Though they had started off strong, the vanguard of Eryn’s forces, the Valkyrie’s magic knights, were merely 20 people. Despite easily taking down over 100 of the King’s fighters, that was just a sliver of the forces staring down at them.
Especially since they were inexperienced and young, it was difficult for them to continue the pace that they started with.
Mistakes eventually caught up to them as some were hit by stray attacks, knocking them off their board. When that happened, their partners would cover for them while they made a hasty retreat. Eryn couldn’t afford to lose a single one of them in this battle. Not if they had any hope of claiming victory.
“Fall back if you get injured! Find a healer and recover from your wounds! Help is just behind us!” Eryn shouted words of encouragement, praying that none would lose their lives under her charge. Particularly since many of them had just become magic knights, they had yet to achieve their potential. Surely, many of them would become great in the future.
Eryn gritted her teeth as she sent several more men flying with compact gusts of wind. She knew that she had to preserve her mana for the long battle. With the barrier damaged so greatly, it would be difficult to find any opportunity to repair it. There was simply no time to rest if they wanted to keep the enemy contained to the small entryway.
At this point, Eryn had parked herself near the entrance, plugging the hole with a flame wall to keep most of the lower level troops from breaking through. Still, many of the King’s forces threw themselves through the fire and emerged on the other side, slightly smoking.
“Tch. So they were given flame resistant equipment. I expected it, but it’s still so annoying!” Eryn used her Radiant Light to crush a few combatants with her overwhelming attack power.
A few knights on her side with proficiency in earth magic tried to fix the ground around the mana veins to restore the barrier, but the damage was too deep for them to blindly restore the flow.
“We aren’t getting any juice back into the device! Shifting the earth has no effect!”
Unfortunately for them, restoration of mana veins was no simple task. The propagation of these conduits naturally formed over time, as the grains in the ground structure became aligned. Those without extensive study in mana grain properties would have no idea how to get it working again.
“Drat! All we can do is hold on until the others come! Help me seal up the hole!”
The young knights nodded as they churned up the earth to help barricade the entryway. Though that succeeded in slowing the enemy down, it only delayed the invading army’s inevitable push forward. The King’s own magicians constantly chipped through anything that they could set up.
Eryn glanced behind her at the roughly 500 men in the distance that were catching up to them. Though nowhere near as well trained or equipped as a typical soldier in Sistina’s army, they would still help hold the defensive line while the vanguard switches out for some rest. Furthermore, ‘they’ were leading them.
Her prayers were answered at that moment.
“Charge!” The cries of two familiar men echoed from behind.
On either side of Eryn, Roderick and Pietro dashed past her, with the thunderous boom of footsteps from the other 500 men soon to follow. Immediately, the two of them sliced through those that made it past the fire wall before diving through themselves.
Behind them, Eryn’s army had fortified themselves around the hole in the barrier. Since they lacked the experience to fight in a large crowd, staying near the entrance was the most effective use of their abilities.
For the two that had dashed outside and into the jaws of several thousand men, they merely scoffed at the odds.
“The Land’s Howl!” The two of them cried, each sending forth a beam of hardened earth through the army ranks. This one attack from two of the kingdom’s greatest swordsmen shredded several tens of men in one blow.
“Your execution still has a bit of a spread to it. Tighten your mana control more,” Pietro nonchalantly spoke as he cut some men down who were attacking him.
“Still a lot better than several months ago!” Roderick punched a man in the face with his gauntlet as he cleaved another with a side swipe of his sword.
The two Captains of the Royal Guard were more than a match for those around them, making many hesitate to approach. Nonetheless, there were still plenty of foolhardy men that threw themselves forward, for their king.
“Die, trait- ugh!” One man’s accusations were lodged in his throat, halted by the fatal stroke of a blade.
“I do not blame you for turning your sword against me, but I fight for my lord as well.”
“Geez, you would think that someone out of duty for decades would have dulled a bit, but not you, Sir Tromaine.”
“What do you mean? I’m merely a butler.”
“A butler that can kick ass.”
The two of them continued their casual chat as they struck down all who approached them. As bodies piled up near the broken barrier, King Oswald started to beat his head against the handguard of his sword.
“They are but TWO MEN! Swarm them! Overwhelm them! They will soon grow tired and fall! Get yourselves out there and fight for your king!”
“Don’t forget about me!”
A fireball crashed into the center of a formation. A portion of the King’s army was blasted away, leaving a crater in the center. Having been given some time to catch her breath, Eryn launched a large-scale spell upon the crowd. Though, even that attack only resulted in a small hole compared to the full army’s coverage of the field.
“Press onward! Drain their stamina! We have far greater numbers!” The King continued his rally cry, which brought some life back to the wavering army. They, too, had committed themselves for the glory of the royal family.
For quite some time, the three fighters continued to hold back the army that tried to force their way into the only route forward. Men were thrown up into the air, lives were lost in a blink of an eye, and many looked on in anticipation of when the deadlock would be broken.
