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As Siegfried walks away, I wonder how much he’s going to involve himself in this fight. I had predicted he wouldn’t intervene much when I allowed him to travel with me, basing that on my knowledge that the old man has little interest in helping Mirus’ greedy Nobility.

I’m sure he would prefer to resolve the situation by removing the rebel leadership while helping the low born rebels but the fact he noticed I’ve used him might change things. I turn to Thomas whose irritated expression does little to reassure me.

Let’s go.” He speaks up.

I make my way to my weapons and fasten the belts back around my waist under the eyes of hundreds of rebels hiding into the town’s ruins. Their expressions vary from the angry to the spiteful, the fact they’re not voicing their resentment against me is good but doesn’t truly improve the situation.

Elisa clearly spread the news of Sykus’ crimes but that was never going to be enough for them to accept me. Mirus’ General is counting on this, if I fail to unite them we’ll have to fight alone and that’ll result in at least one of my minions dying, which isn’t something I can let happen.

Uhla, run to the scene of the explosion and help the injured.” I call out. Her association with me will improve their view of me. “Idali, Rowland, Nahl, find me an area to set up an ambush in the ruins, it has to at least be concealed from the sight of their eastern forces.”

Yes ‘mam.” Idali quips as they run off in different directions.

Thomas scratches his beard as he watches them go, turning a dubious glance to me once they’ve left. I extend my hand out to invite him to enter the town with me but he ignores it.

Let me make something clear, Miss Freepath.” He utters. “There will be no battle to speak of, it will be a fighting retreat to the north.”

I don’t intend to take over.” I speak up. “But that would be the mistake that puts a final end to your rebellion, rendering everything you’ve done so far moot.”

Sykus had already ensured the end of the Redreef with his actions, I will not allow you to usurp it for your own purposes.” He counters but his expression is tormented, he evidently isn’t ready to abandon their rebellion.

It would be difficult for me to seize control considering I will be gone as soon as I’ve achieved victory here, Thomas.” I tell him. “Trust me for just a little while, I’ll deliver you a small victory to build upon and win this battle.”

My trust comes at the price of my people’s lives, it isn’t something I can grant so easily.” He counters.

Look around.” I wave at the camps surrounding the town’s ruins where Mirus’ soldiers are already gathering. “There will be a battle in town whether you like it or not, what do you have to lose in placing your confidence in me on one small section of the battlefield?”

…” The man stares at me. “How many units?”

I’ll need at least three squads, including one of archers.” I tell him.

Done, but I’m putting Flo as your second in command.” He responds.

Who is it?” I ask.

The sergeant that went after you when you arrived.” He tells me while walking away. Ah, mud girl.

You need to find and strip these bodyguards of their gear before they get any ideas.” I throw the warning at his back.

I’m aware, they’ll be dealt with.” He responds, unfazed.

I make my way into town to find intensifying glares turned on me. It doesn’t surprise me that I’m receiving blame for Sykus’ actions, such are people, but it does reinforce my desire to go to spend a few years with the Rykz if I have the chance. Whatever their faults, they take the truth very seriously.

Thankfully, no one tries to attack me. I’ve demonstrated enough skill to scare even the most hotheaded of Sykus’ supporters and, after years of guerrilla warfare, his reputation among them must’ve taken a dive such that his fall isn’t as much of a shock as it would otherwise be.

One ambusher would not be an issue but if several took a go at me, like the bodyguards, then it could provoke a disastrous chain-reaction that would devolve the situation into a full-blown fight. It’s going to be an uphill battle to build enough support to get these people out of their bind.

What would Leomi do? Probably something naughty to get your mind off of this. A grin blossoms on my face as I think of her ability to distract me. It quickly falls as I recall how she dismissed me. I need to get laid if I’m just forgetting what she did, and she’s my only option.

It worked, though. I shake my head with a thin smile as I realize I’m no longer as worried about what’s to come. I take a turn into a street surrounded by burnt logs that used to be houses to make my way towards the now destroyed manor.

