Duke Fallone awakens feeling like he’s in a fire-pit, every centimeter of his flesh radiates with agonizing pain. Yet, the man lifts himself up on his bunk and stands.
He is covered in wet viscous bandages meant to alleviate his burns but that he perceives only accentuate the intensity of his suffering. His regeneration of energy is a tenth of what it should be, clearly demonstrating how damaged his body is.
His sheer mental strength and determination is the only thing that allows him to remain conscious. General Fallone’s duty has not ended and so the high born refuses to fall to oblivion.
The Templars attached to the Twelfth and the Eleventh’s cavalry worked to hold the tide of Rykz back which allowed the Phalanx and his auxiliaries to retreat. Unfortunately they could only travel a few kilometers west because they abandoned their carriages and supplies, both flow as well as commodities like food.
He knows instinctively that the riders have likely fought all night to grant them a period of respite and that it is evident the Rykz will launch another massive assault on their position to finish them off by morning.
His hope is that the Thirteenth will make it in time because the Eleventh won’t be able to since the Rykz will be able to slow them down since they no longer have cavalry to protect their advance or open breaches through the insects.
— — —
Fallone gazes at the dust cloud on the horizon with a sinking feeling. Arrayed in front of him are three thousand uneasy phalangites in ranks with their flanks protected by two wings of five thousand auxiliaries.
Behind the army, in what can barely be called a camp, are close to seven thousand injured in no state to fight for their lives, many of them are Templars and riders from the Eleventh.
In front of the army is a tide of Rykz that blacken the entire horizon with the rising sun at their backs. It makes it seem as if the sun is projecting a shadow on the plains instead of light.
“How is this possible? There have to be half a million insects.” One of Fallone’s lieutenants murmurs, a man with red hair.
“It seems the Rykz have decided to pierce our lines here.” Major Fred calmly estimates. “If we can hold…”
“Hold?!” The officer explodes. “We don’t even have fifteen thousand and our cavalry is in shambles!”
“We can fight.” The Exemplar croaks as she stumbles over with her right hand flat on her left breast, both her limb and uniform are red from the blood spilling out of her injury. “We sent the Princesses packing, there are still four to six regiments harassing them. We will fight.” She adds, cementing the Phalanx’s participating in the battle because she directly serves the Emperor and so, without a Marshal present, she holds last say.
“They may not have the advantage in flow but there are more Rykz than we can kill!” The red haired lieutenant protests.
“Form a square.” Fallone utters with his hoarse voice and winces at the pain of forcing air through his burnt throat.
“The Thirteenth is on the way, scouts say it’ll arrive in a handful of hours.” Major Fred notes, trying to rouse the auxiliaries’ spirits.
“General, this is insane. We need to retreat north to meet with the Thirteenth!” The lieutenant explodes.
“I won’t leave Steso open and undefended.” Fallone briefly replies and stumbles away, putting an end to the debate.
— — —
Leomi Lance and Yvonne Shipwold walks with Mary and her company of cripples to intercept Cenwalh in the middle of the camp, glad to see that weapons are still being distributed, it means that they’ll run out just as the King takes over.
“Grand Commander!” A voice calls out to her. “Report from Meiridin!”
“What is it?” Leomi asks as she turns to the rider.
“House Cenwalh’s warehouses were pillaged by a band of pirates and it’s said that Dame Freepath obliterated an entire squad of Nobles escorted by a company of soldiers by herself!” The rider reports.
“Dammit, jay.” Leomi swears at her fiancee’s recklessness, yet there is a prideful smile on her lips. She internally thanks Edusa for having ordered her people to report the news to her. “Thank you soldier.”
“It’s my duty, Grand Commander.” The man salutes and quickly rides off.
“Let’s go put our smug King down a notch.” Lance says to the Hospitalier’s amusement.
“How did you know, Grand Commander?” Mary asks, puzzled because Lance seems to have utterly predicted the events.
“I didn’t exactly know what he would do.” Leomi denies. “But I did know what he could do and acted accordingly.”
