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Hey there teen, it has been quite a long time, but I have returned at last with a new chapter. In addition, many of the previous parts were also rewritten, which consist of important lore information, therefore I would suggest that you guys take a look at that. Some of the more important changes are the appearance of the New World natives, the organization and composition of the Vitenese combat troops, some allusions to Nija and the Veil, and some more. Now, enjoy the story.
''See anything?'' Togun asked, peeking out from his hiding place in a hollow in the ground to survey the unit's assigned area. His unit and one of the close combat platoons from the company had been thrown forwards in front of the wood to cover the rest of their companions from the prying eyes of the few enemy who might have managed to evade the allied patrols prowling all around the place. He knew the enemy was close, yet his detachment hadn't gotten any visual contact yet; the only signs they had received from their foes had been the terrible dins of charging Scourge reptiles, and even those had already been replaced by the reverberating echoes of faraway artillery bombardments which no doubt were targeting the lizards and their riders. Just the distant echoes of battle were enough to put mind on edge; he could hear his own heartbeat, feel the tension slowly spreading its suffocating tendrils in his chest, gripping his throats. Something began to stir in his stomach, and Togun recognized what it was. He had constantly being tormented by a dull stomach ache for the last few days, which always happened to him before moments of anxiety, but now the pain threatened to take a turn for the worse. Remembering the intense abdominal pain that had almost knocked him out cold before his first battle, the handgonner quickly loosened the cap on one of his bamboo drinking tubes and chugged the medicinal drink: a mixture of water, honey and sliced ginger which hopefully would prevent the cramps from flaring up again.
''Stomachache again?'' Khanh asked, and Togun replied with a silent nod. The other man was outwardly relaxed and calm, in constrast to his jitters, yet having served alongside them for quite a while now Togun knew that his comrades were just better at suppressing their own nervousness.
''Try to lie down for a bit,'' his friend continued. ''I will tell you if anything happens. You don't have to sit up to keep watch, and I'm sure others are also doing their own thing in their hidey holes so nobody will give a damn if you just loosen up a bit.''
''Thanks, I appreciate it,'' Togun replied and lay down on his back. Doing so eased the pain a lot, yet the anxiety was still there and like always was boring a hole through his chest. But at least now he wasn't in agony, so it was still an improvement.
''What do you think those lizards we saw a while before are doing at the moment?'' Khanh asked after a few minutes of silent. ''They shouldn’t have been able to catch those decoys, considering their bulk and all, right?''
''Now you are the one worrying,'' Togun answered back, grinning from ear to ear. The thought that his friend, a giant, muscle-bound hulk of a man carrying a glaive would openly express his nervousness was oddly hilarious. ''You haven't visited the new cannon foundry in Haitran I assume. They might not be able to cast any heavy piece yet, but small guns like those are perfectly replaceable. The crews though, losing them could be a problem.''
''True, we don't have many of those to spare,'' Khanh concluded, stifling a yawn. ''We must have been here for hours already. How much time do you reckon we still need to burn before being allowed to go back?''
Togun opened his mount to reply, but hold his words as he suddenly felt a rumble in the ground, small at first, but growing alarmingly louder with every passing seconds. Quickly sitting up and bringing his handgonne to bear, he stole a glance at Khanh, and judging by the tense posture he was certain the other man was aware of that too, his hands gripped the glaive's handle tightly. Exchanging a silent nod to each other, both of them began withdrawing from their position, and from other hiding spots they saw their comrades were also doing the same, silently and swiftly, trying to make themselves as undetectable as possible. As they reached the edge of the wood Togun looked back over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of the horizon turning black with enemy infantry streaming down the road, the ground itself shook under their footsteps.
With a hard and fast jab of the heel into its neck, Acahtli steered his mount to the left, barely avoiding a threshing mazayotl on the ground whose entrails were ripped open by the blasted weapons of the West. Cursing his own mistake as his command was slowly picking apart and vaporized by the ambush, the only thing he could do at the moment was to concentrate on riding in the hope of making it out of this hell alive. All of the cavalry attacks had simply been ploys to slow the Mahuizalcah down so that the siege engines could reach the prepared ambush site, their participants quickly wheeled away without contact every time the mazayoh had gotten near them, suffering only inconsequential losses and furthermore driving Acahtli and his men deeper into a blind fury. In their rage and their haste to gain glory the tecuhtin had been foolishly lured into an elaborated trap, only realizing too late that something was wrong when their quarries stopped behind a line of camouflaged stakes and opened up on the pursuers.
Not all was lost, however – despite the battering he and his men were being subjected to, the smoke, spark and sound did much more to morale than physical damage. He had lost over a hundred men since the beginning of the pursue, yet while losses had surely been significant the survivors were still more than numerous enough to carry out the assault home should the need arise. Not that he would attempt it, the veteran tecuhtin were too valuable to be wasted in suicidal charge against fortification, especially while having to endure blistering barrages from three sides. After signalling the trumpeters and flag bearers to sound the retreat, Acahtli expertly wheeled his mount to the side, closely followed by the rest of his men without missing a beat. The column split into four as it turned away from the death trap, the two front halves drifting far out to the flanks while the rear halves performed a sharp turn, lining themselves parallel to the former. The sudden change of formation must have thrown off the aim of the war machines' crews somewhat as several projectiles plunged harmlessly into the dirt, yet the smaller fire weapons were still pouring incessantly onto them seemingly without any difficulty, causing even more suffering and deaths on the beleaguered tecuhtin. One of his neighbouring riders was shredded as several shots cut through his body, sending bits of flesh and metal splattered all over the place, but no one paid them any heed. It was not the time or place to mourn a dying friend.
