Chapter 5: Tull Ricker
The fog of war along with the recent cover of clouds hovering above us has caused Quay Square to get plunged into darkness. The battles occurring across the landscape make it hard for me to decide whether this was worth it or not. The few rebels, who were previously in chains, have overcome the odds against them and are successfully taking out large swaths of Rachkers charging into battle against them.
I can tell it’ll soon rain based on the fresh, moist smell that the rain clouds make before the rain begins to pour in. This battle will only get more dangerous and more bloody.
I’m crouched over Caisen shaking his passed out body. I’ve stopped yelling commands at the Rachkers since I figured I couldn’t be heard.
I’ve pulled out the arrow that was inserted into Caisen’s lower back, after making sure that he is still alive. His grey robes covering his lower end is damp with blood from the arrow wound. I’ve turned his black head to the side so that it’s not pushed into the wooden floor.
I look around to make sure we aren’t in any immediate danger, which it appears that we are not. As I swing my head back around my eyes catch the sight of the Phoenix running towards something. Wait not something, someone, me!
Phoenix runs with tremendous strides towards the front of the wooden stage Caisen, and I are on. Emgland had fallen off after passing out from fear.
The Phoenix knocks over a Rachker, who was beating down on one of the Whendigo rebels, as he passes by the display.
His robed body leaps forward at the wooden stage, his hands grab onto the wood plank.
I jump to my feet and pull my sword out from its sheath so fast the sound of steel sliding on steel rings in my ear. I must protect Caisen. I will not let a friend die under my protection.
The Phoenix suddenly throws himself up into the air, and he lands onto the wooden platform. To credit his impressive performance, the Phoenix takes a bow to flaunt himself.
As he straightens himself back up, he slowly reveals his sword that rests on his left hip.
No one says anything, no one had to, the rules of the sword fight were assumed and the emotions and feelings are known. This “rebel” has been a blemish on my record for the past fifteen years since I became General. I like to have a clean, perfect record of all the occupations I have worked in to ensure my legacy as a great General. Other than my family my profession and rank as Rigtal’s General is the proudest thing I have achieved. Honour and valour was something I was brought up to value and have continued to be a factor in my decisions and actions. I need to cut down this block that sits in my legacy’s way, and I will do whatever it takes to do it.
I charge toward the coat and robes wearing man with my sword pointed outwards at him like a lancer.
Just as I’m about to strike him, the Phoenix swings his sword upwards and parries my attack.
To keep the momentum, I do a complete circle swinging my blade above my head, and as I come back around to face the enemy, I slam it down on him.
Phoenix steps to the left and perfectly dodges my second attack. This time he takes the opportunity to strike and wreaths his sword at me, the point jabbing my left shoulder.
Fortunately, I’m wearing armour to protect me, and so many had said that wearing my gold armour was more to show myself off than proper protection.
Despite the lack of any real damage done to me, I felt the pushback from the blow, and I stagger backwards. The Phoenix has me pinned to the edge of the stage, my feet only just fully planted on the timber wood planks.
I raise my sword up in a defensive formation to prepare myself for his next move.
Phoenix places his feet carefully, mimicking the stance held by speedrunners from the local athletics competitions. Right foot at the front with his left foot somewhere behind his body. He has his sword dangling behind him in his right hand. His hooded head is facing towards the ground.
I could take the opportunity to strike him down now, but there’s something within me saying not to take it, that it would backfire on me just like the move that placed me in this position.
While I wait for the Phoenix’s next move, I listen in to my surroundings to get an idea of what’s happening behind me. It’s hard to tell who in particular are dying, all men and women scream to death the same, just a difference in pitch. The cries of agony fill the town’s major square.
The clouds are getting darker and darker with every intention to release it’s rain soon enough. I taste the moisture in the air. It’s going to pour down with possibly the most tremendous amount of rain in a long time this year. The scent of the natural fresh sweet air has lost its sweetness and has become a stale old smell that makes me want to gag every time I breathe in air.
Suddenly, Phoenix raises his head and leaps at me swinging his sword around to hit me.
However, I expected this, so I counter his attack with my sword, I parry his blade just as it comes in the range of me.
But just before I can notice, his left hand wrapped in a fist flies at me, and he punches my face.
