Short Story (Fantasy/D&D)
11 July 2020
The action-packed invasion of Hilt Island. An extract from my novel Skylit (work in progress).
Three Miles East of Carlin Town, Hilt Island
The Edrassan longboats approached the beach in the dark. Lieutenant Pike peered over the bow of the lead boat, trying to catch his first glimpse of surf in the darkness. He turned to Drew and asked, “How far is the beach?”
Drew peered forward and replied, “About 200 feet away”. Drew’s excellent night vision came from his half-elf mother.
Pike turned to the twenty soldiers behind him and said, “Not long now lads, ready yourselves.”
The longboat grounded, and the men jumped over the sides into knee-deep water. Some landed awkwardly in the darkness or fell in the light surf, prompting curses. “Quietly lads”, said Pike, “Follow me!”
As Pike ran through the clinging sand to the low dunes, a dark figure appeared in front of him. Pike gripped his short sword tightly, but the shape resolved itself into his senior sergeant.
Pike said, “You move like a wraith sergeant. Report.”
“Thank you Sir. We ambushed a patrol of four men from the garrison. All neutralised quietly.”
“Excellent”, said Pike. “All right, let’s get the men assembled and marching towards the objective.” The sergeant melted into the darkness to obey.
Carlin Town, Hilt Island
Fenton sat in the corner of the tavern nursing a tankard of Dwarven ale. He was watching a corporal of the town guard who had already finished his fifth drink. The corporal’s watch had ended an hour earlier, and he had stopped off at the Imprisoned Ox tavern for a ‘quick one’. He stood, swaying slightly, and made his way unsteadily to the door. Fenton followed, as did his two companions.
On the street, the corporal turned left, as Fenton had assumed he would based on his behaviour of the past week. As his quarry passed an alley, Fenton called out to him, “Hey soldier, I think you dropped something.” The corporal stopped and leaned on the wall to steady himself before looking over his shoulder to see who had called out.
Fenton hit him over the right ear with a cosh. The corporal dropped like a stone and Fenton’s companions dragged him into the alley. He went straight to the keychain at the unconscious man’s hip and ripped it from the belt loop. His men dragged the still form further into the darkness of the alley. A knife flashed in the reflected light from the main road and the man spasmed as he drew his last breath.
Fort Mead, Carlin Town
Founded as a trading port, Carlin Town had the deepest anchorage on Hilt Island and was protected from the sea on three sides. Diamonds from the island’s mines were shipped to markets throughout the world, and these exports were a significant source of wealth for the Temple Empire. The harbour defences consisted of two forts, Fort Mead on the eastern side of the entrance and Fort Druckner on the western side.
Lieutenant Anton Reece finished his pre-dawn inspection along the parapet of Fort Mead. Tensions with the Edrassan Kingdom had been running high recently, and he had been briefed to be ready for trouble. Reece took pride in his command. Even in peacetime, he took the precaution of changing the guard just before dawn, when men were typically at their lowest ebb. With the escalating tensions, he took the further step of having the garrison ‘stand to’ during the dawn period. All thirty soldiers and the mage assigned to the fort were therefore at their posts as the sun broached the horizon, illuminating the misty sea.
He squared his broad shoulders and ran a hand through his dark shoulder-length hair. He had an air about him that men under his command found reassuring. He was calm under pressure and listened to his subordinate’s ideas, giving them a sense of commitment to the mission at hand. While not conventionally handsome, women found his perceptive questions and genuine interest in the answers appealing. It was this quality that first attracted Gwen when they met more than a year ago. She was more than pretty and not a day went by that Reece didn’t thank the Gods for making Gwen fall in love with him. They had only been married for a short time when Reece was posted to Carlin Town, where they had been living for the past few months. Gwen was a herbalist and soon settled in, busily helping the people of Carlin Town with various concoctions to cure simple ailments. They were expecting their first child. He wondered if he would make a good father. He couldn’t possibly do a worse job than his old man who was a drunk. No, deep down he knew he would be a good dad.
