I shrug, watching them walk downstairs. Aisha’s dark clothes are dirty with dust while Cecil’s are just as clean as before. It looks like they evaded pursuit without too much trouble.
The Rykz spread out in the main room, guarding windows and doors. A few scouts even try to go outside to expand their perimeter so I have to stop them. Those most injured take position on the outer edge of the building, they will fall first if there is an attack.
“I failed to capture Lance and when I got to the castle, the Duke was giving audience with fifty of his personal guard. He ended up escaping.” I report coolly. “Lance did rebel, however.”
“Why is there fifty thousand people’s worth of flow floating above Meria, Elizabeth?” Cecil asks, frowning in dissatisfaction at the news but taking it in stride.
“Our Emperor Rasaec sent it in his generosity, but Meria is going to subvert His intention and use it for his selfish gains.” I tell her.
“Are you certain the Emperor sent it?!” She exclaims.
“Amand said so himself. Why?” I ask.
“It hasn’t been done in centuries.” She replies carefully.
“They said as much.” I frown. “Why are you this surprised?”
“I…” She hesitates. That’s uncommon for Cecil. “Because it isn’t done even when cold blood hordes raid the southern kingdoms or to prevent the Rykz from taking a bite at Empire territory.” She explains.
“But Emperor Rasaec sends his phalanxes in these cases. He could not do so here and that is why flow was sent.” I reply.
“The energy sent with the phalanxes isn’t part of the Due while this would have to be to travel here from Kruzser. And at least two-thirds of the flow would have been consumed.” Cecil contests and starts mumbling to herself. “That’s a huge price for the Emperor to pay.”
“Emperor Rasaec protects the Empire, it is only natural that He would do all that He can.” I argue.
“You don’t understand.” Cecil shakes her head.
“Then explain.” I reply.
“I cannot. Besides, there is no time.” She turns to my prisoners, specifically the unconscious Count carried by my warrior. “Is that Marec?”
“Yes, he’ll be at the vanguard.” I nod. I want her to answer but she’s right, there’s no time. “I need your flow by the way, I’m out.”
“Take it, but you need to go now.” She directs her reserves out of her hand and hands it over to me, Aisha does the same.
“Where are your prisoners?” I ask. “And the heads.”
“In there.” She points at a side door.
I open it, finding ten Nobles with their hands behind their backs and forty scouts surrounding them, spikes aimed at their necks. They turn their eyes to look at me but don’t dare to move their heads or bodies.
“You’re going to hand over all your flow and remain silent from now on.” I tell them, opening my palm.
They don’t react, so I look around. There is a jute bag with red blood leaking out on the floor next to the door. I take hold of it and lift it up to show it to them.
“You’ll be useful to me. One way or the other.” I threaten.
The Nobles shudder, some are quicker but each of them ends up handing over their energy in turn. The last one brings my reserve to two-thirds. I tap the nearest scout’s shoulder and step out, dragging the bag of heads behind me.
The scouts prickle the prisoners’ backs to make them follow, gathering them with the others in the main room. Cecil is at a window with open shutters, looking out. I join her, searching for the golden cloud over the rooftops, finding it near the wall. The Duke should be beneath it, on the ground.
“How do I kill someone with that much power?” I ask.
“You take them by surprise.” She walks up to me. “This construct will make it difficult.” She comments.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I’m not certain because he hasn’t activated it yet.” She admits. “But it should be a variation of the shredding construct, he will create a whirlwind and amplify its kinetic energy. This will be deadly and he has enough flow to maintain it for a long time, although that depends on how large of an area he decides to affect.”
“The Rykz’ first siege tower just reached the walls.” Aisha says, pointing to it.
“We’re too late, shit.” Cecil swears.
“Not yet.” I utter coldly. “Which wall section?”
“Follow the street to the wall, it’ll be the tower in front of you.” She replies.
“I’m going, thanks for all your help Cecil.” I say.
As I head out of the building, I slam my hammer on the ground, calling every Rykz to attention. They move out instantly, some even climb out of the windows, moving with surprising grace considering their long bodies.
I grab Marec from the warrior carrying him and throw him over my shoulder. The Count groans in pain, muttering something that should be an insult. I accelerate to a trotting pace and guide the Rykz towards the rampart.
Once we reach the end of the street, I stop and hold my hand out to tell them to hold position. I shouldn’t assault the tower, it’ll throw people into a panic. I point the Rykz to huddle on one side of the street and leave them there.
Unfortunately, ten warriors and two harvesters don’t obey my order and follow me, none of them have any injuries. I try to signal them to get back in position but they form up around me instead. I hear wood impact rock just above me and the wall’s defenders cry out.
Fuck, no time to deal with them. I walk up to the tower’s closed oak door and bring my hammer back, swinging it against the bulky iron handle with all my strength. Crack.
I rush in, detecting that the two harvesters are on my tail, rolling up to fit through the doorway. There are two dozen adolescents carrying rocks and buckets of arrows upstairs, they have rusty short swords at their waists.
“Don’t draw your weapons and you’ll be fine.” I tell those on the ground floor.
