A panicked clamor erupts in the tent at the report. A grizzled Major who leads one of the Twelfth’s ten regiments unceremoniously grabs Marshal Ciervo’s ankle and lifts his foot so two aides can grab the map while two others bring another table.
“Call Fallone back!” The gray-haired man erupts.
Ciervo fades in the background as his officers start to interrogate the messenger for details about what he’s seen, specifically about the Rykz’ formation, the number of javelins each worker carries, and the length of their supply train.
While the injured courier has no information on the latter, the fact each drone brought two dozen javelins and that some harvesters have more strapped to either side of their lower abdomens is indicative that the Rykz army advanced too quick for carriages to follow.
This in turn means the Rykz are preparing to push the Phalanx in the ruins with a strong offense. The Twelfth’s officers come to the consensus that if they hold, then they’ll have won a breather that’ll last until the insects’ supplies arrive which could take a handful of hours or half a day depending on how fast the harvesters had to travel.
Yet, the possibility that the Rykz pushed these giants with four scythe arms so much they’re exhausted rather far from their supply train is extremely remote considering they’re attacking an immobile position.
The Phalanx wasn’t maneuvering or moving while erecting fortifications every night which means the Rykz could get as close as possible before rushing on the attack when their scouts discovered them, luckily that very immobility means that they sent their patrols further than they would which means they have more time to prepare than they would on open field.
As discussion rages over the reorganized map, an Alemplar arrives and quickly pulls the javelin out of the scout’s flank. The Twelfth’s Marshal, who none other than the aides are paying attention to, signals for the projectile to be brought to him.
He finds it very heavy which means there is a thin metal core in the center of the wooden shell, making it conducive to lightning if struck in the right way. Ciervo channels flow through his arms and brings the projectile down on his knee.
The shell splinters and he peels it away, finding tiny runes inscribed as far up as the point of the javelin. This is one of the more complicated designs made specifically to counter the lightning rods Phalanxes place to protect their ranks by making the projectile more attracting to the lightning.
By multiplying the number of rods on the field, the Rykz can spread a lightning cloud to guide bolts into injured soldiers while setting everything made out of wood on fire.
The scout was either lucky to survive or his squad covered his retreat, but more significant is that there was a Princess so far forward to make use of such an item.
After all, while a human soldier may have used the projectile by mistake, drones do not make such errors when using equipment like this that requires extensive training and orders to use them.
“Send the Auxiliary archers west to open the way for the Templars’ charge and then north to take out the scouts once that’s done.” Ciervo orders. “Start sending the arrow barrels in the northern quarter now and tell Enfarhd to engrave a pulse-shield defense against projectiles on our eastern flank.”
“Right away, Marshal!” The Major replies while snapping a glance to one of his regiment Captain.
Ciervo throws aside the javelin and snags a pastry that he raises over his extended tongue. A drop of syrup falls and he savors the mellow sugary taste. A more active corner of his mind wishes he had one of Telnur’s heavy archer regiments or even crossbows from Mirus to distribute.
There are several reasons why he has to pull back Steso’s archer Auxiliaries but the main one is that their equipment isn’t good enough to reliably punch through the Vuskyt shields and breastplates that warriors wear.
Their other defects include a lower average skill that means they can’t be relied upon to aim at the atlatl wielding workers spread out in the harvesters’ ranks. Overall, it means that Ciervo’s best use for them is zone saturation which these archers are skilled at.
“Marshal!” Fallone salutes as he rushes in the tent, a stack of reports in hand.
“Ah, General.” Ciervo greets. He drops the round pastry into his wide open mouth and chomps down on it. “Mhf, jhis ish ghood!”
“Uh, yes Sir.” Duke Fallone replies hesitantly, wondering how the man can stay so lean while eating so much.
“Ish yur…” Gulp. “Heavy cavalry ready?” The Marshal asks.
“A thousand heavily armored Nobles are on standby in the central avenue, ready and eager to ride out with the Order!” He reports, unaware of where the temple guards will strike but knowing full well that cavalry won’t be of much use inside the ruins if they are to be almost encircled.
