By the time Umeko returns from HMS Charitable to the flagship, the mood is palpable more tense, among her friends as well as the crew. The normally unruffled Gibson has been hovering close to Anisa most of the day, almost making a nuisance of himself asking her to get heavier armor, though the suit she picks out is similar to his own, supple hide armor with hardened boiled sections and lacquered wood overlays at the joints, chest, shoulders, forearms, and shins, plus an open-faced helm. The sky has muttered and threatened, a few patters of rain darkening the Equalizer's deck.
General Diamondback is above decks as well, his armor completed and a long sword worn on his back as he prepares to meet with his troops on the surface.
For her part, Anisa seems visibly frustrated with her older brother, batting him away with a flurry of light paw-slaps whenever he goes into protective mode. "Will you quit it with the mother hen act," she says, straitening her chestplate. "I'll be fine! This is the only armor that had that didn't make me feel like I was in a cocoon. Dagh, I'd just as soon go without."
If Umeko didn't look like a dragon before … she certainly does now. She's clad from head to toe in scales of chitin that ripple and flow as she walks towards Gibson and Anisa. Even the toothed helmet she wears practically screams 'dragon'. At her side are her swords. They rest atop what looks like a plate-like skirt which covers her upper thighs. When she spots the General, she dips her head to him in respect, noting, "When it is time for me to address the soldiers, please inform me." She then approaches Gibson and Anisa, asking, "Are the both of you ready?"
"That would certainly distract the enemy, Anisa" Xander comments. Aside from his usual robes, he's got a leather shirt and breeches on underneath. A circle of fire spins around his right hand a Flaming Lens ritual (thanks to some borrowed ingredients from the mages' storeroom).
"I… I'm sorry, sis," says Gibson, looking chastened. He rubs his wrist in an uncharacteristically nervous manner. "I just… I've always been aware of the danger I'd dragged you into, and Royce the first time around. I never thought I'd put you in the middle of a war. Until this is over, I'm sticking to you like glue."
"Ready as we'll ever be, I guess," Anisa says to Umeko, looking her armor up and down. "You look like you could take a direct hit from a boomer in that getup!" Ignoring Xander's usual risque commentary, the doe elbows her brother in the chest. "Relax, I'll be fine. Heck, I'm getting to be an old pro at this adventure stuff, just like you."
The General moves along at Umeko's side. "When we descend to the surface, you will have the opportunity to speak, Governess. We go when you are ready."
"And it is not you who dragged Anisa in to this war, it is me. If anything goes wrong, the results mar my honor, not yours, Gibson," Umeko tells the black Lapi. To Xander and Anisa, she asks, "Is there anything further you need to prepare? Our goal is to take down Des as quickly as possible and try to end this. Be aware we may also have to face Crushcoil; he may be with Des by now."
"I think I've got the best possible spell prepared," Xander says, raising his right hand a bit. "Just don't be surprised if you hear me singing."
"Neither of you dragged me anywhere," Anisa states flatly, smoothing out her ears. "I do make my own decisions now and then, and this was one of them. I'm here because I wanna be here." Hefting her bow, and patting her skedat whip, the Lapi shakes her head. "Nothing else needed. Lead the way, fearless leader!" She shoots the reptile a grin.
"What does the spell do?" Umeko asks Xander. Her head tilts a bit to the side so she can observe him through one of the eyeslits.
Gibson still looks uncertain, but rather than speak again he just nods and does his best to smile.
"It's the Flaming Lens, great for extended, personal combat," Xander explains. "When it's active, anything passing through the lens will be covered in flame. So arrows become flaming arrows, swords can be burning swords for a time, and I can blow through it to breath fire."
"I would assume it would be bad to walk through it," Umeko observes after a moment of thought. "And it may have harmful effects on weapons, would it not? If it warms a metal weapon too much, temper may be lost."
Anisa eyes her brother skeptically, then nudges him with her hip, giving a smile. "Relax, Gib. What happens, happens. We'll be fine."
"Well, it needs something to actually burn, so a metal weapon wouldn't burn for long," Xander notes. "Plus, the Lens is only about as big as a clenched fist. I can't maintain the energy for something bigger. It'll mostly be used for breathing fire and lighting up Anisa's arrows."
Umeko nods to Xander. Her attention shifts back to the General with a serpentine roll of her head. "I believe it is time. Little is gained by waiting; it allows our opponents to further entrench," she says with a voice held as calm as possible. "I presume the elite are waiting below for us?"
Diamondback nods. "They are. Additionally, I will assign a unit to you and your comrades. It is your choice what you will each lead, whether it is cavalry, infantry, or archers."
"Each lead?" Anisa arches a brow at this.
"Do we have any information on how Viper's Hold is currently being guarded? My initial thoughts would be to bring archers to take down wall defenders as we try to enter and strike, but I am keeping options open based on what lies ahead," Umeko says. Her own head tilts a bit at the suggestion that each of the group would be leading a unit.
"I think the plan is usually to use cavalry to open a wedge, followed by the infantry and then the archers," Xander suggests.
"Yes," says the General. "The Governess proved formidable. If each of you are as capable as she is, then to simply throw you into the maelstrom is wasteful. You are to be examples, and to this end you are best deployed with units. However, if you wish, that may be changed."
Gibson speaks up. "I'm not leaving Anisa's side no matter what," he says flatly.
"Then Xander should be with the archers and strike from a distance and use his lens to ignite their arrows," Umeko suggests. She starts to move as if she's to put her arms in her sleeves, only to remember she doesn't have any right now and stops. "I would likely be best suited to go with infantry. I am not fast on the ground and do best with close-quarters fighting. Anisa … you and your brother are most fleet of foot, would you wish to leave the calvary?"
Long Tooth sidles around from where he was mostly hidden by Diamondback's own imposing form. "Andah I stay wit' Umeko-chan."
"I'll stay with the artillery… er… archers, as you suggest," Xander says.
