Asmaki Khalya Xaaviya D'aldrati Zhetiveh
: Governor-Matriarch of the Aasiti Province, on the southeastern coast. A dedicated and adept administrator, her military training is only rudimentary. Intelligent and shrewd, she is prone to bouts of mania and depression. She has mustered all available militia within two days’ march to rendezvous with her and try to protect the town of Patnai and hamper the advance of the Imasician Legions while the Province’s Matriarch-Militant marshalls the army proper. Many of her soldiers are lacking the armor and weapons they trained with, and they are tired from two days of forced marching.
The dawn rose beautiful over the green hills. Masinissa watched the flashes in the armor ring back at him, many glints on the fields of silver. They are called Legii XLVIII through LVIII, and they would conquer this land. Masinissa’s heart swelled, watching the perfectly formed ranks march across the grass, flattening it under their footfalls. It was a perfect representation of the Imperium, before its tragic end. Yet, as they advanced towards the pitiful garrison that was to be their enemy, perhaps it was time the Imperium rose again, stronger and wiser than ever before. A new Imperium, under the eyes of Imasicia, the last son of that venerable civilization. “Army, forth!” he called, and as one, they assembled upon the hill, overlooking the enemy forces below. In the lifespan of a candle, they shall fall.
Asmaki surveyed the force arrayed before her with cold dread hanging heavy in her gut. Like a pouch of leaden sling bullets, a foreboding sense of doom filled her being. Her army was no match for the one arrayed before it, she could see that as clear as day. The scouts she had available counted at least forty thousand among the enemy’s number, if not more. Her own forces numbered a comparatively scant twenty thousand, many of them without even the weapons and armor they had trained with. This was a doomed venture from the start, she knew.
“Varidi, instruct what professional archers we have to retreat to Patnai, they will be necessary in the city’s defense.” She murmured to an aide. “We may die today, but we will ensure these invaders do not profit long from their victory here.”
“Signor, I see them,” whispered a Varacci auxiliary prefect. He pointed with a mangled finger at the sea of horns assembling below, ragged and shivering. Masinissa’s breath caught in his throat, as it so often does before a battle. “They are . . . ten thousand? Twenty?” His brow furrowed. “I see no armor. What if it is a trap?”
“A trap? Perhaps . . . “ Masinissa whispered. “Who knows what these devious Surabhi may be planning . . . “
“Praetor, we await your decisi-” a legatus began, but Masinissa waved him away.
“. . . Approach cautiously. Send in a few greens, nothing we can’t afford to lose. Harry them and break their lines, and watch the damn corners. If it is a trap . . . “ Masinissa said, his voice slowly giving away to near-silent rambles. His eyes darted about, expecting to see an unending horde of cow-women appear from anywhere and descend upon him. The legati gave each other a grim look, and immediately left to organize their own legions. The auxiliary prefect did the same, shooting a suspicious glare at the Surabhi lines.
Asmaki frowned at the approach of a small segment of the Imasician forces. It was a trap, it had to be. Skirmishers, to lure her smaller forces away from their defensive position and into the open, where they could slaughter her forces wholesale. This enemy commander was a cautious one for sure, and her hopes of forcing him into even a pyrrhic victory were slipping steadily by the minute.
“Varidi, instruct our remaining archers to take up their positions and await my order. We should reserve arrows for the main force of their advance. Tell the skirmishers and whatever infantry have their armor to move to the front - I want skirmishers to drive their own back, the infantry to protect our archers.”
Her expression was grim as she surveyed the field from atop the hill. Even dug in as she was, she knew she was no match for a properly trained and experienced general - let alone one who outnumbered her own forces by such a wide margin.
“Run and release! Run and release!” shouted a centurion, lost in the mob. His voice was picked up by the remaining command, and rose up in a chorus alongside the charging skirmishers. Cries of “Get moving, damn you!” and “Bleed them dry!” joined shortly after, and the cacophony of overlapping voices grew to a mess of noises, only some of which may even be considered human. Metal rings rattled on metal rings, as the charging force ran right up to the quickly-forming Surabhi skirmishers, seemingly about to throw themselves upon them in melee combat. Then, they slow, halt, and pull from their backs a single metal-tipped javelin. With roars of fury, they hurl the javelins at the unarmored Surabhi, painting the grass red. Another volley, in quick succession follows, tearing gaps in their lines. Then, quick as they approached, they book it for the safety of the legion.
