As the peasants rush to pursue the soldiers, Flo and my minions do their best to corral them. The entire commotion scares the horses more than the battle did and they flee. I walk along the street deeper into town to give it a quarter of an hour before intervening.
“Assemble!” I bellow.
Peasants start returning, including from other units that I hadn’t seen before. From all appearances, they came from nearby areas where soldiers fled at the arrival of the small horde.
My troop grows to an impressive forty in numbers, including fourteen archers with large enough muscles I consider giving them shields just to break enemy lines. I decide against it because they likely lack the training. I wave at my minions to tell them to gather.
“Did you spot a significant battle while you were playing around?” I ask them.
“Not directly but there are smoke columns and dust clouds in the south.” Rowland replies with Nahl nodding while Idali and Uhla cluelessly shake their heads.
“No skirmishes east?” I question.
“We broke them up, many left for the south.” The ex-Templar says.
“Form ranks!” I bark out.
As they gather into lines, I notice that a good third of the peasants wield scythes while a few have flails rigged with nails on the wooden head to increase their killing potential.
We make our way south, breaking up skirmishes deep into the ruins which makes it clear the rebel units defending the border of town didn’t hold and had to retreat.
During the short journey, I try to think up tactics to increase their chances but each involves complicated maneuvers or cooperation that they haven’t trained for, leaving me with only positioning tricks as those I’ve used.
These aren’t drones, after all, they do not have innate advantages that allow them to cooperate seamlessly. Attempting to make them follow semi-complicated plans or apply formations they’ll forget about as soon as the fight starts would backfire and result in more losses.
“Flo, pick yourself a squad.” I order the girl. “Your role is to act separately of us and flank when possible.”
“Hrm.” She grunts.
We arrive at an accidental plaza made up of a broken granary and the crumbled structures that used to surround it where a mess of a skirmish is unfolding in full swing.
Atop the debris are dozens of carcasses of peasants, soldiers, and horses alike. This vicious battle began with a volley that decimated the rebels before a cavalry charge was ordered that resulted in a good half of the horses breaking their legs on the uneven ground.
Since even Nobles couldn’t be so stupid as to give out such an order, I assume that the Redreef officers somehow camouflaged the ground to make it look stabler than it was.
The riders likely stopped their horses and dismounted to join the infantry after losing so many mounts because they’re now engaged in a completely disorganized melee with the rebels. My troops begin breaking ranks to go help their own, which will result in several dozen more isolated duels.
“Stay in formation!” I command with a harsh tone, stopping them. The problem is that this discipline won’t last so I have to quickly give orders for them to follow. All I can think of is to give these rebels an organized unit they can regroup around. “Advance in line, do not break ranks under any pretext! Flo, go dislodge their archers. Archers, go support her.”
The rebels fan out to advance on the plaza, resulting in the rebels nearby to flock to my unit’s lines to escape their, likely in their minds, doom. The weak point of my hasty plan is that our ranks lose cohesion but Mirus’ soldiers aren’t organized enough to exploit this.
“Rowland, Nahl, go yell at them to form battle-lines.” I instruct.
“Uhla, use flow to get whoever you can back on their feet but don’t be conservative to the most injured.”
“Bandages?” She asks with tightening traits.
I flip my pouch open and grab my roll to throw at her. As she runs off, it hits me that I’ve just ordered her to deal with the situation the same way Leomi did when my left arm was in flames.
There is no doubt some of these rebels will lose limbs, fingers, eyes, and ears because of my command. My emotions roil, my justifications for preserving both my stamina and flow start feeling like the excuses of a hypocrite when I could be directly saving lives.
“Screw it.” I swear. “Idali we’re going for it, take the lead I’ll have your back.”
As I draw my long broadsword, her silhouette flashes past me and leaps over our lines. I insult her under my breath because she both robbed me of the opportunity to catapult her over and to force me to run after her.
As I lion’s step to pick up speed and leap over the rebels, I hear screams and catch sight of a hand still holding a sword flying up in the sky. How, by the Lake, did she do that with a spear?
I lion’s leap over the peasants and land feet first on a soldier’s back, breaking it at waist level. The woman gargles and aimlessly searches for the sword that escaped her hands around her so I finish her off with a quick thrust in the back of her skull.
When I raise my gaze, I witness Idali moving like a tempest of blood from duel to duel, using her spear like a precise blade to allow her to chain attacks. I smile appreciatively and extend my palm towards her while releasing flow.
As she lands in a crouch and slashes at the neck of a Noble in chain-mail who just severed a rebel’s head off, I use my energy to take stock of the kinetic force around her. As soon as she rises back up, I launch her at another target.
