[RP Episode] The last Xiashi coalition


#1

The banners waved gaily above the heads of the silently standing soldiers. Spears gleamed dully in the sunlight, a bristling thicket of steel barbs. The sun reflected on the burnished metal harness they wore, and glistened on the polished bucklers. Officers strode up and down the lines, murmuring encouragement or threats, depending on their style of leadership. For a moment, all was still.

A clarion horn call rang out, shrill and loud in the stillness. With a shout, the waiting lines of soldiers began advancing across the field, their feet rhythmically pounding on the ground. The earth shook beneath their steel-shod feet.

Across the field, cleared to provide easy line of sight to the defenders, the walls and turrets of Hechi rose up. While not abnormally endowed with defences, the city was still ringed in a bulwark of stone and iron, many times the height of a man. Atop the battlements, the signs of hurried activity could be seen, the defending soldiers rushing to their final positions.

With a rush and a roar of wood and straps, the three towering trebuchets let fly their deadly burdens, flinging large boulders across the distance between the two sides. One fell short, bouncing and rolling to come to a halt at the foot of the wall. One overshot, smashing into the city beyond, causing unknown havoc and mayhem when it landed. One hit true. With a crash like mountain giants swinging great hammers, it smote the wall in an explosion of stone splinters. The wall held, but now the beginnings of a crack could be seen inching up the side of the sheer side. The engineers manning the siege engines shrugged, and reloaded.

Zhou-Yiang rode forth with his army and general, while his brother Shu and Xiashi Sima were at his back, coordinating the artillery and keeping a reserve force away from the battle, saved to reinforce or to ward off any would be intervention.

A few more rounds of boulders were launched overhead against the city as the army neared. The enemy was obviously panicked and powerless to defend against them, so they held their posts, holding their breath, praying. Their superiors yelling out to them, to steel their nerves, to not hold back, to honor their pledge, to fight for the rightful emperor and bring order to the land.

When Zhou’s army came in to range of Lun’s archers, a hail of arrows came pouring down on them from the walls. The first lines of spearmen and swordsmen held up their rectangular and circular shields, kneeling to thin the gap between their shield and the ground. When the first volley had finished, they broke formation, and charged the wall, still holding up their shields as more arrows rained upon them, cutting down many an elf as they went.

As the attackers finally reached the walls, Sima’s artillery stopped. The defenders were now firing at will at the army, throwing rocks off of the side of the battlements, shattering shields and splitting heads of those unlucky to have been directly below. Shrapnel grenades were lit and dropped down amidst the masses, wreaking havoc upon the assailants as sharp scraps of metal cut through armour and flesh.

Ladders were brought in and laid against the wall for the invaders to climb. The defenders fought these ladders, pushing them away, breaking them by dropping heavy rocks down their middle, but they couldn’t resist them for long. Soon enough, the ladders would we weighed down by not only the elves holding it still at its base, but by those who have begun ascending it. The climbing soldiers held their shields above their heads as they climbed, deflecting any rock thrown down out of their way, and on to their comrades below.

Enemy soldiers piled up at their end of the ladders, cutting away at the climbers as they pushed upwards. It was slaughter. Grenades were dropped to the base of the ladders from the side, and mortally wounding those holding the ladders as well as those who were meaning to climb them. The defenders were now able to push the climbers away from the wall, toppling the ladder backwards, falling on to their own ranks at their back.

Meanwhile, a battering ram was being nudged ever closer to the city gates.


#2

The combination of trebuchets and arrow fire have set the guard towers and gatehouse of the wall aflame, burning intensely and spewing a dark cloud in to the clear sunny sky. The archers moved up towards the wall, and began releasing volley after volley over it, right behind the gatehouse where they were sure a defence force was stationed at the ready behind the gate, should it be breached. The shielded swordsmen struggled up the wall on their ladders, later using grappling hooks with rope as well when ladder after ladder was broken, which were night on impossible for the defenders to remove once held down by the weight of several climbers, but it was much more hazardous to climb for the attackers.

