A Humiliating Victory
The main gate of Rustwatch’s seal wall buckled from the impact of the massive chimera hurling themselves against it. This latest herd of the beasts attacking the Iron Lord’s city seemed to have taken their form from a combination of bulls and mountain goats. The monsters were perfectly made for slamming into barriers of thick iron and timber.
“She will not take another hit like that,” said Foreman Everstone with a sour measure of disapproval mixed with failure in his words. The stocky man’s eyes rolled over the battered and warped shards of metal that separated the city of Rustwatch from the wilds. “I should have given her an inner and outer portcullis,” lamented the seasoned blacksmith with consternation. The foreman wiped a heavy rain of sweat form his brow only to leave sooty black streaks behind as his gloves moved over his tan leathery skin.
“When we push these mongrels back that can be your first order of business,” barked Coal with perversely good cheer, considering the state of the chimera’s siege. Despite the tone of his sentiment it was clear to see his words put the foreman’s anxiety to a lesser degree with their implied promise of redemption. “Iron Men make ready,” commanded the Iron Lord as he felt the tremble of countless hooves pounding the ground outside the gate. Coal saw the ranks of hardened warriors to either side of him prepare a wild assortment of lethal weapons. Blades were drawn from their sheathes, shields were fronted and muskets were loaded. The leader of the Iron Men felt his chest brimming with pride as he looked over the vast collection of arms and armor, many of which had been crafted at his personal anvil.
Once again chimera battered into the gate of the Iron Lord’s city. The squeal of metal shredding and breaking cut through the Iron Men ranks like a ballista volley. The remaining bolts and welds that kept the gate intact gave way under the crushing force that the rancorous monsters were able to bring to bear. As the cities gate flung open, droves of nightmarish creatures began to fill the narrow promenade that lead to the city streets. Screaming, howling and snarling for the blood of all that dwelt within the Iron Lord’s domain, the beasts charged the Rustwatch battle line.
With a drop of his hand Coal gave the first of his prepared orders. The roar of the chimera thundering across the promenade was consumed by the explosion and concussive force of Rustwatch cannon and artillery. The might of the Iron Men’s industry was put on full display as rows upon rows of war machines unleashed a bloody defense upon the invaders. Cannonballs and mortar shells tore the leading chimera to little more than scarlet pulp. The unbridled might of the raving beast reminded just as ferocious despite the fearsome display from the Iron Men.
As the monsters stepped over the fallen front ranks and pressed on down the promenade towards the lure of soft meat and hot blood Coal Roarkwin readied the second line of defense. “Riflemen, make ready,” he shouted loud and clear. The command was echoed by the brigade captain’s dispersed thorough the fighting formation. Instantly the Rustwatch battle line was fronted three ranks deep by practiced marksmen. “Take aim,” Coal said after his riflemen had fully assumed their positions. Again his order was reprised by the other Rustwatch officers. The riflemen raised there hefty muskets up to a firing stance and waited. Coal held back the urge to have his men unload at the first opportunity. He could see a few of the younger Iron Men trembled ever so slightly as they silently stood before the oncoming bestial madness. Once Coal could see the murderous glint in the chimera’s eyes and smell the rank scent of rot on their breath he shouted his next order, “Fire!”
Chimera fell in staggering numbers as the keen aim of the Rustwatch riflemen found their marks. This latest round of casualties slowed the charge of the beasts with the sheer volume of dead that obstructed the promenade. The morale of the chimera was still as bloodthirsty as ever and the death that the Iron Men had visited upon their number had done little to quell the beasts’ appetite for killing.
“Fall back and reload,” Coal said as he began to count the heartbeats before the chimera would be upon his soldiers. A small part of the Iron Lord had hoped that the artillery and deadly marksmanship of his army would have been enough to rout the enemy, but he knew the chimera were possessed of a singular urge for destruction too great to be turned back by even the promise of certain death. “Pikes and Shield Bearers,” called the Iron Lord, once the font ranks of riflemen had retreated.
Like a fluid tide of metal, Iron Men sporting shields as large as a full grown man and just as heavy formed an impassable barrier across the length of the promenade. Behind the Shield Bearers another two ranks of Iron Men holding pikes that would stop even the most heavily barded cavalry took position. Coal saw his men from up just in time. “Stand fast!” he shouted as the chimera drew within striking distance.
The fury of the monstrous horde propelled the lead creatures on with such fervor that they impaled themselves upon the pikes of the Iron Men all the way up to the staunch shield wall. The sound of the creatures perishing upon the flawless Rustwatch arms was a truly spirit breaking noise. The crash of muscle and bone slamming into metal layered upon metal and the unmistakable sound of blood splattering upon stone was a grim overture to the death cries that followed. The sound of the shield bearers grunting and exerting themselves to keep the beasts at bay for the Pikemen rang of desperation and rapidly dwindling hope. Even as they were mighty and well trained men of strength and endurance the Shield Bearers could not compete with the vicious and unrelenting fury of the chimera. The shill squeal of claws rending steel pierced though the shouting and screaming. The shield wall would not hold.
To exacerbate the plight of the Rustwatch army, the Iron Men who wielded the pikes were swiftly becoming encumbered with the chimera dead and wounded on the end on their shafts. The soldered were spending more time extricating their weapons from the bodies of their targets then they were drawing fresh blood. Coal could see that it would only be a matter of moments before the chimera were through the heavy Rustwatch armor. He glanced to his flanks and accessed the disposition of his fighting men. He then readied and cocked the musket that he held in his grip. As he saw the last of his riflemen finished reloading he bellowed his next order with thunderous command, “Riflemen make ready and take aim.” Once the firing ranks were reformed Coal turned his attention back to the failing shield wall. “Shield Bearers and Pikemen fall back,” he called while mournfully watching as the chimera flung Iron Men over the sides of the promenade into the moat below.