I recoil backwards and reach my hand out to grab hold of my robed enemy. I feel around the airy surroundings and find the top of his hood, grab hold of it and pull it with me as I lose my footing and fall towards the ground.
We both slam into the ground that houses the battlefield that is taking place. I feel a sudden strike of sharp pain in my hip.
I look down to check but don’t see any blood. It must’ve just been the fall that hurt me, nothing sharp.
I cough to clear my throat, allowing myself to breathe.
I roll over to pick myself up off the ground to only get tackled back to the field.
I swing a right hook at my attacker and hit him on the left side of his head.
He pushes himself up, raises his clenched right fist behind him and slams it down upon me.
My head had nowhere to escape to before receiving the significant blow across the left side of my face. I know that my left eye will be showing that attack in the future if I can get out of this.
I raise my legs, so I’m in a fetal position under my robed opponent’s weight.
I then force my feet onto his chest and give a massive push to release his hold on me.
I get back to my feet to face the Phoenix after he regained himself.
I grab a dagger that rests next to my sword’s sheath strapped to my left hip. The knife has a gold plated metal sheath. The knife, itself, has a golden blade with a bejewelled steel hilt indicating that the royal blacksmith himself could only have created it. The dagger was given to me as a gift when I was promoted to the position of Rigtal’s General.
I raise it to prepare myself for any possible attack the Phoenix throws at me.
Neither the Phoenix nor I move from our battle positions.
The old stale air that filled the battlefield that ruined the sweeter air of Rigtal has now been replaced by a moist, humid irritable atmosphere making this battle even more uncomfortable than usual. The sweat from my brow is dripping into my gaping mouth as I pant for air. The revolting taste of sweat makes me want to throw up my meals, it stings and tastes purely of salt.
“So what did you achieve by your attempted execution, General?” the Phoenix breaks the moment of silence we were having.
“We simply needed another Culling,” I say, not fully committed to the truth being hidden.
“I call bullshit, mate. Surely you look at the mass loss of Rachkers and Pryias and would consider that it wasn’t worth proceeding with this?”
“Well for the Rachkers I hadn’t expected anything quite like this,” I say throwing my arms up to point out the massive damage done to the city square.
“The Pryias? What about the Pryias? Surely you can’t lose this many and expect the wheel to keep turning. I’m not gonna try the moral argument since you can’t see such a way you inhuman mongrel.”
Touching isn’t he. The problem with being the General is that I have to put up a bit of a public face to all including my enemies. This public persona makes me come across as cruel and unwilling to see the troubling situation that Pryias are forced into. The truth is that I do see it and am appalled by it, but I also understand that society progresses best at a slow, gradual rate through reforms put in by the council. I intend to make my own changes to how the army operates in Rigtal, but I must first use the power that is at my disposal to extinguish this threat to social stability, this insurgent.
“Why thank you, you think we would perform Cullings without taking into account the amount of lost Pryias by the end of the event? The increased amount of Cullings should have indicated that enough for you.”
“Wait you don’t mean?” From what I can hear in the Phoenix’s voice, as it trails off at the end, is that he has just realised the whole purpose of these Cullings.
“Indeed,” I say to him to confirm his suspicions.
“You’re killing all these Pryias to say that Pryias are expendable. That no matter how many die, whether it be via Cullings or...this, there’ll still be enough Pryias for society to function well enough to your liking. The Houses still make their money, the Pryias still get exploited, and the fucking royals stay up in power without contest.”
After his extensive explanation of the essential purpose of the past few Cullings, especially today’s Culling, I nod in affirmation to alert to him that he’s correct.
“I want to stop every revolution you ever attempt to create. If sending the message of how pointless your attempts are, to you will do it then so be it. Granted we were going to kill your “rebels” today, but the principle stays since whats the difference between these bandits and the Pryias they once were.”
I see the anger and rage bubbling within my opponent. Like I’ve pointed out, I don’t want to have these Pryias killed, it’s not something I believe in, but the King commanded it of me, and I must collect as much political power as I can if I’m to make some significant changes around here.
The Phoenix reaches into the left side of his coat and then speedily flings something out towards me from his trench coat.
I dodge the flying knife, reaffirm my battle position and prepare for my next retaliation attack.
I swing my knife downwards in my hand, so the blade is pointing at the ground.
