Rendezvous With Destiny – part two
Somewhere, behind the endless clouds and swirling snow, the sun was rising. David could feel its feeble heat on his face. As cold as he felt, he should have been happy for warmth, but it only gave him as feeling of dread. Dawn meant start of turn, and the Teutobodians' turn came first.
Bastnach's defenses were abysmal, and with the enemy's entire siege corps on hand, it was worse than useless to try manning the walls. Realizing that, warlord Taylor chose to set up defenses outside the town, hastily fortified with some spears and trenches, but mostly relying on the heavy woods to limit the enemy's use of archers and cavalry. Stabber to stabber, the Screaming Eagles' battle prowess and fortitude could give them the edge they needed to survive against the far superior number the teutobodians could bring to bear. So far, the plan worked – the last two turns witnessed two brutal assaults, with hordes of huge, bearded warriors, wielding great axes with tremendous force. But those same two turns witnessed the victory of skill and discipline over strength and numbers, as the Eagles broke charge after charge, forcing the enemy berserkers through narrow paths lined with poles and caltrops where they could not attack en-mass, or fighting around the trees, stabbing with their deadly short swords while the great axes stuck in the great tree-trunks. Warlord Taylor, and his 3 lower-level warlords, led the Eagles' stacks superbly, darting from one end of the town to the other to give a critically needed leadership boost, shore up a wallowing flank, or deliver a well-timed counter attack. The enemy was beaten back, time and again, with great losses.
While less glamorous, David's role was no less critical. Stranded as they were, with only enemies around them, no reinforcements were coming. With their entire side's survival dependent on them holding Bastnach, they couldn't afford any losses. David Gold, leading the two eerily quiet corpse men, went wherever battle was fiercest. While the warlords shored flanks that were about to be breached, the small healomancy taskforce shored bodies that were about to be broken. The wounded were carried to the back, where they were quickly healed and returned to the fray. It was strange, watching the corpse men shambling along, their pasty skin contrasting the flush of the fighting men around them, their simple red crosses standing out among the armor and military insignia, their gentle, caressing touch so different from the heaving and stabbing going around them. Truthfully, if it wasn't for them, the Etaduniz' forces would have been overwhelmed long ago. The corpse men, a strange Natural Ally of their side, were used sometimes as a way to heal between encounters on the same turn. Wounded soldiers would come to where they were waiting (usually near the mess tent) and touch them to regain hits. The corpse men sometime healed on their own initiative, but it was unpredictable and inefficient. But during that first, dreadful night, when their forces were crashing to the ground around him, David made an important discovery: When led by a healomancer, the Corpse men gained not strength, but focus! That focus made them quick and agile, and transformed them into indispensable battle healers.
The sound of boots treading on the fresh snow made him turn his head. Through the mist he could make out a familiar silhouette – warlord Taylor returning from the pre-dawn inspection of defenses. David welcomed the sight – the last couple of turns cemented the friendship between them. Besides Max was always fun to talk to, and the corpse men were not much company on the long hours between battles.
"Hail, warlord Taylor! How fare the troops?" called David. Max's face split in a grin. "Well, Hail to you too, I suppose! The men are fine, though a bit cold and hungry, much thanks to you – You big walking bandage! And how are you on this fine morning?" David smile changed to a frown. "Me? I'd just like to get this damn morning out of the way, and reach our turn in one piece. I really hate this waiting boop." Max grin seemed to widen. "Tsk, Tsk, David. Afraid of croaking? It sure didn't seem like that while we were fighting! If I hadn't ordered you back a couple of times, you would have been croaked for sure. Why, even when I order you not to engage, I sometime find you stacked with me in the middle of the melee, darting this way and that, with your pet corpse men doing that weird dance of theirs! Or is it the sight of all the croaked units that upsets you? I know you healers are dedicated to all life, but falling in battle, striving mightily for your side, can be a glorious thing. Besides, some units deserve to be croaked!"
David looked on his friend's face with sadness in his eyes. "Nobody realy understands healomancers, Max. Did you ever wonder why so many healomancers are bitter cynics? Why so many seem to drown themselves in an endless bottle of booze?" David sighed deeply. "On one hand, there is no discipline more battle oriented then healomancy. Outside of battle, I have almost no purpose – Start of Turn is the perfect Healomancer. My one and only function is to heal hits in battle. But neither my attention, nor my Juice, is infinite. Every casualty is to a greater or lesser degree, my fault. Do you know what my worst fear is?" Max seemed to sober up. "I guess to drain your Juice and see friends croaking around you." He said with compassion in his eyes. David laughed, a bitter, mirthless laugh. "I wish! That is only the second worst fear. I Try to conserve my juice, not to heal too soon so to waste the full effect of my spell, and not too late so I waste it on a doomed unit. But my worst fear is to reach the next Start of Turn with some Juice left. If I have some Juice left, unused, with comrades croaked in battle, it means I may as well have killed them myself! My actions may save lives, but every mistake ends them. And that, my friend, is a terrible burden to live with."