A line of western cavalry rushed out of their hiding place, racing desperately to try and cut off Acahtli's line of retreat. The artillery had stopped their terrible bombardment, clearly trying to avoid causing friendly casualties. But if they had thought that the thin line ahead were enough to stop the charging tecuhtin then they were clearly mistaken. Too bad they overestimate their chance, he thought, and with a blow of the horn ordered all four columns to converge together, aiming at the centre point of their line.
They had not even came close to the horsemen before their panic-stricken opponents took flight, scattering all over the place to avoid the unstoppable hammer blow. Acahtli and his companions let out a blood-curdling howl, surging forwards at the remaining clumps of troops blocking their escape route, either suicidally brave or just too slow to move out of the way. Zuma, his attendant, loosed an arrow which found its mark at the nape of one of the fleeing westerners and sent the man tumbling down into the dirt with bone-shattering force. The open helmet the man wore allowed Acahtli to witness the expression of terror frozen on his face, which the tecuhtli took in with delight. Suddenly, as if he had been submerged underwater, the noise of battle grew dimmed and Acahtli realized they had broken through to the other side.
Sister Avinin was shaking with anticipation. Being stationed in a damp, soggy wood made her miserable, yet it was nothing compared to the feeling of dread swelling within her. If she still had anything left in her stomach she would have already thrown up right here and now in front of hundreds of people, but luckily there was none left, the mess behind their carriages was the testament to that. The pressure of being a robe-bearer was very different from that of a novice, and she could tell that it was still too early for her to take on the responsibility, and like many of the other newly promoted, woefully inexperienced. Avinin probably would still have been in the same spot if it hadn't been for the enormous casualties taken nearly a year ago at Sarnach, which had forced the current Abbess to ramp up promotion and recruitment to fill the holes left behind by the dead. The armour and axe weight uncomfortably on her, further confirming the inadequacy of their user for the role, but it was becoming of her to show weaknesses. She had her own novice to look after, which felt incredibly surreal to one who had not even reached seventeen yet.
Beneath her feet the ground shook with the footsteps of the Scourge who continued to march towards the distance sound of thunder, oblivious to the small army hidden in the woodlands parallel to the road. The distance was far enough that they could not be easily discovered, and the lack of Scourge scouts who had been easily swept away by marauding Wendgard cavalry ensured that the ambushers would stay hidden. The horsemen's rapid attacks into their formation had caused the enemy infantry to form themselves into several mobile squares, slowing them down to a crawl. With the current situation they would be too late to come to the rescue of their vanguard, which hopefully by now had already been destroyed by the Outsiders' fire weapons. As a veteran of Sarnach, she knew what untold destruction those ridiculous looking things were capable of, yet a disturbing thought formed on the edge of her mind all the same. What if they had survived their own ambush and were now returning, just in time to catch the Sisterhood while they were on open ground? A lump formed in her throat. If that was the case, it would be the end of the order and probably of her as well. She had cheated death once through the sacrifice of others, but it was different now, if that ever happened she was to be the one sacrificed, holding the line and dying gloriously in His name so that not to bring shame to the Temple.
Avinin shook her head and took a deep breath, pushing her anxiety down. Turning her thought towards her new ward, who had already taken up position alongside the Wengard skirmishers, she muttered up a quiet prayer. While she could not find the girl in the sea of people in front of her, she knew from experience that the kid was even more terrified than her at this very moment in time.
''Be strong, Fara,'' she whispered under her breath.
The rear of the Scourge column would be their target as the rest had already passed into the area flooded by heavy rain. There the manoeuvrability of the front and centre of their formation would be heavily restricted, the only pieces of dry land would be the high road they were travelling on and some smaller footpaths still not inundated. Even if they wanted to the enemy would not be able to turn and save their comrades, their only choices would be to press forwards to try and escape the bottleneck or turn and waste time slogging through the wetland to engage the ambushers, in which case the rest of the allied army would come and hem them in after they finished the destruction of the reptiles. All the pieces were in place, all they were waiting for was the signal to attack, which undoubtedly would come soon. Opposing them were at most eight hundred Scourge foot, significant, but the element of surprise was on their side, and there were Outsider's artillery hidden somewhere in the forest on the other side of the road, which would undoubtedly add significant weight to their assault. Gripping the handle of the axe tightly, Avinin could feel the tension shoot through the air as the sisters steeled themselves for the call to arms.
Moments later, a pair of fiery snakes soared skywards with an infernal hiss and the skirmishers burst out from the wood, falling upon the startled invaders like a swarm enraged wasps.