Outside the city of Descar, in what was once a field of golden wheat, the Musketeer heard his orders. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the commanding officers of the Resistance. His actions at Tirr, and the success of the winter, had earned him a general’s rank and he was honored to take on the terrible burden of the rank. Men and women under his command would follow his command to march forth and some would not make the return trip. To bear that thought, he vowed to march with them. The Musketeer was known as the Front Line General through the ranks, but he pretended he did not know that.
“You lot have a terrible day ahead of you,” the leader of the Resistance forces said from his stage, “there’s no way to soften the news. The Royal Army had camps stretched from one horizon to the next yesterday. Today, the soldiers that occupied those tents are marching to this field. Descar will be the first large scale encounter of this war against the king we wage. The enemy is coming with landships and automatons; fusiliers and cannons. This is the best army on the continent we are facing and they know it. They do not know what they fight for, or who they fight for. We do. We have right on our side and after today we are marching straight for the King. You have your orders, folks.”
The leader stepped off the stage and into the safety of the walled city at the other end of the field.
The Musketeer went to his command tent. He reviewed maps and spoke with his lieutenants, sorted documents and shuffled about thinking of what, if anything, he could say to his troops before they took to the line. It was something the Royal Army did not have to worry about. If a soldier refused an order, or looked in anyway like they may be second guessing an order, they were simply flogged and taken to a prison camp. The Resistance was a different machine than his old one.
“Sir, it is time,” said a commander, peeking into the tent. The Musketeer nodded to acknowledge the man and waved him away. It was time to push forward.
He mustered his officers under a tall oak. He could hear squirrels running about in the limbs above and wondered if they could comprehend what the next day would look like.
“Our leader said we know who we fight for earlier. I want you all to know I fight for you. I hope to make you proud of your decision to follow me this day,” he told the officers. It was the most words at one time any of them had ever heard. They left the tent and began the forward march.
The sound of man, horse and steam carriage filled the air. It was far a silent march. They wanted the Royals to know they were coming. The wheat field that once hosted them fell to the distance, replaced with rocks and dirt and bramble before giving way to a prairie once more. Rolling hills and a forest surrounded the area. Over the hill, they heard the Royal Army’s response to the march.
The transition from serene grassland to battle field was so sudden, so abrupt the Musketeer barely registered the moment every thing changed. The smells of pollen and grass gave way to black powder and sulfur in a flash. The stomping boots were replaced by the wails of men and women trying to summon the courage to push forth. The Musketeer loathed the experience.
Smoke filled the field. The flint lock pistols and long barreled rifles of both side snapped and sparked. The Musketeer held back in his use of aether. He had to give orders, command his comrades in arms. The moment aether hit his veins he was useless for that purpose. What mattered now was keeping his friends alive as long he could. He was tired of losing friends.
He was trying to reason the absence of landships and mechanical soldiers. Surely their presence would turn the tide in favor of the King, yet they were not to be found. If the Resistance had access to the Alchemist of Tirr, or the wordsmith that instigated the armory assault there was hope of defeated the mechanisms at the King’s disposal. There was no word on where either party was though and the fear had grown of their capture.
His thoughts betrayed him. As soon as his fears of the engineered combatants surfaced, they appeared on the hills behind the enemy front.
“They finally present us a challenge!” The Musketeer cheered. He hoped he masked his true feelings well enough.
Over the hill came the turreted landships, already firing into the fray mindless of friend or foe. Behind the landships were the automatons; bipedal beasts with a heart of gears and propelled by the churning of cogs and steam. They stood as tall as three men and fired into the crowd with a machine’s precision. A final surprise sent chills through the spines of all on the field. Carried by carts and struggling to surmount the apex of the hill were towers reminiscent of the armory. Electricity arched and frayed from the top of the coiled tower, occasionally connecting with a foot trooper knocking them to the ground.
The Musketeer reached for his aether, knowing the time of command was drawing to a close.
“Strength in our cause, soldiers. I have defeated these beasts before,” his voice chocked and all eyes fell on him.
“This is as good a place as any to meet our end. Rifles up! We stop as many as we can,” He found his voice.
As he readied to push the trigger on his aether, the ground around him racing to the sky as it was bombarded with cannon and fusilier fire, a trickle of hope followed the machines over the hill.
An automaton exploded. It’s parts shattered and knocked an electrical tower coil to the ground. A second explosion removed an incoming landship from the field. As the Royal Army increased the speed of its volleys into the Resistance line and troops fell, a much needed aid arrived.
The one that instigated the armory fight, and stood by his side at the battle of Tirr rode horseback alongside twelve others adorned in the green and gears of the Resistance symbols. On the horse behind her a frail and peculiar looking man was lobbing grenades into the enemy’s machines.
The Alchemist of Tirr had arrived.
The Musketeer looked around the battlefield with a smile now. The field was lost, but hope remained.
“To the city, comrades! We’ll let the rats die in the gutters,” he waved his sabre over head and led his soldiers to Descar.
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