Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Watching you!
The Second Tower
This is a standalone inspired by Towers of Midnight. This part was done brilliantly. So I thought I would share with you guys in DotA form.
The Second Line
Purist shuffled through supply reports. That blasted shutter on the window behind his desk snapped and blew open again, letting in an icy chill. It was supposed to be the middle of spring, yet the land did not seem to know it. Nothing had grown since last fall. Not one leaf remained on the dead trees outside.
Despite two months serving as commander of Divinity’s Shield, he hadn’t grown accustomed to the chill emanating from the Blight. Damp. Muggy, the air often full of rotting scents.
The whistling wind rattled the wooden shutter. He rose, walking over to pull it shut, then twisted a bit of twine around its handle to keep it closed.
Setting aside his current report, he noticed a note attached neatly to the side of his desk. It was a reminder from Kardel. Anduin, his adopted son was fast approaching his sixteenth nameday. As if Purist could forget about that! He needed no reminder.
He smiled and walked over to the side of his office and opened his battered oak trunk. Among other effects inside was a cloth-wrapped sword, the pale-silver scabbard kept well oiled and maintained, but faded with time. His father’s sword. A soldier's blade.
In three days, he would give it to Anduin. A boy became a man on his sixteenth nameday, the day he was given his first sword and became responsible for himself. Anduin had worked hard to learn his forms under the harshest trainers Purist could provide. Soon his son would become a man. How quickly the years passed.
Taking a proud breath, Purist closed the trunk, then rose and left his office for his daily rounds. The tower housed two hundred and fifty soldiers, a bastion of defense between Divinity’s Reach and Divinity’s Will.
To have a duty was to have pride—just as to bear a burden was to gain strength. Defending his home against the Scourge was his duty and his strength. He pulled the door to his office closed, then threw the hidden latch that barred it on the other side. It was one of several such doors in the hallway; an enemy storming the tower wouldn’t know which one opened the stairwell upward. In this way, a small office could function as part of the tower defense.
He walked to the stairwell. These top levels were not accessible from the ground level—the entire bottom forty feet of the tower was a trap. An enemy who entered at the ground floor and climbed up three flights of garrison quarters would discover no way up to the fourth floor. The only way to go to the fourth level was to climb a narrow, collapsible ramp on the outside of the tower that led from the second level up to the fourth. Running on it left attackers fully exposed to arrows from above. Then, once some of them were up but others not, the defenders would collapse the ramp, dividing the enemy force and leaving those above to be killed as they tried to find the interior stairwells.
Purist climbed at a brisk pace. Periodic slits to the sides of the steps looked down on the stairs beneath, and would allow archers to fire on invaders. When he was about halfway to the top, he heard hasty footfalls coming down. A second later, Kardel rounded the bend. Like most dwarves, Kardel wore a thick beard; his hair, a reflection of his age, was pure white.
Kardel was the longest serving soldier at Divinity’s Shield. He had been here long before Purist had taken command. Sometimes he wondered why Kardel hadn’t simply taken over. Light, the dwarf probably knew his job better than he did. Kardel wore a cord of small beads that looped over his shoulder, each bead represented a kill. There were over two hundred.
“Purist,” Kardel said, voice gruff. “Red flares from Reach.”
“What?” Purist asked. The two fell into step, trotting up the stairwell.
“It was distinct,” Kardel said. “Saw it meself, I did. Only a flash, but it was there.”
“Did they send a correction?”
“They may have by now. I came to fetch you first.”
If there had been more news, Kardel would have shared it, so Purist did not waste breath pressing him. Shortly, they stepped up onto the top of the tower, which held an enormous mechanism of mirrors and lamps. With the apparatus, the tower could send messages or relay messages from Divinity’s Reach to Divinity’s Will. A chain of beacons that could lead back to the capital if necessary.
When Purist had first taken over Divinity’s Shield, the Blight had barely been visible from the tower. Now it ran nearly to the base of the stonework. Divinity’s Reach was further eastwards, closer to the ever advancing Scourge. Its commander— Kursk, a veteran from the Second War would not have sent a red flare without good reason, and would have sent a retraction if it had been an accident.
“Any further word?” Purist asked.
