Part 4 Chapter 3
Learning about goblins in a debriefing was something ne and unusual. It had everyone checking their calendar to see if it was April Fool's Day, but by the time the major had finished his lecture the members of Forty-Four Commando had begun to realize that this was serious. When he explained who was responsible for the WMD that had destroyed Richmond and the collapse of London's streets, there were a few looks of recognition among the members of the brigade, but the rest were left wondering who the hell this Voldemort character thought he was.
Lance Corporal Pat Wilkins knew enough about Forty-Four Commando that he was only slightly surprised to discover that it was more than a covert operations branch of the Royal Marines. He knew that Forty-Four Commando had fought in World War II, and had been ostensibly disbanded after consolidation with Forty. He knew that they only accepted a specific subset of marines, mostly those that had proved themselves in battle at least once. Even then, it was almost impossible to get selected for Forty-Four if you didn't have a family member who had served in the past.
To learn that Forty-Four was Her Majesty's response to the interference of a wizard named Grindelwald in World War II, well, Pat was surprised only to discover that the wizard was magical, as opposed to the typical sleight of hand and occult nonsense that so appealed to Adolf Hitler. He was more than slightly surprised to find that some of his brothers in arms were wizards themselves. Many of them had parents or siblings that were wizards, but they were not magical themselves. And, the few like Pat, had no magical relatives of their own and no magic.
He almost felt left out.
Still, that hadn't been as exciting—terrifying—as the news that there was a war going on in Britain. That a group of insurgents had set themselves up against a so-called Dark Lord. That this Dark Lord had declared war on the Crown by unleashing hellfire on Richmond, killing thousands and ruining more than fifty square miles of English countryside.
Even that didn't shock him as much as seeing a goblin face to face. Pat's platoon had disembarked from the HMS Merlin, trudging up the winding, serpentine path to the castle gates, where they were met by eerie silence. It was at that moment that a squad of stocky, squat creatures in shining plate armor trotted briskly from the shadows, wielding pikes, crossbows, and shortswords like a bunch of Renaissance reenactors. They came to a halt ten paces away, cracked their heels together in unison, and bellowed a thunderous greeting.
One of the group stepped forward, clapped his arm across his chest. "Welcome to Azkaban, humans."
The island was like an angry bee's hive. There were goblins and wizards walking briskly everywhere you looked, moving crates of arms and armor from one place to another, strapping ammunition and plates of metal to one another, tearing down tents, dousing fires. The marine platoons didn't really know what to do with themselves after they had been escorted to the open field between the castle and the island village, so they sat in a loose circle and watched the mayhem.
"Jesus, there must he hundreds of them," Christopher said, nudging Pat's shoulder. He glanced to the side and saw a marching column of goblins making their way along the path, towards the castle.
A few goblins had joined the marine platoons as messengers, and one of them noticed Christopher. "Aye, five hundred," he answered. "They'll be off to Hogwarts soon enough. Probably a few hours."
"What are we up against?" Pat asked the strange creature, fidgeting where he sat.
The goblin spat in the mud. "Wizards."
Pat furrowed his brow. "Just wizards? How many?"
"Ach, probably more than two hundred," the goblin answered him. "I'd wager my left testicle that the Dark Lord brings himself some zerachtun."
"Undead," the goblin explained flippantly. "He had them at the ministry."
"Undead," Pat repeated dumbly. "You're pulling my leg."
"I'm what?" the goblin reared back with a snarling scoff. "Don't be silly. Anyway, the King took care of that rabble easily enough at the Ministry. Won't have that luxury this time around."
Pat was beginning to feel out of his depth. Hell, he had felt that way since the Major stood up and told them that a wizard named Voldemort had set fire to England... "King?"
"Aye. Tough bastard," the goblin drawled. "I thought you'd met him…went over to your ship earlier."
One of the other marines coughed. "Yeah, we met. He's, ah…human."
"Yeah," the goblin growled, spitting in the mud again. "He is."
Pat left it at that. As time passed, more and more goblins poured out of the village until the field was packed with armored warriors, all jostling each other with nervous energy as their commanders walked among the mob, checking armor and clapping shoulder pauldrons with their fists. The marines had stood up to join the throng at this point, and Master Sergeant Mathers, Drake, and Williams were speaking with a few of the goblin commanders.
