Chapter 15 - Breaking Point

"...The fisherman said he saw a fleet sailing up the Bay of Ceredigion," reported the signal officer. "He estimated at least a hundred ships. Based on his descriptions, they were mostly war galiots, xebec transports, and a few fluyts."

It was a cloudy afternoon on the day after. The makeshift assembly of commanders and nobles took place right beneath the forest canopy, with the army still on the march around them.

"That must be the naval force bringing twelve thousand reinforcements," Pascal remembered from Cecylia's intelligence report.

The Bay of Ceredigion separated the Ceredigion peninsula from the Avorican coasts. Its northern waters, near the mouth of the Gwilen River, was split in two by the island of Gwernenez.

According to Cecylia's intel, the Caliphate's reinforcements were mostly infantry. They should have sailed up the eastern passage to reinforce the siege at Roazhon. But instead, they were spotted heading towards the western side by locals...

"They're landing in Ceredigion, hoping to pincer us between their two armies," Duke Lionel declared while Major Hans nodded.

Pascal humphed. "They are too late for that. We are already far enough inland that the best they can do is meet up with their cavalry force. On a road this narrow, all that would do is further strain their logistics."

Although a combined force of twenty-seven thousand is more men than the entire Ceredigion army, his concerns stayed private. This could be just a show of force.

"Even that won't be easy though," an Avorican noble added. "Ceredigion's forested hills drop off sharply at the coast. There are only a handful of beaches on this side where a large-scale landing is even possible."

That gave the intelligence Major an idea:

"How dangerous are the coastal waters?"

"Cliffs along the shores. Outcroppings in the sea. Rocky reefs beneath the water... it's terrible. Even Avorican sailors steer clear of unfamiliar waters."

"They certainly won't be familiar to the infidels, that's for sure."

"So, if we can lure them into hostile waters..." Pascal soon caught on, before exchanging glances with Sylviane.

"Vivi? Think you can manage?" the Princess turned to the hooded Winterborn.

Pascal always did wonder if Vivienne's sense of propriety was because she spent her teenage years on the southern continent. The infidels, especially their women, were always reserved about showing their appearance in public.

"Lure them into rocky shallows, right?" the Oriflamme bard smiled. "Of course."

The young Landgrave then felt a mental shiver from Kaede, as his familiar watched someone who looked like her twin discuss the deaths of over twelve thousand men in a relaxed, singsong voice.

Pascal himself, however, had no such moral qualms:

"Then let us find a maw of hell to bait them into."

"We should pivot the army's march south first," Lady Edith-Estellise added, noting that their forces were still heading southwest, along the arcing forest road to the Ceredigion Capital of Caernarfon.

"No, that will not be necessary. Sending a detachment of archers south will be enough." Pascal brushed aside the official front commander without any discussion.

He called for maps from the communication officers next, never noticing the saint's exasperated frown, nor the contemptuous glare from Mother Abbess Anne that lasted until the meeting's end.

"Here," Kaede strode forward as she opened Vintersvend's Expedition Map.

Pascal wasn't surprised that Admiral Winter had charted the entire coast of the Hyperion continent, reaching at least fifty kilopaces inland thanks to the cartography artifact's scanning range. At full zoom, it even offered depth lines at two and five paces, which was enough for the Northmen's shallow draft Dragon Boats.

"Handy map. Where did you acquire this?" Lionel asked, impressed.

"Admiral Winter of Skagen. We downed him and his skywhale flotilla during the Air Battle of Nordkreuz." Pascal replied as his finger traced along the coast, before stopping at a rocky outcropping that reached into the sea. "Here, Lysardh Point. They will have to sail past this area to access the largest cove in this region -- the best position to beach their entire fleet."

Assuming the map was accurate, the waters surrounding Lysardh Point were filled with rocky shallows.

"I still remember when we lost a fishing trawler in those waters twenty years ago, after a storm blew it off course," the Avorican noble added.

"A cursed place for vile men."

"Oh, it gets better," Major Hans smirked. "Assuming they operate like most navies do in hostile areas, they will anchor out in the bay for the night and then sail in to land their troops at dawn. Perhaps Your Grace has noticed, but this part of Ceredigion gets rather foggy in the morning."

"It will be the perfect cover." Pascal nodded back before turning to Vivienne:

"I can spare you five battalions of longbows and all the arrows they can carry. So lure the Caliphate's ships into those rocky shoals and destroy that army using every magic at your disposal!"

 

----- * * * -----

 

"You heard anything about our pretty new Lieutenant?"

"Ain't she some noble brat's pet?"

"Real yokel of you Ernest. She's a familiar to our Princess' Wicker fiancé."

"Well... some men gets all the luck."

Riding through the forest near the head of the army column, Kaede's cheeks colored as her familiar-enhanced ears eavesdropped on the soldiers of her new command.

I nearly get killed in battle and all these soldiers think about is how I warm some noble's bed, she grumbled in silence. Men!

But even as Kaede sulked, she heard a new voice from the crowd:

"More than just that. I was in the center at Gwilen. Watched her run past, calling for men as she went to smash that cavalry charge. Cut the river to shreds."

"She did that?"

"Might have been her master's magic. But she's the one who carried it out."

Kaede almost turned around to see whom the speaker was before she stopped herself.

No. I shouldn't reveal that I can hear them at this distance.

She had been handed the 3rd Company of the 29th Ranger Battalion, which in truth was little more than sixty men pieced together from three Ranger units shattered during the Battle of Gwilen River -- less than forty percent strength. Yet as appalling as this was, she actually led one of the higher morale units in their detached force.

The 'five battalions' Pascal promised were all critically under strength. A battalion using the Imperial Legionary military structure shared by the continental powers was supposed to include two combat companies and one logistics company, totaling five hundred men. But all together, the four battalions of militia longbows and one of rangers summed up to less than eleven hundred, and only seven hundred of them were trained archers.

