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[Sombra War] Fire and Sword (Closed)

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“In war, courage is tested not by a desire to fight, but by sacrificing to save others.”
    

TOTAL WAR! With much of Equestria’s army defending Canterlot from relentless enemy assault, too few ponies remain to keep watch on the countryside. Intent on depriving Equestria of land to grow food, King Sombra deploys raiders to kidnap civilians as slaves and burn everything else in their path. In the secluded valley of Summer Springs, a small band of soldiers is the only thing standing between a peaceful village and complete devastation. This under-strength force must hold out long enough for reinforcements to arrive.....

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*A FEW MILES SOUTH OF SUMMER SPRINGS*

Equestrian ponies were not terribly good at tasks of renown, but at least to Kopis, they were good for growing edible food. Like the strawberries she plucked from a bush two hours ago, during the twilight of the morning dawn. Of course, it would have been unwise to reveal such thoughts to her Master, or to regret how she would never be able to taste any more of those sweet berries again. Even now, that bush, along with many others just like it, was being put to the torch by her Crystal Legionnaires. On Kopis’ orders, entire farms and villages burned in agony behind her, the smoke so extensive that it was blotting out the sky and sprinkling ash on lands miles away.

A magically-gifted unicorn lacking pity or remorse, Kopis possessed the cruel temperament required of one of King Sombra’s trusted servants. Loyally serving the Shadow King of her own free will, the periwinkle-coated mare stood out from the rest of her subjugated legionnaires with her uncovered bald head and the ankle-length black skirt of a Kastroti acolyte. Kopis bore no physical weapons, for dark magic was her ally. It was this unicorn whom Sombra entrusted with command over the Crystal Legion raiders in the Solstice Heights.

Her pouch rumbling, Kopis levitated a small, glowing crystal orb onto her hoof. A crystal orb rumbling by itself always meant someone wanted to contact its user, so the commander used a stream of magic to ‘activate’ the seeing stone.

“Mistress,” the stone revealed an unarmored changeling, one of several scouts hiding on the edge of cliff-top forests; “Our scouts have spotted a small Equestrian force in the Summer Springs valley. We estimate that no more than 200 ponies defend the residents and other refugees sheltering in the town.”

“Goooooood,”
Kopis cooed wickedly, pleased with the scout’s report; “Stay out of sight, and keep me informed on their positions.” King Sombra would be most pleased indeed if a vulnerable target like Summer Springs fell.....

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OOC: http://www.canterlot.com/topic/22003-fire-and-sword-pve-ooc-update-117-added-info-to-op/
AU Rules + Lore: http://www.canterlot.com/topic/21933-the-sombra-war-au-update-119-1st-rp-active/

Map of the battlescape:

 ujZcKLF.jpg

 

MAP LEGEND:
  • Thick brown lines = cliffs
  • Blue lines = stream
  • Blue blobs on cliff edges = waterfalls
  • Yellow lines = stone roads or bridges
  • Light green lines = unpaved pathways
  • Thin brown lines above rivers = wooden bridges
  • Dark green lines around farmland = hedges

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Fear and uncertainty surrounding the town as ash rained from the sky, Celestia's beautiful light strangled by the thick cloud cover. Ominous signs of the army of doom ever approaching from the South. Many would have thought to evacuate, but this place was too valuable to abandon. How many farms must be sacrificed before Equestria starves? How many farmhoofs must run before there is nothing left for them to run to? How many homes must burn before Equestria is lost to fire and memory?

 

It's at times like these, in places like these, that ponies like Reveille thrive.

 

Reveille wasn't abhorred by violence. He understood it. He was in his element here, looking out toward the shadowed forest of the valley as he contemplated the best way to keep the approaching enemy from funneling in. Unfortunately, it wasn't his call, but it gave him something to do for the moment. Keep his mind busy. If it were up to him, he'd drag every guardspony through that wood to take the fight to the legionnaires. But even he knew he didn't have the numbers or the authority to do that. So he begrudgingly must adopt a defensive attitude. He hated it. 'Sit and wait' is what he called any defensive strategy. It only delayed the inevitable, and no matter how good a defense is, an offense will always break it. A good offense is unyielding, and unforgiving. Unfortunately, that is exactly the kind of enemy they were facing.

 

He sighed, looking out to the trees. Smoke billowed through his nostrils as he nursed the cigar in his muzzle, both a means of relieving stress and to light the many grenades strapped to him. He seemed to be an oddity among this defense: The only grenadier. To some, simple black balls with fuses. Ignite and throw. But to the Staff Sergeant they were so much more than that. You had to know how they worked, estimate the fuse length, know how to throw them properly, when to throw them properly, know what happens when they burst, the radius of the burst, to be aware of your surroundings at all times so not to cause undue damage to innocents, to be aware of your own equipment as magic-using opponents tended to try and ignite the fuses of an unsuspecting grenadier in the hopes they would not notice. Of the guards who asked if they could carry a few of the small but impressively powerful devices, the grizzled veteran shooed them off. "Gonna kill all yourselves" he said. He's experienced the consequences of inexperience and false bravado, his brass leg a constant reminder as it hissed with a release of steam with every step he took. But, as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

 

But he had a few other surprises in his repertoire. He just hoped he'd be able to utilize them before it was too late. Another drag from his stogie illuminated his face, turning to head back to the town proper. He had had enough of standing out there by himself. He had been assigned to what hoped to be a promising field officer, and it was about time he prepared for the stallion's plan to hold back these impossible odds. 

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Naj watched the distant smoke with a neutral expression.  It was a sign that their enemy was close, closer than she'd yet known them.  It was a sign that things were about to change.

 

Up until now things had been fairly simple.  Summer Springs was a target of opportunity, not a key strategic location in its own right.  Up until now it hadn't received much attention.  Naj, along with a small number of changelings, had been sent to help the local defenders guard it.  The activity gave Naj a sense of comfort, she could almost pretend that she was back home, doing what she was meant to be doing.  The only real differences in her mind, were the climate, and that she was in some capacity in command of other changelings once again.

 

It was an uncomfortable state of affairs, and Naj was not a skilled enough actor to fully conceal her anxieties.  At the same time it was also a chance at redemption, an opportunity to make up for her previous mistakes, and she was determined to see it through.  Fortunately, she knew changelings were self reliant sorts, and for the most part she hoped to be able to lead by example.

