Chapter 11: Before the battle
In the midst of the night, working alone on a siege tower was Harbin. She was meticulously carving specific magic symbols onto the wooden body of the construct. Just like with her previous work, she was working on it without paying any heed to her surroundings.
Work and work she did until a specific sound came out from her stomach.
Her face immediately reddened and she looked around to see if there was anybody who saw or heard her stomach grumbling. She let out a sigh of relief before noticing that it has already been dark.
“Ahhh. I’ve done it again,” she muttered to herself.
Klauna gave the order to the whole army that they reconstruct as many siege towers as possible for the upcoming assault. Harbin’s order specifically was to carve magic circles onto a specific siege tower. Klauna wanted a special one to be set up for the battle ahead. Harbin obeyed, of course. She didn’t know what the exact plan was, but she knew it was important if Klauna was asking her to do this.
She saw that her work was almost done and decided to finish it up before grabbing something to eat. If she was fast enough, she probably could still grab a nap before the upcoming battle.
“Going back to work so soon? You are quite the workaholic," a feminine but strong voice came from behind Harbin.
Harbin let out a silent scream. Her heart beat fast and she turned around to meet the source of the voice. What entered her eyes was the sight of a woman with scale-like skin and short twin horns on the sides of her head. Her glowing red eyes stared right onto Harbin. It was Stardivacera, the vice general of the army. In her arms was a loaf of dried bread which she offered up to Harbin.
“Ho-how long have you been there!?” Harbin yelled out in panic as she backed away from her slightly.
“A little bit after sunset I think. I didn’t want to disturb you, so I just waited.”
Cera moved closer to Harbin and shook the dried bread that she held up to Harbin. “Take it. Overly working oneself without paying the call of the body any heed can only lead to bad results.”
Harbin replied with a silent hum before taking the bread from Cera. She then sat proper and took a bite from it. “Thanks…” She muttered softly to Cera.
“No problem,” Cera replied before sitting next to Harbin.
‘...Why is she sitting so close to me?’ Harbin asked herself when she noticed that Cera sat right next to her. Too close for comfort.
However, Harbin didn’t say anything and continued to eat her piece of bread. She looked away to the skies only to see a few stars and the moon shining brightly onto their location. The cold breeze ruffled Harbin’s hair.
The two shared a few moments of silence when Cera broke it by saying something. “You should be more aware of your surroundings when doing things. It may be alright here in the safety of our camp, but a narrow vision in the midst of battle is deadly.”
“Yeah… I tend to get super focused on things. When people call out to me, I would just ignore them. I’m trying to get over it,” Harbin replied.
“Yeah, I noticed. Where is the rest of your battalion by the way? It’s not safe to be working alone at night like this. What if you got into an accident? Why are you even working on this alone anyways? Do you not have assistance?” Cera asked a bunch of questions.
Harbin couldn’t reply and scratched her head. “Ehehe,” she let out a dumb laugh.
Cera was not satisfied with the answer and gave her a reprimanding look.
“...” Harbin shrank away and tried avoiding eye contact with the Warrior.
“Where is Captain Klauna? Is she not overseeing you?” Cera asked.
“Captain Klauna is asleep right now I think.”
“What? Has she no honour? Letting her subordinates work while she sleeps." Cera said. Anger in her eyes and her fist clenched.
"No no! It's not like that! I was the one who told her to sleep!" Harbin responded.
"Yeah. If you think I'm a workaholic, then you haven't seen Captain Klauna at work yet. There will be times where she would go for days without sleeping. Inspecting the warehouse and maintaining equipment, taking notes of the squads and their duties, paperwork and sometimes even grunt work. If I don't tell her to sleep she would probably stay awake throughout this night as well…" Harbin said. She rested her head on top of her hand and let out a sigh.
Cera’s eyes widened when she heard that. "That's rather unbelievable. I've never seen her work at all. All I ever see her do is drink…"
"Well... there is that I guess. But she works really hard! She tries to hide it, but I can tell! There aren’t many hours in a day, so she often works at night. You should see when she plans things out! Every piece just falls together like magic!" Harbin replied with vigour and smiles. Then all of a sudden her expression turned into sadness.
