A dozen students were ahead of him and he didn’t feel like wasting the remainder of his lunchtime, opting to grab the tasteless burgers from the shorter line instead. After loading up his tray with food, he looked for his friend Rayner.
Axel saw him near the back by the window, chatting with Yazid. He did not want to deal with the eccentric teen. He just wanted to have a peaceful lunch. There was no avoiding it, sitting with anyone else was not an option. It was the price for having such a small social circle. Rayner saw Axel and waved him over.
Axel sat beside Rayner, joining them at the table. “Hey Yazid, haven’t seen you in a while.”
“That’s because I was busy investigating a truly amazing idea!” said Yazid.
“Please Yazid, just keep it to yourself,” Rayner said, pinching his eyes.
“What if we could go into a game world?” Yazid spread his hands like a magician revealing a trick.
“Virtual reality makes me sick. I can only use it for porn,” Axel said. He knew that once Yazid got going, there was no point in stopping him, maybe this might be entertaining. Something to help the horrible burger go down smoother.
“I am sure you are content with porn, but that is not what I am talking about. I mean going to another world with a game system!”
“Oh, so you got bored talking about what we would do if the zombie apocalypse broke out. Does this mean you realize that we would die within the first week, cause we’re not navy seals?”
“He is not talking about imaginary scenarios Axel; Yazid thinks he found a way to go to another world for real,” Rayner said.
Axel should have known. The three of them enjoyed talking about what they would do if the world ended, or what they would spend a genie’s three wishes on. Yazid always took it to another level, bringing graphs and data. He even paid for a poll to show that Mexico would vote for drug kingpins instead of politicians as proof that narco states are a legitimate government system.
“I am serious and I am not crazy,” Yazid said, wide dark eyes darting back and forth between him and Rayner.
“Nobody is calling you crazy,” Rayner said.
“How about you two humor me and answer my question?”
“Sounds like you are asking us to take the blue or red pill,” Axel joked.
Rayner really was thinking about it. His overly serious friend would usually chide him about his sexist red pill philosophy; instead, he stared out the window, not saying a word.
A gust of wind rocked the window, followed by thick chunks of hail; it was summer. Global cooling had hit the world hard. Crops failed, islands swallowed up by the sea, countries going to war over water rights. The world was uttering its death rattles.
That is likely what Rayner had on his mind.
Axel’s hippie parents started a failed weed business, landing them in a pile of debt, resulting in debt slavery to the mega-corporations. His parents spent 14 hours a day 7 days a week growing drugs for big pharma. Their friends branded them sellouts, and they agreed. It made them bitter. If he left to another world, they may miss him, but he would not miss the world or his parents.
Yazid interrupted their thoughts to give them another push. “This world will not get better, in fact, it’s going to get worse, and soon. As for your families; Axel, your parents would probably encourage you, and Rayner…”
Rayner didn’t get upset like he usually did at the mention of his upbringing. “I know.” Rayner’s voice was quiet, now looking away from the window.
Axel tried to change the subject. “This is depressing. Let’s talk about something else. We got homework piling up and—”
Yazid wouldn’t let up. “Do any of you actually care about school?”
Robots and AI had taken most jobs. Even if they finished school, any available work would pay little. Doctors would be lucky to assist a robot surgeon. Axel’s parents went into debt in an attempt to escape a future of meaningless work.
With his parents on his mind, Axel reconsidered Yazid’s idea. “How would this work?”
A grinning Yazid explained. “We talked about other worlds before. If you don’t remember I will give you a refresher. The basis is the multi-verse theory, different universes with different fundamental laws of nature. Our universe, like our planet, has the goldilocks conditions. Just what it needs to support life.”
Axel remembered. They were debating if aliens existed. It seemed that all their talks were building to this.
Yazid showed them several planets on his tablet. “According to this theory, many realities are possible, including a reality of an RPG world.”
“Sounds plausible. Still, I can’t see how we would get there,” Rayner said.
