The wall at the end of the street I’m engaged on is crawling with soldiers, I can see their backs. They’re carrying quivers and holding bows, I can hear the twang of the strings when they release arrows in the distance.
I feel the ground shake a little under my feet, the new explosions occurred nearby. Two clouds of dust billow out to my left and right, I see two buildings crumble and fall over, blocking both sides of the path running at the base of the wall.
The soldiers on the wall lose their stride, almost all of the back line turns around to look towards the town with worried faced.
“Steady, let loose!” Baroness Kieft yells out over the chaos, her firm voice seems to reestablish order on the walls.
The nearest tower with a flight of stairs to allow soldiers to get up and down the walls is behind the rubble. This whole district must be blocked off by now, after demolishing six buildings.
I make my way towards a huge stone building with wide double doors. Looking inside, there are large piles of grain laid on bare stone with wooden partitions preventing it from spilling over. That can’t be the castle’s only granary, there just isn’t enough.
I hear sounds of clashing metal deeper inside and rush in, finding three of the mercenaries and Ulf. They’re retreating from a squad of soldiers pushing them back. Teva is hiding behind a wooden beam, visibly shaking.
The six soldiers are cautious but determined while my companions seem unwilling to tangle and are trying to distance themselves. I approach slowly, moving to flank the attackers.
I focus on the lightning construct that I prepared and pass it over to my right hand, aiming it towards a soldier, waiting for the woman to separate from Hurb to activate it.
The lightning flashes forward, leaving an odd… somewhat metallic smell behind. I think the bolt veered to hit the woman’s sword but it happened too quickly for me to be certain of what I saw.
The soldier convulses but doesn’t collapse. Hurb takes advantage of her distraction to slam the pommel of his sword against the woman’s head and she crumbles to the ground.
“Surrender!” I yell out.
I bring my hammer back and rush towards the next nearest soldier, stepping over the woman. I swing my weapon at half-strength towards the torso. The man fumbles, failing to guard himself against either my strike or Jacub’s stab.
My hammer lands on his right arm, breaking it, while the mercenary’s sword pierces his stomach. The other four soldiers notice that they’ve lost the advantage and disengage by taking a few steps back.
There is anger on their faces but they turn around to run away when the mercenaries make no move to re-engage.
“Traitors!” One of them throws the insult.
“Let them go.” I tell Ulf who sheathed his long knife to grab his bow. “We need to breach the wall now, Meria’s army is near so we have to either act tonight or escape the castle entirely.”
“We’re out of flow, Teva needs some to dig through the stone and insert her explosive construct inside.” Ulf replies.
“Is the entire district closed off?” I ask.
“Yes, but it’s only harder to access, not impossible, you got in after all.” Hurb replies. “Hastia is on the roof, keeping an eye on that.”
“Go get her while I replenish Teva’s reserves.” I look down to the two soldiers on the ground, the woman is unconscious, the man is whimpering in pain while holding his stomach wound with his uninjured arm. “Try to bandage them some.” I quickly scrutinize the state of the mercenaries. “And yourself, Jacub.” I add, his left shoulder is bleeding from a stab wound.
I walk over to Teva, holding my hand out. She takes hold of it, desperately gripping my palm. I gather half my flow energy and pass it on to her through our hands. She takes a few moments to notice but she nods, linking to it.
“This is the last stretch.” I tell her.
“Right, this and then the University.” Teva takes a deep breath and straightens her back. “I can’t approach the wall without turning into a pin cushion.”
“What’s a pin cushion?” I ask, puzzled.
“Ah. You probably never had the need for it.” Teva smiles. “It’s where you store sewing pins when you have several.”
“Right, you’re afraid they’ll fill you with arrows. I’m not sure how to solve that, maybe we can find or make some shields.” I make my way back to the others, pulling Teva along by the hand.
“Any ideas to get Teva close enough to the wall?” I ask.
“No, we found some planks but they won’t last under fire.” Lilib answers.
“I might be able to do it in five minutes if I hurry.” Teva speaks up.
“Still, it’s not enough.” Jacub shakes his head negatively.
I hear Hurb coming back with Hastia and turn to them. They don’t seem alarmed. We have a bit of time, then.
“We need to figure out a way to get Teva at the base of the walls unharmed and keep her there.” I tell Hurb.
“Not possible, that Baroness has been watching us from the walls like a hawk.” He replies.
“Argh.” I groan. “Go ram a goat, Kieft.” I swear and take a deep breath. “Solutions, not problems.” I mutter, thinking quickly. “Let’s go take a closer look, Teva could use some rubble as cover.”
I head out first towards the other side of the granary, without giving them the time to argue. I take a peek outside, using the right door as cover.
I frown. That sounded like wind. I enhance my eyes and glance at the wall’s crenels. A hazy cloud of air is spreading around the archers. Shit! That’s what Celyz did to set fire to the Nobles charging her!
The blurry substance turns into an inferno of flames all at once, setting dozens of soldiers on fire. They start screaming, hitting the nascent flames on their bodies to try to extinguish them. Clack! Bowstrings snap, consumed, the wood they kept bent in shape is violently released, breaking the noses and fingers they encounter.
