Session 20: The Battle of Ocho-Rin Hill, part 1
Rushing back to Delsinar through the use of Ven’s hurry home ritual, the circle found the city-state in a moderate panic. King Voshun had put their small army into a state of readiness and was in close communication with Fiori of Mishaka to coordinate their efforts. A Guild-sponsored mercenary army had passed through the region a few days past, headed for the eastern spur of the Lo Mountains. There was no doubt in Voshun’s mind where they were going: Ochorin.
The circle loaded up into the Lion’s Roar and pushed hard across the rolling hills until coming to the foothills of the Lo Mountains. There, spread before them like a black tide, was a mercenary army thousands strong encamped around the base of rocky Ocho-Rin Hill. The outbuildings and palisade wall of the lower-level Guild base were already gone, smoldering ruins in testament to the power of the Guild’s mercenaries.
Fortunately, Gideon’s empowered eyesight and the sensors on the Lion’s Roar were able to confirm that most of the inhabitants were fortified in the manse at the top of the hill. With the lifts destroyed and light essence cannons keeping the army from simply storming the hillside, the freedmen were holding out—but only barely. A siege would starve them out long before attrition even made the slightest dent in the Guild’s forces. Gideon recognized the banners of the mercenary companies: the Iron Brotherhood, a small but elite fighting force specialized in ruthless exploitation of enemy weakness; and the Night Talon Brigade, a larger force well-supplied with archers and siege weapons.
Red Lion’s heart boiled. Had they set these people free just to see them killed? No! Battle plans were laid, but Red Lion insisted that they first offer the Guild’s forces a chance to surrender. Prism agreed; anything that gave someone a chance to go on living as a servant of the Unconquered Sun was a good thing. Gideon and Snapdragon both thought that Red Lion was giving up a chance at a surprise attack, but they were willing to go along with it. Prism had his mystical bird ally, Essence of Light, magic up a giant illusory messenger’s banner and walked into the midst of their foes.
Though challenged briefly by obviously fearful mercenaries, the right of peaceful meeting for a messenger was honored, and the circle was brought to the main command tent. There, they discovered that their old “friends” Commander Tranh and Mistress Shun were in charge of the army. A brief discussion followed, which revealed that the two had bankrolled the army out of Mistress Shun’s personal funds in order to expunge their failure from the eyes of the Guild. Turning away from this fight wasn’t an option for them; if they failed here, the Guild would have their guts for garters. Red Lion pitied their situation somewhat, though Blazer was less forgiving of people so willing to repeat past mistakes.
As sunset came on, the negotiations began to break down. Finally, Red Lion expounded that if there must be war, it would be war waged by the traditions of honorable combat and the precepts set down in the Ten Thousand Behaviors of the Upright Soldier. No noncombatants would be targeted and no commanders would be assassinated—and in exchange, Red Lion swore that no freedman would take the life of any soldier that abided by such conduct. All surrenders would be accepted, and they would fight without killing. The circle was surprised—this hadn’t been part of their plan—but they didn’t call Red Lion out on it in front of their enemies. As they departed, the circle gave their enemies twenty-five hours to reconsider surrender.
Before leaving the camp, Red Lion turned to the groups of slaves present to do work in the camp. He spoke to them, slaves and soldiers alike, and made the same offer he had made to their masters. Any person who forsook the Guild would be accepted with open arms, and any slave who could endure just one more day would find a new world dawning. His words brought hope to them, and ignited a fire for freedom that many had never known.
As soon as the circle was out of earshot of the camp, however, the recriminations began. How could they fight without killing, Gideon and Snapdragon demanded to know. For once, Blazer was on their side—idealism was all well and good when you had the luxury for it, but war demanded certain sacrifices. Furthermore, he added, nothing in any chivalric code of war he knew of, from any part of history, forbade killing on the battlefield—which meant that even if the Guild’s forces abided by the conventions of war, they could kill the circle’s troops without suffering any loss or consequence themselves. The argument raged for long hours without Red Lion giving any ground until Venomous Spur finally interrupted. This might not be what the others wanted but she and her mate weren’t going to back down from it. The world could use more idealism, she insisted. Anyone who wasn’t okay with Red Lion’s plan could do as they damned well pleased—but they could do it on their own. The freedmen would fight the way their general told them.