 

For the moment, Naj had given a few general orders, dividing her squad into shifts which she instructed to take turns patrolling, mingling with the locals, and resting.  As she saw it, the main difficulties she herself would face in defending an Equestrian settlement were lack of familiarity with the terrain, and misunderstandings with the locals.  In the face of Sombra's attacks Equestria was more than willing to accept allies, but that didn't mean the ponies themselves didn't have some lingering reservations.  The last thing anyone needed were locals resisting if changelings were helping maintain order or facilitate an evacuation, to say nothing of what might happen if a guardspony in combat hit the wrong target out of instinct.

Naj's plan was designed to combat both of these issues.  Living in a town and participating in its affairs gave one far more useful knowedge of the surroundings than could be found in any map, and she hoped over time to acclimatize her changelings and the local ponies to each other.

 

The smoke on the horizon however, meant that none of them could afford to maintain such a passive state any longer.  Naj was certain her changelings would have an idea of how to respond, but even a command as small as this was a largely unfamiliar thing to her.  So instead of going immediately to muster her troops, after she stood up she first sought the commander of the local guardsponies, to see where the changelings might be most needed.

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xnrt40.jpg


 

Fire Walker glanced down at the small bed where her new uniform waited for her. With a weary sigh,  the red mare carefully slid into the bodysuit that was made to cover her from the neck down to her hooves. So much had changed since the dark one returned. None for the better. Cities and villages had fallen . Lives had been lost, and those who had not been killed had been taken away and enslaved by the tyrant of the Crystal Kingdom. After hearing of her brother Cordell's disappearance, the red mare had dropped out of the academy so she could fight wherever and whenever she was needed. She hoped that he had not fallen, but the idea of having to fight her mind controlled sibling chilled her blood.

 

There was still a light chest plate, helmet and hoof-guards she needed to slide on. She would save the helm for last. She considered the new gear to be far more appropriate for an Pegasus pony than the usual R.E.A armor. It was light enough as not to slow her down in flight and actually bothered to protect her vital bits, something her old guard armor did not. Of course, it was mostly for show considering Equestria had been enjoying a long reign of peace, up until recently that is. Once her guards were on, she tested the ones that covered her front hooves. With a simple shake, two small blades extended from the protective armor. These were useful at quickly disarming a foe and possibly even to remove the magic helmets that controlled the crystal pony slaves. Of course, it might be a bit more complicated than that. There was also the traitors who sided with the dark king she also had to worry about. They would not receive the same mercy given to the controlled Crystal Ponies. Another shake sent the blades back into the guard.

 

The chest covering slid over her bodysuit without an issue. Fire wondered if her old friend Zelda had made this? The black griffon moved to Equestria with dreams of making stylish armor and weapons. The blacksmith had been given her wish, although the majority of the armor she would make needed to be done quickly, so they lacked her usual flourishes. After placing the full helm on, the Pegasus pony took a good look at herself in the mirror. This was something that would not strike fear into the hearts of her enemies, but it at least would do the job. A final check of her gear was done before she made her way out of her room and into the small inn that had been converted into barracks. While it was still early, there was a chance she might run into another member of her squad....

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The lingering ash covered the valley like a lid on a pot. The ash smothering everything until everything became indistinguishable. Then Sombra's war machine would march over it all, turn it into ash all over again. If such was the fate of those who resisted, so be it. On the doorstep of his home and family in Solstice Heights would be where he'd meet his match if demanded of him. The ponies of the town all carried the same expressions of despair. The soldiers, including Dunder, tried to keep their chests puffed out but the soldiers were merely ponies... and some changelings.

He wanted this after all, but he didn't feel like a hero.

Instead he was in the town inn, boiling vats filled with beans and rice. Salt and garlic were hard to come by, and butter was far out of the question. So the food was going to be bland again. Though when supplies thinned, ponies seemed happier to get any food at all. One week's worth of commodities were supposed to last two weeks. How far the situation would be carried out frightened Dunder.

The pegasus lifted the lid off the pot of beans, giving a hefty stir to the vat which rested in an underground stove dug out back. The pegasus didn't even want to taste test the beans.

So instead he decided to treat himself for cooking. In one of the bowls, he hid a loaf of bread and an egg. Quickly he cracked the egg and emptied the shell's contents into the bowl. He tore up the bread, dropping the chunks into the egg. Greedily, he began to eat.

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Twilight Sparkle had never wanted this. When she had realized a dream and joined Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns after two attempts, she had believed that in front of her was an endless sea of learning about the ins and outs of what made Equestrian magic so wonderful. But dreams could become nightmares and that was what her world had become when Sombra invaded. She had seen the toll first hoof on the Princess' face as the rolls of losses and defeats. Even as the situation stalemated, she got to see the dawning realization on Celestia's face that this war would last a long time...and it would require sacrifices of lives as well as innocence.

Twilight was not saved against this fate. Indeed, she had been consumed by it. As Celestia's top pupil she had been personally schooled when the Princess was able in some of the more advanced magics applicable to the war. When the Princess couldn't be there for her, she had access to the best tutors in the world. She attended classes which intermixed magic with military strategy and theory. She devoured reams of books on magic and warfare. She had access to and read after action reports of events in the field. She spent what free time she had not devoted to this trying to engineer new weapons of war. Some worked. Some didn;t. But she was devoted to this awful business because she believed in Equestria and what she stood for.

Eventually, she was ushered into a private, secret school. Newly opened- so new in fact she was the first student. A long forgotten element in the Equestrian military was the concept of a Battlemage. A Battlemage is a special type of mage that focuses on more combat, utilizing talents and spells long forgotten for their more violent applications. And this was to be her fate. The first Equestrian Battlemage in ages. The first of many, but still the first. There she had married her unmatched magical potential and her intelligence with an old style of magic. She had graduated only recently- past week, to be more accurate- and it didn't shock her that she was immediately told to report to this area.