Reece walked along the rampart towards the central tower. The early morning mist was a common sight at this time of day, caused by the cold breeze from the Ember Mountains meeting the warm waters of the bay. Visibility was typically less than a mile until the sun evaporated the water vapour. But today visibility was significantly less in some areas. He reached for his spyglass and tried to focus on these opaque areas, but without success. The denser mist seemed to be moving towards the fort but was still too far away to penetrate even with optical aids.
He turned away and continued walking towards the central tower. He had almost reached it when the parapet behind him exploded, throwing him face-first into the reinforced entrance door. He shook his head and tried to make sense of what was happening as more explosions rocked the fort. Out of the mist emerged four war galleys, three were armed with catapults, all of which were targeting his fort.
Reece shouted for his men on the ramparts to take cover and threw open the door to the tower. He ran up the stairs to the second floor and saw his mage staring out a firing port at the enemy fleet. He yelled, “What in Hades are you waiting for? Fire back!”
The mage jumped at the sound of Reece’s voice. He looked back at the enemy ships and seemed to steady himself. He drew a complicated symbol in the air with his fingers and black lightning arced between his hands. He threw the conjured bolt of electricity at the closest ship but just as it was about to make contact a magical shield appeared around the ship, preventing any damage. The lightning bounced off the enemy shield and smashed into the next ship in line whose defensive mage was not fast enough. A cheer went up from the fort's defenders as the lightning bolt brought rigging crashing down, fouling the catapult and starting a fire.
The other two ships continued to rain rocks on the fort, all aiming for the mage's tower at the centre. Each time a projectile looked like it would hit the tower, the mage used defensive magic to divert the projectile off course. Wherever possible he nudged the projectiles to miss the fort altogether, but sometimes that wasn’t possible and he winced whenever one of the massive boulders that he’d diverted landed amongst his own troops on the ramparts below the tower.
Reece looked down at his fort, the normally clean whitewash covered in dust, rubble everywhere. Mostly he looked at the broken bodies of his men that had been smashed by the barrage. His mage sent another lightning bolt at the ships, but this one was diverted into the sea. He blinked as a flare rose into the sky from a ship standing further out to sea. The magical blue light arced over his head and grew in size until it illuminated the entire town.
Edrassan Assault Force, East Gate
Pike and his men were hiding in the cornfields near the eastern town wall. A magical blue flare burst over the town. He leapt up and started to run across the open ground towards the wall, yelling, “Come on men, for King Torrent!”
Urged on by Pike’s sergeants, his company of one hundred men surged from the cornfield, joined on either side by the other companies of the assault force. Pike thought that maybe they should have attacked from multiple directions, but it was too late now as the defenders' arrows started to take down his men.
Drew was right behind Pike and he stopped, raised his arms and swept magical fire along the top of the wall, catching a number of archers in the flames and evening the odds.
Pike ran down the closest side of the dry moat and up the other, reached the bottom of the wall and looked back to see a dozen of his men with arrows protruding from their bodies. To either side, it appeared that the other companies hadn’t faired any better, although they had also reached the wall and were placing scaling ladders and starting to climb. But Pike’s mission was to breach the gate. At least now they were against the wall it offered some protection from the archers. He had barely formed this thought when the man next to him had his head crushed by a rock dropped from the top of the wall.
On the other side of the East Gate
Fenton and his eight gutter rats ran towards the east gate on the Carlin Town side. The two stone towers either side of the gate loomed before them, their second storey linked by an enclosed stone rampart.
On the top of the wall, men screamed as a wall of fire swept the top of the parapet. Several soldiers staggered around, beating at the flames that engulfed them. Others jumped to their death to avoid the inferno.
Fenton smiled grimly and urged his men towards a reinforced door in the closest gatehouse tower. He held the keyring he’d taken from the corporal the previous night. There were several keys, but his hands were shaking so badly it took precious seconds to find the correct one. As soon as he unlocked the door his second in command rushed through, followed by the rest of his men. Fenton closed and locked the door behind him and turned to see his men attacking four Templite guards. Fenton rushed to help but was too late to save one of his friends from taking a sword through the chest. As the guard pulled his sword free, it made a sickening sucking noise. Fenton threw a dagger, but it bounced off the guard’s armour. Another of Fenton’s men swung his hammer which encountered no such problem as it crushed the guard’s skull. A second guard was cut down, and the two remaining soldiers turned and fled. One took a blade to the back of his leg as he ran up the stairs, which brought him crashing down. The last guard made it through the door at the top, screamed for help and slammed the door behind him.
