For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Helmed Horror
Trigger Warning: Gore (But, Like, the Fun Kind?)
Powered by blood and magic, King Harald’s magnificent suits of living armour are unstoppable on the battlefield and a source of great terror to his enemies. However, they have not been enough to end all rebellion against his rule. To create a weapon that will do the job will require a far greater sacrifice.
Two armies hammered together and splintered on the ancient battleground, as so many had done before. Blood and bone were part of the soil. Crumbling ramparts jutted from mounds of debris that had collected dirt and grass until they became small hills. Even the landscape turned against the soldiers. Sometimes they would trip and cut themselves on a rusty piece of metal, an old blade or piece of armour sticking out of the ground, half-buried, and the cuts would become infected and gangrous. Sinkholes swallowed boots and legs and horses, dragging them down to become a part of the battleground forever.
King Harald the Red watched his forces crash into those of the rebel lord. Peasants whose training consisted of which end to hold a sword and which end to stick in your enemy, and not much more. Harald’s men, better trained, better armed, and taught by bitter experience, charged into the slashing rain. Archers decimated Lord Maxwell’s forces from a distance. Cavalry came in from the sides like a pincer, running them down as they tried to flee.
Atop a magnificent black destrier, Harald was a tall man, thick through the shoulders. Both he and his horse wore armour too ornate for the muddy battlefield. Rain dripped off his crown, running down his face and into his well groomed beard. Alongside Harald and his guards were his generals, advisors, and a series of black chariots with red livery carrying coffin-shaped crates, their horses whickering and stomping with impatience.
Screams cut across the field. The thirsty soil drank up the blood of battle, just as it had soaked up generations of blood before. As sucking mud pulled down peasants, horses, and knights, the situation devolved into a vicious free-for-all.
“My liege, should we not send them into the fray?” One of Harald’s generals asked.
“Not yet, not yet.” Harald’s face looked impassive as sounds of death echoed from the fray. “Soften them up for the kill.”
Painted with mud and blood, it became impossible to tell one side from the other. On the verge of being overwhelmed, Lord Maxwell’s peasants fought with desperation. Fuelled by the knowledge that they’d be captured or killed outright by Harald’s men if they didn’t keep fighting.
With a gesture, Harald finally unleashed the chariots. Not wanting to risk demotion to infantry if they appeared too slow, the drivers spurred their horses into action. Harald’s generals looked relieved. Crates jostled and bounced as they were pulled down the uneven hill and across the battleground. That was alright, their contents were far from delicate. Some of Lord Maxwell’s archers aimed barrages of arrows exclusively at the chariots. A couple of drivers were cut down. Their horses reared and crates spilled. The other charioteers got as close as they could to the battlelines and pulled around hard so that their crates slid off and fell open on the muddy ground.
Gauntlet fists, knuckles fringed with spikes, punched their way out of the wooden coffins. Eighteen suits of black iron pulled themselves free, staggering to their sabaton feet. Each was more than a head taller than the average soldier. Overlapping plates and jutting spikes covered the sets of Armour, worked into lethal pieces of art. Runes the colour of fresh blood and of incredible complexity glowed across their arms, legs and chest plates. Every set of Armour was unique but all had helmets with open faces to show that no one was inside them. The suits of Armour were empty except for the runes’ red, bloody glow, which also blazed from inside the helmets and seeped from seams between the plates.
Along the top of the hill, half a dozen blood mages chanted the killing song. Their voices, in unison, carried on the storm’s rattling wind. The living Armour pulled broadswords or battle axes out of their crates. The weapons were beautifully crafted, ornately made but heavy enough that a normal man would have struggled to even lift them. They didn’t bother with shields. With terrible, inexorable surety, the Armour waded into the fight.
To the naked eye, the two sides were now impossible to tell apart. Covered in mud and filth, their uniforms and weapons mostly salvaged, Harald and Lord Maxwell’s peasant infantries looked identical. And as the ranks of Armour fell on them, both sides reacted with equal terror. But before the battle Harald’s army, even the peasants, had been warded by his blood mages. The wards were invisible, but the Armour could tell them apart from their foes without issue. Ignoring Harald’s men, they fell on Lord Maxwell’s forces without mercy.
The killing chant didn’t waver. Giant swords and axes fanned through the rain. Chests split open. Heads and limbs were separated from bodies and arced high into the air. The rebel lord’s men tried to flee but they slipped and collapsed, and the Armour fell on them from behind. The suits of Armour sank deep into the mud with every step, each weighing many times more than a man, but they also had the strength to wrench themselves free and they never grew tired.