The Crystal Empire- some chose to just refer to Sombra, but you did traitors, mercenaries, and changelings a disservice if you just tossed them all under one nefarious cockroach's table- had a population that could be devoted to war, but for how long? The initial alpha strike that was their initial push was their best shot at knocking Equestria out. But over time that had faded, and Equestria at full mast was much more powerful. The inability of the Empire to take Stalliongrad or knock Seaddle out of the war was a telling signal that behind all the fear was a weakness. Attrition would win the war. The longer Equestria was allowed to mobilize and produce, the longer Sombra's magic was forced to hold, the more certain Equestrian victory was.

The only way the Empire could really hope to win was by undermining Equestria through raids like this. Destroy enough farms, enough industrial centers, scatter and disrupt and force resources to both be depleted due to destruction. Reduce your own losses. When it was all done and said, that could work. It was a sound strategy. A long shot. The majority of Sombra's army were heavy. Raiding forces were light by necessity and required specialized skills and training. Defeats were even more harshly felt. That made every small skirmish against the raiding Empire an important one because every raider defeated was a specialized foe taken out of the war. And every farm saved was a signal to Sombra that his days were indeed numbered.

With all that said, you still had to win the battle and Twilight had no intention of losing. She arrived to the region to meet with Arcus, the commander of the area's defenses. She was here to support him and advise him, and enter combat to support the area's defense. She was authorized to use any and all resources to help victory. She wore what looked like a long chainmail piece, though anypony who mistook this for light armor would be woefully mistaken. It was enchanted and could withstand an egregious amount of damage, keeping her safe from harm. In a saddlebag were many magically encrypted documents and some experimental aetheral enhancement tablets. On her horn were a series of three rings that blended in well with her horn. A spear, apparently cut into three sections, was on her back. She didn't need anything else.

She landed, the chariot she had taken turning into clouds as she touched down. Nice to see that idea worked. Maybe she could get Cloudsdale to produce them...no matter. She was to meet with Arcus- and from there, engineer victory.

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War.

War never changes.

A fact that ran through Arcus' mind with every beat of his tired heart.

Standing on the old, rickety bridge by the windmill, he could see it all. He could feel it. With the faraway cloud of dark smoke giving off the enemy's terrifying advance, it didn't take a battlemage to figure out that an attack was inevitable. An attack where, you ask?

Why, in Sunny Springs, of course!

The very place Arcus was assigned to protect.

It was a vital position, in more ways than one. It held much-needed farmland to help provide food and crops for the war effort, and most importantly, it held civillians. Indeed, it was a major logistical resource. He'd need to do all he could to protect it, which, considering the current situation, wouldn't be much...

But it would have to count.

The forces he had present were not much, compared to what he had handled before, but they were well-trained, and he was sure, they'd protect their homeland, no matter what the cost would be. But he couldn't stop himself from wondering...

Could they?

They were facing no ordinary army. What Sombra had done... It was terrifying, knowing that it could happen to any of them, even him, if they were ever captured. Countless numbers of Crystal Ponies, captive members of the REA...

All turned into mere cogs in Sombra's machine-like army.

An army to be fought by those ponies' friends and family members. That, in Arcus' opinion, was the most terrifying thing Sombra's army was capable of. The ability to turn ponies against their own kind, to make them fight against their consent and will...

That was something he couldn't let happen here.

And so, with a last determined stare from his piercingly orange eyes, Arcus turned away from the billowing pillar of smoke, and proceeded to fly back to the town's inn, which was currently serving as their makeshift headquarters.

He wouldn't let this town fall.

===============

Landing back near the inn, Arcus would be pretty hard to miss, even without the glinting officer garb he wore, alongside the scarily large (Well, to other ponies.) bow slung onto his back.

After all, it's not everyday you see somepony tower almost everypony else. Currently, however, Arcus was using his height not for boasting, but for surveying the area. It looked like most of the troops were already here...

And he knew from intel that a few more were coming.

And these few ponies weren't just any other ponies. He'd been informed that Equestria's first ever battlemage, Twillight Sparkle herself, was coming to their aid. Alongside reports of incoming support from a Royal Grenadier and pegasi like himself...

Oh, Sombra would be in for a surprise.

And so, Arcus parted whatever crowds there were, and trotted into the inn, which was basically their headquarters and barracks for now.

Sombra wouldn't take this town.

He'd see to that.

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“...The Equestrians have not yet taken defensive positions.”

20 kilometers south from where the Road entered the narrow gorge leading to Summer Springs, Kopis finished receiving another report via crystal orb from her changeling scout. This news pleased the acolyte immensely; if her raiders could catch the REA forces off-balance, Summer Springs and its inhabitants were as good as theirs.

“We also spotted a chariot landing in town; one pony exited the chariot before it uhhhhhhhh, turned into a cloud.”

Kopis growled dismissively; “Hmmph, Twilight Sparkle.” Who else would fly around in an enchanted chariot but Princess Celestia’s pet battlemage? That pest being in Summer Springs meant their defenses would be shored up. Perhaps it would not be long now before fresh Equestrian reinforcements arrived. That would never do; Kopis’ vanguard needed to attack NOW!

“You,” she instructed her bannerpony and another subordinate; “Hold here and summon the rearguard. Everyone else, quicken your pace! We attack Summer Springs at once!!!” The subordinate that stayed behind blew 10 long drawn-out blasts from his dark crystal flugelhorn, at intervals of 15 seconds between each blast. An enchanted instrument, the flugelhorn’s discordant cry could be heard up to 50 kilometers... well within range of Summer Springs. Not waiting for the rest of her formation to assemble, Kopis and her battalion-sized vanguard sped their march to a sustained canter.

ETA OF CRYSTAL LEGIONNAIRES: 1 HOUR

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Reveille wasn't far off when the horn sounded. He debated running back to the treeline to set up his gadgets, but he knew if he was going to fight by himself, he was also going to die by himself. Besides, their officer had to have some kind of plan, and he didn't want to get in the way by going 'lone wolf' on the rest of the defenders and causing more harm than good.

 

As he ran toward the inn, he had spotted some others who would no-doubt prove useful in the defense. He saw a unicorn that could only be Twilight Sparkle, Celestia's pet Battlemage. Of course, he was more than happy to see her here, even if he had only heard stories of what she can do. He thought he saw the Changeling Commander heading for the Inn as well, but he did his best not to look at her. Having fought Changelings in the past, it was going to be a task, if only a small one, to let go of his old animosities for the sake of the town.

