The Fall of Ala Mhigo
It was chaos.
Smoke and dust swirled in the wind, carrying with it the mingling scents of blood and burning flesh. The sound of metal against metal that had been ringing throughout the city has dropped away leaving an unnatural silence for a moment. A moment that seemed to last eternity.
“Ala Mhigo is FREE!” A singular voice broke the silence, but it was soon echoed by others. Dozens. Then hundreds.
Craft Ramsay fell to his knees in the streets of Ala Mhigo, a sudden weariness causing him to finally feel every ache he felt. Every wound he had taken in the hours of fighting against the last of the Mad King’s loyal followers – The Corpse Brigade. He was young, just on the cusp of manhood, but the fighting had been intense, it had raged from outside the walls of the city and through the streets. For Craft itself it had started years earlier in the small village he had grown up in, isolated in the heights of Abalathia’s Spine.
“Yah hear that, Ramsay? Theordoric is dead!”
The hand of Caius Athol slapped against Craft’s thick shoulder and he looked up at his wiry and energetic friend. Caius had grown up in that same village and they had been friends since childhood.
“Finally.” Craft had to agree, sucking dusty air into his burning lungs, grinning a wolfish grin.
“Finally.” Caius said with a nod, turning away from his friend, sheathing his two blades at his side. They were stained a dark rust, blood that had already started to dry. Craft wanted to tell him he should wipe the blades clean, that those blades might need to be used again. He resisted though, knowing that they had won the day. It didn’t prevent him from wiping the blade of his claymore clean as he stood.
“Fucking hells… I hurt all over.”
Caius looked over his shoulder at his friend, “You took a beating, Ramsay. I’m not sure how many of those bastards you were dealing with at a time, but you drew them to you like moths to a flame.”
Craft had always been skilled at combat; his father had taught him young. He was using a sword almost as soon as he could walk. That wasn’t exactly unusual for those that lived in the untamed cliffs of the spine, as there were all sorts of dangers that could befall one should they wander too far from the wooden ramparts that provided a base amount of protection to the village.
“Your father would be proud.” Caius added, more solemnly. Though he was known for his sense of humour, he knew he should make that statement, he knew what had brought the both of them to the city.
Craft’s father had been a member of the Fist of Rhalgr, a monk belonging to the order that the Mad King Theordoric had sought to eliminate. After destroying the monk’s temple and decimating the order there, he had sent elite units of the Corpse Guard to eliminate any other members of the Fist that had spread out through Gyr Abania. One unit had arrived in the small village and destroyed it, all to ensure the death of Craft’s father. He had been forced to run from the blaze, watching the execution from a distance before being pulled away. As soon as he could join up with the Revolution he had, and Caius had accompanied his friend. Since then it had been non-stop fighting for the two of them.
“Fuck.” Craft swore and pulled a small water skin from the bag he had slung over his shoulder. He took a quick draught from it and spat the water, rinsing away the taste of smoke before drinking deeply, then offering it to his friend. The calm silence of the city was the closest to peace and quiet either of them had felt in a long time.
Caius took a drink, then arched an eyebrow. “Do ya hear that?”
Craft didn’t and shook his head to indicate so. But he also didn’t say anything, focusing on the noises, dull and mute compared to the fury of the battle that had just ended. Caius always had keen hearing and he didn’t doubt that there was something he should hear.
Then it came, like the distant percussion of a drum. Could it be the victors starting a celebration? Craft managed a grin at the thought of what the celebration of the fall of the Mad King would be: Drunken debauchery in the streets of Ala Mhigo.
That grin vanished quickly, as he heard screams tear through the calm, followed by the sounds of explosions and the undeniable thrum of Magitek equipment.
“Fucking hell!” Craft cursed as he pulled his blade free from the sheath and turned to see lines of Imperial Soldiers start marching down the street. “How’re they here so quickly?”
Caius’ blades were in his hands as other members of the recently victorious force of Ala Mhigans formed up to fight another battle. “Probably waiting like the scavengers they are.”
A roar erupted from the Ala Mhigans. They had just freed their city after a long-fought war of resistance against the Mad King. They were battled hardened and would not let this day be lost. The first of them charged at the line of soldiers, led by an elder monk who had somehow avoided the purge. He dropped a few soldiers with a flurry of attacks. Others clanged blades and hammers against Garlean armour. Craft was soon charging forward as part of this mob, sword catching some of the lesser armoured infantry and hewing limbs. Crimson arced through the air as the earlier aches and pains vanished – all that remained was the fury of battle.
At first it seemed that they were winning. The first fodder of the Empire fell swiftly, though they took their toll. That elder monk had been surrounded and slain by a handful of troops, blades skewering him. A large highlander had managed to bisect a pair of soldiers before a lucky strike had cleaved his calf and dropped him. The Imperials swarmed them like Antlions. Too late, Craft realized, that this line of attackers was thrown against them to wear the already bloodied Ala Mhigans down. That similar attacks would be occurring throughout the city, against every pocket of resistance there could be.
The next line of Imperial attackers now approached. These soldiers were better armoured, and many carried Garlean gunblades, which volleyed off fire in a loud cacophony of blasts, and Craft saw spurts of blood from many of his friends and allies. They dropped to the ground, dead or dying, as the Imperials readied another volley.