The battering ram had made it to the gate, the troops beneath shielded by a sturdy roof. They pulled the ram back, and abruptly pushed it forward, slamming it in to the gate with full force. The otherwise strong wooden frames reeled with the impact, showing several cracks. The elves at the ram began with their next attempt, when oiled was poured down on top of the ram from the battlements, and set aflame. The battering ram’s roofing burned, the intense heat hampered the crew’s efforts, but they had to persist. They pummelled the gates twice, three times now, and with the forth, it gave way. The soldiers manning the ram fled its burning carcass to leave it to fall in to itself once it had completely burned out. Zhou-Yiang troops stormed past it, through the gates, and in to the city itself to meet with its defenders on the ground.

It was brutal. Both sides met in the middle of the gatehouse, fighting for every inch of space. The defenders rained death on to the attackers from the sides through holes in the wall, but not from above. The gatehouse has all but collapsed in the fires, and it was left a black smouldering ruin. The push through the gates was only made harder because of the fact that the assailants climbing the wall have failed to secure a significant foothold. They have managed to scale the wall in large numbers now, but were occupied in a close quarter melee with the wall’s defenders as well.

At the outter right side of the wall, the defenders were entirely evicted, and the Zhou-Yiang sword and spearmen began making it down to ground level, and leftwards toward the gatehouse. Now the archers were beginning to climb the wall to support the inside troops, but this victory was short lived. A cavalry charge decimated the ground troops swiftly after they emerged from the wall, and Zhou’s archers could not do anything to help their comrades, as they would be just as likely to hit an ally as a foe.

The attack persisted for a while longer as the two sides bled each other, but the tides inevitably turned against Zhou-Yiang, and he began loosing troops at a substantially higher rate than the defenders, and a retreat was called. A final cavalry charge out through the gates by Lun-Yiang’s defending forces made Zhou’s men route, and flee back in to cover across the rolling hillside in to the safety of their siege camp.

Lun’s forces were just as broken as Zhou’s, and with Zhou having kept a reserve at the siege camp, the two sides were still of equal number, more or less.


#3

The combined armies of Zhou-Yiang and Sima-Ai retreated back to their encampment, hidden behind a light hill, over a calm stream with a number of trees which seperates them from the city of Hechi. A makeshift palisade was erected around exposed sections of the war camp, while others merely had dirt mounds and ditches dug up. Tents spread out far and wide with soldiers scurrying about in the thousands like ants.

The exhausted troops turned in for some rest and recovery. Rhae-Ming keeping true to her word, helping Sima’s troops back to health, using her medical expertise, potions, as well as magic to this cause. But she was merely one healer in many who were there, aiding the wounded. A lot of troops that were dragged back from the battlefield, bloodied and broken, later died in camp due to their severe injuries.

Zhou-Yiang had miscalculated his assault. His scouts reported that the forces in Hechi was a combination of its garrison, as well as the retreating army Sima-Ai and Shu-Yiang had beaten outside of Ya’an not too long ago. The same army had lost its leading General to Sima, as well. He was counting on them being at least somewhat fewer in number, as well as beaten and exhausted from their last battle, and short on supplies to re-arm and reinforce a defeated army with new warriors. Seems they were better prepared than he thought.

Zhou did not have time to wait around and bother with a prolonged siege. He did not have the manpower present to completely surround Hechi to starve it out, and fend off any relieving force should one arrive to reinforce Hechi at the same time. His forces at this time, with his reserve, was about the same as Hechi’s garrisoned army. He had an advantage this time, Zhou’s reserve was rested and ready for battle, while the troops in Hechi have been bled twice within a week. They were tired, grieving, and their defences were waning. Even now, Hechi troops were scurrying to mend the walls, setting up barricades behind the breached gates, preparing for Zhou’s next assault.

