Betrayal At Waylan

By the end of the day, the fields of Waylan would be washed in blood. Tacitus knew that if he lost this battle, there would be no way to stop the Asennan forces that had been pushing steadily across the continent since spring. They had already consumed Arlen, the middle kingdom, and would not stop until they had reached all corners of the continent or were defeated.

The logistics officers had estimated that each side had brought in excess of ten thousand troops. With the battle under way, Tacitus would receive no more of their reports, only he and Roland were permitted on the hilltop where he had located his command post. From it, he could see the entire battlefield and was awed by the scale of what was happening below.

“Roland, have your Dragoons put some pressure on the Western flank,” Tacitus said.

“Of course, sir.” For a brief moment, anger flashed across Roland’s face, but dissipated as quickly as it arrived. His eyes unfocused as he gave orders through the mental connection with his officers.

Following Roland’s command, a spear of Dragoons immediately charged into the Asennan’s flank. The resulting disarray allowed the infantry to push a little farther into the enemy’s line, weakening it. Through his connection, Tacitus felt his officers’ excitement as they pushed their advantage, and urged them to not overextend.

As the battle wore on, men died, and their power flowed into Tacitus. He did not hold onto it for long, but immediately used it to reinforce his ranks, bolstering the strength and fortitude of the soldiers on the front lines. With enough power, he would have been able to directly affect the battle, but commanders who did that often won the battle at the cost of the war.

“Do you think that any of them would be here? If they knew the truth?” Tacitus asked. The soldiers all knew that death was power, but they believed that it was the death of the enemy that generated power, not the death of their comrades.

“Most likely, but we wouldn’t,” Roland answered. The two of them had fought together for the better part of a decade, but it still unnerved Tacitus how Roland seemed to know what he was thinking.

“I suppose not,” Tacitus said.

Through his mental connection, Tacitus could feel the growing anxiety of the officers near the front lines. From the distance of the hilltop it was apparent. Roland’s troops were pressing too hard against the Asennan’s flanks. Instead of splitting, the center of the enemy’s main force was growing denser, and would soon be a wedge that could turn like a wild boar.

“Roland, your troops need to back off,” he said.

Roland didn’t acknowledge him, and continued to give orders. The troops on the flanks didn’t back off. Instead, they kept on driving forward even as they lost their momentum. Roland’s archers started to fire into the fray, their arrows hitting more friendly troops than enemy soldiers. Coming from behind, the arrows easily penetrated the light armor on the soldiers’ backs.

“Roland,” he said.

Roland turned to look at him, smiling. He had lost virtually all of his troops in a matter of minutes, and all of that energy had flowed into him. Unlike Tacitus, he wasn’t using it to strengthen his troops, and the power built up. He started to glow.

Tacitus reached to draw his sword. With that much power, there would be no point in launching a magical attack on Roland. Tacitus was a fast swordsman, but everything was moving in slow motion. The entire world seemed dimmed and muted, as though he were trapped in amber. It was clear what was about to happen, and he tried to send warning to his remaining troops, but his connection had been severed.

With a jolt, everything snapped back to its normal pace, except for Tacitus, who was caught, frozen, his sword half drawn. It was both a blessing and a curse that Roland had left him facing the battlefield. After the flanking troops had been wiped out, the archers and ballistas turned to the main host. Under attack from both front and rear, and with no support on the flanks, the soldiers did not last long.

“I had been unable to decide what monument to leave at this, the site of my greatest victory, but you should do nicely,” Roland said from somewhere behind Tacitus.

Tacitus tried to speak, to give voice to his rage and shame, but was unable. Every moment he had spent with his comrade over the years fell under a new light. The cold strategy and disconnected confidence should have provided ample warning, but Tacitus had been blind to it.

Roland walked into his field of vision. He had stolen the connection to Tacitus’s troops and now their energy was flowing into him. He was glowing so brightly that it was painful to look at him, but Tacitus could not close his eyes or even look away.

It was unclear what happened next, as his senses were overloaded by the intensity of the blast. When he could see again, minutes or hours later, the ground around him had been melted into a smooth, lustrous surface. Where the armies had been, there was only charred earth. Other than a discarded uniform and boot-prints etched into the slag, there was no sign of Roland. Had he been able, Tacitus would have weeped.