When we had the chance for comfortable bed with an overwatch from Feathers and a town filled with guns pointed outwards in every direction, we all took it. Unfortunately, we didn’t even have time for breakfast before Marsella had us all running out of the town and onto the road. Which was an entire feat of its own.

Not the part of actually getting us out of our beds and eating on the road. Pampered and spoiled by occult and relic armor as my crew and I were, all of us were still Retainers deep down. Waking up at any alarm and being instantly active was what could separate living through an environment breach or never waking up again after pressing the snooze button. Getting all fourteen of us on the march was child’s play.

Also Wrath and Father didn’t sleep, so Marsella wasn’t waking up fourteen people, just twelve veterans. Maybe eleven - I wasn’t sure if Captain Sagrius slept or not.

What couldn’t be easy for Marsella to organize thirty others and a good handful of machines into bringing munitions, supplies, tracking gear and everything else that was part of the job - all done overnight and ready to expedition out by the time Marsella got to getting the knights up. The machines might have been easier to rouse around, but the rest of the people were a mix of civilian supports, airspeeder pilots and crew carried on the back of machines, and Chosen knights to cover them.

The objective was to get to the Deathless basecamp, loot everything, bring back their airspeeder and other goodies. And roll over anyone that tried to stop us. Safe to say she wanted the Deathless dead and out her backyard as fast as humanly possible.

“Significant military power has appeared in the town’s favor, and it has arrived for a small window of time.” Wrath countered, walking next to me as our troop marched to the end of our destination. “Were I in her position, I would also attempt to make as much use of that as I could. Her logistics and planning are optimal thus far.”

“Oh, I get that completely.” I said. “Especially against an enemy that can keep coming back and back again and again, they might need extra time to have a lesson sink in. What makes me think there might be a little more is the… extras. Like the particular food she brought with her.”


Wrath looked over to the woman in question. “I fail to see any issue? Rations are always brought with soldiers, and I find it admirable that she has elected to come herself despite being a non-combatant.”

I didn’t really know how to explain it any better, so I shrugged and watched as Marsella set up a foldable chair in just the right spot for a perfect view. Then make sure she had a wide umbrella at the right angle to give her shade, and an attendant next to her was setting up a foldable table. Another was already bringing items to mix a drink. The last one came with a bowl, and a stovetop. Still hot with puffed kernels. That’s what I meant by having a hard time explaining it.

Marsella had brought popcorn with her for this.

“I see you have a lot of confidence in us.” I said, walking up to her while the final checks clicked over the HUD. Cathida was humming along as she counted all our bullets and weapons we had in our disposal, though none of those would get used for this particular fight.

Relic knight battles didn’t have any kind of long range weaponry used unless it was mounted on an airspeeder, and neither side here had brought an airspeeder to fight with. If we won against the Deathless, the next job would be to track down where their airspeeder is actually parked at and raid the base. That’s what everyone behind me carrying the munitions and tracking gear was for. We were here to take care of the roadblock in the way.

The Deathless saw us coming a long time ago of course. They couldn’t let us make it all the way to their basecamp, with their airspeeder and supplies there for the sacking, so they marched out to meet us halfway. And they didn’t want to put that airspeeder of theirs in possible danger, so they hadn’t brought it out. That would be a pyrrhic victory where they beat the insane cultists, but lost their ride in the fight. Would be a far bigger sting than losing a few extra Deathless who’ll be back the next day.


One thing led to another, and they camped out right before a giant flat plain. We got the message and diverted our march to meet them on the other side, no point in playing coy. The terrain here looked pretty fair to everyone and was probably picked specifically for that. So here we were, perfect visibility and clear artificial sunshine on everything.

“And what if we don’t win?” I asked. “You mentioned you’re the type to have bodyguards paid for instead of being the bodyguard, what’s a VIP like you doing all the way out here in the middle of a combat zone?” I gave a little wave at all… that. “Doesn’t seem like standard military doctrine here. Plus we’ve never been pitted against Deathless before, can’t be sure we’ll pull through.”

“Please, I wasn’t born yesterday, kid.” She scoffed, then pointed one of her unlit smokes out in the distance to the armored figures far beyond our hill. They were small specks from this distance but noticeable enough. “Our enemies are all demi-gods filled with cosmic powers and a long storied history of beating everything and everyone except for Feathers. On the other hand, I know you and every knight that’s following behind are walking sword saints. And the last sword saint I saw in a battle beat a Feather.”

Wrath bristled a bit. “Our fights were often lopsided and involved multiple factors in play, Kidra did not win every encounter against me either.”

Marsella waved a hand away, “Details. Point is, it takes a group of Deathless to fight a Feather, and it took only a single sword saint to do the same. Now we have thirteen sword saints and a hiding Feather on our side while they’ve got twenty Deathless. I’m putting all my money on our side.”

“You seem oddly sure we’re all on the level of a sword saint.” I said. “What’s making you think that?”

She barked a laugh, “Like I said, I’ve seen your sister fight. Sometimes up close, at least when it starts before they take off to the beaches to avoid accidental casualties.”

