Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: Seven Undying by Kassan Warrad
Seven Undying by Kassan Warrad
This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition
The Sarsisian ranks sagged and fractured at the sight of the horsemen. Drums pounded frantic commands lost in the confusion. A few divisions of archers managed to squeeze forward and loose two volleys. The arrows arched overhead, just behind. The heavy thud of injured horses and the surprised shouts of their riders spurred Makeel onward.
The distance shortened with each gallop. Umair shifted the point toward the soft cluster of archers. Survival purged Makeel’s doubts with savagery and violence. Kill or die. He leaned forward in anticipation.
Metal, screams, flesh, thundering drums and hooves seethed against his ears. Makeel cut and jabbed. Few died by his hand. The cavalry rolled through the confused Sarsisians like a scythe.
Clear of the Sarsisians, Umair carved a circle in the air, an order to split and wheel about. Blood and gore spun off the blade to make way for a fresher coat.
If the cavalry found little fight in the initial attack, they found none now. The archers stationed in the rear tossed away their bows and stumbled over one another in their attempt to escape. Makeel kept his attention ahead, unwilling to dwell on their fate as they disappeared underneath.
The momentum of the charge faltered under the obstruction of the dead. Pikemen stationed closer to the river managed to wheel around in partial formation. The rush of battle dissolved against the black iron spearheads bristling in wait. Exhaustion replaced the void and burned along his arms.
“They guard the path to glory!” Jabar leaned the blood-speckled banner forward like a lance, and charged.
Makeel dug his heels into his horse to follow. He ignored the beast’s keening complaint and wrapped the reigns around one hand. Blood trickled down his hilt and threatened to dislodge his sword from numb fingers. The spearmen lowered their weapons. Makeel fell in behind his friend with a pang of shame.
Jabar swept aside spears with his banner and plunged in the gap. Order dissolved. Makeel dashed into the small clearing and slapped the flat of his sword against his horse’s shoulder. It kicked outward. A pair of faces crumpled behind the hooves. His sword severed another’s arm at the elbow.
The shrill cries of man and beast stabbed at his resolve with jealous accusation. Blood, dirt, and innards churned beneath the pounding of feet and hooves. The white banner flashed at the edge of his vision, its height dangerously close to the ground. Makeel twisted to located Jabar, but found a courageous spearman rushing in with a leveled spear. He slapped the opposite shoulder and lowered himself against the slick neck. The horse bucked. A jolt trembled down the length of lean horseflesh.
Black spearheads jabbed, and Makeel batted them away. His sword bit into a haft. He yanked the spear with his free hand and pulled his sword free. The empty-handed Sarisian blinked in surprise. Makeel’s sword inflicted terror.
He swept aside a threatening spearhead with his confiscated spear and wheeled around. Jabar leaned against the banner’s pole, favoring a leg and weaponless. A Sarsisian soldier leveled a spear and charged. Makeel snarled and heaved his spear.
Makeel heeled his horse past the dying Sarsisian and bent low to grab Jabar by his tunic. He was heavy and Makeel’s limb weak from use. Iron and wood clattered. Makeel’s shoulders itched with expectation. The sound of his breathing pushed back the din of battle.
Jabar struggled to free himself, a fool’s smile split his bloody face. “By God! The day is ours!”
Makeel slapped at Jabar’s hands. A cheer shattered the perceived quiet. He shook away the fog of war and assessed the battlefield to mask his confusion.
Broken bodies choked the churned mud like bronze weeds. The survivors found themselves under the supervision of the Faithful’s own spearmen who had arrived as a hammer striking the anvil of the horsemen. Brittle as they were, the Sarsisian mettle shattered.
The dead were stripped of their armor, weapons, and anything of value. Another cheer rolled through the Faithful as more men bent to help. Nakedness left the corpses pathetic and small.
“Clean your sword and help me.” Jabar stabbed the banner in the ground and steadied himself on Makeel’s saddle. “My foot is broken.”
Makeel led his horse and friend through the stretch of land littered with dead or dying horses and their riders. Away from the main battle, the cries of the fallen Faithful ached against his ears. “We must help who we can. Can your injuries wait?”
Jabar nodded and moved to dismount.
“Stay, my friend. You’ll only slow me down.”
A fall from a speeding horse didn’t kill a man, the thousands of horses charging from behind did. The unfortunate lived, their bodies opened or broken by a heavy hoof. Worse were the shrieks of horses. Their larger bodies endured more, and instinct robbed them the mercy of unconsciousness. Makeel used his janbiya. The blade held a sharper edge and slaughtering required skill more than strength.
The men he left alone. The prophet forbade the killing of a man, even if both parties consider it a mercy. The irony baffled Makeel. A swift death for the enemy, and a slow one for the Faithful. When their demands for help received silence, they fell into murmured supplication. One by one, they died. It helped Makeel to think God answered.
Exhaustion sapped the motivation to continue. He cleaned his knife and lead Jabar away. Pain left his friend’s face pallid, but he appeared no worse for waiting.
Makeel dismounted at the river and placed a foot on the water to verify the miracle remained active. Such displays confirmed the validity of the prophet, and the message he carried. The fact did little to ease the weight of slaughter needed to ink the words. By his estimates, over half of the Sarsisians died today. With their healers limited to mundane techniques, more would die from their wounds.