Anisa looks visibly surprised at the notion of leading a unit, but the look fades with a sigh at Gibson's comment. "Fine, you can be my co-commander, Beatrice." She gives her brother another playful nudge, then nods to Umeko. "That sounds reasonable."
"We'll see you put to good use, Mage Lightfoot" says a voice, held a little too even to sound natural. It's a Naga in red robes, his arms crossed in front of him. "I don't believe we were ever introduced. Curious, that."
A pair of tiny fireballs drift in slow orbit around the Naga.
The Lapi mage tries not to wince before turning around and bowing to the Naga mage. "Please accept my most humble apologies, Fire Master," he says. He even bows his ears.
Under her helm, Umeko's brow arches a bit. "/That must be their fire mage," she thinks. As Xander's head bows, she says, "That is likely my doing. Mage Lightfoot has been assisting me since we arrived. I have not allowed him enough time to speak with you; he meant you no slight."
"Ah," replies the snake, inclining his head respectfully toward Umeko. "Well, not to worry, Your Honor. I am sure we will become well acquainted. The bond formed in the forge of battle is a strong one, is it not, my brother in arts?"
"Oh yes, certainly!" Xander agrees quickly, standing up and nodding his head rapidly. "I'll be happy to assist you in any way possible, sir."
"Calm yourself, Xander," Umeko very faintly whispers. Then louder, she asks the General, "What are your initial plans for a strike? Do you intend to strike with airship first, from land first, or with magic? Or do you plan a mixture?"
The other mage's broad mouth stretches into a tight, hard approximation of a smile. For a fire mage, it is a demeanor completely without warmth. "Excellent." Rather than speak any more, he defers to Diamondback, who answers Umeko's question. "We suspect Crushcoil's forces have already taken the palisade. We will deal with any threats outside the stronghold, and then lay siege. The ships will be providing support while we break through the walls."
From the bow of the Equalizer, something becomes apparent in the distance. Motes of orangy light situated around the smudge of hills in the distance… it seems there is a welcome waiting at Viper's Hold.
Umeko considers the plan for a moment, then nods. "Very well," she says, agreeing to the plan. "If chance offers, though, and we can breach and strike down Des quickly, I do intend to take it. I would prefer that this not be a protracted battle, if possible." She then draws in a slow breath through her nose … releasing it between her teeth. "I am counting on all of you for one thing above all others," she says as she looks between her allies.
Xander twitches at the sight. I knew I should have done research into making torches and lamps explode…
The General nods. "At your discretion, Governess Militant," he says.
Gibson looks up expectantly, from where he had been keeping his gaze on his toes.
Anisa perks her ears at Umeko, giving an expression that suggests she continue. One ear goes errant as the fires come into view, however as if she could hear them.
"I expect all of you to stay alive," Umeko says simply. Her attention then shifts to the horizon. "I believe it is time. It would be ill manners if we kept them waiting long," she comments in a quiet, but steely tone.
Back below decks, the assortment of officers, including Diamondback and his command staff and Umeko and her friends, descends in the Equalizer's loading platform. The rain has become steadier, but it's not enough to drown out the rustle and clatter of arms and armor from the massed troops, a sea of helmeted heads lifting up to settle a collective gaze on the platform.
Anisa pats her scaly friend on the shoulder. "Give em Dagh, Kin."
Umeko takes a few deep breaths, then shakes out her white mane. In the winds of the storm, it flows and billows behind her like a raging cloud as she walks out to the edge of the platform. "My honored allies … my friends," she begins in Imperial, voice carrying and yet somehow managing a gentle tone. "We stand together against an enemy who has lurked in the shadows; those who have been striking out against those who could not defend themselves. We stand against a foe who in their delusions believed themselves strong enough to defy even the Empire itself. They believed they could carve out a Kingdom of lawlessness and bloodlust. They have pushed and pushed … well, they push no further; ttoday they will learn the folly of their beliefs; their actions are not tolerated by the Emperor." She pauses there and draws in another breath before continuing, "I know that some of you are afraid. Such is only natural with battle. But feeling fear does not mean you cannot still fight. Harness that edge
and let it focus you; let it keep your reactions as sharp as the blades you carry. For know that as long as you leave, those that stand behind you will also live."
Again the Kiriga draws in a breath, pulling herself to full height before ending her speech with, "None of you are insignificant; all of you bear great honor to stand in this battle. Know that I see this … know that I understand this. Know that to me, all of you are important, regardless of rank or birth. In entering this battle know that I regret only one thing; that I have not gotten a chance to speak to each of you personally and learn your names. And know that I expect each and every one of you to survive this day so that I may yet have that chance. My allies, my brothers, my sisters, we will stand tall and bright. We will end this injustice."
Anisa pats Umeko once again on the shoulder. "Well said. Or at least, it sounded good… " She smiles.
"I will translate it for you later," Umeko says quietly to Anisa when she remembers that none of them understand Imperial. "But, thank you."
"After that speech, I guess it wouldn't be proper to ask for a good-luck kiss now," Xander whispers to Umeko, even though he didn't understand any of it.
"As the last of Umeko's words echo over the heads of the gathered troops, she is met by a moment's silence. Then, from within the ranks, there's a loud clack of sword on shield. It's joined by another and another, and soon there's a great din of weapons on wood and chitin. The General's mouth quirks upward. "Not many of our leaders would care to address the rank and file in such a way. Perhaps there is merit in doing so.""
"If you do well, then a kiss would give you something to look forward to, and possibly more," Umeko whispers to Xander in reply. To the General, Umeko says with a simple smile, "A warrior will fight when ordered. A warrior who believes in the battle and those who lead will fight tenfolds that. It is the resolve they carry which will ultimately matter. It is my duty as their Governess to harness and encourage that resolve."
With a bump and sway, the loading platform reaches the ground, and the General's demeanor changes as he slithers off the platform with his 'flock' of officers, who disperse into the mob, each taking a banner, whose legion rallies around it.
"Don't die," Xander advises the others, sticking close to the Imperial mage.