“Your mounts aren’t armored so I can’t send them out, making the troop weak to a suicidal scout and warrior counter.” Ciervo denies, keeping under silence that these high born haven’t trained or seen enough combat to keep up with the Templars. “Your heavy cavalry will play a role but I do not know where yet so there is no need to move them.”
“But, they’re in the middle of the city.” Fallone blinks in confusion.
“Yes, but you’re here to discuss your four regiments of light cavalry, I want them to move to our western flank.” Ciervo tells him while holding his hand out to receive the reports.
As soon as the General gives them, the Marshal throws them wildly atop the table, disrupting the officers running around who all stop in their tracks and each pick a paper out to read out measurements for others to draw on the map.
“Has there been a report on the western flank I haven’t received, Marshal?” Fallone asks nervously.
“No, but the Rykz will move to block our retreat west from the north and south because their harvesters will be pushing our eastern flank so they have to in order to stop us from slipping away. You can get up to date on their deployment and adapt yours later.” Ciervo replies, waving the General’s concerns aside. “Right now, I need you to coordinate with one of my flow-smiths to calculate how to break the old water reservoir so that the rainwater pours into the south-western quarter, use the projection to redeploy your infantry and make plans for a light cavalry sortie.”
“The pavement is so ruined there that the roads will turn to mud, I can use that to my advantage.” Fallone notes excitedly.
“Make sure you don’t overextend, the Twelfth won’t be supporting you with flow unless the Rykz make a move first.” Ciervo warns. “And keep a unit in reserve just in-between the south and west because your lines might stay split down the south-west for the entire battle.”
“Yes Sir.” Duke Fallone salutes.
He steps back to go seek a flow-smith with a grin on his face despite having no clue why his heavy cavalry is being immobilized on an avenue heavily barricaded on both the western and the eastern end.
He doesn’t even have a complete idea of what his light cavalry will be doing in the west other than pick off the Rykz warriors that get entangled by the mud-slide that should quickly fill the south-western outskirts and a portion of the plains.
“Should I start making plans to replace this fresh water source?” The grizzled Major asks.
“No, Fred, we’ll spend the flow we stored in the old reservoir on early defense. The battle won’t last more than a day at the most because we’ll break if it does.” Ciervo replies calmly but quietly so no other hears.
“At least we won’t run out of shields this time then.” Fred notes humorously in spite of the grim news.
“Ha, don’t bet on it.” Ciervo chuckles while running his clean left hand through his hair.
“Why don’t you think we can hold?” He questions more seriously.
“Because there are only just enough harvesters facing us for half a day of intense battle, the lack of visible reinforcements means they could be hiding or that up to twenty regiments of those giant bugs have been sent to block the Thirteenth’s advance once they beat back the blaze cutting them off from us.” Ciervo explains.
“The pressure on the Auxiliaries will be light then.” Fred notes. “We’ll have to deal with a mobile push from the north and a hard one from the east.”
Ciervo stands up and grabs the bowl of pastries and sticks it in his left elbow. He picks three syrupy delicacies and devours them as he silently heads out of the command tent through the hole left by the Exemplar.
The Major hurriedly grabs the white cape with a roaring golden lion and an embroidered ‘XII’ before following. The first thing the Marshal notices outside is the huge pillar of dark-gray smoke rising on the northern horizon.
“And something that’s eating me because I can’t put my finger on it. Looking at that map feels like it’s hindering more than helping.” Ciervo mutters.
“From the roofs today then, Sir?” Major Fred asks.
“Yes, but first to Enfarhd.” He replies.
— — —
Ciervo, sitting on top of a chimney atop a singular stone wall that looks like a piece of rubble in the shape of stairs, looks to the east and then the west of the city center with protruding cheeks because of the round pastry in his mouth.
There are a hundred guards, including a dozen Templars, guarding the area around him from other elevated positions and several dozen lightning rods planted in the surrounding area because lightning cannot be blocked at the last second.