“I’m getting to that. All these worlds are connected through energy. Some say by dark matter but I think it’s mana. If the worlds are connected, then it means all share some traits. We just don’t notice them. Using this energy, we would evoke a ritual to summon us to that world.” Yazid saw them lose interest. Before he was talking of science, now he is going into fantasy land. “Hold on, I’m not done explaining this. Mana means nothing in this world but in their world, the ritual works, and they will summon us to them.”
“Like a marker, or sending them a signal,” Axel said.
“Exactly! So, is everything clear?”
“Sort of, it’s still all theory, it won’t hurt to try.” Axel put away his food and got up from the table. “No point in staying at school if we are going to another world. Let’s skip classes.”
“The limo is already ready and waiting outside,” Yazid said as he took out his phone to tell his driver they were coming.
The threesome sat in the roomy limo; they were heading to Yazid’s mansion for the otherworld summoning ritual. Rayner stopped by the corporate orphanage to get his things and Axel already had everything he needed in his school locker. They both left messages for those important to them, in case this actually worked.
Rayner gave Yazid’s leg a kick to get his attention away from his phone. “How did you get into this stuff? I mean, I know you’ve got money to waste time on whatever you want, but this is a little farfetched.”
Yazid put his phone to his chest to answer. “Exactly, I can do all that’s possible, so I looked into the impossible.” Yazid went back to ordering his mansion staff to get the ritual ready for them.
“What about you Axel? I still can’t believe you agreed?”
“Honestly I have nothing better to do, and besides, I noticed a distinct lack of brothers in these other world scenarios.” Axel realized his mistake too late.
“I am glad you brought that up. The lack of minority representation in the genre of fantasy is unacceptable.”
“Look man I did not mean it like that.”
Rayner continued. “Realistically the idea that even in another world or universe the social structure would still be ruled by the white male establishment is laughable.”
Axel knew he would not be able to shut him up. Rayner had gotten himself worked up. Rayner is what he called a social justice warrior. It was their second most discussed topic other than what to do if the world turned upside down. Rayner went to every protest, every club, all the donation drives for starving children at school. Axel did not know where he found the time.
He felt differently, and they fought about it often, their views on opposite ends of the spectrum. Axel believed there was no justice, society sucked, and it did not need warriors.
Axel attempted to stop Rayner’s rant. “I was just telling a joke, my delivery sucked, I was not making a larger point!”
Their conversation interested Yazid enough to end his call. “What was the joke?”
“You know how black folks run when we see something weird in the horror movies? The joke was when black guys get offered a chance to go to another world, we would take a hard pass.”
“Oh, I get it, should have thought of that before asking you, very funny,” Yazid said without laughter. “You said yes though.”
“Yes, that’s the punch line,” Axel said. That got him a chuckle from Yazid; Axel heard the driver laughing as well.
“Representation is important Axel,” Rayner said, now with a smile, taking himself a little less seriously.
“If you say so, but since you brought it up, most of these other world fantasies have slavery, portrayals of women that would make your head explode and casual murder, so why go?” Axel said.
Yazid ended his call. “I am interested as well Rayner, we often talked about what we would do and I know why both of you want to leave this world but what would you get out of it?”
“You should have asked earlier. In another world, I could make a difference. I have felt ineffective recently. Protest participation is down and so are donations. All that training for nothing,” Rayner said, eyes downcast.
Training given to him by the corporate orphanages. The government had long since given up its duty to take care of the abandoned children. They passed the responsibility onto private corporations, who then used the children as the perfect poster children. Rayner’s natural blond hair and clear blue eyes put him on many advertisements.
Axel knew it was a sore spot and lightened the mood. “I just want pussy.”
“Are you going to bring that way of speaking along with you?”
“Damn right I am,” he said, glad his crude language stopped his friend’s brooding.
As frustrating as these arguments with Rayner were, it was how they became friends, and they sort of enjoyed it.
“We’re here,” Yazid announced.