Fenton threw the keys to one of his men and shouted, “Lock that door now!” Turning he found three of his men still on their feet and yelled, “Come on lads, let’s get this capstan turning and drop that drawbridge!” The men rushed to the gate mechanism. Fenton studied it briefly, identified the brake and released it. The capstan unwound as the drawbridge lowered under its own weight.
That was easier than I’d expected, thought Fenton. Hopefully, the Edrassans would reach him before the Templites broke down the door. Then it will be time for the former rulers of Carlin Town to pay!
Outside the Gate
Pike saw the drawbridge coming down. Even though the moat was dry, he and his men would need to run out into full view of the archers on top of the wall to cross the drawbridge. Well, he thought wryly, that’s why they pay us so handsomely. He yelled, “On me!” and raced to the drawbridge. He ran across, but the portcullis barred his way. Boiling oil poured through the murder holes above, killed the unfortunate man behind Pike and splashed scalding oil onto Pike’s neck.
Inside the Gatehouse
Fenton looked through the arrow slit in the direction of the drawbridge and saw that the portcullis was still down. His jaw dropped open in surprise, and it took a moment to gather his wits. Of course, it was obvious now that the portcullis and drawbridge controls must be separate. He looked around the room but could see no way to raise it. The controls must be in the room above. “Listen up men. King Torrent’s troops can’t get in unless we raise the portcullis and the only way to do that is to go up those stairs and through that door. Are you with me?”
“Aye!” they all yelled.
Fenton led his remaining men up the steps. The man at the door looked at him for approval and received a nod. He unlocked the door and threw his weight against it. Screaming and yelling to give themselves courage, they all charged through the door into the room which joined the two gatehouse towers. The first man immediately took a halberd in the stomach, slumped to his knees and grabbed his middle, trying to keep his intestines in with his hands. The others jumped over their fallen comrade and vicious hand to hand fighting erupted with the half dozen Templite defenders.
Fenton’s men were motivated, but the Templites were better armed, armoured and trained. The fight was never going to go their way. But, it did prevent the guards from pouring oil through the murder holes down onto Pike’s men. This allowed Drew to switch from defensive magic to something more subtle. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift up through the murder holes and into the guard room. He saw the desperate battle, which was all but lost. His consciousness moved over to the top of the portcullis and identified the wooden wedge stopping the attackers lifting the portcullis from below. He focused on the wedge and it disappeared in a flash of light. Drew opened his eyes and said to Pike, “Now.”
Pike yelled to his men, “Lift the portcullis men, heave!” It was made from a hardwood and was strong but not particularly heavy. Without the wedge Pike’s men had no trouble lifting it five feet off the ground and then placed a piece of wood under it, one of several brought along for that purpose, to prop it up.
As soon as the portcullis was high enough, Pike ducked under it and yelled, “Follow me”. His men poured through the gate. The Edrassans were inside the town.
Templite Garrison Headquarters
The two-storey black stone building in the centre of Carlin Town housed the garrison headquarters. It had a single tower of four storeys. At the top of the tower, two guards opened double doors into the garrison commander’s office. The messenger rushed through the doors and stood to attention waiting for Commander Hyte to notice him, but his Commander’s attention was focused on the Mayor who was waving his arms wildly and demanding to know what was going on.
Commander Hyte stood up and ran his hand through his greying hair. “It appears the Edrassans have launched simultaneous assaults on the forts guarding the harbour entrance and the east gate. We have several reports, most of which contradict each other. I’ve sent trusted officers to obtain a more accurate picture, but it seems this is not a drill and it’s not a raid. It’s an invasion Mayor, and I advise you to declare martial law and to arm the town watch.”
“By the Eternals! We must escape before the town falls”, exclaimed Mayor Chilton.
“I’m not abandoning the town or its people just yet Mayor! We need to understand what we’re facing before making those decisions, and for that we need information. Give my men time to report back. Until then, we must direct the defence. My responsibility is the army and navy, but yours is the town watch and the safety of the citizenry.”
