Since these ranking rebels lack enthusiasm and I have to act now to preserve momentum, I turn to them determined not to let this battle be lost because of ego or ambition.
The best way to fix this is to depend on them so that they don’t feel like they lost control while keeping in mind that it’s more than likely several of them worked with Sykus on his deals or never spoke up against them since such things can’t be hidden very well.
“If you could call for a general assembly of all troops in the east, the best plan right now is to sally out and assault their forces and attempt to capture or kill General Claywood.” I speak up.
A man with an average stature but large shoulders walks up to me and locks eyes. He frowns but raises his hand up to his forehead in a salute before departing at a jogging pace.
Three more of the officers nod and leave as well. The traits of a man and woman slacken in disbelief, their clothes are the cleanest and least worn out so they’re likely to be highest ranked here.
“Leaving will expose us to flanking, they’ll be free to bombard us with arrows and constructs, not to mention we will lose the town to their western forces if we go east which puts us much further from our reserve and isolates us in the valley.” The woman speaks up.
“The others didn’t seem to have a problem with it.” I note, throwing her a curious glance.
“Regrouping is the right move to clear the ruins one pocket at a time and leave.” She replies, basically implying my plan won’t be approved so long as these two have their say in it.
“We’ve regrouped enough people for me to deal with whatever they throw at us.” I tell her, knowing she has no choice but to trust me on this since all it would take for me to gather hundreds of portions would be asking the rebels. “We have momentum right now, momentum we will squander if we focus on retaking ruins that we’ve already lost.” I keep using the ‘we’ to impress on her we’re on the same side. “Look at the state of this town, most of the buildings you’ve been using have now crumbled. There is no longer enough cover to use these ruins as a defensive position.”
“That’s another reason for us to retreat north-west.” The man argues.
“And do what?” I ask with a sigh. “They will pursue, harass you without end.” I purposefully don’t include myself in this scenario. “We either defeat them today or you will lose tomorrow, or in a week.”
“Time may grant us options, more than we have right now.” The woman stubbornly responds.
“Trust me, your choices will only diminish the longer you delay now that your leadership has been decapitated.” I tell her. “You’ve lost their experience, knowledge, and those loyal to them will not necessarily turn to you.”
“I…” The woman trails off.
“We don’t have time or morale to waste, give out the order to march east.” I tell her while waving my hand at the rebels already gathering in a column.
She exchanges a glance with the other man and the two’s traits tighten as they share a brief silent exchange. They turn to me and make a short salute before leaving for the center of the rebel troops.
“We march east!” The man calls out.
We depart to a chorus of cries led by my initial unit. Our numbers grow to four hundred as we make our way to the edge of the ruins, partly from reinforcements and partly from units who were still engaged in combat.
This represented half of all rebels here before the start of the battle but now likely makes up two-thirds of the Redreef, at best. I keep watch on the valley’s and notice that the troops that retreated south are now trying to circle back to their eastern units.
There are very few soldiers to the north, barely three dozen, a result of baiting Claywood and then crippling his forces. Still, they remain numerous enough to pose a threat if they join with the three hundred commanded by Claywood.
I shift to the two officers to give them my ‘suggestions’ on what to do but spot Flo and my minions rushing over with Uhla included who is bandaging the clumsy Rowland’s left forearm while on the move. The others have light injuries, his is the worst and not too debilitating. Idali has a large bruise on her face, and I suspect a broken cheekbone.
“We couldn’t stop Siegfried from rejoining with their troops.” She grumbles.
“We did manage to delay them.” Nahl cuts in.
“Did he still have custody of the prisoners?” I ask.
“Yes, but who’s to know what will happen when Claywood gets involved?” Rowland replies.
“He likes the man about as much as I do, he won’t hand them over.” I shake my head. I flick my gaze to the two officers who straighten up as a result. “We cannot stop, I’m taking the lead of the charge uphill.” I tell them.
“Why? We’re still waiting for a half-dozen units to catch up.” The man questions. “Sykus always said it’s best to fight together than in isolation. Whatever his faults, this has served us well.”
I take a moment to breathe and control my temper because it boggles the mind how this rebellion survived with these officers in the chain of command. Their eyes widen by a fraction as I gather myself and the man’s back-foot slides back a fraction.
“He wasn’t wrong, it applies to some circumstances but not all. Far from it in fact, if you followed this philosophy then it explains why you were caught in so many engagements you couldn’t afford to take.” I utter. “We need to act before they regroup their units, the disposition of their forces around the ruins is as much a weak point as someone who leans to the left when blocking. We can attack their eastern troops before their southern soldiers make it back, this is a weak point of theirs and striking those is how you win fights without ending up in a bloody pulp.”
My treacherous minions smother laughs. I ignore them to keep my gaze on the officers. The man joins his eyebrows together as he thinks things through while the woman presses her lips together until they form a line.