“For Ala Mhigo!” Caius yelled and darted forward, blades flashing as he charged the line. Craft roared and followed his friend, realizing that staying at a distance would not be a benefit. Some others followed, but more fled, down the streets and away from the battle.
Craft fought on, his heavy blade catching a soldier across the soldier and crumpling armour enough to send the man down. A downward thrust to the man’s exposed neck ended him. Another whirled-on Craft and he could barely bring a blade up fast enough to catch the edge of a gunblade. He twisted his sword and managed to pry the weapon from his opponents’ hands, then smashed the hilt of his claymore into the soldier’s exposed face, sending teeth and blood through the air. Next to him Caius was darting between lunges of the Garlean weapons, his own blades connecting with flesh through the exposed parts of the armour. He wasn’t landing devastating hits, but his opponents staggered with a lose of blood. Craft took the opportunity to swing his great sword in an arc, smashing through the staggered soldiers, destroying them. This is how they best worked together, Caius landing quick attacks and Craft devastating the opposition when able. They fell into this co-operation easily, having fought together on a near daily basis since the destruction of their childhood home.
“We’re doing it!” a voice bellowed from somewhere near, but Craft couldn’t pinpoint the location, “We’re defeating the fucking EMPIRE!”
And, for a moment, it felt like they were.
It did not last.
The thrum of Magitek grew, and rockets launched from armored soldiers engulfed the streets in explosions and fire. Imperials and Ala Mhigans both died to this assault, but only the Imperials had reserves that could afford such losses. Craft was blown backwards, tumbling back down the street, his weapon wrenched from his hand. Caius, somehow, managed to avoid the brunt of the explosion and stood standing in the smoking ruin, a solitary figure amongst flames and death. He whirled around, looking for an enemy, an opponent to strike at and seeing nothing.
“Craft?” he called, looking at the corpses that lay strewn and smoking.
“I’m here…” Craft called, struggling to get to his feet, his head throbbed, and his vision was foggy. He bent over and nearly fell again but wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the weapon nearest to him: A Garlean Gunblade.
“Still standing, Cai.” Which was true, but his face was crimson, blood cascading from a wound hidden somewhere under his dark hair, flowing like a gory waterfall.
“Good…” Caius stated, his back to his friend as he watched something emerge from the smoke, “Because I’m going to need your help.”
It took a moment for Craft to focus on the monstrosity that stood Infront of Caius, a giant Magitek Colossus. He had never seen one but had heard others speak of them and the damage they could do. Seeing the first swing of its blade towards Caius, he darted aside. The impact of the blade against the street had cracked the stone sending sharp splinters flying in every direction.
Blinking away astonishment, Craft fumbled with the gunblade and quickly figured out how to fire that damned thing, sending a volley of blasts that seemed to ring off the armour of the Colossus. Seeing how ineffective his attack was, Craft started to close the gap, hoping to allow Caius to flank the giant and hopefully find a weak spot. It worked as the Colossus focused on Craft and made a few surprisingly quick strikes against him, which were barely deflected. Each impact of blade against blade sent Craft staggering backwards, as the machine’s strength far out matched the Highlander’s own.
“Work quickly Caius…” Craft panted, raising his blade into a guard position and catching the downward strike of the Colossus. His whole body trembled at the impact, his muscles strained to hold the blade off, “Can’t take too much of this…”
If Caius replied, Craft never heard it, he instead spun away from another arcing slash of the Colossus, then rolled away from a blow that would have completely torn through him. He paused for a moment to wipe the blood from his eyes, but even that second allowed the Colossus to close the distance and lunge with a strike. Craft was barley able to twist away, and the massive sword sliced through his makeshift armour and tore flesh. He roared in pain and grasped his side, feeling the pulse of blood.
Caius called out from behind the Colossus and drove both his blades between joints in the machine’s plates, he twisted and turned hoping to find something internally that would break and drop the monster. Instead he soon found himself knocked backwards, his swords so firmly caught in the machine that he was wrenched away and left unarmed. He looked up to see the Colossus standing over him.
“Fuck you. And fuck your fucking Empire.” Caius spat defiantly at the impassive Magitek creation. The Colossus only response was to lower a robotic hand to Caius, which engulfed his head… then lifted and tossed Caius through the smoke and over one of the city walls.
“CAIUS!” Craft bellowed, rising to his feet. He had lost so much in the recent years. Those he considered friends and family all destroyed. Ala Mhigo regained but for a moment before this Imperial attack. He looked upwards and roared, calling up at Rhalgr himself to intervene for this land that had worshiped him so.
No response came, and Craft Ramsay cursed Rhalgr too.
He could hear the internal gears of the Colossus whirl and turn as it stepped towards him; massive blade lifted high to smite this one last opponent.
He should have fled. He should have tried to escape, to meet up with any other survivors and prepare to fight another day.
Instead he charged, gunblade pointed at the Colossus as his fingers squeezed the trigger. Explosives went off with each strike of his weapon against Magitek armour, and he swung and squeezed again. And again. And again. Until there was naught by a smoldering wreckage on the ground before him. He was soaked crimson with his own blood, weak and barely able to stand, but the Colossus had fallen. A victory.
He panted and fell to his knees when he heard the soft sound of clapping behind him.
“Impressive. I think we may have a use for this one.”
Craft didn’t have the opportunity to turn to see who the voice belonged to. He felt something clamp across his neck and he fell into darkness.
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