The next assault would undoubtedly be easier for Zhou, so he told his troops to rest until early morning. They would attack the city at the dead of the night, in early morning hours. Until then, the trebuchets were ordered to keep pummelling the city from a far, denying its garrison any rest or peace of mind. Hechi’s army would either have to tolerate the barrage until Zhou attacks again, or leave the safety of the city walls and attempt to dismantle Zhou’s artillery, exposing themselves. Either way, they were in a bad spot.

Zhou-Yiang dispatched a currier with a request for aid from his other settlements, should the battle to come take a greater toll on his numbers than he would have liked, and leaving him with too few to defend the city he had just barely captured from an invading force.


#4

Zhou-Wu-Ai

Two hours before their planned attack, the leaders of the siege gathered to make final preparations, and go over their plans once more. Zhou-Yiang, his general Wu-Zee, and the warlord Sima-Ai stood around a round table, with a layout of the city laid on top, while Shu-Yiang was outside, making sure to make a good impression on his troops so they would remember that he was here when all this had happened.

When Shu had enough and was adequately satisfied with his feeling that his presence was noted, and served as a boost to their morale that their young prince Shu-Yiang was fighting on their side, he came to the tent where the other three were having their war conference. Entering it, he clapped one hand in to the other.
’‘So! Are you done repeating what we’ve gone through three times now, or do you wish me to tell my men to sit tight a while longer?’’ He giggled.

‘‘Patience, brother. A siege is a delicate matter that requires precise planning followed by a flawless execution for an optimal victory with the least losses.’’ Zhou-Yiang explained, stopping his younger half-brother in his excitement.
Shu nodded vaguely, ‘‘You speak as if we will win anyway.’’
’‘I am sure of it.’’ Zhou confirmed.
’‘Then why hold off to plan so much if we will win regardless.’’
’‘Because i value the lives of my people…’’ Zhou glared at Shu with narrowed eyes.
’‘Yes, of course…’’ Shu waved him off and stepped to Sima’s side, ‘‘Still, i think that whatever losses we sustain would only serve to strengthen the resolve of the rest, making them commit to the cause with greater ferocity now that they have sacrificed so much, and after loosing their brothers in arms.’’
’‘An interesting perspective…’’ Zhou-Yiang nodded, ‘‘Perhaps you will lead the first assault, and scale the walls. The troops are sure to love you for being there with them and display such heroism, and if you die, gods forbid, then it would bolster all of our resolves, and make us fight Lun to the end with bestial fervour.’’ he grinned at his younger sibling, who only frowned back at him, ‘‘I jest.’’ he added.
’‘Not funny.’’ Shu replied.

‘‘In any case…’’ Zhou continued, ‘‘If we sustain too many losses, that means we may not be able to defend the city from a siege. I have sent for reinforcements in advance, but it might take a while for them to arrive. Even without complications.’’
’‘I understand.’’ Shu said, still in a foul mood.
’‘So it is settled. We attack within the hour.’’ Zhou said and the rest nodded.

The four leaders dispersed and began organising their troops. The sound of thousands marching filled the air once more, and the city of Hechi began to stir.


#5

The time had come. The coalition marched their troops to Hechi once more, the flames of which have yet to go out completely from their last assault. The trebuchets kept raining hell on to the city’s fortifications durring these past hours, pummelling the wall in a select segment to the point it had collapsed and formed a bridge in to the city. The defenders attempted to erect more makeshift barricades, but their efforts got undone time and again by continued bombardment, and their men were now too afraid even to venture in to the broach. ehind the breach however, a small army gathered.

The roar of battle horns filled the air for the second time as Zhou’s and Sima’s men stormed the wall, and began climbing it again. Heavy infantry charged up and over the breach in the wall to meet Hechi’s defenders head on, while a newly assembled battering ram was again moved before the hastily patched up gates.

The climbers swiftly gained a foothold on top of the walls this time and made way for their own arches to provide them with support on the inside. The gates have fallen with ease, but the invaders struggled to push through the makeshift barricades the defender had put up right behind them.

