flASH fiction: Volume 4: Rayward’s Gate (35)

Rayward’s Gate
Jason Pere

“She will not keep them back much longer. We need to prepare to withdraw and fall back to our second line of defense,” said the Rayward general. He looked at the woefully battered gate stretching up to the sky. Its frame and hinges were warped and bent for the repeated assault of the chimera. The thick planks of wood and steel were broken and cracked in countless places, allowing for the smaller chimera beyond the seal wall to trickle through.

“General, we have the beasts held at bay. We have hardly sustained any casualties at all. I would advise you to stand our ground,” said the command staff officer with the most medals pinned on his cloak. He gestured out at the throng of chimera dead littering the cobblestone between the city’s main gate and the main streets where several regiments of knights had a formidable shield line.

“I can see that but once the gate breaks we will be overrun with beasts much larger and stronger than the ones who have made it through so far. We do not have the men for a broad front here. We need to keep the beasts held until the Master of Arm’s and his force can win back the spillway,” rebutted the general. His white stallion swayed from side to side as he spoke. The horse whinnied like it could sense its rider’s apprehension and the fear of things to come.

“More archers on the towers and supply the gate defenses for another round of volleys?” asked the senior officer after a few brief moments of uncomfortable silence from the rest of the command staff.

“That might slow them but it will not stop them. The chimera are too many. We are nearly out of ready oil and stone to drop from the arch as it is. Once the gate is lost any men positioned there will fall to their death. I will not command good soldiers to their doom for no reason. The gate is lost,” said the general as he wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his wrist. His shoulders sank as she spoke like he was being crushed to death by the weight of immanent failure.

“Yes sir, as you command,” responded the command staff officer. He was dutiful and resolute with his manor but the pitch in his voice denoted that he was partaking in the general’s shame. He motioned to the signal corps to sound the fall back.

A few short blasts from the Rayward clarions cut above the chaos of battle. The knights at the front line began to make a steady and measured retreat, rejoining the main shield line. The general and his officers started to lead the regiment back into the narrowing streets. The number of Rayward fighting men seemed to grow as the cityscape started to consolidate the host of men into a denser and more imposing barrier of armor and shields. The lesser chimera continued to spill through the gaps in the wall and gate but they held their distance, snapping and snarling at the Rayward shield line while their larger brethren continued battering the gate from outside of the wall.

“Whatever men remain on the towers and arch, pull them back. There is nothing they can do from their position anymore. Have them form and archery corps at the rear of our position,” order the general. He bit and spat at the words falling from his mouth like they were rotten food. He still managed to hold an air of dignity about him even though he was surrounded by a battle plan that was crumbling as fast as could be.

Another blast from the clarions sounded. At once the stone towners that shot up on either side of Rayward’s Gate began teaming with bowmen and artillery crew leaving the failing structures. Like a pack of rats abandoning a sinking ship, fighting men flew from the battlements of Rayward’s Gate. The evacuation did not come a heartbeat too soon as once the soldiers were free and clear of the fortifications, the ramming at the gate intensified in force and pace so that large stones started to become dislodged from the architecture and plummet to the cobblestone beneath. A few of the less than fortunate chimera on the inside of the gate were crushed as sizable chunks of stone and mortar fell from above. The death of the beasts only seemed to heighten the bloodlust of the chimera horde.

“Send an extra rank of shieldmen to the front. I want them three deep before the pikemen. Have the cavalry ready to counter charge if the line breaks,” said the general. Though he managed to sound calm and calculated, even optimistic about the oncoming assault, he could only think that he was about to witness the last stand of Rayward before it crumbled to the monsters born of the red rains.

The orders were relayed and the group of Rayward officers watched at the regiments moved to prepare for the imminent breach. The gate groaned and squealed as it buckled further and further with each blow from the outside. Shortly the massive barrier would be ripped from its very frame. The fighting men of Rayward stood as a helpless captive audience while one of the greatest symbols of safety and protection in all of Argaia was systematically destroyed before their eyes.

The ramming at the gate started to slow, then it stopped all together. The waiting mass of lesser chimera that had gathered before the shield line began to slip back through the cracks in the gate. From the youngest recruits in the Rayward formation to the eldest members of the general’s command staff, each soldier there was thrown into the most profound vortex of confusion. The chimera had been on the verge of breaking through the last significant barrier that stood between them and the doom of a city and the creatures had just stopped.

The form of a dispatch rider materialized in the main street behind the shield line. The rider came right up until he was practically underneath the general’s nose. “Sir, I come from the spillway where the Master of Arms is entrenched. The chimera there are falling back and reforming,” said they young man wearing a scout’s light armor.

“What? Why? Has Master Whitehawk taken back the aqueduct?” asked the general, giving words to the question that was on everyone’s mind.

“No sir, a small fleet has arrived just off shore. They have been able to barricade the spillway and stop any more chimera from coming in that breach. Master Whitehawk is finishing off the beasts trapped inside.” responded the rider with youthful hope and eagerness in his speech.

“So Rayward is no longer trapped between the twisted things. We only have one front now, excellent,” said the general as he cast his eyes back towards the horribly battered gate. He admired the fantastic behemoth of metal and wood for the beating that it had managed to survive. “What city answered our cry for help?” he asked the rider.

“Unknown sir. The banners on the ships are not anything I have seen before. A rampant armored hound is what their crest looks to be. The do seem to have a red cloak with them though,” said the rider.

“Curios,” mused the general. “See to reinforcing the gate. Have our engineers start on repairs at once. I do not want to squander this time when the beasts are withdrawn,” he said to the men on his command staff.

“At once sir,” said his senior advisor before he heeled his mount in the direction of the main gate.

The general turned his focus back to the scout rider and let out a pent up breath. “Boy, ride back and let Master Whitehawk know I wish to speak with him at Crown Proper. We need to advise the royal family off this new fleet and the change of events at once.”

“Yes sir,” responded the rider. He set off on his horse towards the spillway as fast as he had arrived.

“An armored hound? Who could they be?” asked the general quietly to himself. For the first time since the sun had risen on that day he allowed himself to feel something other than dread. The news of help arriving at Rayward’s darkest hour was like light shining directly on his heart and pushing aside every last drop of fear. He felt hope rush in to fill the space where fear had hunted before.