"Most people always see her as fooling around though. Everyone always seems to look at us that way. That we don't do anything…" Harbin replied as she looked down, biting her lips in frustration.
"I see… I never knew… Forgive me for jumping to conclusions like that. I should have looked harder." Cera stood up before giving a polite bow.
Harbin was visibly distressed at Cera's actions. It is no ordinary thing to see a Warrior bowing down. "No no! Don't be! Actually, I’m the one who should be saying sorry to you, Vice General Stardivacera!"
Cera raised her head and gave Harbin a soft smile. "Cera."
"Just call me Cera. My full name and title is a mouthful after all."
"Um... Ok... Cera." Harbin shyly called out Cera's name.
Cera gave a satisfied nod and sat back down. She then asked, "Why are you apologizing to me though? I do not recall that you have done something wrong to me."
"No… It's just that… your men died that day because of us. If we did the bombardment as per orders, they wouldn't have died like that."
"It's not your fault. Don't apologize so easily, it is only disrespect towards the dead. The blame is on me. You were only following orders." Cera responded.
"Captain Klauna was right. I was blinded by my anger and my pride that I do not see the truth of the matter. It was easy to pin the blame on others. But when it comes down to it, it was my incompetence that led those men to their deaths. There were many things I could have done to better prepare myself for that battle. And yet I did none because I see my plan as foolproof." Cera clenched her fist harder and gritted her teeth.
"... I see. But I don't think it's fair to blame just one person for it. Let's do it this way. It's all our fault and we all should try harder." Harbin said with a straight face to Cera who only looked back with a blank stare.
"...or not," Harbin muttered and backed away slightly.
Cera them let out a chuckle. "You are quite an interesting one. Most people would have just kept quiet." Cera looked towards the skies. "Thanks." She said as she stared at the full moon.
They both had a moment of silence to stare at the moon. This time it was Harbin who broke it.
"If we win this… will you still follow General Lionel into the next battle? He's soul-binded. There is no retreat for him and by extension, this army."
Unless the army deserts Lionel, though Harbin did not mention this in her question.
Cera knew where Harbin was coming from with this question. Cera's answer was obvious. She didn't even take a second to think about it.
"Why? Let me ask you a few questions first then. What is Captain Klauna to you?" Cera asked.
"Captain Klauna is my superior, I guess."
"No. I mean what is she to you? Personally."
Harbin was confused. Confused about why Cera would ask these kinds of questions. Harbin took a few odd seconds to think up her answer. "She's like the big older sister that I can't help but to take care of, I guess. I like to think that Captain Klauna would be so lost without me at her side." Harbin let out a shy smile.
"Then, if Captain Klauna was the one leading this army and she says she's going to fight. Will you follow her? Despite the fight being unwinnable?" Cera asked further after hearing Harbin's answer.
"Of course!" Harbin answered without hesitation. She then did a double-take as she realised Cera's purpose for asking that question.
"It's the same for me. Lord Lionel is the closest person I have to a father. He's the person I respect the most. If he's going to hell, then it's only right that I follow him there as well" Cera answered with a serious tone.
Harbin took a moment to think about Klauna whom she owed a great deal of debt. Klauna always tries to hide it, but she often looks after Harbin within the army. She can't remember how many times Klauna had gotten her out of trouble.
She then thought of Lionel, one of the few other people who looks out for Harbin. She could remember being very afraid of him back when she first met him. But it was then that Harbin realised that Lionel treats everyone like a friend— a man who truly takes care of his underlings. She slowly mellowed out to him as time went on. If he had not approved of Harbin's application to the army, she would not have met Klauna again. So in a way, Harbin owed him a debt as well.
"Hey, Cera?" Harbin called out.
"Let's do our best."
Cera let out another small chuckle and answered back. "Yeah."