 

He entered the inn, pushing his way through to find the Lieutenant Colonel. As he roamed along searching, he spotted a red pegasus in what could only be new armor. He offered a nod in greeting, but not much else. There'd be time for pleasantries later, hopefully. Continuing his search, he did find another pegasus who seemed to be... cooking? Certainly smelled like it. "Quit stuffing your face, boy, destiny approaches!"

 

Once he slowed his roll a bit in his search, the officer wasn't far nor was he hard to find at all. 

 

He took the stogie out of his mouth and set it down in a nearby tray to be retrieved later. He'd need it to work his magic. 

Throwing his brass leg up for a quick salute, he spoke to Arcus directly, as his transfer orders from his Grenadier company ordered him to report directly to the Commanding Officer. That'd be him.

 

"Staff Sergeant Reveille, 9th Grenadiers. Orders?"

 

He expected a full brief of what this officer expected, but the Legion started the clock far sooner than was probably expected, and it was ticking...

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It had taken Naj some time to find the town's makeshift headquarters when she had first arrived.  She didn't fully understand reasoning of doing one's planning in a tavern.  Much as she conceded a thematic consistency, taverns were a frequent gathering place for soldiers, she had to wonder if it was a good idea to carry out logistics that close to alcohol.

She couldn't complain though, it wasn't her place.  She also quietly hoped there was a secret logic to it, that she might discover if she was just observant enough.

 

Naj hadn't had any such revelations yet, but she had at least become a lot more familiar with the tavern as a landmark of the town.  She got a few dirty or hesitant looks from the surrounding ponies as she walked through town, but she'd learned to pay them no mind.  The Equestrians were clearly unhappy with the changeling presence, but as it stood they were in no position to refuse allies at the moment, so Naj and her changelings would at least be tolerated for the forseeable future.

More productively, she also found one her own soldiers on her trek through town.  Pulling him aside for a moment, she gave him new standing orders to pass along to the rest.  With the enemy this close, it was time to shift to a more proactive defence.  While Naj waited for proper orders from the local pony commander, she wanted the changelings to quietly patrol the outskirts of the town in groups of no less than three, periodically checking in with the remainder who would gather in the structure that had been set aside for them.  Not knowing the state of local Equestrian reconnaissance, Naj's hope was to catch a glimpse of the enemy formations or maybe catch their scouts by off guard, without too much risk of her own forces being encircled.

 

With her orders delivered, Naj continued on her way and arrived at the tavern in short order, although it took her a minute or two to track down the commander himself.  She snapped a stiff salute as soon as she arrived at the room, but refrained from asking a question at the moment.  Another pony, that earth pony grenadier she had seen occassionally around the town, had beat her to the punch.  Besides, at this point it was probably obvious why she was here.

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The red mare was struck with the smell of somepony actually cooking a meal? Had Princess Celestia stopped by? That sure as hay did not smell like the usual chow she and the other grunts were served. Curious to see, and possibly taste what had been prepared for her, Fire Walker quickly made her way down the stairs hoping there was something ‘special’ waiting for her.

 

She let out a sigh the moment she made the corner to see what meal had been waiting for her. It sure as heck was not Gnocchi, but instead it was the usual. Hardtack with some sort of mushed oats and Celestia knows what, which was combined with some sort of tomato paste. It tasted like utter meadow muffins, but it was the appropriate nutritional content for a day's worth of solidering. Thankfully there was also a pot of coffee waiting for as well. At least that was hot. After gathering up her tray and mug, which conveniently could be snapped into the top left of said tray, the mare made her way towards one of the tables. Sitting at one table was a stallion she had seen before. He was relatively new and the source of the tempting aromas. Did he just cook that meal? She did not even know they were permitted to use the kitchen? Not that she would have been any use back there. While her family were known as brave officers and soldiers since possibly the beginning of time, none of them could so much as boil water.

 

There was also Staff Sergeant Reveille, who she gave a proper salute once her tray found a spot at the table near the brown pegasus pony. This might be a quick meal, thankfully the typical army meal usually was. One quick nasty taste, followed by a steaming cup of battery acid. Yum Yum. Hopefully she would hear a quick update of things. How everything was going. What were the orders? Yadda Yadda Yadda.

 

Once she found a seat near the stallion, she gave him a polite smile before taking a quick sip from her cup. Hopefully today she would see some action!

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Dunder was muzzle deep into his meal of raw eggs and bread when a voice behind him, a gruff voice that nearly shocked Dunder out of his feathers. Dunder turned, spinning all the way around hoping to catch a sight of the pony. But as soon as he came, Dunder heard the hoof steps trotting off. He  figured it was nothing, so instead of stopping he stallion decided to eat some more.

In the same wooden bowl as the egg and bread, Dunder filled it up with beans and rice, making sure to put the lids back on the pots. He wished hungry ponies would start coming in so he could work on the second batch of food.

He flew over the counter, landing at one of the tables of the inn. Just as he was beginning to eat, he saw the mare out of the corner of his eye. He had seen her around, it was hard to miss her with how strikingly red her coat and mane were. She seemed to grab some old hard tac and tomato paste that Dunder had leftover from last night.

Though as she approached, his body started to tense up. A mare actually sitting close to him. It was something he wasn't used to. He suddenly got really interested into his food, scooping up some of the beans into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed silently.

The Pressure to say something was setting in.

What do you do here? What are your orders? Weather's getting colder.

"So...uh... How's the orders?" His voice meek

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It didn't take long for Twilight to locate Arcus, not that it would have been difficult under most circumstances. His size was certainly unusual and she could quickly tell why he was chosen for the position. He cared for the ponies of this town, and this care would prove most helpful tonight. The Grenadier was there as well as the Guard, and the Changeling Commander wasn't far off. A good collection. Twilight entered and bowed in defernce to the Commander. She may have been the first Battlemage but she was still under orders to follow orders from those with a more military background. She could advise and help and was told to ensure this area did not fall under any circumstance, but if Arcus said no to what she said and ordered her to do something else, she would so.

