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Chapter 12: The Melee

When the Vermintide crashed against us, the sheer momentum of bodies that rammed against the shield line pushed me and my full body armor to the ground.

I tried to get up, but two rat men had already piled on me. Or rather, my sword.

The momentum of their fellow comrades had skewered the both of them onto my sword instantly.

I needed to get up, and the two provided me with enough camouflage to do so.

Instantly I was assaulted by another Rat with nothing more than a sharpened twig that only blunted itself against my armor, but it's desperate frenzy blinded it to the idea of anything more. I nervously held it at bay with my shield, letting it gnaw on the steel rimmed edges. I glanced back down to my sword, still stuck deep into the two Rats.

Placing my boot against the top-most one, in one fierce push I slid it from their corpses. My eyes hung on the red dripping blade for one moment too long though as another rat launched itself at my front with only its claws and teeth.

I quickly held out the blade and let the Rat impale itself. It went limp immediately, and I once again had to yank the sword out of another rat. The rat on my shield had grown tired of my shield and plunged the twig at my chest, only for the twig to scrape against the steel armor harmlessly. In desperation I plunged the sword deep into it, and realized my mistake of having to yank the sword out again.

'Slash, don't Stab!'

Another Rat rushed against me and I backhanded my sword edge against its chest. It didn't kill it, but the horror and shock on its face told me that it wouldn't be doing anything else with its remaining time. That let me turn my attention to the next opponent which had just crawled on my back.

It tried to gnaw through the chainmail covered groove between the body armor and my helmet, but it couldn't get the angle right. I spun around, trying to get the bloody thing off me. As I spun, the rat at my back hit another that had been charging at me, sending the both of them to the snow dusted earth. They both righted themselves, only for my blade to slash through the bastard who had gnawed at my neck and quickly back slashed the second.

As its body fell, another came at me with a log which had been destined for their campfire, but a weapon was a weapon.

I turned my attention to the log-wielder, raising my shield up for the block. The log bashed against my shield, its mass dragging my arm down along with it. The rat heaved the log up, trying this time to swing at my side.

That was when a ladle struck against the back of my helmet, and the world stopped for a second. My legs buckled and I sank to my knees.

The rat raised the ladle over its head for a deathblow, but instead the log cracked against its skull. The log-wielder blinked at its mistake before I sank my blade into its guts.

My head was still ringing as another rat grabbed me by the arm.

I swung around, but it wasn't a rat. It-

"GET INTO LINE AMSHY!" Hertz roared to me over the battle that raged around us, clutching my arm as he led me through the melee.

We fought and killed about ten rats between the two of us as we made our way towards the line. A rat howled in mid air before its back snapped against the bark of a tree, dislodging a dusting of snow from the leaves. Both the snow and the body fell out of sight below the surging tide of rat men.

The Leshen, towering over the battlefield, launched another rat through the air before it haymaker'd three more rats with its massive arms.

Hertz motioned his shield hand towards it and I nodded in compliance, our words useless in the chaos.

We fought through another dozen rats until we found the back of the queue of rats who were launching themselves head first at the line in a death frenzy.

Herzt stopped and held his sword high above the melee, the glint of the blade gaining the attention of Gareth. Static charge roared through him as he generated the energy for another powerful spell.

We cut down a few more rats that had realized that we were directly behind them before Herzt steadied his shield towards the line, motioning me to follow.

Gareth unleashed a Storm Burst, the shotgunning shockwave pummeling and pulping the unfortunate rats who were too close to the impact zone. The blast wave buffeted against our shields and armor, and I had to take two steps back unless I wanted to crawl in the snow slushed earth again.

Rats were catapulted away or into their fellow comrades, creating a corridor just wide enough for the two of us to hurry through. Herzt motioned unto the breach and we both ran through it as fast as we could.

The Vermintide rose up once more, surging to fill in the corridor with musk and fur.

I did not dare stop running.

Herzt and I reached the line as the rats renewed their efforts.

We caught our breath, but that was it. The rats were relentless.

Our swords cut through rat after rat, but striking one down seemed as useless as counting noodles in soup. Minutes of slaughter passed me by as I hacked and slashed at the Vermintide, every moment concentrated on my blade and my victim. We only moved backwards, trying to avoid creating another hill of the dead so that they couldn't just jump on top of us.

Then something in the air changed. No longer was it dominated by the squealing and clamor of these peasant rats, but instead the barking of orders. It was still impossible to understand them under the clamor, but the peasants slowly lost their vigour and out of the corner of my eye I saw some of them retreating.

Something impaled one of them. A blackened and wicked poleaxe wrenched itself from the peasant and more orders were barked. The Vermintide redoubled itself, but only through its collective push. I started seeing actual visible terror in their eyes as I cut more of them down.

Then one terrified rat turned back at the wave and tried to clamber over it, disappearing beneath the sea. I lost track of that one, but very quickly many of the others tried to do the same.

The Vermintide scattered as if the walls that had contained it had collapsed, the frightened inhabitants rushing to whatever shelter and peace they could find. Poleaxes ran a couple down, but like baby turtles on a beach the predators could only take out so many.

Their wielders were no friends of ours though.

