They were going to die.
Fallin stood at the back of a collapsing line of infantry, and finally allowed defeat to enter his heart. It was over. A few more hours, and the great fortress of Cal-din would fall. After killing any survivors, the Gorlacs would swarm through the kingdom, killing everyone in their path.
A messenger ran up to him, breathing heavily, and bleeding from an arrow wound in the arm.
"Sir!" He said breathlessly. "The command tower-" he stopped, unable to go on.
"What happened?" Fallin demanded. "Come out with it, man!"
The man gulped. "The Gorlacs that broke through, they attacked the Tower. General Trena and the advisors are all dead
"What about Colonel Ashe?"
"He's... not dead, sir. A scout found him nearly dead, covered in blood, missing a hand and part of his leg. He apparently fought till his last drop to defend Trena."
Fallin stepped back, shocked.
"He's being tended to, but the medics say there's a good chance he won't survive." The man paused, then forged on. "You are now the highest ranking active officer, sir."
Fallin took a moment to collect himself, then squared his shoulders.
He was now the commander of a dying fortress.
"Get me a few soldiers as an escort, and collect all the messengers. I need to know exactly what's going on."
Jakos listened to the sounds of battle. They were getting louder, and the medics were starting to evacuate the wounded.
He felt guilty for retreating. Men were dying out there, and he was sitting here, waiting to be hidden in the caves with the women and children.
So when a medic finally approached him, he waved him off.
"I may not be able to fight, but I'll do what I can. Get everyone else out of here."
The medic looked like he wanted to protest, but there wasn't time. The sounds of death and steel were coming closer and closer.
Jakos made his way out the door towards them.
His sword was still where he had dropped it, so he picked it up and sheathed it, then ran towards where Fallin was conferring with a messenger.
Fallin turned as Jakos approached, and cocked his head.
"Soldier, you're wounded. Why aren't you retreating to the caves with the others?"
"Sir, I can't stand back while the rest of you fight and die. Just tell me what I can do, and I'll do it."
Fallin considered for a moment, then a grim smile formed on his face. "Very well. What's your name?"
"Well then, Jakos. You and a few others will accompany me to the command tower. General Trena and Colonel Ashe were attacked, and I am now in charge."
Jakos nodded and saluted.
"And drop the formalities. This is no time for useless habits. Gather two other soldiers who are not directly engaged, and order them back here."
"Yes sir." Jakos scrambled off. In a few minutes, he and two other tired-looking infantry were following Fallin's long strides towards the command tower.
Shock coursed through Jakos at the horrors around him. Dozens of men lay dead in the streets, and least half of the buildings he passed were crushed under giant boulders. Small skirmishes were still active in the streets, stray clumps of infantry and archers engaged against the bestial Gorlacs.
Jakos' eyes briefly met with a soldier who was trying to back away from the huge axe that was coming for his neck. Jakos stepped forward to help, but it was already too late. The man went down in a spray of blood.
Jakos felt sick to his stomach. There was no way the Namorians could emerge victorious in this fight. They were rats, chased by ten thousand cats. Sooner or later they would all be caught.
A million thoughts ran through Captain Fallin's head at once. How could he organize the remaining army so that they could mount a respectable resistance? Men died with every second wasted. Were the people in the caves still safe?
Young Jakos followed Fallin, eyes roving the wreckage of the fortress, broken arm clutched tight against his side. Fallin felt guilty for allowing him to come, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
They approached the command tower, and started the climb up the stairs. There were a few guards still clearing away the remains of dead soldiers and Gorlacs. Blood made the stairs slick, and Fallin stepped gingerly over the body of a young soldier, glazed eyes staring upward.
When he reached the top, he saw that a few scouts and messengers were laying out maps and charts on the table in the center of the floor. They all paused as Fallin entered, and some saluted. He gestured for them to be at ease, then took a deep breath.
"Men, we can all see that there is no way out of this. The Gorlacs will eventually crush us, no matter what we do. Cal-din will fall, and the Gorlacs don't take prisoners.
"But," he said, lifting a finger. "We are Namorians. We will not go down without taking as many as we can down with us. If we must fall, let's cushion the blow for the rest of the world."
The grim figures nodded firmly in agreement. Fallin saluted them, and they responded in kind. Fallin squared his shoulders, then started giving commands.
"I want reports on each part of the battle. I need the status of the medical teams, and what officers are left. Move it, soldiers!"
The men jumped into action, and soon three messengers were standing by, ready to report. Fallin nodded to the first.
"Sir, the medics have pulled back to the great hall. There are... over a thousand wounded, so they are a bit overcrowded, but it's better than dead."
Fallin nodded again, then took the reports of the next two. There were still three lieutenants left, along with four sergeants. It wasn't much, but at least he knew what he was dealing with.
An hour later the battle had slowed to a lull. The two gates of the third wall served as a bottleneck, and Gorlacs were held at bay. The streets of the second tier were too narrow for the huge ram, so for now the Namorians were safe.
Fallin stood at the edge of the tower, surveying the remains of Cal-din. The two lower tiers burned in places, and he could see hundreds of bodies strewn across the stone, human and Gorlacs alike. From what he could tell, only about a thousand Namorians remained, out of the original eight thousand. The Gorlacs, however, still had about nine thousand soldiers, if you could call them that. They pressed against the closed gates of the third tier, hacking with huge axes. They would break through eventually. For now, the Namorians just had to lick their wounds and get ready for the next fight.
A frantic messenger sprinted up to Fallin, face haggard and horrified.
"What happened?" Fallin demanded.
The man's eyes filled with tears. Fear grew in Fallin's heart.
"The... the Gorlacs." The messenger sobbed. "The ones that killed Trena. They were still running around unchecked. They... they found the caves."
"No." Fallin whispered.
The man buried his face in his hands.
"It was a massacre." He said, voice muffled. "They're... they're all dead. Blood everywhere..."
Fallin's mind could picture the bloodbath. Terrified women, clutching children in their arms, watching in horror as Gorlacs cut down the helpless elders, then came for them.
Something in Fallin broke. He wasn't quite sure what, but he felt it. He didn't have any family in the caves, but almost every man down there did.
"Dispatch a company of infantry to take down those Gorlacs. Send a squad of archers, too." His voice was flat, emotionless.
The messenger nodded mutely, tears still tracing their way down his cheeks.
Fallin turned grimly to watch the men below. The Gorlacs were hacking at the gates, and were almost through. Any minute now the final stand of Cal-din would begin.