"Commander Arcus, Battlemage Sparkle of the 1st Experimental Battalion. It's a pleasure to meet with you today. I hope together we can scatter this attack," She said formally and in an even tone, trying to mask her worry. She had been trained for this. She could do it. She knew what was at stake. It didn't make anything easier, however. Just then her head shot up and her eyes turned white-

-Many kilometers away, one of her first battlefields devices was receiving a field test. A small spherical orb, packed to the brim with aetheral sensors, allowing it to transmit acoustic and visual data through the aether. The legion's advance activated one. It turned in place spasmodically within several hundred yards of the advance and after a few moments started rolling at high speed towards the town. After a few seconds it hopped up and exploded, a bright light a meter across flashing momentarily before the whole thing vanished from existence. A few hundred meters away, another one caught the data being transferred and repeated the process until just outside of town one final magical explosion sent the data to Twilight. It couldn't replace scouting. The data visually was muddy. Acoustics was better, and she could analyze much from it when paired with what visual data was there. But the information comes too late to be strategically flexible, even if it is helpful tactically, unlike real scouts who could do so much more.

She shook her head. "They're coming in force. May I suggest a blocking force at the narrowst part of the woods? We could hold them there for some time, allowing us to organize our defenses in town. We could even detonate steam charges placed  on the base of the cliffs and create an area of denial should we evacuate. Perhaps we could even force the potential enemy flanking attacks to be redirected. I can get a small force in there without being seen and out should the situation grow dire via teleportation-" she said, reaching for an aetherial tablet, "-and if you tell me how long you would like us to hold...we'll hold," she said confidently. Twilight, like it or not, was a mare of war now.

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*GM'S NOTE: With Arcus AWOL, I'm relieving him of command for the time being. Fire Walker will assume operational control of Equestrian NPCs until Arcus returns. Operate under the assumption that the REA is following Battlemage Sparkle's suggested battle plan.*

 


The Battlemage’s magical toys may have been impressive, but they would have much difficulty in picking out the changeling scouts. Leaving nothing to chance, they were using their shapeshifting abilities to camouflage themselves to blend in with the terrain. It’d take very sharp eyes to even discern one of the hidden changelings, with extra time required to pinpoint the positions of the remainder. And time was not something the Equestrians had on their side.

Amongst themselves and other scout units, they also communicated with bird calls. Perhaps someone intimately familiar with the land around Summer Springs would have recognized that those sounds weren’t those made by any local wildlife (which would be silenced on account of the looming battle), but good luck figuring that out in a chaotic warzone.

The sole exception to these precautions would be the scout commander, but he was hiding in the treeline, which would disrupt magical readings to a not-insignificant degree.

Meanwhile, the Crystal Legionnaires marched onward and onward.....

 

CRYSTAL LEGIONNAIRES WILL ARRIVE IN THE NEXT POST CYCLE. YOU HAVE ONE ROUND REMAINING TO DEPLOY FORCES IN TACTICAL POSITIONS.

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It seemed their meeting was going to be short-lived. Whatever the commander's plan was, they were out of time. 

The battlemage had given him all the excuse he needed to cover those trees in steamy ordnance. "I'll get to the welcome presents, then... If anypony would like to accompany me, more hooves on this means more time to prepare further once we're finished."

He was going to have to go back on his 'no-touchie' policy in this instance. There was no way he'd be able to set up a satisfactory perimeter by himself. He dismissed himself before leaving the inn/command center. For now, his plan of action was to cut off the bottleneck in the canyon, possibly create an area of denial near those cliffs, and if he had anything left over, place some boobytraps. When the legion got here was going to determine when he was finished. Once they did, he'd have to stick to groups from a distance. His grenades, while effective, were wasted on singular targets.

Upon his exit, he pointed out a couple of guardsponies standing watch. Just waiting for the legion to come. "You two! On me!". He loaded a crate of steam charges onto each of their backs, making sure they were secured before leading them back to the treeline he had been observing moments before. He had to work quickly, regardless of how much help he got, if any. The charges were dummy-proof, for the most part. Twist the knob, deploy, and either set it on a timer or pressure plates. Reveille decided he'd block off trees a bit deeper in the woods first, and then start with the traps.

Finding a solid line of trunks that would serve the purpose, he rigged them up with almost looked like egg-timers to the untrained eye, making sure to give himself plenty of time to set the others. Once that was done, and he made sure the timers were synchronized, he called out to whoever was with him to clear the area. A short few minutes later, and the town would be shaken with the blasts, large white puffs of steam clouding the treeline from the explosions. The trees had been blasted down from the trunks, falling over and creating a makeshift barricade. It would at least slow them down, but wouldn't stop them. With what trees that remained , he dug small holes with his hooves to hide the rest of the charges, set for pressure. They were spread apart enough to not destroy each other, but close enough to cause some chaos. With a barricade and small minefield between the legion and the town, Rev shooed his two helpers away and cleared the area himself, to await further orders or to ready himself for battle. 

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Though she tried to keep it from showing in her features, Naj was internally cursing his indecision.  It was a poor trait in a commander in general, but more than that it presented a problem for her personally.  She'd been hoping that the commander would give her some kind of orders, which would make up for her own inexperience.  The absence of such orders meant that once again there were 18 changelings relying specifically on her decisions to to get them home in roughly one piece.  It was a responsibility she didn't think she was ready for, but as Naj was the one put in charge of this group she would have to manage.

In the meantime however, the grenadier was off to shape the terrain and mine the woods.  That was something Naj would help with, while waiting for a clearer sign of what to do.  She wasn't sure how much the pony would actually appreciate her assistance specifically, but she doubted anyone here would really be willing to refuse help.  After offering her assistance she followed wordlessly behind the grenadier.  She figured that changelings would be better suited for a fighting retreat through the woods if it came to that, as well as being the least necessary to the battle lines that would form.

She stopped briefly as she ran into one of her own patrols, grabbing two of the changelings to further assist with the explosives while the third would deliver new orders to the rest: the REG was establishing lines just outside town, so the patrols wouldn't be any help.  They were to muster and move to the rear of the main force, where Naj should be able to link back up with them.  From there, she'd hopefully either recieve some proper orders, or be able to get a look at the enemy to see where her forces would be most useful.
With that settled, Naj galloped off to catch up to the grenadier, and helped him prepare for the incoming enemy.