“Marshal, they’re approaching.” Enfarhd, a short plump man with blue eyes and blond hair, calls out from bellow in the center of a circle of runes engraved in stone.
“Hm.” Ciervo acknowledges too low for the man to hear.
He turns and reaches out to the mass of golden energy permeating the water in the rectangular reservoir they built. He directs the energy at the flow-smith who helps to pour it in the control runes from which it pours into lines of runes that go down four different meandering streets.
They don’t necessarily need to cooperate but the fact that the energy was pledged to the Emperor who then sent it to Ciervo means that less flow is wasted because Enfarhd has better control through a chain of legitimacy.
The loss of energy is negligible when dealing with a mere thousand or two portions but these small things add up to a lot of lost flow when tens of thousands of portions are handled and Phalanxes often deal in the low hundred-thousands range as a whole.
“Is your pulse-shield ready?” Ciervo asks without bothering to look to the Rykz army that should be visible on the horizon.
“It is, but I worry this many skirmishers will overload it.” Enfarhd replies.
“Ah, don’t. I’ll probably have you saturate the runes past the breaking point long before they launch that many projectiles.” Ciervo reassures.
Enfarhd’s round face stiffens at the reply that doesn’t assuage his concerns in the least. The Marshal ordered him almost at the last possible second to spread out the runic construct to encompass the east, north, and north-east of their defensive lines.
While the shield is able to repel projectiles on all these zones at once, it’ll most definitely take a huge toll on him to do so because of the quantity of information he has to juggle with.
If he had more time, he could have automated some of the pulse-shield but they hadn’t expected the Rykz to fall on them alone with such force, expending quite a lot of energy in scorching the northern plain to do so.
Ciervo turns to the north, finding that there is a black blanket pouring out of the dark-gray smoke rising above the horizon. The hundred-thousand scouts are trampling the young green shoots of vegetation that rose once winter retreated further north.
The blanket is spreading out to form wide ranks that grow as large as the ruin’s outskirts, causing Ciervo’s expression to fall and to grab three pastries at once even though this is what he glanced up to see.
This confirms the Rykz are planning a short and deadly battle, these scouts are moving to not only close their western retreat but also try to overwhelm their north-west, north, and north-east lines all at once. A flanking maneuver with little depth but width to turn his hair white because of the chaos it’ll cause. Clack. He snaps his fingers at an aide.
“Tell Fred I need two of the four flow-smiths I left him with, send them to the fortified towers in the north and wipe the scouts that try to flank us. If they try a one-wave strategy, stop.” Ciervo orders and turns to another aide. “Tell the command tent that the Rykz have been kind to thin their lines when they’re protecting so many Princesses so I expect our scouts to find some coordinates for us to use.”
The first aide runs out towards the east while the other head south-west. Ciervo follows the former with his gaze and slowly lifts his chin to take into account the tighter square of Rykz moving on them from that direction.
While they don’t cover up as much ground as the scouts, the ranks of pitch-black Rykz carapaces coming from the east are much tighter and terrifying to behold considering the Twelfth is outnumbered by at least ten to one if one doesn’t count Auxiliaries or the Rykz army coming from the south.
“There are always more Rykz than one’s eyes can see after all.” Ciervo mutters.
His eyes fall on the forest of long spears rising above the ruins he’d glimpsed over as he turned his eyes to the Rykz. The Twelfth’s phalangites are standing at rest with their sarissas held vertically with the butt resting on the ground.
These spears are four to eight meters long and, as such, easy to see and allow him to take stock of the split in troops he decided upon the night before and modified as the positions of the Rykz scouts his patrols encountered grew closer and came from almost every direction.
There are regiments holding blocks, companies holding streets, and even squads set to defend alleys. He had spikes and low-walls erected on these positions that will hinder the Rykz’ attack even if the Phalanx cedes ground.
It’ll prevent him from easily pushing back but he doesn’t expect to turn to the offensive in this battle unless the Eleventh and the Thirteenth manage to reach him.
