A big thank you to the many anonymous Patrons who recently signed up. Thank you all so much for your support!
Now seeing as most of you signed up after my little sneak peek thing, I feel kinda bad because it’s not something I intend to do often. I’ll try to add more stuff for my supporters, but as things stand, I don’t know if it’s even possible. Let me know what you’d like to see as a supporter in the comments or pm me here or on Patreon. I’m not a huge fan of advanced chapters, because I feel it takes away from discussion of the chapter (and because I don’t have any chapters stockpiled) but I’m open to other suggestions.
Also, I have a rehearsal dinner tomorrow and an early wedding on friday, so it’s very possible the next chapter will be late. I’ll post it whenever it’s done, probably on Saturday. There will also be a chapter monday, so don’t worry about further delays. I’ve decided to skip the Path of Exile Beta and pray I don’t get spoiled, but if it happens, then meh.
Anyways, enjoy the chapter, and as always, thanks for reading.
TL:DR – Friday’s chapter probably delayed.
The sun shines brightly overhead as my ears burn with shame, awkwardly nodding at my Sentinels while making my way to the front lines. Though they’ve expressed nothing but encouragement and relief over my near brush with death, their support is overshadowed by the unmistakable sound of my lovely betrothed’s choked laughter following me through the crowd. Sweet as she is, Mila has never been shy about pointing out my mistakes. In fact, she takes great delight in telling everyone we know about how I mistook Adujan for a boy, bringing it up every chance she gets. Just remembering the pity and sympathy in Baatar’s eyes makes me wildly uncomfortable, a mortifying experience to say the least. Now, I’ve handed her the motherlode of mockery, opening my big mouth to brag about not needing to get close. This stupid Heavenly Water is a jerk, making me look bad.
My fluidic friend offers no defence for its inaction, emanating a muted sense of lethargic complacency. Not because of my current situation, no, it’s pleased because it ate away the ichor on Li Song’s face. I’m still not entirely sure what happened, as it ignored my pleas to heal Mila’s burns. Then, while I panicked over Li Song’s melting face, it acted without direction or permission, squeezing out a tiny drop no larger than my pinky which made its way down the stream of water and onto Li Song’s face. Once there, it purified the Demonic energy inside the ichor and neutralized the chemical burn in a matter of seconds, leaving nothing but inert chunks of goo while silently demanding I retrieve the wayward droplet.
So why heal Li Song and not Mila? Does it think it’s too good to heal common burns or does it have a fetish for Demonic fluids? Could I use this to exorcise the Defiled? They don’t exactly have priests around, but if my little buddy is really a Tear of the Mother, then I might become the first. Ha, I can see it now, running around the battlefield with a tiny flask in hand, splashing my enemies and shouting, “The Power of Mom compels you!”
An unnerving sense of dissent emanates from my subconscious, my quasi-sentient squatter voicing its refusal. Not exactly sure if it’s refusing the designation of ‘Tear of the Mother’ or being put in a flask and sprinkled about, but it doesn’t bother clarifying. It’s so weird sharing my body with an amorphous blob of water. I mean, the human body is more than 50% water, so I guess I have room to spare, but I’m curious as to where it’s physically located. Is it in my skin or is it deeper, like in my blood or something? When I sweat, am I sweating regular fluids or Heavenly Water? Somehow, the thought of Heavenly Water seeping from my armpits and running down my butt crack almost seems blasphemous, even if I’m not wholly convinced of a higher power watching over me. Got any answers for me, little water buddy?
Offering no explanation, its presence lingers in my subconscious brain, silent and satisfied. So frustrating, my fortuitous encounter has left me with more questions than answers. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what happens to most people with a Blessing of the Elements. From what I’ve gathered, everyone else gets tools and a mental instruction manual. I get a delayed, silent partner who may or may not help depending on its mood. I don’t even know what Heavenly Water does, aside from act as a source of Heavenly Energy. I guess if I theoretically lived to a thousand years old, my bones might turn into a Heart for a Spiritual Weapon, but I don’t see how that’s any help. I’ll be long dead by then, but maybe my great great great whatever grandkids can make a nice sword or something, assuming my watery friend sticks around that long.