"I don't plan on it," Anisa replies, following the others off of the platform. "When do we meet our units? And for that matter," the doe rubs her elbow nervously, "what'll they think about having a bunch of Lapi lead them? Umeko we're not."
The reptilian mage takes up a banner, and immediately a group of archers and crossbowmen gather 'round and form ranks, lean-looking fellows, lightly armored and bending their bows to string them."
"No, you are Anisa Snowshoe and that is all you ever need be," Umeko says as she follows the Lapis off the platform. "Never sell yourself, or your kind, short. If they seem to question your abilities … well, they will learn otherwise in the field. Actions speak volumes, afterall." She pats Anisa's shoulder, then Gibson's, adding, "I have faith in both of you. I will see you two again." She then turns away and goes towards the General, where she now takes up a banner.
Swordsmen hurry to fall into formation before Umeko, chitin-clad warriors bearing tall shields and long blades. The Komodo Elite emerge from among them, dwarfing even the largest of the common soldiers, their steel claws chiming with disquieting harmony.
The snowy doe smiles at Kin's words, but then her face falls to confusion. "Okay, so… where do we go now?" She looks to Gibson.
The black Lapi bites his lip. "I'm not sure, I… we're with the cavalry, right? Wait… wait, this looks promising. Quick, grab that banner," he says, pointing at one in the forest of remaining flags.
Umeko dips her head in a slight bow to the soldiers which join her. She looks over them carefully (except for the Komodo elite, that is), trying to look each in the eyes and get a feeling for the level of fear, comfort, determination, or disbelief.
Anisa blinks, then quickly grabs the indicated banner, holding it upright. Being considerably shorter than most of the others present, it almost looks as though the banner were standing upright amidst the crowd via its own power.
The light under the cloudy sky isn't strong, leaving deep recesses of shadow in many of the soldier's helmets, but there's enough to see trepidation mixed with a certain stoicism. They watch Umeko attentively, though occasionally they give the Komodo some wary looks.
As Anisa raises her banner, taurid Rokuga shoulder their way through the assembled troops, and their leader gives the Lapi a surprised look. "You are leading us?" says an incredulous Dasha.
Anisa looks startled at the familiar face, but she soon relaxes. "Looks that way. Why? Not certain if you can keep up or not?" She grins at the reptile.
"We will strike when the calvary breaks the enemies front line," Umeko tells the soldiers in her neutral and calm tone. "I have faith and trust in your skill on the field," she says, "In addition, if you have any questions or concerns, I expect you to voice them to me."
"Ho, ho! We'll see what you're made of, then," says Dasha, matching Anisa's grin with one of her own. "Maybe we'll be saving you, this time!"
"Not Dagh-well likely, Anisa says, leading her group over to one side. She turns to Gibson. "So what do you think, should we use Buttercup and Dewdrop, or handle this on foot?"
One of the swordsmen steps forward, a frilled green shiga with a symbol adorning one of his shoulderplates. "We understand, Governess. I am our unit's sergeant. I will assist you."
Gibson takes the banner, and begins affixing it to a section of armor on Anisa's back. "I'm not sure they're meant for battle, they might spook. The raider's drokkar might work."
"Your name?" Umeko inquires of the shiga as she tilts her head in acknowledgement and offers the sergeant the banner, then turns so he can affix it to the harness on her armor.
Anisa looks startled as her brother places the banner on her back, but makes no move to protest. "I guess its better to conserve our energy if we have mounts available to us then." She looks up to Dasha, "Have you been told of the plan, then? I believe we're the first wave."
The lizard hooks the flag securely into place, the Imperial crest and the unit's symbol now flying above Umeko's head, just like the Dasher's banner now flies above Anisa's. "Sergeant Jechlun, my Lady."
Dasha lifts her head to survey the area, then nods back at Anisa. "We will be part of the spearhead, forming up on the cavalry wedge." Indeed, other cavalry units are trotting into place along the front of forces now organizing themselves. Viper's Hold draws ever closer as all this is done on the march, close enough now to see that there is activity swarming below the palisade's walls.
For a moment, Umeko feels like a strange prisoner or symbol. It crosses her mind how ironic it is that her husband-to-be also sought to make a symbol of some sort out of her. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Jechlun," she says as her head twists around so she can look to the reptile briefly as they move. "Does our unit have a specific name or designation?"
"We are of General Diamondback's 6th Company," says Jechlun, moving to keep pace with his leader. He shakes his head. "We don't have a name yet, we were reformed from several companies that had suffered losses."
"What is your opinion of what we face ahead?" Umeko asks next as her head shifts back around to look forward while they walk. Her mind also mulls over giving her unit a designation.
The sergeant looks ahead as if to see if he could point anything out. He can't, but it's clear that there are large groups of people gathered below the walls of the palisade, waiting. "We were told to expect raiders… pillaging rabble with some knowledge of how to wage battle. The worst kind of scum."
Seeing the other cavalry forming in the forward position, Anisa begins to make her own way towards the force. She keeps Dasha close, and talks lowly so that only she can hear. "I'll be honest with you, I don't have much experience in leading a unit but I know you do. I'm making you my second in command." She pauses, and looks the Rokuga directly in the eyes. "My philosophy is to hit hard, and hit fast, but if you have a better one, I'd like to hear it now."
"I think I shall refer to our unit as 'Dragon's Fang', if you have no objections," Umeko tells the sergeant after a bit of thought, "It is … fitting with the elite as part, as well as having two Kiriga as members." At the assessment, she nods, "There is truth in that from what I have seen of their numbers; but do not underestimate them. Some are likely very skilled and they have backers who are providing them mage support. I do not know if we will encounter mages in this battle, however. This group is primarily lead by one of Beshret's subordinates, A Warlord called Crushcoil."
Lieutenant Dasha nods, hunkering down a little as she follows, the other Dashers trotting behind the Lapi and taurid. "I can help you interpret the commands we'll receive… otherwise, simply lead by example. My men are well trained," she says this with obvious pride, "We'll follow to the best of our ability. I already know you can keep your head in a fight, that's the biggest part of this."
