Brim wet the palm of his hands with his flammable sweat. He left his middle finger and thumb dry, rubbing them together in a quick motion. From the roughness, a spark flashed, lighting the oil ablaze. He looked around, checking that everyone else had done the same.
‘Enemy juggernauts estimated five-hundred metres ahead of us!’ He roared, making sure he was heard in the chaos. ‘Ready?! Aim! Fire!’
The artillery group flung a flurry of fireballs over the battlefield. They arced through the air, mixing together to create larger projectiles before crashing into their desired location. Upon impact, Brim turned to his designated messenger.
‘Damage report,’ he ordered.
The messenger whistled, calling a tinoo to arrive. The animal cooed back. The man nodded in response.
‘Eighty percent of the fireballs hit the enemy and,’ the messenger said, stopping before sighing.
‘Barely any damage to the opposition. The flames hit them, but the smaller fireballs died down too quickly. The larger ones that combined just left a scorch which the enemy juggernauts could shrug off. They seem to have a mild resistance to fire.’
‘We’re practically useless offensively against these juggernauts then,’ Brim complained. ‘How have the offence group faired?’
The messenger whistled once more, getting a chirp in reply from his tinoo. ‘It seems we’ve dispatched over a thousand stealth bestials while we’ve suffered only a one percent casualty rate.’
Eh? They lose a thousand while we lose less than ten? Why is it so easy? Brim’s thoughts left a sinking feeling in his gut. Something felt off. He knew squadron W improved in strides over the year, but this… No. They probably were buying time for the juggernauts. They’re the trump card. Focus.
‘How are our water reserves?’ He asked instead, shaking his doubts away.
‘Fifty percent of it has been used up.’
‘Good enough. Tell them to focus fully on defence. Make sure the offence group suffer from as little enemy fire as possible. As for the fire elementals, have them switch to fueling the large artillery of the big-handed mages. If the larger projectiles are dealing minor damage, we need to go larger and be smarter with our resources.’
Brim took his leave to inspect his battalion. He watched the tactics change as the fire elementals began to pour oil into the massive, webbed hands of the mages Gin indoctrinated into the artillery group. They did their jobs, hurling S-tier fireballs across the battlefield. And yet, despite the relative success of their deeds, something still didn’t sit right with Brim. The more he looked on, the more uneasy he felt. He even double checked the tinoos above, but their formation remained unchanged.
Maybe I really am overthinking thi-
‘Aaaaah!’ a bloodcurdling, nearby scream to the side brought the artillery group to a standstill.
‘What’s happening?! Status! Now!’ Brim demanded.
‘We’re being flanked!’ a distant shout came not directed towards him.
Brim ran back to get a full view of his battalion. He created a ball of fire, throwing it upwards to get vision of the edges. His eyes widened at what he saw as bodies fell at random intervals, either ripped apart, torn, cut, or stabbed by the invisible shadows beside them. How could this have happened?
‘Leader? Your orders,’ a confused messenger asked, snapping Brim back into action.
‘Stealth bestials have gone around the offence group. Stop fire and focus on defending the artillery group; formation eighteen. Watch out from all angles and light the area up,’ Brim ordered but, when the scared man stood hesitant, he added, ‘We can’t have more casualties. Go! Now!’
The artillery group formed groups of twenty, defending the central fire elementals that poured oil onto the ground in an oval.
Brim played a freelance role, darting in between the different groups, taking down the stealth bestials. But no matter how much he overpowered the enemy individually, his strength wasn’t enough. As he saved a teammate from an oncoming attack, he saw another slashed down without remorse in front of him.
His battalion couldn’t deal with the enemy. Half the potential melee combatants went to the offence group, those that remained relied on their ranged advantage, and all Brim could do was grit his teeth and save as many as possible.
‘Leader, formation eighteen is ready,’ the messenger called out.
‘Light it up!’ Brim snapped back, burning another stealth bestial into ash.
The area around the artillery group erupted into a wall of flames. The stealth bestials outside couldn’t enter the new domain lest they get burnt while those inside became trapped.
Brim didn’t hesitate to rally his troops, dispatching the separated foes on the inside before bringing the melee combatants to dispose of the enemies on the outside. One by one they whittled down the sneak attackers until they ceased to remain.
His heart pounding, his arms heavy from combat, and his lungs begging for a breather, Brim ordered his men to go back to their duties assisting the offence group. No room for rest, he thought, glad the ordeal had passed. However, the sinking feeling in his gut still didn’t go away. He looked up at the tinoo formation once more.
Still no change.
‘Hey. Can you call your tinoo for me?’ Brim addressed the messenger, the allied corpses a sickening sight to him, causing him to clench a fist in sheer hatred. ‘Report to the utility group what happened with us then get a status report back on their situation.’
The man nodded, whistling for his familiar. He told the order before the bird flew off several hundred metres behind them where the utility group resided. Then they waited, watching the others resume service, throwing the fire and waterballs at the enemy. But soon a minute turned into five, then ten. The messenger grew increasingly agitated. Brim did too, though he didn’t show it.
‘Should it be taking this long?’ he asked.
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. How could I have been so blind?! Brim realised, jumping into action. ‘Get anyone that can fight back to the utility group!’
‘Sir? My tinoo hasn’t come back yet.’
‘Forget the bird! Tell everyone by word of mouth. This is urgent!’
However, before he could hear the “sir”, Brim dashed towards the utility group, his eyes darting left to right, his arms aflame, his body working to its utmost maximum.
Please don’t be too late.