Facing the two dozen figures who rode ahead of her, Kaede stared at the back of the hooded, petite Winterborn leading this battlegroup. Against a Caliphate landing force of twelve thousand, this cobbled-together force would not last even ten minutes without Lady Vivienne's sorcery. But even as Kaede thought this, she remembered the conversation with Pascal prior to her departure:

"What do you mean, you want me to watch Vivienne?"

"I mean exactly that -- I want you to take this command and follow her," came his heavy, authoritative tone. "We lack local guides for this region, therefore they may need Vintersvend's Map to find the right location. Furthermore, I want somebody I can trust on the mission to keep an eye on her."

"You... don't trust Lady Vivienne?" Kaede was bewildered. The Princess certainly seemed to have total faith in the Winterborn; shouldn't that be good enough for Pascal?

"If you knew her history, you would not fully trust her either," Pascal answered. "That girl grew up among the infidels. She had supposedly been captured by Cataliyan privateers as a child and sold as a slave. But slaves in the Caliphate are normally only freed after they achieve a certain position -- like the Ghulams who are trained from indoctrinated slave boys, then given their freedom after earning their ranks as professional soldiers.

"Who could guarantee that Vivienne herself is not an agent of the Caliphate?" His piercing gaze warned. "There is a reason why most Oriflammes hand-pick their own armigers, but Vivienne's armigers were all assigned by Emperor Geoffroi. It goes to show that even he did not trust her."

"But she did summon a phoenix, did she not? And the Princess seems to trust her implicitly."

"King Alistair does as well, for reasons unknown. I once asked Sylv why, but all she told me was that the secret is not hers to tell." Pascal grumbled. "But as far as I know, a phoenix chooses a master from among the Lotharin cultures for their character integrity, not whether they are dedicated to the nation; otherwise, the Oriflamme Paladins would not have begun as rebels in the Rhin-Lotharingie Independence War."

It made perfect sense to Kaede. After all, patriotism and nationalism were not human virtues, however governments might insist otherwise. For individuals with a multi-national background like herself, 'traitor' was often a matter of perspective.

"Perhaps there is something in Vivenne's past that leaves her loyalty without doubt. But until I know what that is to judge for myself, I must take precautions against the possibility that Vivienne's talents have influenced if not clouded Sylv's judgment." Pascal had finished.

I guess we'll know by morning, Kaede concluded as looked up at the dusk sky and sighed, trying to ignore the disquieting flutter in her stomach as she did so.

For the first time since Nordkreuz, she felt the suppressed sensory links, the lingering silence over her private telepathy channel with Pascal. The familiar bond was still active, but everything except her empathic link with Pascal had shut down due to the growing distance between them.

When Kaede first came to Hyperion, she absolutely hated the familiar link that allowed Pascal to use her senses and violate her emotional privacy at any time. But after weeks of campaigning, she had grown used to always having Pascal on the other end of their telepathic bond. His presence and voice had been a reliable anchor for her, a life buoy that her mind clung onto in this wartime scenario of constant danger and death.

"Lieutenant... Kaede?"

Lady Vivienne called again as her horse fell back alongside Kaede's, leaving the familiar girl staring at a face remarkably similar to her own.

"Sorry." She opened the map scroll in her hand and examined the current location marker once more. "We're almost there, just five kilopaces ahead."

"Please take a reconnaissance squad ahead to verify," Vivienne smiled kindly. "We'll need to set camp before the sun goes down completely."

"Yes Sir," Kaede swiveled her mount around. "Sergeant Gaspard! Follow me with your platoon!"

It was her first battlefield command, and while the soldiers could begrudge her lack of experience, she was determined they would not fault her for being a backseat leader. Especially since Pascal had confiscated all of her arrows so she couldn't strain her still-healing arm... all except four 'for emergency use only'.

...One of which was a rune-inscribed arrowhead of black iron, designed specifically to kill faekissed.

 

----- * * * -----

 

"There they are!" Kaede cried out from her vantage point. "Distance: around one-point-five kilopaces!"

She stood near the edge of the V-shaped rocky cliffs that protruded into the sea. Her eyes watched through arcane binoculars as a fleet of sails emerged through the light wintry mist. Leading the formation were a dozen war galiots -- half-galleys with flat decks, dual lateen sail masts, and two rows of oars each.

"I don't see them..."

"Nor do I."

"My osprey confirms, Sir," spoke a third lookout.

"Good enough for me," Lady Vivienne declared as she stepped up before amplifying her voice. "Clarion Boost!"

"A familiar after all," the yeoman ranger captain who spoke first sneered at Kaede as he returned to his unit.

He never saw the disapproving stare Vivienne threw his way, or the soft white-blue embers in her eyes as she gave Kaede an appreciative nod.

She has to be on our side... the familiar girl hoped, her fingers tracing the scroll of forged royal orders in her extradimensional messenger bag, which gave her the authority to carry out yet another 'Manteuffel Incident'.

"Cover your ears everyone," the leading Oriflamme Armiger commanded before they stuffed their ears with tiny yarn plugs.

Kaede watched as Lady Vivienne took off her hood and walked gracefully to the cliffs' precipice. Her phoenix Olifant was already merged inside her, their unison transforming her cloak's surface into a billowing cape of cerulean cinders. White-blue embers cored by traces of gold drifted off her, unaffected by the coastal breeze as they floated about like faerie lights, enchanting the very atmosphere surrounding the young Winterborn.

As she unfolded her thin arms towards the sea, the Oriflamme bard began her siren song.

Even with wool in her ears, Kaede could hear the beautiful and soothing melody that reached out across the air. The prelude began gentle and slow, its soft lyrics flowing in perfect harmony with the rhythmic sound of lapsing waves. Accompanied by several hand drums and mandolins, the music was simultaneously lifting and calming, perhaps even relaxing her thoughts and dulling her senses...

Kaede shook her head to drive off the mental fog that began to gather. Pascal must have forgotten how easily she was affected by Vivienne's songs, likely as a side effect of her trained magic sensitivity.