The sergeant nods, the frill around his neck standing up a little. "We shall give them no quarter, Governess. We will earn our name."
Anisa gives the reptile an appreciative smile. "Thanks. I won't let you or your men down."
To that, Umeko's head dips in a nod. "I am certain you will, Sergeant," she says as her hands slide down to her weapons. Our comes the Autumn harvest. In her right hand rests the longer of the two, Falling Leaf. The shorter, Floating Blossom, rests in her left hand, held in a reverse grip so that the blade lays against the underside of her arm. "We are the storm and they will fall beneath our winds," she says with finality. "Let us roar."
Now tightly organized, the Imperial army comes face to face with the desert warbands holding the viper's den. Though not the same men, they could just as well be the ones that Umeko and Anisa remember fleeing from at Beshret's camp so many nights ago. The lone flag flying above the palisade is distant but unmistakable as the Razer's. Rushed fortifications lie half-constructed around the base of the palisade's walls, likely ineffective in their unfinished state except for some buried pikes pointing out. The town's walls itself, however, are quite formidable… pointed log walls, the timber likely imported, are shored up with baked clay bricks, thickening the barriers considerably. Above them, archers peer between the points. Below, a mix of raiders on drokkar back and on foot mill about amidst bonfires, the horde possibly having spilled out of the palisade itself. There's no telling what awaits inside.
The arrowhead formation of cavalry is ready, but currently a large no-man's land of scrub and cracked earth separate the forces. From the center of the army, General Diamondback rises up to a considerable height on his coils, and holds up an orange fan. More fans rise up as the order is carried down the lines. Nearby officers cry out, "Phalanx, form up!" Sergeant Jechlun leans toward Umeko. "The General has ordered the heavy infantry to advance."
Umeko's head bobs in understanding. Her own sword is lifted, point skyward to get the attention of her unit, then brings it partway down to indicate for them to move up and join the advance heavy infantry and phalanx group. "Stand firm and do not think on what may be, focus on what is now," she says to her unit. "If you feel a moment of wavering, draw in a breath and release your fears as you breathe out."
The Dragon's Fang move forward to integrate themselves into the phalanx, bringing tall shields to bear and arming themselves with javelins poised over their shoulders. Light infantry with spears move in behind them, trying to take as much shelter as they can.
Riding the scarred drokkar that she rescued earlier, Anisa takes the lead of the cavalry formation her bow slung across her back, and whip out and at the ready. "Sorry to drag you into this, old boy," she whispers to her mount, patting its cheeks, "but at least here you can fight back." She turns to survey her command, hoping her ears don't give away her nervousness.
The drokkar whuffles and tosses its head, but looks otherwise non-plussed. He looks considerably calmer than Gibson, in fact, but to the black Lapi's credit, he still sits resolutely in his steed's saddle.
Umeko, in the tradition of her people, stands are the forefront of her unit. She refuses to allow them to face dangers that she would not also willingly face. Her breathing is controlled, slow, and regular. The fact her body has already switched over into endothermic, mode, however, indicates that she is well aware of the dangers to come. And there she waits for further orders, her white mane flowing and rippling behind her. Her eyes focus ahead as she looks over the soon to be battlefield.
There is no exchange of pleasantries between officers, no formalities that some of the 'civilized' cultures of Sinai have engaged in. Viper's Hold indicates their hostilities with a flight of arrows launched by lines of bowmen at the base of the walls.
Moving her steed to stand near Dasha, Anisa looks her troops over. After a brief pause, she addresses them. "I'm not much for words, so I fear that I can't speak as eloquently as Mistress Umeko," she says, trying to deepen her normally high-pitched voice. "But I believe that actions speak louder than words anyroad. Ride fast, ride hard, and make these pathetic excuses for mercenaries think that Dagh himself is descending on them! Make them regret the day they ever met The Dashers!"
The doe cracks her whip in the air to emphasize the point.
It's difficult to move amongst the tightly packed formation of the phalanx, and without a shield Kin is forced to dodge the arrows that begin raining down. The Komodo Elite advance with her, one of whom steps into the path of an arrow that was headed for her. It embeds itself into one of the tall warrior's legplates, but he doesn't flinch, or even seem to really notice it, nor does he limp or bleed. It affords Kin a chance to begin picking out a 'path' of sorts to take, making it easier for the phalanx to keep their formation as more arrows break on their shields.
The Dashers raise their lances, shaking them and answering Anisa with bassy bellows and 'setting' their lances into specialized grooves in their armor.
Umeko's jaw is set as she works her way forward under the rain of arrows. "Calm and focused," she thinks to herself as she marches forward, trying to ignore the sounds of arrows breaking all around her. When one strikes one of the elite instead of her … she pauses for a moment. Once satisfied her guard isn't seriously injured, she lightly tap the Komodo's arm and dips her head to him in acknowledgment of his taking of the arrow for her. Out of concern of driving her unit into chaos, she doesn't break formation yet.
Anisa swivels her drokkar to once again face the battlefront, and steels her expression as best she can, trying to pick out Umeko among the mass of soldiers.
The komodo glances at Umeko, and all six continue to march forward with her. They seem to have a disdain for the arrows peppering them, shouldering into it as if walking into an annoyingly strong wind. It's a wind that seems only to intensify, feathered shafts whistling down, cracking off shields and armor and making the ground bristle with their number. One snags in the corner of Umeko's banner, but still the Kiriga presses on, and her unit remains resolute behind her, though there's a cry of pain from somewhere in the back.
Umeko's webbed ears flinch at the cry in the back. "Do you know who was hit?" she asks the sergeant as there is a break in the volley while the opponents reload. She does, however, take a moment to steal a glance backward and see if she can see how serious a hit it was. Seeing everything has still been trivial, her attention shifts forward one more. As they grow closer, Umeko's body leans forward and her legs bend a bit underneath her … a rather predatory reptilian stance as she lopes forward. "Hold strong and firm," she calls out, "A storm does not fear or falter. Their attempts to break us are as nothing!"