He loved going to Yazid’s mansion. It gave Axel a close up look at how the rich people lived. Compared to other mansions Yazid’s home was modest. At least compared to one mansion with neon light spelling out the homeowner’s name surrounding the house.
Yazid’s mansion had four towers at the sides of the house, reminding him of a castle. Smooth, imposing black walls surrounded the mansion, with cameras and guards for added protection.
Axel did not have time to enjoy the view of the front yard garden as the staff rushed them inside and through the house. They were led down a dark hallway heading to the basement.
Axel struggled to keep up. “Is there a time limit to this thing?”
“Yes, there is. As you said, the ritual acts as a marker, we need to synchronize the timing with the other side.”
“You already made contact with this other world? I thought this was only a theory?” Rayner said.
Yazid, along with his staff, continued hustling them toward the basement. When they arrived, they saw a magic circle drawn on the floor, the room lit by several torches along the walls. More of the mansion’s staff surrounded the magic circle, wearing hooded floor-length robes.
Axel and Rayner looked at each other. They did not like the vibe they were getting. Yazid tugged them toward the middle of the circle with surprising strength. The robed individuals began chanting.
Rayner tried to remove Yazid’s hand. “Hey give us a minute, let go of me!” Rayner was a big guy with considerable strength for a teenager and Yazid’s hand didn’t budge.
“Sorry guys, we don’t have time,” Yazid said. He signaled to his staff and the door behind them was closed, giving off a thud of finality. “Start the focus chant.”
Axel had had enough, this went beyond creepy. “Let us go Yazid!”
“I’m sorry I can’t, this would have gone smoothly if we had more time. My health is deteriorating. I will die soon, it has to be now!” Yazid pulled out a dagger.
Rayner snapped. The dagger, cult-like chanting, and creepy basement, drove him to action. He pushed Yazid away, at least he tried to. Yazid did not budge. Instead, he plunged the dagger into the heart of his friend, covering his hand in blood. Not even a gasp came from the boy’s mouth as he died.
Axel screamed, charging at the boy whom he thought of as a friend. If he was thinking properly, he would have gotten his own knife out of his bag, but the rage overtook his senses.
Yazid sidestepped him, causing Axel to stumble. It was all Yazid needed. Pushing Axel to the ground, Yazid raised the dagger over him and plunged it into his chest.
Axel should have seen It coming. All the talks about a different world. Having them get their stuff and leave goodbye messages, they even skipped class. Everyone would think they ran away. Now he was dead, sacrificed so that rich bastard could get immortality, or so he thought.
He still drew breath. Axel opened his eyes. He lay in a room—no, a cabin. Rayner sat next to a bed holding someone’s hand.
Axel got up from the floor, words rushed from his mouth. “Rayner, you’re alive! Where are we? Why are we alive? Did Yazid try to kill us?”
Instead of answering Rayner waved him over to another chair next to the bed. Sitting next to his friend, who showed no signs of getting stabbed, he looked at the person on the bed. An old man who looked to be closer to death than they were lay on the bed. He looked familiar.
“He’s Yazid,” Rayner answered Axel’s thought.
Axel took a closer look. That light in his eyes, the tar-black hair. It was him; it was Yazid.
“The hell is this?”
“I can guess. I think they’re two Yazids. One on this side summoning us and the other acting as a marker to tell the clone the location,” Rayner explained.
The old man, Yazid, slowly nodded. “I am dying. I had to rush the ritual. I am sorry my friends, please forgive me.”
Axel looked at Yazid, with his heavy breaths, raspy speech, and teary eyes. He could not stay mad at this feeble old man.
“Fine, talk,” Axel said.
“Thank you,” Yazid said, smiling. “I am not from your world, I went there looking for people like you.”
“People like us?” Rayner repeated. “Are we chosen ones?”
“No, why would you be? We talked about this at school.”
Hearing the old man talk about their school days rattled him. He remembered the conversation Yazid referred to. Rayner said the idea of people from another land becoming saviors was rooted in a white savior complex, while he and Yazid decided it was pure storytelling expediency.