She also realized then that Vivienne was not singing in Lotharin or even Brython. In fact, her lyrics didn't sound anything remotely like the languages of Rhin-Lotharingie. Aside from the slow tune which threw Kaede off at first, there was something vaguely Middle Eastern about the song.

Pulling out a piece of parchment, she scribbled 'what is she singing?' before handing it off to the nearest armiger. The reply came back quick in barely legible letters:

'Kiswahi song with partial Caraliyyah lyrics. It's about a fisherman's wife beckoning her husband to return home.'

Kaede raised her binoculars once more to survey the enemy fleet, trying to keep her mind and sight focused as the seconds passed. At first, it seemed like the Cataliyan oars slowed as the music from the mists confused the rowers. Then, as minute after minute passed, the ships began to slowly change course. Before long, the entire fleet was headed towards Vivienne, towards the craggy outcrop known as 'Lysardh Point' and its surrounding waters full of wave-breaking rocks.

The familiar girl rubbed her eyes in disbelief:

Now this... is magic.

"They're coming!"

In the light morning mist, it took a while before any of the Cataliyan officers she watched on deck grew alarmed by their course change. But as the outlines of land came into view, the commanders whom were least affected by the siren's song began to point and yell at the coast.

Zooming in on the lead galiot, Kaede watched as an officer pulled out a whip and began beating the rowers and sailors, yelling into their faces as he did. Some of the men seemed to snap out of their reverie, only to throw the vessel into further confusion as they rowed off-sync from the rest of the crew. The third galiot to the left seemed to recover the most, its course just beginning to turn back when it was rammed by another ship coming from behind.

The Cataliyan fleet had sailed in a tight, half-moon formation. It had been a sound defensive choice in the mist, given the obscured vision and hampered visual communications. But now, as their fleet fell into chaos, individual ships found themselves unable to maneuver as the herd drove them into shallow waters.

If that wasn't bad enough, the wind and tides were both beginning to pick up.

As the fleet closed and panic spread, Kaede watched as the first ship collided with a rocky outcrop and overturned, spilling over a hundred men into the sea. Just like historic navies on Earth, even many of the marines had little knowledge of how to swim and promptly began to flounder in the water, not to mention the army infantrymen who already suffered from seasickness. A second galiot soon overturned in the same way, while a third began to capsize after a barely submerged reef tore through its keel. Meanwhile all around them, vessels that have regained a semblance of control tried to break free from the formation, only to ram into the hulls of their confused or still-entranced comrades.

It was a scene of total chaos, and it was only about to get worse.

"ARCHERS!"

Kaede yelled out as she picked the signal flag off the ground and waved it with both hands. She could see other officers doing the same all along the cliffs and hilly shoreline. Companies of longbowmen marched out from their concealed positions, lined in two long rows that snaked along the coast with arrow-laden horses following close behind.

"SHOOT AT WILL!" She waved the flag in a circle above her before leveling it forward.

Without cohesive orders to shoot, even the first volley came a bit scattered. Nevertheless, hundreds of arrows soared out from the high ground and shot into the cauldron of Cataliyan ships and men. Leading them were the transmutation arrows that had been supplied to the ranger companies, including at least a few dozens made by Pascal himself. Many rangers sent their projectiles into the confined waters between vessels -- especially those positioned at the formation's flanks and rear. There, runic arrowheads activated and began transmuting the water and its organic waste into oil.

A rain of death began as arrow after arrow pierced the torsos and faces of Cataliyan sailors, some on their ships while others in the water. Chaos escalated further as the first fire arrows soared in. They ignited the canvas sails and patches of floating oil, billowing choking black fumes into the faces of officers who desperately tried to rally their men.

Some brave compound archers and ballista operators managed to fire back against the Lotharin lines, forcing the Oriflamme Armigers to raise wards to protect their lady. But in the grand scale of thing, it was too little, too late. Morale began to collapse as more and more vessels overturned, capsized, or simply caught fire. Organization disintegrated from one ship after another as fear and panic spread like wildfire.

Within the span of just a few minutes, the ambush had gone straight past 'battle' and turned into a slaughter. If that wasn't enough, Vivienne then finished her enchanting melody and began a new aria, its hastening tempo coordinating the Lotharin longbowmen while inspiring them to shoot faster.

Waving her flag once more, Kaede signaled for logistical troops who could not use a bow to march on the shoals. There, they would spend the rest of the day spearfishing with pikes and partisans, as helpless survivors from the Cataliyan fleet washed ashore in groups too small to resist, most of them without even weapons or armor.


...


The 'Ambush at Lysardh Point' would go down in Hyperion military history as one of the textbook examples of a perfect defensive battle... or, for Kaede, a practical field lesson.

Every circumstance had been set against the invaders. Sailing into unfamiliar terrain that weren't part of their original war plan, the Caliphate lacked knowledge of local conditions. The weather dulled their senses and compacted their formation. The mysterious Vivienne and her Concordance Magic led them astray and disrupted crew organization. Then came the shock of a coastal ambush which destroyed their morale, before the tide and treacherous waters finally sealed the deal.

Out of the one-hundred-nineteen Cataliyan vessels that sailed for the Ceredigion coast, only fifty-six turned back to find shelter among the conquered ports of Avorica. Even there, three of them would be burned by Lotharin guerillas operating behind front lines.

It also cemented the reputation of Lady Vivienne -- whose name had only been spoken in gossip and rumor before the Battle of Gwilen River -- as an Oriflamme archmage known as the 'Winter Siren'.

Later that night, Kaede smiled watching as the forged orders from Pascal burned to ashes before her eyes. Maybe one day she would learn just what Vivienne's secret was. But for the moment, she was glad that her 'twin' was firmly on their side.

 

----- * * * -----

 

"Say that again!"

General Salim stared at the signal lieutenant from atop his steed, hardly able to believe his ears.

