January 26, TA 3019/AD 1200
The horde of demons and monsters drew ever closer to the ancient city of Seville, a seemingly endless stream of twisted beasts flooding towards his city. Most of them appeared to be some kind of gigantic spiders, their sizes ranging from that of an average dog at one end of the scale to comparable to a small bear at the other. Even from this distance, the men manning the walls could see their fangs gleaming like sharpened knives, their eyes glowing with malice.
With them were other beasts, somehow even more terrible: twisted versions of boars that had fangs the size of scimitars and glowing red eyes, deer with sickly green skin and black horns, gigantic wolves that were closer in size and build to the lions that prowled about Africa than any beast of Al-Andalus. Taken in with the still-burning forest behind the ravenous horde, which produced a terrifying backdrop to the whole affair, one could easily assume that the gates of Hell had opened up before the city of Seville.
Many of its inhabitants had, in fact, made said assumption, and now fear and panic swept like a fell wind through the capital of the Almohads. People ran screaming through the streets, desperately seeking any kind of shelter. Many fled into the mosques, throwing themselves on the ground in prayer, begging for Allah to save them. Much of the populace locked themselves away in their homes, praying that the coming storm would pass them over. Desperation and terror all-too-easily turned into violence: wrecked market stalls were looted, people brawled in the streets and old scores were settled. And why not? The world was ending around them, and anyone that could have stopped them was manning the walls of the city.
From his position on said walls, Muhammad al-Nasir watched all of this unfold. The Caliph of the Almohads grimaced, his hand tightening around the hilt of his sword. This was a disaster. No, it was far more than that. Muhammad doubted that there was a word in any dialect of Arabic, or indeed any language at all, to describe what was happening to Seville. Rioting and looting in the streets, a massive swarms of demonic beasts flooding towards the walls and the whole blasted thing happening in a not ignorable depth of snow (which, of course, wasn’t hampering the beasts of hell in the least). The Caliph of the Almohads felt as if nothing could possible go right for him, and the thought idly crossed his mind that the best thing for him to do might very well be to hop in a carriage and run for Cadiz.
Muhammad paused at that thought. Then he smiled mirthlessly at it, internally ringing with bitter laughter. As if running, fleeing, to Africa was the correct solution to the problem. For one, he was quite the fool if he believed that something so simple as a few leagues of distance, or even the waters of the Al-Zuqaq, would be able to protect him from the wrath of whatever Hell had emerged in his lands. For another, and far more importantly, Muhammad was the Caliph of the Almohads. He had all the responsibilities that came with the title, and that meant a duty to defend his seat of power against all challengers, even those of supernatural origin.
If he fled, there was no doubt in his heart that his men’s courage would fail totally, and the demons slaughtering the entire city was reduced from a possibility, albeit a likely one, to a certainty. In all likeliness, there would be no survivors. Muhammad had sent people to their deaths before, but those had been soldiers, fighting for a greater good. This would be...no, he could not live with an extermination on his soul. And to simply abandon his lands, his city, his people to the demons would attain for him a place in Hell’s deepest pit for the rest of time.
No, Seville needed its Caliph, now perhaps more than any time in its history. Muhammad al-Nasir would not shirk his duty. His men needed their commander; his people, their Lord. He could see the fear in the eyes of the former, threatening to consume them; he could hear the terror of the latter, crying out to him. It was time for him to answer. And so it was that Muhammad al-Nasir, Caliph of the Almohads, drew his sword and held it high, calling out to his men. His voice carried across the ramparts of Seville, even above the sounds of chaos within and the beasts without, and turned every ear to his words:
“Men of Seville! Listen! Listen now! Do you hear them!? Do you hear them!? Your people, you families, you wives and daughters and infants?! Do! You! Hear Them!? They cry out to you! From the streets, the homes, the mosques, they cry out! They cry out that you may guard their lives with yours, that you may keep them safe from what is to come! Will you fail them!? Will you flee from this storm and let your children feel its wrath!? Or will you stand with me, so that Allah may see that you are worthy of Paradise!?’
