. The impact sent it reeling over the wall. The next creature in line quickly turned in my direction not at all startled at the sight of me. Not letting it bothered me I quickly dispatched it, slicing it in half.
The men sped past me, taking solace in ending these creatures' miserable existence. The wall was cleared in moments, leaving me surprised at the lack of enemy forces against us so far. In spite of our earlier attack I expected more resistance. I cast my gaze to the field outside the gates. Captain Marcello's group or what was left was ambling toward us with weapons held high and cheering. Captain Marcello hung a way back and she didn't look all that well.
"Get the gate open! Set up a perimeter until we can regroup!"
I leapt over the side of the wall landing in a crouch. I know some of the men that seen me were shocked by what I had just done. I could explain it was my training but I felt deep inside it was something else. I just wasn't sure of what it was. Regardless, I brushed aside the thought and ran toward my captain and my friend. She needed help and whether she wanted it or not, she was getting it. Even if it meant I needed to carry her past the gates.
How do you feel Captain?" I asked. I had just removed the arrows from her body and burned the wounds closed. Already I could see she better but not fully up to par.
"As good as I'm going to get right now Alexandros." She looked to the men, some of whom were standing guard as others tended to the injured. "This place isn't too heavily fortified, yet I suspect we will face more once we're inside. Good work by the way."
I smiled in reaction to her smile. We both knew we lost way too many good men and the chances of any of us getting out of this alive were slim. Kados knew we had taken this mission once the shipment returned home to port. Once he didn't hear word from us or see our return, he would know we were unsuccessful.
"There is that slim chance some of us will make it out alive," she said as if reading my mind. I attributed to her many years in her profession. Eventually you learned to pick up on small signs from people and make a pretty good guess at their thoughts.
"I plan to make it out alive and bring as many men out with me as possible. That includes you as well."
"Well," she said grunting as she attempted to sit up. I held out my hand offering help. She took it without complaint. "Hurts more than I thought it would. I've been through many battles and have never been injured. Course after all these years I was beginning to believe I was invincible." I put her arm over my shoulder, aiding her in walking. I stayed silent having no correct response for her. "I know this will be the end of my journey Alexandros. Don't say a word," she said interrupting my response by holding up her hand. "I've lived a long, invincible and adventurous life. When it's your time to go, you feel it in your bones. You can't fight it and there's no sense in trying to. Now rally the men and let's get this over with."
I was about to step away from her when a thought occurred to me. "How do you know about this place really?"
"I already told you, I was given its coordinates when we accepted this mission."
"Fine," I said conceding. "Then tell me who we're up against."
She sighed. "His name is Amnischnell and really that is all we know. He's obviously dealing in the dark arts."
"I have heard of his name," I replied instantly recognizing it.
"That's not surprising. Many have and many haven't."
"Yes, but this was in a dream. A dream that held some creature I had fought just days before."
"Like I said Alexandros, he deals with the dark arts."
"Well whoever he is doesn't matter. I want answers."
I lead the remaining men to the door of the keep. Captain Marcello matched my pace even with her wounds. The door was expansive but with the right amount of persuasion it would open. Using all my power I kicked it wide open.
The corridor beyond was lined with well lit touches. The walls heavily decorated with tapestries. The entire place looked remarkably immaculate.
"Keep your eyes open and be on the ready," I said taking command of the group. Captain Marcello had relinquished command not having the strength to lead the men. With her current condition and believing it was her time she trusted me with the men's survival. If she led we would all definitely end up dead.
"This looks like the home I never had," Captain Marcello remarked sarcastically.
We slowly crept along the corridor with our weapons at the ready. Eventually the corridor opened to an expansive and very empty room. Pillars ran from the front of the room to the back giving it the appearance of being divided into three parts. The floors were made of stone with steps in the center of the room leading up to and empty dais. Touches lit the room casting light across the dull colored room. The only color it held, other than gray, was a blood red carpet that ran from the dais to the entrance where we now stood.
"This can't be it! Where the hell is the girl?" Marcello shouted.
I held up my hand. "Patience Captain. There is more to it than this I'm sure."
Clapping started up followed by a laugh. A shadow moved from behind a pillar high on the dais. "Yes patience Marcello," a voice came from the same direction.
"Show yourself you demon dog!" She yelled in response.
"You don't know how close you are to knowing what I am." The voice came again before a man dressed in fine warrior garb stepped out from behind the pillar. A large sword was strapped to his back, but he made no attempt to move his hands toward it. "Forgive me, where are my manners? I am Sapon and this is my brother Lapas," he said holding his hand out in our direction.
We turned around to see who now stood behind us. Instead of one person, it was several more undead remnants standing there.
"Don't have any fear; they are merely there to ensure you don't decide to take leave."
"Keep your eyes upon them," I instructed the men. I turned back to see Captain Marcello gripped by another man similarly dressed in the same fashion as the one identified as Sapon. "Let her go," I demanded.