I start climbing upstairs, splitting my attention to ensure that my warriors and harvesters don’t attack. The kids above me are running, likely to warn the defenders. I assemble lion’s step constructs and accelerate.
I reach the first floor, at the same level of the rampart, and am welcomed by soldiers in white tabards who are pointing their spears at me. The harvesters behind me each open their four bladed arms wide, trembling with aggression but unable to get past me because they’re too large for the flight of stairs.
“Don’t do anything stupid, they’ll butcher you.” I speak up.
“She’s the Red Dwarf!” One of the adolescents behind them exclaims.
“Is your highest ranked officer on top of this tower?” I ask.
The soldiers hesitate. If I go by their lines of sight, they seem more concerned with my hammer than with the harvesters. I groan and throw Marec down at their feet.
“This is Count Marec, he’s responsible for the order to execute those who attempted to retreat during the battle on the plains in front of Castle Lance.” I explain. “You hear those screams outside? Those people are dying because you’re wasting my time so I’m going to make this simple for you. You either get out of my way, or you die. I’m ending this war here and now.” I step aside, making space for the harvester behind me to move up. “Lay down your weapons and he won’t attack.”
The Rykz moves up, passing very close to the edge to take position in front of me. One of the soldiers tries to stab it but the harvester swipes his upper arm and cuts the spear in half, along with two of the man’s fingers. He screams and his comrades pull him away.
“Drop your spears. Now.” I order.
The soldiers don’t obey but they scatter and escape the tower through the doors giving on the wall walk on my left and right. The Rykz tries to pursue but I slam my hammer on the ground and it stops.
I walk up the stairs and close the side-doors, ordering each harvester to stand guard in front of them. They thankfully both obey. I grab Marec by the collar to continue climbing the tower, impacting every step as I drag him along.
The archers we go by are all young and their bows look rudimentary, they at look us pass with wide eyes, having no doubt heard and seen what happened on the lower floor. None of them even nocks an arrow so I ignore them.
The hatch at the top of the stairs is unguarded and open. I rush up and find a pale sergeant looking panicky as he stares at what’s happening on the rampart beneath. He still hasn’t noticed me so I walk up to him and tap his shoulder.
“Not now.” He snaps, staring down at the peasants doing their best to stop an advancing warrior shield wall from taking a foothold, failing utterly as their scythes, woodcutting axes, and sledgehammers are unsuited for this kind of pitched battle. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. Where is Garnet.” The sergeant mumbles.
No time to convince this guy. I smack him in the back of the head. He drops unconscious. I scrutinize the situation down there. There are a dozen soldiers in front of the door and even more on the peasant’s other flank.
They failed to reorganize before the siege tower reached the wall. The door of the tower in front of us opens and a blond Nobles runs out of it, wearing chain-mail and hard leather armor.
“People!” I yell. “Drop your weapons and the Rykz won’t attack!”
My words don’t have much of an effect, only those who aren’t actively fighting glace up to me and none stops fighting. I assemble a strengthening construct and grab Marec by the neck with my right hand, ignoring his weak attempts to stop me. I lift him up over the crenelation and dangle him for all to see.
“This is Count Marec. He executed peasants for retreating when he never fought himself!” I coil my left limb back and release it. My arm impales him through the stomach and starts drinking in the blood, satisfying its hunger.
“Don’t listen to the traitor and keep fighting!” The Noble shouts.
“This war ends when you drop your weapons.” I yell.
The peasants, my brethren, look worried and frightened. Unable to settle on a course of action. Fuck. This would have worked if I got here before the Rykz. The blond Lord is running on the pathway towards my tower, making use of the fact that the defenders haven’t been pushed to the back of the wall walk yet.
I assemble two lion’s step constructs before tweaking my strengthening construct’s segments to augment my bones and ligament’s resistance rather than my muscles. The Noble reaches the door beneath and tries to push it open, failing.
I climb over the crenelation and throw Marec’s body down on him before jumping off myself. The dead Count hits the Lord, destabilizing him. I land on top of the man a few seconds later and stab him right in the middle of the chest with my hammer’s spike, it goes through his chain-mail like it isn’t even there.
I roll on the ground to absorb my momentum and jump back up to my feet. Not taking a moment’s pause as I rush to the siege tower, throwing peasants aside as I make my way through their ranks towards the Rykz’ shield wall.
The back line splits to let me pass but, as I get closer, I have to start using my shoulders to make way, triggering painful protests from the stab wound in my right one and disturbing my cracked rib. I finally reach the front-line and the warriors split ranks to let me in but I don’t.
I turn around instead and use my hammer to force the peasants around me to step back. I then smack it on the ground. In reaction, the Rykz arrest their advance and hold their ground, those on the second line stop using their sabers to attack to raise their shields and reinforce the wall.
“The war is over for all of you. Lay down your tools, there is no reason for you to fight, your lives are not at risk here!” Just as I pronounce the last word, the harvester I left behind to guard the door burst through it and advances towards the peasants, stepping on the wooden debris. “Drop your weapons and he will not attack!”