‘I know that you are afraid, as am I! But we cannot turn from this task! May Allah never forgive us if we did! We must not turn away from this evil, but rather face it, with our heads held high and our swords held ready! What kind of men would we be if we fled before this shadow, and let it pillage our homes and murder our families?! I would say that we would not be men at all! We would be nothing more than fearful rodents, pests to be rightfully cut down!’
‘So, Men of Seville, I bid that you stand against this nightmare! Stand and face this evil! For your wives, for your children, for your homes, for all you hold dear, stand up and fight! Let whatever Devil has sent these beasts know that we will not bow down before it! Whoever stands upon these walls today will be remembered by our people until the End of Days! Whoever falls in their defense will be given passage through the gates of Heaven! Now, as one! Let us beat back this darkness! Allahu Akbar!”
These final two words were echoed by Muhammad’s men, a great chant rising from the walls of the ancient city. The men of Seville raised their own blades to the sky, their cries sounding like thunder. Their voices grew ever louder, and soon the praises of Allah seemingly drowned out all else. In the hearts of the brave men standing on the walls, a great fire began to burn, driving back the darkness that sapped their courage and fueled their fear.
The beasts of Mirkwood, savage and cruel, continued their advance regardless. All they knew was that the assorted meats that they were hoping to feed on had suddenly gotten a lot louder. All the better to pinpoint their locations. The swarm surged ahead like a black wave of claws and teeth, threatening to sweep the ancient city away. A great roar rose from the horde as it closed in on the walls. The battle was about to begin.
First blood was drawn by the Almohads, who began to rain down hundreds of arrows upon the beasts as they entered into projectile range. Volley after volley plunged into the swarm, tearing into and through the exoskeletons of the spiders, the hides of the wolves and boars, tearing flesh and piercing organs. Dozens of creatures fell to the onslaught, but the rest were barely slowed. Wave after wave of arrows screamed out of the sky, but the beasts, fueled by a burning mixture of feral rage and animalistic hunger, barely seemed to notice. They lacked the capacity to comprehend the losses they were taking, and so pressed on with little to no regard for the shafts raining down around them. If anything, it only seemed to make the beasts angrier: their cries grew ever louder, and the swarm surged ahead even faster than before.
Muhammad al-Nasir continued to shout encouragement to his men, watching as arrow after arrow after arrow buried themselves into the flesh of the beasts. Pointing his sword to the field, he called out to his men, to look for themselves and see that, yes, the monsters could die, that what faced them was not an impossible task. To himself, he noted that said task was about to get a good bit harder. The spiders were the problem. The wolves and boars and stags would-hopefully-be stopped cold by the walls of Seville, which were-hopefully-to steep for them to climb. But the spiders, if they were anything like the insects that made their webs in any sufficiently forgotten space, wouldn’t find this a problem. Muhammad hoped and prayed that his theory was incorrect, but he doubted that his luck was good enough for that to be the case. His luck was about to be tested: the first of the monsters were almost to the wall, despite the best efforts of the archers to drive them off. They came like a storm: first a light trickle, as the faster beasts reached the wall before their kin. As the rest caught up, the trickle would become a downpour, the downpour a flood. Muhammad prayed that he would withstand the tide.
Sure as the devil, the damn things could climb. The spiders of Mirkwood scurried up the wall as easily as normal arachnids would climb up a window sill. The first few the archers handled, picking the beasts off either as they transitioned from the horizontal to the vertical or as the monsters moved up the near-vertical slope. But for every spider that fell screeching from the walls, there were three to takes its place. The archers were as good as useless in melee; once the creatures were on the ramparts, the bowmen would either have to pull back or be slaughtered. They would have a harder time affecting the battle if forced to blindly fire over the walls into the horde instead of having a clear line of sight, but Muhammad saw little choice in the matter.
In all likeliness, the monsters wouldn’t allow the respite from the hail of arrows as the archers pulled back go to waste, either: the slackening of fire would allow more of the beasts to close in and begin ascending the wall, and then the battle would become a melee, in which the Almohads would almost certainly be at a disadvantage. These creatures were almost completely alien to them, being twisted mockeries of the animals that they did know. The spiders especially were total unknowns: how does one grapple a being with eight legs? Learning how to do so on the fly practically guaranteed a massive price in blood would be paid for the lesson.