I’d love to call a timeout and ask a million questions to anyone willing to listen, but the Defiled aren’t exactly playing nice. Ugh, what I wouldn’t give for the Almighty Appraisal skill to grace me with its presence. It’d be much easier than fumbling around in the dark and hoping I stumble over something useful. Knowledge is a weapon and I’m armed with the equivalent of a rusty spoon in a world full of tactical nukes.
The duels arrayed before me only serves to reinforce the notion of my inferiority. Hugging the left side of the bridge, Tenjin clashes with Ravager Kaliyan, a busty, porcelain-skinned beauty with the worst case of crazy eyes I’ve ever seen. Their blades moving faster than I can follow, neither warrior able to gain an advantage amidst the orchestra of chiming steel and hissing taunts, Kaliyan’s promises of pain and pleasure sending a chill down my spine. Despite their flurry of motion, neither one strays more than a hand span left or right, fighting as if atop a balance beam, both constrained by the railing and their neighbouring ally.
Occupying the centre of the bridge, Tursinai and Mao Jianghong stalk side to side, searching for an opportunity to strike at their partner’s foe while everyone else steers clear. Two domineering warriors playing a game of cat and mouse, struggling to define which one is predator and which one is prey. Walking the razor’s edge, Tursinai dances with the traitor guard captain, whirling her chain overhead like a flail to threaten Kaliyan and keep Jianghong on the defensive in a gut-wrenching match of wits and positioning. Step too close and her life is forfeit, ended by a single swipe of his massive saber. Stray too far and Tenjin pays the price, leaving her to deal with two fearsome foes without aid.
Fuck everything about that. I’m not going near any of those four.
With almost three-quarters of the available space claimed by epic duels, the Defiled clash with my Sentinels along the right side of the bridge. Only three warriors from each faction trade blows, as any more would interfere with Tursinai and Jianghong’s match, spelling instant death for anyone besides the two. Stuck in an odd pocket of calm, I watch as my Sentinels hold the line, periodically switching places whenever someone tires or is injured. A stalemate, with neither side is willing to wholly commit until their respective champions are victorious. So, what to do?
A half-baked idea forms in my mind and I stifle a sigh while glancing at my gathered Sentinels, studying their reactions as I ask, “So which of you idle slackers are my supposed bodyguards?” The question raises a few chuckles, but no one steps forward to claim the title, nor are there any obvious tells. “Come on, don’t be shy, I’m not upset. Don’t expect a glowing review when we get home, but I need to know what’s on the table.”
After waiting longer than I probably should have, I swallow my disappointment and move on. Stupid lying Gerel and stupid Baatar. “Fine, be mysterious, see if I care.” Just please be real, because things are about to get hairy. “Alright then, here’s the plan…” Seeing the Sentinels hang onto my every word, it strikes me as odd how they’re all willing to follow me into battle. They all look so young, though that doesn’t mean much. Most of them could probably kick my ass, and I’m sure more than a few are better suited for command. What am I doing here, playing at being the leader? It’s crazy, I’m not qualified for this.
A shame I can’t blame this on the Spectres, this lack of confidence is 100% homegrown.
With my plan laid bare and no suggestions or condemnations forthcoming, I run my fingers through my damp hair, wishing I hadn’t lost my helmet in the fall. Better chin straps, I should make those. Better helmets too. Jorani has an awesome one, a shiny, full-faced, Runic helm, matching the rest of his Runic armour. Ah, I really should have taken it from him, but then again, I’d have probably drowned wearing all that metal. “All right then. Let’s get to work. No guts no glory.”
“Give flesh and break bone!”
The enthusiastic response catches me by surprise. Echoing the sentiment with a smile, I move into position, flanked by a pair of unfamiliar, spear-wielding Sentinels. Probably from Huu’s retinue, I did ask for the strongest volunteers. Nodding at them both, I ask, “Names?”
The Sentinel on my left answers, a dark-haired, pale-skinned dude who looks in his late twenties, which means he’s probably at least late thirties. “I’m Argat and that there’s Jochi.” His partner smiles and nods, a similarly styled young man. Both seem fairly confident considering the situation, calmly studying the Defiled with weapons in hand.
“Well, I look forward to working with you.” Condensing my Aura while waiting for the opportune moment, I casually mention, “This’ll be dangerous, so this is your last chance to back out. No one will think any less of you.”