Another goblin passed Pat by with a pike in his arms, and he couldn't restrain himself any longer. "What good are all these melee weapons going to do against wizards?"
"Wizards are hopeless in close quarters," the goblin answered. "The trick is getting to them. That's what shields are for. And crossbows."
"Aren't we defending a castle?" Pat asked, scratching his chin.
The goblin nodded. "Aye. Makes our job easier."
"So…don't you want to be able to shoot them from the walls? Why don't you guys have guns?" Pat asked.
The goblin sighed. "it's harder to enchant bullets; bolts are bigger. Anything without an enchantment is useless against a wizard. They've got wards. So we use crossbows."
"I see," Pat replied, starting to understand. "So, what will we be doing?"
"That's up to your commanders. I just hope you don't get me killed while you're at it."
Lieutenant Mathers gathered his men around him and spoke over the din of voices. "Alright! We'll be headed over to this castle in a half-hour. Once we arrive we'll be assigned a section of the walls and a series of hallways. Our job is to hold the wall against the attacking forces. If we must fall back, we use the hallways to stage ambushes. It is essential that we hold for at least fifteen minutes, to allow the children to evacuate."
"Aye, the bastard Voldemort has got his eyes on a school. Which happens to be in a castle," the lieutenant replied. "We'll sort the details out when we get there. The battle shouldn't start until tomorrow…"
A sudden alarm rose up at the front of the crowd, near the gates. At once, the goblins formed orderly columns. The messenger who had pushed his way through the marines to stand at the center of their circle spat in the dirt. Again.
"The coward attacked early. We're moving out. Expect contact when we arrive."
"How are we getting there?" Christopher asked as he glanced at the front of the column. He could see something happening…but he didn't understand. Whole sections of the army were twisting to the side and disappearing into thin air.
"Portkey," the messenger said, drawing a chain from his armor. "Grab on. Move!"
The lieutenant seized the chain, and his men followed suit. They could see a similar procedure being followed by the other platoons, but Pat didn't have time voice a question before their aide barked a harsh command and the world seemed to twist and crunch into a tunnel of colors.
The platoon crashed into the ground in complete disarray. Pat retched but managed to keep his stomach as he scrabbled in the dirt. His ears were ringing, and his vision was blurry, but as his senses cleared he began to wish that they hadn't.
A sound like thunder was rolling over what appeared to be an open field just outside the walls of a towering hilltop fortress. He could see cloaked figures on top of the walls, firing magic down towards the field. He also saw companies of goblins forming into a ragged battle-line and engaging a swarm of screeching, clawing monsters.
"Up! Get up you witless bastards!" their aide was screaming, holding his sword and shield and stepping over the disoriented marines. "Dammit, get up!"
A white shock of lightning split the air above their heads and blew the field apart. A column of dirt and scorched embers blew into the air, and through the falling rubble came the horde. Pat raised his weapon opening fire by reflex as he knelt beside the marine to his left.
The goblin ducked at the harsh sound of gunfire, gnashing his teeth as the monsters that could only be the zerachtun continued to push forward. Pat realized in that moment that the goblin battle-line would be surrounded if the marines didn't make a stand.
It was almost impossible to see the creatures in twilight, but the marines laid down a blanket of gunfire anyway. The whole approach was bathed in a storm of tracers and writhing beasts, but they pressed on like the tide of an ocean, and it was apparent that they would be upon the marines in moments.
"We have to fall back!" the lieutenant screamed over the din of explosions, screams, and clashing metal.
"Hold your ground, you coward!" the goblin roared, swinging his weapon through the air and facing the storm with his shoulders squared. Pat ceased fire, fastened his bayonet in place and felt his blood pounding in his ears as he rushed to stand by the goblin's side.
"A line! Form a line!" the lieutenant was shouting, but a ragged, disorganized attempt was all that could be made before the swarm crashed into them. The first wave leapt into the air and came down with limbs wide. They were…human. Pat realized this as the first one crashed into his bayonet, skewering itself upon the six-inch blade.