"Commodore Hayreddin reports that the 3rd Fleet had been ambushed off the coast of Ceredigion by Lotharin forces. Admiral Kilic was killed in combat when his flagship sank."

Slumping into his saddle, the General found himself struck speechless. He had warned the naval admiral to take extra precautions when landing given the Lotharin's new -- and evidently more capable -- Weichsel commander. But clearly, his words were not heeded.

As moments passed in silence, it was his wazir, Hakim, who stepped up and dismissed the messenger.

"Your Eminence. I think it is safe to assume that King Elisedd of Ceredigion has betrayed his promises to the Caliph and joined the war."

"You're right..." General Salim broke in mid-reply. Then, as his voice recovering: "you have to be right. There is no way that measly force we're chasing could break off enough men to stop an amphibious assault from sixteen thousand infantry, marines, and sailors. They must have had support from local forces! And if that infidel king could betray his own emperor by accepting our bribes and promises in return for neutrality, why can he not turn face a second time and backstab us?"

Hakim nodded in agreement:

"All traitors are opportunists without faith."

"Perhaps we should return to Roazhon and assault the city before meeting the Ceredigions in battle with our full force," commented Colonel Farah, Salim's senior Mubarizun commander.

Her tone had been polite enough, but Salim knew that beneath it lay an impatience that had been simmering among his officers for days.

"They have kept their march to less than a day's ahead of us. If we turned around, they will do the same and bite us in the rear," the General declared. "Furthermore, we cannot afford for the Princess to join her veterans with Ceredigion's army. No, we must end this game of cat and mouse by accelerating our plans."

"You're thinking..."

Salim nodded. The two of them hadn't partnered for three decades for nothing.

"Lieutenants!" He called his signal officers up. "Inform the brigadiers and their staffs: we rest early at dusk today. There will be no camp, no fortifications. Instead, logistic companies will hold the night watch in strength. At midnight, we ditch all non-essential personnel and ride west with the cavalry!"

"Yes Sir!"

"Let our enemies rest on their laurels tonight," the General stared at his wazir with cold embers in his gaze. "By the time they wake up, it will be their time to repent before God."

 

----- * * * -----

 

"Lady Vivienne reports that the ambush was a resounding success, Sir!" the Lotharin officer reported with glee. "They destroyed over half of the enemy fleet. The remnants retreated in total disarray!"

Pascal smirked in reply. This was good news that the army's morale truly needed. But more importantly, it brought Sylviane political support, which meant more time to execute the next phase of their stratagem.

"That ends the threat of a possible southern pincer," he traced the traditional map in his hands, wishing that Kaede was still here besides him. "Tonight we take shelter in the town of Glywysing. The men can have a peaceful night's rest before we continue west along the road to Ceredigion Capital."

Several of the congregating nobles cheered at the news. After days of strenuous forced marches, they were more than willing to accept whatever comforts a rustic town in the Ceredigion forests could offer them.

"Excuse me," Saint Estelle cut in, her brows furrowed in disapproval. "You're not proposing that we abandon Glywysing to the advancing infidel army?"

She pointed to the marker that denoted a 'large town':

"There are at least five thousand lives in that settlement. We cannot simply..."

"We will warn the residents to flee into the forest," Pascal declared. "But Glywysing neither holds a strategic location nor has it seen war in centuries. I doubt the town has anything more than an old stockade to keep out wild animals. We cannot hold such a position against a far superior force."

"Flee?" Edith looked aghast. "Thousands of refugees without shelter in the deep forest? They'll either freeze to death or become fodder for wild beasts!"

"A town like this will have its own hunters to protect and shelter them," the Landgrave scowled, fully aware that it was impossible for a few dozen woodsmen to keep thousands safe. "Regardless, their only other alternative is to stay..."

"Or we could escort them."

Pascal glared back. Not this again.

"Impossible. The forest road is too narrow, and the civilians will only slow us down."

"Then we should stop and fight!" Edith-Estellise asserted. "The victory at Lysardh Point has raised the men's morale. We are surrounded by hills and forests which will benefit our archers and impede their cavalry. Furthermore, we will have whatever defenses and buildings the town has to strengthen our center, backed by hunters and militia from the townsfolk themselves!"

Staring up with mismatched eyes of lapis and violet, the beautiful saint's gaze filled with a simmering frustration.

"Why can we not make a stand for these people!?"

"Because we cannot afford to gamble away this army on a slim chance! We choose to fight only when we are ready to win!"

Pascal took a deep breath as he tried to suppress his annoyance.

When will these people learn!?

But Edith was no longer interested in what the Weichsel Major had to say. Instead, she turned intently on the Princess, waiting for a decision from royal authority.

For several moments, Sylviane pursed her lips as she pressed her knuckles against her chin in deep thought. She stole glances at the faces of the waiting nobles, trying to weigh military strategy against political opinion.

It took long enough that Pascal was beginning to worry. Sure, Sylviane had always judged the politics more carefully than he did. But with the recent victory buying them support, this should be an easy choice.

He was almost about to speak out when Sylviane made her fateful decision.

"I do understand your concerns," she gave Edith a sympathetic frown. "I would even agree with you, had circumstances been different. But the current war situation leaves me with no choice. We must force King Elisedd's hand before returning to fight."

 

----- * * * -----

 

"Retreat, retreat! All he knows is to retreat!" Mother Abbess Anne fumed over telepathy as she followed Lady Estelle back to the Knights Hospitaller column. "He would rather send his familiar into battle than take it upon himself! Why? Because the man has no integrity, no faith!"

Stopping to lean against an ancient yew tree, Edith hammered its bark with her gauntlet.

"Gwilen River and now Lysardh Point, our enemies have seen only bloodshed for the past week. If we let them take Glywysing without a fight, the people will surely suffer those sinners' lust for revenge."

"Over five thousand lives... Lady Anne stressed. "If we do not stand our ground, then their slaughter will be on our conscience! Ceredigion would never forgive us; the Holy Father would never forgive us!"