The two friends stood in silence. After a few minutes Max visibly shook himself, and said: "This kind of philosophy is too heavy so early in the morning. Proper cogitation requires more leisure, and preferably strong drink. Look, the new day is already here, and the enemy's turn started. We'd better stop jabbering and pay attention."
The morning arrived, and with it the enemy's turn, but the enemy was nowhere to be seen. Hope began to rise in David's heart – perhaps the enemy was beaten? Perhaps they decided to withdraw? He turned to Max with the start of a smile on his face, but the smile froze when he saw how tense Max was. "I don't like this, David. There's no way the teutobodians just gave up. Their entire army, including their Chief warlord, is between us and Shelby. If they lose here, they lose the entire war – probably the entire side! I'm telling you – There's a trick they're trying to pull out of the hat here!"
Subdued by Max's words, David stayed vigilante for a possible veiled attack. While he was scanning the forest canopy, He noticed movement – What appeared to be a large rock, flying high over their heads. He pointed it to Max, but Max seemed to spot it already. "It'd the 5th missile on the last couple of minutes, and they seem to be getting closer to us. I wonder what they're playing at? Siege weapons are notoriously bad in the open field, and even worse in woods. That can't be their only plan!"
The missiles were coming every minute now, getting closer and closer. A few rocks even landed among the troops, with a huge Thump, but with little effect. Max ordered his men to keep a loose formation and stay near the trees, but seemed to worry more about an infantry attack while they were scattered. Suddenly David's eyes caught the incoming rock. Something about it seemed different, almost sinister. Without thinking David started running, calling his Corpse men to stack and come with him. He was running with all his speed to a group of soldiers on their left flank, standing near a couple of giant trees and looking at him, perplexed. Suddenly the world exploded, David felt himself picked up and lifted backwards, and thrown against the broken ground. As if from afar he heard a great BOOM, and felt a searing pain in his legs and stomach. But as fast as the pain came, it seemed to melt away, and a light, almost ethereal feeling took over him. He opened his eyes and looked at his blood-drenched clothes. He couldn't see any signs of damage. Suddenly he saw his corpse men caressing him, and understood: "So this is what being Healed feels like! Not half bad…"
The screams jogged him back to alertness. All around him were soldiers, pierced by many wounds, some completely disabled, others merely wounded. He felt more then heard Max's command: "These rocks were imbued with Shocamancy to explode! Everyone scatter! Dig a hole! Stay low!" With an effort of will he ignored it, and rushed to the aid of the wounded. On his left one of the man's legs was cut below the knee, and he was hemorrhaging profusely – in a few minutes he will croak. David spent a little Juice to create a tourniquet around his knees, transforming him from "croaking" to "disabled". Another soldiers was gasping, whiter than the snow around him, with a small wound on his chest. David was about to cast a major Heal to fix the lungs, when his hand touched the wounded soldier on the chest. Suddenly David felt not only his hits, but could see is his mind's eye how the air was escaping the lung from a severed bronchus, filling the chest and collapsing the lung. David closed his eyes, and with a delicate move of his hand caused the bronchus to close. With a "Woosh" the air escaped through the wound, and without new air flowing into it, the chest deflated, and David felt to his amazement how the lung was expanding. It took only a little more juice to close the superficial wound, and the soldier was good as new. The soldier got up, calling "Thanks, Gold!" while running, unaware of the Healer sitting, dumbfounded, where he was, mumbling "Dollamancy! It's all Dollmancy!"
How much time David sat there, stunned, he was never sure. He was awoken from his reverie with a sharp blow on the head, and Max Bellowing in his ear: "Cut that casters' bull-boop!!! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK! Healomancer, perform your Duty!"
The rest of the turn passed in a blur, with rocks exploding, units wounded, and finally a large veiled infantry force attempted to surprise and roll their left flank. Fortunately, Max spotted their Veil in time to recall those soldiers and reform their flank, and the attack was repelled. They won, but the victory was a costly one – too many of their men croaked today. Throughout the turn David performed his duty, but his thoughts always returned to that first engagement and what it meant.
They used their turn to dig in. Fire will surely rain again from the sky.