The heavy infantry swiftly crushed the defenders blocking their way through the gap. The well rested and heavily armoured reserve forces Zhou had kept back beating whatever was left of the city’s tired garrison and militia without much effort before they began to route. Afterwards, the moved to secure the gates, and open the way for their cavalry units to enter. Then, it was all over.

The invader stormed through the front gates in mass, the defenders being overwhelmed retreated deeper in to their collapsing city. The civilian population hid and cried amidst the ruins of what was once their life’s work. The lot of the non-combatants began fleeing the city, as Zhou’s army marched in through the gates down the centre, the civilians poured out of it down the sides, unhindered.

Zhou-Yiang, Wu, and Sima pushed through to the heart of Hechi. Enemy guard towers surrounded the town square, and the last fight for Hechi took place in their middle. It took some effort for the attackers to secure their foothold in the city’s heart, a tug of war taking place as the defenders formed a shield wall, which the attacker responded to with their own, enemies locking shields and swinging their weapons at each other with great difficulty, until Sima had taken control of the guard towers. Meanwhile, Zhou lead his cavalry around their line once the towers were secured, and broke the enemy lines, causing them to either flee, surrender, or get cut down. With the town hall secured, the garrison under their control, their commanders dead, and minor skirmished taking place still up and down the city, it was safe for Zhou to claim victory.

Shu, who was meanwhile left outside to ‘‘supervise’’ the artillery, rushed in to the square in hopes of taking part of their glorious victory, only to find Zhou’s as well as Sima’s entire army calling out their names in praise.

Shu’s face darkened with envy.


#6

The next day, the sun rose over the battle weary city. The new occupation of Hechi worked to mend its defences, smoke had ceased as the fires were put out overnight. As guards patrolled the many broken streets, and passed in between their broken and demolished homes, the weeping of thousands eerily echoed.

For the inhabitants of Hechi, Sima and Zhou were now even worse than what they had heard of Lun, for it was their forces that laid low their life’s work, and Lun’s troops who were there to defend them. Unfortunately for Zhou, the common folk only ever saw a situation from their own first hand experience, and could not see the bigger picture.

Many inhabitants of Hechi had begun leaving, seeing there was nothing more for them there, and not wishing to experience the same horrors of a siege all over again by staying in a city on the front. Others stayed, believing their homes and lives were still salvageable, and that showing their support for the rightful heir now, in his time of need, will earn them benefits in the long run, if he is victorious. Of those who would leave Hechi, nearly half of them would eventually join the rising tide that is the Yellow Turban Rebellion…

A few days after the fall of Hechi, its repairs were well underway. Reinforcements had arrived from more secured regions to add to Zhou’s numbers. Priests from many monastic orders came along to offer charities to the suffering people of the town, bolstering morale overall. A grand ceremony was held where they burned the bodies of those who died in the past two battles in communal pyres. Smoke rose from Hechi again, but this time accompanied by prayers, not screaming.

Rhae-Ming attended the ceremony, and prayed for the many who’s lives were ruthlessly cut short. She hated war because of what it did to people. Killing lead to hate, which lead to more killing, which bred more hate, which ended in endless suffering for thousands. Xia could not continue like this for ever, no nation could. Rhae had begun believing that Zhou-Yiang’s vision of a more centralised Xia would bring an end to this cycle of war and peace. She only hoped Macil was going down the same path.

Cremation 02

As the ceremony drew to an end, the crowd began dispersing, and so did Rhae. She was meaning to return to the many wounded she and others like her were tending to, when she noticed someone familiar passing through the gates. It was her old friend Ly-Ren! She was riding on horseback when Rhae called out to her.