“Then why us?” Axel said.
“You two were willing before you freaked out, and despite your huge differences, both of you get along.”
“Oh yes, why did we panic? You were so welcoming. Brought out all the stops, the cult, the dagger, the stabbing. Good times!” Axel wondered if this guy was still sorry.
Yazid looked amused by his joke. Rayner ignored him. “Why are you old and dying? And how do you have a clone?”
“A clever use of necromancy. I transferred my life-force to your world, causing me to age by the amount I sent. I sent decades worth of my life-force; that version of myself has been a teenager for twenty years.” It also served as an explanation to why Yazid had such wealth as a teenager. He had two decades to get rich.
“Cool, so you made a clone, stopped aging and transported to another world all at once. You got skills,” Axel said.
Even as Yazid lay dying, his chest puffed up with pride. “Thank you. The reason I can accomplish such wonders is due to the nature of both of our worlds. The inhabitants of my world use powers by the grace of their various gods, making them beholden to those gods.
“Like a contract,” Axel said.
“Correct, and the gods are jealous masters. I have witnessed villages burn, entire peoples wiped out, countries fall, all because those with power could not or would not act.” Yazid said this with an intensity that belied his age.
“So, this world is suffering from a religious war,” Rayner said, disturbed.
“If only it were that simple. Not all the gods are fighting nor are they all evil in the classical sense. They are slaves to their nature. A god of love cannot condone the end of a once great love, instead using his influence to keep it going, causing misery to all by trying to heal a broken relationship.”
The problem became clear, absolute worship to one’s god granted tangible power, giving a god absolute control. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yazid summoned them because of this.
“We are not from this world so we worship none of its gods, we don’t have to rely on them,” Rayner said.
Yazid coughed up blood as he tried to answer. Rayner looked around to get him something that could help. Yazid continued speaking, not bothering even to use the sheets to wipe up the blood from his mouth. “I am taking too long, there is much I have to tell you, but little time. I have held out as long as I can. I want both of you to look at your palms.” They did and saw a strange pattern tattooed onto their hands. “Look deeply into the pattern and relax your mind.”
Doing as Yazid said, they stared into their palms. It was if they were being hypnotized. The tattoos morphed into letters and numbers; soon Axel saw what he knew to be a RPG stat page.
Character: Axel, Race: Black, Title: Godless, Level: 1, Class: N/A, Mana: 10, Skills: N/A, EXP: 10.
“This is amazing!” Rayner said in awe.
Axel peeked at Rayner’s hand. “What does yours say?”
Rayner put his palm in front of Axel so he could see.
Name: Rayner, Race: White, Title: Faithless, Level: 1, Class: N/A, Mana: 10, Skills: N/A, EXP: 10.
Axel could not see attributes or de***********ions. “It’s missing some information.” He looked to Yazid when he did not answer. The man lay motionless. “Yazid!”
Rayner checked his pulse, then he checked for breath. He shook his head. Yazid was dead.
Axel had never seen a man die before; in the movies they got to say some final words. Usually incredibly poignant, and unforgettable. Yazid did not get that chance. They covered his corpse with a sheet. They did not say a prayer, not knowing what that would mean in a world with multiple gods.
“What do we do now?” Rayner asked.
“Let’s look around the cabin and see if anything is useful.”
“Just because we are in a RPG world does not mean we have to loot the place!”
“What choice do we have? There is so much we still don’t know, and he would have wanted us to take what we need.”
Knowing the truth of this, Rayner helped Axel look for supplies.
The cabin was small but cozy, mostly filled with books and scrolls. A painting of Yazid hung beside a desk. This Yazid was older than his teenage self but not a dying old man. He held a book to his chest and a staff in the other hand, a knowing grin on his face.
“Hey, take a look at this.” Rayner had searched through the desk drawers and held up a picture. It was of a younger version of Yazid with what looked to be his classmates in front of a palace-like school.
“Yazid went to magic school.”