She’s relieved Cenwalh did what she thought he would because then she would have had to confiscate supplies on the way south which would have been bad for her reputation but also damaged the King’s authority.
— — —
King Cenwalh, looking magnificent in his armor and atop his strong warhorse, is scowling for there is much more chaos than he had predicted. He can tell, even while keeping his head looking straight south, that there are people in Hospitalier uniforms spread across the camp and speaking to soldiers while his officers are gathering them.
“What is this?” The King asks between grit teeth.
“They seem to be distributing supplies and weapons.” One of the two generals riding a step behind him answers.
“They’re arming my forces?” Cenwalh blinks.
“It appears to be so.” The other general confirms.
The King frowns, puzzled. He thought his actions had been predicted but the Hospitaliers aren’t trying to draw the soldiers into their fold. He concludes that the honorary Duchess is too soft and is trying to ensure the survival of those who responded to her call by equipping them for war.
“King Cenwalh!” The voice is so loud it causes many horses to startle, including the King’s who is forced to pull on the reins and stop.
“Honorary Duchess Lance. We believed you would have left for Kruzser in search of coin to fund your endeavors, what a delight it is to meet you here.” King Cenwalh replies with a calm and grand tone despite the mockery implied.
Lance advances in her light blue uniform with a long white cape on her shoulders, her clothes couldn’t be simpler compared to the King’s yet they suit her perfectly by giving a stern and strictness to her appearance suitable for a military campaign.
Her pure white hairs that match her eyes and slender tall body do the rest to make her appear as a grand figure without needing to rely on elaborate embroidery to match the King’s engraved armor.
She does not kneel nor bow and this singular defiance causes many of the generals to feel uncomfortable, they wiggle restlessly on their saddles as they await an explosion of fury from Cenwalh.
Many among them assume that this is a trap. After all, their army is stretched out in the middle of potentially enemy forces. It wouldn’t be difficult for the honorary Duchess to have planted people among the regulars to drag them into the fight.
To their surprise, Cenwalh does not react or demand a show of fealty. The man is more prideful than they realize but also more calculative than they know.
The King estimates that his opponent will use some sort of loophole to extricate herself from the need to show fealty, which is likely considering she is an honorary Duchess which can be of other Kingdoms.
He could demand her to bow and it would be His right, but it would also be a sign of weakness to demand so personally. Ordinarily, his chamberlain would demand in his place but he isn’t here and the generals don’t have the same loyalty or nose for their King’s wants.
“It took you quite a while to gather your army, King Cenwalh, I worried something terrible befell you as it did your warehouses.” Lance utters with a mean smirk.
Warehouses? Cenwalh tries to recall any news involving those but fails so he assumes something happened in Meiridin after the news he received about the woman rampaging at the eastern gate.
“We are certain Our Queen will have dealt with these troubles by now.” Cenwalh dismisses with a lazy wave of his gauntlet. “But there are indeed events that did worry Us, however. We did not know whether to congratulate you for your engagement or offer condolences.” The King mocks. “The latest news tell me that condolences are in order, not only has your hand been taken by a peasant, but that peasant unfortunately forced Our hand and We had no choice but to order her execution for crimes against the Crown follower her capture.”
“Ha.” Leomi Lance scoffs loudly. “I do not know how many soldiers you sent, but I know the number is equal to those she has defeated.”
“Hrm.” Cenwalh grunts loudly. “You support the peasant?” He asks coldly.
“Support? I would be the first to lock her up for going that far but I deny your interpretation that she committed crimes, King Cenwalh.” Lance utters, revealing more than she would normally have because of her seething temper. “She made your Nobility look weak, and that is the greatest present she could have given me so I will not allow slander.”
“Allow? We are King!” Cenwalh bellows with a short bout of laughter that quickly turns cold. “General Yvan Roskal, I order you to…”
“That would be unwise, King Cenwalh.” Master Amand intervenes.
Cenwalh glances left to find the Master standing next to Prince Arkur with the Master of Meiridin’s Temple at his side, bringing with them the weight of Telnur and Caeviel’s Templar Order.