Clenching her eyes shut, Edith sighed as she thought through her options. She had tried to persuade the Princess, tried to show her Weichsel fiancé a correct and feasible path. But nothing was working!

...At least, nothing legal worked.

Is there truly no other way?

"Edith!" her foster mother pleaded. "I know you wish to stay loyal. I do as well! But we have given them chance and again to do the right thing, to act with the virtue that our Lord and Savior expects of kings! We cannot stand idly by and watch a sin of such magnitude come to pass! To do nothing as that ruthless, military-minded Wicker fiancé of hers spills the blood of our people for his own safety and prestige!

"Everything is ready," Anne assured. "Without King Alistair's dogged obedience backing her, the nobles and their battalions will support your cause! You were the rightful commander of this front to begin with. All you have to do is to give the word!"

The saint stared up through the branches bared by winter, to the cloudy skies that obscured the heavens.

Blessed Father... just what should I do?

But just like last time, there came only silence.

"Edith!" Anne pressed again. "Remember, you vowed that when the time came, you would take action! Do what must be done to protect the innocent!"

Yes, she did vow, a day that seemed so long ago now. She had been sure that this moment would never come to pass, that Princess Sylviane would prove that she was indeed a champion sent by the divine.

Edith had never wanted to betray Her Highness, to betray His Majesty's memory and final wish.

A tear slid down her cheek as she bit down on her lip and wiped it away.

"You're right, mother. I am being selfish; and I cannot be in such a moment."

With pain in her gaze, the Saint stood up straight and faced Mother Abbess Anne:

"Spread the word to those faithful and trustworthy: we move at first light tomorrow. But tell the commanders that they are to disarm only. There will be no killing between Lotharins unless absolutely necessary. I want casualties at the minimum so we may yet face the infidels with our full strength."

"And the Princess?"

Unsheathing the Sword of Charity, Edith held it between her palms as she examined its pristine blade. Even after dozens of battles under her care, the dragon-forged Aurorum Steel remained flawless, untarnished.

But after tomorrow? She may never again wash it clean.

"Sylviane is my sin to bear. No one else must interfere."

 

----- * * * -----

 

Late that night, the heavy oaken doors to the smaller chapel in Glywysing opened. Between the cracks slipped in a feminine figure, hooded and cloaked.

The stone structure was centuries old, built before the Rhin-Lotharingie Independence War by Trinitian missionaries. Its purpose had long since been replaced by the larger church facing the town square, a new establishment that impressed the common folk with its opulence and wealth: altars adorned by fine brocade and gold, stained-glass imported from Weichsel, even delicate ceiling artistry learned from the Inner Sea.

But none of that compared to the spiritual boon of this old sanctuary, a relic of times when the church was cleaner, purer, less interested in secular politics and more devoted to learning and charity.

With the room lit by only the candles in her hand, the guest walked up the aisle in graceful silence. Stopping before the plain granite altar in front of the room, she placed the candlestick on top and knelt down before the wooden cross.

"Blessed Father in heaven," Edith-Estellise whispered as her delicate hands closed in prayer. "I have always been true to you, always lived by your laws and commandments. But tonight, I beseech you for guidance.

"Never for a single day have I forgotten my solemn oath -- To be without fear in the face of evil. To be truthful and upright, even if it leads to my death. To protect the weak and defend the helpless. To act with mercy and kindness for all."

Edith was confident that when the time came, she could disarm Sylviane without harming her. It would take only one strike of her holy sword.

But... what then?

Everyone thought of 'Saint Estelle' as an apolitical figure, a naive girl with no interest in the power struggles of the realm. But even Edith knew that there was no future for a deposed crown heir.

After all, what capable ruler would allow such a dangerous threat to their throne to exist? Even if Sylviane renounced her inheritance, there would always be others who raised flags and armies in her name.

"Lord, I am your faithful and obedient daughter. I know what you expect of me. But I also have no wish to cause her death! To betray His Majesty's expectations and kindness!"

Her eyes then clenched shut as memories resurfaced from those bittersweet days. She remembered when she first knelt before Emperor Geoffroi in personal audience; when she heard his confession and felt the crushing embrace; when she first spoke to him -- not as from subject to liege, but with mutual affection and kindness.

"Please..." her glistening eyes plead before the Savior's form. "If there is even the slightest chance I may be wrong. If there is any other way. Then please, Holy Father, give me a sign!"

42 thoughts on “Chapter 15 - Breaking Point

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  1. MM

    I don't normally post comments but this story is one of the best I've read in a while. Easily best read of 2016 for me :).

    Wondering though, if Vivi's ability to mesmerise the Caliphates sailors was so strong, why wasn't it used during the previous river battle against the enemy rather than to synchronise the allied army?

    Also what is the range of that ability? Surely the space required for a hundred ships ferrying soldiers would easily take up nautical square miles. I understand that she has probably imbued magic into her voice but would it actually travel tens of nautical miles (considering that the fleet would try to stay well away from the cliffs and dangerous areas)?

    Other than that, I think this chapter and the story is great. The anticlimatic resolution with Vivi's potential betrayal was interesting whilst it still remaining partially ambiguous and may foreshadow the future. It was also interesting how you used the clinical definition of hypomania/Type II Bipolar disorder into the story line considering that Hyperion is on a separate timespace continuum from Earth. I wonder how Hyperion defined hypomania as <4d

    Anyways, keep up the great work. Look forward to reading future chapters.

    M

    Reply
    1. Riselotte

      I may be wrong, but I'd guess one critical difference between the use of Vivi's abilities at the river battle and now to repel the amphibious landing was that during the battle, the enemy army initiated the battle and thus was pretty much prepped for receiving serious magical attacks and soldiers were aware they could die at any moment, while during the landing, even if some precautions were there, it was not expected that serious resistance would be put up and surely not in this form. Thus, countermeasures were on a different scale and Vivi's abilities seem to work only in a subtle manner. Thus, using her to stop people determined to charge into battle with clear order seems not workable and using her to keep up the morale so units won't break and run is far more useful.