“Looks like it…hey stop that!”
Axel had gone over to Yazid’s body to get a ring off him. It was the same one he saw in both images of Yazid. “The ring might be useful. He would always play with it when he was nervous.”
“It’s bad enough we are looting his room, but grave robbing—”
“He is not buried yet, so it’s not grave robbing.”
Rayner did not care for the difference. They argued until Axel convinced his sensitive friend that Yazid would have wanted them to have it. To prove to Rayner that he wasn’t taking the ring for wealth, he gave it to Rayner to care for.
Yazid did not have any personal items other than the pictures and the ring. They did find some food, books on necromancy, but not much else.
“It’s not like Yazid to be so unprepared. This place should be fully stocked,” Axel said.
“I think someone trapped Yazid here. Look…” Rayner pointed to the base of the walls.
Symbols were etched around the entire cabin. Axel only had fiction to compare it to, but it looked like a barrier. “It makes sense, he was a necromancer. I suppose that did not sit well with many.”
“We should leave the books. If we get caught with them, it might be trouble.”
“Alright, we might come back here and pick them up if we can sell them without bringing attention to ourselves.” Axel put the books aside and stuffed his sling bag with food. “What worries me is our lack of skills, the stat page was bleak.”
“I know. Prioritizing our color instead of our humanity is—”
“No not that, I mean we have no skills, no class, no other attributes!”
“Oh that,” Rayner said, dismissively.
“Yes, that. It’s a pretty big deal.”
“It’s not as bad as it seems, it makes sense really.” Rayner finished packing and turned to face him. “Skimming through some of the books, it seems Mana is just another way to say life-force. If that’s the case, then it could represent health and even stamina. Mana represents everything.”
That made sense. He often thought many game stats seemed redundant. The best examples of stats that were too similar were speed, agility, and dexterity. Stats, if they were real like they are in this world, should be codependent. How can a person of little intelligence fight or take advantage of his skills?
“OK, so that’s one question answered. What about our lack of skills?” Axel said.
“It would be pointless to list every skill we have. Having a walking skill or sitting down skill would be silly. We should only see special skills like ones that use Mana.”
“I agree with that as well, but it still places us at a disadvantage. We have no idea what’s out there, and all I have to defend myself is a cool knife I got on auction.”
“I didn’t bring a weapon.” A choice Rayner regretted.
All this talk was to avoid what they had to do. They had to leave the cabin. Yazid’s jailer might come to check on him.
“Before you woke up, he told me we were near a mountain, and civilization was nearby. We should head there,” Rayner said.
Axel was already at the door. “Off we go!”
Both of them felt silly. They had breached the door as if they were in those military movies, thinking enemies were on the other side. None were.
Instead, a bright wooded area lay in front of them. Birds he did not recognize hung upside down on trees, staring at them as if they were the odd ones.
The door closed behind them, and they were unable to open it.
“So much for coming back to sell the books.” Rayner licked his finger and put it in the air.
“What are you doing?”
“Saw this online. I am trying to see what direction to go.”
“Or we could go that way.” Axel pointed towards a huge mountain. Rayner blushed, moving ahead of him toward the mountain.
They made their way through the forest, seeing the world as if through a colorful filter. The grass shone a bright green, the trees glowed light brown. The beauty of the woods filled them with awe.
They spent a lot of time inspecting everything they could.
Their exploring extended the trip to the mountains by several hours. They only found some edible mushrooms, but no treasure chests filled with money or swords. It wasn’t that type of game world.
Axel stopped, sniffing the air. “I smell smoke, I think I hear people too.”
Rayner jogged towards the sounds and smells. “Hey! I see tents!” he said, urging Axel to hurry.
When Axel caught up, they stood in a camp with horses, wagons, and weapons everywhere. Battle standards with a red background and black swords were rooted all over the camp. He even saw a catapult. “This is a war camp.”
“It’s not well defended,” Rayner noted the lack of guards.
“If an army is mobilized near here, we might run into them even if we leave. Let’s see if we can figure out what is going on.”