Cursing to himself, Muhammad readied his blade. No matter how badly thing could go for his swordsmen, it would go worse if his archers were forced into melee. And anyways, it was a reasonable assumption that driving a blade into the monster's’ heads would kill them rather effectively. With that thought in mind, the Caliph of the Almohads ordered his swordsmen forwards to cover the archers. Then the archers were pulled back, and his theory about attacking the head was put to the test.
It was very quickly confirmed to be true. Muhammad buried his sword in the first spider within reach, the blade cutting into its face as the abomination came over the wall. It fell screeching from the rampart, hitting the earth below it with a sickening crunch. Seconds later, another spider took its place, darting up onto the wall. This one the Caliph stabbed, driving his sword into the monster’s mouth. Two down, Allah knew how many to go.
As Muhammad had suspected, the spiders did have tricks up their sleeve, tricks that his men paid with their lives to learn to combat. The beasts extracted a monstrous cost for their teachings, paid in men pinned by webs as the creatures tackled them to the ground and tore into their necks, soldiers thrown off the wall by the spiders jumping at their chests with strength and from distances far in excess of what their appearances suggested of their leaping abilities and defenders paralyzed and poisoned by the beast’s venom, frozen helplessly in place as the monsters ripped them apart. All too often, with all too high a price paid for the lessons, the Almohads learned new ways to die, flesh torn asunder by the spider’s fangs or skewered by their claws.
Fear ate away at the men, fear of pain and death and slaughter. The ancient instincts inside of them, to either fight or to flee, took over. Some of them fled, abandoning all hope in victory and seeking to save themselves from the massacre that they foresaw. Others drew strength from the horror, fueling their desperate strikes and dodges with terror of what would happen if they failed to stand against the monstrosities facing them. Both groups screamed in madness and desperation as the beasts closed in on them, their movements becoming ever more wild as the primal instincts of the species, born from centuries as both hunter and prey, came to the forefront.
As the hours passed, corpses began to pile high atop the ramparts, streams and rivers of blood spilling down to the ground below. The walls became slick with the innards of the dead and dying, the latter of which’s screams rose above all else on the field of battle. This sound was driven by the monsters consuming them as a mid-battle lunch, viciously tearing apart their still-living meals one bite at a time. The men of Seville stumbled and slipped and fell on the bloodstained bodies of their brothers in arms, leaving them all the more vulnerable to the creatures. The heat of the sun, weak as it was in the depths of winter, bore down on the dead flesh, giving the whole city the stench of rot and decay and death.
The walls were practically overrun, and the battle moved to the courtyards behind and below. Some of the monsters broke through the porous and hastily assembled lines of the defenders, entering into the city proper. Here they sowed chaos, filling the already scared inhabitants of the city with panic and fear, flooding the streets with terrified mobs that ran every which way, desperate for protection. Hampered by the snow and slush in the roads, these crowds quickly became nothing more than free meals for the beasts.
The defenders, of course, did not simply lay down to die. Those that remained fought on like demons, burying their blades into the eyes of the spiders, hacking off limbs and and claws and crushing them with stones and even their fists if they could not reach a true weapon. Beast met beast upon the walls and the streets, and as the battle continued and the beasts being attacked learned the new trade of battling the monsters, they began to meet as equals. But still the spiders came, surging over the walls like a black wave, threatening to drown all the remaining defenders under their shadow.
The light, though, refused to be extinguished. The lessons in combating the monsters had been learned far too late for far too many of the defenders, but as the hours passed they had been slowly, achingly discovered. Now those men that remained applied their new knowledge with almost fanatical zeal, fighting with the strength and purpose of cornered wild beasts, striking down anything that moved against them. They payed back the ferocity of the spiders of Mirkwood with interest, hacking into any monster that came within reach and tearing them apart as a storm tears apart a young sapling. Arrows continued to pour into the horde, both inside the walls and out, and the creatures made little progress into the city, too occupied with those on the walls and immediately adjacent to make a deep push. Not all the blood and guts spilled upon the walls and streets of Seville belonged to its defenders: the juices of the spiders flowed just as readily, the sundered limbs of the creatures joining the piles of corpses in ever increasing numbers.
