The Battle of Xeo
Sophie was disappointed with the battle. She had been thwarted even an inkling of the glamour that she had always yearned from a war. The starlite king Suffle had led them towards an easy victory at Fort Plier- the highest mountain peak in the area. Sophie did not stand out; she had no claim on fame, nor any stories to tell.
King Suffle however, had a consolation prize for her. She was to deliver the good news to their Chief Commander Neal. He was camped at Xeo with one of the human troops. Sophie tied her shoelaces and started the hour-long journey.
On reaching Xeo, all her glee vanished. The gloomy human faces told her that the position at Xeo was not as pretty as at Fort Plier. She had assumed being on higher grounds would have given them an advantage, but the case seemed to be the contrary.
The humans wore grey uniforms with heavy metallic armor. Sophie felt it be a poor choice in the snow-covered mountains. She, like all other starlite soldiers, was wearing a white fur uniform. The only armor she wore was the helmet that protected her favorite body part.
Sophie gave her name and office to the soldier guarding the prince’s tent. She was let in. Almost everybody was surrounding a table invisible to her, with their shoulders hunched and eyes focused on the center.
“We are outnumbered,” a blonde blob of hair said.
Another one chimed in, “Our scouts said that the enemy could be here in less than an hour.”
“We’ll think of something,” a composed voice said. “I believe we have some good news.” Sophie couldn’t see him but she instinctively knew that his eyes aimed towards her.
The group dispersed a little and the owner of the voice became visible to Sophie. She walked forward and greeted Neal in the starlite fashion, by crossing her fluttering palms on her chest. He looked at her, took a deep breath and asked, “Fort Plier?”
“We have captured it. Sir,” Sophie said looking at her feet. “The enemy is either dead or captured. Sir.”
The nervousness in her voice was easy to comprehend. Most starlites felt uneasy around humans. And this was no common man. She had seen his tall, thick-necked figure in the past during some parade or the other. However, it was her debut in front of those almond eyes embedded in the diamond-shaped face.
“Splendid,” he said but did not look the part. “We need more people here,” he said more to himself than to her and everybody nodded in agreement.
“Fly right now and send as many starlites as can be spared,” he ordered her and added a ‘thank you’ as an afterthought.
Sophie departed immediately but soon stopped in her tracks. She had heard an ear-deafening blast from the campsite. To her utter horror, the camp had turned into a pit of fire. She had no hope of finding anybody alive, but still, she returned and looked.
“I don’t know what new weapon they have got on their hands,” a deadpan voice said, “but it is far more advanced than the burning coals we are used to.”
Sophie was speechless. The Chief Commander was not only alive but also unharmed; though his white face and grey clothes were covered with soot. What alarmed her more was his calm face. He did not seem devastated by the sudden death of his whole unit or the fact that he could have been one of them.
Her eyes were still on the burning wreckage when Neal casually dusted the soot from his clothes and said, “I don’t think anybody else is alive,” without betraying a tinge of emotion in his voice or his eyes.
Sophie was in a state of shock even though she had not known any of them. Unlike Neal, she was not very good at masking her feelings.
“Don’t bother going back,” Neal said. He was searching in the rubble for anything useful. “The king would be coming soon. A blast like this would not go unnoticed.”
“It will take them about an hour,” she informed him.
“We don’t have the leisure to wait for them."
Sophie recalled what she had heard earlier. The attack was anticipated sooner than they could afford. She wondered if she should suggest flying out of there. Carrying him away to Plier would be easy.
“Then we will hold them off as long as we can,” she said with a level of determination only novices can have.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Sophia Antofurota, Your Majesty.”
“Do you have any weapon?” He enquired while getting the soot out of his hair.
Sophie shook her head. She carried only a small pocket knife with her which wasn’t very useful in combat. She had thought the sword to be a useless weight for the journey.
Accessing her own vulnerability, she realized that the prince had neither fur nor armor to protect him.
“We can fly out of here,” she suggested.
“You can, I can’t,” he replied. “If I abandon my post, we will lose this battle and maybe the war. If I’m able to hold Xeo till our forces come, we have a chance to end this.”
She lifted her head and tried to look as tall as possible. It was still a foot less than the man. “Then I can’t leave either.”
It earned her an amused smile. “We are in luck. I have got two of these.” He handed her a sword. “You will be fighting humans. You know the rules?”
She nodded. The battle rules were simple- humans should fight humans, and starlites should pretend to be human while fighting them. “I cannot fly.”
Neal explained the strategy to her. “Our scouts accessed the attack to happen from that direction.” He pointed at the valley in the left. “They will have to climb up here. We had planned boulders and fire arrows for them. But now as they are destroyed, we cannot stop them as I had hoped. Our only way is to fight them as they come.”
