Hold the Line
Alec had joined the Defenders after the Peltarch Coup, out of a sense of misplaced patriotism. He thought that it was the best way to help Peltarch heal, even though his primary skill set was that of a tanner. The training was hard, the people around him strict and terrifying, he felt so small and so very underwhelming. The sergeant, with eyes like a hawk and a nose just as sharp, was especially cruel to him. He would shove him over into the mud as they did their drills.
"We are only as strong as the weakest link." He'd state coldly as Alec tried to get the mud out of his nose. "We stand as tall as you let us."
Alec ate alone at meal time. His brothers in arms didn't have much to say to him, and honestly what did he have to say to them? It all started to feel like such a big mistake. How long had it been and yet he felt the same as always, the same foolish Alec who'd struggle to follow his brother around the docks as he ran from place to place, now coated in the thick plate of a Defender. He must have looked like a child wearing his fathers clothes. How pathetic. How embarrassing.
Alec made up his mind. Today he'd quit.
"Get your gear and get out there, move move move!"
Late that afternoon Alec was disrupted from his pacing by his sergeant bursting into the building. The Cerulean was with him earlier, what did she say to him? But there was no time to ponder about that, it took time for the Defenders to mobilize and someone always had to go first. Alec was to be part of a vanguard, to spearhead... something. He quickly shoved on his boots and helmet, loosely tied his sheathe to his waist and struggled to run after his squadron.
Alec had expected the Gnolls to be wandering too close to Peltarch's farmlands again, maybe some sort of arcane shenanigans. But as he passed through the gates and saw the Guards standing around fallen bodies, mangled and crushed, Alec felt a cold sweat overtake him. He knew the second of the two dead guards, the female named Helena, she'd once helped him buff out a dent in his armor. She was the daughter of a blacksmith... how? who? why?
The stench of gore reached his nose and he felt like he was going to throw up. He felt someone violently grab him and move him away. The hawkish Sergeant stared at him with vengeful eyes. For a moment Alec thought he was about to get hit, but the Sergeant eventually let him go and continued onward at a hurried pace. Alec looked over his shoulder at the scene behind him and felt sick to his stomach. He was going to die, wasn't he?
His hands couldn't stop shaking by the time the squadron had arrived in the farmlands, now bathed in the evening glow as the sun continued to set. The earth had been disturbed by heavy steps, it felt as if they were on the paths of a giant. If it was a giant, Alec hoped it wasn't a fire giant. But maybe not a hill giant... don't they eat people?
No. Focus. Focus. Focus.
A shadow fell over the Defenders as they finally arrived, the first but not the last, and it was their duty to hold the line and protect Peltarch until more help could arrive. The shadow stretched long and far, and the creator of this shadow stretched up into the sky. For a moment it almost seemed as if a God had come down to smite them... but the clanking and grinding brought them back to reality. It was a construct, a giant construct, perhaps some kind of rogue golem.
Its armor was dented in some places, but only slightly, and there was bloodied gore around its large metal-boot like feet. It kept its attention elsewhere, speaking in a loud and booming voice that just didn't sound right. It was like there was no inflection or emotion, just absolute monotone.
"BUT WHERE IS HE NOW? I CANNOT FIND HIM."
Alec saw the adventurers standing nearby, somewhat battered and bruised, all seemingly on guard. He straightened up his back as he looked down the line, as the Defenders steeled themselves. The construct lifted its arm into the sky, and from it shot a painfully bright light. Perhaps they feared that this was its way of initiating a fight, or perhaps the Sergeant just believed they couldn't wait any longer, but he gave the order immediately.
Three crossbow bolts, one after the other, let loose into the construct. Alec watched wide eyed as they shattered on its armor and fell harmlessly to the ground. The construct turned to them, its "face" covered in runic glow, and bright blue flaming orbs in its helmet almost seeming like piercing eyes staring directly at them. The construct raised a behemoth of a sword and spoke in its monotone way.
"DECEPTION. I SEE NOW."