Though hundreds of men had already sacrificed their lives to their king, they were holding onto the belief that their contribution, however insignificant it may have been, would weigh down the individuals facing against them. All they needed was to chip away at their enemies’ strength and vitality, believing that their fall was inevitable.
After all, their army had thousands. All it took was a brief moment of exhaustion, a single act of hesitation, and a lingering sense of doubt for the powerful foe to stumble. The mob mentality that infected the King’s army convinced them to dive in towards their deaths.
In a way, they were successful in their goal. There was no way for a mere three fighters, however high-leveled as they were, to hold back an onslaught of stampeding men. They were only capable of striking those within their reach and had to conserve their battle potential for the long haul.
Some men managed to sneak by and leap through the fire wall, where they met the second line of defense – the Valkyrie board riders and the inexperienced militia equipped in cheap gear.
At first, only a few soldiers made it through, which were easily dispatched by the magic knights as they whizzed by and slung their magic. However, the flow of people breaking past was getting thicker by the minute. Eventually, enough of the army had rushed through to form a cohesive line of their own, keeping the board riders from surrounding them.
Hit-and-run tactics and increased mobility only gave a significant advantage when their targets were disorganized and isolated. Now, a line of seasoned soldiers and magicians were deflecting their attacks and returning fire of their own.
Several of the board riders started retreating, seeing that their attacks were no longer nearly as effective. This gave the invading army more reason to cheer as they marched forward towards the clearly inferior citizens.
However, the residents of Faulkner did not lose hope yet.
Large bags sailed through the air towards the King’s army, who put up their shields to block them. The bags collided into the hard surfaces, ejecting a thick powder into the air as its contents erupted from their containers.
A moment of confusion happened as the men saw that some of their companions had been showered with various powders of different colors, clouding their surroundings.
“What the hell is this? Flour?” One man dusted the white stuff from his gear.
“Sawdust for me. Got a woody taste in my mouth from it.”
“At least, you men can brush it off. Coal dust is gonna leave stains worse than their blood.”
The men halted briefly to knock away the plumes of dust coming from various sources. Many of them scoffed at this ridiculous deterrent, which merely served to annoy them. They would make sure to give the residents of Faulkner a slow death as they enjoyed their howls of terror.
The clouds of dust continued to become thicker as more bags were thrown towards them. The barrier behind the stalled army kept it from dispersing as normal. Soon, the air was thick and difficult to see through.
For many, that meant that they would just have to run forward blindly to escape from it. However, a select few realized what this distraction actually meant and quickly threw up their shields or magic barriers in haste.
A loud tremor shook the battlefield as fire had ignited the dust in the air, creating an explosion that ripped through the crowd. After the dust cleared, more than half of the soldiers had been torn apart by it. The flames from Eryn’s fire wall had ignited the dust, delivering the force of an explosion into their backs. The result was a surprise attack that bypassed their defensive stats. This scheme was particularly deadly for those who had run forward, not even bothering to defend. And even for those that had defended, the resulting noise and shock had caused them to stagger. Even if their armor shielded them from the erupting flames, it could not prevent their bodies from feeling the other effects.
The Valkyrie board riders took advantage of this and dove in, firing their magic spells at the stunned soldiers. Once again, they were starting to push them back.
The line of Faulkner citizens erupted in cheers as their bombardment succeeded. They could take pride in the fact that they repelled so many through their own hands, despite the disadvantage on their side.
They were not soldiers trained for war. They were merchants, craftsmen, artisans, miners, and bakers – all who had taken up arms to defend their beloved domain. By the request of their lord, they had gathered up the powders storied in their workplaces and brought them for munition against the invaders.
Heaving them forward and creating a thick cloud of dust, it would only be a matter of time before the flames behind them set it off. Though they didn’t have the manpower to fight directly against an army, that didn’t mean there were no other means to prevail.
Viscountess Faulkner had given them a place for their talents to flourish. The Faulkner Trading Company was a bastion of promising new ideas and ingenuity. As the ones contributing to that flow of advancement, they couldn’t let others brazenly come in and trample on their efforts. In their minds, technology would soon outgrow the might of the individual soldier. The magic barrier had been proof of that change, and no one would stand idly by and let others tell them otherwise.
The explosion knocked away the fire wall that their lord had set up, which also became a signal for the three fighters outside of the barrier to fall back. They would have to shore up their defenses and lose some ground at this point because holding them at this location was a losing battle.
Eryn, Pietro, and Roderick retreated back into the barrier. All who saw them could tell that they were having a rough time of their own. The weariness of battle decorated their bodies, and they were heaving from exhaustion. Likely, their mana reserves had been greatly spent.
In the worst-case scenario, they would have to pull all the way back to the city and use the defenses that the residents had started setting up. Eryn had ordered for the city to be booby trapped in case the invasion progressed that far. There were many inventions that couldn’t be carried to the battlefield, but they could be repurposed to their advantage.
For that reason, Eryn’s side started sounding the signal for retreat. Her team of knights passed her a recovery potion, which she chugged quickly, and prayed for her safety. Eryn herself was determined to hold them off with the last of her magic to give them time to reposition. That was the very least she could do as the Lord of her people.