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“Orders? Haven’t heard them yet, but I’m hoping we can see some action and take care of this Sombra mess for once and for all.”, the red mare kept her voice down low, “Also hoping to hear some good news as the majority of my family are ‘on ground’ members of the R.E.A. With the exception of my sister who is just a little too  young for service, the rest of my string are serving in one way or another. So while I know they’re all trained and ready, I do worry as they’re scattered allover.”, the Pegasus pony’s smile vanished for a moment before it quickly bounced back on her face, “The name’s Fire Walker. Senior Air.” The brown stallion was awfully cute, and Fire found it hard not to smile while in his presence. There was something about him that just made her smile.
 
As she waited to hear what their orders were to be, the red mare spotted an mare she had seen before, back when things were a good deal more pleasant in Equestria. Twilight Sparkle, or as now as she calls herself ‘Battlemage Sparkle of the 1st Experimental Battalion' Fire Walker was not surprised to see her serve in such a high position. While she was a bit of an shy mare, Fire heard she was one of the more skilled spellcasters and belonged to a well respected family that also gave the world Captain Shining Armor. After making sure to finish off her meal, she stood up and made sure she was ready to move on. Armor? Check! Weapons? Check!
 
Once Staff Sergeant Reveille requested personal to join him, the mare made her way towards the white stallion. "Fire Walker, Senior Air. Reporting for duty, sir.", she added with a salute. Unless there were any other orders, Fire Walker quickly followed the officer and also lent a hoof to making sure the steam charges were placed and secured. After that was finished, she followed the small squad out of the inn....

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As Dunder listened to the red mare, he felt relieved to be the only one of his immediate family members serving in an actual fighting force. At least, when he left that was true. His own smile perked back up along with hers. Despite in all this, she still managed to seem positive. Meanwhile, Dunder barely mustered enough will to crawl out of bed, not to mention smiling while talking about his family scattered and fighting. He decided to refrain from talking about his own family. After all, in all the good books he's read a character about to die often shows off his family to his comrades. "I call myself Dunder Blust. It is a pleasure to meet you, Fire Walker." Her aura of positivity would be something Dunder would not forget easily.

They ate the rest of the food silently. Just as a grenadier made his way out, calling for help to set up defenses. The red mare was gung-ho to leave. He thought about saying bye, but she was already gone. The stallion picked up his plate and went back to the kitchen, where he listened to the last moment of peace before the fighting would pickup. The birds chirped and the wind whistled. Something strange was hidden in the normal sounds of nature. Dunder's ear perked, his head raised at the sudden and indiscernible difference. The stallion's heart sunk a little bit when he found the hiccup in the normal pattern of nature's symphony. Bird calls that were completely foreign to the pony's ears were there in nature. So sudden, and so numerous casued the stallion's hairs to stand on end.

He made his way back to where the officers had congregated, sure his news was important enough. Anyway, he could claim ignorance, as he was primarily stationed there for food preparation.

The stallion flew over the counter and poked his head out the door, hoping to see Fire Walker or the Grenadier. Nothing in eyesight, except the usual patrol.

He dove back into the inn, eyes darting around for any clue of somepony to consult. He peeked in room and spotted a purple mare. The Mage. Dunder thought, she's probably in the inner circle of the command. Dunder entered the room and clacked his hooves in attention as well as saluted. Even from where he stood, the stallion could tell he towered over the mare "Mage Sparkle!" It dawned on the pony he didn't know what to call her, "I have noticed something worrying. Bird calls in the forest aren't usual. I fear they might be the enemy's communications, especially since it's right before the battle is about to commence."

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Ponies hopped to work, several agreeing to plant explosives and one informing her of the likely closeness of enemy forces. "We will discuss this more once we are at the location," Twilight said as others got to their work. Once enough volunteers had settled around her, she looked around. Wherever the scouts were, they were in for a rude surprise. Her horn lit and in a flash Twilight, along with all those who were coming to her aid, vanished in a flash of white light.

The group reappeared at the narrowest point of entry, flanked by the cliffs. She sniffed the air- yes, that unmistakable smell of steam explosives. Or more accurately, the lack of aether across the minefield and explosives. Having the Third Sight made technology stand out like a sore hoof, but it really did mean that they were preparing quickly. She looked around- two pegasi were here. Good. "You," she nodded at the first, "go to the group setting the explosives and tell them to come here when they're done. We will need all hooves who have volunteered to be right here. You," she nodded to the other, "go to the Changelings and their leader. Inform him to hide his forces close to the explosives. When the enemy scouts reveal themselves, they will be a quick reaction force and respond against them- and if they don't, they can defend the site from attempts to disarm the explosives. Fly fast," she said before turning around to Dunder, both pegasi saluting and then running.

"I know they are here, or at least close by- I can sense a disruption in magical fields. Good ear. Either way, it works to our advantage," she said, nodding before turning to the rest, "we must prepare barricades here. We have enough lumber here. Once our barricades are three deep, the rest of the logs will be...ammunition. Our setup shall be as follows-" her horn lit up, and soon the bark from trees around her started to strip off, while small logs and stumps were pulled from the ground. Bark, stumps and logs floated towards the road. They stretched and grew taller until they formed a wall, the wood and bark pulled thin. Then sections of it expanded upwards while it retracted side to side, and small slits appeared inside. Eventually two more appeared. Within thirty seconds, the river to the cliff was cut off by three walls with parapets on them. She then looked around.

"These need to be reinforced with sturdy trees. The enemy will eventually fight through these, but if we do our jobs, it will be a serious obstacle. We are not here to defeat them, merely bloody and delay them. Once the enemy arrives, we will man the first barricade and keep a small crew on the second. We will abandon the first when it becomes untenable. We fall back to the second, small crew on the third, rinse and repeat. When we get to third, all defend the third. Once it becomes untenable I will personally ensure we all get out. Do your duties and make Equestria proud," Twilight ordered, getting to work even as she spoke. She used magical cuts from her horn to fell multiple trees, stripping it of branches and bark as it fell. She then cut the larger tree into multiple smaller logs so the others could get to the work of reinforcing the barricade. 