As they were walking back, a terrible wind picked up. At first they thought it was merely an unseasonable storm, but then a cyclone dropped out of the clear sky and tore half the circle away into the heavens! Only Blazer and Snapdragon remained, the latter because she had been going unseen as was her usual habit when traveling. In a crack of thunder, the winds’ maker appeared: a beautiful woman in the traveling garb of a Northern warrior-scholar, her brown hair tinged white at the tips and her eyes a shocking lightning-blue. Blazer recognized her instantly as Nagi Mystina, a Dragon-Blooded warrior-sage who had once regarded him as a friend.
She declared that it had been some time, but that she had finally managed to catch up to him. Blazer expressed shock that she could find him at all, and she responded that anyone with his looks left a trail so easy to follow that a blind woman could have done it. A few more bandied words, and she launched herself at him, drawing forth twin blades made of hardened air.
The rest of the circle found themselves thousands of feet in the air, several miles away, and dropping rapidly. Gideon was able to rocket free, while Ven changed into her immense brass tyrant form and popped the eye of the whirlwind. Red Lion grabbed onto Prism and began spinning him around in a countermotion designed to slow their fall; it didn’t work very well, but both of them were tough enough to take the fall with only some bruises. Feeling Blazer’s panic and pain through their sworn brothers’ bond, Red Lion asked Gideon for a quick ride back to the fight. Gideon responded by putting his guns into Red Lion and Prism’s back and pulling the trigger, streaming them back to the battlefield on a jet of molten plasma and depositing them in a fiery but safe comet.
Blazer’s battle was going badly—Nagi was a better melee combatant than himself, and even his Swooping Shrike was only a delaying tactic. She could dodge most of his sorcery and deflect his bow shots, then cut him to pieces at will. Even Snapdragon’s intervention was only delaying the inevitable; when she attacked the Dragon-Blood, a mighty fist of wind knocked her away, putting her too far from Blazer to tactically support him. Just when it looked at its worst, Red Lion and Prism came rocketing in, rearranging the battlefield with their dynamic entry.
Prism set himself on the upstart Dragon-Blood with a fury; his hatred for the Terrestrial Exalted drove him with a passion the others had rarely seen from the stoic Zenith Caste. Now, against four of the Anathema, Nagi was having a far more difficult time. Before she could use her wind powers to send her foes flying again, Red Lion turned the tactic on her, striking her with a mighty kick to the chest that sent her flying toward some nearby mountains. A quick check with Blazer to make sure he would be fine back to the Lion’s Roar was followed by a fast return to the circle’s “mobile home.” Red Lion declared that Blazer had some explaining to do…
The circle packed into the Lion’s Roar and made a bold dash through the enemy forces to ascend Ocho-Rin Hill. What they found there both heartened them and filled them with dread. Most of the freedmen had managed to fall back to the manse for defense, leaving the ground-level buildings to be destroyed. Though they had managed to save their lives, they had failed to bring much food or water. Unless they could achieve a decisive victory, they would starve in days. They had used their emergency call for Blazer days ago, but without a response, they had begun to despair. Their council of elders had even discussed suicide as a way out to preserve themselves from the indignity of death at the hands of the Guild. Seeing the Lion’s Roar dive into their enemies to join them had given them one last surge of hope.
Red Lion outlined his strategy to the freedmen, finding much the same opposition to his merciful streak as from his own companions. Was it really this hard to convince people of a better way? Ven worked to create a defensive strategy while Red Lion trained the fighters to get them into top form. With a Dawn Caste general showing them the way of the warrior, their ability would increase at an exponential rate. By sunset the following day, these harried freedmen and former mercenaries would be a fighting force the likes of which the Second Age had never seen.
