Wincing, Beddigan huddled against the side of the makeshift medical tent, cradling his left forearm and paw. The bandage wrapped around his arm was wet through from a mix of rain and blood, and he could tell the wound had reopened in the day’s fighting. He stared at the reddened strip of linen.
The tent was bustling, Felines rushing around him as he sat quietly, waiting for his turn with one of the three Healing Mages that had come along with the army of the Empire of the Lions. While they could use their magics to heal most wounds, their power was far from limitless, so they mostly used their first aid training on the soldiers, coupled with a bit of power to numb the wounds, unless a life was truly threatened.
The fighting had been going on for several days, and he’d had very little sleep. And on top of being exhausted physically, he was emotionally drained from seeing the capital city of his homeland decimated by the giant mechs that the Wolves had received from the Bears of Sinerrah. That moment, on the top of the gentle rise, looking down at Yroebrage and seeing its walls fall under the mechanical beast’s paws, was burned into his mind. He could think of little else in his meagre downtime, even now when they had regained control of much of the city.
They had been fortunate to learn that despite their enormity and power, the mechs had a limited power source — one they had yet to determine. As their army had swarmed down the rise towards the burning city, Beddigan had felt a sense of hopelessness that was new to him. How could they ever win against such machines? But once the fighting began, that feeling had ebbed. Seeing how few of the mechs there truly were, as well as how quickly the Wolves pulled them back from the city to avoid damage and conserve energy, now that they had a large attack force to battle against, had changed is mood entirely.
Beddigan had been shocked by the scattered Illensdar army, and even more put off by the lack of Sapphire Brigade members on site in the capital. He realized shortly after arriving in the city that it was mostly evacuated, and he suspected Queen Elendie had tasked the Brigade with getting her safely out of the city.
“Let’s have a look then.” A young Tigress approached him and he held up his arm. She gently unwrapped the bandage and tutted softly at the sticky, reddened fur beneath. “You’ll need a few more stitches.” She murmured, pulling out a small suture kit. Beddigan felt the peculiar sensation of her power as she drug her paw gently over the long, jagged wound he had earned from a Wolf’s short-sword. The area was now numb and he watched with interest as she stitched him up and wiped away as much of the dried blood as she could, before wrapping his arm up with a fresh piece of linen.
“Thank you.” He murmured. She nodded curtly and hurried off to help another soldier in need. Before her could even stand and exit the medical tent, a young Lion soldier he recognized as one of the Lord Regent’s personal guards dashed inside, eyes darting around the room. Seeing that he was the intended target of this soldier’s attention, Beddigan climbed to his feet with a sharp groan, suddenly aware of how tired and sore he was.
The Lion rushed over,
“Sir! We’ve done it.” the youth exclaimed, “The second wave has driven the last of them out towards the border. The Lord Regent would like to see you straight away!”
Beddigan felt relief wash over him, not just at the news that the city was free of Wolves and secured, but that he wouldn’t need to fight any more that day. He nodded to the Lion solider and ushered him out of the medical tent, heeding the annoyed looks of the Healing Mages and nurses.
“That’s wonderful news.” He told the youth as they wound their way through the camp, sidestepping tents, tables, and piles of supplies. He listened as the solider recounted the last push as he’d seen it, from the Lord Regent’s side a short distance away from the actual fighting. Not only did it appear that the Lions and Rams were equal, if not better trained fighters than the Wolves, they also greatly outnumbered the amount of forces the Wolves had allotted from their Army for this particular task. Though many had been injured, they had lost very few soldiers so far, and none had been captured that they knew of. Though, Beddigan suspected that was likely to change once the news got back to Strille that a couple new species of fighters had joined the Mice’s cause.
Beddigan eyed the solider curiously as the youth lead him away from the camps, towards the northern wall of the city. He was surprised he wasn’t being lead to the eastern wall, where the battle would have ended, or to the Lord Regent’s lodgings. He half-listened as the young soldier babbled on about the battle, but his eyes were sharply watching the horizon for the reason the Lord Regent was so far away from the front.