Its skin was blackened and peeling, and it revealed shockingly white bone and a sickening combination of rotted flesh and twisted corruption. The face was nothing but bone and sinew, with utterly empty, expressionless eyes. Pat fired his weapon twice, threw the creature off his weapon slammed the butt of his rifle against the next, Christopher, at his right side, intercepted another as it came in low, hoping to tackle them to the ground.
To his left, however, the horrors had taken down a marine and were tearing at him even as his comrades rushed forward with their bayonets. Pat was forced to step back or else face attacks from two angles, and this forced Christopher to join him.
Leaving the goblin alone. 'You bastards!" the diminutive creature was screaming, slicing the head from the shoulders of one of the abominations and taking the arms off another as it lunged for him. his shield crunched through the skull of a third as his boot silenced a fourth. He was a storm of limbs, an unstoppable force, an immovable object.
There were too many. Six or more were coming at him next, and Pat was preoccupied, wrestling with his rifle and firing his weapon in blind faith.
Suddenly, a blinding light washed over them from behind, and the creature which had been pressing forward screeched and fell back on its haunches. Pat put four bullets in its skull before his rifle clicked—empty.
He risked a glance back and saw the impossible. A man was flying over the goblin lines, wreathed in rolling white flames that glowed too brightly for Pat to look at directly. He was holding a staff in his hand, and his robes were snapping at the air around him.
The fire was taking shape, moving like something alive, growing thicker around the man and reaching out with tendrils to form arms…legs…
It was an avatar of flame.
"Voldemort!" a voice like God's own thunder boomed. "Show yourself! Voldemort!"
The undead were fleeing before this holy avenger, but they were caught and incinerated as the avatar stepped through the battlefield, cutting through the horde with a fiery sword.
"My faithful warriors, go to the castle. At once," the voice commanded. "They have need of your aid in the North."
Pat couldn't look away from the wizard…the man that he assumed must be King. For who else could be so powerful, but a King?
"That is why he is our king," the goblin said to them, wiping black blood from his sword in the grass. His armor was caked with the stuff, but he didn't seem that bothered by it. "Come, to the castle."
They left the avenging avatar of flame in the field, where he continued to smite down the undead with ease, calling for the Dark Lord to face him.
The castle was in complete disarray. Wizards, robed in red, were running through the halls carrying their wounded or taking chunks of rubble towards the battle. The goblin warriors were directed to the parapets and the courtyard, where it seemed that the enemy had already breached the gates.
Pat had time in this brief respite to look around himself and see that three of the marines in their platoon were missing. "What happened? Where's Richards?" he asked, fearing the answer.
One of the others shook his head, eyes haunted. "They tore him apart."
The Lieutenant cut that conversation off at the head. "He will be honored. We go to the courtyard; it's a chokepoint. Perfect for the heavy machine-gun."
Billy, their gunner, was still toting the thing on his back. He looked exhausted, but he gave a resolute nod as they turned to follow the company of goblins that were heading through the castle to the courtyard.
It was not unlike a gunfight, this magical war. Spells shot through the air like tracer bullets, burning bright paths in the eyes of the soldiers. The goblins poured into the courtyard, screaming bloody murder and opening fire on the darkly robed figures that Pat assumed were enemy combatants. Shimmering gold shields sprung from the ground, deflecting some of the fire, and that was when he realized that this wasn't any like any battlefield that he was familiar with.
Billy shrugged the tripod down behind a chest-high stone wall. Two of the others fed the ammunition into the gun as he cranked the lever, took hold of the triggers, and unleashed hell.
The gatehouse was tall and thin, allowing only two or three men to stand abreast, and the storm of bullets proved too strong for the magical shields to withstand for long. With men standing out in the open, confident in their magic, it became a slaughter.
At least…for about five seconds.
"What the hell are you doing?" the goblin screamed. "Get down. Get down!"
Pat dove to the side on faith, and would later count himself lucky, although he didn't feel very lucky as a shock of lightning struck the impromptu gun emplacement. It was the same spell that they had seen in the field, except now it vaporized the stones like they were nothing and scattered shards of rock through the air. The men manning the machine-gun were blown back ten meters, and they crashed into the dirt, unmoving. Billy, however, was right where he'd been standing, stripped of flesh. A pillar of ash.