Pockets of resistance tried to organise and fight back. But blades snapped against the Armour’s plate and arrows bounced off them harmlessly. Even those arrows and stones that struck the Armour in their open facemasks fell into the glowing gaps without doing any damage, rattling around inside the Armour. The Armour could be killed but it would require pulling them apart completely and scattering the pieces, or destroying enough of their runes. They continued to fight if they merely lost a head or a limb. And the runes were carved so deep in the metal that destroying them required destroying the entire plate they were inscribed on. They charged those that were holding out, hewing and rending. Maxwell’s forces fell like wheat before the scythe. Some were divided entirely in half. Blood and guts spilled and were stomped into the mud. Only a couple of Armour were attacked by enough soldiers at once to actually inflict damage.
Routed, Maxwell’s forces fled into the spare woods beyond the battleground. Harald’s cavalry pursued, spurring their horses to cut the men off. With reignited morale, the king’s infantry peeled themselves off the ground and gave chase as well, or made a show of capturing surrendering forces.
Close to two hundred survivors of Lord Maxwell’s forces were rounded up, chained together by the wrists and ankles, and marched from the battlefield. The number included Maxwell himself and his personal guard. As a lord, Maxwell was treated a little better than his peasantry, but only a little. A distant cousin of Harald, he was also a tall, bearded man with some similar features, although younger and leaner than the king.
Returning to the seat of Harald’s kingdom, Harald’s army, muddy and weighed down by battlefield loot, jeered and cursed the prisoners as they marched. Armour stomped alongside the column. One of the blood mages chanted the marching song at all times, the six mages employed on the campaign taking the role in shifts. At the back of the column were ranks of captured horses. Harald and his guard rode at the head of the army. Atop his destrier, Harald wore a slash of a grin at first. But as the journey went on, and he stewed over the fact that Maxwell and his men had dared defy him in the first place, his mood soured and darkened.
By the time Harald’s army and his prisoners approached the capital, Maxwell and his men were ragged. Feet bleeding, broken by exhaustion. The only thing that kept them going was the knowledge that if they fell behind they would be killed and their corpses tossed aside by the merciless Armour. The stone walls of Harald’s castle rose over the rooftops of the surrounding city.
As they entered the capital, Harald’s subjects massed along the streets. Taunting, throwing rotten food, they made sure they were witnessed showing their loyalty to their king by denigrating his enemies. No one wanted to be seen showing less than total enthusiasm and risk being branded a traitor. Maxwell and his men staggered on with their heads lowered, unable to raise their chained hands.
Prisoners already filled Harald’s dungeons, criminals, traitors, and those who had in some way rebelled against his reign. Room was found, however, for Maxwell and his army. Lord Maxwell and those with ties to nobility would probably be ransomed. The peasants and those worth nothing to those who could afford to pay the price would be put to hard labour.
Enormous fanfare greeted Harald himself as he and the head of his army entered the gates of the castle. Another resounding victory. Another enemy defeated and humiliated. But Harald failed to find much satisfaction. His court’s honeyed tongues failed to hide their devious eyes and the knives hidden behind their backs. They’d have just as much praise or perhaps even more for Maxwell if he’d marched through the gates instead. And no matter how many rebellions Harald put down or how many traitors he executed more were always springing up to take their place. His Armour were powerful tools of war but he needed more. He needed something that demanded absolute obsequiousness from his subjects.
Harald retired to his chambers to bathe and be dressed by his courtiers. By the time they’d finished, his evening meal was approaching. Before then, he’d demanded news of the goings on in the kingdom while he had been away campaigning.
“My liege, your head mage, Eosin, requested an audience with you upon your return,” a messenger boy said, just as Harald settled into a couch by the window. “He said the matter was of great import!”
“And you waited until now to inform me of this?” Harald scowled and his voice rose in anger.
The boy cringed. “My liege, Eosin waits on you at your leisure.”
“That is all well, but for him to request an audience so soon, mayhap he finally delivers me a way to rid myself of these snakes and ingrates once and for all! Go, tell him I will meet with him in his chamber at once.”