Sophie could see heads emerging out of the valley. “They must have been sent to analyze the situation and report back,” Neal whispered.
“They won’t,” Sophie promised.
Five men charged towards them with swords in hand. Sophie knew that the enemy wasn’t expecting anybody there. They were there to claim the ruin. Neal engaged three of them while the other two targeted her.
One of them was a heavy muscular man while the other one was tall and lean. She clashed her sword with the bulky man while ducking from the tall guy’s sword. The difference in their heights proved advantageous for her. Her helmet took the blow and fell off unleashing the braid tucked inside it. Her brain spun for a moment by the blow. One of her opponents took the opportunity and managed to scrape the back of her neck. Sophie winced. It stung but didn't bleed much. Fighting on the ground was turning out to be a challenge for her. She slipped and fell face up on the soft snow.
The bulky guy raised his sword up high, aiming for her throat. The tall man had claimed her sword and was standing beside his comrade to watch the kill. Her heart threatened to stop but her brain urged her to survive. Sophie summoned all her energy and kicked the tall man’s shin. He fell on the snow, face down with both swords in his hand. The bulky man was stunned for a second, his sword frozen mid-air. That second was enough for Sophie to jab her knife in his foot. He lost his hold on the sword, stomping in pain. Sophie rolled to her side and missed the sword by an inch. She found something strange on the ground. For a second she thought it was a rope but then she realized it was her hair. Pure rage-fuelled her body as she rose up.
She picked up a sword and slew the fallen man with one swift blow. The tall man tried to retaliate but was no match for her. She finished him by piercing his heart.
Sophie had just enough time to get her knife from the dead man’s shin when her eye caught a man trying to attack her comrade from behind.
“Bloody backstabber.” She hurled the knife at him, which hit his neck, killing him on the spot.
Neal had already killed one of his challengers and now he stabbed the other. Sophie noticed that he held one sword in each hand. She imitated him, taking time to wear her helmet back.
“Good work,” he commented, “but more will follow.”
The duo did not have time to calm themselves as more men came running towards them. They were more than she had time to count. The cut on her neck stung terribly. Her head felt heavy, her body stiff and the fatigue of the flight and fight at Plier had started claiming their share.
But to their advantage, they both held two swords each and Sophie had not gotten in a forgiving mood yet.
“Defence would be the best strategy here,” Neal said, drumming his fingers on the sword hilt. Sophie had not waited to hear his wise words and was already engaged in a fight.
Neal was half surprised half irritated to see her disobedience. Fighting uncountable enemies alone was Sophie’s idea of a good battle. She was fighting like she had a death-wish and Neal feared for her safety.
They had killed a couple of foes and injured a few before they caught the welcome sight of the starlite army in the sky. The enemy line retreated hastily.
“If I may say so, Miss Antofurota,” Neal smiled in a wicked manner. “Your hair has proved its worth in gold.”
Sophie said through gritted teeth, “I would still prefer it on my head, Your Majesty.”
King Suffle congratulated them both on the victory. “Prince Neal, to say the truth, I’m relieved to see you alive. We feared the worst when we saw the blast.” He looked around. “I count ten bodies,” he said, “including the injured.”
Neal greeted the king in the human fashion while the king gave him a starlite salute. The only difference between the two gestures was that the hands fluttered in only one of them.
“Someone was feeling a bit light headed, I suppose,” Neal said while maintaining the dignity of his office.
“Yeah, I suppose the climb up would have been exhausting for the poor chaps,” Suffle said, not getting the joke. “Nevertheless, let me be the first to congratulate you on your victory. You too, Sophie, I’m glad to see you unharmed.”
“I thank you, Your Highness,” she said giving him a fluttering salute.
“It does feel good to have a burden lifted from your head.” Neal’s jab got unnoticed by everyone but Sophie.
The king started to inquire about the blast and tried to guess what weapon and technology were responsible for it. Sophie saw it as her chance to leave unnoticed.
Suffle and Neal discussed their next move.
“They will be ready to talk now,” Neal said. “How many captives do we have at Plier?”
Suffle’s brow creased. “Talk now? We have crushed them. They have even lost at the waterfront. There is nothing to be gained by talks.”
“Peace is not nothing.”
The king crossed his arms. “Do I need to remind you how many times we have had the illusion of peace during the last century?”
“We may as well try once again.” His voice was calm and his intention clear.
“I’ll send a peace envoy,” the king said, clearly annoyed.
Sophie was getting patched up by the medics when the prince approached her.
“So, Miss Antofurota.” He smiled. “How attached are you to your home?”