Scrambling to his feet with ringing ears, Pat fired down the tunnel of the gate house, ducking return fire as he crawled to where the goblins were firing their own weapon.
Fire, move, fire, move. Never stand in one place. It was elementary, really…
Then the whole gatehouse blew up. It exploded inward, knocking the defenders on their asses and raining them with fist-sized stones. Pat, who had covered his face with his arms, grunted as a particularly large chunk of rock cracked into his chest. The smoke swirled violently and dissipated in a flash of fire, and the thing which stalked forward, through the rubble, was not unlike the undead that Pat had seen in the fields outside of the castle.
It walked in a teetering, drunken manner, swinging thin, skeletal limbs and turning its skull to survey the field of battle. But this one was different from the others…there was a fire in its eyes, and patches of dark flesh were spreading across its bones as Pat watched. By the time it was in the center of the courtyard, it almost looked like a human once again, but its pale gray flesh was webbed with blackened veins, and its face was misshapen, lacking a nose. Gaping nostrils flared grotesquely as its eyes laid upon the soldiers who were recovering from the blast.
"Pathetic," it hissed in a voice that pierced the sounds of battle. It seemed to speak directly into Pat's mind.
"Fall back!" one of the nearby goblins shouted, dragging Pat with him as he ducked through the rubble. "Back! To the castle!"
The shambling horror raised its arms theatrically and cackled as a wave of fire rushed out from its palms. Pat surged to his feet and away, but he knew already that he wouldn't be able to outpace the shockwave. He cringed reflexively, ducking his head, and took three steps before he realized that he wasn't on fire. Opening his eyes, he glanced back, and saw an old man stepping through the fire with a wand in his hands, protecting the retreat of the goblins and the surviving marines.
Christopher fell in beside pat as they ran, looking a little singed and panting for breath. "Jesus Christ," he whispered, laying eyes upon the clash of titans that was unfolding before them.
"Tom! Cease this foolishness, Tom! It didn't have to come to this!" the old man bellowed in a voice far louder than he appeared capable of projecting. His enemy, the unnatural horror with such a common name, allowed the flames to die and gestured widely with one arm.
The older man laid eyes upon his enemy them, through smoke, and swayed with dismay. "Tom…what have you done?"
"I am not Tom," was the reply. Pat and Christopher, having rounded the corner of the hall, checked their weapons and aimed down the corridor, towards the courtyard. He had a clear view of the old man, but he could see nothing of their enemies. Not yet.
"I can't let you into the castle, demon," the old man declared.
"Dumbledore…you cannot stop me. Nothing can stop me. I am a power beyond your comprehension," the abomination replied.
That must have been an unseen signal, for the battle was joined not moments after the last syllable faded uselessly into the cacophony of the raging storm outside the walls. A power unlike any that pat had yet witnessed was unleashed by the old man, who held the wand before him like a fencer's blade, warded by a pulsing, shimmering golden sphere. His attacks were quick and sharp like the staccato notes of a conductor, and for a moment Pat had hope that this strange wizard would save them.
Then he died.
It was instant. He blinked and almost missed it. A burst of power washed over the castle, shaking the ground and the stone walls like an earthquake, and then, with a joyous exclamation, the abomination waded through the old man's shields, weathered the magical assault, and crushed the robed man with a gesture of his hand. Bones snapped, flesh ripped, and blood exploded into mist. The shaking stopped, and the old man was gone.
A hail of bullets and crossbow bolts closed the gap, only to be deflected without so much as a blink of surprise.
"Mortals," the creature hissed, like a voice speaking directly into Pat's ear. "You are outmatched. Why do you continue to fight?"
They had to fall back. It was their only choice. Pat and the goblins reached the same conclusion, and with a command from the Lieutenant they were swiftly running through the halls.
The courtyard was lost. The gatehouse was lost. Pat could only hope that evacuations had already completed, or this battle was about to turn to a slaughter.
The marines and their goblin allies reached the great-hall and saw that the evacuations, in fact, were not complete. There were at least twenty children huddle din groups throughout the large, open room, some of them with tears in their eyes and others gazing empty-eyed at the double doors.
The Lieutenant saw them and fell to his knees. "Get out! You have to get out!"