Flanked by two of his personal guards, Harald soon descended to ground level in the wing of the castle that held Eosin’s laboratory. Eosin’s chamber was a vast, round room, like the inside of a stone silo. A balcony ringed the second level of the room so people could observe the happenings on the ground floor. Equipment, chemicals and esoteria cluttered tables throughout the room typically but they’d all been shoved to the sides to make room for an enormous object covered by stitched sheets. It filled the room, this mystery object. Harald was sure it would be revealed shortly, Eosin had a flair for the dramatic.
As soon as Harald and his guards entered, Harald’s head mage scurried over. Eosin was a small man, hairless and so pale he appeared to have never seen sunlight. He wore a hooded robe and an iron chain, a mark of his order, rattled against his chest.
“My liege! Congratulations on your victory, I hear that our Armour was instrumental in your defeat of Lord Maxwell,” Eosin said.
“That may well be.” Harald bristled. “But, mage, long have I been asking of you to deliver me something which will end these insurrections once and for all. I expect there is good reason you’ve summoned me now?”
“Of course! In your leave, we’ve been crafting day and night! To create something which will, as you say, end all of your strife.”
“Spare me your theatrics, what do you have to deliver?”
Other blood mages and their apprentices busied themselves around the chamber. With a shouted command, Eosin got their attention and they swarmed toward the object covered by sheets. As Harald got closer, he came to appreciate just how huge it was. More than twice as tall as him, it was strange and lumpish but from some angles there was a sense of familiarity about it. Mages bunched handfuls of sheet in their fists and with a flourish that felt practised they removed the covering all at once. Harald’s eyes widened and he stumbled back, mouth agape.
Beneath the sheet was one of Eosin’s Armour soldiers, like those Harald had used in battle against Lord Maxwell. Shaped like a knight in black armour but far, far larger. It had been posed sitting, hunched forward. Standing straight it would have been something like three stories tall. Spikes fringed its shoulders, more than proportionally broad, and ran up and down its tree trunk-thick limbs. A head like a massive barrel, face open, crowned with spars like antlers, slumped forward. Runes were carved deep into every individual piece of plate but for the moment they were dark and lacked the red glow of those Armour Harald employed on the battlefield. Between its raised knees, the seated Armour clutched a tremendous sword, it, again, twice as long as Harald was tall and with an impossibly heavy blade.
“By the gods.” Harald took several steps backward as the monster Armour intimidated even unpowered and in respite. “I didn’t think such a thing was possible.”
“All things are impossible until we make them possible, my liege. We have been working on this for many months. Collecting the iron, smelting and forming the armour, the rune work,” Eosin said. “With a weapon like this, once it is activated, no one will stand against you. All will be terrified into submission. Your troubles will be at an end.”
“Activated, of course, how can this, beast, be brought to life?”
Eosin hesitated. “The same method as the others, my liege. Blood magic requires sacrifice.”
Every one of Harald’s Armour soldiers represented at least one dead warrior. Typically, they took soldiers or knights who were already mortally wounded. They volunteered as sacrifices, or were volunteered if unresponsive, although many of the peasantry feared that not just their blood but their souls were used to power the Armour. From time to time, the blood had to be refreshed. Looking at the giant Armour, Harald conceived the obvious question.
“This creation cannot be powered with just one sacrifice, can it, mage?”
“Ah, no, you have discerned quite succinctly the crux of our next concern.”
“Over one hundred, my liege. One hundred and twelve, according to my calculations, to be exact.”
Harald scoffed, at first too disbelieving to even be angry. “Is that all?”
“The Armour’s needs are exponential, my liege. To power the runes will require a great sacrifice and the power of all of your mages.”
“We returned with some injured, but not mortally. I believe it will take some time to find so many volunteers.”
“To be clear, my liege, the-, ritual, requires that the sacrifices all happen at once. We can’t simply wait and sacrifice one soldier at a time, as we’ve been doing with the other Armour. It will need one hundred and twelve sacrifices done simultaneously.”
Harald absorbed the facts as presented to him. He had ordered the deaths of hundreds upon hundreds of men, but that was in battle. He’d ordered almost as many executions during his reign, but again those were criminals and traitors, their misdeeds weighed and fairly judged. This would be murder, a massacre. The kind of thing commoners would remember of him long after he was dead.
But then, Harald stared up at the Armour in awe and admiration. With a weapon like this at his disposal, no one would ever dare stand against him again. They would remember him as an absolute ruler, even a conqueror. With the mighty Armour under his control, he could carve out new borders for his kingdom and build an army that would hold them for a thousand years.