Argat makes a small choking noise while Jochi chortles beneath his breath. After a little light coughing, Argat smacks me lightly on the shoulder. “Stole the words right of my mouth you damned br– *cough* – Officer Rain. You don’t have to be first into the fight every time you know. Leave a little glory for the rest of us poor, unremarkable Sentinels.”
I hate how everyone thinks I’m this battle-crazed maniac. “Glory’s got nothing to do with it. I can’t order a soldier into danger if I’m not willing to go myself.” Really wish I could, but I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if anything went wrong. “Anyway, I’ll dive in and distract, you take them out quick as you can. If Jianghong turns on us, then fall back.”
And we’re off. On my signal, the Sentinels in front fall back while Argat, Jochi and I take their places. Dashing ahead shield first, I lock gazes with my first foe, a dark-armoured Defiled with a blood-stained jaw, his axe raised high for a downward chop. Feigning a back-handed smash with Tranquility, I pivot to the left and change targets, anus clenching as the axe passes a hairsbreadth in front of my face. Swinging in a wide arc, Peace slashes my unsuspecting neighbour in the throat while Jochi stabs my overreaching opponent in the side, shoving his corpse over the rails and into the water.
Woo, the switch up. Glad Jochi was on the ball there, that could have gone badly. I forgot forward and back are my only options, no left or right, but the older Sentinel takes my mistake in stride, shifting to my right. On my left, Argat dispatches his foe with ease before flinging the corpse towards Jianghong’s feet, hoping to trip up the former guard captain, but to no avail. Not entirely happy about that, I’d rather not attract Jianghong’s attention just yet but there’s no time for idle chit-chat. Pushing ahead, we intercept the reinforcing Defiled, hoping to charge into the Defiled masses and either surround Jianghong and Kaliyan or force them into a retreat. I don’t expect to have any lasting impact on their duels, but if I can put pressure on them, then maybe Tenjin and Tursinai can take the advantage.
It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s all I got. Take and hold the bridge, that’s our objective. Every minute we hold brings Yuzhen’s reinforcements that much closer.
My next opponent arrives promptly and I clash head on with the hulking Defiled, locking swords for a brief second. Knowing I’m no match for him in a contest of strength, I put up a token resistance before stepping back, letting him overextend and stumble forward. Ready for the opening, Tranquility’s blade punches into his thick, exposed neck and he flops to the ground like a puppet without strings. Stepping forward once again, I strike left and right at the Defiled defenders, stealing their attention for a moment and sealing their fates as Argat and Jochi take advantage of their distraction.
The next wave crashes into us almost immediately, my little trio gaining ground literally one step at a time. I hate slug fests like this, no room to breathe or maneuver, just a bloody hack and slash amid the press of bodies and blood. An axe rebounds off Tranquility and glances off my scalp. Falling to my knees, I stab my opponent in the groin, inwardly wincing as I do. Sorry, not sorry. The warm spray of blood coats my face, filling me with disgust and revulsion. So messy, this is why I hate fighting on foot. I don’t like cavalry battles much either, too hard to stab people with a short sword and shield, but I doubt I’d like them more if I had a spear. Duels are kind of shit too, with all the intense build up and the pressure of an audience, it’s bad for the heart. I guess when it comes right down to it, I don’t really like fighting much. I love training to fight, I’m just not a big fan of the whole ‘risking life and limb’ bit.
I should take up a safer hobby, like knitting. No, those needles are pretty sharp. Maybe I should just start gambling. That seems like harmless fun.
Someone pulls me to my feet and shouts in my ear, bringing the world back into focus. Fucking head wounds, I’m definitely stealing Jorani’s helmet after this. No, not just the helmet, it’d be a shame to break up such a lovely set. I want it all. Wiping the blood from my eyes, I heal my injury while fending off my latest foe, another towering bandit with blood-shot eyes. Heavenly Water bro, you made a turtle grow huge, right? Please, I’m not asking for much, just twenty centimetres taller and like fifty kilos of muscle, that’s all I need.
My request goes unanswered as my guest ignores me, doing whatever it is that water does to pass the time. I miss Baledagh, battles were so much easier with him around. On my own, I can barely Hone, heal and keep my Aura going, my mind occupied on staying alive. No Reinforcement, too chaotic for Amplification, and my opponents aren’t predictable enough to Deflect. I still haven’t figured out how I got my mysterious boost of energy during the duels at the Wall, but that’s something to worry about another time. Lacking all those tools, I’m little better than your average soldier, aside from being durable. Don’t get me wrong, durability is pretty useful for keeping me alive, plus it allows me to take riskier actions most standard warriors would avoid, which means I tend to catch my opponents off guard. Unfortunately, the downside of being durable is I have to get hurt, or I’d just be wasting my advantage.
