Still rattled from the jumpscare, I thank my blessings it was only the Mother’s Militia hiding in the trees. I almost pissed myself when they dropped down, but luckily, I managed not to disgrace myself. XinYue was none too pleased by the news of Mao Mao’s defection, but still managed to convince the guards at the Eastern Gate to let us in. Or maybe it would have been better to stay outside.
I dunno. I’m still unhappy about the whole situation with that thieving rat Jorani. Who does he think he is, taking three sets of Runic Armour for himself? I set him free to rob the Council, so everything he takes belongs to me. You should never trust a thief, all I got was a stupid watch which I had to give to Zian. Not to mention the Spiritual Weapons he took, a coiled rope, two staves, and who knows what else that bastard misappropriated. I mean, I knew we were making bank from robbing the Council shipments, but maybe I should have had Bulat keep the treasures for us. I could use a set of armour and Jorani’s is more or less my size. Too bad I wasn’t shameless enough to demand he strip and hand it over, but man… I wanted to.
Well, it’s too late now, Jorani and his crew of cutthroats are off helping Guard Captain Sovanna and, oddly enough, the Crossbone Corsairs. Guess there’s still honour among thieves for what it’s worth. From what I’ve been able to piece together from XinYue and Tenjin’s reports, the Magistrate has the Defiled bottled up at three choke points while the entire city evacuates towards Jiu Lang, so things aren’t looking great. Riding through the empty streets with my retinue and an escort of Militiamen, I note the eerie calm about the city, the beautiful scenery appearing desolate and foreboding with the smoke hanging overhead. A buffer of quiet tranquility between the battle to the South-West and the desperate scramble for safety to the East, I can only imagine what awaits us as I listen to the reports. Here I ride towards an all-out melee, where life and death are decided in an instant. No place for fancy footwork or complex maneuvers, this will be a brutal slugfest in which guts and stamina reign supreme while I am sorely lacking both.
I wholeheartedly regret every decision I’ve ever made that led me here.
Looking to Mila for moral support, I find my freckled betrothed beaming with joy, chewing her lip in anticipation of the battle ahead. Riding beside her, Li Song is composed as ever, neither alarmed nor confident, only ready for whatever might come. How do they do it? Not even twenty years old, they have centuries of life to look forward to, yet here they are risking their lives without fear or apprehension. I’d give anything to be safe and sound back home, but Mila is looking forward to the fight, hungry for fame and prestige.
Swallowing my fear, I exhale softly and scan the rest of my retinue. As the nominal commander present, their lives are in my hands. A terrifying thought, but I’ve already mounted the tiger and there’s no getting off now. Even XinYue seems to have fallen in line, deferring to my non-existent expertise for some unfathomable reason. Probably something to do with the Magistrate asking for a repeat performance of my first visit to Sanshu.
Stop worrying, everything’s fine. You’re not taking command of the city, the Magistrate has things well in hand. Gerel’s probably somewhere around here and all you need to do is reinforce the southernmost position. The Magistrate and Vichear are holding the centre while Jorani and co have the north. All that’s left is to wait until Yuzhen arrives, and everything will be hunky dory. I’ve got Ravil and Bulat for long ranged support, as well as the bulk of my experts here with them, and I can always rely on Tenjin and Tursinai to take care of the big guns. Not to mention the Guard Leader, she’s here looking out for me even if she won’t admit…
Wait. Where’s the Guard Leader?
In my panic, I voice the question aloud and Tursinai giggles in reply. “Silly boy, you need to pay more attention if you want to be a commander. She rode off the second we entered the city.”
Well… fuck. I guess she wasn’t lying. She really doesn’t care if I live or die.
Mildly distressing, but everything is still fine. Nothing to worry about, just focus on preparing for the battle ahead. Okay, checklist of things to do. First, unleash Aura. Doesn’t matter if they have someone countering you, just do it. Keep calm, no charging in. Deflection, Amplification, Honing, and Guiding, these are the tools at your disposal. Emphasize defence, hold your ground and take it easy. Remember, the bridge is rigged to collapse, so retreat is always an option, though preferably as a last resort. With the Defiled pushing forward at the bridges, this leaves the citizens safe to flee without pursuit. Every hour we delay brings salvation and safety that much closer. Easy Peasy.
