High Palatine Manlia Suren Issander The High Palatine returns to the town of Orian, at the head of the magnificent Thunder Inevitable. The men cheer at their sight, and sing hymns to laud Radiance's glory!
Prince Kansar Sistorian As his forces arrive to the southern hill, he hears word that the Horde is indeed on the move - but that his captains fear they are too drunk with zealotry (and wine) and intend to attack the enemy straight away!
Princess Maurielle Alatol of House Jahimis Returning to the centre, it turns out that the enemy cavalry charge was but a ruse or a scouting mission - they turned south and fled into the Ediren hills once more. The Dominii forces in the hills gave a short pursuit but returned soon, as artillery fire smashed the regiment of Vigil Unblinking on the southern promontory.
The sight of the Thunder Inevitable had drawn more than hymns and cheers. As Manlia Suren Issander dismounted in the town of Orian to consult with its commanders, he was alerted to the northern road by the sound of squealing. Yet these were not mere pigs which trampled their way towards Orian. They were pigs in the guise of men. Howling at their head was a man in finery which had been splattered with mud and filth. As the procession drew nearer, Manlia recognized the chief zealot as none other than Gideon, the People's Prophet. It was Gideon who had rallied the heart of the fanatic horde, and it was Gideon who would have words with him, it would seem.
Members of the Sappur Guard barred entry to the fanatics at the mouth of Orian, but Manlia called out for them to make way, and so they did. Gideon shuffled forward, squealing once more and gesturing with wild intent. As the fanatics entered into the shadow cast by the Thunder Inevitable looming just outside of Orian, Gideon shrieked savagely and threw himself to the ground.
The rest of the commanders in Orian halted beside Manlia, shock and disdain upon their faces. Alexis Kata scratched her lower lip, eyes wide. "Animals."
"Animals or men." Manlia repeated. "The distinction will always be fine. Though do not presume Gideon or his flock to be mad. I think they are quite aware of their.. effect."
Gideon clambered forward, his face smiling, though his mouth quivered. When he spoke, his voice had a desperate hoarseness to it. "High Palatine! You cannot imagine what joy it brings me to see the elephants on the move! Finally proving useful, after these many long years!"
"Gideon." Manlia commanded. The People's Prophet remembered himself, and threw himself onto the cobbles before Manlia's feet. His fellow zealots did the same.
"Your Grace!" Gideon heaved. "Do you know what the horde sings? Out there, across the field? They believe that their sacrifices are about to have meaning. Their baseness, Your Grace, our collective delusion, their idolatry, their sin... all are made clear to the world, Your Grace! And why? Because in shadow there can be no light, Your Grace! We must acknowledge our imperfections! Else all is but a lie!"
"I believe your imperfections are clear to all of us, Gideon." Manlia remarked, looking over the grunting peasants before him.
Gideon looked up at him, his pale face twitching with anticipation. "In our honesty, we will reach enlightenment, Your Grace. And in the light of truth, we may be restored. And then the First Spirit shall return to us."
The First Spirit. The spirit some named Archanicus. Then Alexis Kata was away. Manlia heard her curse as she vanished into the town hall.
Manlia Suren Issander only inclined his head. Gideon might truly believe, but even then, Manlia could see that the People's Prophet relished his position. Gideon was a desperate man, ready to throw his last card onto the table. But he dared to enjoy the game while it lasted. "You must not die in vain, Gideon."
"No, not in vain." Gideon flexed his fingers, curling them into an old woman's fist. "Command me, Your Grace."
"Your men will march in the shadow of the Thunder Inevitable."
"YES!" Gideon fell sideways, curling into the mud. His men began to squeak and hoot like pigs once more.
"Patience, Gideon! Your time comes. Your assault must be total and without respite. You must strike when the moment is right. Ready your men. They shall soon be dead, as they so fervently pray to be."
Manlia Suren Issander mounted his horse and headed towards the bridge just south of Orian. Lady Kata's Silvered Fire would be there, keeping watch. Before he could send his men across into the valley of death, he would need to know exactly what he was up against. He would ride past the Silvered Fire after hearing their report, and see what lay across the river with his own eyes. And then he would return to Orian, and begin the counting of the Republic's last hours. May Gideon and his half-men drag their fellow heathens into the void with them.
I look upon my army. Thousands of men, ready to give their lives for Radiance. I notice a disturbance. Some are more ready to die than others. The zealots are trying to push through the ranks, eager to fight the enemy.
I will let them have their way. A plan has formed within my mind. I gather the leaders of the troops. Many familiar faces. Cousins, nephews, vassals.
We will let the horde march on the enemy. They will provide a valuable distraction. Meanwhile, the cavalry will take position at the mouth of the valley. At my command they will charge the enemy’s weakened point, and break straight through. We will ride into the heart of the enemy and destroy their cannons. I shall take the archers and magi onto the hill to overlook the battle and give aid where needed.
It is a bold move, it could win or lose the war. There is a murmur of voices. Are the risks too great? The cavalry could still retreat if the enemy hides a greater number. Even if we do not destroy all cannons, distracting them would allow the rest of our army to charge from the north, delivering the final blow. Finally, Sounds of agreement. Nods of approval. Then, voices of dissent. The Kastorian brothers mock me, question my authority. Marialla, they warn. Their branch of the family has made many slights against Father’s position in recent years. They want the throne for themselves. These political games belong in court, not the battlefield. I will not forgive this insolence.
I show no trace of offense, thank them for their criticism. I turn to Kavad, the eldest of the brothers, heir of Kastorian. I commend his boldness, his tactical mind. I betray no hint of malice when I grant him the honour of leading the zealots to their mark. His expression pales. He cannot refuse a direct order. He sinks back, accepting his duty. The Kastorians will question me no longer.
We are done. No more interjections? Tycorro Tassar steps forward. The ennobled knight’s directness is crude, but indispensable. He knows what formation the cavalry needs. Nobody questions his experience. He assures me the Archonic Knights will crush the cannons. I trust his judgement more than any other. He will not disappoint me.
The meeting is over. I overlook the army once more. They are restless, confused. I will speak to them. A vessel grants my voice strength, to be heard by all men. I call, and they all fall silent. All eyes are on me.