“The prisoners, Lord Maxwell and his men. We will use them, feed their blood to awaken this beast.”
“That was my thinking as well, my liege. Excellent.”
The Armour had to be disassembled and then reassembled, piece by enormous piece, in the courtyard of Harald’s castle. The mages rebuilt it in the same position, seated and hunched forward with its sword as if in contemplation. Knights and soldiers used the courtyard for training and practice, it was a wide, open, dusty space. All of the training equipment was shifted to the edges of the yard. Barricades were placed around the Armour. Directly above the Armour’s spiked helmet, they built a square platform attached to a series of stairs, rather like an overly tall gallows.
Rumours filled the kingdom. It didn’t take long for the castle’s servants and guards to spread stories outside its walls about the iron giant taking shape in the courtyard. Most were aware of how Harald’s regular Armour soldiers were powered by blood, although not the specifics. Many, like Harald, were quick to grasp that a bigger suit of Armour might require more blood, so many of the rumours concerned how that blood might be acquired. Some feared there would be a kind of lottery to select sacrifices, or a coming purge. Lord Maxwell’s imprisoned army were kept ignorant of their planned purpose.
The big day arrived, bright and clean. King Harald entered the courtyard in his bejewelled crown and finery, a ceremonial sword on his hip. Palace guards surrounded him on all sides. Although he’d feared how the act of sacrifice required to power the Armour would be perceived, Harald decided that it shouldn’t be performed in darkness like a theft in the night. He was a king, and this day would be framed and remembered as a great victory. The weapon and what he could do with it would justify all that he did here.
The royal court filed into the courtyard, as they would for any grand occasion. Lords and ladies, knights, and the kingdom’s richest merchants. They stood in awe of the great and malevolent Armour, for now as still a statue with its runes unlit. A frisson of tension filled those watching. Harald walked to the edge of the barricades around the Armour and held up a gloved hand, drawing their attention instantly.
“Today is a day that will go down in the long histories of our lands and our kingdom! Today, we secure our borders against invaders and secure our way of life from traitors and rot from within. Today, we set the first stone in an empire that will last a thousand years!”
The court applauded, as they’d been trained to do. No one wanted to be seen as the first one to finish clapping their hands together. Harald wasn’t watching them, however. He gazed back at the giant Armour. Already his mind was on building more, an army, a legion. A single incident of mass murder, killing over a hundred men at once, would horrify people. Doing it again and again would simply become routine.
“Begin,” Harald commanded.
The first batch of prisoners were brought out by armoured guards, blinking in the sunlight. They were dressed in underclothes or rags, whatever they’d had on beneath their armour or uniforms when they’d been captured. They took in the Armour and the crowd in wary confusion.
Two of the king’s men grabbed the first prisoner, some nameless peasant from Maxwell’s army, and dragged him to the steps. They marched up the stairs together. The prisoner didn’t start to fight until they were almost at the platform and even then his struggles were weak and ineffective.
Eosin waited at the top of the stairs. His hooded robe hid much of his face, as well as disguised his small frame. A ceremonial knife, its blade razor sharp and covered in runes, dangled from his hand. Other blood mages threaded throughout the courtyard in raised positions. Together they started to chat the waking song, voices gathering into a single background hum. Nothing happened with the Armour or the runes, yet.
Holding him down, the soldiers forced the first prisoner to his knees at the very edge of the platform so that he was facing the top of the Armour’s helm. Mumbling along with the chant, Eosin ran the knife across the prisoner’s throat. His skin split like a grape and hot blood jetted from the severed arteries. Still struggling, the peasant let out a wet, gurgling cry. The guards, as they’d been told, shoved him forward and pulled his head back by the hair to open the passage of the wound. When the gash began to run dry, they turned him upside down and held him by the ankles. Blood splattered the Armour below and trickled down its sides but none of it reached the ground. The dark metal drank it, so that it almost seemed to dissipate. Chanting, the blood mages kept their heads bowed. Deep, deep within the runes on the Armour, the first embers of a red glow began to flare.
After seeing what had happened, the other prisoners fought back but guards wrestled them into submission and up the stairs. Eosin wielded the knife for all, opening throats wide and deep so blood rained down on the Armour. The iron supped it all thirstily. First ten men, then twenty, and then fifty. The deaths went on and on as the prisoners were brought out in batches of ten. Their corpses were carried down the steps once dry and piled into wagons, the wagons then wheeled out of sight. Their bodies jerked and spasmed as they were hung by their feet, until they went still. The crowd, at first horrified, looked around and once they realised no one else would be the first to raise a voice in protest they stayed silent. They became inured, and then even bored by the spectacle. The guards grew tired, dragging struggling men up the steps and carrying bodies down. As the blood ran and the mages chanted, the glow from within the runes became more and more powerful.