Rayner took a hammer from a barrel of weapons.
They moved through the camp unchallenged.
“Maybe the camp is abandoned?” Axel said, after looking into another empty tent.
“I don’t think so, the fires are still lit,” Rayner said.
They soon found out why when they came upon a small village being attacked by groups of humans and goblins. Both humans and goblins wore blood red uniforms, black sashes tied around their waists.
The village had a large dividing path leading to a huge gate built into the mountain. Villagers were dragged out of the broken gate and the burning homes.
“Those people are Dwarves,” Rayner said.
Indeed they were. Short-bearded men and tiny women ran from the enemy.
Axel thought this might be a siege but now saw it was a sacking. The assaulting humans must have worked with the goblins to get inside the mountain city. Everyone wanted to get their share of the loot, leaving the camp abandoned.
“We have to do something!” Rayner said.
Axel disagreed, this battle was over, but his friend got that heroic, steely-eyed look. Trying to convince him otherwise would be pointless.
Rayner had seen too much. He almost revealed their position behind a large tree when he saw a group of goblins stabbing a dwarf woman. Axel had to hold him back. “Let me think for a second.”
“Hurry, we don’t have time!”
“I said give me a second, if we go storming in there, we will end up dead. This is an army we would be fighting.” That gave him an idea.
They would not really be fighting an army. No ranks, no officers keeping control of things. This was just a bunch of looters.
“The point of a siege is to hold out until reinforcements come to the rescue. How long do you think the army has been here?” Axel said.
Rayner put his experience distributing food for the poor to use. “Looking at how much space they had for food, I would say they have been here for three months.”
“More than enough time for a relief army to come.”
“Then why haven’t they arrived?”
“I think the relief army sent scouts and saw a doomed battle.”
“So, if we can make it seem that the battle is not over, they will come and help.”
“Exactly. Look over there.” Axel pointed to a group surrounded by wagons, fighting off the enemy. “They must have tried to escape and got trapped. There are fighters in that group, we’ll start there.”
They readied themselves; Rayner clutched his hammer for dear life, while Axel practiced slashing with his knife.
Axel hoped Rayner would back out, now that he was faced with the threat of actual violence, but his friend still had his steel-eyed gaze set on the enemy. Only now he sweat enough to fill a pool.
“You have to take the lead, knock them down, and I finish them off,” Axel said. His heart pounded. “No battle cry, we don’t want them to know what hit them.”
Rayner nodded, wiping sweat-soaked palms on his clothes. Rayner must have gotten nervous because he started running toward the goblins at full speed. Axel followed behind him trying to keep up.
Rayner plowed into the goblins, smashing the chin of a human enemy with his hammer; he could see the man’s teeth fall out along with a spurt of blood.
Axel seeing the enemies on the ground did not give them a chance to get back up. He punched a goblin in the face then stabbed it in the chest. His first kill.
Axel killed three more goblins before one got up and ran at him, only to get a hammer to the head behind. While Axel killed goblins, Rayner had downed several more humans. An opening appeared.
“This is your chance to escape!” Axel yelled to the people inside the wagons. They had been watching the combat, stunned that rescue had come. At Axel’s words, they sprang into action, getting on their wagons, and breaking through the gap he and Rayner had opened.
“Go to their camp and burn everything!” Rayner yelled to one of the fighters. Good idea, it could fool the enemy into thinking a relief army had arrived. The fighter yelled what Axel hoped was agreement and went with the rest of the wagoneers.
The remaining enemies backed away from Rayner. Rayner was a heavily muscled youth and Axel himself was well over 6 feet tall and towered over all of them. They must have decided the fight was not worth it and ran.
Two Dwarven fighters stayed with them. He wanted to ask them what was going on, but this was a battlefield. He would save questions for later.
“We fight with you!” said the Dwarf. The one beside him raised a hammer in solidarity. Seeing them up close, they were not that short—stocky and muscular— but not short. Both these Dwarves had thick gray beards and braided hair.
