"Kurdak!" Vera cried when she saw it unfold.
"Captain!" Blackie jumped as well.
"Boss!" Londo rushed over his eyes bloodshot.
He finally realized what Kurdak had been planning to do.
The magi squad's spells were far too powerful for any one warrior brigade to handle. If the squad wasn't dealt with, it would only be a matter of time before the brigade was wiped out.
The only way Kurdak could think of handling the situation was to take on the magi himself. He was the strongest, if not the smartest, man in the brigade, so he stood the best chance of handling them, though 'best chance' and 'good chance' were not the same thing.
He believed in fighting in front of his men. As far as he was concerned, commanders who weren't willing to march into the fight first were unfit to lead the men they sent into the grinder on their behalf. That explained why he'd always been the first to charge into the thickest of the fight since he'd taken command.
The smoke drifted away slowly, carried by a wind sick with the stench of blood and burnt flesh. Kurdak still stood, though half his hair was ash, as was a third of his armour and every scrap of exposed clothing. The tip of his sword drummed a staccato on the ground from his shaking hands as well, but none of his men dared underestimated the damage he could still do.
"He's not dead yet?" the enemy commander asked, somewhat surprised.
Then he recognized the sword in the man's hands. It was the one that used to belong to General Doten. No wonder their fireball attacks barely even scratched him!
"One more time!" The officer shouted and started dictating again.
Green light burst out between his fingers as the arcane sounds some might recognize as words flowed out of his mouth. Vera recognized that light, it was a disintegration spell!
"Kurdak!" she shouted, already drawing her bow, arrowtip aimed at the enemy officer.
Even her bow, however, could not cover the distance between them given how many bodies it had to go through. It stopped several people shot, stuck in a soldier's neck.
"Captain!" Ruiz shouted, panicked.
Mike reacted more intelligently. He didn't waste his breath on a shout. He immediately started dictating. He only had time for a low level spell, but it was better than nothing.
"Go away!" Kurdak kicked at Londo, who'd leapt in between him and the enemy.
He managed to get the man out of the way a moment before the spell activated and pierced at his chest.
Mike's barrier held up for half a moment, then shattered like a pane of glass. It bought Kurdak the vital few moments he needed to bring his impetus into full surge. Even that, after the barrier had done everything it could, was not enough and his armour shattered.
The three barriers combined, while not enough to stop the spell, did manage to dissipate most of its power. The wound it left was still grievous -- his ribs gleamed naked in the sunlight -- but it wasn't immediately fatal.
Vera half sighed and half collapsed in relief. Her knees hadn't his the ground, however, before a fireball followed the green light into his chest.
It popped against his chest like a soap bubble, and fire engulfed him. Londo, just a few meters away, was sent flying, and Kurdak's burning body trailed like a meteor as well.
"Booossss!" Londo screamed as he slammed into the ground.
His wind was out of him, but he didn't care, coughing blood and all, he rushed to his commander's charcoaled body.
"Damnit! Chase them down!" Eibron shouted, flinging his bow to the ground and grabbing a lance from a nearby lancer.
Vera finished her collapse to her knees. She didn't have the strength to get up and ran to her man's side, so she stared at his black form instead. Her eyes did not leave him even as her body started knocking and loosing arrows at enemies she did not see.
Her body and mind were split. Her attention was wholly focused on Kurdak's black remains, she saw nothing else, but her body fought on as if nothing had happened. It fought like it had never fought before. By the time it stopped, she had one extra stratum.
Londo, despite being flung away by the burst of flames, was the first to make it to his commander's side. He saw the white ridges in the man's chest where his ribs greeted the sunlight unhappily. They stood out even more through the black crust of burnt skin and flesh that covered the rest of his body. He watched those ribs for several eternal moments before he sighed and half collapsed himself as they made the slightest movement.
"He's still breathing!"
The words came out of him more a sigh than a shout. He was on his feet moments later, fighting off the new arrivals. They kept coming, however, and he was soon on the brink of being overwhelmed. His sword left his hand in a furious through that severed five enemies by the waist and he grabbed up the lump of barely breathing charcoal and ran for everything he was worth.
Blackie, Eibron, and dozens of others formed a solid wall behind him, fighting back an equally desperate enemy. Everyone had seen their captain, the damn idiot, taking on the enemy spells head on. Everyone already respected the man, more so for his bravery than his intelligence, but now they had to admire even his stupidity.
The enemy officer had attacked an enemy in the midst of his own men, an attack which killed many of his men, and their hearts were chilled. Chilled or not, they fought on, desperate to make their friends' sacrifice count for something. They would have died in vain if the enemy commander escaped alive.
Their resolve, however, was just a drop less absolute than their northern enemy's, and they broke in the end.
"Hmm?" Manhattan heard the sound of cries and killing and asked, "Where's this sound coming from?"
"General, based on the direction of the sound, it's from the second outpost at the west of Seatide," his aide replied.
"Ah, Kurdak's brigade, huh?" Manhattan gave it some thought and said, "What's the situation right now?"
"It doesn't look good," the aide reported after he read the report in his hand, "Outposts 1, 3 and 4 at the western side are heavily defended by Stokian troops. We are temporarily unable to breach their defenses and we haven't received an update from Outpost 2 yet."
"It's my mistake," Manhattan said with a furrowed brow, "I didn't think that the Stokians would be so adamant on defending the city. If there's no more progress..."
Just as Manhattan was wracking his brain, a messenger came over. "Report! Kurdak's independent brigade sent us an update!"
"Noted. You may leave now." The aide received the report and didn't read it aloud, seeing that Manhattan was in deep thought.
"How's the situation?" Manhattan asked after a while.
"Kurdak reported that he had crushed the defending Stokian troops. They will rendezvous at the second outpost and occupy it within two hour's time."
"Wonderful!" Manhattan looked up energetically. He pondered for a few seconds more and said, "Have the units at outposts 1, 3 and 4 hold the enemy back. Tell them that I don't want to see any reinforcements at Outpost 2!"
"Roger!" The aide then hesitated and asked, "General, there's something else in the report."
"Let's hear it!" General Manhattan said in a good mood.
"Even though Kurdak's unit has crushed the enemy forces, he got heavily injured and is currently unconscious," the aide said.
"That kid! I knew that something would happen to him sooner or later!" Manhattan said with a start.
In terms of rank, a minor officer like Kurdak shouldn't even get the attention of the general. But given his reputation as the leader of the strongest harvester squad in the empire, and given his close relationship with Leguna, the head of the bureau. Those were reasons enough for him to pay more attention to Kurdak.
Manhattan waved and said, "Have Lamir go there. With her there, he won't die!"
"Understood!" The aide left immediately.
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