Those directly on the Rykz’ path do so, throwing their improvised weapons away like they’re blazing hot and burning their palms. The harvester keeps going but doesn’t attack, pushing them aside as it heads directly for me.
The other harvester trots out of the tower, the ten warriors on its heels. More and more peasants drop their weapons, unwilling to face the large creatures. I sigh in relief as they spread out and put some space between them and the Rykz.
“What will happen now?” A kid of about seventeen asks, he barely has hair on his face and many of his youthful traits remain.
“We will form a council, justi…” I interrupt myself.
Duke Meria is walking on thin air, no… on golden steps. He is climbing up to the wall from an avenue below. His gaze turns to us, no doubt attracted by the lack of fighting on this section of the wall. He raises his hand towards the golden cloud of flow floating above and brings it down.
“No! Run!” I exclaim as a portion of the energy detaches from the whole and falls towards us.
I wave my arms at the people but I am suddenly tackled from behind and forced to the ground. I try to stand, yet cannot as more and more weight falls on my back. I can’t see what’s happening.
I detect that there are dozens of warriors forming a pile over me, their shields arranged to form a protective shell that covers me rather than them. The two harvesters take position in front of it, they roll up on themselves to present only their carapaces to the outside.
“Please!” Someone yells.
I hear screams and bursts of swirling wind before I sense any of what’s happening. I regret it when I do. Peasants are being shredded, their flesh and clothes cut into ribbons, their bones snapping. Weapons are picked up by and thrown haphazardly into the crowd, injuring many and rendering them unable to escape in time.
The flow whirlwind thickens with blood. The construct is homing in on us but its radius is such that all the people around are getting caught by it. Those alive try to run, but the construct is too quick, only metal and stone are capable of resisting the assault.
Soon, only the cries stop and only the deadly whoosh sound remains. The Rykz stacked on top of me are faring better than the peasants did thanks to their Vuskyt armor and shields. But their exposed rubbery obsidian black skin is still cut through, it fares better than human flesh but that doesn’t suffice.
Even the two harvesters’ carapaces are being dug through, little by little, one rotation at a time. I can sense that the construct is entering the siege tower behind me, it tears the warriors inside to pieces but fails to do more than scratch the wood that is now glowing with dark heat, Rykz flow.
Brown viscous blood drips down on me from the warriors that died protecting me, I feel tears flowing down my face at the massacre I cannot help but observe because of my limb’s heat sense. So many lives wasted, yet the siege tower is still standing.
The drone’s breathing cry is weak, painful to my ear, but they do not move a single centimeter and hold firm against the deadly whirlwind slaughtering them. After what seems to be an eternity, the construct stops. Having expended all its energy, the wind drops and so does the blood it carries.
The surviving warriors move as soon as it does, suddenly breaking up the pile. Many have only stumps left, no arms or legs, just limbs that end in thick bare black bones that have no more flesh covering them. They ignore their horrific injuries and use them to move away and displace the dead bodies to free me.
I stand, shaking, finding that the wall walk is now littered with the dark orange liquid of Rykz and human blood mixed together. There are torsos and flayed heads covering the stone ground, chunks of flesh scattered all over.
I turn to the sound, finding that more warriors are already arriving to take over for the fallen. In a daze, I walk up to the rampart’s crenelation and lean over it to look down at the plains outside the city. The sight makes me throw up, coughing bile from my empty stomach.
There are tens and tens of thousands of Rykz standing there in disciplined ranks, climbing the towers in order. They are so tightly clustered together that I cannot even catch a glimpse of soil or grass. The Duke killed hundreds of peasants to put these warriors down, yet it didn’t even dent their numbers. No, he killed them because they stopped fighting.
The harvesters unroll and stand back up with difficulty, their interlocked carapaces are torn but still attached to their flesh, some of their organs exposed to air.
I turn around and walk up to my hammer that escaped my hands when the warriors tackled me. It is now lodged in a soldier’s chest, a body laying against the wall without a head. I seize its handle and pull it out.
A second golden cloud is falling down towards us. The door on the guard tower on the other side of this wall section is missing, its wood shattered, and through it I can see that there are soldiers running here to take over.
I slam my weapon on the ground and run to the other tower, the Rykz doing their best to follow me but fail. They are torn to pieces before reaching the door. I run downstairs, two steps at a time, the archers inside the tower are injured but not dead.
I walk out, finding the group of Rykz and hostages waiting for me in front. The Noble’s expressions are full of disbelief and horror. Blood splashed on them from above and they no doubt heard the screams. I don’t hesitate for long.
I raise my hammer and decapitate the closest one to me with a single merciless blow. I pick up the head and throw it to the Lady I spoke to earlier. She catches it by reflex, letting it go almost immediately with a terrorized yelp.
“Pick it up.” I utter. She immediately does so, eyes wide and staring at my hammer. “Now go. Bring this to Duke Meria and tell him that I’m coming for his.”
She remains frozen, bloody head in her hands. I lift my hammer and take a single step towers her. She tries to leave, the Rykz blocking her. I push them aside with my weapon and she departs into a full run.