"Steel rats!" Herzt barked in caution. Our line moved back instinctively, something that I didn't pick up on as I caught my breath. Herzt grabbed me violently and thrust me back into line.

Nathaniel propped me back up, and I finally got a good look at them.

The Ruytzer were the knight caste of the Rodiens. Disciplined, well fed and well armored, they definitely looked more like… us…

"Godless peasants! Go die a dog's death!" One of them barked into the woods after its scrambling ex-comrades.

They even sounded like they had an Artyom in there.

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They didn't rush us, they didn't need to. Instead they walked forwards, the tips of the poleaxes poking and prodding at shield and armor.

While any swordsman could engage a lone spearman, the length of a spear made spears scale much better in formations. While we had comparable numbers, they could simply walk forwards with their poleaxes and poke at us long enough for one of us to make a mistake.

But then the Ruytzer arched their heads up at something over our shoulders, poleaxes drooping. I turned around.

The Leshen lifted the hollowed, mossy trunk over its head.

"HRAAAAAAAAGH!"

The trunk flew through the air directly at the center of the Ruytzer line. The trunk landed side on, crushing five Ruytzer instantly.

The Ruytzer line broke, and Herzt ordered the charge.

"CUT THESE BASTARDS DOWN!"

I was slow, and by the time I'd reached them Herzt and the knights had already slid their blades through the Ruytzer's throats.

The world went quiet as I flicked my helmet open to catch my breath in the humid aftermath. Vampire regeneration was no joke. We had topped off with the Ofcza girls last night for a massive stamina boost, but it was surprising how little damage we had taken. My head still ached from the ladle to the head, but it was still surprisingly manageable.

If I had started using magic then my armor would probably have seized up in the middle of combat, and I really didn't want to think what would have happened if Herzt hadn't found me when he had. Without Herzt or my regeneration, I'd be nothing. I was nothing.

"Hraaagh, leave Rat. Land Feed they!"

"Leshen, you don't need the Shine Rock, do you?"

"No Shine Rock. Only Bodies."

"We can take as much as we want," Gareth clarified back to us. "The Leshen will take care of the bodies."

"This is a lot of bodies, think he can deal with them without just burning them?" Herzt asked.

"Eh, Leshen have some variations of Druid spells. He sounds pretty confident he knows a way which isn't just leaving this to the wolves."

"Good enough, although I doubt most of this rabble have nothing more than the fur on their backs. Focus on the steel rats and then we can move on to the encampment.

"Yes sir."

"Oi Amshy! You did good, considering the circumstances." Herzt called over to me.

I hadn't done good. Look at all this, there's no way that this is good. What I did was evil.

"Hey Ash," Nathaniel said as he made his way over to me. "Must have gone well if Herzt praised you like that."

"Not really no."

"Well, you're doing better than most people considering what's in front of you."

"I… I guess so…"

"Not sounding particularly sure about that, aren't you?"

"W-well…" This was going to sound stupid, "Are we doing the right thing, I guess?"

Nathaniel's face contorted in utter disbelief.

"I'm sorry, WHAT? AFTER ALL THIS YOU ASK THAT?"

Those words got the attention of the entire team.

"What's going on?" Herzt sternly asked.

"AFTER GOING THROUGH ALL THIS BULLSHIT, THIS INSANE DICKWAD HAS THE ABSOLUTE FUCKING MENTAL AUDACITY TO ASK IF WE WERE THE FUCKING BAD GUYS!"

I saw Artyom in the distance, his fists clenched in anger as he wordlessly walked towards me.

"ARTYOM!"

Artyom snapped back into position so hard it froze my entire being.

Herzt looked at me.

"Don't you EVER say your own opinions again ANYWHERE."

I hung my head in shame. Even if I said that I understood, he knew I couldn't. It was an opinion. Keep those opinions and thoughts in your own head, or else… or else this would happen, as it always did.

Something wet and globular sloshed its spherical shape across the battlefield. The large bubble hit the Leshen, coating its furred torso in a translucent sticky jelly.

A Flame Dart zipped through the air and barely even touched the jelly before erupting into a bright flash.

The Jelly erupted with the force of a fuel truck, its blinding light scorching away the snow, the shockwave uprooting the younger trees and sending the corpses flying and knocking me into the dirt.

I coughed as I rose. The Leshen had been doing its own thing, but for the explosion to pummel us from this distance…

"Forgive the intrusion!" A voice carried through the simmering flames, "But I must congratulate you on a job well done!"

A single Rat stood on the hill, his figure stretched out by the flames that shone from his back.

"You snivelling arrogant rat..." Herzt snarled as he rose to his feet.

"Captain Herzt, you have more than lived up to your reputation. This entire craven flock, including even my most loyal guards, and yet you slaughter them without a single casualty. Impressive indeed."

"And it will be your turn next, Priest!"

"I am no mere Priest! I, Captain Herzt, am Pontiff Igrin Deit! And your plunder, the females you intend as your whores," the Pontiff grinned, his body illuminated by the fires coming from his blazing encampment, "You will have none."

Herzt turned to me, his voice full of rage.

"This, you pathetic coddled brat, is what we fight."


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