However, as the enemy skirmishers face them down, the roars quickly turn to screams. A javelin buries itself into a skirmisher’s back, and he collapses. More missiles join the first, each finding its mark with a power unexpected of a peasant levy. Desperately, the force raises their round shields, small protection that they are, to the sky.
“It’s no matter, the damage is done . . . “ muttered Masinissa. “I trust you are aware of your own role.”
“Si, signor, it will be,” replies a guttural voice. The Varacci prefect steps out before his kinsmen, and begins banging on his shield. The effect is an instant seeming hypnosis of the auxiliaries. The banging slowly gets faster, louder, but even the sound of metal is naught compared to the breathing of the Varacci themselves. The entire unit seems to vibrate, with how much they are twitching. “Ahhh . . . ahh . . . ahhh . . . AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” The shout comes up as one, and the unit charges, blood in their eyes and on their tongue, and all the world disappears in a haze of anger.
Asmaki smiled in grim satisfaction at the losses inflicted by her own forces on the enemy’s skirmishers. She knew that her and her own force’s odds of survival were still slim, but it filled her with a faint glimmer of hope to see the foreign soldiers flinch and flee in a rain of javelins.
However, her eyes narrowed once more as she saw a fresh detachment of the enemy break away from their force, an unearthly yell reaching her ears, the sound carried by the wind.She could see these new enemies wore little armor, and seemed markedly different than the other members of the Imasician army. Hurriedly, she struggled to compose herself. “Archers!” She called, signalling to her aide, “Loose at will when the enemy draws past two and a half hundred yards! Skirmishers, to the flanks, to the flanks! Spears, counter! Hurry!”
Her orders were hurriedly conveyed through the ranks by her aides, but even as she watched them carried out she knew she had given the commands improperly, and she wracked her brains for the correct terms. The skirmishers lingered in a confused mass, only beginning to part after far too much delay, the infantry similarly was sluggish in its response, and its response was a confused one at that. Asmaki cursed herself, and wished only that the provincial commander could arrive to save her force. The few properly equipped elements of her army that originated from the standing garrison of the town formed themselves into a long, thin line of bristling spear points, many of the lighter armored soldiers who had not received their full equipment clumping in behind them.
‘Counter’ was not a standard order amongst the military, and many unit commanders, uncertain of what it meant, lead their forces in a sally against the onrushing berserkers. Asmaki screamed for them to return, but her voice was drowned in the wind, and a gaping hole opened in her line. It was soon being filled by one of the reserve units, but she knew they were raw recruits with minimal training, many of them not even full adults, hastily handed spears and shields and pulled along into her ragtag army.
The only contingent of the army that did not suffer in her breakdown of communication were the archers, even as one of the signalling officers desperately waved her colors at the unit that had broken from the line, the archers raised their massive war bows, loosing their deadly volley of arrows into the onrushing mass of orcish berserkers.
Two. Two arrows. That was how many Centorio Silano Giulio had sticking out of him. Maybe, at least. He was judging purely by the snatches of color he could see. Still, blurry images, that flash before him, one after the other. Between each one, nothing but darkness and blood and the vague feeling that something, some part of him, isn’t quite moving the way it ought. A splash of water struck him in the face. No, not water. Salt, he could taste the salt. It was blood. Was it the poor woman screaming he could hear, or his own? There! He felt it! A third arrow drove home into his shoulder. Was he losing it? No, no, he can’t! He was a Varacco of the Cohorta! The screaming intensified, but it sounded different. Silano was almost sure it was his own. His hand closed around something. A pipe? An image flashed before him. Not a pipe. A horn. There was resistance in his hand. He’s pushing, pushing, but it won’t give. Everything is going dark, and he’s finding it hard to recall now. Why does that soldier have a broken horn? What’s that piece of white pipe doing in her eye?
What was he doing here?
With a gasp for air, everything comes into sharp focus. Red stains in his eyes. Everything hurts. Four, five, he can feel them all now. They hurt like death, they hurt like storms upon the tranquil sea. He falls, caught in the arms of an earth spirit. At last, the scream dies down. However, he knew in his heart that he should be proud. It was a day of victory! The king, the king would be proud of him. He will tell his father the sun all about the victory of Centorio Silano Giulio, who fought like an evil spirit while his brothers fell.
