Xian

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Chapter 3.6: Perfectly Executed Failure.

“Over the course of my millennia-long existence, I’ve often fancied myself as a grand strategist. Both on the battlefield and in the courts of great nations, I have proven my superiority above all contenders. For a while, this contented me, until I noticed something. My abilities may have been superior, but my ambitions were just as petty as those of my rivals. I fought for the same territories, I curried favor with the same royals, and all for the same reasons.

I have already talked of war, and how we only know what we truly want when we are in danger of losing it. In our most basic and primitive state, we realize that we only ever fight for our place this world, and that which it can provide us. Thus, we find that it is not our differing beliefs that bring us into conflict, but our collective desire for the same thing: A better life. We may have different definitions of what that might be, but the goal remains the same.

How can there be true change, when we only ever fight for the same things? How can anyone be truly great, if we are all equally chained by life…

********

Just as he had wanted, just as he had expected...just as he had planned. Ulq’s shields and cannons were operating in unison. With the mystic frequency of the shield being adjusted along the trajectory of the fulcrum fire, the arcane cannons were able to operate while leaving the shield undisturbed and retaining its protection. A brilliant bit of mystic engineering, if Abram said so himself. But there were other, more immediate concerns.

“Should be activating right about-”

Zi, perhaps more on intuition then reasoning, drew her blade towards Abram’s neck, intent on decapitating him. She got so close that for a moment, Abram’s eyes became grew wide with fear. Then at the last second, her sword ran off course and the pained cries of her horse were heard. The horse was bucking up and down, and the young Tengu could not bring it to heel. She then looked down in horror as the horses’ shoes grew read hot and began melting. The horse finally fell backward while Zi’s feet were still caught in the stirrups. Resulting in the beast falling on top of and crushing her.

Abram scowled beneath his helm. “That was too close...no more chances.”

Abram brought his hand down from his neck, which he had been favoring, and summoned several glaives from his collection, which flew forward and pierced through the horse. The barrage killed the hapless creature and cut deeply into its rider.

Not wanting to risk any further hazard, Abram reached out with his new psionic powers. Though he was still mastering them and found it easier to use them as an enhancement as opposed to directly applying them, small sensory based tasks were within his reach. Once he finished with his check, he smiled. For he had detected only the barest flickers of life in Zi. So he rode forward and found her barely conscious form crushed beneath the dead horse.

Still wearing her helm, Zi could only tilt her head and stare at her executioner. “Did you always plan on betraying us?”

“I did. Though I did you give you and your father a chance to recant on that score.”

Zi coughed, and the sound of blood spurting on the inside of her helm could be heard. Her eyes were becoming dazed, but she fought on. “Yes, honor to a stranger, or loyalty to our own country...some choice.”

Abram drew his falchion, the Mors Deus, and rode closer to Zi. She looked down at her horse, and at the glaives spearing into both of them. At this sight, her attitude became more accepting then defiant. “You say you gave us a chance, yet once we made our choices...you certainly gave us no mercy.”

“No. You’re too dangerous for mercy.”

There was a sick choking sound from Zi which might have been a chuckle. “Too dangerous for mercy. What a horrible place that must be, for you.”

Abram appreciated the jab, even as he stabbed her through the neck with his sword.“Defiant to the end. Perhaps one day she will join my ranks. For now, she is too volatile.”

Feeling her psyche coalesce into his sword, and then absorbing it with his new powers, Abram broke it into pieces before it could reform. He would keep it this way, and then set about to its reassembly once he had the time. “Which won’t be for a while I think.”

The thought came to him as he saw his soldiers about-faced and charging towards the Taiyang ranks. This took the legionnaires by surprise at first, but they quickly reformed. Confronted by proper armored ranks, The spectral knights were slowed in their advanced, but not stopped. Abram knew this was only a way to buy for the cannons to realign towards their new enemy.

But the Silvered Fiend had already accounted for that, and as explosions were heard from behind the Taiyang lines, he knew he had succeeded. “Applying their countermeasures en-masse may have been necessary, but they could have been more discreet than that. It was child’s play to weave my soldiers into the wards as they were made.”

With their cannon exploding behind them, the Taiyang regulars and mages began to waver, and their cavalry, having an outside perspective due to their place on the flanks, had already retreated. Wanting to end this quickly, Abram conjured a surprise that he had been saving for this occasion. “I’ve been working on this since Stonehause. There was no place for it within castle walls or tunnels but on a straight battlefield...”

Abram raised his sword and conjured dozens of cannons above the woods and the Taiyang ranks, and with a swift downward cut, emptied all of them into the Taiyang lines. This broke the Taiyang formation, causing them to retreat and then be quickly cut down. Even the horsemen were being chased by the floating ghost knights and slaughtered to the last soul. Abram watched for a moment and took it all in. These Taiyang had been brave, but now that their hopes of victory were gone, he heard nothing but fear and loss.

He heard the names of absent loved ones being screamed from tens of thousands of voices. He smelled blood on the air, saw it trickle into the river, and stain it. Finally, he saw one soldier, a woman stand in front of one of her fellows, a younger woman. Sword in hand and shield raised: this courageous fool was warding off blow after blow from enemies, even as her shield broke and her sword shattered. Finally, she put her body in front of that of the other woman.

