Chapter 92: Caught in Dreams I
He was a Ten swordsman, with Mastery in the Sword, and his Weapon was magical to +III. He had some classic training in long and short, and with his size advantage, thought he had this.
It took him two long minutes to realize that I was toying with him and enjoying the sparring, letting him test himself uselessly against my defenses, and then made him defend himself madly against the crushing power of my attacks, always getting faster, faster, exploiting every opening he had. All the while, Tremble was chanting “Tremble, She Comes!”, and as my momentum built, so did the speed of his chant.
And then I swept out his legs, Tremble came down into his mouth, and I broke his sword-hand’s wrist with Stand even as I parried his dagger with it.
He looked up at me in disbelief with his fevered eyes.
“Wake up, and stay out of Dream. It’s not a place a man like you should be living.” His eyes stayed on me as I pushed Tremble down, and vivus flared along his spine.
There was a woosh of wind, whiteness sending him off, and he was gone. I toed his Sword up to my hand.
Dream or no, there was still magic inside it.
I looked up at the milling cavalry, whose control had passed to and was dependent on me. One group of heavy cavalry, majority medium, some light cavalry for scouting and skirmishing.
I’d try to save the heavy cav first. The knights would be elite troops. At a mere twelve an hour, I didn’t know how many I could save, but we could only try.
-Form up ranks,- I /sent to my own men, giving them the deployment formation. As control shifted to me, that meant the timer would reset and conflict would soon start again. I’d be damned if the Curse thought I was actually going to invade those mounds, though.
“Line up for me to have a look at you! You, you, and you, move your squads over here and dismount!” -Get my Tatting stand up pronto!- I /ordered, and my people scurried for places as loot made its way to the wagons, and our small camp was quickly shifted down off the mesa.
It wasn’t like the Curse was going to run out of centaur ants to throw at us…
The last order I gave them before they died was to lead their brothers back to me.
Horses whinnied, armor clinked in the grey mist. Several hundred Ironblooded, their wounds and exhaustion cleared away by Renewal, the details of the day before already fading into distant memory, were drawn up and waiting as those who had died came out of the mist.
Eight hundred and fourteen new soldiers were among them, each of the seventy-four Marked men in the cavalry leading ten others out of the mist of dissolution, and back to do battle once more.
There were calls of greeting, shaking heads, and confused expressions on the faces of those who had not been Marked, wondering what the celebration was for.
“Dismount. We Sing to Sylune for Renewal, and then to Aru for a new day,” I ordered the horsemen, who dismounted readily enough.
I had reached /5 in Capacity of Souls, the Mastery that raised the virtua Character Level for Capacity of Soul Tats and Feats, some time ago, putting me at Fifteen virtua. That meant my base Limit on Essence investable was at Four, and with Improved Capacity, and Improved Chakra Points, was actually Five.
Marshal the Soul was a Soul Feat that enhanced all Marshal capabilities, while Marshal the Field was a Mastery that did almost the same thing, restricted to numbers of troops and command radius, and was also raised to /5.
Marshal the Field is what had raised my Command Capability to 2,250 troops. Five Essence in Marshal the Soul raised it to virtua Twenty, four thousand troops, and gave me 5 +1’s to allocate to my people, +1 each to AC, Saves, Damage, and To-Hit, with one floating that I could choose.
They were Morale bonuses, just like Bardsong… but they were constant.
And they were affected by Courageous from Tremble, if they could hear him.
With Marks, they could ALL hear him, and my Command Radius carried the sound of him out two hundred yards otherwise. Since he was usually at +VIII, that meant a +4 improvement to any morale bonuses they had.
A blanket +5 to AC, Saves, Damage, and To-Hit for serving under a legendary virtua-Twenty Marshal was a hellacious bonus for any group of soldiers.
I had hundreds more Marks to scribe and magic Weapons and Armor to get made, but that was a Good Thing. The newcomers could only look at the Weapons lighting up with magic as we Sang to the Queen of Stars and King of Suns, and agree to join us…
Dry dunes on open sands, a crashing battle against giant jackal-headed bastards from Dolor…
A world of needle-like peaks and stony valleys, fort after fort of dug-in goblins and their spidery allies…
Another temperate realm of copses and fields and villages, and ophidians swarming through it to kill everything.
Massive tunnels bored through the endless stone, and our enemies could come from any side, including above and below…
And on, and on…
Birds calling. The raucous howls of monkeys, the distant roar of something they were pissing off. The burble of water, splashing against stones.
The fog didn’t lift completely, as the air was too wet, too humid. The heat wouldn’t bother us with Amulets, but we could only look around as it peeled back.
Ruins, sized for giants, reeking with age and ancient power. They were overgrown by the jungle, vines and creepers everywhere. The deployment zone we’d materialized in, a giant plaza with trees torn through the ancient plates and towering up into the mists above, had a river crashing along one side, with a waterfall thundering loudly just a little way beyond.
Screw fighting, I wanted to tear off my clothes and go swimming over there. Very unfair.
Of course, something with a thirty-foot neck lunging out of the water and snatching out of the air another something with a thirty-foot wingspan that was flying a bit too low encouraged me to have other ideas.
Rotters. That probably explained the big coiling snakes around the columns, the scale patterns on the houses and roofs, the fallen snake-head statues, and the way even the roads and plaza stones were laid out in winding, scaly patterns.