Gritting my teeth at the jarring impact, I slide Peace through metal, flesh, and bone, my opponent gasping in confusion as his body slumps to the ground, his spine neatly severed. Leaving him to bleed out, I clear out the remaining Defiled, and seeing no new opponents approaching, I enjoy the brief calm while I can. Panting for breath, the stench of death makes me heave and gag, the taste of copper blood heavy on my tongue. Most of it isn’t mine, but I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.
So far, the plan is going well despite not using any fancy Chi skills or Elemental Blessing, just good old fashioned guts, steel, and teamwork. Argat and Jochi guard my flanks while Jianghong and Tursinai continue their exchange, the former shifting away from Argat’s constant barrage of dead bodies, sticking closer to Kaliyan. Tasteless though it may be, corpse-bombing a man in the middle of a duel seems highly effective. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, pushing in the flank and putting pressure on the two Defiled leaders. If we’re lucky, their rank and file will collapse and the two former Bannermen will clean up. Even in the worst-case scenario, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to poke at Jianghong as he retreats. That’s the whole point of bringing spears after all, and my borrowed Sentinels are performing admirably.
The Defiled bandits stand and watch my little trio, waiting to see if we take our next step, bringing us past the halfway mark between Jianghong and Tursinai. Wholly content to stand and rest, I steady my breathing and glance at the cloudless sky. A little rain would be nice, help wash away all this blood and put a damper on Gen’s pyrotechnics. Unlikely, but a man can dream after all. Then again, I’m not sure we even have to worry about Gen for awhile, Mila kicked his shit in real good. That’s my girl. She’d be pretty useful in a bind like this, tossing her spear out and calling it back over and over again. That’s a trick I’d love to learn. Or maybe I should be like Tenjin and carry like a metric tonne of knives.
Catching wind of my delaying tactic, the Defiled find their courage and charge, still only bringing three to the fight. Idiots, they’d take fewer casualties if they sent more soldiers to distract Tursinai, but none of them are willing to throw their lives against her. Oh well, no rest for the weary, so once more into the fray I go. Surging forward, I plunge Peace into the foremost bandit’s chest while Tranquility distracts his friend on the left. With the bandit still squirming on my sword, I use his mass to pin the third bandit to the rail, earning a punch to the jaw for all my troubles. Jochi’s spear plunges through the flailing bandit’s neck and I turn just in time to watch Argat send another corpse arcing through the air to land at Jianghong’s feet.
Snarling as he moves back, Jianghong turns his attention to us, his dark, piercing eyes promising all manner of wrath and vengeance, but Tursinai is ready and waiting. Using his momentary distraction, she launches her sickle straight out towards Jianghong’s face, knocking him back with the powerful thrust. At the same time, her chain circles around in a wide curve on a collision course with the back of Tenjin’s head. My stomach clenches in fear at her apparent mistake, but at the last second, Tenjin ducks under the weighted chain which hammers home into Kaliyan’s face. Her head snaps back with a thunderous crack, sending a spray of blood up into the air. Leaving nothing to chance, Tenjin’s short swords pierce through her armour and sink deep into her chest. With a short, shuddering gasp, the infamous seductress falls limply against Tenjin, her formerly beautiful face a pulpy mess of blood and bone.
As if her death were some prearranged signal, my Sentinels roar and charge as one, shaking the Defiled from their stupor and into a mass rout. Like a mad dog fighting for scraps, I dive in head first, cutting down bandits as they turn to flee, my heart racing at the prospect of victory. In a whiteout of rage and fury, I raise my sword and shield again and again, slaughtering my enemies as they flee before me. Showing no mercy, I sound the charge across the bridge, leading soldiers and Sentinels alike to strike at the chaotic Defiled lines, showing them what it means to stand against the Bekhai.
I am Falling Rain, Warrant Officer of the Empire, Sentinel of the People.
This is my country, and though I’d rather be home safe and sound, I will fight to defend it, and others will follow.
TL:DR for author’s note – Friday’s chapter probably delayed.
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