“There have been no reliable reports so as to the nature of Dame Freepath’s actions. Not only do we know her to act with good reason but the Order estimates a potential flow-smith of her caliber must be treated with circumspection for the good of the Empire.” Master Amand explains.
Cenwalh freezes at this unexpected move but what truly stops him is the small look of annoyance from Leomi Lance who seems to have been expecting confrontation and prepared for it.
The presence of Arkur in itself is what places him in an undesirable position. While he could test Lance and, he believes, hold her captive for a while, it would do him no good with the Prince there to stop him.
He can’t further boost her reputation in Caeviel or in the Empire by being thwarted. His issue is that Telnur doesn’t feel threatened by the Hospitaliers or Lance’s ideology.
“A peasant flow-smith, preposterous.” Yvan scoffs.
“Is the Order claiming that the rebel is in the right and so We have no right to arrest the honorary Duchess?” Cenwalh asks calmly.
“The Order wouldn’t dare, your Majesty.” Amand replies soothingly. “You have every right as King to rule your Kingdom as you see fit, it is simply our duty to warn you that circumstances aren’t as they seem.”
“…” Cenwalh ponders for a moment. “Then We shall simply relieve the honorary Duchess of her ill-begotten title which never had any standing for it was never given by a rightful assembly of Nobles.”
Lance scowls. She responds by flicking her cape and walking away, satisfied by this despite the fact it’ll be more difficult to use the title she has no intention of giving up on no matter what Caeviel says about it. Arkur and Amand exchange a glance before turning away as well since the King is holding his silence.
Cenwalh grits his teeth and feels a burst of rage at the number of traitors arrayed against him. Telnur is blind and the Order seems to be overstepping their bounds more and more each day.
“Yvan, tell your sister that she has free reign in Kruzser.” The King utters ruthlessly. He caught onto the fact that the Order said naught about the Emperor and concludes the man to be occupied with the war with the Rykz. “Have her make contact with Suxen as well.”
“That is… risky, my King.” The general notes.
“Risky? They threaten Caeviel’s Nobility! Let Us see if they dare act against Us and draw the rage of all six Kingdoms.” Cenwalh rages.
The King thinks that, no matter what happens, the Emperor cannot remove a ruler without good reason and Cenwalh now has plenty of grievances to air which will allow him to gather other Noble houses around him.
— — —
Lance watches as the expedition she gathered leaves for the south, unable to help her guilt from twisting her guts. Because of how large the expedition grew, she had little choice but to lose control if she wanted it to succeed.
Yet, there is a difference between being outmatched and voluntarily losing so that these people, who wished to follow her to help Telnur, experience what it is to be ruled by an iron fist with no empathy, with ambitions that run contrary to what they wished to accomplish.
Eventually, she calculates that those who responded to her call to arms will be further dedicated to her cause, to the point where she will be able to seize this army from the fist of a King. They will rebel against the right King Cenwalh used to usurp her command.
— — —
Fallone stands at the center of his auxiliaries with his eyes set east while theirs look south, west, and north. He is watching the backs of the three thousand phalangites facing the tide of Rykz about to fall on their ranks.
At the very middle of the square are the thousands of injured from the battle of the day before, guarded by archers who have run out of arrows. Fallone knows he should be among them. His legs are shaking and it feels like he would drop were he to deactivate his strengthening construct.
Yet, it does naught for the pain. The Duke wishes the numbness he fells alleviated his agony, yet it only grants him an unbearable frustration. He listens closely and hears the insect’s breathing cry which causes the auxiliaries’ ranks to shiver.
“Fight, for your Kingdom! If you fall here, hundreds of thousands of Rykz will find their way to Steso!” The redheaded officer bellows in Fallone’s place despite his opposition to the entire endeavor.
“Haa!” The auxiliaries shout.
The Rykz tide charges. Scouts scamper ahead of the warriors on their four pointy legs to crash into the Twelfth’s shields and receive counter-blows from their falchions which too often fail to end them in one blow as they get stuck in the insects’ interlocked carapaces.