Sons and daughters of Radiance. We live in hard times. We still lament the loss of the Arbiter, the god of Order. But while we mourned, the Republic laughed. Now they have come back to OUR lands, crossing the bridge that THEY burned, in thirst for more divine blood. They think we’re weak. They think that without the embodiment of Order, chaos rules the Dominion now. They believe they can kill Radiance when the sun gives out.
But they are wrong, blinded by their heresy. We are the Dominion, a union of man and Spirit forged by the sacrifice of Archanicus himself. Ours is a bond stronger than any other. Our patron spirits have gifted us power and knowledge far beyond mortal men. We wield all of creation in our hands, so how can they hope to win with sticks and fire?
Despite the Arbiter’s death, Common Law is still in effect. One of its entries stipulates that any man who willfully brings black powder onto Dominion soil shall be executed. We will show the Republicans that the Arbiter’s will lives on through us, and no laws shall be broken on our watch.
And even then, how can they hope to destroy Radiance at the mere behest of the sun? Does he die at every sunset? NO! Radiance’s light shines through each and every one of us, stronger than a thousand suns. Radiance is eternal. The Empire is eternal. THE DOMINION IS ETERNAL.
TEN THOUSAND YEARS.
(H1 and R4 loop around the big hill and attack the enemy at the chokepoint in the corner of J18. Meanwhile Kansar takes R1, C16, and C19 up on the big hill on H19. From there he will be able to command R5, R6, R7, R8, C1, C2, P3 and R15 who will be awaiting his order at the mouth of the valley in the corner of H19. Here is the map of the plans and here is the formation the cavalry will be waiting in. To reiterate, only the Horde and the R4 cavalry will be attacking this turn, the rest will be waiting until next turn. The leader of R4 will ensure that the Horde attacks where it should, leading them in front so the Horde makes the first attack, not R4.)
As with every battle, once it was well underway she turned into this obsessive artist. Moving between different positions, making minute touches to position, composition. This was like painting a work of art in a way. If everything came together just so, if the colours came together well then her endeavor would be successful. Her positions were secure for now, that she knew for certain. There had been no strong attacks against her location, merely bombardment. The one improper brush stroke of this mess so far, the damage to Vigil Unblinking was. When she brought her horse up to assess the damage, it was worse than she'd imagined it. Made her stand still for a good moment, seeing the dead and wounded being carried back to the city for burial. This battle may be a painting, but she should not forget how much this work would cost them, both today and in the future. Letters of apology she'd have to write to grieving families, compensation for their service, medals awarded to those who deserved it, helping her friends. Minutia that always ended after every battle.
Her gaze turned briefly back to the city. If all went well, Ellira would do well. The Palained Aegis wouldn't see active duty if things went according to plan. She was busy, performing her own duties amidst the city walls, seeing to her own orders. It worried her, having a family member, illegitimate or no, so close to the fighting. She'd specifically avoided calling her brothers' unit up so they wouldn't be exposed to this conflict, wouldn't be exposed to the great danger that pervaded this clash. Let them hear of their sister's exploits, how she stood firm in adversity. Let them hear of her command. Better that than the alternative, which was far less heroic. Some things were not meant to be shared, even to erstwhile family.
She resumed control; she'd let it slip, revealing herself with the barest twitch of hand underneath her armour. But control was vital. She had it, right now over the battlefield but it was a slipper thing. Like balancing a merchant's scales or putting together an intricate piece of clockwork. One trembling hand, one misstep could unbalance everything. Not only would such a thing cause them to lose the battle, but beings would suffer that did not need to suffer. A God-King would perish, a city would fall. That was an outcome she would do all her power to avoid.
She quickly moved to regroup the Vigil and the units of pikemen. The commander of the Vigil had managed to survive the bombardment, though one of his eyes hadn't survived. The white bandage stood out against his tanned skin. He had the appearance of a man who had seen more battles than she ever had. She expected resentment in his eyes, at being ordered around by someone as young as her, but she saw no sign of it. His face was broad, with a hard, square jaw. She got down off her horse and saluted, right fist on her chest, left hand clasping her right fist, then both straight against the chest. "Juris, before you say anything, I apologize" she said.
This caught the man off guard. "Begging your pardon miss?" His voice had just enough of an accent to make him seem foreign, yet she couldn't quite place his homeland. Perhaps he had traveled in his youth.
"I apologize, I needlessly endangered you and your men like that, putting you out so far with no recourse to cannon-fire. At least we know that is their farthest range or they would be shelling over here, but it was a mistake."
"I...I guess I accept your apology."
"Good. Now, back to business. Fall back, take position behind the hill you were on. The Lower Gauntlet and Suren Guard will move up in front. If I'm right then you shouldn't be threatened with cannons again. Use this opportunity to tend to your wounded, see what men you can bring back to fighting shape. This is merely a light touch; if the Republic were capable of giving more we would face a lot more than this." She held herself straight. "We shall persevere. Those cowards think to hide behind their cannons and pepper us until we bleed out. What they have failed to realize is that we believe in something greater than ourselves, while they only believe in themselves. Take heart Juris, when men seek to raise themselves higher than a God, they are doomed to failure."
He seemed to recover from that, and moved to reorganize her men. She could only hope she'd get a break in the barrage soon. She would dearly love to engage the enemy, but a wide field was not to their advantage with those cannons in place.
(R8 move to the base of that forward hill, behind R2 and R20)
Dominion general Afternoon arrives, hot and heavy. Sweaty brows squint into the high vast heavens and nervous minds count down the hours until the Eclipse.
High Palatine Manlia Suren Issander Leaving Gideon's fanatics camped outside of Orian, the High Palatine approaches the bridge south to Aemilon. On the way, he meets a messenger from Kata's Silvered Fire regiment - their scouts report that the enemy has crossed the river to the south and are establishing themselves on the island. Spurring his horse on, Manlia scouts the hills of Aemilon. Wide-eyed, he watches as already thousands of Republican soldiers mill near their crossing, and as thousands more work busily on the river to build more bridges. The stink of slavery, of bound spirits of the earth, reek from those bridges - abominations!
