Short Story: A Rutting Mess

I wrote this in a single sitting for a contest I didn't win. Still; super fun thing to try out and I'll be trying again.

Gareth spat dust out of his mouth as he eased himself down from peaking over a hillock. The battered remains of his unit were around him, dirt smeared faces showing too much white to their eyes, waiting to hear his report.

“Well, I’m sure I’ve seen worse,” Gareth started, “but its not good. The dust from the enemy’s robes is making it hard to see what’s going on. It looks like, if we’re careful, we can use that against them though. Robes gave away their location casting some fancy fireball. We head around this hill and flank them, they’ll be dead before they can do anything about us. With them out of the way we retreat in the confusion and should be no problem for the rest of the King’s men to wipe them out."

They all looked at him skeptically while Jan, a lanky ginger-headed veteran, and an ongoing thorn in Gareth’s boot, said “While we’re doing this sneaking, what stops us from running smack into a rutting mess?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re already in a rutting mess! Our robes were outnumbered nearly three to one. If we don’t go for this we’re dead anyway. You know what the Republic does with prisoners of war.”

They didn’t know, but all had heard the soldier gossip and the fear had spread like wildfire. Gareth knew this and used it against his men. That was fine; he would rather go down fighting than find out how many of the rumors were true.

Jan pulled a flask from somewhere in his coat; a heavy padded thing once striped red before it was covered in dust, and took a long swig. They all wore coats like this, except for Gareth who had a small breastplate to go over a lighter version of the coat. “Fine,” Jan said after his swig, while handing the flask to recruit that still had all his baby fat. Gareth thought that the young man’s name was Spetz, but wasn’t sure. Recruits didn’t tend to last so Gareth didn’t usually bother getting to know them too well until after their first few battles. The drink would probably help the boy though.

“Finish up and be ready to move when I get back,” Gareth said as he dropped back to his stomach and crawled up the hillock. Reaching the top he saw that not much had changed. A thick cloying dust mixed with what seemed to be a green smoke in the air and made visibility poor. It was when he was planning their path, they would continue around this hillock and the next one before cutting in hard and fast to what appeared to be the location of the enemy robes, that he saw it. It was hard to see exactly what it was, but he could see that it was big with a forward set head between gigantic shoulders.  There weren’t usually too many guards right next to the robes as when things went wrong with robes, they went very wrong. What usually guarded robes were creatures they summoned or held together with their magics, creatures like this one. Gareth knew that he didn’t want to run into it. They would have to hit hard and fast, and hopefully kill the robe holding that one together before it found them.

He lowered himself back down the hillock, signaling his men and women to follow him. None of them bothered with proper formation. Gareth and his unit never were the types to be in a shield line or the main charge. They were scouts; and as scouts they were occasionally used to lance particularly troubling boils. Like enemy robes. The unit had their uniforms, despite Gareth’s protests, but that was the only uniformity between them. Members of Gareth’s unit regularly replaced the short swords they were issued when they were recruits for whatever suited them better. Gareth had an officers sword that he wasn’t particularly partial to, but it was alright. Jan, by contrast, had a spear that he had picked up somewhere. Gareth had assumed that the weapon wouldn’t work well for a scout, but Jan persevered and Gareth hadn’t yet been able to get rid of him.

They rounded the hillock quietly, at least as quietly as they had to in the midst of a battle, before setting off at a full run. They spotted the robes through the dust as the distance closed but they were resolving too slowly. Gareth felt the guilt before the fear when he saw the creature he had glimpsed cut through the dust. He had never bothered to tell his unit about it. The creature breathed deep and let out a surprisingly high-pitched scream as blue flames went from guttering to roaring along its back. Gareth tried to remember that this was probably just for show; a psychological tactic to make his unit terrified. He failed at that when the axe, easily the size of Spetz, suddenly cut through the young man, bisecting him at the waist.

Muscles in the creatures arms rippled, causing spiral tattoos to dance as it moved fast, too fast, and began to tear through the unit. Someone tried to hamstring it with their short sword, another recruit probably, only to have the blade clatter off of the heavy metal armor that clad its extremities. As it grabbed the perpetrator of the ill fated attempt at severing the hamstring, lifting the person off the ground, Jan rammed his spear into the unarmored waist; a waist too narrow for a creature this size.

“Run! Get the robes! We can’t stop this thing!” Gareth heard himself yelling as he pushed himself back to his feet. He didn’t remember falling, but now he scrambled towards where he had last seen the robes. As the axe fell on him from behind, he didn’t feel guilt anymore.