Most importantly, do not under any circumstances give in to the Spectres. They’re assholes and liars. Fuck them. You don’t need them. You can do this. Believe in yourself.
Rounding the bend, I ride through the decorative gate and into the square, the tumultuous clash of blades and screams of death drowning out my thoughts. The fetid stench of death and battle assaults me as I take in the chaos, reeling back in shock and horror. An endless tide of dark-armoured Butchers back as far as the eye can see, they push and shove while waiting their turn to charge across the bridge and into the waiting blades of the beleaguered defenders. Arrayed in a shifting half circle, the guards of Sanshu are packed in shoulder to shoulder as they fight, exhaustion and desperation etched on every face.
Noticing a complete lack of reserve units, I quickly scrap my plan of taking it nice and easy. If the Defiled break through anywhere along the line, then they’ll press in and surround the stretched out defenders. Gesturing for Bulat and Ravil to head out, they take every warrior without a Spiritual Weapon and move into the surrounding buildings. Taking position in the windows, they unleash hell upon the Enemy lines while ducking a smattering of return fire from looted crossbows, whittling down the Defiled numbers. What I wouldn’t give for some explosives or rapid-fire ranged weapon, they’d do massive damage to the swarming enemy, but then again, so would a line of catapults. Then again, that might bring Demons popping out to deal with the war machines, which is less than ideal, so I suppose man to man and blade to blade is the only option. Dismounting from Mafu, I calm the eager quin and pass him off to a waiting Sentinel, knowing a straight up brawl is no place for quins or horses.
XinYue’s calm baritone sounds in my mind. “The commanding officer welcomes our arrival and suggests we move in and spread ourselves among the men, bolstering their morale. Your thoughts?”
Hesitant to respond, I glance at the churning red river, the thirty-meter stretch of water filled with carnivorous fish in the midst of a feeding frenzy. I don’t want to do this, but joining the line wouldn’t help, not in this situation. My sixty elites won’t do much good in this massive brawl, you need the right tool for the right job. After confirming there are no reserves lying in wait, I Send a message to Tenjin, who passes my thoughts along. “I’ve got an idea: we push through the centre, take the bridge, and plug the hole. Once there, we break into three groups of twenty and defend in rotations, giving the guards some time to breathe and our archers time to work. Me first, then Mila, then XinYue. Stay alive, delay, and once Yuzhen arrives, she cleans up the Defiled one group at a time. If anyone has a better suggestion, speak up.”
Apparently not the worst idea, everyone nods in either tacit approval or fatalistic acceptance. The bridge is only six wagons wide, perfect for twenty people to stand side by side and still have room to swing their weapons. One on one, I’d give my warriors the edge over the Defiled any day of the week. Hell Tursinai and Tenjin can probably hold it on their own, but the important thing is to regain control. As things stand, the defenders are stretched to their limit and dangerously close to breaking. They’ve been fighting for hours, pushed back from the opposite shore to where they stand now, every step costing the Defiled dearly. Shifting back and forth, I limber up and wait for confirmation from the commanding officer, my soldiers silently preparing to enter the fray.
Me and my big, fat mouth. Why didn’t I even try to convince XinYue to wait for Yuzhen’s reinforcements?
The commanding officer gives his enthusiastic permission and the time for waiting is over. Stroking Mila’s cheek, I smile as she blushes and pouts, Sending, “Stay safe my love.” Without waiting for a reply, I draw my sword and shield before unleashing my Aura, imbuing it with every scrap of courage and determination I can muster. Jogging forward, I lead the way, pushing through the press of guards to meet our enemy. Behind me, XinYue raises his voice in a booming shout. “Brave warriors of Sanshu, hold fast! Stand your ground and fend off this Defiled filth. Give flesh and break bones! Sanshu will not fall today!”
…Not fair, he stole my tagline.
The guards part before me to reveal the Enemy in all their fury, crazed berserkers almost foaming at the mouth. Each one towering above me, I falter in my advance and raise my shield, staggering back from the first blow. My Aura winks out of existence as it collapses with me, and someone steadies me from behind before pushing me back into the battle. Once again, I’m face to face with the Enemy. Lashing out with my sword, my errant swing glances off the Enemy’s armour, his weapon raised to strike, and again, I brace myself and block the attack, my bones shaking from the impact. Mouth dry and chest tight, I stand in place and trade swings with my opponent, shrinking back with every pass.