“Understood.” The woman decides with a sharp nod.
“Flo, take however many troops you think you’ll need to defeat their northern units but no more. Once you’ve routed them, flank Claywood from the north.” I order. “Rowland, Nahl, Idali, you three are to help them delay their forces in the south. Don’t let Siegfried break out but, if he does, let him go.”
“Are you using us to tie the Exemplar up because of our relationship?” Nahl asks straightforwardly.
“Yes, I would rather not have to deal with both Claywood and Siegfried at the same time.” I answer in the same manner.
“It feels wrong to exploit him, he has been most respectful.” The ex-Templar explains.
“He has.” I acknowledge. So respectful, in fact, he chose no sides out of faith for the Emperor, faith I don’t share. “If you believe the deception beneath you, explain my maneuver to him.” He likely read it anyway.
“He knows, he said so after spanking Rowland.” Idali cheerfully remarks.
“He did not.” Rowland contests.
“I do not know what to tell you Nahl.” I honestly tell the ex-Templar. “This is all I can think of to tie up an Exemplar who I do not wish to turn into an enemy, which will happen if he stands in my way this day.”
“You could compromise, Jessica.” He argues.
“No, I could not.” I firmly deny. “Mirus has chosen the path for war when I offered to negotiate for the rebels because they held the perception of a better hand than ours, even Siegfried made it clear they made their choice and I fully intend to impress on them what the consequences are.”
“Is fame worth so much to you? The Redreef have lost their leaders, a short-term victory will not change this.” Nahl utters with a scowl.
“Fame? Infamy is the more honest of the two, and I would choose it over having my name chanted by people ignorant of what I am.” I chuckle. “No, pride has naught to do with the necessity I place on having my name known.” I tell him with a cold tone. “I am working towards a larger plan, that I will admit, but are you suggesting I would hamstring these people for this design?”
“I…” Nahl pauses and swallows, likely realizing exactly what it is he was implying. “No, I would not.”
“Why? Because you fear me or because you think you know me?” I ask with a skewed smile that makes him take a step back with a disapproving frown implying I’m acting to intimidate him, showing how little he understands me.
“I may not know you as much as others, but I do trust what I’ve witnessed.” The ex-Templar quickly responds. “I’m simply struggling to understand what it is this battle will achieve now that the Redreef rebellion has lost their leaders. I don’t believe you plan to lead them in weeks to come.”
“No, I do not.” I confirm. “But you seem to have the sight of a high born on this matter. Simply because they’ve lost their leadership does not mean others cannot rise.”
He avoids the gazes of my other minions, clearly shamed by my rebuke. I give him a moment to recover so that I convince him despite my impulse to keep pushing until he cracks, until his mind bends.
“What I am doing, today, is teaching them how to win without sacrificing their ability to keep fighting.” I explain. “Compromise with Siegfried would end with peace for Mirus, Nahl, and that would be a true end for these rebels who need time to rebuild. Claywood must be crushed this day for the Redreef to have a shot at being reborn, in Caeviel if necessary.”
Nahl falls silent. I wait but he doesn’t show any signs of continuing the conversation. I start counting the seconds because I have none to waste but, finally, he nods and adjusts his grip on the claymore.
“You sure you won’t need me?” Idali asks.
“Are you certain you can make it there in time?” I return. “I can burn some flow to give you a boost.”
“Nope, nope, nope.” She hurriedly refuses as she scampers off without delay.
I throw a glance to the two officers leading this army to evaluate how much I can trust them not to screw me over. Their traits remain far from enthusiastic but they did step up to second me from the start, it isn’t something someone planning to bail from the rebellion would do.
They give me short nods, implying I can count on them. While I don’t believe they would stick by me if events turn in my disfavor, I still head off because I have no other options and these two won’t be able to call for a retreat if morale remains high, which depends mostly on me.
Cries arise as I cruise towards the front of the column which begins its march out of the ruins. I draw my sword so as to wave it forward in response, causing the calls to increase.
While I was truthful in what I said to Nahl, I can’t deny that becoming a trusted and famous figure for these rebels suits me because it’ll ensure Edusa will have a harder time controlling them.
I soon reach the head of the column and take the center. I accelerate despite my shortening breath because we need to climb up the valley’s sides as quickly as possible.
Dozens of arrows rise from Claywood’s troop as we cross the ring of mud. There aren’t as many as I thought there would be. I shape a very visible air-shield and block most.
Some of the archers concentrate their fire on me so I dismantle the construct and begin using unstructured energy to parry the projectiles with minuscule amounts of kinetic force.
As more and more start shooting at me, out of frustration or because of orders, my reserve of energy drops to thirty or so portions which is acceptable considering the lives I’m preserving but also worrying.
As I assess the distance separating our lines, which are in the middle of deploying our of column formation to charge, I catch sight of Claywood signaling his lieutenant with ample breasts.