He didn’t have to wait long before he saw the twisted, hulking metal, broken over half the city wall, to know why they were headed that direction. The Wolves had abandoned — or more likely been driven away from one of their mechs.
“Ahh, there you are Beddigan!” the Lord Regent boomed as they approached a cluster of soldiers near the base of the wall. Beddigan bowed hastily to the leader of the Lions.
“My thanks to you for your assistance here, in driving the Wolves from my city. I can’t thank you enough.”
The Lion thumped a paw heavily on his back and chuckled,
“You can thank me later when we’ve put an end to these Wolves for good.” The Lion said jovially, though the light tone did not match the intensity of his eyes. “Well, that and with the magics you’ve promised me.” He added with a wink.
Beddigan felt the same peculiar squish in his belly that always accompanied one of the Lord Regent’s hints at their bargain — a bargain he wasn’t sure he would be able to hold up. He quickly looked to the mech to change the subject.
“I can’t believe they left one behind.” He said, looking up in wonder at the thick, steel leg, hinged over the crumbled stone wall. The Lord Regent chuckled again,
“They didn’t leave it so much as my elite team overwhelmed their forces so much so that the operator had to make the choice to abandon the machine or die.” Beddigan looked at the Lord Regent sharply.
“You sent a team to secure one of the mechs?” without telling me, he finished silently. The Lion thumped his back heavily again.
“Well, of course I did, my dear Mouse!” Beddigan swallowed his anger and let the Lion continue. “We needed to get a good look at one, and it was worth the price of a couple of lives to procure that.” Did we lose more soldiers that I’ve been told? Beddigan thought, his gut twisting with a combination of guilt and anger. He loathed the Lord Regent’s flippant way of discussing loss of life. It reminded him far too much of Queen Elendie, who had sent his father to his death.
“Pity that Wolf had enough time to pull the power source in his escape though.” The Lion grumbled, bringing Beddigan’s attention back to the motionless machine on the city wall.
Bracing himself against the wall and using the metal leg of the beast as support, Beddigan shimmied and climbed until he reached the top of the crumbling section of wall. Ensuring his footing was sound, he crept towards the cage-like centre of the mech. From this angle, he could see that a steel framework in the shape of a bear had been soldered and bolted together, leaving a thin conduit which was no more than the depth of a piece of rope, running along each leg, linking to the central compartment. Attached via steel cable suspension, right in the heart of the mech, was an operators cage, with a small seat, several levers, and two conspicuously empty hollows that connected to the web of conduits reaching down each extremity, and encircling the head.
The door to the cage hung open from when the operator had fled to safety. Beddigan slipped inside, sitting on the small, hard seat. He ran his paws over the levers and around the hollow spots, imaging what it would be like to run one of these machines. His eyes lingered at the place where the power-sources obviously went, that would provide power to the empty conduits, and bring the mech to life.
“Crystals.” He murmured, remembering seeing an odd silvery light on that first mech as it tore down Yroebrage’s western wall.
Climbing out of the cage he took his time scaling down the wall to the Lord Regent and his soldiers that waited below. There’s no way to get around telling him that it was powered by crystals, he thought as he made the final hop down to solid ground.
“Well then, find out anything?” the Lord Regent asked as he turned to face the Lion.
“It’s about what I expected,” he hedged, scrubbing the grime from the wall climb off his paws and onto his already filthy breeches. “The Bears are master crafters, so I’m not surprised they could build such a machine.” The Lord Regent nodded and gestured for him to continue.
Sighing, Beddigan scrubbed is paws over his face.
“It looks like it is powered by crystals, though I have never known a crystal that could do something like this. It’s entirely new.” He said, turning back to look at the mech. Could this be how the Bears have powered their building? And why they keep their borders so closed to outsiders? He thought, not wanting to share those details with the Lord Regent.
“Interesting.” Mused the leader of the Lions, as he mounted his horse. “I guess we’ll be paying these Bears a visit before we leave.” He said with a wicked grin, before urging his horse towards the camps. His soldiers followed, leaving Beddigan to stand near the crumbled wall of the city, staring at the back of what could be his biggest mistake.
To be continued…
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