The whine of projectiles whistle through the air - and artillery explodes, marring the earth not far from his scouting party. Returning north, Manlia finds the Silvered Fire ensconcing themselves in the Mansion there.
Prince Kansar Sistorian From his vantage point, the Prince watches the Horde charge beyond the hills and into the enemy formations behind. For a moment, their howling is drowned out by the blast of gunpowder volleys, and their zealous cries are joined by a chorus of pain. But the Horde rages on, watched over by Kavad Kastorian. Everything seems to be going to plan.
Princess Maurielle Alatol of House Jahimis The forward regiments, huddling behind the meager defences of the stream winding through the hills, are taking some light shelling. However, the enemy is much too far away to reach them with any notable effect.
The distant hum of tortured spirits brought Manlia Suren Issander to a harsh but necessary realisation. Though House Jahimis and House Sistorian had the north and west secured, the Republic had brought a new strategy into play. True, Manlia had anticipated that they would try to force a crossing, but he had not considered that they would use Binder magic for that purpose - and that it would therefore happen so quickly. The Silvered Fire would be vulnerable against these Inquisitors.
As soil exploded across the plains of Aemilon, Manlia considered himself fortunate that the world of Spirits was far more flexible than that of gunpowder and Binding. The Piscan Legion - the Spirit sharks of House Jahimis - had long been considered a novelty. Though the Dominion always employeded such beasts against the Republican Navy, it was a strange thing to have them this far inland. But now Manlia was glad of the eccentricity of House Jahimis. For the Piscan Legion would be the Republic's undoing.
"Fall back across the bridge and hold it! You cannot hope to match the Inquisition!" Manlia called to the magi nearest to him. Then he was off again, tailed by his elite. It was not long before they reached the town of Orian, where Captain Juluc Smilebiter had clearly taken charge.
The Captain saluted him and grinned upon hearing of the situation. "Send us in, Your Grace."
"Remember the long road from Marialla, Captain Juluc. Never make a stand that cannot be won. Hold the river. If you are able. Otherwise, fall back to Orian."
"I remember, Your Grace."
Their cannon were exposed, undefended - the bulk of their army was on the Aemilon. If Manlia could strand them there... then Gideon would be well suited to make his sacrifice. And it would be one that would not be in vain. Without their artillery, the Republic was nothing.
Manlia halted his steed before Gideon's squealing congregation in the heart of Orian.
"It is time, Gideon."
When the so-called Prophet looked up at him, the pretence of madness was gone. All that remained was the ghost of a drug-addled man who had ridden a wave without ever controlling it. He had crested its top, and now the wave was about to break to the tune of eight-thousand dying men. The twitching ceased, even if momentarily, and Manlia feared that the man - the true man - that was Gideon, would piece himself together, and try start anew. But they exchanged a look, and Gideon knew that it was over. There was no more running from his pain, from his failures. There was only redemption in the light of the sun; in the light of gunpowder.
As Gideon prostrated himself before the High Palatine, as he screamed to his zealots that their deliverance was at hand, Manlia caught Gideon sob a single name.
(R4 magi are to set the fields in front of the mansion, at the very edge of their range, on fire, and are then to cross the bridge and defend it.
R7, the archers, are to try take the magi's current place and protect the mansion, unless the enemy is too close for this to be practical. If the enemy is too close, they can join the magi near the bridge.
R14 is to join the magi at the bridge.
In my introductory set-up post, I said the city's oil reserves should be spread across the plains before the Ediren Hills. I will have the fields set alight (possibly using Bridge Burners to set the reaction in motion) to provide cover the my following troop movements:
H4, H5, Green R8 and P5 are to begin to cross the bridge - they are to first congregate along the northernmost road, close to the hill that lies on the southern half of the stream. [In the triangle of roads] Once they are in that position, they are to charge the artillery overlooking the Aemilon. The elephants are to hold back so that the horde may soak up artillery fire, but the elephants have the objective of breaking through the pikemen and smashing the artillery. They are to angle themselves so that the enemy artillery cannot fire at them save for the uppermost unit [as the artillery is positioned diagonally]. Manlia may oversee this personally.
R1, the Bridge Burners, are to fortify Orian and turn it into a potential defensible death trap. [Ballistae if possible, barricades, trenches, etc]
Green R9 is hold position and help R1 Bridge Burners carry out their work.
Manlia is to ride on from Orian to try order the sharks to destroy the Republic's crossing attempt and then circle around back to Orian - he will presumably encounter the sharks en route to Orian, since Maurielle should be sending them ahead herself earlier - Manlia will then return, hopefully in time to join the horde and elephants in their charge.
Now that things were under control here, it was time for the final movement. The last riposte, the final steps of this dance. She was saddened that this thing was to be ending so soon, but the Republic's forces had swallowed the bait completely. They had made no major assaults against the center, which meant that they thought more troops were there than she actually had. If they had seen how few there were, they might have tried a concerted attack. It was time for one big push. To push straight through artillery fire would be suicide though. Well, except for the sad souls who had volunteered to be cannon fodder. Hopefully their deaths would serve as a useful distraction. She had a bevy of orders to give out, and then a great big movement to lead. Her mind snapped to attention. Every movement fresh as she pictured the battlefield. Yes, one big movement could work. She could only pray the Palatine knew what he was doing and would understand. First a mental note to the eagles. They'd fly ahead, in a circular route ahead of her big push, to drop rocks and keep the enemy's attention focused upward, where it shouldn't be. They'd try and fly too high for the gunfire below; their purpose wasn't to destroy cannons but to cause chaos amongst the Republic's forces on the hills. She also sent the Heavy Pikemen of the Lower Guard west, to meet up with her troops there.
Next she gathered a new stallion and kicked it as fast as she could make it go. It was imperative these other directives get to where they needed to go in time for the big push. One missed opportunity, one misplaced riposte, and this whole thing could collapse like some house of cards. She met up with the horde, a group of disheveled peasants without the good sense to flee the battle. She could tell they were antsy, they'd been stationed here for hours and were starting to get complacent, weak, lazy. She needed to give them something to motivate, to rally around. Thankfully, she had an easy topic; zealots like these were single-minded to a fault and could easily be spurned if one convinced them their actions would better their cause.
