“My liege, is this entirely necessary?”
Doge Alexandrinov XIX looked down at his Chief of Staff, staring through the bars of his helmet. “I am not a strategist, general. Nor am I a monster in combat, like so many of those in my employ. But I am still ruler of this Archipelago, and I will not cower behind the walls of this palace while other men fight and die for my cause.”
“But...my liege, if you fall…”
“If that happens, I have plans,” he said. Friends in the World Government, instructions on who to set to govern the islands...to prepare them for the worst, once the mines began to give out. Enough, maybe, to still allow them to pay the Heavenly Tribute, to prevent them from losing the protection of the Marines that kept the Archipelago from being nothing more than another plundered ruin.
It was ironic. He and Roberts had begun to plan together to keep that fate at bay. And yet their disagreements had brought it home all too soon.
“Still, with no heir…”
“Kazrak. I am going to fight. Now make peace with that.”
The horned man grimaced, and nodded, taking a step away from Alexandrinov’s horse. The Doge turned in his saddle, examining the lines of armored cavalry that had assembled in the palace courtyard. He drew his sword- an ancient weapon that, unlike most of the pieces his various courtiers favored, was utterly unadorned and more like a particularly ambitious machete than a blade of elegance and grace- and pointed it at the opening gates. “Men! We ride!”
The Household Guard, one hundred armored dragoons, thundered down the city streets.
“Black vest, two hundred meters, by the shop front.”
“Down,” Pravilno said idly.
Lauren chambered another round.
Pravilno was a good spotter. Surprisingly. He’d seemed too loose to have the right focus.
Herself...she was cold as ice. She couldn’t afford not to be.
“Red cap, one fifty meters, back by the gun crew.”
Had to be cold. Thinking about what was on the other end of the scope would get her killed.
“One with the bazooka and the fur hat, one seventy-five, on the barricade.”
In a way, Vinci was grateful.
The field medics were the ones who did triage. Sorting out the ones who’d live first and giving them priority to be brought back.
It meant that there hadn’t been anyone who’d died on his table yet.
He tuned out the screaming, begging for their mothers, and various other horrifying noises of medicine, and focused on suturing what had been an arm and was now a stump.
Arteries closed. Wound cleaned. Bandages applied.
He stripped off a pair of gloves, pulled on a new one, and moved to the next patient, someone who’d caught the edge of an exploding shell. Basic shrapnel and burn wounds, blinded eye.
Extract shrapnel, clean, stitch the worst and apply bandaging.
Broken arm and fractured ribs. Set, painkillers, restrict patient movement.
Open pneumothorax. Occlusive dressing, chest drain.
“Go find those Ducal guys, Herman,” Herman said in a high-pitched tone. “I can’t seem to get a hold of them, Herman.” He swung Amakatta, tearing into another oncoming wave of rebels. The bastards just kept coming.
“No, they’re definitely not being slaughtered, Herman,” he continued. “The rebels probably won’t be led by other, very dangerous pirates, Herman.”
His free hand- furred, clawed, and large as an average man’s head- lashed out and grabbed the nearest rebel. “DOES THAT SOUND LIKE WHAT’S HAPPENING?” he roared in the man’s face.
The poor bastard fainted. Herman grunted, and hurled him into a knot of his companions. Things broke.
Where the hell was his support? He’d lost three men already- two wounded, one dead- and he didn’t want to lose more on this damn suicide mission! Hell, the way the rebels were swarming in a few moments they’d be...surrounded…
Herman gaped as a rain of flagstones, random weapons, and flailing bodies, all surrounded by a blue glow, swept down the street. He covered his head with his arms and braced for impact as the wave neared, but nothing happened. After long moments, he opened his eyes again.
The rebels- all the rebels, and the few men with snake-eye symbols that were probably more pirate mercs- were down, crushed by the debris. His men, though, were perfectly fine.
“Hey buddy, mind coming over here so I don’t have to shout?”
Herman looked down the street, to where the two familiar shapes, one long, one short, of the Boondocks Brothers loomed. “What took you fuckers so long?” he shouted back.
“You ever try to run with short legs? It isn’t exactly easy!” the midget yelled back.
“Take a rest, dogman,” the tall one said. “We’ve got this under control.”
Herman glanced at his men. Two more were wounded- severely wounded, that is, there wasn’t a one of them without some kind of gash or bruise- and the rest looked about ready to drop.
He nodded. “We’re pulling back. Let the Guard hold here.”
I resist the urge to snarl in rage as I smash another one of Clare’s clockwork tendrils to pieces, only for the gears and cogs to vanish and for the limb to repair itself, the remaining five lashing out to block my tails from taking advantage of the momentary opening.
I knew the name of her Fruit- the Cog-Cog Fruit. Before, during the few sparring sessions she’d attended, she’d used it to generate gears and clock hands as shields and blades, nothing more. Clearly, she’d been holding back.
One of the clockwork limbs slips through the guard on my right side, stabbing into my chest before my tails coil around it and crush it to pieces. My counterattack rends open the armor over her abdomen, and blood trickles out before being replaced by oil and coppery fluid. Within moments, the tear is patched with a filigree of churning gears.
Can’t hit her as hard as I’d like. Can’t risk killing her. Even injuring her like this is risky. I don’t know at what point she stops being able to transform or whatever else she’s doing to stay in the fight...but she has to lose stamina at some point.
The problem is, between whatever injuries she’s inflicting and the constant bleeding of my own self-inflicted gut wound...I’m starting to grow hungry.
It’s a race, between whether I can hurt her badly enough to knock her out of the fight, or whether I grow hungry enough that I won’t care about whether she stays alive or not.
I jump back, tails lashing out. “Breath of the Dragon!”
Clare staggers as the wind blades cut into her clockwork limbs, and I seize the opening, Shaving forwards and upwards.
Not to attack her. But to slash at Yugendo, still perched on the roof. The cloaked man dodges, but the quartet of slashes clips his shoulder, sending him tumbling down to the street below. Sadly, the bastard lands on his feet- though at least one of the legs attached to those feet bends in a direction it shouldn’t with a loud crack . He raises his flute to his lips just as Maurice slams aside both of the Oni engaging him and lunges for me instead as I fall through the air. My tails block the blades of his knives and knock him aside into the facade of a building, just before Yugendo blows a single note, low and trembling.
I see, in slow motion, as Clare stops moving mid-throw, and reverses her grip on the blade she- oh fuck no, Shave!
My tails lash out as I cannonball into Clare, smashing the clockwork limbs and the blade she’d been driving towards her own throat to pieces.
“ KANEKI’S WAKE-THE-HELL-UP SLAP!”
My blow dents her helm, and she twitches.
And then screams in rage before kicking me in the balls. I add it to the tally of horrifically painful injuries and don’t give her the satisfaction of reacting as she shoves me away, panting.
“What. The. Fuck!” she shouts, looking around wildly. “The fuck was- why is everyone asleep? What the fuck is going on?”
There’s a series of dull thuds behind me. I glance back. Ah, one pile of mutilated meat in a black cloak and six unconscious Oni. Carry on.
“Asshole hypnotist,” I say shortly, yanking the trench spike out of my gut. “Let’s wake up these people and get the fuck out of here.”
Her eyes harden behind her helm. “Lets.”