The auxiliaries accompanying these Phalanxes could make it to the city ruins but Ciervo doubts they would be in shape to truly pursue the Rykz if they do so he abandoned the option to further fortify his defenses.
The Rykz scouts on the north accelerate and so do the warriors on the east flanking the harvesters who maintain their pace with the atlatl carrying workers. A lengthy and thin Vuskyt shield wall slowly forms up as the warriors on the flanks close ranks to take the avant-garde in front of the harvesters.
“Screw me with a pickaxe.” Ciervo swears loudly as he realizes the Rykz want to trade these warriors for his sarissas but he has no choice but to make the trade because, if he doesn’t, then the warriors will defend the harvesters with their shields at the cost of their lives. “Relay authorization for twelve-thousand portions to the east and use of armor-piercing construct, tell Fred that his south-east flank will be light while his north-east will be flooded with scouts and redeploy his six thousand accordingly.”
“Yes, Sir!” A third aide, a thirty-year-old woman, salutes.
The Marshal predicts that these warriors have been trained to break the spears that pierce their shields even as they are killed so he turns to a forth aide, a young man of twenty with black hair from Caeviel.
“You, get to the Quartermaster and tell him to prepare his runners to resupply the east with sarissas as soon as the battle begins.” He orders and then turns to a Templar with ginger hair and broad shoulders standing atop a pillar. “Sound my horn, Remus. Start the battle and make your Exemplar jealous.”
“You can’t be serious, I can’t reliably beat her yet, you’re asking me to get my ass kicked.” The middle-aged Templar protests.
“Am I?” Ciervo asks with a mean grin.
“This is about me throwing you in the mud last time, isn’t it?” Remus questions rhetorically with a deep sigh.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The Marshal replies with a dignified bearing incomparable to that which he holds when giving out orders.
“I knew it, next time I’ll let you get skewered.” Remus mumbles as he catches the horn a lieutenant throws him.
Brruuuaaaah! Ciervo watches as the forest of sarissas falls in a north to east arc. The back-lines keep their spears angled above the heads of the others, which sometimes helps deflect projectiles. It looks like there are twigs covering the phalangites from this distance.
Then, ten thick golden lines erupt from the wrecked fortress walls at the very center of the ruins and fly out above Ciervo’s head towards the east. Soon, the lines split and turn into a hundred streaks of fire that pierce down towards the harvesters.
A black fog raises from the Rykz’ ranks and smothers the flint projectiles that should have exploded in a shower of stone but disappeared in moments like to plunge into the ground and kill maybe a dozen of the scythe-armed giants while injuring many more but far less than they would normally have.
Ciervo remains unfazed by the failure and awaits the next volley of the long-range runic ballistas while inspecting the black cloud with interest. Ten more are launched in a bundle and then split into a fiery hundred.
The black fog rises to meet the flint bolts and drains the flow out of them, yet it doesn’t stop there. The fog compresses into dozens of spheres connected by thin filaments. The appearance of what seems to be a lightning construct causes Ciervo to narrow his eyes.
He waves his hand at an aide waiting below who immediately snaps a rectangular wooden card. Seconds after, three dozen golden dots flash out from the ruins towards the spheres filling his field of view.
The flow dots are too fast to be intercepted, they either hit a sphere or trigger near several. Golden energy expands out of each dot and then suddenly vanishes as their disruption fields activate, annihilating all semblance of organization in the Rykz constructs.
Moments later, the third salvo of blazing flint ballista bolts rains down on the Rykz who still do not know that the disruption fields have been precisely calculated to run out of flow a moment before the impact.
The projectiles pierce through the black energy before the fog can be reshaped by the Princesses and so impact the harvester and worker ranks without trouble. Ciervo watches as the explosions tear drones into pieces, as huge arms ending in scythes fly up or out, as dirt erupts, as brown blood splashes.
He finds the result of their perfectly timed attack beautiful but knows the sounds of ripping flesh must be horrifying to behold, not to mention hearing the Rykz wail because of the sharp flint shrapnel buried underneath their skin to cause more and more damage as they fight.