And then it began to move. Its steps shook the earth, and the Defenders immediately raised their shields. The others were not here, they were on their way, and thus it fell to them to hold the line. There were farms around here, families around here, living peacefully. It was their job to ensure that it was focused on one of two things, leaving Peltarch or fighting the Defenders. Nobody else.
The sword swung down with such force that the Defenders who raised their shields had an instinctual reaction, and tried to dodge out of the way, sending chunks of earth flying where they once stood. The Defenders rushed into battle, as did the adventurers, swinging their weapons against the armored plating of this mysterious golem. Alec slammed his sword into it once... twice... three times. But it felt like all it was doing was making his hand sore. The armor barely scratched.
He wanted to run, this was a fools errand. Whatever this thing was it was going to butcher them all, and they stood alone right now. Leave it to the rest of the army, leave it to the Ceruleans, but Alec was just a tanners son. He felt himself step back, and looked over to the Sergeant as he continued to hack away with his axe, blow after blow putting small dents into its leg plating. The Sergeant never looked back, not like Alec, and he never even stood backwards if he could help it.
Alec really didn't belong here, did he? He wanted to be patriotic, to help Peltarch heal, but here he was afraid for his own life while the others fought to protect everyone around them. Even the adventurers, who had no real obligation to be here, they were fighting. It was just Alec who wanted to run away. He felt his heart shatter, and his pride evaporate, and all he had left was guilt.
One of the adventurers clambered up onto the construct as it swung its sword at its attackers, Alec watched one of its unfortunate victims batted away by the huge weapon and slide across the earth elsewhere, he wanted to run over and check on him but he also feared that a movement like that would draw the gaze of this... thing. The adventurer pried at his chest plate, but was flung off, and two more climbed up to pry at its chest. What were they doing?
With groans and screams of exertion, the plate slowly became dislodged, and Alec saw a strange glass ball, filled with something liquidy, pulsating in such a grotesque manner. They pried at the orb, taking it out as Alec stood dumbfounded. The construct recoiled, as if in great pain, and started shaking and creaking loudly. The Defenders ceased their attacks, confused and, though they'd never let it cross their face, hopeful that this was the end.
"MY SOURCE IS GONE. THE ONLY THING LEFT TO DO IS LEAVE NO TRACE. FOR MY MASTER."
It began to glow, and Alec widened his eyes. He was a dumb tanner boy, but even he knew that this thing was intending to take them all out. It took uneasy, heavy steps towards them as the adventurers fell back, and the Defenders began to step back as well. Someone screamed "RUN" and Alec began to prepare for a mad dash. But he looked back as the golem took another step... closer to the farmlands. Closer to Peltarch. To his home. There were people around here.
Innocent people. People who had been hurt so many times by the cruelty of this land. It was moving unsteadily, but it was moving fast, what if it reached them? No... it was going to reach them wasn't it? No! No! Alec felt his body move on its own as he discarded his sword and shield, slamming into the golems large legs as he gripped on tightly, nails scratching against the plating. He pushed against it, eyes shut tightly, but knew that he was but a fly on the back of a large beast.
Despair almost consumed him, until he heard more impacts against the golems. He opened his eyes to see his brothers in arms, gripping madly onto its legs just as he did. The Sergeant looked over to him, soft eyes, soft eyes of someone who knew what was to come but wouldn't step back. He gave a small nod to Alec, and Alec tearfully nodded back. Their feet dragged through the earth, their arms cried out in agony, but not a Defender let go, the golem was struggling against them.
The golem looked down to them, as the bright glow began to engulf it. As Alec looked up, for a moment it felt as if they were locking eyes, and Alec wondered what it was thinking about. If it could even think. And if it could think what did it think about these tiny little humans trying desperately to save those around them? Did it hate them... or respect them. Would Peltarch... respect them? Would Alec be remembered?
It didn't matter.
As long as he could hold the line. Alec smiled sadly, as the warm glow enveloped them all...
And then there was nothing.