One woman, the leader of their rabble band, stepped forward. Her clothes were stiff, leather, better than many of the others under her direct command, and her sword was in pristine condition. Thus, were such small marks her measure of rank. Gloria, she called herself. She'd offered herself to their cause and when the recruiters had asked what she'd done before, she'd merely shrugged and said "What I was before now does not matter, I submit myself to the cleansing light of Radiance."
Maurielle watched the assembly from horseback. She took out her sword from its scabbard, lifting it high into the sun's afternoon rays, the light flashing from her blade over the crowd.
"I know you have stood here, waiting for your chance to show your devotion. Rest assured, Radiance has heard your wish this day! I know many of you have sins you are ashamed to admit, that some of you seek to redeem yourselves. Worry no longer! He has prepared a great baptism for you! He shall cleanse your sins, wipe the slate clean in the blasts of cannonfire! Those who survive this gauntlet will enjoy the opportunity to show these heathens what true strength looks like! They hide behind their cannons and their pikes. Do you know what that means? They are afraid of you, afraid of your conviction! March south, past the hills and the river, and give Radiance the glorious battle He desires! March!"
She watched the assembled horde rush south, and could only hope she'd inspired them adequately. Next she rode to tell both the Piscan Legion and the Rhinoscerous Crash to begin marching southwards and to join with Manlia's own troops. Then she moved along the roads, meeting up with her own forces in the west. They'd cross, then start to follow the road in preparation for an attack of their own.
(Planning Document for Reference P9 to swing west in a rounded line to drops boulders on the enemy, aiming for cannons, but mostly to cause confusion. R2 to head west, meet up with Maurielle's western forces. H3 to head south to charge across the field between the hills and the ridge where the Republic is. C10 to head south, meet up with Manlia's forces C9 to head down the river to Oriam to meet up with Manlia Western troops excepting R17 are to move across the bridge when Maurielle gets there, begin following road south, using this formation)
I look upon the horde as it clashes with the enemy. It is working. The time is now. I raise Brilliance, the sword of Sistorian. Said to be forged with the light of Radiance himself, using the wisdom of Twin Star. Passed through our family through countless generations. My sword.
It shines like a beacon for all the men to see, and they know. I point it towards the enemy and shout my order. It is simple.
The orange banners billow in the sunlight. The true glory of Sistorian will soon be known to all. It is not only our boundless loyalty to Radiance that called us here this day. It is our nature. All the great families in Varantium have unique gifts and wisdom passed onto them by their patron spirits. The Sistorians were given the craft of War. Today we shall show our works to the world.
I turn around to the men with me on the hill. You will not stand idly by while the cavalry gets all the glory. They shall go to the edge of the hill and aid the horde. If they manage to push the enemy back, they shall take the other hill and guard our rear. I turn to the leader of the Second Passion, they will command their unit. Stay out of enemy reach, sacrifice the horde if necessary.
After receiving their salutes, I ride to join the cavalry.
(R5, R6, R7, R8, C1, C2, P3, R15, and Kansar charge towards the artillery in a spearhead formation, tramping all infantry in their way. Once they reach the cannons, the heavy cavalry will form an expanding circle around the Archonic Knights and mounted archers to let them destroy the cannons unmolested. The mounted archers will focus on killing any inquisitors they might spot. R1, C16, and C19 will move to the edge of the hill on H18 and aid the horde with a barrage upon the enemy. If the enemy doesn't take the small hill on I18, they'll move onto there and continue their barrage.)
Dominion general The fields and valleys cry with the sound of combat.
High Palatine Manlia Suren Issander The High Palatine rushes across the plains, catching up with a regiment of Jahimi recruits trailing Gideon's charge. To his left, the fields are burning - but beyond it, from Aemilon itself, towering plumes and subterranean roars reveal artillery positions. Through the zealots' fanatic screaming, howls of pain pierce the skies.
Prince Kansar Sistorian Glorious battle! The fortunes of Marialla have been reversed, and the Sistorian cavalry charge, invincible! The first line of infantry were shunted away, like children: then came the milling and confused enemy cavalry - scattering like wild geese. Now Prince Kansar, Brilliance trailing tears of blood, spy ahead a hated sight: a cadre of Inquisitors, approaching. And above them... the banner of the High Inquisitor.
Princess Maurielle Alatol of House Jahimis So much to do, so many steps to this dance, this swirling display of death. Now the Princess joins with her western force, calling out the orders to march!
As Manlia Suren Issander caught up with the charge of the Horde, the enemy artillery revealed itself from the Aemilon. Scores of men died in seconds, ripped apart where they stood. All the while, the zealots blew their horns and instruments and cried out "Ten thousand years!" "First Spirit watch us!"
For a moment Manlia hesitated, the world turning grey as he did so, his eyes unfocused. He was at Marialla again-
"Your Grace, please, no!" Darien clawed the air before him as Manlia kicked his mount towards the crossing. Beyond, the standard of Grandmaster Kanrel raged forlorn, as Archonic Knights played out a desperate and deadly dance around it. Pursued, outnumbered, outgunned, the Grandmaster had been separated from the rest of the Sistorian vanguard. Manlia knew that if somebody did not seize control of the moment, that they would all die. And the Grandmaster was fighting a losing defensive battle, in plain sight of the enemy artillery. Manlia had no other choice.
Manlia Suren Issander arrived, singing the hymns of Suren and of Radiance, sword blazing glory. The Archonic Knights rallied around him, no more than twenty-five remaining, and they broke off north, along the river... to fight another day.
"Your Grace?" one of Manlia's guards managed.
Before them, the hordes continued to be shorn apart. The enemy had relocated their artillery to the Aemilon. They had acted far sooner than Manlia had planned for - the fanatics were charging with futility.
In the west, Manlia saw the Sistorian eagles soar above the ridges, and another horde of zealots charging across the fields, straight for the western artillery. It was clear that Princess Maurielle and Prince Kansar had let the hammer fall. Between them and the battle lines ahead, Manlia could see a gap. A hole in the Republic's defences. And he knew what had to be done. Mere words would not be enough to turn the advance of nearly ten thousand men. But he knew what would.