As the number of corpses neared one hundred, the court grew restless. Voices cracked and strained, the mages continued to chant the waking chant. The guards struggled with some of the feistier prisoners but none managed to break free. The huge runes carved into the Armour’s plates glowed blood red with real heat. And then, several of the fingers of the Armour’s left gauntlet moved. Metal scraped on metal. Before anyone really reacted, the Armour shifted forward, iron plates grinding together. The crowd gasped and a few people reeled. Harald himself had been getting bored and tired of being on his feet but excitement chased that away. The glow began to work its way into the empty face of the Armour’s helmet but it didn’t move again.
“Keep going! Keep going, faster!” Harald said.
The final batch of prisoners were brought out from the dungeons. Among them was Lord Maxwell himself, making a show of struggling against his captors and standing proud. Harald hadn’t ordered that he be among those executed but he hadn’t ordered explicitly against it either. Lips pursed, he watched the rebel lord be dragged to the stairs and then up toward the platform.
“You can kill me, you can kill hundreds of us, but you’ll never be our king!” Maxwell shouted. “You’ll never win loyalty, or love! The best you can do is rule through terror, and be remembered as a tyrant whose grave they’ll spit on once you’re dead!”
Maxwell was forced to his knees at the edge of the platform. Eosin seemed inexhaustible. Raising the bloody knife, he pulled Maxwell’s head back by the hair and yanked the knife across his throat. Blood splashed outward and rained on the Armour. Maxwell was shoved forward, taken by the legs and held upside down. Blood splattered the thirsty iron, only a few drops now making it as far as the ground around it. With his throat slit and his body spasming, Lord Maxwell looked no more noble than any of his peasants.
Maxwell’s body was carted down and the next man was brought up, spitting and cursing. The guards passed one another on the stairs. Mages chanted and the Armour shifted and almost seemed to shiver. Lord Maxwell’s corpse joined a wagon with the others, to be carted away and burned like plague victims.
One hundred and twelve men. The last of them shrank down, eyes closed, praying fervently to his chosen god as he was shoved to the edge of the platform. His lips kept moving right up until the moment his throat was slit. His life bled out on the Armour. Very little blood had dripped as far as the ground or showed on the plates of iron. The Armour had drunk it all. The chanting didn’t stop or stumble. The Armour’s face and runes glowed just as red as those on the man-sized Armour. Its left gauntlet gathered, creaking, into a fist. The other wrapped tighter around the handle of its sword.
“Yes, yes!” Harald leaned in and touched the pommel of his own ceremonial sword.
Metal creaked and groaned as the Armour rocked forward. It reached out and clutched at one of the barricades placed around it but the wood splintered in its fist. Awkwardly, the giant climbed to its enormous sabaton feet. Pavers cracked beneath its weight. Harald laughed, seeing the raw power even in the Armour’s clumsy first movements. Knowing that power belonged to him, and was his to wield. His subjects did not need to love him, did not need to acknowledge his divine right to the throne, not so long as he had a weapon like this on his side.
Leaving the final corpse, Eosin and the two guards fled from the platform and down the wooden steps. As it stood, the Armour crashed into the platform and flattened it. Pieces of wooden debris rained to the ground. Steps shattered behind Eosin and the guards as the Armour staggered into them. The chanting died off as the Armour rose.
Harald and the rest of the court, the nobles and merchants, sensed something wrong. The Armour’s giant sword fell and rang off the ground as the Armour reeled, reaching for its helmet. Its runes glowed, growing brighter and then fading, pulsing.
“What-, what’s happening?” Harald said.
Shaking the earth, the Armour staggered sideways. It clutched at its helmet like a man experiencing a splitting head pain. Its runes flamed and faded like a fire lit by a bellows. The Armour smashed easily through the barricades that had been placed around it, not even coming up to its spiked knees. Members of the court cried out and scattered.
“What’s happening?” Harald spun and sought out the closest blood mages. “What is it doing?”
Mages started to chant again, commanding the Armour to be still and go into guard mode. Their efforts weren’t uniform, however, and the Armour ignored them. It warred within itself. The blood of one hundred and twelve men, men who were enemies of Harald, warred within it.