Masinissa had to resist the urge to look away. The Varacci weren’t warriors, not by any definition he knew. They were fireballs, moulded poorly into a humanoid shape. Their lives were dedicated to releasing that hot energy simmering away within them in a single massive explosion. He was watching it for himself, this terrifying inferno, this forbidden vision.
“I shouldn’t be dedicating this many soldiers to this battle . . . “ he mused, his brows creasing with worry. It could still be a trap. It had to be a trap, right? He had been overzealous. Where were the reserves? Did the Surabhi dare cut this many lives so flippantly? “Turtles, I want turtles down there immediately. Fill in the gaps with scuta and spatha. Legatus fifty-three, you’re in the center. Legati fifty-five and fifty-six, wrap around. Let’s squeeze them until they shatter.”
Asmaki gasped aloud in shock as the orcish tide crashed into the still forming line of spears, even as great gaps were rent in their figures by the punishing arrows of her archers, she could see many of them charge on, heedless of the fatal wounds they had suffered. “Reinforcements! Reinforce the front, cut those things down, whatever they are!” She cried, motioning with a distraught hand at another aide. Where are you when I need you, Kuirroda?
she wondered, casting a glance to the horizon as if expecting the provincial commander to arrive at the head of a relief army. I’m not a commander, I’m an administrator! You could have delegated a lieutenant to organize the conscriptions in the west, but you had to go yourself.
She was broken from her thoughts by something in her peripheral vision - yet more detachments of the enemy’s army breaking off from the main formation, swooping down on each of her sides, their shields raised. “Archers, loose on the enemy!” she cried, her voice hoarse with desperation, “Heavy arrows! Something!”
Despite her shortcomings, even the reserve archers were well drilled, and nocked new arrows on their bows, drawing and loosing the heavy shafts with well practiced coordination. Even the heavy wooden shields of the Imasicians fell prey to the punishing rain of arrows, cruel steel heads with hardened tips that punched through maille armor and wooden shield alike. But it was small respite against the numbers of the Imasicians, and Asmaki had sent half of her archers away, knowing the outcome of the battle would not favor her.
Infantry captains, acting without orders, rushed their units to the flanks to meet the oncoming foe, but their troops were yet more inexperienced and untrained recruits, barely adults, often armored with little more than a padded shirt and carrying only spear, shield, and a knife. Asmaki closed her eyes, knowing the result would not be one she wished to see.
The ground was a pile of bodies. Surabhi arrows distinguish poorly between officer and footman, and many bodies lay together in repose. They tear through the thick shields almost as if they were air, and are still strong enough to punch through mail armor, segmented armor, and the flesh and bone beneath. A line of soldiers threw themselves on the Surabhi spear-women, carrying the feathered corpse of their centurion. Masinissa distinctly remembered that one having once been a testudo. It was the arrows, that was the key to their warfare. If he could somehow get to them . . .
No matter. Their infantry was no match for his own. As they poured through the slowly thinning defenses, a familiar chill swept through the air. He could almost smell their fear. They may not know it yet, but they are about to break, and he would see they did by his hand.
“Senator’s sons, by your fathers!” he shouted, gesturing with a hand. A member of the civilian staff wordlessly ran over, clutching the rope about a horse’s neck. “Hello, Fulgongula,” he whispered, petting the horse’s neck. With a practiced swing, he landed astride and slung his quiver of javelins. “We’ll make three passes about the lines. You see a head with a horn, you throw. Away!” the young blood with him followed. Thunderous hooves marked their advance, leaving behind them a trail of trampled grass. As the horses approached, their riders let loose a volley of spears. They have practiced long enough for each to find a mark. “The archers, focus on the archers!” Masinissa shouted, as they wheeled about for another charge.
Asmaki caught sight of the enemy riders just as the first murderous hail of javelins slammed into the exposed backs of her ranks. She swore, wheeling her mount around to face the enemy as she desperately called out. “Archers! Focus volleys on the cavalry! All archers focus on their cavalry! They will destroy us!”
