Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off: The Brave and the Dead by Dave Robertson
The Brave and the Dead by Dave Robertson
This is an excerpt provided by the author for the Grimdark Magazine Battle-Off Competition
Marek Bartal, strode alongside the front rank of his undead army. His troops, skeletal and grim, marched in silence, the sound of their tromping boots the only thing breaking the eerie silence. Up the road he could see torches burning and a dark line of men, waiting. Marek and his skeletons marched onward without hesitation.
They were close now. Marek could make out individual forms in the mass of shadows, hastily built spikes jutting into the pale moonlight, the occasional glint of torchlight on a shield or sword.
Marek shouted a single, terse word. There was the metallic scraping noise as dozens of swords were unsheathed. Scores of boots rose and fell, rose and fell. Another shout rang out and suddenly the dead men were rushing forward, running, swords out, racing toward the dusky figures ahead of them.
* * *
Chieftain Henilsere was surprised. It was usual for an army to stop, to gather itself and assess the enemy before a battle. An army coming off a long march often wasted hours or even days with false diplomacy, just to get a rest.
The oncoming army of the dead didn’t stop.
They came on like a cataclysmic force, a juggernaut. The defenders might as well try to stop a tidal wave, or a rushing river as stop this force of skeletal black death.
The skeletons charged forward en masse, scores of them rushing at the chieftain and his men.
For the first time in his life, Chieftain Henilsere was truly afraid.
* * *
To their credit, the Norsemen fought well. There was no retreating and no hesitation. They hacked and slashed with sword and axe, bashing shields and cleaving skulls, but they were overwhelmed. The skeletons, the hideous, frightening dead warriors of old, were too much. They closed ranks as soon as the battle began, each grinning monster protected by the shield of the one beside it. They formed a hissing, stabbing wall of shields and armor which pushed forward, knocking the men of Harvat back on their heels. Blood flew and heads rolled as the dead warriors pressed relentlessly forward.
The Norsemen attacked ferociously, but it was no use. There was no opening in the wall, no weak spot in the formation. The dead men moved as one big, impenetrable unit, with new legions forming in the rear and moving to either flank. The norsemen attacked as individuals, brave and aggressive, but not together.
Marek was a terror, his sword a crimson covered blur. He swung, ducked, stabbed and parried; a one man undead killing machine. He left Chieftain Henilsere lying face down in a pool of blood, trying unsuccessfully to push his intestines back into his slashed midsection. Soon after, Marek sent the son’s head flying in a burst of blood.
The fight raged on for what seemed like hours, the Norsemen steadily pushed back, physically, and eventually crushed under the undead machine as it drove ever forward. The battleground became a sticky, muddy mess, covered in gore and shit and muck. Swords sliced through flesh. Axes cleaved through bone. Men screamed, grunted, died. Skeletons clacked their rotting teeth and hissed as they fought, breathing decay and doom in the faces of their enemies.
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