Keyoa's rumbling voice, echoing in his helmet, let's Umeko pick out which of the nearly identical komodo elite he is. "Leave the wounded."
Wrapping her whip around her wrist, Anisa pulls her bow from her shoulder, and notches an arrow. "Dagh, the wait is intolerable," she mutters quietly to Dasha.
Dasha lays a hand on Anisa's shoulder. "Steady. We will be in the thick of it all too soon, my friend."
Even with the addition of fire from the raiders on horseback with their shortbows, Kin weathers the storm, and her men as well. It's been a slow creep across the stretch of ground, but she can see the raiders ahead… close enough that she can see their riders gathering for a charge!
"They are about to send riders," Umeko calls to her unit, "Be prepared to break formation! Those who carry spears select a partner who does not and move to the fore. Take out the mounts with any means possible. I suggest either spear the mount or pair up and use the spears to trip the mounts. When they go down, swordsman, move in and strike. Otherwise, be on the defensive from the riders, they will have added force with their mounts and will strike hard. Keyoa, have the elite shatter as many of those charging as you can as well."
Anisa fidgets in her saddle, glancing back at the General and her brother before looking back out on the battlefield.
The light infantry dutifully move up, lowering their spears over the shield wall formed by their heavy infantry counterparts. Some of the mounted raiders balk, but most already have too much momentum in their eagerness. Just as the wave of drokkarmen are about to wash over the phalanx, Diamondback raises his gauntlet, a red fan in it. It flares open, then closed again, and the General snaps his arm down to point forward. The movement is repeated down the line of officers, and within the ranks of the cavalry comes the cry, "CHARGE!"
Like lightning, Anisa spurs her mount hard, charging forward with bow at the ready. "Stay in arrowhead formation," she yells back, "hit hard, hit fast!" As best as she can muster, the Lapi gives her version of a war cry, making a beeline for the enemy's front lines.
The force of a cavalry charge is a fearsome thing, but Kin proves fiercer in the face of the charge, and her timing presents a forest of spears for the raiders to crash into, and crash they do. Drokkar loose unearthly screams as the meet the spearheads, tumbling through the lines and throwing their riders. Though the phalanx is disrupted somewhat from sheer momentum, they more or less hold ranks, steeds flopping over and thrashing, leaving the raiders to be skewered on the ground. The remaining mounted force that doesn't fall on the spears mills in confusion, then turns tail as the Imperial cavalry descend.
To Sergeant Jechlun, Umeko calls out with a grim smile, "The unit is earning its name. Well done, indeed! I am proud of all of you! Continue to hold strong and they will fall." As the calvary now charge, Umeko's eyes follow them and she says to herself, "Ride like the wind itself and show them your strength, Anisa." Encouragement done, the Kiriga returns to the battle in full fury, blades dancing.
Charging her mount forward, Anisa rises up from her saddle as she nears the opposing force. Drawing back her bow, she aims for any target of opportunity. "Dagh, wish I had grabbed one of those spears back there… "
The Komodo stand tall enough to actually yank men off their drokkar, hurling some of the unlucky raiders to the earth and dispatching them with a stab of their long, claw-like blades or a simple and brutally efficient stomp that makes their armor jangle. The Dashers around Anisa lower their lances and lean into their runs, picking up speed and pounding the ground.
Looking beyond the battlefield before her, and off to the archers in the distance, Anisa pulls her bow taught and sights her foes. Singling out an important looking individual among the bunch, the doe trains all her focus on to him, and lets her arrow fly.
Just as he's about to give the command to fire, a scruffy looking human looks nocks his own bow and looks up to draw it back… just in time to catch Anisa's arrow with his left eye socket. He flops bonelessly onto his back, and his group of archers don't get their shot off, scattering in confusion. One screams, "Fall back! Fall back to the fortress!" as the Dashers wheel around and begin to bear down on them, outpacing the footmen that try to intercept them.
Slinging her bow across her back, Anisa unfurls her whip, and joins her fellow riders in bearing down on the fleeing soldiers. "Don't let up on them! They can run, but they'll only die tired!"
The battalions around Diamondback have engaged the brigands, but it's little more than mopping up with the raiders' collective back broken outside the palisade. The General himself joins the battle, but before he does so, he holds up a yellow fan and opens it, signaling the artillerist and archers in position. The order passes down the lines, and the Naga mage across the circle from Xander smiles grimly. "That is the order to unleash our barrage. We shan't let the stragglers escape. We will focus our fire on the forces out of our cavalry's reach."
Like a Lapi possessed, Anisa wades into the retreating archers along with her fellow cavalrymen and attacks anything that moves. Her whip isn't enough to actually finish off any of the fleeing soldiers, but the cracking sting is more than needed to make them stop dead in their tracks and after a few well placed kicks from her oversized feet, the drokkar's hooves, or her fellow attacker's spears many go down for the count.
Few of the bandit bowmen make it to the relative safety of the palisade gates, with only their head start giving them any chance against the Lapi and Rokugai skirmisher's speed. The scarred drokkar becomes almost a living extension of Anisa, moving fearlessly among the scattering soldiers, trampling those snagged by the wicked barb on Anisa's skedat whip, or Gibson's own. Dasha remains beside Anisa the entire way, breaking off her lancepoint in the ribs of a Khatta, then drawing her sword and continuing on. The rest of the cavalry 'arrowhead' has long since broken into skirmishing groups after the central forces were thrown into disarray, and they ride down isolated stragglers mercilessly.
Far at the back of the lines, Xander hops up onto a catapult to get a long view of the battlefield. "Looks like the enemy ranks have broken and are retreating, sir," he calls down to his fellow Fire Mage. "I think we can use that! If you hit the gate's upper framework with your fireballs, it could crack and sag enough to keep the gates from being closed. Then the archers can pin them all down while the siege engines batter them down!"
