Hi everyone, this is the first of several short stories that I will be posting. I just wrote this one today, and decided to go ahead and post it, kinda get the ball rolling and hopefully keep myself motivated. Since I wrote it just now, I haven't really spent a lot of time looking it over, so it may have several obvious errors. I will revise this sometime, so it will probably get edited. In the meantime, feel free to point out anything you see. I have pretty thick skin, so don't worry about offending me. I would love to hear what you think! Anyway, without further blabbing, here we go! I lied. Just to head this off, it bothers me that nearly every paragraph starts with the same words. I will be fixing this, but I would love some suggestions on how. Ok, Go!
Gabel stamped his feet and blew on his hands, trying to keep them warm. The torchlight washed over his face, bathing his hard, worn features in a soft light. It only served to deepen his pox scars and highlight the years of pain and worry that lined his face. The torchlight also blinded him, and he had to squint hard to see any of the features of the surrounding ground. From so high up in the watchtower, he could see plenty of the town behind him, lit by torches and the light that filtered out of curtained windows closed against the cold. Once more cursing his night shift, Gabel leaned closer to the scarce warmth of the torch, and looked out over the open ground towards the woods, several hundred yards from the town wall. Even though both moons were low and full tonight, the torch blinded him so much that he could barely make out the base of the tower or the line where open ground met forest. Of the area between the two, Gabel could make out nothing but shifting shadows through his blurred and light-blinded vision. He could just hear the sounds of merriment coming from the Prancing Percheron, the closest tavern to Gabel’s watchtower. It made Gabel feel lonely and even colder, standing all alone in the wind, staring into the low hanging eye of Morrslieb. He shivered, and huddled deeper into his coat.
Gabel had just turned to yell across to James, the night watchman in the tower across from his, when a powerful sound rent the air and drove all thoughts of warmth from his mind. The sound froze Gabel’s blood and made him pause, staring slack jawed at the edge of the wood. It was a war horn, blown long and loud, with a savage, terrible shriek. As bad as the horn was, what came next was worse. Ten, fifty, several hundred torches burst from the darkness under the trees, and raced across the open ground. Illuminated in the light were towering, muscled forms, holding axes and cleavers on high, adding their terrible braying to the overpowering din that was the cry of a brayherd. A great rhythm of drums broke over the night, dominating every other sound. The beastmen had come. As the first few arrows hissed over the walls, Gabel dropped his spear and rushed down the steps of the watchtower, never even bothering to sound his own horn in warning.
Gabel braced himself against the furniture piled against the door, riding out the massive shudders that ran through the hasty barricade. Several hulking forms hacked at the massive iron-studded doors from the hallway on the other side. Gabel and several other men were attempting to hold the doors shut, and keep out the nightmares that were braying to each other in the entrance. After fleeing his watchtower, Gabel had ran towards the Prancing Percheron, and in its cellar he had found a little of the courage he thought he had lost with his spear. Unfortunately, the majority of this newfound courage had come from a bottle, and it was making Gabel feel woozy, the last thing he needed now. The pounding drums only served to worsen his condition. It had taken nearly an hour for the beastmen to break through the gate, and Gabel had taken advantage of that time to drink all of the booze he could. Now, however, the beastmen were at the door to the Prancing Percheron, and Gabel was immensely regretting his decision to drink away his time before death.
“Hey! Are any of them back there now?” yelled Gabel to a man standing at the back of the room. A back door, much smaller than the front, ran out into an alleyway. It was barricaded much the same as the front door, but only one man stood watching this pile of furniture. “Nope,” the man replied, “Still only been the one!” a single dead ungor lay against the back door, skewered by a spear one of the other men had carried. Suddenly, the door stopped shuddering. Hooves scraped on the steps outside the front as the beastmen moved away. “Shhhh…” whispered one man, and they all looked upwards. Hoofsteps clomped across the timber floor above them. Gabel was just beginning to worry that the gors were going to start chopping through the ceiling, when liquid started running between the thick boards. Some of it fell on Gabel’s upturned face, and he wiped it off. “Ehg, Emperor take the nasty bas…” he stopped, smelling his fingers. They were covered in lantern oil.
The tavern was well and truly burning by now, but Gabel and the other men had just flung the last of the furniture out of the way, and thrown open the back door. Seeing that the way was free of beastmen, the inebriated Gabel lurched his way up the steps and out into the alleyway. Drunk as he was, he made the end of the alleyway in good time, and still managed to see the spear butt that was thrust in-between his legs. Unfortunately, seeing and avoiding are two different things, and Gabel tumbled face first into the dirt. He was luckier than the second man out onto the street, who took a spearhead in the leg. Gabel climbed back to his feet, staring wildly around. Ungor lined the street behind him, hooting and braying, lifting spears high into the air. Some had fresh trophies, with scalps and hands tied to their shields and skinny chests. Gabel turned from them, and began to run, followed by the rest of the men from the tavern. He ran down the street as fast as he could, and every time he passed an alley more ungor emerged. He looked back over his shoulder at the ungor following him, and realized that the ungor weren’t trying to catch the men, only driving them. Then, a new sound joined the ferocious din of braying. It was the demented barking of chaos war hounds. Several ungor emerged from a side street, straining to hold the leashes of nearly a dozen of the freakishly mutated dogs. As the ungor released the warhounds, Gabel fervently wished he had stayed in the burning tavern, and drank the rest of his life away. Looking up, he saw the street ahead, lined with ungor, and saw one of the smaller side doors that led through the town wall. The meaning was clear. Outrun the hounds, and freedom was yours. The drums continued to beat out their ferocious wild pattern, and the race was set.
Gabel put his head down and pumped his arms as fast as he could. He instinctively matched the beating of the drums, and ran so fast he felt his heart would burst from the strain. The hounds were gaining, he could hear them right behind him! Several men had already been pulled down, and he could hear the unfortunate ones still screaming. Most had only gotten one short shriek, before being cut off. Glancing back, he saw another man pulled down, and then he was alone. Two hounds were still focusing on him, and the closest one was mere feet from him. He could feel its putrid breath on his legs, and he put all his power into one last, desperate sprint. Rocks from the ungors lining the street pelted him and the hounds, sapping the strength from his limbs and sharpening their rage. Suddenly, a massive weight hit him in the back, and he crashed to the ground with a hound on top of him. Jaws closed on the back of his neck, and with one, quick jerk the hound released him. Warmth spread through his body, and his head rolled to face the gate. He had gotten close, very close. He lay only twenty feet from the open door to freedom. But those twenty feet had been too far, much, much too far. Another howl went up from the warherd, and the chaotic braying reached a new, terrifying height that pierced far into the surrounding countryside. Gabel, however, heard none of this. His crazed, detached head spent its last few moments playing the rhythm of the drums over, and over, and over again.
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