Chapter 7: A Proud Fool

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Dux was relieving a masked man of his head when he noticed the Vanguard charging off. The Vangen standard billowed ahead in all its glory. A smile crept from his lips, hidden under blood and beard. Culter had no business leading a charge like that. That only left Libro. Guess the little coward had some balls after all.

"Follow the Vanguard men! Follow the standard!" Dux mustered the men, beating axe against shield. The surrounding Vangen roared in response. They formed a line ten men wide against the unorganized mob and charged forward.

Civis linked up to Dux's right. Nox took to the left. Every ten seconds the Austerland's crossbow let out a hellish bark and a masked man's head or torso would explode into viscera. Civis was a wonder unto his own with that sword of his. It gleamed like silver and bore the head of a two headed hawk on the pommel, the long forgotten symbol of his family crest. Many of the superstitious Vangen believed it enchanted. The blade never needed cleaning and bit through steel and flesh alike. On a day like this, superstition was bound to become legend.

Dux and the others leapt over dead men as they beat feet through the city forum. Most belonged to the black robed men, but a Vangen lay amongst them here and there. An odd fifty to one ratio. Good odds, but not great. It was going to take months to fill the ranks of the Vangen back to a thousand strong. Dux would make certain the Empress knew of this.

An arrow flashed past Dux's vision and embedded into a nearby soldier's throat. Nox turned, crossbow raised and pegged a masked man on a nearby roof. He shot ten feet in the air before falling thirty. More took his place though, armed with bows and arrows..

"Archers!" Dux raised his shield just as an arrow sank into the wood. "Bloody hells, its Oria all over again." The Captain turned to Civis. "Sound the horn. We can't stay on the forum anymore. The Ministry's archers are going to turn us into pin cushions.

"What of the Vanguard?" Civis looked on. The forward column was growing smaller and smaller in the distance.

"Libro can fend for himself. He's a big boy. And he has Culter. If anyone can stay alive in this mess, it's him."

Civis asked next, "Where should we go?"

"West. To the ports. Lots of roofs to hide under. We'll swing around and hook up with the Vanguard later."

Convinced, Civis produced the horn from his belt and produced four deep notes. The call had been made to retreat. The Vangen middle column was quick to mobilize. Groups broke apart, linking up with petty officers and sergeants. A hundred greenhorns joined Dux, Civis and Nox. In single files they beat west towards the ports, shimmying through cramped alleys, killing masked men along the way.

***

Civis's horn bellowed a mournful tone down the forum. The joyous fury for battle in Regis' heart fizzled out like fire in a rainstorm. "Retreating already?" Regis roared and turned a nearby masked man into kindling with both his axes.

The streets were starting to clog with bodies. Hundreds of black robed rebels had poured out of the masonry, only to greet Nido in the afterlife seconds later. The sweet stink of death had begun to permeate the air. Regis filled his lungs with it and lavished at his work.

Magus looked to Regis, his face pale and wet with perspiration. "The horn has sounded Regis. We must retreat from the field."

Regis laughed. "Retreat? And spoil the fun for my men? Look around you, old man. The dead pile high and not a man of mine slain. This street belongs to the Vangen."

Regis' command of the far column consisted of his grenadiers and those grizzled veterans close to reaching Centum status. Nordlic, Angla, and Danic blood ran through their veins, the same blood that beat in Regis' noble heart. Killing was in their nature. Retreating was not.

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