To the battlefield
Inside a caravan, that was trudging across the desert, sat Gin, Brim, Jake and Michal. With Brim opposite and Michal next to Gin, Jake was seated furthest away, at his diagonal. Even then, Jake was right next to the exit, eyeing the manush that had several wound marks on his legs and face. The Xernims, that now went up to Gin’s shoulder, hid any more injuries from sight.
‘Ugh. I shouldn’t be sitting here,’ Gin complained. ‘I still haven’t regained the trust of my battalion.’
‘Have you had a look at yourself?’ Brim pointed out. ‘Even with your regeneration, you are in no state to walk about.’
‘Just rest up,’ Michal instructed, shifting closer to Gin prevent any last-minute dashes for the exit.
Jake’s staring unnerved Gin, as he remained silent, but he couldn’t blame him for acting in such a manner. If it weren’t for Brim being his superior, he might have been more vocal about Gin’s position. But, for now, he continued to judge him silently.
‘I guess we need to think of a strategy,’ Gin said at last, breaking the silence. ‘We still need to hold off the AAA somehow.’
‘True,’ Brim agreed. ‘Our offence group had roughly a thousand troops. What are the remaining members like, Gin?’
‘They’re pretty much a shell of their former selves. In reality, I have a hundred members in the battalion but, unless something big happens to boost their morale, they’re more like an army of ten. How is it on your side?’
‘My battalion don’t mind whether you’re a manush or not,’ Michal reassured. ‘You gave us a purpose – making and repairing armour - when we were completely useless otherwise. Can’t say the same about Syndra’s battalion. They barely know you to overlook things.’
‘The artillery group is on board with your decisions, but I think that’s because of their faith in me rather than you,’ Brim said, giving Jake a piercing glance when he finished. Jake looked away in response.
‘I guess this is better than what it was before,’ Gin commented. ‘I’ll try and find a way to get my battalion battle ready by the time we arrive. Until then, like I said, we need to decide on a new battle strategy to cover the loss of a frontline.’
‘I was never good at this stuff,’ Michal admitted. ‘I always just followed orders.’
‘We could just meet them at the battleground,’ Brim said. ‘That was original plan and they probably wanted to get there first. They can’t be stupid enough to advance further, surely?’
‘I won’t be too certain. I’m suspicious of Rob. We have to brace for the worst-case scenario if they’re not there.’
‘Jake!’ Brim snapped.
‘It’s fine,’ Gin said, holding his hand up to prevent Brim from taking action. ‘Did you have something to say to me, Jake?’
‘Can’t believe this,’ he muttered.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t quite hear that,’ Gin said in a taunting manner.
‘Just because you’re chummy with Michal and Brim, doesn’t mean you could go around accusing others like this. You are the reason they left us. You deserted your battalion when it happened. If anything, Rob took control because of your actions. What right do you have to be suspicious of him? If anything, we should be suspicious of you! Damned manush!’
‘You don’t know what he’s been through, Jake,’ Michal defended. ‘It’s not his fault.’
‘Oh, so the low-ranked mage decides to speak up for the lowly manush.’
‘Enough!’ Gin commanded. ‘We’re not going to get anywhere with in-fighting. Yes, I am a manush and yes, I wasn’t there when Rob took control. However, I still want our defence to be successful. That doesn't change no matter what I am. So, do you have any ideas, Jake?’
‘Why are you asking me? You’ve met so many important people,’ Jake started, speaking in a cynical fashion. ‘Maria, Alder and Brim to name a few. You would have thought that someone, special enough to be acknowledged by them, had some sort of aptitude for war. Or does being a manush exempt you from doing anything? Do you not have a plan?’
‘I do,’ Gin said bluntly. The immediacy of the reply caught Jake off-guard, preventing him to respond. His silence allowed others to take control of the discussion.
‘You had a plan?’ Michal asked. ‘Why didn’t you tell us sooner?’
‘Because, at the moment, no one wants to listen to the me, a manush. But if a plan came from you guys, it would be more successful.’
‘But we haven’t come up with anything.’
‘Might as well hear what your idea is then. We’re not getting anywhere at this rate.’
‘We currently have roughly hundred from the offence group, seven-hundred from the artillery group and two-hundred from utility, including Syndra’s battalion, right?’
‘You might not like it, as this will lower the other groups' numbers down, but reckon it’ll be alright if we move around about four-hundred from artillery and a hundred from utility to the offence group?’
‘Are you serious?!’ Jake exclaimed. ‘You want us to be front-liners?! Now I’m sure you’re crazy!’
‘Shut it,’ Brim asserted, causing Jake to go back to glaring at Gin silently.
‘There’s elements of truth in what Jake is saying though,’ Michal commented. ‘The mages in the utility group are definitely not suited up front.’
‘I’ve noted that issue already. I think I came up with a decent solution to it. Can you make more full body armour?’
‘Mm. We can do that.’
‘Make a hundred more and give them to the hundred mages you decide to join me.’
‘A hundred might be a bit much, but I think I can make it in time. Luckily, we mined the resources needed. What did you have in mind?’
‘I’ll have them be bait.’
‘Yep. I’ve noticed barely anyone had any form of armour before I became a leader.’
‘It’s pretty much unheard of to wear armour, apart from some Xernim users and the occasional stone elemental.’
‘Well, I reckon that the enemy might be wary of seeing such unusual opposition. Either they target the fully-armoured mages or, at the very least, divide their attention, making it easier for the others to defend.’