“Doesn’t mean me and mine would have the same talents she has.” I countered. We hadn’t told her any kind of skills or power we had. “You’re taking a big gamble on little knowledge.”

“You’d have a point, except the more important detail in all that isn’t her. It’s her honor guard. I’ve seen their fighting skills before and after the tower. They didn’t know how to move like she did, and after the city was taken, they suddenly did. Conveniently only when the sword saint clearly had no choice against the invaders and needed every little edge possible to hold the rebellion going. I don’t believe for a single moment she wouldn’t have bestowed you with the same power, and your knights too. You’re heading far down deep with a Feather on a historical mission, no way that woman is going to not give you every possible advantage, when she did that already for a city filled with people who already considered her kind savages.”

I tapped my sword a few times. She did have a pretty good point. “Sharp.” I said. Then looked over past our little camp to the field ahead.

Smoke was coming from a distance, where a small camp of armored people were milling about. They knew we were here, since two knights were standing on the crest of a hill looking us over and probably talking to each other. One had an outright gold lion shoulder pad on his armor, along with a greatcloak like Lord Atius had. The rest of his gear looked as if Imperials had bankrolled most of it. Even had some paper prayers stuck on the armor with red wax, though I couldn’t zoom in far enough to read what they said.

Cathida must have seen me squint at the zoomed in vision. "They're purity seals dear, standard operation for Imperial crusaders. Brings luck, and depending on who affixed them to his chest, meant to remind him of what and who he's fighting for along with good luck and divine providence. Not filled up to the gills with them, means that's not an Imperator. But that armor is a little too... extra for a regular crusader."If you come across this story on Amazon, be aware that it has been stolen from Royal Road. Please report it.

"You sound a little envious."

"Me? A little envious? Goddess's golden tits, I'm not." She said, huffing all the while. "I am a hugely envious. I should have thought about doing that when we were designing your new look! Gold covered pyrite I regret everything.""So, is that who I think it is then?" I asked, "Only one mentioned man named Lionheart, and that guy's got a lion on his shoulders and one for his helmet. A little on the nose."

Cathida didn't give me a yes or no. Instead she was more muttering to herself. "An eagle on your shoulderpads might look quite dashing, have you considered it?"

"Maybe a wolf head. If you're extra good."

"...I hate how effective that is at bribing me." She hissed back, almost sulking.

Wrath adjusted her cloak a little with a nervous kind of energy. Making sure her helmet was nicely secure, and that her wings were tucked in under all the baggy clothing. Thank the gods she was convinced not to bring her halo with her around, because there’s no hiding that.

As for the other next to Lionheart, he was without any kind of frills or decorations, a bog standard looking Undersider soldier. The armor only had the colors and standard straps the rest of the city had used. That was either Drakonis or one of the trainee Deathless following Lionheart’s example.

We’d counted twenty knights in total on the other hill, including those two but no other personnel or anything. A few empty tents, and one campfire.

Marsella lifted her popcorn and waved it at the enemy across the distance, then she sat back down on the chair and made sure her sunglasses were comfortable. The Undersider soldier on the crest stiffened, turned and stalked away. The other Deathless in ornate armor simply looked back at us with a steely gaze.

“They look a little miffed.” Marsella gave a low dark chuckle. “Wonder what’s gotten up their spine to make them cranky like this. Oh well, guess we’ll never know.”

“You know they could shoot you from here.” I said. It would be a little difficult for rifles, but a longer ranged weapon would easily make that distance.

She shrugged. “And I’ve got armor that would light up and deflect the bullets. Helmet just adds a HUD, the shield covers all parts, remember? Everyone here knows how this fight’s going to end. With Occult blades. Rifles and bullets are for the unarmored or the machines. And you lot aren’t either.”

“Is this an Undersider tradition?” Wrath asked, “Before hostilities begin? General Zaang did not perform this rite when we battled.”

“Not in the slightest.” Marsella said. “Bringing popcorn, a chair and making it clear I’m here to watch an absolute shitshow go down is what I refer to in my line of work as ‘sending a message’ and I want them to burn it in their heads. The little fucks have really pissed me off for the past month, and I intend to see them squashed into the dirt again and again for as long as you lovely folks are here to stay.”

“What odds would you give normal clan knights against that number?” I asked, a little curious to how that would stack up against this many Deathless.

She decided it was time to taste check her food, tossing one into her mouth and munching down noisily in between words. “Honest to gold, ‘regular’ surface knights are fucking terrifying too. In my line of work, only way to beat them is to beat the other side in hiring first.”

“Flattery gets you everywhere with me, you scoundrel you.” I said.

She waved me off with a huff. “Let me remind you that your people regularly hunt, kill and skewer Othersiders up on stakes as part of your cultural heritage. And you do the same to Undersiders if you’re paid well enough. Might be normal to you, but it’s absolutely insane to think about down here.”