What am I doing here? I’m not cut out for this. Please brother, I need you. Wake up and help me, I can’t do this on my own. You’re the warrior, I’m just the support, the healer, the buffbot, I’m worthless without you. The Spectres whisper promises of power and aide, and it’s all I can do to reject them as I hide behind my shield, my body gripped in the throes of panic. Someone kills my opponent and I’m pushed into the gap, my Sentinels steadily marching into the horde of Defiled. It’s clear to anyone watching, I’m the weak point in our formation. I’d be better off dying and letting someone else take my place, I’m worthless.
Time moves at a crawl as I struggle for air, panting as my eyes dart left and right, searching for an escape. To my left, Mila and Li Song thrust and cleave through the Defiled warriors, while Tenjin and Tursinai fight beside them, keeping them safe. On my right, XinYue barrels forward with heroic fervour, bellowing out words of encouragement lost in the noise, his elite soldiers down all who oppose them. True heroes, true warriors, I’m nothing like them. I can’t cut it. I shouldn’t be here. I need help.
Power is within my grasp. The Spirits can do what Baledagh did, take control while I sit back and do my thing. I mean, I’m not exactly like everyone else, maybe if I go in with eyes wide open, I can deal with the fallout. What’s the worst that could happen? Baledagh seems fine, aside from the heartbreak and apathy, I’m sure I can do better.
While struggling with fear and indecision, I notice the guards on my flanks and I’m struck by an errant thought. These people are common men and women, wielding weapons of iron and wood. Even working in groups, they struggle to kill even a single Defiled, dying in droves to hold the line. Outmatched and out-armed, exhausted and facing fearsome enemies, they do more than stand their ground, throwing themselves into a veritable meat grinder and giving their lives to save their families, their city, their Empire.
Brave Warriors of Sanshu indeed. How can I not follow their valiant example?
Rekindling my Aura, I scream in a wordless blend of terror and fury and launch myself into the fray. Remember your training, everything you’d learned before getting lazy. Toe, heel, slide and step, I slip past my opponents defences and stand chest to chest. Tranquility arrests my opponent’s swing before it can even begin and Peace slides through his armour and into his heart. Shouldering the corpse away, I lunge before it hits the ground, both weapons piercing into my unprepared target’s chest. Ripping the blades out, I slash two Defiled to either side, throwing them off-balance and leaving them easy prey to the Sentinels on either side.
My blood singing in my ears, the world falls out of focus, leaving only my immediate surroundings and ultimate destination in sight. Take the bridge, nothing else matters. It’s too cramped here, no room to move. Balance on Windy Leaf and Scraping the Ground, and my body surges forward with an explosion of speed. Pierce the Horizon claims a life, leaving me surrounded by the Defiled. Exactly where I need to be. Parting the Underbrush into Fluttering Raindrops cuts them down, Peace and Tranquility Honed to perfection as they cleave through armour and bone with ease. With a second to breath, I settle into my stance, Tranquility pointed forward and Peace prepared to thrust, standing tall amid a sea of corpses.
Like I’ve been saying, you can do this.
A resounding scream tears itself from my throat, and it’s echoed by Sentinel, soldier, and guard alike, pushing back the Defiled through sheer determination alone. Once again taking the lead, I leap into the mass of bodies, parrying what I cannot dodge, blocking what I cannot parry, and enduring what I cannot block, all while ever moving forward on my mission to take the bridge. Each step brings me closer to my destination, each attack brings me closer to victory. The Defiled will not take this bridge, not while I still stand.
Taking a shallow slash to the shoulder, I repay my attacker with a thrust to the chest, booting his corpse back to take my first step onto the bridge. First to arrive, first to strike, I charge deeper into the Enemy lines, hacking and slashing my way towards victory. Lashing out with Tranquility, I amplify the backhanded strike and send a fleeing Defiled over the bridge’s edge and into the bellies of the waiting fishes. A spear veers towards my face, but a light smack with Peace is enough to Deflect the thrust, Tranquility punching straight through the offenders chest.