The Rustwatch shield wall broke and the handful of surviving Iron Men form the front line made it to the safety of the rest of the brigade. The chimera came hot on the heels of the Rustwatch retreat. Again the beasts were met with a magnificent volley of gunfire from the Iron Lord and his riflemen. The continued assault of the beasts was slowed for the briefest of moments as it received a load of hot burning lead head on. By the time the riflemen had finished their volley Coal had discharged his musket as well as the two flintlock pistols he had tucked in his belt. With no time to reload Coal shouted with a feral primitive abandon, “Charge!”
With Coal Roarkwin at the vanguard the Iron Men met the chimera with a valiant counterattack. Up until this point there had been some semblance of order and discipline about the combat. The Iron Lord had seemed to control the ebb and flow of the battle like he would work a red hot piece of steel at his anvil. Now it was all anarchy and death. Iron Men and children of the red rains alike were cast over the side of the walkway between Rustwatch’s main gate and its city streets. Those that fell in battle but did not take the sheer plunge into the waters below were trampled underfoot of those who continued to fight. The promenade was filled with animalistic howls, brave war cries, and the screams of the wounded.
The Iron Lord was a sight to behold. He cut a swath through the monstrous assailants like a prairie fire in the drought season. Coal was a blur of motion and flashing steel. Any hostile creature that came within a blade’s length of the Rustwatch patriarch was quickly ended with masterful swordsmanship and untold physical prowess. Coal wore a veritable arsenal on his person and he utilized every weapon at his disposal. The man left a trail of bodies with sabers, axes, knives and all manner of bladed weaponry embedded in their lifeless hulks. The magic in the Iron Lord’s blood pulsed with intensity as it spurred him on to move with inhuman speed and accuracy.
Despite the old power that Coal wielded his endurance was waning. Coal had been resisting the urge to wipe the sweat and blood from his eyes for at least half a dozen kills now. He knew if he gave into anything that distracted him from his next target the consequences would be disastrous. The heat of the moment allowed Coal to suspend the impossible level of fatigue that was bearing down on him. Since his time back within his city walls the man had known nothing of sleep. For days on end, Coal’s world was only his solders, his enemies and the will to survive. While he ended a beast with each blow, the Iron Lord knew that the chimera were gaining ground. Iron Men fought and died as paragons of honor and sacrifice but their service only delayed the inevitable. Soon the seemingly limitless horde of twisted creatures would be running rampant in the streets of Rustwatch. The death toll would be astronomical.
It had likely only been a few moments but, to Coal if felt like a full day had passed since the shield wall broke. He was on his own now, deep in the heart of the chimera mob. He butchered the creatures like the cattle that they had once been with amazing speed but their numbers were too vast, unending even. Coal felt his moral begin to waiver as his bloody trail of carnage had done next to nothing to halt the chimera. His power alone was not enough to save Rustwatch. The ferocity of the Iron Lord’s defense began to falter as the realization set in. This was going to be the end of one of Argaia’s last great cities.
The Iron Lord snapped the blade of his final saber off in the maw of something that resembled a scaled oxen. Coal’s hands rapidly searched over the mass of empty sheaths that adorned his body. All he had left was a simple dagger. It was enough to continue killing any monsters that posed a threat to his people. With blade and fist Coal started engaging the chimera in perilously close quarters. In the span of a few heart beats the claws and teeth of his enemies had opened innumerable cuts on Coal’s body. His chest, arms and face spilled an ocean of red. Coal felt his legs give out and the dagger fall from his grip. The Iron Lord was soon on his knees and surrounded by a slavering mob of nightmares.
Coal refused to die silently. He shouted every curse and obscenity to his enemies that he could imagine. The Iron Lord had no fear of death. He accepted that now was his time to perish. He waited for a killing blow but it never landed.
The promenade shook and trembled. From its base to the tips of its spires the seal wall of Rustwatch rattled and shuddered. A massive clarion call echoed from the mouth of the gate all the way to the heart of the Iron Lord’s forge. With respondent awe and majesty Dimona Odinstar lead the Raywayd cavalry charge that shattered the back of the chimera assault. Stark white stallions carried three full regiments of Raywad’s finest knights into the fray. With the casualty’s inflicted by the Iron Men thus far, the reaming chimera were cut down like wheat before a harvest scythe.
After the final chimera was forever deprived of breath the Rayward queen made her way to where the blood dreamed Iron Lord knelt. “I heard that your city was in dire need of real soldiers. While I loath to do you any kindness in this life, I will admit it lifts my heart to the highest peaks to see you bloody and on your knees before me,” said Dimona as her she sat on the back of her steed and towered above the gravely wounded Iron Lord.
Coal looked over the aftermath of the battle. His eyes lingered on the faces of the Iron Men dead. The tragic image of Foreman Everstone’s lifeless body laying atop a mound of riflemen cut into the Iron Lord deeper than any of the chimera’s claws or teeth had. Coal achingly rose to his feet and glowered at the Rayward queen. “This was just a normal skirmish in the life of Iron Men. See if your knights can stomach this breed of war day in and day out. The chimera will be back before long. There is not much time to refortify,” Coal said as wiped blood and sweat from his aching face. He let his eyes go to the surviving Iron Men and then past them to the homes and housed that had been spared from flames and death. He reverently considered the lives that had been saved by Dimona Odinstar and her Rayward Knights. With bitterness and a jaw clenched as hard as stone Coal Roarkwin spoke the sourest words he had ever suffered to speak, “Rustwatch thanks Rayward for its aide on this day. My people are in your debt.”