She took a quick pause to light up her smokestick, taking a few puffs before setting it to the side and leaning back in her chair with a sigh and some more munched popcorn. “In the underworld, clan knights are as high as the totem pole goes, there isn’t a bigger hammer. None of us are ever going to hire out Deathless or get an imperial chapter to assist, not in my line of work. And that’s the rub, because the totem pole goes way beyond where it ends on my side of the pond. And Deathless? They're in a different league. A clan knight might wipe the floor with the new rookies still learning the ropes depending on if they can cast any amount of occult.”She pointed her smokestick again, this time at Lionheart. “But that guy alone could be a one man army and take on fourteen clan knights. And still have room for dessert after.” She turned to look at me, eyes roving up and down my armor like she was examining a prized fish. “Too bad for him you aren’t ‘regular’ surface knights. Heh.”

“My eyes are up here, thank you.” I said.

She scoffed, “I wouldn’t dare make a single move on you kid, that would absolutely piss off my new boss something fierce. Plus you’re not my type anyways.” Then she grabbed another packet of popcorn and tossed it at her attendant, the order implicit.

Father was all the way near the bottom of the valley. Helmet at his side, while he looked out across the empty stretch leading to the enemy hillside. His stolen shell looked perfectly human, face already changed up, anonymous to anyone. Even Marsella didn’t know the forces assembled here weren't thirteen surface knights and one Feather in a trenchcoat. There were two Feathers in a trenchcoat, and one still deciding in the airlock if he was human or armor.

I clicked on my general comms to the Winterscar frequency. Chatter was typical, checking over all our weapons and options, conditions of the field, enemy numbers and their current behaviors.

Two of the Deathless were waiting in the center of the valley, the flag of truce planted by their feet for the past ten minutes. Behind them the rest of the Deathless were slowly walking forward, small groups at a time while the final ones were wrapping up their business and making their way to the field.

Our side hadn’t yet sent out any knights, because there was still one question left to go.

“M’lord, have we decided on how we should introduce ourselves?” One of the knights asked.

That was the crux of the issue, and would decide how much of our abilities we could use to fight. We hadn’t had time to debate that point overnight, and when the morning came, Marsella had arrived with it.

There were four possible choices to pick from, each with pro’s and con’s and I had to think hard on it all on the way and ultimately, we were fighting Deathless - Lord Atius could be beat in sheer martial might, but that was fighting him while he had a hand tied behind his back. The moment he started wielding the occult, none of us could go one on one with him except for Father and Wrath. And myself now that I think about it, assuming I get to use everything I’d built up to now.

So if we intentionally crippled ourselves, the Deathless out there might actually kill one or more of our number which would have been… utterly stupid.

Fortunately, I think I had a good answer that would let us make use of most of our talents, and if the fighting got too harsh, knightbreakers and other tools I’d built could be used. We’d figure out an excuse for those another time.

I sent my final decision out over the comms.

The rest of the knights sent a green ping back in acknowledgement, and Wrath gave a nod. “That would equally fit in with the narrative Relinquished knows of, if she discovers this battle took place.” She said.

“That’s what I’m banking on too.” I said. “At some point, someone or something is going to spot me since I’m already in a few public records. Might as well start laying the groundwork right now.”

“And our reasons for being here then, m’lord?” One knight asked.

That’s the part I haven’t figured out completely yet. Not because it was difficult to come up with an excuse, but more trying to fit that in and predicting if it would blow up in my face or not.

“Maybe we’re out here searching for Wrath?” I thought about that, then decided I could use a bit of advice, so I turned to Wrath and gave per an elbow nudge. “What do you think, oh dear damsel in distress?”

“Claiming you are searching for me might be something I could weave into the narrative.” Wrath said, humming, hand on her helmet’s chin.

“We really need to sit down and hash out a full timeline here. With a nice full laid out backstory, we could just follow the script and never have to ask questions like this at all.” There were still a few other people to ask advice from. “Father, you’ve got the most experience out of all of us when it comes to the business of clan knight-ing. What’s your take?”

“Keep our reasons confidential.” Father grunted out. “Let them flounder in the dark. Clan knights do not answer to anyone but their clan lord.”

“Confidentiality would be better.” Captain Sagrius added, voice echoed slightly over the comms. “The other souls within my body all claim a better story could be later thought of, as anything could fit within a void of knowledge. I agree with them. It is the safest route forward.”

It wasn’t just the ghost knights within Sagrius that agreed to that, the rest of the Winterscar knights all believed the same.

“Right, votes are in and that’ll be what we go with.” I said.

With that plan in mind, I let Marsella know what we picked. Her eyes widened at the plan, then she laughed, settled down, laughed a bit more, and took one long drag of smoke. “I see you’re all making great use of that vaulted surface savage reputation of being stupidly xenophobic to anything outside your little clan. At least, cold and frosty to anything that isn’t bolted down and lootable. I heartily approve, and I’m looking forward to the shitshow.”

She looked down at the field where the Deathless were all marshaling, mirroring all the Winterscar knights also walking out to the field.

“And talking about shitshows,” Marsella leaned out of her chair, grin spreading wide. “You’re up.”