“Don’t lecture me on my responsibilities! I know them better than you do and I must attend to them at once. Good night sir!”
“Wait”, called Commander Hyte, “Where are you going?”
“To see to my responsibilities.”
“Where will you be so that we can coordinate our response?”
“I’ll leave my assistant here. Coordinate with him!” Chilton spun on his heel and hurried from the room.
The messenger cleared his throat and stepped forward.
“Well?” said Hyte.
“Sir, a message from the harbour. The fleet has been attacked at anchor. Six of our ten war galleys are out of action with two of those at the bottom of the harbour. The Admiral says he’s rallying his remaining crews to engage the enemy fleet, but many of his sailors fled when they were attacked straight out of the water by some sort of humanoid sea creatures.”
Hyte walked to the window and looked out over the harbour. He could see clouds of dust rising from the rubble of Fort Mead. The enemy fleet, out of sight beyond the entrance to the harbour, had turned their attention to the second fort which was fighting a losing battle.
Several ships of the defending fleet were on fire in the harbour, although fighting still raged on some of them. Hyte raised his spyglass, and the deck of the closest war galley leapt into view. He could see an officer in the thick of the fighting, waving his cutlass and rallying the sailors. The humanoid attackers had green scales and a row of fins from their forehead running down their spine, holes instead of ears and sharp pointed teeth. As he watched, two of the creatures tackled the officer from the side, and he went down under an onslaught of fang and claw. He didn’t get back up.
Hyte looked to the east gate which had been breached and enemy soldiers poured up Jetty Street, the few defenders they encountered swept aside.
Shouting closer by drew his attention. He looked to the north gate and saw it open to let the Mayor’s personal carriage out onto the road beyond.
“The coward!” exclaimed Hyte angrily.
This betrayal spurred Hyte to action. He spun around and called to his adjutant, “Captain. Where’s Wizard Aldritch?”
“He left with the Mayor, Sir.”
“Right then, we’ll do this ourselves,” said Hyte, “I want every man in this garrison armed and ready to go in five minutes. Move!”
Hyte led fifty men along Jetty Street towards the east gate. As he reached the market square, the enemy poured into it from the other side and fanned out. Hyte screamed “For the Empire!” and charged forwards, followed closely by his men.
The Edrassans saw them and also charged forward screaming, “For King Torrent.”
The two sides smashed together in a crash of steel and men on both sides went down left and right.
Hyte stabbed one through the thigh with his rapier. It doesn’t matter where you hit them, he thought, as long as it takes them out of the battle.
Both sides were so intermingled that he had to fight back to back with one of his men. An enemy soldier stepped in with a large warhammer designed to break bones regardless of the armour worn. Hyte wasn’t wearing armour though, and this gave him greater freedom of movement. His rapier also provided an advantage in reach, and as the soldier raised his warhammer, Hyte stepped forward and thrust the point of his sword through the man’s throat.
He felt a tug at his side. While he was distracted, another soldier had thrust a spear at his chest. Luckily it was a glancing blow and opened the skin over his ribs but did no serious damage. Hyte grabbed the wooden shaft of the spear and pulled the soldier towards him. He was too close to stab him with his sword, so he brought the edge of the rapier crashing into the man’s face. The rapier wasn’t a great slashing weapon, but it still made a mess of the soldier’s unprotected nose and cheek; he fell back screaming.
Hyte found himself temporarily without an opponent and jumped up onto a cart to try and assess the battle. Nearly half his men were down, but even more of the enemy had fallen. Hyte was appalled by the losses but also encouraged that they might carry the day. He was about to rejoin the fray when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He swung round to see enemy reinforcements pouring into the square. Hundreds of them!
“Fall back to the north gate lads!” Hyte yelled, and his men ran for their lives.
Hyte stood in the shadow of the north gate and selected his runners. He sent men to each fort, the west gate and the town watch barracks with the same message. The town is about to fall to the enemy. Fight your way out and rally at Halfton. He sent two men to the docks with instructions to find the ranking naval officer, explain the situation, and advise that they should use their best judgement to either try and break out or scuttle the ships. Although many would continue to fight and die for hours yet, the battle for Carlin Town was effectively over.
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