The Fall of Icarus

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//Note: Something I wrote a long time ago, from the deepest corners of my WIP folder. No sense leaving a perfectly imperfect short story to rot, so I thought I'd post it here and make my portfolio seem a tad less like a barren wasteland. Enjoy or grimace, take your pick! ~R~


 


The mighty city of Icarus, 1900 hours:


 


General Thomas Arkelian stood tall in the bridge of his command vessel. With a skilled, much-practiced flick, he procured an old, sturdy bronze pocket watch from the inside of his command jacket. "30 seconds til sundown!" He roared through his communicator, his greying beard tickling the edges of the device. "Ready to fire on your mark, sir." A voice crackled across the vehicle's speakers. "Excellent." Arkelian muttered. He looked up. "Polarize the cabin windows." he ordered. The technicians kicked the shields up a few jigawatts, then hit the switch. The fields surrounding Icarus came into view as the blackout panels polarized one by one. "10 seconds!" Arkelian yelled, surveying the awe-inspiring scene before him. Swarms of black, cloaked beings huddled at the tops of the hills overlooking Icarus. Vampires, and hundreds of them. He watched as the last rays of sunlight dissipated into the west... And then the vampires threw off their cloaks, a violent, angry swarm of parasites barreling en masse towards them. "FIRE!" Arkelian roared, and the line of battle walkers unleashed the fury of their cannons. The legion of metal, the only thing standing between the vamps and Icarus, stood strong as countless vampires were thrown into the distance by the waves of rocks and shot. “There’s too many of them sir!” His lieutenant yelled over the comms. Arkelian wiped the sweat off his brow and activated his microphone. “Hold your ground men!” He ordered. “Keep those eternity drives warm, and prepare for skirmish!” The ground trembled as the walkers rose up onto their stocky, jointed legs, and the cannons receded in favour of smaller, more manoeuvrable weapons. The vampires, now close enough to hear, hissed through their battle-rage. “Sir!” His advisors saluted. “We did the calculations, and there’s no way we could possibly hold our ground against them! There’s too many! We need to fall back within the city walls!” They pleaded. Arkelian inspected the horde swarming towards them. He looked at his own ranks, the metal behemoths shining blue in the moonlight. “We can handle this. I don’t want to risk a retreat with the vampires this close.” He finally decided. “But sir!” The advisors begged. “It’s our best and only chance!” “I’ve made my decision.” Arkelian said flatly. He turned to the flagship pilots. “Prepare to engage!” “Yes sir!” They called over their shoulders. Cinching their harnesses a bit tighter, the pilots took up their controls, moving forward a few slow paces as the engines warmed up. The gunners pulled on their goggles as their seats elevated up into the gun domes. “Here they come!” Arkelian roared. Vampires, now close enough to make out individually, leapt into four-point, animalistic strides toward the Augustian forces. “ATTACK!!!” Arkelian yelled. The two forces met with a clash. Leaping and clambering at the legs of the vehicles, vampires were pounded into the soft earth as chunks of hot metal were blasted into them. Many met a grisly fate under the steel treads of the walkers, crushed to pulp by the sheer weight of the war machines. The Augustian legion pushed forward as dead vampires were thrown left and right. The Augustians were winning! Then the tide turned. Arkelian looked on in dismay. There were just too many of the vampires. For every one that the machines ended, another three filled the gap. The vampires swarmed over the machines, ripping off metal platings and tearing at the pneumatic steam hoses with their teeth and nails. One by one the war machines started to fall, shutting down and falling cold to the ground, as the vampires cracked them open to get at the humans inside. The speeders were the first to go. Small, light, scout vehicles, armed only with light steam guns and a thin casing around the cockpit, the vampires overwhelmed them easily. Then the two-legged walkers, who’s balance weakness the vampires enthusiastically exploited. Finally, all that was left were the quadrupeds, bravely fighting on as they battled the entire vampire horde at once. Armed with heavy weapons and a large crew, these behemoths crushed the enemy in waves…but it was not enough. First one leg would go down, the steam hissing from the cracked pipes. After that, the pilots could only compensate for so long. The steam pressure would drop…leaving the war machines powerless, defenseless hulks without guns or movement. Arkelian, still alive in the flagship, ordered his remaining men to regroup. Backing up to the main gates, he was distraught to see that the only remaining survivors around him were a mere 3 quadrupeds. Valiantly, the flagship and its vanguard fought on, striving to protect their families inside the gates. Then another walker went down. Falling sideways, it crashed into its brethren. Crumpling and bending from the blow, the flagship tipped and rolled. Arkelian was thrown sideways as the lights powered down, and steam started hissing from cracks all over the pipes. The ship wouldn’t walk again. Gathering his few remaining men, Arkelian grabbed a cutlass and a steam pistol. “C’mon boys.” He said half-heartedly to the remaining crew; “We’re going to have to run for it.” He walked over the top hatch, now on the side, and kicked it open, leaping out into the fields with a single stride. Acting on reflexes, Arkelian swung his cutlass as a vampire leapt at him, beheading it in a stroke. His men following behind him, they clambered hastily across the field of debris, making for the nearby harbour. Running for their lives, they cut and hacked at the few vampires who laid chase to them, in hopes of salvation from the terror unleashed upon the city. Finally, they made it to the bay. His men immediately leaped onto a medium-sized skiff, tossing in any nearby supplies. Feeling a presence, Arkelian turned just as a trio of vampires burst from the waters onto the docks! He swung his cutlass in an arc, flicking it upward as it cut through the