      Reply
    2. AoriiAorii Post author

      A compact galley formation is actually pretty tight. We're talking about a shallow draft oar ship known for its maneuverability after all, and not one of those huge, bulky sailing galleons. I can't give any hard numbers since I'm not a naval warfare expert, but I'm fairly certain it's within audio range... especially since that ambush happened very close to the coast.

      The main reason Vivi used her entrancing song here and not at Gwilen is that (1) her song's effects can wear off after a while and (2) those who weren't affected as heavily can 'shake' those who are out of the trance (as noted in chapter). This means that when affecting a large group of people, it doesn't take very long for them to shake off the effect once the initial confusion passes. All this leaves a very short time window for the Lotharins to capitalize on the advantage, and the Battle of Gwilen River was just too defensive for such an action to take place.
      (if it didn't have this particularly weakness, Vivi would be completely OP xD)

      As for the Hypomania... well yeah, I cheated a little xD

      Reply
  2. Golradaer

    I think this chapter was excellent. Even better than the past few in terms of building excitement. It was nice to see Kaede off on another subplot, and the foreshadowing for Vivi worked well to build suspense. I'm left thinking that Kaede may regret burning those forged royal documents. I also can't wait to see what happens with Edith's coup.

    To be honest, I find that the internal threats like Edith's treason are more interesting than the fate of the broader war. Not to say that this is a flaw. The war is almost like a natural phenomenon that ramps up the tension between the differences in philosophy between Edith and Pascal. However, since you're including the Cataliyan PoV for these events, you may consider giving a bit more thought to General Salim's characterization. When he was first introduced along with his Djinn advisor, I got the sense that he would be a worthy adversary to Pascal, but since then it feels like Pascal's always a step ahead of him.

    One suggestion: if General Salim is truly intelligent and capable of interfering in Lotharingie politics (which seems to be the case), he would be aware of the major figures among the opposition like Edith-Estelle and their reputations, and he would consider how he might create tension among the enemy's leadership. What if he's intentionally forcing Pascal to abandon the town, knowing that this would make Edith furious? What if he had intentionally sent a small squadron toward the coast as a decoy instead of a large fleet to see how Pascal would respond (thereby revealing Vivi's abilities)?

    I completely agree with not turning him into a villain, but the stronger he is as an antagonist (someone whose plans directly conflict with the protagonist's), the harder Pascal will have to work to win. And a final point for when Pascal sends Kaede on missions -- it could be interesting if his expectations are inaccurate to varying extents and Kaede is forced to improvise (e.g., suppose that Vivi had done something suspicious during the fleet ambush which Pascal specifically warned Kaede about, but which Kaede chose to ignore based on her own observation of events).

    Thanks as always! Looking forward to the next one.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      Thanks for the detailed feedback.
      One thing to keep in mind is that it's mentioned back in v3ch10 that General Salim lost his intelligence access to the Lotharin camp and was trying to regain it. Because of that, he wasn't even sure whom the Weichsel-sent commanders were, let alone the exact political details within the Lotharin camp. I should have probably made more apparently that the fleet wasn't under his command anyway. Nevertheless, you are right that I should work on developing him more... even if Salim was never meant to be as exemplary (if he was equal to Pascal he would have killed the Lotharin by now through sheer force advantage xD)

      Reply
      1. hayazi96

        I only have one issue....isn't Kaede kinda acting dumb? (may talk in circles, sorry)

        Just the fact she was really into history and things, wouldn't BURNING what she burnt be considered jumping to a conclusion quite a bit early. I would have just held onto them until the end of the campaign just for the sake of being sure.

        Being a History (can't remember) Scholar(?) wouldn't she be able to take that into consideration instead of completely jumping to conclusions.

        As I'm pretty sure in history many things like this could have very well been covered.... consider it covering your back, instead of removing evidence, it's more like removing a choice before being forced to or the chance to use it.

        I lack actual history knowlege, and more or less only go around scouring the internet for LN I find interesting and well written. so me thinking about it from a history point is invalid agree, but just reading other novels was enough to allow me to notice when it is clearly a bad choice that was unnecessary and would have prevented many things that if they happen, could have been avoided.

        The only thing about this I can say, if it never happens, but they search Kaege for said documents to no avail, it's a good thing.

        Otherwise, her chance to rightfully arrest her has now disappeared, due to her extremely abrupt trust and quick decision making.

        She trusted her too quickly. almost immediately erased the possible life saving document..... one battle, and she already burns it. NOPE. Cage has been made out to be more intelligent than this, UNLESS, this is actually a set up. from the accused, you know, using her power..... then this is justified stupidity, and clouded thoughts that appear normal.

        Reply
        1. Riselotte

          I wouldn't necessarily call it dumb. I agree, keeping the documents would keep the option open longer and could be benefitial... or not, we don't know what may not still happen. However, at the point where Kaede burned the documents, I would say that there were certain reasons for her to believe that if Vivi was going to betray them, then not there and then, as the best opportunity to sell them out had come at the landing. At least for this expedition. Once the small force rejoins the main army though, the documents will no longer be necessary, as any overt treason at that point could be handled by Pascal and Sylv without having to resolve to forging orders, not to mention, that if forgery at a later point was needed, new documents would be needed anyway to avoid looking out of place (given the documents possibly include a date and other references to the circumstances).

          Additionally, of course Kaede is not some perfect soldier making 100% calculated decisions. She was stated to have been a history buff, but she also has always had a certain humane side to her. Maybe not a pacifist principle zealot, but at least she is not exactly happy to kill people and getting rid of the documents as soon as she could justify it would be very much in-character, given she wants to trust Vivi to a certain degree (most likely even Pascal wants to trust Vivi, given Pascal wouldn't get a Vivi-shaped familiar if he held not some sort of affection for her, even if not romantic). Out of likeness, out of necessity (Vivi is one of the few assets their army still has), out of just the desire not to see more betrayal and bloodshed. Also, because as the chapter states, to Kaede, the documents reek of the Manteuffel incident and that incident would have quite negative connotations for Kaede, who not only was able to witness supposed comrades murdering each other out of the blue, but also got to feel all the negativity of Pascal through the empathic familiar link.