The phalangites’ front-line buckles under the sheer weight of the charge but they are swiftly supported by those behind themselves. Blades fall, cracking black carapaces and splashing viscous brown blood. Sharp chitin pikes are thrust, piercing through wrecked or weakened cuirasses to spill red blood.
The scouts’ lines soon flow outward around the hard wall of phalangites, giving the impression that the tide remained unbroken and simply split to attack the auxiliaries on the flanks.
Fallone knows that it is illusion, most of the scouts simply died while the rest seamlessly followed the path of least resistance to clear the way for the warriors following them. There are no Princesses yet the insects need none for this battle against their exhausted force.
The warriors hit the Twelfth like a hammer smashing against an anvil. The clash obliterates what few shields the phalangites still had with their hard and heavy Vuskyt shields.
The battle turns deadly for the Twelfth. Their tight ranks allow them to fight the slightly larger insects one on one but it also prevents them from dodging. They have to resort to blocking the heavy sabers with the side of their falchions.
Many of those weapons inevitably break yet the warriors have their three claws to use while the phalangites have to steal the weapons of those they’ve killed. The spherical handle of these sabers makes it beyond difficult to use but it is better than nothing for the Phalanx buckling under the pressure.
Meanwhile, Fallone witnesses his auxiliary infantry get whittled down by the scouts rushing past their flanks. The creatures are simple but they know how to use speed to catch opponents off-guard.
Soldiers fall from receiving pikes to their throats from a passing scout they hadn’t seen in the black tide clashing against their kite shields while rushing past.
Soon, the Rykz wrap around their defensive square to attack it from every direction. Fallone observes with a ball in his throat as the sheer pressure the insects apply on their ranks causes the space between each combatant to diminish.
As time passes, the relentless creatures start grinding their formation until it turns into a circle, causing more difficulties for the individual fighters to maneuver. Rykz warriors manage to kill their way into the Twelfth, driving a wedge in their ranks.
“General…” The lieutenant trails off.
“Do as you were ordered.” Fallone croaks.
The red-haired officer’s expression sinks but he gives out the order. In the south, west, and north every back-line officer orders the auxiliaries to send their energy to the flow-smith who will redistribute it to the phalangites.
Fallone knows that they will all be doomed if the phalangites fail to contain the warriors. His auxiliaries are suited to fighting these creatures but only at full strength, right now they are too tired and have no support from archers or cavalry.
Golden streams quickly travel through their defensive circle towards the east. The Twelfth erupts with renewed vigor and their ranks close in to push back the wedge of Rykz.
Yet, the creatures plant their pointy legs into the plains and refuse to retreat a single centimeter. They fall by droves because of this and a small group even ends up completely encircled to be slaughtered but the body they leave behind further disrupt the human ranks.
The Rykz grow furious at these staggering losses. The warriors begin furiously swing their sabers with little regard for their lives while scouts start climbing atop the lower abdomens of other drones to throw themselves into the human ranks, causing much disarray.
“Steady!” Fallone utters.
“Steady!” The lieutenant relays loudly.
The first wave of crazy scouts are difficult to take out but the next ones are swiftly dealt with. The issue Fallone sees is that there is no end to the tide of Rykz so their focus must be on resistance rather than attack and they need space for such a task.
“Push!” Fallone orders.
“Push them back! One step!” The red-haired officer yells.
The human lines extend like a fan, causing their circular formation to dig into the Rykz waves. The task succeeds because the drones entered a frenzy which disrupted their pressure.
While the ground they gained allowed each human to more easily do battle, they lost it in the course of an hour under the constant Rykz assaults. Fallone could order another push but he estimates that, with their losses, the current space each fighter has to maneuver hasn’t been reduced.
While General Fallone’s mind calmly and almost cruelly estimates these things, phalangites and auxiliaries are desperately trying to survive with their backs to a wall.
The loud cry sounds different to his ears but, with the cloud of dust and the screams covering the battlefield, he cannot find any cause. Yet, he witnesses the tide of drones crashing against their lines.
— — —