The eastern sky was beginning to lighten and the morning star of Huade, the planet Suri, was fading, but I had been restoring my stock of Dark mana in my core every night on the mission, so Cloaking during the day wouldn’t be a drain. With Dilorè in my arms (hugging my shoulders and nuzzling my ear), I rose into the chilly pre-dawn air and resumed my Cloak.
The command tent was close to the edge of the barrier, so we only rose ten paces before passing through it, but I kept rising up until I reached about fifty.
“Should I dump you here or land?”
Dilorè laughed, gave me a kiss, then released me. “I’ll be fine, Your Highness. Just drop me now.”
We flew together, with her using her optical camouflage. She couldn’t see me, so she led the way. The Amaga were advancing on the Berado rear, and it wouldn’t be long before the Berado realized their movements had been discovered.
“Stay over the Berado and call in reports,” I told her. “I’m going to do a sweep of the area.”
I suspected there was something more than just a breakout happening here. The other Berado forces had long since been forced out of the valley, leaving only the group trapped in the pocket. As things stood, they were going to lose a majority of those troops, perhaps allowing as little as only their commander and a protective detail to escape in the end. They were simply outnumbered. They should be admitting that and doing what the Amaga were waiting for them to do, limit their casualties by negotiating a surrender.
Instead, they were about to go on a suicidal charge. Tabadan tribes didn’t have an ideology that would lead them to refusing surrender, a bushido like the Japanese during WWII. They could surrender and wait for their tribe to ransom them back. It would cost them dearly, but they would see their families again. So why were they doing this?
My money was on another surprise attack, a repeat of either the original plan at a different point in the perimeter or the fairy-led infiltration that I had broken up the other day. Or some other clever stratagem to take advantage of the fact that the Amaga were focused on a different place.
I was the Amaga’s best shot at finding that surprise, so I began a wide orbit around the Greenwater, concentrating on any and all anomalies I could pick up. But I couldn’t find a single thing, until just as I was completing the circle and coming back around to the battleground.
The fight had just broken out below, and it was already going poorly for the Berado. I could see squares of pikemen, already halted in their advance, because the Amaga had already advanced and formed up their crossbowmen and magic archers behind walls of their own pikes. They were raining down hails of terror on the Berado, whose own ranged weapons were too few and too short on ammunition. I could see some return fire using magic tools, and a handful of mages, but it was horribly uneven.
The reason was clear. They had hastily marched some of their pike squares to the rear because of the Amaga coming in from behind. The numbers they originally planned to overrun the Amaga line with just weren’t there.
I could see Dilorè above them, still using her optical stealth, diligently reporting. But just after I spotted her, I saw her cut off, jam the talking stone into her belt-wallet and whip out her sword. A moment later, I saw a large eruption of mana on the battlefield below.
I quickly traced it to its source, a fairy knight approaching the Amaga forces from behind. In the distance, a second knight was following the first.
Perhaps Dilorè forgot that Dorin had asked us to not participate in the fight, because she dropped her stealth and dashed forward, forcing the opposing knight to stop her barrage of fireballs battering the Amaga soldiers below and face the new threat.
I pulled out my talking stone and pushed Light mana into it. There was a way to operate it without injecting mana, but this was faster. As I waited for someone to answer, I dashed forward while drawing Durandal, flying past Dilorè and her opponent, who turned out to be the fairy knight I had injured previously. My target was the other fairy knight.
“Command,” the girl on the other end answered. “Go ahead, Lady Tia.”
“Two fairy knights have appeared and attacked Amaga troops. We are intercepting them.”
I decided it was easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, and jammed the talking stone back into my wallet without listening for a reply. I switched it for the Starfire Jade Writing Brush.
Dilorè’s opponent had apparently found a healer, I noticed as I flew past her. Her arm was now fine.
“Go ahead and handle defense, Old Man,” I told Durandal.
It looks like we might have a real fight, this time, he responded with relish.
“We’ll see,” I answered. “I think I recognize the other knight.”
I kept my Cloak active until I had flown past the other knight and circled around behind her. It was a little underhanded to be doing this in stealth, but I wasn’t going to go as far as attacking her this way. I was simply positioning myself before my appearance.
My cousin was at a disadvantage. The rule is, you attack out of the Sun. Dawn was about to break, and these two were coming in out of the east. They would have been better served to wait another fifteen minutes, and probably, that had been the plan. My guess was, the Berado had discovered the Amaga already behind them and had to jump the schedule.
Thus, I was trying to get farther east than the opposing fairies. I got into position just as the second fairy was joining the confrontation with Dilorè, and dropped my Cloak.
Under my breath, I chanted “[Body Fortification]“, then drew more Earth mana from my core.
The reaction was immediate, as the second fairy sensed me and whirled around. Once I finally had a good look at her, I confirmed my suspicion.
“Ëi onar lâ, Fele Feraen,” I greeted my old opponent.
Feraen’s jade green eyes immediately clouded. “Lady Lilhàn said it was a succubus, but I had a feeling it was you.”
“You’re unhappy to see me?” I asked with mocking bewilderment.
“Who would be happy to see you?!” she retorted.
I let out a laugh. “Well, you did run away, last time.”
“I did not run away!”
“That play acting was dreadful, my dear,” I told her, raising my eyebrow. “You and Granny clearly orchestrated that.”
Frankly, I wanted to keep her talking as long as I could. Dilorè had Lilhàn held up, and for us, that was a win. I don’t know if these two understood infantry combat well enough to know that matters below were not equal once the air support was out of the picture. We didn’t need to beat our opponents. We just needed to keep them from interfering with the battle going on behind Dilorè.