"Hmmm. A sensible plan," muses the reptile, looking almost surprised that Xander has come up with it. "So be it! We shall close to range, and show the cowards that their little fence will not save them."
Umeko, for her part, has been directing her unit while fending off attacks from some of the footmen. As for her unit, she's hand them split into smaller factions, each group paired up with one of the elite for raw power and to divide they forces of their opponents. From her training she knows the most effective way to disrupt or end a fight is to remove the head of the beast, so to speak … so Umeko's gold eyes scan across her opponents as she seeks out who is directing the foot soldiers.
It's difficult to tell much apart in the drizzle and chaos. Clacks, cracks, and screams are heard over the din of trampling feet and rolling coils. The fighting has broken into individual battles played out all around, here soldier and raider locked in mortal struggle, there a group of brigands held at bay with spears while Imperial swordsmen circle around. One of the Komodo lumbers past, armor bristling with arrows and raiders scattering before him. One of Crushcoil's fighters has managed to regain his drokkar and bowls some soldiers over. Wait, there! An especially heavyset warrior can be seen shouting at his cohorts, though he's in the thick of the fight himself. He sweeps away an infantryman's spear with a weighty-looking two handed maul, and smashes the luckless shiga in the jaw with the haft. Standing over the prone Imperial, he brings the hammer down, and the crunch that's heard must be more than just chitin armor.
Umeko's twin blades roll lightly in her hands. Without a word she starts towards him, eyes narrowed. She doesn't, however, lose focus on the battle going on around her lest she be caught unaware. It would seem suicide for such a small woman (in comparison to those around her, anyway), to he hunting down an obviously skilled and powerful foe … but such is the nature of battle and such is Umeko's nature. These are her soldiers, and her responsibility. Therefore the duty falls to her to take down the opponent's leader. "You," she says as she draws close, voice melodic and tinged with a hard edge. "Surrender or face my harvest."
The raider looks to be a shiga himself, crocodilian in nature, with long jaws, thick strong tail, and a barrel shape. Various rough-finished skins drape over his own tough-looking hide. He doesn't seem to hear Umeko's challenge at first, busy as he is bellowing at his lackies, but when he does notice the Kiriga, he gives her a briefly incredulous look. It doesn't last long… the banner Umeko is wearing is unmistakable. The brigand hefts his hammer and begins an ungainly waddle toward the Governess.
The gator-like brigand's waddling gait belies surprising speed, and the only thing that beats him to Kin is his maul. Kin can feel her armor rattle as she turns the weapon away with her daisho, her chitin shell feeling very thin right about now.
It also isn't the first time she's faced someone better than her in one aspect or another and so she forces the fear from her mind, focusing. Floating Blossom rolls over in her hand so that she's holding it backwards, serrated edge now on the offensive. It darts in with several repeated strikes, testing against that brute's armor as well as his weapon. But … her intent isn't to injure … it's to tangle. And tangle she does. The serrated teeth bite deep on to the armor of the brigand's shoulder. Then with another roll, she brings it and hooks the teeth near the handguard into the wrappings of the maul's handle, ensnaring it into his own armor and effectively hobbling how much he can swing or strike with that massive weapon. Knowing that it cannot last long, though, Umeko presses her attack, now armed only with Falling Leaf.
With one arm snared, the crocodilian's struggle against Umeko rapidly turns against him, the advantage of his weapon's power and reach effectively checked. He wrenches and twists to get his hobbled arm free while striking ineffectively at Umeko with jaws and tail, but the Kiriga's deft maneuvers and neatly executed attacks get the better of him every time.
Maybe it's being in the heat of battle. Maybe it's knowing that her actions inspire or weaken her unit, the Dragon's Fang. Maybe it's just pure luck. Whatever it is, Umeko burns and her blade sings. Unrelenting slash after slash pound on her opponent. Some are fended away by armor, some are parried. But the brigand can only hold out so long against the onslaught. His blocking weakens and two deft strikes pass through, cutting deep into his scaly hide; one across his chest, another deep in his right arm.
The gator's bellow of pain almost blows Kin's hair back, even with her helmet on. This close, Umeko can see into the crazed yellow eyes of her opponent, and blood pours down his belly and soaks the skins he wears. The raider's struggles redouble.
Stunned from the roar, Umeko's onslaught is briefly halted and the the two resume trading blows. But the fire soon returns deep within the Kiriga. She sidesteps, then surges forward. Falling Leaf floats in, a hair's breath from her own body as it snaps upward. The edge of the blade lands true against his neck. Her arms snaps to the side, drawing it cruelly across his neck while she releases a hissing breath, almost a roar fo her own, through clenched teeth. She then draws back, sword poised to strike yet again…
The second strike turns out not to be necessary. With a hissing gurgle, the raider takes a step back, stout legs wobbling under him as blood pours from his opened throat. He drops to a knee, then topples over backward with a crash, a cloud of dust wafting up where he collapses, arm still crooked in where Floating Blossom keeps it pinned. Crushcoil's forces falter, and the Imperial infantry, sensing weakness, seize the momentum and surge forward with renewed vigor.
Umeko lowers Falling Leaf, then nods as if accepting the defeat of her opponent. She reaches down and twists, then jerks Floating Blossom free from the dead brigand. Her attention shifts once more the the battle raging around her … checking her sub-units to see if any need assistance.
Keyoa is tossing aside the broken body of a swordsman, and Imperial spearmen continue on ahead. Above, the imposing bulk of the Equalizer casts its shadow across the battlefield as it slowly drifts closer to the palisade. A ballista bolt springs up from behind the town walls and arcs toward the dreadnought, but falls short.
Having taken care of the better part of the enemies archery force, Anisa signals her fellow riders to return to formation around Dasha and herself. "Regroup! Let's wheel about and take their infantry from behind - keep em busy on both sides! Hyah!" After another wild crack of her whip, the doe hunkers down on her mount, and leads the charge into the backs of the enemy foot soldiers.