Gideon still fumed. All of this could be ended with a well-placed shot from his Twin Dragons without risking lives on a foolhardy plan of battle with untried troops. As the others discussed fortifications and battle plans, he crept from them and shielded himself from sight with the charms he had learned from Snapdragon. Then, using his Thousand-League Sandals to move faster than a mortal could contemplate, he cut past the enemy lines and into the heart of the camp, right into Mistress Shun’s tent. He listened to the woman’s advisors drone on about the uselessness of her actions. Among them was Cho Pang, the Guildsman who had lost so much to fate of recent. In the moment between heartbeats, he put his plasma repeater’s barrel to the back of Mistress Shun’s head. It was the only way.
Before he could pull the trigger, reducing the woman to cinders, he found himself facing not Mistress Shun but instead a yellow-clad figure. Lithe and amber-eyed, with a mask across the lower half of his face and a hood concealing his hair, the mysterious interloper pushed Mistress Shun away from the killing tool and forced Gideon’s hand into the air. The shot burned away the top of the tent, raining cinders down around the two warriors. Gideon’s outline shimmered in the superheated air, and he snarled at the intruder, demanding to know why he had interfered. The stranger introduced himself as Shooting Star, a Chosen of Journeys, and returned that this mortal’s journey had not yet reached its end—and if Gideon wanted to press the matter, he could do so only by passing through the gate of single combat.
With the element of surprise lost and Shun already fleeing to her bodyguards—men Gideon would surely have to kill to get to her now—Gideon conceded the contest, trading brief barbs with “Shooting Star.” He looked over to Cho Pang and warned him to withdraw his support for this pointless war or face something worse than a scare next time. The overweight man quickly acquiesced and fled from the camp, taking his servants with him to observe the conflict from a safe distance. Gideon returned to the circle without a word regarding his absence, only to find another catastrophe in the making.
While Gideon had been gone, the circle had done a tour of the manse and hilltop fortifications. Blazer was tending to the wounded—and there were wounded aplenty. Snapdragon’s skull was splitting with the imprecations of her Dark Passenger. So many hurt, so many dead, all for the pride and wealth of a few. Her heart beat in a staccato time.
And she began to laugh.
The others were suddenly terrified. They had never heard Snapdragon’s laugh before. It was a maniacal, cackling thing, with no mirth or joy in it. It was a laugh that celebrated the death of hope. Red Lion tried to ask her what was wrong. She responded that these people had been abused long enough—but the very fact of their abuse showed what the world was really like. It was a place of monsters—monsters like her. Every person had a monster in them, you see. Hers had woken up a year ago and never gone back to sleep. She normally kept it in check, but the taunts of the Invincible Sword Princess haunted her even now, chiding her for being an abomination. She wept and laughed together. All it took was one bad day to turn her in to what she was. All it took for anyone was
And blurring into concealment, she leapt from the walls of Ocho-Rin manse. Red Lion ran to look for her, but saw only the bloody impact as she landed among the Iron Brotherhood’s camp and men began to die in messy, horrible ways. Blazer watched, torn. On the one hand, he disapproved. On the other, they would probably be killing these people tomorrow anyway. A cold, detached part of him hoped that she killed them all. Red Lion’s voice brought him back to himself—they had to stop her!
Blazer streaked down the mountainside, and Red Lion loaded into the Lion’s Roar. For the next several minutes, the three Solars played cat-and-mouse among the encamped army, with Snapdragon appearing in bloody sprays as the others tried to catch up to her. Finally, they managed to pin her down, with Blazer using sorcery to bind her down, and Red Lion using the grappling attachment on the Lion’s Roar to seize her in place. They dragged her from the battlefield kicking and screaming, the shattered remains of dozens of mortal soldiers testament to the power of the Anathema.
By the time they got back to the summit, Snapdragon had gone into a fugue. Red Lion tried to talk to her, but she was having none of it. He finally got her to talk when the two of them were alone, and afterwards they seemed closer—but she wouldn’t promise to not kill anyone.
As the sun rose in the East, a new day was dawning for Creation. Would its end see the birth of a new hope for freedom? Or the death of all the circle held dear?