‘Oh, I understand now! But will the armour be enough?’
‘I trust in your masonry. I’ve seen it in action first-hand. The stealth bestial that attacked me went for my chest, but it couldn’t make a breakthrough. This stone is sturdy stuff.’
‘You just want us to hold out then?’
‘You’ve got it. Focus on defence rather than the ability to push the enemy back. Remember, we’ve got another two-thousand mages as reinforcements. We’ll be fine if we defend until they arrive.’
‘I would like you to revamp the artillery mages’ armour,’ Brim spoke up after taking in the conversation, ‘to be more suited for the frontline.’
‘hmm. That hadn’t crossed my mind. Good thinking, Brim,’ Gin praised.
‘You’re ok with this too, right?’ Brim asked Jake, in a way that made it like he didn’t have a choice in the matter.
‘Fine,’ Jake responded.
‘Then, unless we have any other ideas, shall we go for this plan for the time being?’ Gin concluded.
‘Good. Oh, one more thing. Make it seem like this wasn’t my idea. It’ll help with confidence to think that they had competent leaders that wasn’t a manush,’ Gin instructed.
During the rest breaks, the whole of squadron W was busy. From creating armour to going over the battle tactics, it wasn’t resting at all. In that time, Gin tried to cheer his battalion up, but to no avail. It proved to be an increasingly difficult task which he couldn’t solve. Thankfully, the other battalions were having more luck and they had agreed to Gin’s plan, even if they didn't know it was his idea in the first place.
As they got closer to the decided battlefield, squadron W had to stop abruptly. In front of them were the remaining members of the offence group. However, instead of the thousand that left them in the first place, only three-hundred remained. The most worrying fact was that Rob wasn’t amongst them.
As soon as they saw squadron W, they rushed over. They looked deflated, lost and apologetic. The first thing they asked for was to see Gin. There wasn’t any malice intent, but there was urgency in their demands. They didn’t even want to answer any questions until they got to see their leader. At the forefront of it all was Sam, who was almost in tears, waiting for Gin to come out of the caravan.
When he heard about it, Gin immediately jumped off the caravan. Brim and Michal tried to stop him, telling him that he needed more rest, but he didn’t listen. He wanted to know what happened to everyone else.
‘Gin!’ Sam cried out, embracing Gin without warning, resting his head against Gin’s shoulders and began sobbing. ‘I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault!’
‘Calm down,’ Gin said, pulling him away.
The other leaders had followed Gin but, after seeing Sam’s actions, they decided to spectate along with the other mages.
‘Calm down and tell me everything. Where are the others?’
‘Why aren’t you with him then?’ Gin asked, slightly concerned.
‘He didn’t listen. He wanted to go further. Not where we’re meant to be.’
‘Wait. You’ve got to be kidding me. Did he actually press ahead?’
‘Yes. He wanted to attack. He didn’t want to defend.’
‘That bastard!’ Gin exclaimed, forgetting that the mages didn’t know what the word meant. ‘Ugh. Where’s Syndra and her battalion?’
‘She’s at the rendezvous point. She couldn’t find Rob.’
‘Guess we’ll have to meet her there then,’ Gin said, contemplating the change in situation. ‘So, you guys have now abandoned both us and Rob. Have all of you decided what you’re going to do from this point onwards?’
‘All of us know what we want. We’re going to follow you.’
‘Yes, we’re sure. Some don’t like a manush leader. But we hate Rob even more. He said you ran away. You’re here though. He lied to us. He even said to take off our armour,’ Sam said, struggling with the longer sentences.
That last comment shocked Gin. He looked up and finally noticed the breastplates, leg plates, and other pieces of armour, scattered around. Was Rob insane? Even if they didn’t like Gin’s leadership, they would have understood the logic behind the armour, surely. Or was their pride as mages preventing them from accepting any ideas from a manush?
Sam noticed the Gin gritting his teeth in anger and, before he could say anything, Sam turned back towards the deserters. He discussed what had happened with some of them, getting nods from the majority. He then was handed a piece of paper, which he gave to Gin after returning to him. It was burnt, to the point that it was completely useless, but Gin knew what it was.
‘This is my notes, right?’
‘Yes. Rob burnt all of it. This is the only one we could save.’
‘It was such a nice map I drew too,' Gin sighed. 'Guess there’s nothing we could do about it. Thanks for preserving it.’
‘Sorry. We couldn’t save more.’
‘It’s fine. I can always write more later. Being loyal to me again and increasing our numbers is just what we need anyway. I should be grateful instead,’ Gin comforted, trying to take away the blame Sam put on himself. He then addressed the others, giving out an order. ‘Prepare to accommodate another three-hundred into the offence group!’
The extra members were a great boost to the squadron’s defences. However, it was nowhere close to when they were in peak condition. The morale was still low and the numbers were still sub-par. There was nothing that could be done about it. All squadron W could do was to continue the journey, hoping some sort of miracle happens.
- Baker of Cookies
Bio: The name's Baker; George Baker(son). But you can call me Baker. Whenever you have plumbing problems, I won't fix it. Whenever your car breaks down, I won't fix it. Whenever your cat dies, I won't fix it. BUT I will give you a cookie, freshly baked, as you cry at your misfortune. Jokes aside, I am a university student studying Mathematics that took up writing as a hobby. Magikind is my first novel, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed writing it!