I find several dozen injured lying on the ground with Uhla quickly going through them assessing their wounds. These officers, dressed in mismatched jackets and tunics, made it out with burns and broken bones.

It may be cruel of me but my first thought is that it’s a good thing since they can still command their troops. Their expressions range from the angry to the furious, all of them are clearly aware of who it was that screwed them.

It would be counterproductive to pitch in, and definitely perceived as opportunistic despite it being in all our interests to get on the same page. I send out twenty portions of flow to Uhla so they get back on their feet faster and head off to get acquainted with the environment.

I run into Elisa walking out of an alley with my rapier. The young woman is tightly holding onto my rapier in her fist as she looks down, her expression one of mourning. She holds the weapon out to me but I refuse it.

I’ve no more use for it, keep it and remember to verify before you trust.” I tell her.

Elisa throws me a look of confusion. It’s clear she’s lost and doesn’t know what to do. I give her a thin smile and move on. She’ll have to figure out what she should be doing when the battle starts or she’ll die. I keep going until I arrive at a crossing near the center of town and spot Rowland. He hurries over with a somber expression.

Didn’t find anything?” I ask.

No, most walls can barely stay upright, I expect half to fall from the slightest push and the rest to drop when troops come marching in town.” He replies with overwhelming pessimism. “Either way, we won’t remain hidden from their officers’ sight very long.” What a cute perceptive minion, figuring out my intent.

“We could still use that.” I tell him.

I suppose, there is a street that runs south-west to north-east in a diagonal. It’s not very far and there are plenty of crumbling walls if you want to set up an ambush.” He responds.

Let’s wait to hear what the others have found.” I tell him and launch a fireball to burn into the sky.

I then turn my gaze up to the east of the valley and spot a group of officers on horseback looking in our direction. Among them is General Claywood. I make a point to wave at him because much of what I do will depend on him.

As expected, Siegfried isn’t at the man’s side. He stands against me today but it is out of duty to his Emperor rather than a will to foil me. Idali and Nahl arrive almost at the same time from the north and south.

What do you have for me?” I ask.

Not much, I found a series of shallow pitfalls and spike traps made of brittle wood.” Idali tells me.

There is a north-south street that leads to a bridge over the river, I think it was the main street.” Nahl reports. “There are plenty of ruins to hide behind for an ambush but they’re unstable.”

That sounds perfect, go find Thomas and tell him to send the squads he promised there, make sure the archers bring at least half a quiver each and spread out the arrows.” I order the ex-Templar. “Also, grab Uhla on the way back.”

Right away, ‘mam” He acknowledges with a serious nod.

I watch him depart at a job with the claymore bouncing on his back with a chill down my back. A horrifying thought goes through my mind. Am I turning into a serious responsible woman?

Let’s build a catapult.” I speak up.

“Why?” Rowland asks while Idali perks up. “We really don’t have the materials for that, or the knowledge really.”

Because I feel like doing something crazy.” I reply with a huge grin.

I have the feeling this is going to be stupid rather than crazy.” He mumbles. “But… what for?”

To ambush them, of course. It needs to be a surprise and what’s more surprising than a warrior falling on you from the skies?” I ask rhetorically.

Called it.” Rowland utters with a laugh.

I’m doing it!” Idali exclaims. “You’re too shor… I mean you can’t go charging into enemy lines as the commander.” She quickly changes her justification as I glare at her.

We’ll see.” I tell her. “Let’s go find that street.”

We head off towards the north because the river and bridge will make it easier to control incoming troops than the entrance to the town. The street is crawling with rebels belonging to several different units, which are apparently made up of two to three squads as far as I can tell.

Each of those units is holding a crossing and buildings, or ruins, around them. I quickly find wooden beams that have lived through a bit of a blaze but survived. Rowland’s overdeveloped body comes into use to gather a few.

It’s really unfair that neither of you is helping.” He complains for the third time.

I’m preparing to launch, I can’t tire myself out with petty work like this.” Idali justifies.

“I’m trying to figure out how to make a catapult out of this.” I explain. “And I’m only slightly taller than average, I can’t carry these things by myself.”

We could carry them together!” He snaps.