          Reply
        2. AoriiAorii Post author

          I guess that depends on perspective.

          It is true that Kaede is a fairly trusting person. But also for her/Pascal, this is one of those pivotal moments that's a "if you're indeed a traitor, this is the time to show your hand". If reminds me of my friends' Battlestar Galactica board games where trying to maintain one's cover for too long can often harm your side more than you benefit it. Vivienne wasn't just a spectator keep quiet here either; she had a personal hand in smashing the reinforcing fleet.

          Plus that document is extremely dangerous to keep around. History is also filled with incidents where one piece of paper stayed in existence too long and got a whole lot of people into trouble.

          ...Also as Riselotte mentioned, it does reek of the Manteuffel Incident for Kaede, who still isn't sure that Weichsel didn't just kill a perfectly innocent general and ended up harming the country more than it helped.

          Reply
          1. hayazi96

            Thanks for clearing that up. and can't wait for the next chapter to fill in some blanks for me.

  3. AVR

    Thanks for writing another chapter - please keep it up!

    Typos & similar

    Duke Lionel declare
    Duke Lionel declared

    wicker fiancé."
    Wicker fiancé."

    surrounding Lysardh Point was filled
    surrounding Lysardh Point were filled

    too little, too few.
    too little, too late. (the usual phrase, anyway)

    disposed crown heir.
    deposed crown heir.

    Reply
  4. Adyen

    Huh. It seems that if Edith goes through with the plan, she's going to be known as the traitor to the realm that sold the army to the Caliph due to the timing of the ambush.

    Well, I guess that's how history is made.

    Reply
  5. Roopvishal

    I think sylviane is Gwendolyn and kannon is helping her by sending kaede as pascal's familiar .I think this is true because kanon once saved her race by sending the general with battle tactics .can anyone clarify whether I am correct or not ,this thought is bothering me for a long time.

    Reply
  6. Winter

    Great work as always Aorii.
    Umm... so will the next chapter have a song and dance number at all?
    It may be odd of me to ask but... whenever I see or read about someone prostrating themselves in a church, asking for a sign from God,
    I almost instinctively expect a wacky car chase sometime in the near future :O

    Reply
      1. Winter

        It's to great sadness... or possibly great joy, that I request for you to watch (rewatch?)
        The Blues Brothers once again for Great Justice; a classic from simpler days~

        Reply
  7. ldvtho

    Just one little thing that I am not clear on: how did General Salim receive a report of the defeat without the manner in which it happened? if the defeat was reported through scrying or words of survivors, then they should know what kind of attack it is, i.e mainly a metal magic attack, not force of arms. Or is it because they can only see the aftermath? it seems to me that you want General Salim to have a reason to go faster.

    Anyhow, it is hard to be sure if there is something missing in this chapter. After all, it is very to see what we expected to see, whether it is there or not, and when you advertise the chapter as missing something, I am not sure if I can be objective. No logical inconsistency founded, though.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      Because they're still trying to piece together what happened. At this stage, the Caliphate still has very little understanding of Vivi's magic. Plus the aftermath of defeat usually spreads a lot of confusion, not to mention gross exaggerations (either as a result of terror or officers trying to make themselves look less incompetent).
      But hey, you're not wrong in that part of the purpose is to make Salim gamble on a decisive battle.

      Reply
  8. Glacierfairy

    I just noticed Lady Vivienne's subordinates addressed her as "Sir", like these exchanges below. Is that a mistake or was it intentional?

    ---
    "Please take a reconnaissance squad ahead to verify," Vivienne smiled kindly. "We'll need to set camp before the sun goes down completely."

    "Yes Sir," Kaede swiveled her mount around.
    ---
    "My osprey confirms, Sir," spoke a third lookout.

    "Good enough for me," Lady Vivienne declared as she stepped up before amplifying her voice.
    ---

    Also, the main Daybreak page is missing the link to this chapter.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      "Sir" is intentional. I wanted military equality, that that begins with no special 'gendered names' ^^'
      and d'oh! Added link. Thanks for catching that.

      Reply
  9. Ebisu

    I think the chapter is fine, though I had the impression that it felt incomplete at the final scene of Edith praying. She asks for a sign and *cut*. Normally, something happens or not happens when one asks for a sign, but the chapter finishes there. In my mind I imagined someone suddenly popping up at the chapel like for example Cecily with orders similar to Kaede's for Edith or a sudden assassination attempt to add to the chaos and the righteousness of her decision. Just saying.

    And for the Lysardh Point, it was so one-sided... though that was what it was supposed to be. ^^ It has an anecdotic point to it, despite it having been practically a flawless victory. About the galleys crashing into others and the general chaos, it remembered me a little of the galleys scene in the last version of the Spartacus film.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      You know, I don't remember a single book or film where someone prays for a sign from God and immediately receives it ^^' It runs completely contrary to "God works in mysterious ways."

      Reply
  10. JoAnna Glasby

    I think I know what's missing unless you are going to introduce it into the next chapter. Sylvie and Pascal know there has been talk of rebellion so they should assume that this very unpopular decision that goes against Mother Anne and Edith's morals will cause backlash and they should be on guard against it and have people of their own in the camp keep a finger on the pulse of things. Unless they are so tired they 'forget' to set up their ears. Maybe kaede's made will heat something.

    Reply
  11. Glacierfairy

    This is a very intriguing chapter, yet I can't seem to put my words as to what exactly is inadequate. It is just this nagging feeling that everything Pascal and Sylviane did will just crumble in a moment's thought and nothing can be done about it. It does makes me reflect about warfare and humanity though. The rational side of me will agree with Pascal, especially considering his dire circumstances, and yet if I'm actually present in the battlefield, I can't help but to think I might agree with Lady Edith instead. Very intriguing.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      There's a weird balance between emotion and logic. Ideals have a tendency to erode practicality, so winning wars require a certain... immorality? But at the same time, since humans are most motivated by ideals, being too immoral tends to lose public support and ultimately the war.