“Can you use those siege engines?”
“We build them for a living!”
“The enemy has abandoned them, use them against the enemy.”
“Never thought of using catapults against anything other than forts, it makes sense. We will do this and kill the Inimi.”
Inimi, the name of the enemy.
He was glad the Dwarves listened to him. Let them wreak havoc while they looked for more isolated pockets of resistance.
The Inimi must have thought leaving undefeated foes behind while they moved in to finish off the city was a good idea because they had found several other surrounded groups of Dwarves. Humans were among the groups as well. This city must be a mixed society.
By this time Axel’s and Rayner’s tactic of charging the Inimi from behind and cutting them down while they were helpless on the ground became easy. Axel did his best to ignore the feel of his knife cutting into living flesh. His knife almost slipped from his grasp due to the blood soaking his hand. He had a harder time blocking out the screams of his victims as they thrashed for life. Yet he had to keep killing, or the Inimi would kill him instead.
Rayner didn’t seem to have this problem. His rage at the injustice the Inimi inflicted kept the boy going. Rayner had judged the Inimi and found them deserving of death.
“Should we try to take the village?” Rayner said.
“No, it’s already lost. They have executed or moved everyone to their camp,” Axel said.
“And the first group we rescued went to cause trouble there.” Rayner looked around for the Inimi. “More are coming from the gates, they are catching on that there is trouble outside. Your plan is working!”
The success of his plan surprised Axel. It worked better than he could have hoped. He turned to see flames coming from the burning Inimi camp. Captured catapults turned against their owners made steady thwack sounds as rocks were hurled at the Inimi. Groups of fighters harassed the Inimi all over the battlefield. It would not be enough unless a rescue force came because more Inimi poured out of the gate. Too many to fight by themselves.
“We need to fight properly. We need to form a line or some ranks,” Axel said.
“I’m on it!” Rayner took a deep breath and with a voice of thunder boomed. “To me! Form ranks!”
None of the humans or Dwarves had any kind of uniform. Axel took a bet that they knew how to form a line. He bet that having the Inimi outside their gates had forced many civilians into military service.
Everyone heard. The Dwarves and humans on their side all ran toward them. The wagons having come back from burning the Inimi camp headed their way, shooting crossbow bolts and riding through the Inimi. They had done some looting of their own because more wagons were with them than when they left.
“Damn I forgot how loud you are Rayner.”
“Practice from all the protests I went to,” his friend grinned back at him.
“Use that voice and repeat after me; wagons on our flanks, humans with spears or shields up front, dwarfs form up behind them.” Rayner did as he asked and boomed out his instructions, so by the time their allies reached them, they were already getting in position.
The Dwarfs did not enjoy being behind the humans. Thankfully Rayner, ever the diplomat, smoothed things over. “Someone is going to have to finish the Inimi off once they break through the humans!”
Laughter came from the crowd. His joke worked. The dwarfs got behind the humans, teasing them as they did it. The humans took it with good humor.
Axel and Rayner moved to the head of the group. They needed the fighters to see them leading. These fighters were on the run not too long ago. Their confidence needed shoring up. For that reason, Axel hoped they did not see his legs shaking. He had to push down his fear. It had been easier to attack the Inimi after Rayner had blown through them, now he had to prepare to take them head-on.
A man with decoration on his black sash showed up among the Inimi, ordering them to form up too. Both sides now stared across at each other, waiting to see who would make the first move. It would not be his side. Their goal was to buy time for a relief force to rescue them, not win a pitched battle.
A human whispered to him the number of the enemy was about 200 to their 70. “How many of them in the larger army?” Axel asked.
“Close to 2000,” a Dwarf answered.
“They won’t come out at once, too busy looting,” said another Dwarf.
“This is the part when rescue comes to kill them all, right?” Rayner said.
They waited for another minute; no rescue. “Nope, just us,” Axel said. “We should still wait. Let them come to us. They can’t have an enemy force outside the city gates. It would leave them trapped on both sides.”