Ragged knots of rebel footmen break apart as the Dashers crash through. The forces outside Viper's Hold are all but decimated, and those that have no hope of reaching the palisade begin dropping their weapons. Somewhere at the rear lines, amongst trebuchets being erected, two fire mages have prepared a circle on top of a siege tower. The wind and drizzle makes it a sloppy job, but concentration holds as the Imperial mage snuffs one of his fireballs, and begins adding to the energy already collected with continued hissed chanting, reddish robes flapping.
Gathering power in his own way, Xander the Lapi is putting on a spectacle: dancing and jumping like a savage while singing the ritual chant.
It's a strange difference in styles, but the training of both mages mesh together effectively, the two wielders of fire gathering more power from around them. The air in the circle shimmers with heat, and the reptile's brow knots up in intense concentration, his arms shaking with the strain. "E-… enough… " he hisses through clenched teeth, and he reaches into a pocket of his robe, holding a brass spyglass out to Xander.
Catching his breath, Xander takes the glass and sights on the target - the arch above the palisade gate. "Target is clear!" he announces, as the retreating forces haven't reached it yet.
"Range," hisses the Naga.
Xander twists a dial to focus the plumb lines. "220 Imperial Yards," he announces. He holds his ears up to get a feel for the wind too, and relays the direction and apparent force.
"Windspeed," hisses the mage, then nods with the answer. "Elevation." He lifts his arms with apparent effort, as if lifting a boulder over his head. "On your mark."
"Five knots southwest, elevation twenty feet," the Lapi mage recites, going through the artillery calculations in his head (and after taking the class three times, he should know them by heart). "A two-percent impulse should compensate."
The mage grits his teeth. "Clear the tower." Slowly, he heaves his arms forward, letting out a gutteral, "HhhhHHHRAH!" Abruptly, the shimmers in the air coalesce into a miniature sun that lofts into the air, its wake blowing all the banners over the Imperial forces backward. It tumbles with a roar through the drizzle, sizzling and trailing steam, and setting almost softly on the palisade gate…
Xander ducks down to grab the planks of the tower top, and folds his ears down tightly.
The burst appears first, flaring brightly and creating a shockwave that races out from the gate, bowling retreating brigands over and obscuring them in dust. The boom follows afterward, rolling over both armies and crackling as the soundwave passes into the sky. The fireball cools into a cloud of smoke that lifts into a column above the gate. So far, the effect it's had can't readily be seen through the smoke, but the Imperial forces cheer all the same at the spectacle.
"I should go support Umeko and the others," Xander says to the Imperial mage once he's back on his feet. "Do you need me any further, sir?"
After recovering from ducking herself and the explosion, Umeko joins in the cheering. She signals for her unit to regroup so she can check the casualties as well as plan her next course of action. It is, of course, to breach the walls and face Des and Crushcoil … it's now just the matter of how. She's certain Anisa and Xander will have opinions.
The reptile mage shakes his head, leaning on a railing of the tower. "Hhhh… no, I believe that was well thrown. Go."
With the battle winding down, Anisa slows her own offensive to allow her troops to take care of the rest what little there is, at least. Heaving a big sigh of relief, she scans the crowd for any sign of her companions Umeko, Gibson, and Xander.
The Lapi slides down the tower ladder and flags down a runner to get him to the front of the battle.
A message runner gets Xander quickly to the front lines, though the lines have moved up considerably. The ride on the thin, frilled Rokuga's back is bumpy but swift.
"I'm here!" Xander announces, looking for the other Lapis and Umeko. "Don't push too far! The siege engines and archers are about to let fly!"
Umeko takes some time now to wipe her blades clean and sheath them. She draws in a long breath … and for once thankful for the rain as it washes away the grime and well … blood, from her body. When Xander arrives, though, she calls out to him, "Why are you out here? It is too dangerous for a mage to be on the field!"
"It's a war, it's too dangerous for everybody," Xander points out, and heads for Umeko's banner. "Where are the Snowshoes?"
"I think its safe enough at this point," Anisa says, trotting up behind Kin on her scarred drokkar. "Look around you the enemy is either all dead or surrendering we've taken the outer portion now at least." The doe herself begins to survey the battlefield, and slowly, her confident demeanor seems to slacken, followed by what seems like a sickly color in her ears.
"Are you two okay?" Xander asks of the mounted Lapis. "You look a bit queasy," he notes to Anisa.
Anisa leans forward onto her drokkar's neck, closing her eyes against the carnage. "I'll be… I'll be fine. I just need to rest for a little bit is all."
"I am whole," Umeko answers, though she looks a bit weary herself. "Sergeant Jechlun," she then calls out, "To me, if you can."
Xander pats Anisa's foot, and says, "Not much fun being an Amazonian, eh?"
Gibson rides up by Anisa, close enough that the flanks of their drokkar almost touch, and he reaches out to give his sister's hand a squeeze. "You did great, sis."
The sergeant, a little battered but none the worse for wear, hurries to Umeko's side. "Reporting, Governess."
"What are our casualties?" Umeko asks the sergeant. "And if it can be managed, select some that are not injured from our Unit to assist with carrying the wounded back to the main force for treatment. Wounds will fester quickly in weather such as this."
Opening her eyes, Anisa merely gives Gibson and Xander a smile, which is followed by a sigh. "Where's Dasha? She and the other riders probably need to regroup and rest up for the next assault."
The black Lapi glances over his shoulder, and casts about for a few moments. "I think she's rounding up the… wait, here she comes." Indeed, the Lieutenant is trotting up, sword held in one hand, though her other arm hangs limp.
"Is there anything that needs cauterizing?" Xander asks, a bit uncertainly.
"From our unit, several dead, maybe a dozen wounded seriously," says Jechlun. "Casualties amongst our forces have been light, overall."
Anisa turns in her saddle to get a better look at Dasha, and gasps as the taurid comes near. "You're hurt! What happened?!"