“Jess!” Idali screams as she flies past me.
“You go, girl!” I encourage her with an innocent smile.
I lion’s step to pursue, going past a small group fight so I slash out in passing and injure two soldiers. Both turn but only one leaves an opening that gets him killed. Idali fumbles on landing and almost gets hit by a peasant’s scythe.
A soldier tries to quickly kill her with a lion strike but she manages to block him with her Vuskyt spear. As I was about to go in to help, she leans back and her right leg kicks up.
Thuk. The man receives her heel in his chin. His eyes roll back and he drops unconscious, perhaps even straight up dead from the sound of the impact. Meanwhile, Idali starts falling backward because she didn’t really think her move through.
I send out a couple more portions of flow and launch her back at the group battle I cruised by. She flies off screaming exaggeratedly, basically showing off, while I casually trot after her.
“Ah, woops.” I murmur as a soldier steps out of reach of a spear and Idali impacts him.
“Don’t use me like a battering ram!” She yells.
I lion’s leap to her side and intercept a slash aimed at her back. We move together to flank this melee, I take the left and her the right. As we tear apart those too focused on their opponents to notice us, a large group gathers to charge my troops.
I shape another few hundred small hard grains of air and blow them at our current opponents with a gust of wind, blinding most and allowing us to end them in a relatively short amount of time with the rebels’ help.
We then charge at the unit attacking the ranks of rebels, or mostly trying to hold them back as they try to regroup. They’re led by a Noble wielding a pole-arm with a long blade at the front who is digging into our troops.
Nahl and Rowland are busy keeping the wings of our formation together so they’re not free to go deal with him. Idali is already fighting with five soldiers who turned to block us, leaping back and forth to stay out of reach as she tries to flank them, so I leave her to it and gather my flow.
I activate my perception construct and shape a sundering one before walking into the hole Idali is making into their ranks. She flashes past me as I walk in and stabs a woman in the forehead through a steel helmet.
I crouch down as I spread my flow and propel myself forth with a burst of kinetic force, straight at the man through his troops. I use my faster thinking speed to lion’s step while slashing at the soldiers I pass by, decapitating a dozen by the time I reach the Noble.
The man must’ve heard something or received a warning because he turns around swinging with a powerful lion strike that my cuirass would have trouble to block even with the defensive runic construct.
I raise my arm and use a lion’s strike to deliver an arcing slash at his legs that launches my body into a spin which allows me to dodge his pole-arm and cut his legs off at the knees.
As his blade swings into the air in front of my face, my back crashes into him which bumps him away from his still upright calves. I flick my broadsword around for a blind slash as I impact the ground.
I roll over myself almost uncontrollably to somehow end upright and balanced on my feet, laughing like an idiot because that was a lot of fun. I glance down to find that I’m standing on a piece of the Noble’s chest and a chunk of rubble.
He was cut across his chest and right arm. The Lord dies gasping like a fish out of water, his body split into five pieces by two blows. As I look around, I witness soldiers running away from my unit’s advancing horde of spears.
“That’s a surprising number of rebels.” I note, counting almost seventy rebels grouped up under Rowland and Nahl’s instructions.
In the east, Flo is tearing a few dozen archers apart on a pile of rubble where they apparently hid behind with our archers shooting over their heads towards a target I can’t see but isn’t firing back. I conclude that this is the end of the skirmish and swing my broadsword in the air to get rid of the blood coating the blade.
“What?” I ask quizzically as I flip to the voice.
There are a few dozen peasants staring at me instead of chasing after the soldiers, many with gaping mouths. I recognize a few as belonging to Flo’s unit, making one of them responsible for calling my name.
The cry is picked up by the surrounding rebels to be repeated louder and louder by my entire unit. It confuses me but I raise my sword to accept the cry since it’ll raise morale at the very least.
“We’re not done yet! Form ranks!” I bark as I begin walking south.
The rebels somehow manage to turn my name into a rallying cry and move back into the semblance of a formation to follow me. It costs me stamina to keep going without pausing to catch my breath but I keep going with strong steps because any dip in their spirits could cause a rout during the next skirmish.
Flo catches up with her squad and the archers when we reach the other end of the plaza. My cowardly minions remain among the troops even as we make our way to the previous headquarters, abandoning me at the forefront like the uncute insubordinate followers I always knew they were deep down.
Various chant and cries arise from the rebels as we make our way and approach the destroyed headquarters but they all die down when the rubble comes into sight.