After a while, Twilight seemed to vanish. In a private area near the river she sighed, and touched her horn to the ground. She panted and nearly collapsed as the ground underneath seemed to buckle for a moment before a deep, longing groan escaped from underneath. On her horn, one of the rings seemed to turn into molten lava and spill off of and onto the ground with a steaming hiss. She stumbled back, taking deep breaths for a few seconds before she walked back to the group and continued doing her duty.

The Golem would come to when it was needed it seemed, not before. 

Minutes passed. Twilight observed the barricades. They weren't going to get better unless they had heavier staff or more time. "Good job. Rest here and do not follow me- they will be here any minute," she said as she walked up a makeshift staircase on one parapet and looked out towards the enemy's advance. She then sat and took a deep breath, allowing herself to feel the weight of this coming conflict acutely. She couldn't or wouldn't let it show, but she was worried- frazzled- concerned. Not of dying- she wouldn't die, not here. No. She was worried about failing Celestia.

What a grim fate that would be.

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*1 HOUR LATER*

“Battlemage Sparkle thinks she’s so clever, doesn’t she?” Kopis’s scouts did not fail her, having reported the ad-hoc fortifications set up to deny passage to Summer Springs. There was some movement in the trees that her scouts couldn’t figure out, but it didn’t require much brainpower to surmise their purpose. From her vantage point next to an abandoned log cabin, the commander could see for herself the Equestrian lines of defense.

A frontal charge along the Road was out of the question, but so was waiting for the reserves to assemble. Overcoming this challenge would require a methodical yet swift approach. Kopis needed to soften up her enemies while she prepared the anvil. Once the anvil was in position,  then would be the right time to strike the hammer.

Kopis smirked. “I think our fresh recruits require their first taste of battle.”

-----------

Several quick blasts of the horn later, a column of about fifty lightly-armored ponies screaming their lungs off and carrying Legionnaire banners dashed up the Road towards the barricades. Their supposed job; to charge the enemy lines and encircle their defenses. Their real purpose; to sacrifice as a distraction while an archer platoon quietly set up firing positions along the left and right flanks of the Road. Kopis wouldn’t miss the “fresh recruits”; as they were only adolescent and middle-aged; such brainwashed pawns were expendable.

As the cannon fodder reached where the trees have been cut down, the column would split off into two separate wedges... or try to at any rate, given their lack of training. With any luck, they’d at least clear out some mines before they all met their inevitable demise with the REA's funnels.

Meanwhile, the archers would advance in two loose lines on the sides of the road, displaying no banners and communicating only in whispers and hoof signals. As the left flank had to move along on lower ground, they’d have to advance farther than the right to obtain optimal firing positions from the front on the first barricade, in the middle of the Road.

Once all archers are in range and the orders given, infernal projectiles would rain down upon the REA defense.....

 

OOC WARNING: please read here for corrections to erroneous details in this post.

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Reveille has made it to the first reinforced barricade before the horns sounded. Just in time. From the small force garrisoned in the town, there were a few archers and spellcaster with the rest of them at the first barricade. Good. 

He heard the charge, their screams echoing through the darkness of the trees. As they near closer, he called out to his fellow soldiers:
"Aim for the openings in the trees! When they trip the charges, they'll be disoriented! Lets shut 'em down!". All they knew was that he was a Staff Sergeant, and he looked like he had seen his fair share of scrapes.

Canalizing their forces would be the best way to at least slow them down. Tight groups were better to take care of than large mobs. 

Thankfully, they took the path of least resistance and fell right where they needed to. Going around the fallen trees, it split them up enough to suit the defense's plans.The first few standard-bearers came into view, and then disappeared. There were several charges between the group and the barricade, but Rev was hoping there'd be some left over after the first wave. The explosions from the pressurized charges shook the earth, the noise booming over the fills and cliffs around them as large clouds of white steam lay in the aftermath. Their vision blocked and the explosions hopefully disorienting those who survived, they should make for easy targets.

"Fire!" he called out, the ranged units responding by sending magical bolts and arrows toward the steam. Reveille held one of his iron ball grenades in his hoof, watching the clouds closely. He hoped he wouldn't need them, but if too many got throw, he would. Using them on singular units was a serious waste. He had other tricks up his sleeve for that.

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Finally, some orders!  Naj didn't let it show, but she was relieved.  She'd found little more nerve wracking than trying to figure out how to best use her troops to assist, when nopony had set down a clear plan to follow.  Strictly speaking she wasn't sure where the battlemage fit into the chain of command, but she also didn't care.  She had sensible orders, and that was all she cared about.

Naj saluted the pegasus who passed along the orders, before setting about preparing the changelings under her.  It took some time for all of them to gather, having been in the process of gathering in response to ever changing orders.  It was understandably frustrating, but hopefully an actual plan and the prospect of some combat would take the soldiers' minds off it and keep them from getting too antsy.   They were to take up position near the explosives that Naj helped set up, and either protect the trap from attempts to disarm it or to take down any scouts which attempted to sneak around, whichever came first.  Naj positioned her troops in the best place that came to mind, up in the trees, close enough to have a good view of the explosives while keeping outside the blast radius.  Once in position, with a series of faint green flashes they changed their colours to blend into the branches.

And then they waited.  It wasn't too long before there were signs of the enemy, manifesting first as movement in the distance, then a number of explosives going off, followed by sounds of battle from the direction of the barricade.  The enemy was opting for a more active reconnaissance it seemed, ignoring more technical means of scouting or dealing with traps in favor of simply sacrificing a few troops to drive right through them.

Naj was about to pull back to the main force when from her vantage point they spotted a group of ponies, moving silently through the woods and carrying bows.  Enemies, if their direction and garments were any indication, trying to creep up to the defenders' flank.

Naj made a hoof motion for her group to keep still and silent, as she considered.  She contemplated making a run for the defenses.  Their pony allies likely hadn't picked up on this incoming attack yet, but it didn't look like a message could be reliably gotten through.  The changelings hadn't been noticed yet, but they were also seriously outnumbered, and sprinting away would give up their best advantage at the moment.

