All's Fair, Part Eleven: The Ruse

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(March 18th)

At the barricade, Captain Uvani Mikaell Varrn was talking his troops, gesticulating fiercely as he strode back and forth across their path. “We've received word that the Adari Matriarch is on her way. They've engaged our forces on three occasions, suffering several injuries, so there's no excuse for not stopping them here!”

“What if the people inside the psigate compound cover them? Wouldn't that be an excuse?” One soldier asked.

“No!” Mikaell glared at the speaker, then returned to pacing. “We stop them before they reach the compound. I don't want to see anything interrupting our vigilance! Absolute attention to all approaches at all times!”

“Sir?” The same soldier spoke up. “We can't be vigilant.”

Mikaell spun on him. “Why not?”

“Because we're listening to you.” The soldier said helpfully.

Mikaell twitched. After a moment, he managed to choke out “Noted. Shut up and start watching.” Glaring daggers at the line, he spun to face the street. Behind him, he heard someone snigger, and glanced angrily over his should. The laughter died instantly, and he looked back towards the street. “That's the problem with this conscription,” he muttered, “no damned discipline.”

“That seems accurate enough.” The disdain in the voice of Warthread Ktoth was almost palpable as he stepped up to his nominal commander, his Yocanu battle armor glittering in the sun. “Your people are not soldiers, Captain.”

“I'm quite aware of that, Warthread. Do you have a point, or are you just being insubordinate?”

“My apologies. There are two lifeforms approaching from the north, possibly scouts for the Matriarch. I sent two of my soldiers to capture them.”

Mikael considered. “Hm. Three would have been better.”

“No Sayleen born can match a Yocanu warrior one-on-one. They will…” Kthoth's smug reply was drowned out by a sudden explosion to the north. He spun in shock, as pillars of smoke billowed up. “Impossible!”

“Cover the north! It's an ambush!” Mikael dove for cover as the three remaining Yocanu charged forwards, their suits carrying them into rocket-propelled jumps towards the ten Sayleen shapes coming out of the smoke. Behind them, the team's vanguards broke into a spring, following the Yocanu by only a few paces, as Mikael's Sayleen soldiers began to advance.

There was the sound of metal against metal as Kthoth's claws slammed into the first Sayleen. The shock sent him and his expected victim tumbling end-over-end, rolling out of the smoke. Mikael gaped in shock as what had seemed like a Sayleen when concealed was revealed to be one of the two Yocanu warriors who had attacked. He spun to stare at the smoke, as the vanguards tore through smoke phantoms to find nothing behind them, and the Yocanu launched devastating attacks against phantoms. “Wait! Stop! They're psychic illusions!” A small part of him applauded the concept – by using the smoke as a cover, the amount of energy needed to form the psychic illusions that his squad had seen was minimal, and there was no reason for his people to distrust them. But if the attack there was… “Reform ranks! Pull back before… oh, gods above!”

Concealed by a psychic shimmer that wouldn't have worked for a moment if the Varnn soldiers hadn't been so thoroughly distracted, the Adari delegation struck the Varrn from the west like a sledgehammer. In the lead, Shin Ellene and Vokar Sam'uel were unstoppable forces of destruction, plowing over hapless Sayleen as they charged the compound gates. Running interference further back, Lucky Lad ducked and wove, knocking over soldiers who were about to stand and firing wildly to keep them diving for cover. As the Yocanu who were still standing turned, attracted by the commotion, the soldiers in the compound realized what was happening. Waves of laser fire lanced out, slamming a foot behind the running Adari delegates, and Sayleen soldiers who had been about to give pursuit broke off with cries of surprise or pain. Mikael stared in horror as the Adari reached the compound gates, which slid open just enough for them to pass through two at a time.

“After them! Stop them!” A few of his soldiers were brave enough to follow his desperate command. They were promptly shot. After that, the rest hung back and looked sidelong at their commander, who was on the verge of tears. He fired several shots in the direction of the Adari matriarch, but the vanguards were already forming a human wall, and his blasts impacted almost harmlessly against them. He watched in despair as the compound doors slammed shut.

Some distance away, Carath Lezslie laughed quietly, watching the chaos below, then turned to her cousin. “That was amazing, Jhim. Where did you figure out tricks like that?”

“The downside to a century of peace is that no one really has military tactics.” Jhim grinned. “We were lucky, though. If the Warthread had been a bit less cocky, this wouldn't have gone nearly as well.” He paused. “Also, now we're kind of stuck out here.”

“There's just two of us. We can pull out without being spotted.” Leszlie smiled, then blinked. “Hang on. There's someone else here.” She looked around worriedly.

“I don't see anyone.” Jhim readied his gun.

“I know, but there's… aah!” Leszlie cried out in pain, falling to her knees. The air shimmered across from them, and Heran Kyall stepped forwards, wincing slightly despite his triumphant smile – below, on the street, the three Yocanu still standing pivoted to look upwards.

Kyall chuckled. “I have to hand it to you, Artificer. That was magnificent. But I'm afraid you won't live to appreciate it.”

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