“But how would I bully you then?” I ask with a quizzical expression.

Rhapfhmfhm!” Rowland explodes but his voice peters out in frustration.

The girl with dried mud on her face, arrives with thirty peasants armed with spears and bows, the latter are all built like bulls. I sigh because, along with the Mirus soldiers forming up in ranks up the valley, I have no time left to work on my grand plan.

Flo, is it?” I call out.

Hrm.” She groans back. I swear this girl is a wild urchin, I love her. You would.

Station a squad of your people along the end of the street facing the bridge, set the beams he gathered in the middle to make it difficult for them to charge us.” I instruct. “The archers and the other squad are to come with me.”

Jess, I need these!” Idali protests.

Follow along, I’ll throw you myself.” I offhandedly reply.

That doesn’t sound safe.” She responds, her enthusiasm dropping.

Don’t worry, I’ll be perfectly fine.” I reassure her as I walk away.

That is not what I meant.” She mutters.

Flo heads up to the unit defending the entrance of the town, which is a few dozen meters away from the bridge, to explain that we’re taking over. I launch a fireball in the air to make sure the general knows to over-commit his troops here despite having no real line of sight on that battlefield.

I then direct the squad with spears to conceal themselves in a side-street crossing this one. I drag Rowland and the archers to a ruin that doesn’t have a roof right next to the alley.

We have no line of sight to shoot anything from here.” A woman with large shoulders and muscular arms speaks up.

That’s fine, Rowland will take care of that for you.” I reply and walk off.

We’ll be waiting for the right moment to bring the wall down and shoot them.” He quickly explains to her.

What? Then why are we defending the entrance to the town? Just let them walk in and do that.” She protests.

I don’t hear Rowland’s answer but he has enough experience to figure out my plan and I’ve no more time to waste on explaining myself when only a victory will get me what I need to win this battle.

Flo! Get your warriors in two ranks, we’ll be absorbing their charge and retreating behind the crossing from where our other squad will flank them.” I call out.

Grhm.” She grunts the acknowledgment with a sharp nod and starts signaling to the ten peasants to follow my order.

Communicating with her is a bit frustrating but I don’t complain because her obedience and lack of complaint shows she agrees with my plan. I hear a set of hooves in the distance so I run my gaze through the verdure bordering the river.

In addition to the three squads of soldiers on the other side of the bridge, some of which are likely going to attack other streets, there are a few dozen soldiers marching from the east along the other side of the river.

It’s a sign that Claywood took the bait. Clac. I snap my fingers at Idali who runs over to join the soldiers. Nahl and Uhla arrive running as Mirus soldier begin crossing the bridge with painted wooden shields held over their heads.

Arrows start falling on them from our back-lines when they reach the half-way point but they achieve little success so their officers call off the following volleys.

The man on horseback is at the very back, the tunic covering his chain-mail and hard leather armor is embroidered with a crest depicting a white wall with crenelations. He is armed with a proper war-hammer that has a thin head meant to punch through bone and steel alike.

Stagger your ranks and lower your spears.” I call out.

The ten peasants follow the command in good order, showing they’ve some experience and training. They make a wall of spears composed of two lines. I hadn’t given the order beforehand because doing so now presents a strong front and gives these soldiers the impression we intend to hold.

I assume Flo hadn’t because it’ll be more difficult to retreat like this and her narrowing eyes support that conclusion. Nahl and Uhla are holding our right flank together, the hardest one because their weapons will always find shields. This detail can be quite significant in such a small skirmish.

Mirus’ six squads of soldiers finally make it past the bridge and four begin advancing on our position. The other two make their way to our left and right to assault other positions.

Three of the squads attacking us are armed with swords while the other wields bows. It is difficult for me not to draw my broadsword but I can’t seize the victory for them. Hopefully, my four minions will prove enough of an asset to minimize their losses.

Charge!” The Lordling orders from atop his horse on the back-lines.

Aaah!” They cry out in response but their enthusiasm feels forced to my ears.