I raise it to just in front of my face, secretly inspecting the cleanliness of the knife. Its shine reveals that this knife has never really been used, except maybe for testing its strength.
I raise my eyes back up to my opponent who’s throwing their head around in anger.
“How could I have been this stupid and careless. So many innocent people killed because of my actions.”
“I would hardly call them innocent, Phoenix. After this event, I think there’ll be a need to look at the Pyrias situation and see to their punishment for aiding in your attack today.”
Maybe if I provoke him enough he’ll become so angry he’ll be blinded by his rage and make a life-threatening mistake.
The Phoenix doesn’t even respond to my comment. He reaches to the ground to pick up a sword, my sword, raises it up high and places his right foot forward.
We stare at each other for a minute, listening to the sweeping breeze come through to cool us down.
Once the breeze leaves, as if it were the starting signal, we charge towards each other.
I may die here, but I haven’t come all this way through the ranks of the Monarch’s Army to die at the hands of some basic rebel with anger issues.
My feet pound along the brick laid ground as I start to swing my knife from right to left in the hopes that I’ll strike him down first.
He dodges at the last second spinning around my charging body, trading places with one another.
I spin around on my heels to face him again before he gets a chance at me from behind.
My eyes lay on him when all of a sudden, the sky erupts into a gigantic fireball above us. It catches both of our attention, and in the corner of my eye, I see a dark man hovering in the sky no more than a length above the wooden stage.
Caisen must’ve come to while I’ve been fighting the Phoenix. Caisen’s green eyes begin to glow a bright fiery red as he stretches his arms out.
The sky shakes violently as the clouds turn to fire. The stale breeze that once existed has changed into a hot, muggy wall smashing into me. It’s so hot that my throat has trouble inhaling new air to breathe properly. Well so much for the rain I was predicting.
This blood magic is nothing I’ve ever seen before. Caisen must’ve been hiding this from everyone because it’s so destructive.
My gaze moves across to the top of the banking building where there are two large wooden boxes on the roof. The purpose of those boxes is to be temporary storage when they are renovating the inside of the building. But what has struck me as odd is that the boxes are completely fine, not at all on fire or burnt. Even the stage should be showing signs of ignition by now. That must mean this isn’t real destruction magic Caisen is currently using. It’s illusion magic. That would make more sense since I’m pretty sure Caisen told me that he performs illusion magic out of the multiple classes of magic.
I feel myself calm down and feel more relaxed now that my body has realised the illusion at play, I’m able to breathe now properly.
I turn to the Phoenix who doesn’t appear to realise the falsehood of the blood magic. He’s gasping for air and holding his throat with his hand, clawing at it as if that’ll open his airways up for air.
I take the opportunity and charge at him with my blade pointed at his chest.
When I approach, he wacks my knife out of the way with the hand that was holding his neck and then punches my face with the other hand.
I take three steps back, stunned by what just happened.
“You really think I was going to fall for that illusion magic.”
“Was worth a shot, wasn’t it?” I say with a smirk.
I hear loud screams coming from my right. I do a double take to see what’s happening and also keep a check on my opponent. It appears that both the rebels and the Rachkers are unaware of the illusion aspect of this magic. So many figures bent over their knees coughing, choking, gasping for air. A few are crawling along the ground with an arm raised up possibly to ask the gods for forgiveness. I identify a Rachker try to take down his current rebel opponent, to only fail when mid attack he grabbed his throat with his left hand and the flail he’s holding loses it’s balanced and smacks the right side of his head, sending him to the ground.
“Truce! My rebels and I escape without further attack,” yells Phoenix.
He thinks he can bargain with me, how dishonourable to my pride to even consider such ridiculousness.
“Not a chance that I’d ever make any deal with you unless it’s related to your capture?”
The Phoenix smiles as he stares up at Caisen hovering in the sky. It feels like a few minutes pass while he’s observing my friend in the air.
He finally huffs and looks back to me, throws my sword away and reaches down to coincidently pick up his sword. I can tell it’s his because it has the Eagle pommel on it. I keep intending to look into what that pommel means because it could lead me to the true identity of the Phoenix.
He sheathes his sword as he says “before I leave General, may I ask you a question better known as a riddle?”
What a peculiar thing to say when in a battle and he still thinks I’m going just to let him leave.
I nod in response, despite not understanding what he’s doing.