The Thunder Inevitable marched on. Manlia rode towards them, gaining their attention with the glory of his Spark.
"Turn! Heed me! The path ahead leads to damnation and desolation! Follow me, and lead the hordes to a new sunrise!"
Riding beside the Thunder Inevitable, Manlia broke off from the advance of the horde and made for the gap in the enemy lines instead, further west. The fanatics would not stop their rampage for a single man, but they marched in the shadow of the Thunder Inevitable. It had been Gideon's promise to them, their prime motivation for this charge. Upon seeing the Thunder Inevitable change direction, the hordes must follow.
As the first fanatics roared and changed course, Gideon spied the recognizable retinue of Gideon. He veered towards it, and found the People's Prophet bloodied by shrapnel, borne aloft and carried towards destruction by his faithful. Upon seeing the High Palatine, the zealots howled with recognition.
"Pass him to me!" And so they did, Manlia carrying Gideon atop his horse and letting the shuddering man wrap his arms around him.
"Did you ever truly believe, Gideon?"
"No." the Prophet preached. "N-not for a moment."
"Then believe now, Gideon!" Manlia gestured to the Thunder Inevitable, to the zealots that would follow into the hills between the armies, and destroy them from behind. A suicidal charge rescued from destruction - a victory promised. "You were never alone, my child."
And Gideon wept.
(High Palatine and the Thunder Inevitable to change course and lead the horde between the western Republican army and the eastern line, to the undefended middle-ground, to strike at the enemy from behind rather than face their spears and artillery. Manlia will also attempt to get the charging hordes west of his own men to join him in the charge for the gap, onto the Ediren Hills, using the Thunder Inevitable.)
Accursed Inquisitors. I spit as I behead another Republican peasant. These men are untrained, even weaker than I thought. But the cavalry, the binders, they prevent us from pushing further towards the cannons. For a moment I consider ignoring them, pushing on and letting them chase. But it would be suicide, and not of the heroic kind. I turn my eyes to the Republican lines. We can crush them. I raise Brilliance and point northwest. I shout my order, we shall attack the enemy in the back. I call for the Archonic Knights to gather, we shall focus our divine powers on the common folk. The Sistorian cavalry and Pride of Sakhran will take care of the Binders.
(Kansar redirects the cavalry to aim northwest and push through the cavalry to attack the republic infantry in the back. The C1, C2, and P3 will use their magic on non-binder enemies while the heavy cavalry and horse archers will focus on the spellwielding enemies.)
General Late afternoon lowers itself over Varantium. Faintly claw the cries of dying men at the heavenly vaults as gods and generals play their games...
High Palatine Manlia Suren Issander Cradling a dying prophet in his arms, Manlia Suren Issander’s party were escorted through the dust-swirling plains by zealots clad in sackcloth, an island of calm, a funeral cortege not for the one man, nor for the thousands more dying, but an old, proud, and moribound order. Change sometimes had to be violent.
But change… the universe is change. Life is no more than our thoughts make it - our own lives, and the lives of other men, and of the gods themselves.
Such was the cast of his thoughts as he looked upon the trail of blood, of mangled corpses, of faced forever frozen in the rictus of dying, of grounds trampled and scarred with gunpowder craft. What misbegotten reasoning of faith had led so many to such a conclusion as this? How much higher could they not have aspired, and reached, if their eyes had not been veiled by depravity, by meaningless tradition?
But even in their mistakenness, their hearts burned pure, and their arms wrought deeds worthy of song! The world would change this day. Of this, the High Palatine would make certain.
Like waves breaking on the rocky shore, the zealots washed up against the Republican positions. Only slowly and from behind did their movement shift, like a vast entity blindly running its hands over a wall, looking for weaknesses - and it did. Pouring into the opening between the Republican forces, they charged - and crashed into a second line of defences, hastily drawn up by hard-eyed Faloran men ordering merciless volleys with clipped, desperate breath.
The peasant charge stalled, confused, recoiling at the sides from the press of gunpowder ruckus. Hot boiling blood calmed and eyes widening with sudden fright looked left, right, ahead and saw nothing but a miasma of dust and smoke and death-
Then came a sound as from a hundred trumpets, and from the midst of the fanatic horde there rose a cheer, wild and challenging. They surged forward...
Jacopo de Campati, colonel of the 4th Pike Regiment, Republican Army “Fire!” he howled, throat hoarse, and the snap and clatter of projectiles punched into the soft flesh of another wave of heretics. Still they came on, less than men, growling and spitting as they launched themselves to their oblivion.
“Second line, reload! Third line, fire!”
Another concerted crack, the flash of light and the plumes of smoke, and the reply: screaming, wailing, for a moment loud enough to pierce the din.
His men cheered, and Jacopo felt a grin spread over his grimy, soot-stained face. Stumbling and hopping and crawling, the backs of the enemy were receding into the ochre-hued dust rising like a mist. Behind them they left hundreds of their comrades wetting the ground, blood pooling, churning dry earth into slippery pulp, pathetically mewling.
“We got the bastards,” he shouted into the ear of his lieutenant, Borromeo. “We got them!”
Exhausted, men along the entire line fell to their knees, thanking the stars, while officers barked at them to get back in order. Never had any of them seen such mindless, careless rage - to see human beings charge to their deaths with so reckless abandon, to with the sheer press of humanity come close enough to force a melee between starved peasants and strong soldiers - it was enough to shake a man to his core. What were these devils? What had happened to them - what cruel masters had so contorted the forms and bodies of men, and supplanted their free souls with beastly relentlessness?
Then a new sound rumbled from beyond the mists.
Jacopo frowned. “Is that our artillery? About time they got a good aim at this!”