Both of them were promptly skewered and left with the other corpses as the spectral knights charged onward to further kills. Abram rode over and looked upon the dead women. He saw the desperation, the anger, and most of all the strange sadness that was in their still open eyes. He had seen this look many times before, on far more gruesome battlefields.

But hardened as he was, and ruthless as he admitted to being, this look had always troubled him. “To know not only your end but the end of all you’ve known...all that you have loved. Yes. That is something to fear. That is cause to weep.”

Abram looked toward his charging lines and saw two of his knights floating towards him, with Zi’s sword brother, Nobunaga, in hand. He was beaten and bloodied, and his limbs were broken. The situation wasn’t helped when the knights tossed him onto the ground in front of Abram.

One of the specters spoke. “This one was readying an arrow for you, but we were faster.”

Nobunaga, unable to move, and perhaps in shock from so much pain, simply twitched on the ground. Abram made a cutting motion with his sword, and a burst of sapphire flame slashed through the air and melted the quivering assassin.

Abram didn’t even bother taking his soul and gave his attention to the spectral bodyguards. “You have done well, join your brothers and sisters in the cleanup.”

The knights bowed and went to do just that. As he rode behind his main force, Abram could hear the Fulcrum continuing their barrage, and became worried. If they were still firing into Taiyang lines, it meant there were still lines to be fired into.

He began to fear for Evangeline. “She’ll be fine. She’s strong, she’s smart...she’ll be fine.”

The fighting around him had begun to die down though. The majority of the Taiyang forces had gone with Sun. As brave as they might have been, the soldiers on this side of the battle had been woefully unprepared, and perhaps too dependent on their cannons.

When he climbed the hill where the cannons had been set up, he found them shattered to pieces with the dead and mangled bodies of their engineers splayed around them. As he was about to command his soldiers to flank the remaining Taiyang on the other side of the city (since being floating spirit soldiers and a demon on an enhanced steed would mean such an excursion wouldn’t take too long) Abram heard the sounds of protracted fighting.

He rode forth to investigate and found General Shen putting up a final resistance. ”Brave and dutiful idiots abound.”

Shen’s armor was dented and worn and he was bleeding from many wounds. But his gauntlets were still usable, and despite being surrounded by several of Abram’s knights, the old general held his own. He even managed to disperse one of the spectral knights with a well-aimed punch, no doubt aided by the mystic nature of his gauntlets. Out of the corner of his eye, Shen spotted Abram and darted past the spectral knights faster than they could react, but not faster than Abram could see.

Shen came in low and prepared to deliver a haymaker to Abram’s horse, only to be batted aside with a burst of bright flame from the Silvered Fiend’s Mors Deus. As he was about to regain his footing, Shen was surrounded once more and was skewered with halberds and swords before he could stand ready.

Abram wasn’t content with that. “Take his head off, then smash it.”

The knights did so. A slash with a halberd cut the old man’s head clean from his shoulders, while a larger specter brought forward his Warhammer and slammed it into Shen’s head. Nothing remained but red and pink paste flecked with shards of bone.

What was left of the body fell to the ground in a messy heap, prompting a regretful sigh from Abram. “We couldn’t risk him having some form of enchantment. Undignified as it was, he had to die this way.”

He looked over the eastern field. There were still many Taiyang soldiers maintaining a well-organized retreat. Which could not be allowed. So Abram raised his sword yet again. “Leave no survivors. If they live they’ll just come back vengeful and hardened. And we have no time for that.”

The specters obeyed yet again and darted towards the remaining Taiyang. None would be left alive, but over the screams, Abram heard the sound of a portal activating. He turned towards it and saw Evangeline run out of it.

She wasn’t exhausted or wounded, instead she was terrified. “Abram! We’ve got a problem!”

“What happened? Did you kill Sun?”

She waved off the question with desperate hands, even as she answered. “Yeah, But that’s where our problem comes in. You know how he talked about being an extension of the Emperor’s Will?”

Abram’s eyes widened. “You can’t mean that-”

Just then, a great golden light surged into the sky and twisted in the open air. It then took shape, into the form of a great serpentine dragon of golden scales and blazing jade-colored eyes. Its mouth remained closed, with smoke escaping its nostrils.

But even closed-mouthed, words surged from the creature with the force of a great storm. “Barbarians of the West! The gift of mine Empire hath been rejected for the final moon-rise. Now shall mercy be confined, and horror unleashed. Thou hast taken my blood from this earth. And so yours shall be spilt upon it. Bear witness to the final service of mine treasured son, as the Avatar of my Imperial Will. Look your last upon thine fellows and lovers: for it is the last of them which thine mortal eyes shalt apprehend.”

With that, the great dragon opened its maw of teeth. From it, a shining light, as bright as any star, burst forth and impacted upon Ulq’s magic shield. The shield overloaded, and as it fizzled out, Abram saw the Fulcrum batteries deactivate in unison. As they did so a devastating roar blared out into Abram’s ears. From the highest tower of Ulq: a great western dragon of silver, leapt from its and flew towards the golden monster. The draconic battle was joined. But from his elevated position, Abram could see that there were still several Taiyang soldiers who had survived the Fulcrum on the western side. They surged toward the walls, with grappling hooks and ladders, enthralled by the presence of their god, and craving vengeance for the death of their fellows.

Abram looked over at Evangeline, who shook her head and cracked her neck. “Guess you’re gonna have to kill a god after all.”

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