"You are in no condition to make demands. In fact you should choose carefully your words considering my brother and I are in charge here and you are trespassing on my master's domain."
"I repeat. Let...him...go," I said, my teeth clenched.
"Or I take your head off."
"So be it. Lapas?"
Lapas efficiently and effortlessly put his fist through the back of Marcello's head. His fist shot out through the front, flaying her face outward. I screamed. What, I don't remember. Everything became a haze at that moment. As the captain fell to the floor, I was already leaping toward Sapon.
My sword came down two handed. Lapas took one step back raising a sword that seemed to appear from nowhere and blocked it with ease. With his free hand he grabbed my wrist, pulling me hard into the pillar. My face slammed hard into the stone. I heard a crunch and felt blood trickle down my chin. I ignored it as I quickly spun around bringing my sword to bear. Sapon seemed not to be in a hurry to kill me as he hung back away.
"You will pay for Marcello's death," I said solemnly.
Sapon's laugh drew my attention toward him. "There will be no payback, since this will be your place of death."
"Wrong. I'm leaving here with your carcasses lying on the floor and the girl with me."
"Tsk, Tsk," he said waving a finger through the air. "There isn't any girl here. It was a ruse to get you to come here. The fact Marcello is dead was for fun. The count is one of us and she did well in directing you to us."
"You have me. Now let us see if you can keep me!"
I cast one glance to my men seeing them holding against the undead force and slipped toward Sapon. I got three steps before Lapas stood in my path. Our swords locked.
A stare down ensued as we stood locked. A flicker in his eyes told me in that moment that he wasn't human. His body began to expand, muscles doubling in size. His armor strange enough expanded in conjunction with his body and not tearing. His strength seemed greater than mine. Pushing aside my sword then using his shoulder, I was knocked back. Pain flared through my chest. I shrugged it off and attacked.
We blocked or evaded each other's strikes. Many of my strikes were glancing blows, his armor helping to deflect. I pressed Sapon, taking control of the battle and gaining the upper hand until Lapas joined in. It became a two on one at that point. The fight quickly spiral out of control where the two pushed me in the direction they wanted. I wasn't concerned for my own stamina or strength, but I knew at some point it would begin to give away.
I felt myself being herded toward the men and undead and stole a glance. They were directly behind me and I could see at least two had fallen. In my moment of distraction Sapon sidestepped past me to take the head off one of my men. My stomach churned. My revenge would have to wait. I still had men under my command and it was my duty to ensure they survived this. Besides, I wasn't sure I could finish this fight with myself as the winner.
I feinted missing a block letting Lapas' sword appear to hit me, causing me to fall to the floor. He advanced with a finishing strike. Using his overconfidence I threw out a kick to his midsection, pushing him back. Before Sapon had a chance to turn to investigate, my foot was already spinning around taking out his legs from under him.
"Head for the shore!" I yelled as I leapt to my feet.
Foolish human. Sapon snarled.
I brought my shield up to block his attack then returned with my own only Lapas was there to block. I grunted in reaction to it. "This isn't over!" I threw a swift kick across Sapon's face followed by a twist of my body. My shield knocked aside Lapas' sword. I brought my foot up with a spin kick knocking him back into the pillar.
The men had a small lead ahead of me which was my intended goal. I followed right after them cutting the two remaining undead as I passed. I ran through the jungle following the path Captain Marcello probably followed in. I could feel Sapon and Lapas' breathing as they pursued us. When I arrived at the shore both boats were in the water. The men in the second boat waited for me while the other was well on its way toward the ship.
"Hurry Alexandros!" one of them cried. The men were waving and shouting for me to jump in.
I used every ounce of my strength, pushing myself past my limits. I bounded into the boat, collapsing instantly once I landed. We were half way to the Aello when the two brothers appeared on the shore. I was certain they would follow, but when they made no attempt to enter the water I knew we had made it. At least until they devised some kind of plan to finished what they started.
Once on the Aello I instructed the men to get the ship moving away from the island. We would return home and then I would find some way to return and seek vengeance. I hoped Kados would feel something for Captain Marcello and help me in some way.
Everything was moving along well when my foreboding sense flared. The seas were calm, perhaps too much so. I ran to the side of the deck to peer over. The water was still and glassy, showing no signs of activity or movement. Then suddenly out of the water came a gigantic head. Its vile mouth filled with a row of sharp teeth. The head was succeeded by another, then another, and another.
"All hands!" I yelled stumbling back.
"Hydra!" someone else screamed.
Aello shook and began to sway. One of the heads came crashing down onto the deck destroying a portion of it. I ran snatching up my shield and sword in the process and headed for the nearest head. I was interrupted when the deck in front of me burst into pieces with a head rising up through the middle. I skidded to a halt taking a moment to gain my balance. I was about to attack when my whole world went black.