There was a small handful of other saving graces for the Almohads, beyond the valor of the men. They were tiny blessings, small thing that largely went unnoticed, but all the same gave the defenders a greater chance for survival. Not all of them appeared as such: few would have said that the spiders eating the men of Seville alive was a good thing. But every spider that stopped to consume the flesh of a dying Almohad (and there were many) was a spider that was distracted, a spider that wasn’t fighting, a spider that could be dealt with with relative ease. And the other blessings were clearer: the walls still stood strong, preventing the boars and wolves and any other hellish beasts that couldn’t climb from entering the city. The monsters of Mirkwood howled and roared from the base of the walls, but could do little else. The sun had come out and shone high in the sky, partially blinding and dazing the mostly nocturnal creatures, used to operating in near darkness.
The hearts of the men rose with the sun, and as it climbed ever higher, both the day and the hopes of the Almohads became ever brighter as they saw that yes, the monsters could die, that their battle was not one without hope. Many of those that had fled earlier in the day returned to the fray, eager to avenge their cowardice in the morning with bravery here at the noontide. Slowly, ever so slowly, the tide of the day began to turn in the favor of the men of Seville, the black wave that had threatened to drown them receding at a horrific cost in blood and flesh. The battle became one of attrition, pitting the creatures of Mirkwood’s desire for food and shelter against the men of Seville’s will to defend their homes. The fires of feral rage and hunger burned against the flames of desperation and courage.
Through it all, all the loss and the suffering and the pain, Muhammad al-Nasir, Caliph of the Almohads, had stayed atop the wall. Head to toe, his armor and body was stained with the bodily fluids of far too many brothers in arms and, as far as he was concerned, far too few of the spiders. He was covered, too, in scratches and scars and marks from Allah knew how many spiders that had tried and failed to bring him down. His eyes were wide and wild, and he screamed maniacally with every movement, cursing the spiders and encouraging his men. He fought with reckless abandon, fueled by a primal rage that coursed through his veins and gave him the strength to continue even as he felt as though his sword arm would fall off from overuse.
Most of his men were the same, bodies having long ago exhausted all their strength of flesh and blood. Only their hearts remained, beating loud and frantic like bass drums in their chest, powering the body with whatever desperation or fear or wrath that they could summon up. Hope had become the strongest fuel remaining, hope that the spiders would break first, that the beasts had an earlier limit to their stamina and courage than the men.
It was not a forlorn hope. Both the Almohads and the spiders were exhausted, covered in blood and gore and wounds, but the spiders had begun to fear the men, more and more of their number fleeing back over the wall, fewer and fewer braving the climb. The instincts of the beasts, once to find food and shelter, now told them to turn and flee from the stone place filled with prey that fought back as hard as anything that their short memories could recall. In contrast, the defenders had become ever braver and more bold, their spirits rallying and their courage returning. As the sun passed its apogee and began to descend, the spiders as a whole began to feel that taking shelter somewhere that wasn’t here would be a rather good idea.
Atop the wall, Muhammad al-Nasir continued to roar both calls to his men and damnations to the monsters, adding to voice like that of a lion the strength and ferocity of one as well. Those defenders that had been driven below the walls and into the courtyards below now came together, answering the call of their Caliph to drive out the beasts, that victory was nearing, that Allah was at their side. They stormed up the stairs and passages to the ramparts, screaming “Allahu Ackbar!” with a passion and rage that made the enemy, who didn’t even understand the words, cower before them.
Hope burned in their hearts, hope that they could see in the gradual retreat of the monsters, hope that the Almohads could feel giving him a last great burst of strength, hope that drove the defenders forwards and brought down their aching arms again and again into whatever spider dared to stay within their city. The men of Seville fought on, far beyond the point of total exhaustion, as the sun began to set behind them, as they gave their final strength to drive back the dark.
And suddenly they weren’t fighting anymore, as there was nothing before them to attack.The monsters of Mirkwood had retreated back below the wall, and most could be seen fleeing back into the dark and burning forest from whence they had come. A feeling of stunned disbelief came over the Almohads as they watched the creatures withdraw. Had they truly done it? Had they faced down a horde of demons and escaped with their live? Had they passed the test? In their minds, they hoped and prayed that it was so.
In their hearts, they knew it was just the beginning.