There was a low rolling roar from off thataway, down an ancient avenue framed by crumbling ancient buildings of stone, and the forest giants that had burst through and around them, towering above them now.
-Fireball going off.- The sound was unmistakable. -Cavalry elements with me.- I plucked the men I wanted following me. -Assume active threat from all directions. Shields on the outside of the formation.- I pictured the marching formation, and with precision to shame any marching band, the men spun and moved through one another as Stand beat the cadence in their heads.
I needed to be Tatting more men and smithing, but I skated forwards as the light riders converged in behind me. I noted that there were a lot of tunnels under the ground, some obstructed by roots, others ready to collapse into pits beneath us, and the riders followed directly in my tracks as I picked a course for them.
Metal clashing, shouts and… songs rising in battlecries. The distant echo of bowstrings twanging. Beneath my feet, things stirred and began to move, and I alerted everyone that the denizens of this place were stirring.
I came around a rootmass taller than I was, found myself at the side of a smaller plaza, just as it and the mist lit up with the crackling boom of a lightning bolt tearing through a line of scaled forms.
Serpent folk on dinoback? Just what we needed. They seemed to be focused on a bunch of figures on top of one of the buildings, preventing them from just being bowled over by the mass of the dinos and the long-limbed scalefolk.
Well, they were making a lot of noise. The cavalry gathered up behind me, unlimbering their spears. They weren’t heavy lancers, but that didn’t mean a charge into a distracted foe couldn’t do a lot of damage.
But the incident yesterday with Mr. Korvus had me wrinkling my nose. “Sense for Evil, then Good,” I told Tremble, before we moved. Behind me, the men were reporting shadows moving between buildings around them, clearly somethings massing for a fight. I stopped most pursuit, only letting a line of medium cavalry follow after me, rapidly changing the formations as I judged who the enemies were, and didn’t want my numbers getting bogged down in their narrow streets where we couldn’t bring cooperation and flanking to bear.
Best to move now before the alarm sounded. Serpentfolk were telepathic bastards, and could convey alarms very quickly by chain-thoughts. I had to hit them before they were warned, and they had all their attention on those Casters and archers not clear in the fog.
So, I burst out of cover, and Tremble put up a Sound Bubble.
Silence is a powerful spell for how easy it is to use. Shut down chanting, damn hard to Cast. Perfect stealth for even the most heavily-armored man.
However, sudden silence is also greatly alarming to many people. Too, Silence spells are rather limited in area for battlefield use.
Sound Bubbles don’t allow sound to pass the edge of the Bubble. So, you can talk and hear normally inside it, but the sound doesn’t carry.
And they have a radius of 10 feet per Caster Level, which was more than enough to envelop the troop of light cavalry following behind me.
“Tremble, oh, stand and tremble, we come…” Tremble crooned, as we bolted across the mismatched stones, and I glanced at the dark forms moving through tunnels beneath us as we charged into the flank of the serpentmen.
The guy on the Queen Raptor did see us, but obviously didn’t believe his eyes as we came surging in silently, like a dream or misty image gaining color and solidity a little too late. I saw his throat inflate, and heads began to turn in our direction. We hit them as the Sound Bubble fell, and Tremble roared at them in Draconic, “TREMBLE!”
Spears crashed into the side of raptors and their scaled riders, sent them over with superior mass and impact, screaming and hissing. Maybe they didn’t have emotions, but that ol’ survival instinct we called fear they still had a nice helping of.
A line of serpentmen soldiers and guards exploded around me in flying limbs and heads as I zeroed right in on the guy on the feathered allosaurus with the pretty scale job. Nice detailing on the temporal scales… Tremble took off a head as I spun right into the throat of the creature, and Hewed on through it, grabbing the throat I had just half-severed through, spinning around and up onto its back in front of the startled rider who hadn’t been able to move his mount away.
I took off his spear hand, so fast he didn’t have time to feel it before I was sliding past him, Tremble coming back and taking off his head above his lower jaw. Then I was dropping into the serpentmen who were supposed to be guarding him, and my chain of kills continued.
The riders peeled away, as they weren’t supposed to be engaging in prolonged combat with dangerous foes, but they left behind dozens of dead and dying serpentfolk and dinos. The main mass of the scalefolk might have been able to recover from that loss… if their boss wasn’t dead, and if the second line of cavalry, riding hard along the route I’d shown them, didn’t slam into them with real lances and barded horses, and send them flying.
Yeah, there’s a reason you don’t use two-legged things for mounts, nitwits…
The light cav split and curled, sheering against the edges of the serpent folk, covering for the more heavily-armored riders, opening up that path of retreat as they curled through, rounding for another charge the serpentfolk couldn’t help but know was coming.
A volley of arrows, more tightly grouped then before, shredded some serpentfolk who seemed to have the idea of casting some spells, and then I was in among the survivors and making sure none of them went anywhere in sprays of cold reptilian blood.
This fight was over, they just couldn’t run away fast enough. The light cav sealed off the north and south, their targets were on the east, and lancers wheeled expertly and came rushing in from the west.
I stood still, and the lancers crashed left and right of me, going on past since there was obviously nothing within reach of my blade around me. Weighty hooves pounded reptiles into mush, and the fighting was basically over. Tremble was making rather emphatic statements about quivering mush…
I looked up at the roof of the building they were fighting to get into, right into the startled eyes of several dozen figures shorter then I was, hunting bows at the ready.