The answering roar of Dominii maniacs drowned out Borromeo’s reply. Shapes were now moving, dark shadows weaving through skeins of dust, and officers had no need to order their men back into formation now, no, nobody needed to be told to be ready-
Crashing into existence they came, first a handful, then a dozen, then a score or more covering the horizon - mastodons, huge and diabolical, curved horns carved with blazing runes, like scythes cutting down men where they stood, screaming and disbelieving-
Prince Kansar Sistorian Chaos, dust and magic swirled around them, two drunk brawlers staggering, stumbling, shoving against one another. All order was disintegrated, while Archonian knights charged into knots of enemies and dispersed them, pushing them back, step by hard-won step.
Prince Kansar saw, far away above the bloodshed, the banners of Kastorian on the hill overlooking the battle: Kavad was holding back, the coward! Through the struggling, pushing bodies he could feel it - the Horde disintegrating, the enemy infantry rolling up their flank even as his cavalry was being bogged down, surrounded - only by blistering magics sent forth by Tramene Dakani’s knights was a regiment of enemy pikemen held off from charging into his flank. Damesco’s regiment was gone, who knew where? There was no room for cavalry to maneuver here - only the constant press, forward, driving the enemy into the valley ahead!
Grandmaster Kanrel Valtorian of the Archonic Knights, Dominion forces Through the cleansing fires of war, they rode: the Archonic Knights, their fervour unmatched, throats booming with psalms of glory. The air reverberated with their holiness, the yapping fools of the heretic lines falling back, eyes whitening with terror, as their blackpowder foulness evaporated uselessly against their God-given bulwarks.
“Forward!” wafted the cries of Prince Kansar, far behind. “Forward!”
Kanrel Valtorian felt tears of passion sting his cheek, as another heathen fell to the jarring impact of his hammer, a beacon blazing with light for his comrades to follow. Flesh cracked, exploded, mounts buckled, men winced, folding in on themselves. An expanding circle of fear and death rolled out from the Knights and their holy song. Their sure-footed mounts descended into the valley, scuffed ground littered with castaway fire-sticks, jumbled into the gravel, pounded by triumphant hooves.
A banner resolved from the haze ahead, marked with wicked malevolence, infused with evil - a spirit, bound and tortured, held aloft to the sky. Inquisitors!
“To me!” roared the Grandmaster, and his faithful felt his rage and answered in kind. His hammer, held aloft, shone the way as they set forth - the elite of the elite, formation tight, galloping over the open spaces, geysers of earth bursting where enemy projectiles ricocheted harmlessly from their magics, calling oaths to the darkling sky, gathering speed and their lances lowering-
Red-cloaked, scornful, Pietro Gori appeared in the midst of his companions. The High Inquisitor raised a hand, and oily black ribbons unspooled from his fingers.
Hurtling through the grasses, the Archonic Knights felt the sting of surprise, their divine protection flaking off in filaments of burning incandescence - and a scatter of gunshot rapping their armament. Crying out their fury, their hatred, they crouched low and charged-
Coals for eyes. The High Inquisitor made a fist, and his men fanned past him, meeting charge with charge, long-barrelled wheel-locked pistols firing cascades of unearthly cinders, Daimon-bound. Amid the shrieks and wails, the rumble of hooves, the thunder of men howling “The Gods will it!” and the crash of jarring impact.
When it was all over, Prince Kansar Sistorian stood weeping over the ruined remains of his kinsman, the destroyed beauty of the Dominion nobility. Brilliance gleaming darkly in his fist, he looked up and faced the dead look of the High Inquisitor.
“You will pay for this,” Prince Kansar said, softly.
The battle still raged, elsewhere: here on this spoiled ground silence reigned.
The pause stretched. The High Inquisitor watched, unmoving, his companions beside him with mocking eyes.
He opened his mouth to speak,
Horns sounded from the ridge to the north. Dominion reinforcements had arrived.
Princess Maurielle Alatol of House Jahimis Now the dance begins in earnest.
Surely you finally know, now that you are High Palatine?
Where it is we go after the Veil falls. What happens to our own human Spark when we die?
No. The Common Faith has never spoken of this. The God-Kings are silent on this one matter. And always shall be. For they do not know. And this void in our knowing shall ever be filled by village superstition, by heretic belief, by presumption - and I shall be asked this question over and over again, until the end... for who else but the man who sits at the right hand of God would have the answer? But I tell you now, as I have told others before. I do not know.
The High Palatine, Manlia Suren Issander, shut the unseeing eyes of Gideon. Hellish lights glared to his left and to his right, as the heights were taken by the hate, fear and love of the ignorant. The Thunder Inevitable raged before them, leaving an absence of man in their wake. The Sistorian eagles screeched above, casting momentary shadow upon the dying below them. Despite all the odds, a Fate which Manlia did not believe in had delivered them.
To the east, a gap had opened in the Republic's lines. At least one thousand of Gideon's flock had pushed a wedge between pikemen and sharpshooters, making directly for artillery, and what appeared to be a branch of the Inquisition. They would wreak destruction, but they could not hope to carry the day. And Manlia needed time, more than anything. The horns of House Jahimis, House Sistorian and House Suren had sounded from the west, signalling that the noose had been placed on the Republic's neck. The west was won, but the east... Yes, Manlia needed time. He cast a beam of light to the sky and beckoned for his guard to fly his personal standard high. To attract the attention of the eagles. Next, he turned to the Jahimis recruits who had rallied around him.
"Captain!" Manlia cried. "Lead your men into the breach and hold it! We will circle around-"
But the captain's eyes were unfocused, his mouth slack. Bullets and smoke and death were reflected in his muddied face. "You led them knowingly into this... for what do they die?" He paused, studying the carnage. "For what? You don't even share their beliefs, High Palatine, and yet, you led them to this? This isn't war, this is-"
"They die so that there can be a sunrise!" Manlia gestured, grabbing the reins of horse with his other hand. "We are men of deeds, not scribes and fools from the Curia! Hear me now! Whatever differences may divide us, we remain united by far more! This land has suffered under the coward's obsession with dogma and detail for too long! We will remake the world, brothers, sons, fathers! We fight a fight here today that will be immortal in the songs-"
"Fuck the songs." the captain spat, eyes red. His hands shook. "Songs will not till the fields! Songs will not feed my sons! Songs will not bring the dead to life! Songs!"