Two soldiers, standing near the edge, are hit on their chins and fall off the wall, to their deaths. I hear the dry sound of wood hitting stone, ladders are being set on the wall’s crenels. It won’t be long before Rykz warriors climb and take advantage of the chaos provoked by Fenyz’ construct.
“For Lance! For Caeviel!” Baroness Kieft yells, I follow the voice, finding her kicking a ladder off. “Rally to me!”
I grit my teeth at the mention of my Lady and turn away to look at the others.
“Now’s the time. Fenyz is attacking the walls and they’re in no shape to shoot you down. Ulf, spot the walls for her just in case. Hastia, find that plank you can use as a shield and cover Teva with it. Rest of you, with me.”
I head out of the granary first to draw fire, Ulf follows right behind me. I make my way towards the pile of rubble blocking the street at the base of the wall on our right. There is a pitched battle happening just above our heads, the Rykz are…
…fighting the soldiers.
“You should be able to hide in that corner Teva, we’ll patrol the area. Tell Hastia to join us once she gets you that cover and take your time, don’t mess up.” I turn and start walking around the granary’s building with the others in tow.
There is no sign of the four soldiers who ran away. I signal the mercenaries to keep patrolling the nearby area on their own and start running through the district, taking a path that passes nearby every pile of rubble.
The first blocked street seems clear so I keep going. I hear sounds of rubble being cleared before I spot the soldiers. I turn the corner, finding them moving some debris to clear a landing area for Matfrid and his squad of town guards waiting on the other side atop a roof.
Shit. I step back and hide behind the wall. I use the rest of my flow reserves to assemble three lightening constructs and make them hover around my right arm. In the dark of night, it won’t be too noticeable that their color is dark-gold.
I take a deep breath to settle down and rush in, targeting the lightning constructs towards the soldier’s backs. Matfrid stares at me with a puzzled look, no doubt wondering what I’m doing running like that.
The soldiers start turning around but don’t have enough time to react, I activate the constructs simultaneously and three bolts burst out of the constructs, hitting them squarely in the chest.
The three start convulsing, one of them directly drops down. While the soldier that wasn’t struck lands a sword strike on my helmet, luckily it glances off but I can hear ringing in my ears.
I hurriedly throw a jab with the bottom of my handle towards him but he dodges backward. I make use of the space to punch and kick the two soldiers still reeling from the lightning.
“Lady Elizabeth! What is the meaning of this?” Matfrid yells from the roof, taking some steps back to prepare to jump in himself.
“They’re traitors!” I yell out.
“Lies! She attacked us and saved the saboteurs!” The soldier speaks up, throwing a vicious slash towards my knee.
I hurriedly step back, avoiding the attack by a hair’s width. I bring my hammer back and swing it low, missing but making it spin it around my back to strike again.
“Stop this at once, Lady Elizabeth!” Matfrid orders.
The soldier stares at my weapon, fear and indecision visible on his face. I ignore the Noble and finish bringing my hammer around, catching my opponent’s sword. It flies out of the man’s hands, breaking fingers. I punch the man square in the face with my left arm, knocking him out.
“Don’t jump down, Matfrid.” I warn him, raising my hammer when I hear the sounds of his run on the roof.
He manages to stop himself on the edge of the tiles, before jumping. I glance up, staring balefully through the opening of my helmet.
“You’re one of the traitors.” He says in a low tone of voice.
“I am.” I nod. “This war is already lost, you haven’t seen what I have.”
“Countess Lance sent an open message to every house in Caeviel, Nobles all over the mainland will answer the call. The odds aren’t in our favor, but it isn’t too late. Whatever it is you’re doing, stop. We can resolve this.” Matfrid argues.
“Tell me, how many peasants need to die before the Nobility decides that the war is lost? That they’ve sacrificed enough people to be able to tell themselves they did all they could.” I ask. “A thousand? Two? Five? Ten?”
“You’re… you’re not a Lady.” Matfrid utters, stunned at the realization.
“That’s what you took away from my words?” I ask disdainfully.
I pull the unconscious soldiers away from the rubble and into the street, walk around a part of the building that is still standing, left behind when the explosion sheared it in half.
I bring my hammer back and aim at the large wooden beam that seems to be holding the wall together. I swing my weapon as hard as I can, breaking the beam and collapsing the rest of the structure on the area that the soldiers cleared. He’ll have to find another way in now.
I glance down at the soldiers, one of them isn’t breathing. I clench my fingers into a fist. Another death, probably dozens more on the walls. We need to strike a blow that will force them to surrender or at least retreat.
“Elizabeth! Don’t do this!” Matfrid yells as I walk away.
“Evacuate, Matfrid. Even if you hold the castle, this is only the first wave of Rykz and not even all of them.” I reply over my shoulder.
I leave at running pace to finish checking the other streets. I find no one else trying to get over the piles of rubble blocking them. The castle’s defenders are losing the battle on the walls.
Rykz warriors are pushing them back, using a seemingly impenetrable shield wall and their ability to remain stable on their four legs while pushing with their strong arms.