The soldiers lower their shields to protect their chests and rush at us. Arrows begin falling from above on their lines, coming from further behind us. Most of the projectiles plant themselves into shields but some find shoulders while others bounce off on skulls.

Very few of the soldiers fall but enough to cause their attack to waver for a moment, reducing the speed at which they’ll impact us. Mirus’ archers, located at the back of their lines, return fire but aim at my squad, forcing me to act.

I reach out with my flow and use a couple of portions to deflect the arrows away from the unarmored peasants. Their charge slows down as they run into the beams of wood spread across the ground but it isn’t nearly enough to stop them.

The soldiers raise their swords and push out their wooden shields to intercept the spears as far away from them as possible since arrows are no longer a threat. Most of my fighters aim straight at these large targets, failing at killing anyone but managing to arrest their momentum enough to stay out of reach from their weapons.

Among those who fail, because the point of their spear slipped or they missed entirely, two are injured in the chest and arm while the last manages to luckily bury his weapon in the skull of a soldier.

The woman drops dead, bringing with her the spear in her head. The low born man tries to panically back off to recover his weapon which causes him to bump in the peasant right behind him, destabilizing the formation.

The fight that follows is a show of incompetence as both Mirus’ soldiers and the peasants fumble around, smacking spears and swords away with their weapons to stay alive.

Fear is present on all their faces. This entire spectacle saddens me because I see little difference between these soldiers and peasants, none here wishes to be here fighting each other.

The former wants their pay and have little choice but to fight or risk hanging for desertion while the latter want a better life. These naive people clearly didn’t pick up arms to kill anyone but to fight the oppression in their lives, incarnated by Nobles and their unjust laws.

Idali uses her Vuskyt spear to break through a shield and impale two soldiers with a single thrust while Uhla and Nahl do their best to protect those to their right rather than attack the fearful soldiers.

Retreat!” I calmly call out.

Mirus’ soldiers suddenly brighten with relief as their opponents begin falling back. So much so that, for a brief moment, they don’t try to take advantage of our inevitable disorganization.

It does not last. The Noble has no need to give orders for bloodthirsty expressions to suddenly blossom on the soldiers’ faces. They launch forth after the peasants to try to trip them or split their skulls as they walk back.

The peasant to the left of Flo launches a wild swing of his spear, using it as a club, to push away the threats to his life but the weapon somehow plants itself in a soldier’s shield.

He fails to tear it out within the first second and, instead of letting go to keep his position in line, he tries again and finds himself isolated. Three soldiers swing their swords at him before I can act.

One unsteady blow hits his throat, splitting it open like a ripe fruit. A slash cuts through his clavicle and a couple of ribs before stopping. A pommel lands right on his skull, breaking through to paint the responsible soldier’s hand red with chunks of white, gray, and black brain-stuff sticking to it as well.

I grit my teeth and keep moving backward despite a crushing desire to end it all now because it will save more lives in the long run to let them rush at us without giving them pause to rethink their foolishness.

Our retreat feels excruciatingly slow and two more of the peasants die before we reach the alley where the second squad awaits in ambush. It almost breaks the squad but they manage to hold on.

The soldiers spare not a single glance to their flanks as they keep pressuring us almost to the breaking point. The peasants charge with their spears out and plunge into the soldiers’ right flank, killing a half-dozen on impact.

The soldiers in the front don’t immediately realize the deaths of their comrades and keep pressuring so I reach out with my hand to expel two more portions of flow. I pull air to me and apply myself to creating hard small grains within that breeze.

Now, Rowland!” I bellow.

The wall of a building starts falling into the street, right onto the archers following after the infantry. Before it hits the ground, I narrow my focus on the unstructured energy and send out the air I’ve reshaped.

The hard grains hit the soldiers’ faces like sand, causing them to curse as they raise their shields and forearms to protect their eyes. Meanwhile, the squad of archers behind them is pummeled by a shower of stones followed by one of arrows that finishes them off.

Rowland bursts out to charge the Noble atop his horse who takes a moment to think until the archers turn their bows towards him and immediately flees, leaving a little more than two squads of soldiers under his command to fend for themselves.

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