Chaos surrounded her, all around, the shrieks and cries of war and death rang through her ears, an orchestra of terror and pain. A scream slowly filled her ears, and through the haze of adrenaline and fear she idly wondered from whence that scream came. It grew louder and louder, soon drowning out everything else - and she realized it was her own screaming, rage and anger coursing through her, a heavy javelin pinning one of her aides to the ground, the young aide’s blood hot between her fingers as she desperately tried to stem the tide, the cruel iron head having slammed home in the neck of the poor girl. Rough hands pulled at her, and she was standing - her aide was gone, she could see that now, but all around them surged the battle, more and more of her army dying by the minute.
In that moment, Asmaki knew her forces had lost the day. As she surveyed the thrashing carnage, she felt hot tears streak down her face. She had been a fool to even attempt such a stalling action. She knew that now.
Wiping the tears from her face, she strode back to her mount. “Call for a retreat.” She said grimly to one of the remaining aides, “Signal the archers to make for the town, tell whatever infantry can to cover them.”
She reached for her helmet, hanging by the side of her mount’s harness, sliding the steel in place over her skull, tugging its straps tight. “We will buy them time.”
One of her retinue seemed intent on speaking, her mouth opening in protest - but no sound came. Instead, the woman remained silent, staring her commander down for a moment, before nodding, turning to her comrades. “Daughters of Ishareth!” She cried, pulling an axe from its loop on her belt, “Do you wish to live forever in heaven?!”
Asmaki was deaf to the world now as she raised her own blade, a defiant scream of vengeance rising from her throat as she lead her small retinue into the thick of the enemy cavalry, the shock of the heavily armored riders, even numbering only eighty one in total, threw back the lightly equipped enemy cavalry, many of whom seemed taken aback by this suicidal charge. She was no warrior, even less adept with a blade than she was in command, but raw, animal savagery and rage fueled her motions as she drove the tip of her sword into the throat of an Imasician rider.
In another life, Arbatus Medurus would have been a senator, as his father is. However, fate has decided another path for him. Masinissa hoped silently that his pitiful death meant the aversion of an even greater malady to befall Imasicia. Medurus stubbornly refused to die, struggling and spasming on the ground as he coughed blood onto his hide armor. Masinissa drew his sword and plunged it into the awaiting neck of a similarly occupied Surabhi rider, between the gaps in her armor. Then, he swung his sword low, clanging it against the steel blanket of another’s riding bull. The host was flung clean from the mount and landed with a sickening thump in the dirt.
Her fall was the signal the other soldiers needed to finally break and run. The archers fell first, making almost with a purpose for the dense woodlands. The spears followed shortly after. The legions made a chase for the routing army, but quickly realized it was pointless, to chase down their unarmored foe dressed entirely in segmented metal.
“. . . Triumphator!” a single voice shouted, from one of the unseen voices in the mass of bodies. “. . . Triumphator!” Another joined. Then a third. Masinissa basked for a moment in the sea of voices. “Triumphator! Triumphator!” Imasicia has not seen battle in many generations, and the title had not been even uttered in perhaps years. Now, here he is, a victorious commander. He gazed back, in sudden awe at the bodies he left behind. Could he have killed ten thousand Surabhi barbarians? Fifteen? He threw his arms up and let the shouts wash over him. “Triumphator!”
As the voices died down, two legionnaires dragged the limp body of the fallen rider. Judging by her decoration, it became immediately apparent as to what her fall meant. She was likely as not the commander. “I would parade her down the streets of Mirgamas,” he said, speaking not to her, but to the soldiers first. Then did he lean over her to grasp her chin and look into her eyes. “What’s your name? Whose sister must you have been to be given command of any army larger than a flea-bitten neighborhood guard?” he asked, in Imperial first, then native Imasician.
Asmaki did not speak in response, instead staring the man down with hate burning in her eyes. She understood the gist of his words, but felt no need to speak to the invader in his own tongue. Instead, she spat in his eye, a wad of dust, blood, and spittle splattering across his triumphant features.
Masinissa shrieked, and pressed a gloved hand to his face. A legionnaire enclosed his hand into a fist and slammed it into the commander’s face. “Your name is canina,” he said. Masinissa waved his other hand, gesturing for her to be taken away. Only would a barbarian be so stubborn. Yet, he cannot let a speck of grime stand in the way between him and his goal. Stroking his horse’s mane, he turned it around to face the direction of the town, just below the horizon. The true victory had not been won yet.