Umeko nods at this, expression neutral. "If you can later, provide me a list of names for all those who died and whatever you may have known about them. The least I can do is honor those that have fallen by knowing their names," she says, her tone taking on a more gentle edge. "But for now, do please see to those most seriously injured and help then get medical aid. You did well, Sergeant; I am proud of you and our unit." Her attention then shifts over to Anisa and Dasha, concern creeping across her face briefly.
The lieutenant grimaces, and shakes her head. "Took a hit to the arm, think a bone's cracked. It's nothing serious. The cavalry reports that all the resistance that's been able to retreat through the gate has done so. The smoke hasn't cleared yet, we haven't seen the extent of the damage, but the General has begun moving our troops to surround Viper's Hold."
Overhead, an oblong boulder flips end over end through the air, and disappears somewhere behind the palisade wall.
"Go and get yourself patched up with the medics, and then if they let you, come back here with us," Anisa tells Dasha. "And thank you you and your troops did spectacular out there." She smiles at the reptile, the color returning to her ears ever so slightly.
"Before you go, Lieutenant Dasha, what is the likelihood of Crushcoil accepting a personal challenge from me and exiting the Hold to meet it?" Umeko inquires. "I expect if he falls, the others may surrender."
"Personal challenge?" Xander asks Umeko, wondering if the Kiriga got bonked on the head or something.
The taurid Rokuga looks reluctant, but defers. "Yes, ma'am. As did you. If we hadn't known you from that moment in the canyon, I admit we would have been skeptical about being led by a Lapi… but I doubt anyone would question your prowess now." She turns to Umeko, and shrugs her good shoulder. "I cannot say, Governess. I would advise against it, however. Whether fleeing or scheming, I have my doubts these scum will hold to any word."
"Correct. A battle between the leaders of the two forces to end a conflict. It is not an uncommon concept in my land," Umeko notes to Xander. She then dips her head to Dasha, saying, "Understood. It was a hope, but only a small one, that I could expect some level of honor from our opponents. Thank you for your advice."
"That's a fine idea if both are evenly matched," Xander notes. "Frankly, I'd go for it if we could hide a ballista behind you until the right moment… "
"You do not think me a match for him?" Umeko inquires as her brow ridge goes up a bit.
"Err, I just think the ballista idea would be faster," Xander says, ears down.
Anisa smiles at Dasha's words. "Well, now you know we're not just all fluff and carrots." She pats Dasha on the arm, and looks to Umeko. "Evenly matched has little to do with it. He'd probably cheat."
"Of course he'd cheat," Xander says. "The idea is for us to cheat better!"
Umeko reaches over and taps Xander's nose. "Your over-protection is charming, Xander," she notes, then shakes her head. "Unless we find a way in and can strike quickly, we just have to wait for the siege engines to break down their defenses."
"There must be a back door," the fire mage notes. "An escape tunnel from the governor's palace. They always get found out by the sorts who need to sneak in and out. Viper's Hold has prost… uh… women of low virtue, doesn't it?"
Gibson squints in the direction of the fortifications. The smoke has begun to clear, though a fire is evidently still burning. The gate was very sturdy to begin with, doors thick, but it appears the towers that formed the archway were utterly crushed, and much of the clay earthworks has shattered, the outer doors blown clean off, and the murder holes above unusable. The heavy gate itself, a weighted affair that swings down, has fallen off its mechanism. It still blocks the way to an extent, but cannot be secured.
The black Lapi speaks up. "We'll still have to secure the courtyard and village," he says. "No doubt that if Crushcoil hasn't fled, he'll be in Des' stronghold on the motte."
Anisa nods. "Let em stew in there for a while. At least we'll know where they are."
"You read too many adventure books," Umeko comments at the remark of a back door. "I suppose we could look, but by the time we find it, the gates may be breached." At Gibson's remarks, she also nods. "Then I advise we pull back to the main forces and recover our strength before we return to the fray. It will also give me time to visit the injured and speak with them."
Another boulder flies lazily through the sky, and smashes into an earthworked wall with a dull thump. Arrows chase after it, like a school of darting fish swimming amongst a turtle.
"They've got reinforcements coming though, remember?" Xander notes. "We don't have a lot of time." He watches the missiles fly with a worried look.
"If Crushcoil is already here, then the re-enforcements already arrived," Umeko points out.
"Don't forget the Razer," Xander notes, following Umeko. "Those men we waylaid at the supply depot will have told him about us by now. We can't assume he'll stick to his original plans."
"That is assuming anyone came and released them," Umeko points out. "You're making an assumption without firm facts backing it, Xander. I don't think the Razer cares if the Hold falls or not; it was intended to be a distraction. He is quite self-assured he is safe in his valley."
"I'll stick with being paranoid," Xander says. "It's a fine, traditional Lapi strength."
Gibson turns back to the group. "If they do have a back door or other avenue of escape, they'll have to decide to use it soon. It looks like the General's getting the keep ringed in for the siege. I don't think it'll last long. A proper castle might hold out for a while, but this has a lot going against it."
There's a crackling report, followed by a series of whistles. Clods of earth fly up around the palisade gate, and white clouds drift away from the Equalizer's port side, which she has presented.
"Such as canons," Umeko comments dryly as she looks up to the Equalizer.
"Oh man, I never got to look at those!" Xander notes, smiling up in awe at the cannons. "And they aren't shooting at me either! That's my favorite kind of cannon!"
Anisa winces slightly as the cannon fire, her sensitive ears picking up the full force of the blast. "I say we take five, then meet back up with the general for this thoughts. He took us on as battlefield troops, and for now our job is done. There may be other places he needs us."
"Fair enough. Though I do wish to be there when Des and Crushcoil are defeated. They may have important information regarding the Razer," Umeko says with a nod as she starts her slow walk towards the main forces and the General.
"I don't think Des and Crushcoil are going anywhere soon," Anisa says, whirling her drokkar about in the direction of the General's encampment. "This is a siege, nothing will probably be happening soon."
"When something happens, it'll be unexpected," Xander mutters.