Atop a horse, she raises both hands towards me and begins shaping an air-blade with a span of a dozen meters. I scowl and draw my long broadsword to launch into their troops but pause because I realize the distance is too great to cross.
Not to mention I’m not in physical shape to break through their lines to reach them, the holes in my limbs haven’t completely healed and my heart isn’t getting any better as my short breath proves.
I can’t help but feel a weight on my shoulders at the realization I’ve grown weaker despite becoming more powerful as my access grew. The air-blade launches and I raise my sword towards it with full knowledge this is going to cost me a good third of my energy to block, something I can barely afford.
I launch a dozen tendrils of kinetic force towards the volley of arrows that the archers let loose and gather five portions of energy. I split my focus and shape an air-shield that I incline towards the ground to divert the air-blade.
As the large construct approaches, I quickly anchor my defense to the ground and send another five portions into the soil. Thuck. The impact is noisy but causes no shaking because the kinetic force is redirected by the flow I’ve scattered against the air-blade.
My shield flickers and thins out to the point where holes begin appearing but the same thing happens to the air-blade which was stopped dead. The lieutenant uses her link to the construct to pressure my air-shield while feeding more flow into it which prevents me from severing her connection.
I dismantle my defense, allowing the air-blade to pick up speed once more. Before it can cross the distance, I swiftly apply the four portions of energy I’ve recovered to my long broadsword to shape a defensive construct.
I raise my weapon and block the construct with the flat of my blade. Clink. I incline the broadsword to let the air-blade slide down to the guard and hold it there. Krr. My feet start sliding back and my back hits the first-line of rebels who support me from behind.
As the air-blade loses more and more integrity, holes appearing throughout its surface allowing compressed air to seep out, I feel streams of flow enter my body from multiple directions.
My reserves are filled up within moments and I use the rest of the energy to push back against the air-blade with pin-point kinetic force. Crack. The construct shatters in golden shards, I catch sight of fading segments which reveal the lieutenant was in the middle of modifying her construct.
“Charge!” I bellow, half-way because this is a good opportunity, half-way to have the rebels stop feeding me energy.
“For Redreef! For Freepath! For revenge! Kill!” The voices of the man and woman in charge join mine to order the charge.
Rebels rush out from either side of me in complete disorganization. I almost straight up insult the woman when I notice, past the fading flakes of gold from the broken air-blade, that Mirus has already ordered a downhill charge at us.
Us abandoning our lines in this situation is far from ideal but doing naught and receiving this before we could even match them one for one across the length of their formation would be worse. At least the analysis stands if I act, this decision would be devastating for the rebels if I didn’t do anything.
As peasants run by me with scythes held high, I sheath my weapon and raise my hand. I gather and assess the mass of energy the rebels gave me, finding that I have a hundred-fifty portions to even our odds.
A kinetic force recoil when the front-lines impact… won’t work because our ranks are staggered and I won’t be able to maintain this that long. A lightning construct would be best but I’ve invested too much in destroying Nobility to sabotage my plan now.
Fire… would work but would be countered too quickly to deal real damage. Liz? Hrmf, smack’m. Okay, she’s definitely napping. I purse my lips, feeling a bit vexed by my sister’s lack of attention. Air-blades… are too inefficient.
I decide to mix three types of attacks to support each other so as to make something greater without the weaknesses of each individual attack. I use a hundred portions to create a fire construct to which I integrate air segments that will feed the blaze.
I finish the construct as the two forces are a few tens of seconds away from clashing and deploy it. This hybrid air-fire construct has nine circular blades with spheres at their centers. As it cruises towards the enemy troops, I send out twenty portions of unstructured energy.
I plan to use kinetic force to guide the currents of scorching air, which is much more precise and efficient than using other means. I activate the construct. Froosh.
The loud sound smothers every other noise on the battlefield. Flames ignite from the spheres and instantly spread to the circular blades which are pulling in the surrounding air.
I use kinetic force to join and guide the fiery currents of air uphill towards Mirus’ forces, launching them like a roiling fire-curtain moving like a bright red rising tide with nine beastly monstrous heads raging out of the blaze.
There is much more kinetic force available to manipulate than I thought. I had planned to merely launch this construct and let it loose but, with this, I’m able to guide and perfectly spread the fire.
I send the heads drilling into the enemy ranks so as to disorganize them as much as possible before I run out of energy. The construct quickly advances past the enemy front-lines, leaving charcoaled bodies behind.
The flames begin fading as flow runs out. With one last splutter, the construct detonates. Whoosh. Both sides have long stopped charging but one is now stunned and frightened at the sight of their burnt comrades while this slaughter sends the other in a murderous fervor.
“Freepath! Freepath! Freepath!” Redreef rebels bellow as they lunge for the enemies that have hunted them for so long. “Kill them all!”