Manlia Suren Issander looked over the Jahimis recruits, their loyalties torn, and all the while, the inevitable thunder of elephant and gun continued to echo about them. Manlia the Reformer. Manlia the Merciful. Manlia the Chaste. The heretics in their madness had seen in him a promise of rebirth, despite their ramblings about the First Spirit. And yet, this rebirth, the grandest of all, could not help but be violent. And the unbloodied young could not yet see that.
"Life is no more than our thoughts make it." Manlia mouthed, and pointed his blade at the insubordinate captain. The man gaped for a split second of understanding, before holy fire rent the flesh from his bones. It was clean, and it was quick. Manlia turned to the nearest and most reliable of his bodyguards, Folgar. Born of some northling whore and named and raised to honour her fashions, his golden hair had been tied back to allow all to behold his one remaining eye in all of its judgement. "Lead them, Folgar. Into the breach! To the Inquisition and their cannon!"
Then Manlia climbed atop his mount, and rode with the remainder of his guard further uphill, where the charge of the Thunder Inevitable had stalled amidst the gore they had trailed behind. As he did so, a Sistorian eagle landed beside him. Its rider was the Sistorian vassal, a woman by the name of Servina Eterian. She dropped to one knee, displaying all the respect that the rage of combat could allow without wasting valuable seconds. "House Jahimis marches into the rear of the High Inquisitor's army on the western ridge, Your Grace. Prince Kansar and the might of House Sistorian are barely held in check by the enemy."
The High Palatine nodded. "Lady Eterian! Land atop the hill to the north, overlooking the Last Argument and the rest of our forces. Sound the call to arms! Have them join us on the field with all due haste! And then make for the east, and inform Juluc Smilebiter and his men that they are to fall back to Orian, and destroy the bridge behind them. Tell them what you have seen. Tell them that the remainder of the enemy is to be met at Falor!"
Manlia had left Juluc Smilebiter behind precisely because he was the only man who knew what the Republic was truly capable of, and one of the few Dominii to have faced artillery and lived. Hopefully his experience had not failed him. Many good men were with him.
Once Lady Eterian was gone, Manlia turned to the Thunder Inevitable. Behind him, the Republican pikemen in the northeast were pushing hard against the zealots - at least three thousand of them. "Break them - back north with you!"
And with the fanatics milling around on the Ediren Hills around him, Manlia Suren Issander called out, using the bluster of the Thunder Inevitable to gain their attention. "Let us finish this red day! Follow me into history! For Radiance! Ten thousand years!"
(Green R8 is to push between Enemy R2 and Enemy R9, to their right, eastwards, joining the fanatics there.
P5, the Thunder Inevitable, are to charge Enemy R2, 6 and 8, avoiding the Inquisitors.
Manlia is to lead Horde 5 to attack Enemy R9, C2 and P10 from behind, wheeling southeast and then north.
Sistorian's P9 are to land on the hill due north, to signal to the rest of the army to join in the attack at Manlia's position, and then are to go eastwards to make sure everyone pulls back from the river safely. Once this has been done, the eagles are to rejoin Manlia, Kansar and Maurielle.)
The arrival of Maurielle's forces is a relief, but only for a brief moment. The loss of Grandmaster Kanrel still burns in my chest. I want nothing more than to drive my blade through the High Inquisitor's dark heart, to watch him choke on his own blood as the tortured spirits within him are laid to rest. I grind my teeth. I taste blood.
But I cannot. Attacking an inquisitor head-on is suicide. Kanrel knew this, but he let fury cloud his wisdom. I must be better. I must learn. Remember Marialla. I raise Brilliance once more. To change orders to and fro is the signature of a weak leader. But to stubbornly uphold an unwise decision is death. Kanrel's mistake.
Reinforcements have arrived, I tell the men. This battle is good as won. We return to our original objective. To the cannons! Their forbidden fire will be extinguished! The men cheer, still in good morale. They do not yet know of the Grandmaster's fall. And if I can help it, they won't until nightfall. I am surrounded by chants of ten thousand years as I push through the ranks to the eastern front, leaving the Inquisitors behind. This is the right decision, I know it.
The High Inquisitor's grin flashes in my mind, an image certain to haunt my dreams for years to come. The fires flare inside me once more. The desire, no, the need for revenge is overpowering. This is what drove Kanrel to his death. I cannot hope to overcome this impulse. I must do something.
But I have learned. A compromise. A token gesture to douse the flames. I concentrate and sense the gift that Twin Star gave me. I project my clone, and send him back. He will challenge the High Inquisitor. It is a foolish attempt. The Inquisitors should be able to see through such a simple illusion. It is likely to achieve nothing but confuse my men. But there is the faintest chance of perhaps tricking the High Inquisitor into staying too long, and be caught by Maurielle's forces. However unlikely, if my action may have a hand in the High Inquisitor's death, the burden in my heart may be lightened.
I continue onwards.
(Kansar leads the Cavalry to push through enemy unit R9 and continue towards the cannons.)
She could see up ahead the dangerous state of Kansar and his troops. The enemy had them surrounded on all sides; without relief they would surely die and this effort in the west would all be for naught. Her spyglass revealed the situation clear as day from the hill, as it did the wisps of a regiment doing nothing! Unbelievable; whoever was in charge of that cavalry could turn the tide of this whole engagement, and he was quire willing to let his leader perish. The magnitude of his cowardice would see him stripped of all honours after this was done. She'd see to that herself, but for now she needed him.
She put the spyglass back in her carry bag, then rode to address the troops. Inside her armour none could see her small expressions, the little changes that showed what she was thinking inside. Inside it, she was more a symbol than a woman, more a means to inspire rather than someone to relate to. So far, her plate had been left untarnished, the metal glittering in the setting sun. It would see its first taste of blood this day.
She gave each commander his order, each forming a general picture. The lions and the front two regiments were to rush forward, engage the enemy in melee combat to tie them down. The heavier two regiments would close in from the two sides, keeping more of the enemy pinned down and occupied. A classic bullhorn maneuver; she'd learned it during the first years of her lessons, and right now was the place to implement it. On her way, she stopped in between the Lower Guard and the Vigil Unblinking. She raised her sword high in the sky, letting it catch the rays of the sun to focus attention on her. This was more for the commanders and the front-line troops. Not all could hear her, but she was betting this information would be swiftly conveyed nonetheless. The promise of reward always made men listen attentively.