‘‘Ly-Ren! Ly-Ren!!’’ she yelled over the crowd of people, waving enthusiastically. And of course, Ly-Ren noticed. She stopped her horse, and a had drawn a wide smile when she saw Rhae. She dismounted her horse at the side of the road as Rhae came up to her.
’‘Rhae! It’s you!’’ she gasped gladly, embracing her in a warm sisterly hug, ‘‘Gods, I never thought i’d see you again, what happened to you?’’ she asked. The last Ly-Ren had seen her was when she was set off on her latest expedition to the north, ‘‘And how did you end up here, of all places?’’
’‘It’s… complicated. A lot has happened.’’ Rhae sighed, giving her that innocent puppy dog look.
’‘I bet.’’ Ly-Ren smiled, ‘‘We should talk, really.’’ she insisted.
’‘I know, and we will. Just not here. We should go somewhere more accommodating.’’

Ly-Ren was in complete agreement with her.


#7

After Ly-Ren had left her horse in the capable hands of the stables, she and Rhae retired to the city’s garrison quarter, where they made themselves comfortable in the room provided to the healers of Sima’s army, all of which were away at this time, so they had it all to themselves.

‘‘So, tell me then. What of the expedition? Why didn’t you return? What happened?’’ Ly-Ren asked, freely helping herself to the bunk opposite Rhae’s, where she had sat down.
’‘I am returning, only now…’’ Rhae replied uncomfortably.
’‘Only now? What held you there?’’ Ly continued.
Rhae sighed, ‘‘Its complicated. Everything was going smoothly, but once we got past Nigardheim…’’ she began, and over the course of an hour, had told her friend the full tale. Or at least, the important bits of it. Getting in to great detail with the Tera-Macil bits.

‘‘Well, that happened fast.’’ Ly-Ren commented.
’’… you think?’’ Rhae asked, unsure.
’‘Sweetie, … you were awestruck by this king of yours. Any girl would dream to become a princess. For the time you spent there, you barely spent any time with him. And what about after you marry? Will he be a good husband and pay you the attention you deserve, or just place you on a shelf to admire before he rushes off to fight some battle again?’’ Ly-Ren reasoned.
Rhae looked saddened, ‘‘I don’t know…’’ she mumbled, ‘‘He told me he loved me. He said he would protect me, protect us.’’
’‘He won’t be able to protect anyone from inside his castle with you in his lap.’’ Ly-Ren pointed out, '‘And doing something like that even here would have you branded a coward.’'
Rhae narrowed her eyes, ‘‘Every king, emperor, and warlord has to fight his own battles! And every great leader had a great wife stand at his back, to offer him comfort and peace of mind. I will be his!’’ she declared.
Ly-Ren paused for a moment, '‘I know. You are right. I don’t mean to dissuade you, only you can decide who you wish to be with. I just want for you to ask yourself, what will life look like once you do marry him, and if that is what you want.’'
Rhae remained in thoughtful silence.
’‘Life in the north is very different than here in the south. Even kings and warlords live differently, and fight for more than mere grudges. You may suffer yet greater loss there…’’ Ly-Ren warned her.
Tears began silently running down Rhae’s cheeks, ‘‘Xia has caused me no less suffering…’’ she told her.
Ly-Ren pounced to her feet and knelt before Rhae, holding her chin up to look in to your eyes.
’‘But it is your home…’’ she told her, '‘And it will get better. I know it. You know it. And you are already helping this cause, not just for yourself, but for your father, for your brother.’'
Rhae wiped her tears and nodded meagerly.
’‘Thanks Ly… i’ll give this some more thought.’’ she said with a shaky voice.
Ly-Ren smiled sincerely, ‘‘I am always here for you, you know? Always.’’ and hugged her, Rhae willingly accepting her embrace.

Then, the door swung open, and two other healers stepped inside, chatting with one and other. Rhae and Ly broke off from their hug, and Rhae wiped her tears once more.
’‘I should go now, we can meet up again later. I have things to do.’’ Ly explained.
’‘Where will you go?’’ Rhae asked.
’‘To the inn, i want to resupply before i move on to Beihai.’’ she said.
’‘I’m heading there too! May i join you?’’ she asked.
And Ly nodded gladly, ‘‘Of course! I’ll come find you.’’

With that, Ly left the garrison, and Rhae was left alone on her bunk to reflect on past events.