Every time a warrior falls, another slips into the hole to fill it, there is barely even a pause. I can’t see the whole shield line, but I don’t need to. I can see the look of fury on Baroness Kieft’s face, the touch of desperation in her voice as she tries to encourage her troops from the back-line.
I hurry back to Teva, figuring that at least five minutes went past by now. Ulf is standing next to her, holding a wide plank above both their heads. There are no arrows embed into the wood, they weren’t spotted.
“How long?” I ask.
“Fifteen more minutes.” Teva replies absent-mindedly, entirely focused on the small tunnel that she is digging in the wall with a construct.
“Shit.” I mutter. “I don’t think we have that long before they get through.”
“Well, I can’t do this any faster. This is a full stone wall and there is a low-powered runic construct strengthening the links between the stones.”
“Shit.” I repeat myself.
I turn around and leave the two alone. I explore the area around the granary but find no one. Where the fuck are the mercenaries? I keep searching but a suspicion dawns on me.
These cowards might have decided to leave, unwilling to risk their lives to make sure that Teva succeeds. I enter the building itself, no one. Boom! Another explosion but it isn’t coming from the direction of the wall.
I quickly make my way towards the sound, there is a large cloud of dust with dark silhouettes progressing through it. After a few seconds, Matfrid emerges, leading twenty town guards.
His head snaps towards me and he glares, taking hold of his two-handed sword and detaches it from the sheath on his back. I turn around and jog back towards the granary.
Once inside, I grab a flow torch and start looking for a pile of hay. I hear sounds of feet scraping against the building’s stone ground. Matfrid and his town guards pursued me inside, good.
I explore the back-end of the granary, finding a large pile of dried grass, stored to use as foraging. That will do. I stand in front of it and hang the torch over the flammable stack.
“Matfrid!” I yell.
“What?” He replies, I hear him give orders in a hushed tone.
“I’m setting fire to your granary!” I scream, waiting to hear him rushing over to drop the torch.
The grass quickly takes fire, I use my hammer to break the wood partitions to make it harder for the town guards to extinguish it and run away.
“Four with me! The rest of you, put that fire out!” He yells and starts pursuing me.
I head out of the granary with them on my tail, heading towards two warehouses that are so close together that there is barely enough space for me.
Glancing over my shoulder, I see that Matfrid is almost on me. I swing my hammer behind my back with my left hand and accelerate to slip between the buildings.
I turn around and face the Noble, raising my weapon overhead. He throws a jab with his two-handed sword but a single step back is enough to avoid it. He didn’t dare to enter my range so it’s easy to stay out of his.
“How can you betray Emperor Rasaec like this?” He asks, indignant.
“Caeviel is not the Empire! The Kingdom’s actions have brought the Rykz here, I am ensuring that the least amount of people die as a result of your actions!” I reply with ire.
He takes a half-step forward and I raise my hammer a bit higher, threatening a strike. Matfrid relents, pulling back to keep his distance.
“We only have to hold long enough for the Phalanxes to arrive! Your betrayal is going to bring ruin to the Izla!” He accuses.
“You knew that the Nobility is responsible?” I frown. “No matter when you learned of it or if you had a part in it.” I shake my head. “You speak of the Empire, but you don’t care that other Kingdoms will suffer when Phalanxes are pulled out to defend Caeviel.” I spit out with disdain.
“Sacrifices must be made to gain the strength necessary to push the Rykz and cold bloods back.” Matfrid justifies.
“Funny!” I giggle madly. “Peasants will die in droves for your ambitions, for your greed. Risk your own lives if you want, don’t involve the rest of us!”
I can’t waste too much time or the town guards will run around the warehouses and attack me from behind. I tense up and take a full step forward, he backs up and raises his weapon above his head. Neither of us can really swing sideways in this small corridor.
“Elizabeth, the Rykz are a plague. You need to think this through once more, tell me what you did.” Matfrid tries to speak while I focus on studying his stance.
It’ll come down to strength. He’ll have to either block and absorb the weight of my blow or mirror my strike. If our weapons cross paths, my hammer will knock his two-handed sword away. This is no time to hesitate.
I launch my overhead strike with all my strength, taking a step forward at the same time to close the distance. Matfrid reacts instantly, throwing his own blow.
I watch our weapons cross paths but fail to intersect. Shit! I lean further into my blow, bracing for the impact. I receive the large sword on my left shoulder, feeling the bones snap under the blade.
My hammer lands on his rib-cage, collapsing it, crushing it. Matfrid falls limply to the ground. Dead in a single blow. I fall to my knees, raising my shaking right hand to palpate my left shoulder.
The chain-mail was torn apart. Waves of pain hit me, blurring my vision, I bring my hand in front of my eyes. No blood. I’m fine. Something moves under my skin.
“Argh!” I yell in pain as I feel tendrils curl around the broken bones and force them back into their natural position. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I swear, unable to control myself.
I glimpse the shadow of a movement in front of me, a town guard is approaching with his spear extended out towards me. I’m hurting and trembling too much to fight back.
I’m hungry. I use the last slivers of my flow to assemble the signaling construct.
“Fight for survival.” I mutter in a weak voice, activating the construct to send the corresponding signal to the arm.