vampire’s legs. Turning on his heel as he kicked the crippled vamp into the salty brine, he impaled another through the neck, just as the third leapt at his waist and tackled him to the ground. His men busy defending and preparing the boat, he was alone. The vampire pinned him down and swiped at his face, clawing a set of gouges into his cheek. Screaming, Arkelian rolled and kicked up as the vampire swiped again, kicking it upwards and back. Stumbling off of him, the vampire righted itself just in time to see Arkelian leap to his feet again. It leapt forward as he deftly drew his steam pistol and fired a single shot into its forehead. Gun still curling steam, he pushed the rest of the dead vampires into the water. Turning as his crew finished off the last of the vamps that had chased them; he nimbly leapt into the boat as they cast off. They sat down and looked at the city they were leaving behind. The vampires had just finished destroying the last of the war machines. Their flagship and the vanguard sat in a smoking wreck in front of the gates, surrounded by a field of twisted metal. Watching in horror, they looked on as they vampires tore the iron gates down, streaming into Icarus to feed on the citizens inside. One by one, they realized this had been Icarus’s last day. Thomas turned away from the spectacle flush with shame. Focusing on escaping, he directed his attentions towards getting the boat operational. He lowered a pipe into the water and started pumping salty seawater into the steam boiler. As he worked the pump the boat’s systems started cranking into gear, and the craft moved into a steady clip. Switching the pump to steam power, he let the automatic systems do their work. While he had been pumping his crew had been working hard as well. The anchor was aboard and the controls manned, and the Icarus flag was being run up the flagpole. Seeing this, Arkelian silently walked over to the man and took the cords from him, letting the flag drop to the deck in a crumpled heap. All four remaining men stopped and stared at the discarded flag…and then at him, looks of confusion and disbelief adorning their features. “Icarus…our beloved city…is no more. We need not pretend it still stands. As of this day we are soldiers without a city.” Arkelian explained. “Bull!” One of the crewmembers interjected angrily. “What’s your name son?” Arkelian asked calmly. “Datler. Joseph Datler, resident and guard of Icarus! It is not lost! Surely the vampires have not had time to take the whole city! Our families could still be alive back there! We need to get reinforcements and go back!” “Private Datler…” Arkelian began. “JUST Datler…forget that rank! This is your fault, Arkelian, your goddam arrogance that caused this disaster! I would never serve under your command after what you’ve done here today!” Datler roared. “Datler…calm yourself man. We are not fully out of danger yet, and we must all keep a cool head. Now men, set a course for Elysium. Edge law dictates that all division refugees must report there for processing.” Arkelian ordered. He looked on with disappointment as the crew stood stock still, watching the confrontation with wide eyes. “I don’t think we are Arkelian. You’re not in command anymore.” Datler snapped. The crew stood behind Datler, backing him up. “Set a course for Gullingrad, men! They are the closest city! We can get reinforcements, and save our city!” He cried. The men jumped at his command, pulling out navigational charts and steering the boat on a new course. “You fool!” Thomas yelled. “Even in the time it would take to get to Gullingrad it would be too late! You will be sending reinforcements to a dead city infested with vampires!” “You wouldn’t care Arkelian, you didn’t have a family!” Datler yelled back. “If we move quickly we could still pick up survivors!” Datler insisted. He turned to the crew. “Lock up this coward!” “This is idiotic! Not only will you send men on a hopeless mission, but you will scrap any refuge the Edge Division would have offered us! We will be cut off for breaking their laws!” Arkelian argued desperately as he was tied up and dragged down into the hold. “Don’t do this Datler! Listen to reason!” He pleaded. Datler stood at the top of the hold stairs. He paused for a moment. “You have no-one to blame but yourself. You refused to retreat.” Datler snapped. He turned away. “Goodnight, General.” The door slammed shut, plunging the hold into blackness. Metal clinked and clanked as chains and padlocks secured the door. Arkelian lay on the ground, bound and trapped like a common criminal. For several days he was left like that, without food or water. Drowsy from guilt and the stale air, he lapsed into a state of half consciousness. Finally, the steam engines powered down and the boat docked. Up above the clanking footsteps of Gullingrad guards and officials could be heard, along with tense voices relaying the news about Icarus. Someone tried to undo the chains on the hold door, but then the crew started yelling, and the hold was left alone. Eventually the crew were taken away to have an audience with the king, and the port officials were able to break open the chains and let him out. Starved and dehydrated, Arkelian was carried out on a stretcher, and set up at a local inn, with regular visits from an assigned doctor. For an esteemed royal doctor, helping a malnourished person recover was child’s play. Arkelian’s body was quickly healed, but alas, his soul was still shattered and broken. A man without purpose, he stayed in his room, sleeping a lot and speaking little. He only left his room to collect meals from the inn’s kitchen. A week after the landing, a messenger arrived at his door. The High King had declared him an outcast for his pride-stricken abuse of power, and he was to be gone from the city by nightfall. Gathering his meagre belongings, he set out for the wilderness. As he walked through the streets towards the city exit, people jeered and yelled at him, blaming him for their dead relatives in fallen Icarus. A changed man, the cunning mind and hearty bravado he once possessed was replaced by a heavy curtain of shame. He left the city, and didn't look back.

Created: Jul 22, 2012

Tags: icarus, battle, richtext, steampunk, fall

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