Part of it is because most of them hadn’t seen the result of the explosion, but the rest is explained by the battle currently underway. There are two units of thirty rebels on the retreat to the north-west, fighting but hard-pressed by double their numbers in soldiers armed with swords and spears.
Behind them is the field hospital which is currently being evacuated but much too slowly compared to the rate at which they’re losing ground. Since there is no time to wait for my troops to all come out of the street and then get into formation on top of that, I raise my broadsword and take a deep breath to lower it with a war-cry.
“Charge! Kill them all!” I bellow.
It doesn’t take any more than this for the rebels to let loose and rush past me like a disorganized mob. Before my sight is blocked by the chaos, I spot Siegfried and the mute making their way out of the soldiers’ ranks.
Six soldiers are following behind them, dragging Thomas, Elisa, and another officer I haven’t met who are tied up. Shit, my trap to Claywood turned on me, it told Sieg that he could attack without running into us.
“Flo!” I yell out as I turn to Rowland, Nahl, and Idali to signal them to come over as well. It takes a moment for the four to make their way through the charging rebels. “Go delay Siegfried, if you fail make sure you follow and find out where he drops them.”
“He’s an Exemplar, Jess, we’ll need you.” Nahl protests.
“If I go, the rebels will crumble without any leadership.” I deny. “Just take it as a scouting mission if you don’t have confidence.”
Flo lets out a growl that makes me seriously consider reclassifying her as a wild beast rather than an urchin. Idali leads the three towards the east, likely to make a hook to the south later to intercept the Exemplar, they grab a few rebels on the way as well.
I find a chunk of wall that’s still standing, now a rare sight in this town, and climb it to check the battle only to sigh because Mirus’ soldiers are retreating in order despite my flanking horde.
Their shields and formation are allowing them to easily hold back the disorganized mob as they return from where they entered the town. A few attempt to cut the soldiers off but they’re quickly routed.
I hop off the pedestal and make my way to the field hospital behind the lines where I spotted a rebel sending out a messenger. This battle, despite involving far more people than the previous ones, results in very few casualties.
By the time I arrive at the field hospital, all the officers apparently gathered to argue what to do in the absence of Thomas. From the insults thrown, many of which implicating them with cowardice, it’s evident some wish to follow Sykus’ original plan of hightailing it.
As I approach to take part, a few hostile glares turn to me but the worst part are the dozen apathetic ones that underline the defeat to their morale they just received in losing their four highest officers in less than a couple of hours.
I check the injured and simple rebels around us only to find similarly discouraged expressions despite the soldiers having been pushed back. What would Leomi do now? Oddly enough Liz doesn’t quip and stays quiet this time, although I suspect she’s napping right now.
Probably rally everyone around her by being all round generally awesome. I decide to ignore the officers and turn to the troops, most of which are now aimlessly wandering because only a few could pursue the soldiers. I use my flow to rise in the air.
“Your officers seem to believe your strength came from your leaders!” I yell as loudly as I can to quell the ever-present noise, which achieves enough success to be heard. “Are your spirits and bodies so weak they rely on outsiders when the time comes to harvest?”
“No!” A cry almost immediately responds, which is a relief.
“Sykus was an outsider! A bourgeois who never knew the trials of working this earth to raise Lake given crops!” I continue but this time receive an awkward silence, which I expected. “Your strength comes from yourself, you lost today and in the past not because you lacked power or determination but because you were held back by beautiful but empty speeches! Are you willing to once more run away with your tails between your legs?”
“Sykus dealt with Nobles, he led the Redreef rebellion with compromised morals to enrich himself with coin and power! To help high born houses who’ve only exploited you in return!” I bellow. It’s so much easier to dismiss the guilty than argue one’s plans. “He promised you freedom when in fact all he did was keep you from finding it through force of arms by fighting battles to hold onto land you can no longer live on because Mirus will always attack where you plant your roots!”
“Then what should we do?” A man questions loudly in the short silence following my words. If the Lake exists, it’ll bless you for this.
“You were led from defeat to defeat with naught to show for it other than damage Mirus can easily afford!” I erupt. “Today, you have the opportunity to sally out and truly strike a blow to this Kingdom by beheading its General! Today, you can take your fate in your own hands! Will you rest here and now, without having worked a full day, or will you sally out to kill, to reclaim your own?!”
The chant arises quickly and grows in strength as rebels stream towards me in large numbers. I open my arm and use my energy to turn and show my face to all those who wish to follow me into battle.
As I lower myself back down to the ground, I note at the back of my mind that the officers aren’t joining in but on their faces is the clear realization that I now own the rebellion, for a short while at least.