"Your jobs are simple! You men will kill every Inquisitor you come across! Do not offer quarrel or restraint! Riddle them with arrows, slaughter them down to the last man! Every Inquisitor killed will net the man who did so 2 week's pay!" That left the men murmuring, as expected. She let the sounds quiet down before continuing. "But, the High Inquisitor is to be captured alive, if possible! Alive, he can face Radiance's wrath, and His judgement! Alive he will answer for his blasphemy and his arrogance! He has spit on the face of every good citizen of the Dominion with his profane arts! But if that is not enough, consider this: if he can be brought alive, every solider will receive 2 month's pay!" Now that created a lot more noise. "If he is killed, only a week's pay! Death is too quick a mercy for one so vile! Manage this, and you will all be richly rewarded."
She left the commanders of said regiments to relay her specifics to the troops. The pikemen and the archers were to specifically target Inquisitors first, before moving on to the other troops. The pikemen would do well against the Inquisitorial cavalry, and not even Inquisitors could withstand being peppered with arrows.
Finally, she came to the mages. House Suren's personal guard. If there was any regiment she wanted to handle carefully it was this one. Not used properly, they could sink this conflict. But if their commander was hurt, the High Palatine's grief would need a target. Maurielle would be the one to whom blame would be given, the one punished for daring to let a member of the High Palatine's family die. This had to be approached carefully, without undue risk to the regiment, or its commander. If Seda passed, not only would Maurielle suffer, but the High Palatine himself might not recover.
"Are you prepared?" she asked Seda.
Seda turned from her troops. Maurielle could see much of Manlia in her. The sharp nose, how her eyes were set in her head. And the locks of brown hair that framed her face. Her bearing was always careful and attentive. Eyes watching all around her like a hawk, ready for threats to approach. She didn't wear as heavy armour as did Maurielle, but underneath the robes which bore House Suren's seal was a heavy chainmail shirt. One would e foolish to come out without some sort of protection. "We've trained for weeks in preparation Commander Jahimis, the ones under my command have mastered their talents. We are ready to follow your command."
"Good...good. Your task will be to attack any troops that look like they might escape our grasp. Focus on the ones that cannot wield magic; you'll waste your time trying to use it against the Inquisitors. The pikemen and riflemen on either side are your goals." After a brief awkward moment. "You're sure you'll be fine?" she asked.
Seda's posture stiffened and her voice attained the quality of a teacher speaking down to a student. "If my brother thought me so pitiful that I could not fend for myself, rest assured I would have have been sent away from Falor long ago. Do not treat me like some priceless pottery. It would take Death itself to shatter my will."
Maurielle was taken aback by the woman's tone. It seemed today was likely not the first day she'd been greeted with such well-meaning thoughts. But, looking at her, Maurielle could see a likeness within the woman. And Maurielle knew how she would react if she were handled delicately. "Very well, then see that the Republic meets that fate." With a brief salute, she left the woman behind to tend to her own.
She took the horn from her bag and raised it high. Runes of sound were carved into the hardened bone, taken from the greatest bear she'd ever killed on Jahimis's lands. Its length was ringed with bands of gold, each one emblazoned with her family crest. She knew of no better horn to signal this charge. The sound erupted into the open air, signalling all her troops that the time was now. This was the moment of glory most had been waiting for since this show had began, and today was where their mettle would be tested. She was saddened she could not join them for this momentous occasion, but there was one last thing to smooth out.
She rode her stallion around the main enemy and off to meet this lone coward of a cavalrymen. When she got to him, Kavad was simply standing on a hill, watching the battle happen practically right on his doorstep. He was dressed up in the runic armour the Sistorian knights were known for, by all accounts ready to get into battle. Yet he was doing nothing. He simply stayed where he was, an entire regiment standing still. It took all of her effort to maintain control and coherence when she spoke to the man.
"Commander Kavad, why in Radiance's good name are you simply standing around?! There's a battle going on. Men and women are dieing before you!"
Kavad barely turned his helmet to acknowledge her. "I am overseeing the rabble, making sure that none break ranks and try to flee" he said, "You know how it can be with these draftsmen. The first whiff of an opportunity and they'll bolt like rabbits. Got to keep a close eye on them. And in any event, Prince Kansar Sistorian ordered me to my current position. Until someone of...adequate rank says otherwise I'll be staying right here, performing my duties."
"Your commander is down there, risking his own life to protect this land! The least you could do would be to take the same risk!"
"Unless you get Prince Sistorian over here, I'm afraid I must remain at my designated post!"
She breathed a sigh. "Very well. And I'm sure once Radiance hears that you could have prevented Prince Sistorian's untimely demise, but chose not to, He will be merciful."
No hint of civility remained in his voice. "He wouldn't believe you. I'm the heir to the Kastorian royal line! You're some third-rate daughter."
"Willing to stake your title, your honour, your very life on that fact? I have a feeling He might take such a loss very personally."
She could practically hear the man gritting and grinding his teeth inside his armour. "As you wish." he said, sounding like he regretted the decision with his every breath. "Where can I be most useful?"
Attack these nearest riflemen from the sides. They're preoccupied with the horde and my men currently, one more bit of pressure and they'll fold."
He didn't acknowledge her command, simply rode off towards the spot. She followed after him, intending to get into the fray, not just to see her side victorious, but to keep an eye on Kavad, make sure he didn't flee from this conflict. Twin points they were, riding with the cavalry, set to meet the Republic face-to-face. She was steel, and did not fear their muskets. Let them try and dislodge her. She would succeed with grace and poise.
(The force Maurielle has assembled will rush forward in that formation. R6 and R2 will curve in, entrapping units that try to flee to the side. R2 and R9 will focus on killing or removing from play as many inquisitors as possible. R3 will use its magic to attack non-magical Republic infantry, to better disrupt and break it up. R4 and Maurielle will attack the Republic's Western rifelmen from the side.)