With no one left to fight, I stand alone, panting on the bridge and surrounded by corpses. My Sentinels join me and line up, weapons ready to defend. Behind us, the guards let loose with cheers of victory, taking up a chant for Sanshu even as they stagger to the ground, exhausted and spent. Adrenaline still surging through my veins, I step forward and scream in wordless challenge, glaring at the Defiled one by one.
“I am Falling Rain.” The crowd hushes to hear my words, though I’ve not really anything to follow with. Wasn’t really planning on making a speech, the words just sorta slipped out. Going with the flow, I continue, “The Undying Savage. Student of Medical Saint Taduk, Disciple of Major General Baatar, Grand Disciple of Lieutenant General Akanai. Khishig of the Bekhai.” Err, shit. Now what?
An armoured form shoves his way up the bridge, wielding a sword and shield like my own. “An impressive youngster. Brave too, offering challenge like that.”
Ah fuck. All that naming business is prelude for a duel, isn’t it? Me and my big fucking mouth.
Snapping out of my shock, I pick up the end of my opponent’s sentence. “… heart Nazier who puts an end to your life, something to take pride in.”
“Rain step back, you’re not his match..” Tenjin’s Sending sounds in my mind, but it’s too late. Nazier tenses as his head drops from sight and time slows to a crawl. Recognizing the stance, I know exactly what to expect because I’ve done the same thing often enough. Balance on Windy Leaf into… something. Either a thrust to my heart or slash at my neck, those are the most likely candidates. Almost as an afterthought, I lob Peace in an underhanded throw, Honing and Guiding the sword while lifting Tranquility to guard my neck and leaving my arm to take the brunt of any possible thrust.
God I hope I guessed right. I can survive a thrust with a little luck, but if he cuts my head off, it’s game over.
As expected, Nazier appears directly before me. His grin twists and falls away, transforming into a look of sheer terror as Peace plunges into his throat and coats me in a spray of blood. His momentum doesn’t stop as his final strike lands firmly on Tranquility, my gamble having paid off for once. The blade deflects downwards into my shoulder but lacks any follow through as Nazier drops dead after impaling himself on Peace.
Still, the blow is powerful enough to lift me off the ground, and in a moment of sheer panic, I realize I’m flying through the air, arcing over the bridge and into the water. Weightless and breathless, I hang in the air for a heart-wrenching second, glancing back at the guards and Sentinels waiting in the plaza. Mila’s mouth is opened in a scream, tears spilling from her beautiful, brown eyes. Cracking a smile, I channel my Chi and pack it densely as I can, embedding a short message before Sending it away, praying it doesn’t unravel before reaching her.
“Goodbye my love. Sorry.”
Plunging into the cold, murky waters, a voice in the back of my head laughing at the absurdity of it all. At least I didn’t die a coward, and even took down my undoubtedly superior opponent with me. Plus, I’ve been wanting a swim for a few weeks now, and this totally counts. Gotta look on the bright side sometimes. Closing my eyes, I wait for death by carnivorous fish while sinking into the warm, comforting waters of Sanshu. It swirls around me, enveloping me in it’s embrace, and a smile stretches across my face. You know what? This is fine. It feels right, a cleansing dip in the waters, freeing me of all worldly fear and apprehension.
I should have done this days ago. Why did I wait so long?
– End of Volume 11 –
Author’s note: Okay, so I honestly thought this would be the HALFWAY point of volume 11. I’ll have to cut it off here, and probably rename the volume, since the title doesn’t fit anymore. It’s not a big issue, since I bet most of you can’t tell me the volume name without looking :p
Anyways, something I need to keep an eye on is my ramblings in story. I actually cut out like 1k words from this chapter, so if the opening seems a little abrupt, that’s why. I’ve been cutting it close to the wire for my chapters now, so I’ve been reluctant to cut content I’d already written, because it would mean a delay. This might be contributing to the chapters dragging on, and all I can do is apologize and try to do better.
Next chapter will be here on wednesday, no delays. Though I should warn you, Path of Exile Beta is coming up, so I might disappear for a few days, assuming I buy it. I might skip it, because I do hate betas, but who knows.
That’s all. Enjoy!
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