The soldiers on watch shook their heads. Kardel tapped his foot, and Purist folded his arms to wait for a correction.
Nothing came. Reach stood within the Blighted lands these days. But even a Divinity’s Tower could not fall so easily, or so quickly.
No correction came. Not a glimmer. “Send a message to Reach,” Purist said. “Ask if their flare was a mistake. Then ask Vengeance Tower if they have noticed anything strange.”
Kardel set the men to work, but gave Purist a flat glance, as if to ask, “You think I haven’t done that already?”
That meant the messages had been sent, but there was no word back.
Wind blew across the tower top, creaking the steel of the mirror apparatus as his men sent another series of flashes. The wind shrieked in Purist’s face, making him squint. Above him, the black swirl of clouds seemed to slow. The storm seemed to be settling down.
That struck him as very discomforting.
“Flash a message backwards,” Purist said, “towards Will. Tell them what we saw; tell them to be ready in case of trouble.”
The men set to work.
“Kardel,” Purist said, “who is next on the messenger roster?”
The tower force included a small group of boys who were excellent riders. Lightweight, they could go on fast horses should a commander decide to bypass the mirrors. Mirror light was fast, but it could be seen by one’s enemies. Besides, if the line of towers was broken—or if the apparatus was damaged— they would need a means to get word to the capital.
“Next on the roster…” Kardel said, checking a list nailed to the inside of the door onto the rooftop. “It would be Anduin, my Lord.”
Anduin. His son.
Purist glanced to the east, toward the silent tower that had flashed so ominously. “Bring me word if there is a hint of response from the other towers,” Purist said to the soldiers. “Kardel, come with me.”
The two of them hurried down the stairs. “We need to send a messenger west,” Purist said, then hesitated. “No. No, we need to send several messengers. Double up. Just in case the towers fall.” He began moving again.
The two of them left the stairwell and entered Purist’s office. He grabbed his best quill off the rack on his wall. That blasted shutter was blowing and rattling again; the papers on his desk rustled as he pulled out a fresh sheet of paper.
Reach and Vengeance not responding to flash messages. Possibly overrun or severly hampered. Be advised. Shield will stand.
He folded the paper, holding it up to Kardel. The man took it with a leathery hand, read it over, then grunted. “Two copies, then?”
“Three,” Purist said. “Mobilize the riflemen and send them to the roof. Tell them danger may come from above.”
If he wasn’t merely jumping at shadows –if the towers between Shield and the Scourge had fallen so quickly—then so could those between them and the capital. And if he’d been the one making an assault, he’d have done anything he could to sneak around and take out one of the western towers first. That was the best way to make sure no messages got back to the capital.
Kardel saluted, fist to chest, then withdrew. The messages would be sent immediately; four times on legs of horseflesh, once on legs of light.. Purist let himself feel a hint of relief that Anduin was one of those riding to safety. There was no dishonor in that; the messages needed to be delivered, and his son was next on the roster.
Purist glanced out his window. It faced east, towards the ever growing Blight.
The darkness. It was advancing.
Purist dashed out of the room, racing up the steps to the roof, where the wind swept bitterly against men pushing the moving mirrors.
“Was the message sent west?” he demanded.
“Yes, sir,” the Captain said, “No reply yet.”
Purist glanced down, and picked out four riders breaking away from the tower at full speed. The messengers were off. They would stop at Will if it wasn’t being attacked. The Commander there would send them westward, just in case. And if Will didn’t stand, the boys would continue on, all the way to the capital if needed.
Purist turned back to the storm. That advancing shroud of darkness had him on the edge. It was coming.
“Raise the hoardings,” he ordered. “Bring up the store hitchings and empty the cellars. Have the loaders gather all ammunition and set up stations to resupply the riflemen, and put riflemen at every choke point, kill slit, and window. Start the firepots and have men ready to drop the outer ramps. Prepare for a siege.”
As the Captain barked orders, men rushed way. Purist heard boots scrape stone behind him, and glanced over his shoulder. Was that Kardel back again?
No. It was a youth of nearly sixteen summers, too young for a beard, his dark hair disheveled, his face streaming with sweat caused—presumably—by a run up seven levels of the tower.