That night. Harbin and Cera learned a few things about each other.
Harbin, the fact that Cera was not as stern as she looks and Cera, the fact that Harbin's loyalty was not blind as she first assumed. That both of them were more similar than first thought.
Cera who had taken a newfound liking to Harbin asked Harbin for her age, which Harbin responded as just past her seventeenth birthday.
"I see. So you are only five years younger," Cera responded.
"Eh?" Harbin could be seen with a surprised look on her face.
* * * * *
It was almost dawn and Harbin was running around the camp looking for Klauna. The grimoire clutched in between her arms. Harbin did tell Klauna to take a rest, but she didn’t expect her to go missing completely. She scampered around the camp, asking various people about Klauna’s whereabouts. After taking quite a while searching for Klauna, Harbin could feel her heart beat faster as a certain thought that Klauna had deserted them started to crawl up her mind.
That silly thought was soon put to rest when she found Klauna sleeping under a large tree on a hill. Her body was facing towards the fort. Her upper torso moved in and out, signifying that she was breathing. Her face was calm and graceful as the dawning winds flowed through her hair. Harbin let out a sigh of relief as she moved closer to Klauna to wake her up. Maybe reprimand her for sleeping so far away from the camp and alone.
As Harbin moved closer, Klauna’s eyes shot wide open and she immediately turned around to see Harbin walking towards her. Klauna then slowly got up from her sitting position and stared at Harbin.
“...Senior Shia?” Klauna muttered under her breath, unable to decipher the person moving towards her due to the dark.
“Captain Klauna, dawn is almost approaching, everyone is getting prepared,” Harbin said to Klauna. A bit surprised at Klauna’s sudden rise from her slumber.
“Oh… it’s just you Harbin.”
Harbin let out a small pout. “Who else could it be? Come on, we gotta get back and get ready,” Harbin pulled on Klauna’s hand and directed her towards the camp.
It seemed that Harbin didn’t hear Klauna’s earlier muttering.
After several minutes of walking and Harbin’s scolding back to the camp, Klauna greeted her subordinates and started to prepare herself for the battle ahead. She did one last inspection of the siege towers and ordered the battalion to move them to the front of the battlefield. The other battalions saw this and followed after the Analysts.
Soon, the Seventh Army was prepared. Rows of siege towers lined up with soldiers in, out, behind and in front of them. Klauna oversees her battalion from above her special siege tower which was covered with magic circles, an eerie red glow could be seen on the siege tower. Klauna then turned around and observed the other battalions, their captains giving rousing speeches towards their men.
Klauna turned back to her men and saw that they were looking at her with expectations as well. They were probably expecting her to give some sort of speech.
Harbin, Yupiecca, Poi, Balestra, the Yuu triplets, and the rest of her men were all waiting on her to give an order or something. Klauna was never good at giving these kinds of speeches, but she had one ready for the occasion. This one was a special one. Something Klauna needed to tell her men.
“I have a plan. However, I feel obligated to tell you all that this is not a certain victory. I’ll be frank, some of you here will die today. All of us might die today.”
Klauna had a slight pause before taking a deep breath. “I will not… I refuse to order you all to die. I can understand if this is a terrifying thing for all of you and you can leave if you want. I will not condemn you.”
A long silence ensues and everyone looked at Klauna with bated breath. A lot of them had shaking legs and were afraid of the upcoming battle. Yet, not a single Analyst walked away. They were all ready to die. It wasn’t long before the sun finally dawned.
Klauna let out a soft smile on her face before moving to pick up a flag. The banner of the Seventh Army. Her graceful figure shone upon her men under the light of the rising sun. “Let’s show them what Analysts can do! Everyone to positions!”
The battalion gave her a salute before running into their pre-briefed positions. The rest of the Seventh Army, also seeing that the sun had risen, started to get into their position as well. The sound of a large horn could be heard. Lionel had rung the sound to move forward.
And thus, everyone did. Towards Fort Kron in a last-ditch effort to take it.