And then, a terrible stillness came over the Armour. A terrible focus. Creaking, its heavy arms lowered to its sides and it looked around the courtyard. Tired guards with no idea of what else to do tried to surround the Armour. They looked pathetic next to it, their spears and swords like toothpicks. It studied them, and then raised one foot. Each iron boot was as long as a man was tall. It came down on one of the palace guards with a horrible crunch, bones popping, the guard’s armour giving way and flattening like it wasn’t even there. Other guards attacked the leg but their blades rang harmlessly off the iron.
“Protect the king! Protect the king!” Guards around Harald bellowed, circling him.
The courtyard had one large entrance and multiple small ones, but the large one was gated closed. A couple of men hurried to open the trellis covering the large exit, but it was heavy and slow. Members of the court swarmed the other exits. They were stampeded, people falling and being stomped on. Others tore at one another in a blind panic to be the first through the doors. Some of the mages tried to resume chanting but others fled and their cooperation broke down.
“Eosin! Where is Eosin?” Harald yelled above the din.
The Armour swung around and kicked another palace guard in the chest. The blow stove in the man’s breastplate and launched him into the air as if by trebuchet. He flew silently into the wall surrounding the courtyard, hitting with a clatter and then tumbling into one of the crowds massing below. Bending over, the Armour swept aside a pack of guards with one arm. Spikes covering its vambrace slashed and impaled them even as it knocked them flailing. The Armour recovered its monster of a sword and straightened again to its full, three story height.
“Make way for the king! Make a path!” One of Harald’s personal guard roared.
Harald and the guards made for the nearest exit. Unfortunately, it was clogged with people trying to get through. In spite of their usual deference, the nobles and merchants and other members of the court failed to heed the guards. Behind them, the Armour stomped across the courtyard. It spotted Harald and came for him, giant sword in hand. Harald drew his own weapon, ornate and made for show but still heavy and sharp.
“Cut a path!” Harald said.
Guards started to cut down anyone who remained in their way. The members of the court were unarmed and unprotected. Blades sliced through cloth and yielding flesh, eliciting cries of pain and surprise. Blood spurted from gaping wounds. Harald saw one noblewoman’s hand hewed from her wrist and sent spiralling through the air, spilling heavy rings off its fingers. He rammed his own sword into the back of one short, fat merchant too slow to get out of the way. Screaming, the others scattered and cleared a path to the door.
The Armour bent its sword back to its pauldron and then brought it around, whistling through the air, into the crowd. People almost exploded as they were hit. Torsos were ripped in half, or severed from waists. Limbs broke like straw. Gore and body parts and screaming people were splattered across the courtyard. Harald and two of his guards forced their way through the stone archway, into the castle, just ahead of the Armour’s sword. The Armour brought its weapon down like a guillotine on a guard who lagged behind. The man crumpled beneath it, cry cut short. With its free gauntlet, the Armour grabbed another guard. Straightening, it cast the man away indifferently behind it. The man flew over the walls of the courtyard, beyond the castle, and disappeared with a surprised scream.
Frightened people filled the corridor just inside. They clutched at Harald and his guards, begging for protection. Harald ignored them, shoving his way past with his two men following. The king’s face was red with fury. When he found his head mage, he would have Eosin tortured and executed in the messiest way he could conceive. Impaled and flayed and quartered, and whatever was left fed to wild dogs, assuming that Eosin was still alive. No one had ever created a suit of Armour of such size. Clearly it was too big, too powerful, the rage filling the blood of Lord Maxwell and his enemies too much for the mages’ chanting to contain. Eosin had seen Harald’s royal court massacred, his courtyard destroyed, and worse, he’d made Harald look like a fool.
With no sense of where he was going, just trying to get away, Harald headed for the nearest stairwell. Stone steps, lit by candlelight, spiralled to the castle’s second level. Dust sifted from the ceiling as the Armour crashed and hammered around outside.
“This way!” Harald barked.
The two palace guards followed Harald loyally. As Harald neared the second level, however, something slammed through the wall to his left. The Armour’s bloodied sword drove through the stonework. The stairwell imploded. Bits of rock sprayed Harald and the two guards, separated by the giant blade. The sword carved upward and the ceiling collapsed. More debris hammered the two guards and they disappeared behind a wall of falling masonry.
“Damn it all!” Harald staggered up the steps and fled to the second level.