An older woman stepped from the crowd. "There's no-where to go! Their portkeys are blocked by a ward. The corridors are swarming with dark wizards."
"Get to the back of the hall!" the Lieutenant barked. "Quickly, now. Go!"
The goblins had overturned the tables and created barricades in the center of the room. Pat watched this with disdain. "What use is that? They'll just blow them away like so much…"
Chris glanced at him, shrugged. "I'm almost out of juice," he offered, hefting his rifle. "Got an extra mag?"
"No," Pat replied. He handed over his sidearm. "Use that."
"What use is this?" Christopher mimicked with an unfeeling grin.
Then the doors blew from their hinges and the horror shambled through, rolling his shoulders like a boxer preparing for a match. "Look who's reached the end of the line," he chuckled. A hail of fire was once again deflected or absorbed. The monster was untouchable.
"You will not touch them," another voice broke through the sound of gunfire. All sound suddenly ceased as a man materialized in the air in front of the overturned tables, with his back towards the remaining defenders. The last sounds of a losing battle continued to reach them. "It is you who has reached his end…Itzutiel."
"Ah, so you know…my name, boy," the demon drawled. He threw his head back to speak towards the sky. "Is this all that you could muster to face me, El?"
"You do not have the right to speak his name," the darkly robed man replied. Pat realized that this was the same man that had appeared above them in the fields to destroy the undead. The King.
A goblin rushed to his side and pulled him away from the tables. "Stay back," he whispered. "This is beyond our abilities. Just stay out of their way."
"It is over," Itzutiel replied. "You cannot hope to match my power, mortal. You had your chance to stop this…you failed."
"You should never have set foot on this world, Itzutiel," was the cold reply. "If you think that you can defeat me so easily, then why do you not try?"
"So be it," the demon hissed. Pat felt the air in the room move as pressure dropped near the corrupted Dark Lord, and he ducked his head just as the first eruption of power shook the ground and stunned all of those who stood as spectators.
The King drew himself up, spread his arms and weathered the pure concussive blast with only a slight back-step. His own power, white and magnificent, poured out and wrapped around him like armor. The demon continued to assault him, first with shocks of energy, then with blasts of explosive magic, and at last with fire.
It raged crimson and hotter than the sun, churning the stones and choking the air with sweltering heat, but still the king stood amidst the power of his enemy, unharmed, unmoving. Then he retaliated, and pat was forced to avert his eyes from the blinding power.
"I am a servant of El," he boomed, and his voice resonated in the pit of Pat's belly. "Your power is corrupt. Be gone from this world."
Pat shuddered, crouched down, and held himself still, shaking his head and trembling like a child. He could see nothing, but he heard the demon screaming, he heard stone cracking, he felt the earth lurching beneath his feet.
Oh, my God, he thought. I'm going to die.
He raised his head and felt a slap of hot, burning wind across his face. His eyes dried up and his skin cracked, but still he gazed at the maelstrom that was spinning around the demon and the King. Stones the size of small cars were spinning like tops, swinging around them in erratic circles, swept up by the fiery storm. Red flames sputtered and reached out like desperate hands to touch the black cloak of the impossible King. The demon was on its knees, a snarl on its face, stripped down to blackened bones by the unrelenting white magic.
"This will never end, Sephtis!" the demon whispered, though it was audible in pat's mind, as well as everyone else who dared to look upon the battle. "I will return once more. I can never die."
"Neither can I," was the reply. "I'll wait for you, and I'll destroy you again."
Whatever reply might have come was cut off as the demon's strength abruptly deserted him. Just as quickly as he had crushed the old man, he was broken, burned away. Amid the light, Pat saw a blackened, twisted thing attempting to rise from the ground, only for Sephtis' magic to take hold of it.
It screamed. Oh, how it screamed. The sound died out immediately, but it continued to ring endlessly in Pat's ears, growing and growing in intensity, until at last, as an explosion ripped out from the place where the King was standing, silence.
Pat swayed, feeling like a dream. The world was collapsing around him as he watched, stones falling in chunks, but time seemed to drag on, second after second. He couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't do anything. He could only watch, frozen, as Sephtis staggered, fell, and whatever magic which had held Time at bay was released.
The castle crumbled around his ears, and blackness claimed him.