“Are you a Coalition officer?” a human asked.
“No, we aren’t, who we are doesn’t matter,” Axel said. The human looked at him in a way that showed it very much did matter.
“All that matters Is the death of the Inimi!” Rayner boomed, bringing a cheer from the humans and the dwarfs.
This didn’t seem like Rayner, who looked to be in his element. In a way it made sense. Rescuing dwarfs from an evil army made him the ultimate social justice warrior. It would have been funny in other circumstances.
The Inimi got tired of waiting and charged. The officers forced the goblins to the front, fodder for the crossbow bolts from the wagoneers. A ruthless tactic and an effective one. It gave the rest time to reach them.
Shields blocked the Inimi charge. The human spearmen impaled the goblins. This did not stop them, and they continued surging forward, some pushing past the first line. The dwarfs hammered them to death when they tried to go further.
Rayner wildly swung his hammer while Axel stabbed at all who came before him. Axel lived only because he attacked first. There was no finesse. He did not parry blades or perform any knife tricks. He slashed and stabbed. Blood was everywhere, on his face, his clothes, the ground, the world was red. The accompanying screams and shouts melded together to form a single cry of suffering.
He lost track of Rayner and wasn’t in a position to look for him. He tried to wipe the blood out of his eye, only for a goblin to take the chance to pounce on him, knocking him to the ground. Its wicked dagger went straight for Axel’s face. He moved his head to avoid the strike. Before the goblin got another chance, he slit the goblin’s throat, or at least he tried. The knife got stuck in the side of its neck, forcing him to saw through its throat to get it out. Goblin blood poured over his face, coating him in red. The salty liquid life got into his mouth as he screamed.
He had heard soldiers on TV say time warped when they entered combat. Axel could now say from experience they were telling the truth.
The goblins broke first and ran away, the humans soon followed; it was over, and it felt like he had fought for hours.
“Axel!” It was Rayner, he was alive.
“Over here!” he said, pushing the green corpse off him.
Rayner helped him up. Looking into his friend’s eyes he could see Rayner was in the same state of shock as he was.
“We owe the crossbowmen our thanks,” Rayner said.
“Yeah, it looks like many of the dead have a bolt in them, it felt like we were doing everything,” Axel said.
“I thought I was the only one fighting. It was weird.”
“How many did we lose?”
“15 dead, 26 injured, but they can still fight.”
A man answered him, “The wagons at our sides really helped sir. You must not have seen, but I was one of the horse riders who charged them near the end.”
“Good thinking, I did not know you were cavalry.”
“We’re not. We just wanted to scare off the goblins. They hate horses.”
Another man approached them pointing forward. “More are coming out of the gate. They are regrouping the goblins!”
The fight exhausted them and now double the number they fought before were arrayed before them.
“We are running out of bolts,” a Dwarf in the wagon warned him.
“Some stragglers are coming up behind us!” another man said.
Holding back panic, Rayner whispered to him. “How fucked are we?”
He didn’t answer. They were going to die. He should have looked the other way and left these people to their fate.
Then he heard the sound of horns, but it was not coming from the woods, it was coming from the gate, the entrance of the mountain city. The relief army!
“I don’t understand,” Axel said.
“We have entrances large enough for armies to move through. They must have seen the camp on fire,” a Dwarf said.
“Why not use those tunnels to escape?”
“I know they exist, but most don’t know where they are. Someone could use it to transport enemies if their location fell into the wrong hands.”
“Who cares? We won. If Coalition forces are coming through the gates, it means the Inimi in the city are defeated!” a man yelled.
Axel heard a crash behind him. A boulder fell on the stragglers behind them. He had forgotten about the Dwarfs he sent to the catapults.
“Rayner,” he whispered. “It’s time to go.”
“I will explain later, but for now I don’t want to deal with the aftermath. There are questions we cannot answer. Any chance you can ride a horse?”
They ran pretending to chase down an enemy and slipped into the woods.