Anduin. Purist felt a stab of fear, instantly replaced with anger.
“Soldier! You were to ride with a message!”
Anduin bit his lip. “Well, sir,” he said. “Saidan, five places down from me. He is five, maybe ten pounds lighter than I. It makes a big difference, sir. He rides a lot faster, and I figured this would be an important message. So I asked for him to be sent in my place.”
Purist frowned. Soldiers moved around them, rushing down the stairs or gathering with rifles at the rim of the tower. The wind howled outside and thunder began to sound softly—yet insistently.
Anduin met his eyes. “Saidan’s mother, Lady Mara, has lost four sons to the Scourge,” he said, softly enough that only Purist could hear. “Saidan’s the only one she has left. If one of us has a shot at getting out, sir, I figured it should be him.”
Purist held his son’s eyes. The boy understood what was coming. Light help him, but he understood. And he’d sent another away in his place.
“Krell,” Purist barked, glancing towards one of the soldiers passing by.
“Run down to my office,” Purist said. “There is a sword in my oaken trunk. Fetch it for me.”
The man saluted, obeying.
“Father?” Anduin said. “My nameday isn’t for three days.”
Purist waited with arms behind his back. His most important task at the moment was to be seen in command, to reassure his tropps. Krell returned with the sword, its worn scabbard bore the image of a lion. The symbol of the Alliance.
“Father…” Anduin repeated. “I—”
“This weapon is offered to a boy when he becomes a man,” Purist said. “It seems it is too late in coming, son. For I see a man standing before me.” He held the weapon forward in his right hand. Around the tower top, soldiers turned toward him: the riflemen with guns ready, the soldiers who operated the mirrors, the duty watchmen. Each and every one of them had been given his sword on his sixteenth nameday. Each one had felt the catch in the chest, the wonderful feeling of coming of age. It had happened to each of them, but that did not make this occasion any less special.
Anduin went down on one knee.
“Why do you draw your sword?” Purist asked, voice loud so that every man atop the tower would hear.
“In defense of my honor, my family, my home, the Alliance,” Anduin replied.
“How long do you fight?”
“Until my last breath joins the winds.”
“When do you stop watching?”
“Never,” Anduin whispered.
“Speak it louder!”
“Once this sword is drawn, you become a warrior, always with it near you in preparation to defend the Alliance. Will you draw this blade and join us, as a man?”
Anduin looked up, then took the hilt in a firm grip and pulled the weapon free.
“Rise as a man, my son!” Purist declared.
Anduin stood, holding the weapon aloft, the bright blade reflecting the diffuse sunlight. The men atop the tower cheered.
It was no shame to find tears in one’s eyes at such a moment. Purist blinked them free, then knelt down, buckling the sword belt at his son’s waist. The men continued to cheer and yell, and he knew it was not only for his son. They yelled in defiance of the Scourge. For a moment, their voices rang louder than the thunder.
Purist stood, laying a hand on his son’s shoulder as the boy slid his sword into its sheath. Together they turned to face the oncoming darkness.
“There!” one of the riflemen said, pointing upward. “There’s something in the clouds!”
“Gargoyles!” another one said.
The unnatural clouds were close now, and the shade they cast could no longer hide the undulating horde of undead beneath. Something flew out from the sky, and a dozen shots rang out. The creature screamed and fell, dark wings flapping awkwardly.
Kardel pushed his way through to Purist. “My Lord,” Kardel said, shooting a glance at Anduin, “the boy should be below.”
“Not a boy any longer,” Purist said with pride. “A man. What is your report?”
“All is prepared.” Kardel glanced over the wall, eyeing the oncoming Scourge as evenly as if he were inspecting stable horses. “They will not find this tree an easy one to fell.”
Purist nodded. Anduin’s shoulder was tense. That sea of undead seemed endless. Against this foe, the tower would eventually fall. The Undead would keep coming, wave after wave.
But every man atop that tower knew his duty. They’d kill them as long as they could, hoping to buy enough time for the messages to do some good.
Purist was born a soldier, same as his father, same as his son beside him. They knew their task. You held until you were relieved.
That’s all there was to it.
I'll probably append this, and my other standalones into the Open Journal.