“What’s more dangerous, a still flame or sitting ashes?”
“...” I stand there in confusion wondering about the relevance of his statement.
“Hmmm...well in time maybe you’ll find the answer. And when you do, it will surely change you,” he says as he turns around.
He calls out to the remaining rebels, and they run off out of the city down the long streets of Rigtal, towards the fields of the outer city area.
They’re escaping to the Whendigo Forest. We use to send search parties looking for the rebel’s camp to little avail. We gave up due to the lack of results.
A Rachker runs to me as he yells “General Ricker, should we make chase?”
“...no. No, let them go. The message we sent was well received. He’ll think twice before returning to Rigtal for a while.”
There’s no point to chasing after him, they’ve got the distance advantage and are much less weighted down by their equipment, we would never catch them.
I walk over to my sword laying on the ground, reach down and pick it up in my right hand.
With my left hand, I pat the ground, it’s dusty and dirty, but the dirt is coloured red and orange. The top of all the bricks that make up the ground of Quay Square has been cut off and crumbled to fine dirt. Did Caisen do this with his blood magic or was this the battle’s doing?
I stand up and sheath my sword at my hip.
I look back to Caisen who is still in the sky performing his magic. He looks like a still stone statue with arms spread as if he’s about to embrace someone. I can’t see his glowing red eyes because his head is tilted upwards shielding them from my vision.
I should leave him up there. If there’s anything Caisen has taught me about blood magic, it’s that you shouldn’t interrupt a Bloodmage when they are in the middle of using magic. It could severely hurt their mental state because it snaps them from their focus and concentration.
It begins to rain ash from the sky. This must be part of the magic. Maybe it’s a stage by stage process or something. I also notice the intensity of the heat from the sky has increased along with the redness of the sky. Standing in my gold-plated armour is beginning to feel ridiculous as I start to sweat just by standing. I keep telling myself that it’s an illusion, but by the gods, this feels very real.
I drudge around Quay Square to assess the losses and damages from the battle. It appears that they lost two fighters, while we lost about twenty-one Rachkers. They must have been the best fighters of the group, that would explain how they’re the few remaining members of the Whendigo Forest rebels. But over time they’ll lose those few numbers to a numerous amount of reasons and the Phoenix will join a history of failed rebellions.
I approach a small group of Rachkers who are also assessing the numbers of the situation.
“Sir, some of the Rachkers that we originally claimed dead were only unconscious.”
“How many of the original twenty-one?”
“Well, urr I guess to say some was wrong...one of the twenty-one were found just to be unconscious.”
Sometimes I wonder about the current education system for Rachker apprentices. The Monarch believes the Rachker Army only needs to know their battle skills, instead of including basic maths, Calerian, history and philosophy like they used to. When I was an apprentice, I had to learn all those topics and more. It benefited me in becoming a General, and it’s why there isn’t a General under the age of 32 because after that year past they started cutting what Rachker apprentices had to learn to save money.
“Get him to a hospital now, alright.”
We both salute one another, and the Rachker does a 180* spin on his right heel and immediately marches off.
I stare back up at Caisen in the sky to keep a check on him, and yep he’s still there.
I turn back to the Rachkers helping the unconscious Rachker.
“Hey, when he comes down rush him to the hospital too, alright,” I say while pointing at Caisen to indicate about whom I’m referring to.
They all nod and continue what they’re doing.
I order three Rachkers to join me as I start to stroll towards the banking building where that de Eramont boy ran past. Why was he so willing to give up his life for the insurgents?
I begin to follow the street along a side pathway explicitly made for walking on so horses and carriages can travel on the road without the risk of killing a passer-by.
As I slowly approach intersections and make turns or continue on, I consider whether I should follow up on the de Eramont fellow.
We couldn’t correctly trial him for committing a crime since he didn’t truly interfere. But then again maybe I don’t want him in prison, perhaps he has links to rebels or some other seditious groups, and instead of ending him, we could watch him and observe him. Then we may find out if he’s up to anything dangerous or anyone he knows is. He was following the Phoenix to the banking building.
As I conclude on my decision on how to deal with the de Eramont, many minutes have passed, and the ash appears to have moved on, they seem to move like clouds in the wind.
I look up ahead as the three Rachkers and I approach the Rigtal library, I think we’ll continue forward here.