      Reply
      1. Glacierfairy

        That is why I'm really glad I will never need to make such decisions (probably). And that is also why I cannot bring myself to blame those who did made such immoral decisions in war, especially when they turned out to be the wrong decisions after all. Thank you for writing a story that compels me to contemplate and reflect.

        Reply
        1. AoriiAorii Post author

          I still vividly remember a conversation I had during my 2nd job, working as an engineer in a US defense contractor:

          Analyst - "You know we have lobbyists working in Washington to keep government funding on this (project). We did great with it during the war."
          Analyst 2 - "But the war is over."
          (There was an obvious 'darn' throughout most of the room)

          I cannot tell you how uncomfortable that made me feel. But I didn't say anything, and I didn't quit. Because at the time, I still needed the job.
          Moral decisions happen in our lives all the time. Just rarely as flashy or obvious.

          Reply
  12. TheLazyReader

    An exciting chapter with detailed strategic discussions and political manoeuvring. Really enjoyed it! Just curious though, how long do you plan volume 3 to roughly be?

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      18 chapters, maybe an epilogue, maybe an interlude (there's a certain scene I have trouble fitting into next chapter).

      Reply
  13. Hachi

    I can't find anything inherently wrong with this chapter.
    Personally, I think the characters, especially Edith in this case, are very believable in their motivations and actions.
    I liked that an element of mind games were added in the fact that now Kaede not only has to worry about Edith but also Vivienne,
    making her life all the more stressful. It's war, suspicions run high, and you never truly know a person.

    The strategy was good, and the showcase of Vivienne's powers made for an enjoyable chapter, but I felt something was lacking.
    The problem is I have no idea what I felt was missing. Sorry for being so vague.

    As a chapter, I think this portrayed the different beliefs between Edith and Sylv, as well as the fact they go about war differently very well. I feel like Edith's reasoning is naive though, concerning what happens after they try to overthrow Sylv. She makes a good point that conflict will still continue, and that only draws my attention to the
    question of: If not Sylv, then who? And how? Her only option is to kill her, but even that doesn't mean that anything will change for the better. (Does she mean Alistair? Even if he takes the throne, there's still the fact Rhin-Logathine is a feudal system and there will always be extra camps to stoke the flames of war.)
    It really is ironic that Edith knows people think of her as naive and she displays a certain level of it right afterwards. Sylv and Edith operate as complete opposites; Sylv rationally looking at her options and trying to make the best choice for her people and allies, whereas Edith operates based on emotion and saving those before her even at the cost of those following her, showing that her ideals are more fixated on the idealistic belief that there is always something you can do. Unfortunately for Edith, this is not an average Isekai light novel where Kaede is OP and can save everyone from their problems. Either way, I still like everyone except Mother Anne, I never did like her.

    I don't know, I'm not very politically smart myself, and I try and logic my way through it. Personally, I'd like to hear more from King Alistair as its obvious that he's a key player as to whether Sylv will "survive" in the sense of her continued command and status, or she will truly be overthrown, just like her father was. I enjoy the politics, so obviously I'm looking forward to more! (Please continue to correct me if I fail to catch on or misunderstand a character! ^^)

    As always, I think you have given us an awesome chapter, and I'm thankful for it. Keep up the great work Aorii, and just keep going at your own pace.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      I do feel like I brushed through suspicions on Vivi too quickly for it to really build up. But then, the main goal was simply to hint what's to come. Because gosh, Vivi has a lot of complicated baggage.

      The battle was brief and short, so it's very likely something may feel missing there. It wasn't a primary focus, so I didn't give it the usual emphasis.

      Honestly, I'm not sure Edith (or I in her shoes) thought about who she does want to support ^^' I made it clear back in ch9 that she doesn't consider Duke Gabriel as qualified, and right now the Sylviane and her royal uncle are the only ones in the running. Of course, with succession wars, there are often more contenders; I just won't be introducing any before next volume because gosh, too many characters @_@

      Reply
      1. nipi

        Why do I get the suspicion that Kaede is going to be captured by the Caliphate for a time and be mistaken for Vivian? (Or something along the lines.)

        Reply
        1. AoriiAorii Post author

          Because she's bound to be mistaken for Vivi by more people at some point, especially as Vivi's fame grows.

          Reply
  14. Varevas

    Excellent work as usual Aorii. I feel like this chapter is definitely up to your standards and I'm certainly not disappointed even with the long wait. This chapter feels like a solid and logical followup to previous events, carrying them on with good pacing.
    I don't really see anything wrong with the last part, but I suppose being very self-critical is the sing of any good writer. Her actions fall in line with her personality well and her moral dilemma is very enjoyable to read. I always love "villains" who are more morally white than you would expect and are only forced to act in such a way because they feel like its the only choice they have. The ending also smoothly tells and reminds us of the church's history and problems without feeling forced and brings more to the scenario.
    Keep up the good work. Really looking forward to the next chapter. Hoping to see more interaction between Kaide and her troops.

    Reply
    1. AoriiAorii Post author

      Thanks for the feedback. It's actually kind of odd when I think about it -- when this volume was planned it never went into my head the need for a 'villain'. I designed General Salim under the mindset of 'opposition', but even there I stayed off 'antagonist' and deliberately tried to make him more likable xD

      I guess it's simply that I've been more thinking of the story as a conflict of interests between characters than anything else.

      Reply
      1. nipi

        Personally I enjoy stories that arent black and white more. Being evil for the sake of being evil is just idiotic. Maybe thats just me and my opinion that good and evil are points of view - some views are just more widespread than others.

        "Pssth... Come over to the gray area. Theres plenty of room!"

        Reply

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