It was a risk Naj wasn't willing to take.  The best, and likely safest, use of her troops would be a surprise attack.  Through a series of hoof signals, she told her group to wait for now.  Once the enemy started to take up positions, they'd be most vulnerable to disruption.  Naj would give a signal, and the changelings would attack suddenly and from an unexpected direction.  With a little luck, the enemy would be caught off guard, and quickly routed.

Naj's heart beat faster in her chest, as she watched and waited for signs the enemy was preparing to attack.

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What Twilight said Dunder could not say for certain how useful the information he put forth was. Still, he tried. With haste, he left. The pegasus figured he would be needed at the frontline.

Fearing ranged attacks, the stallion hoofed it down the road until he came upon tier after tier of defenses set up. His chest plate shuffling softly against the buckler and sword hanging off his side while he kept his head low, passing ponies crowding behind wooden defenses.

In eerie silence, the pony moved, climbing over fallen tree and rock when a blood-curdling cacophony of cries erupted in the woods somewhere. Soon after, the cry was followed by another cry of an Equestrian fighter within sprinting distance of the pegasus.

Dunder's heart pounded in his chest and temples, beats being skipped when a series of explosions in the distance resonated down his bones. Frightened, the stallion hit the barricades and took proper cover. A sigh of relief later, he peeked over the cover, watching out for the enemy. Just in time to see the onslaught of magical bolts and arrows fly into the steam crawling out from between the trees. The pegasus ducked back down and drew his sword in one hoof, buckler in the other. His heart hadn't let up, still it was pounding. The adrenaline in his blood delivering a rush.

As he kept his head low, he glanced up at the ridges of the valley. The thought of an arrow zipping towards him and striking him right then and there did not frighten the pony.

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It didn't take long for battle to be joined. The mindless meat that the enemy tossed at them was a sad case and clearest example of why the Empire needed to be defeated. Brainwashed Equestrians were launched at them, likely to test their defenses. This was not meant to break them. The main move would come from some other angle. Ranged? Unseen. Likely to be used soon. And then main forces would be sent in. Good. Let that happen. It was a poor outcome for these poor souls sent against them without will or desire, but war was by design the nastiest of business. There was no sugarcoating it, no matter how much the concept struck at the core of every true Equestrian.

Twilight, right before combat joined, wondered what other path her life could have taken. The failure of her initial entrance exam was until now the worst moment of her life. Yes, she got in later and like most others it took a few tries, but it had hurt. She thought she was special- and yes, true, she had been proven special, but was this all she could have been? A warpony? She had dreams of learning all there was to be regarding magic. Making new magic, perfecting the old, becoming the pony she had always wanted to be. What would her life had been like if she had simply...passed? Maybe she could have prevented the return of the Empire by helping Celestia? Who knows. Whatever path her life could have taken, it was war for her now. And as the first few brainwashed foes got to the barricade, all she could do was rue the cruel hands of fate.

They were disorganized and many had been felled by the long range fire support of archers and magic bolts. A few entered into melee, but they were outnumbered and multiple Equestrians could hit each scout. The first charge was repulsed without loss, but little engagement, But from the steam came more and even as the support elements took their toll, it became clear that this was where the engagement wouldn't honestly begin.

Twilight's horn lit up, and the three-section spear on her back was levitated in front of her and attached to one another. And then it vanished. As the enemy approached, it reappeared above them and was thrusted down twice at two enemies. It then vanished and appeared behind, thrusting itself four more times in rapid succession. To the front, rear, sides, from above and from below, it vanished and re-appeared an struck at vulnerable parts of the enemy. With laser precision and with an enchanted spearpoint, Twilight watched her enemies fall with equal parts pity and hatred- pity for those brainwashed and hatred for those responsible.

All the while though, she kept her wits about her. The enemy would launch their aerial attack soon. Against that- she could feel her golem clawing itself from its earthy prison, and she could deflect a good number of arrows. And when the larger enermy force joined- well, her magically charged logs were prepared to blow holes through their lines. It was a terrible business being a Battlemage.

For herself, but mostly for her enemies.

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The charge of the Legionnaire cannon fodder went exactly as planned; the vast majority of them were dealt with by the mines and REA fire support. Out of the initial 50 “recruits”, only 12 remained standing to swoop back and attempt to storm the first REA barricade from the rear. Of course, without adequate training and equipment for the task, they stood no chance... but they were never meant to succeed in the first place.

However, the Enemy would swiftly put the pain on the Equestrian defenses. Signals were given, and the Legionnaire archers launched their opening volley at the REA’s first barricade. For this first salvo, the archers all used an enchanted fire arrow. Manufactured in fell forges deep beneath the Crystal Spire, these arrows looked like ordinary ones with red arrowtips. Once they were launched from the bow, the arrows would burst into flame. Anything hit by such an enchanted projectile would be set aflame. Quite the ingenious weapon of war, allowing Sombra’s forces to wield the power of fire from range without having their bowponies drag around oil.

The REA’s first barricade was mostly caught unawares by the first Legionnaire volley, giving little time for effective countermeasures. Fires erupted anywhere where the arrows hit, including grass and fallen logs. As was expected, the archers on the right flank hit their mark, while arrows launched from lower terrain on the left flank hit more wildly. But no matter; the first REA barricade was rapidly becoming consumed by fire and smoke.

For subsequent vollies, the deployed Legionnaire archers stuck with regular arrows; enchanted projectiles took longer to make and needed to be conserved, afterall.

During the ensuing chaos, a platoon of 55 warriors slowly snuck up along the left flank, eventually halting a short distance ahead of the friendly archers. Once it appeared that the first barricade was sufficiently weakened, the line platoon would charge in with a forward assault and mop up what remained. Using this strategy, Kopis hoped to methodically take the REA positions one by one.

There was one important fact that King Sombra’s acolyte took comfort in: she had plenty of soldiers to sacrifice. Battlemage Sparkle...... didn't.

-----------------------

LEGIONNAIRE FORCES IN CURRENT BATTLESCAPE:

  • 1 "Fresh Recruit" Platoon - ADVANCING ON REA POSITION (75% casualties)
  • 1 Archer Platoon (split in two) - PROVIDING SURPRESSIVE FIRE
  • 1 Infantry Platoon - IN POSITION TO ATTACK
  • The rest of the Vanguard is still hanging back

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