“The other one is named Lilhàn? She’s just like you. She never named herself to me either. Does everyone in your tribe make a point to be rude?”
“You’re as insufferable as ever!” she shot back. “Prepare to pay for it!”
“Just having a little fun with you, My Lady. You shouldn’t be so sensitive. A fairy is supposed to have fun!”
“I don’t need some monster to lecture me on how to be a fairy!”
“You clearly need someone to,” I observed. “You’re a real sourpuss!”
She charged her sword with a high-voltage charge of Wind mana , but I could see it had all come through her right hand while her left charged with Aether. I dumped Earth into Durandal’s blade as she dashed forward.
Predicting her plan for the Aether, I quickly muttered to Durandal, just before our swords met, “[Shield of Oranos] if she throws [Thunderball].”
It was her two-handed attack against my single-handed parry, but I had [Body Fortification] already working for me. The blast for Wind hitting Earth at extra-strength levels blew us apart after one hit. She released her off-hand and pointed her palm at me with fingers splayed.
With impeccable timing, Durandal raised [Shield of Oranos] and blunted the attack. Defending with the like element doesn’t produce the explosive reaction of opposing elements, so I didn’t experience a backlash. I responded with the Writing Brush and “[Wind Bullet!]”
Instantly, the ball of Wind shot forth, but she swatted it away and dropped back into a middle guard stance.
I also went to defense. As I suspected, she didn’t understand that the delay was hurting her poor allies, who were quickly losing, in the background. They had counted on the tactical air support she was too busy with me to provide.
The Berado front and rear were slowly being pressed together. In the distance, I could see Amaga bird-kin ready to come diving in on them, but they were holding back, and I’m sure the turbulence we were creating was the reason for it. I was sorry to be interfering with their plans, but they would have been done in by Lilhàn and Feraen, if we hadn’t arrived in time.
Lilhàn and Dilorè were in the middle of a series of strikes and parries. As I suspected, Dilorè was less practiced at magic swordsmanship than at magecraft. Worse, she had yet to show much in the way of combat magecraft. They repeatedly charged, exchanged blows, backed away, slowly circling as they fought, seeming to be evenly-matched, yet Lilhàn was slowly pushing Dilorè back toward the battlefield.
After Feraen and I went through another exchange and again dropped into guard stance, she taunted, “Don’t have the little bug and the old hag along this time? Your sidekick this time doesn’t seem as strong.”
‘Little bug’ equaled Kiki and ‘old hag’ equaled Serera, I suppose.
“Don’t need them,” I pointed out. “You don’t have grandma to hold your hand, this time.”
“How is it that you even showed up here?” she demanded. “Did you follow me?”
“As if I would bother!” I mocked. “I already crushed you once. I have nothing more to prove!”
Her eyes flashed with new anger and she charged at me again. We were both backing up our strikes with flight magic, preventing the conflict of Earth and Wind from blasting us too far apart, so we parried a long series of each others’ blows before falling back once again.
I was discovering another reason why fairies bother wearing armor. My ordinary blouse and skirt weren’t weathering the storm the way my grandmother’s enchanted dress had. My outfit was beginning to look like one of those battle babe mangas where the clothing gradually dissolves under the punishment.
My worries for Dilorè were becoming concrete now. She was fighting as hard as she could, and definitely losing ground. In the long run, she would lose her match. I had to stop it.
I told Feraen, “I came here to take back my sister-in-law. That wretched lord of yours stole her, and I want her back.”
“What would my lord care to have anything to do with your sister-in-law?”
“That’s what I want to know,” I admitted. “He’s supposed to be her father’s vassal. Maybe you can tell me why he’s rebelling against his king?”
She scowled as she realized who I was talking about. Then she closed in for another series of strikes. My clothing couldn’t afford the continuing shockwaves for long, so I circulated Fire, then jumped back and slashed with the brush, spitting out a whip of flame. She had to throw out a [Wind Wall] to defend against it. She should have done a [Water Wall] or [Water Mirror]. Some of the flame made it through the Wind defense. Not enough to overcome her [Fortification], but enough to collapse her shield.
It was an opportunity. With Durandal’s Holy attacks, the problem is that they don’t fit in with normal swordplay. Suddenly pointing your blade like Babe Ruth or holding it like you’re bunting the ball leaves you poorly guarded. If the opponent is fast, and keeping you at close quarters, you can’t do it.
Except for one attack that I had just barely enough time for, while Feraen was recovering.
I gave a mighty slash and the attack like a giant [Wind Scythe] flew forth, just as her [Wind Wall] recovered. it was Wind mana on Wind mana, blunting the attack, but it was a holy attack being blunted, so it was still plenty strong. Feraen flew backward, her right arm blown into a painful-looking distension, her left arm barely keeping hold of her sword as it was slapped into her face flat-first and for a bit, she fell.
She looked injured, but she managed to recover before striking the trees below. Flapping laboriously, she recovered her altitude, slowly approaching but stunned.
From the ground behind me, trumpets sounded a complicated call, and the sound of fighting diminished. While I watched Feraen, I put together the details with my fairy sense, and Feraen was probably doing the same.
“Looks like your side has surrendered, My Lady. What will you do?”
Her eyes narrowed as she considered, then she asked, “Will you insist on pursuing if Lilhàn and I withdraw? I have nothing more to fight for, here, but I’ll fight rather than be chased.”
I went over the options in my head, and nodded. “Withdraw now, and we won’t pursue, My Lady.”
“And the knight over yonder?” she called over her shoulder.
Dilorè called back, “I agree.”