The doorway at the top of the stairwell led into a hallway lit by tall, narrow windows along one wall. Screams and sounds of rampaging chaos came from the windows overlooking the courtyard. Harald’s throne room was down the far end of the corridor, which seemed to him to be the most logical place to go.
Unable to stop himself, Harald stopped by one of the windows and peered out. Bodies and blood filled the courtyard. Guards, mages, and members of the court all fled blindly as the Armour attacked people and the walls of the castle at random. And then, bent slightly at the shoulders, the Armour turned and looked in Harald’s direction. It had no face but the red glow from within the neck of its helmet beamed.
Harald, eldest son of his father, had been raised with the expectation that he would rule. That his word would be good as law. He’d never known anything less. Even when fighting rebels or staving off traitorous talk within his kingdom, Harald always maintained a belief in his total and absolute control. But this situation was very much out of his control. Fear paralysed the king, rooting his feet to the floor. His ceremonial sword drooped in his hand.
The Armour flung itself at the wall lined with slitted windows. Breaking free of his paralysis, Harald tried to run. One of the Armour’s man-sized fists punched through the stone ahead of Harald. Masonry pelted the king and sent him stumbling backward. The fist pulled away, leaving a yawning gap. Moments later, it punched through the wall again in the direction Harald had already travelled. Harald reeled and dropped his sword with a clatter.
The Armour ripped out a huge chunk of wall. Overhead, the ceiling quaked and threatened to fall. Harald staggered from foot to foot. Outside, black and glowing red, the metal giant loomed. It reached inside and, before Harald knew what was happening, the hand seized him. Iron fingers clamped around his chest and stomach.
“No! Put me down! I command it! I command you!” Harald yelled.
Looking down, the Armour filled with the blood of the king’s enemies studied him. Harald drummed ineffectively at its fingers with his fists. The Armour made no sound and wore no expression. Lacking its earlier frenzy, the Armour began to squeeze. Harald choked. Face flushed, his eyes bulged.
“I own you! You’re nothing without me, let me go!” Harald’s voice weakened as air was forced from his lungs.
Ribs popped and snapped. Harald’s face became redder, as if all his blood was being forced into it. He gasped, unable to pull air into his lungs. Metal fingertips dug into Harald’s sides and blood started running out of the Armour’s fist, down Harald’s legs. Disbelieving, Harald fought until spasms of pain robbed him of all control. With a final crunch, the gauntlet turned the king’s midsection to pulp, breaking his spine and killing him.
The Armour turned, metal grating on metal. Some of the palace guards had gotten the main gate for the courtyard open and people poured through it like a flood. The Armour cast King Harald’s remains aside like a piece of garbage and stomped toward the exit. Members of the court screamed and scattered out of its way. The Armour ducked but still slammed into the arch above the gate. Stone gave way and crashed to the ground. The Armour straightened, lifting its sword, and set off toward the city.
Gliding across the courtyard, Eosin moved among the debris and splattered bodies. The other mages, like everyone else, had run in blind panic, but the head mage walked with surety. He stopped and hovered above King Harald’s corpse. Harald’s eyes stared blindly at the sky from out of his blood-flecked face.
Eosin’s hood mostly hid the smirk that crossed his face. “I told you, my liege, with this Armour all your troubles would be over.”
Sean: I’m a huge kaiju fan, love all the old Godzilla movies and everything in that genre. That’s what this one boils down to in a lot of ways, a medieval kaiju story.
I’ve had this idea for a while, and I’m happy with how it’s taken form! The original idea had more magic, including other uses for blood magic, and the first draft for this story included more sorcery as well but it wasn’t really adding anything to the narrative so I scrapped it and started over.
I tried to avoid giving too much background or explaining too much motivation, I wanted to leave that up to the imagination. Certainly I don’t see any good guys in this story, including Lord Maxwell and his plucky rebels. Kings and lords are always going to war with one another, and it’s the little people that get ground down into nothing between them, dying for no real reason. Eosin may have good reasons for doing what he did, I’m not sure, but at the same is monstrously ruthless about the way he goes about it.
Next week I am kicking off on a challenge within a challenge, as I realised a few weeks ago that in spite of basing stories off the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, I hadn’t written a single story with a dragon in it! So next week I’m kicking off DRACTOBERFEST, five weeks of stories all based off of draconic creatures! These stories are not all written so this is genuinely a way of challenging myself anew.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Pseudodragon