After gathering the dead, we had to return to repairing the city. Thankfully the buildings were made of stone, but even then the partially melted structures were disturbing to see. A few days had passed before we got word that more Phyrexians were approaching. I wonder if it is the mercenaries that have no mercy, or if they fear their masters. It may be a time of war, but time must be allowed to give service to the dead.
This new force was lead by a trio of gorgons who had moved to the rear of Karesta. Trusting the rock of Maroa to protect us, we maintained our defensive preparations. With so many thoughts, I assigned myself to clean the thoctar stables - after all, even with an enemy on the doorstep we still had to keep the beasts clean. Never realised how hard it was to clear up after so many undead creatures. Decided then to see about getting the disobedient from other divisions to help out.
Before the day was through Phyrexia struck. Loud hammer blows came from behind the city, with our scouts reporting that they were attempting to tunnel through the rock to attack us from behind. It was deafening and seemed to last for hours, and throughout it all, we had to stand ready for attack. They say the worse part about war is the waiting, and I must agree. Each thump drove up the tension making us stare all the harder at that immobile wall. It was almost more draining than the battles before.
In time, a small hole formed in the rock, its growth was slow as the diggers were careful not to give away their position with falling stones. It would have been admirable if it wasn’t so amusing, like sneaking past guards while wearing bells. Just like that, the tension was gone, and we had an enemy to fight. I had even forgotten that last time I laughed at Phyrexia I got the worse of it. All the same, I was looking forward to having enemies on the ground, unable to escape my horns. It is funny how confidence can wax and wane, it is the ethereal quality of morale. Something I never quite grasped, even though Mannichi would try to explain it often later. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was bitterly disappointed when vampire dragons stole my kills by spitting fireballs into the tunnel. However, I suspect my fellow herdsmen were secretly pleased, even with the thoctars fighting at the bit.
With another tension-filled, but non-fighting victory, we herdsmen got together to give service to our dead. After the loss of Karesta I placed a memorial to my fellows at the foot of Taranaki, I ask you attend them to pay your respects. The differences between people and numbers finally began to sink in. Initially there were 30 of us under Mannichi, each with 50 thoctars under our care. But by now, there was only 20. It may sound like we got off lightly given the losses suffered by the other divisions, but a number can never take the place of an individual.
I reaffirmed that I would learn about my fellows, not as figures, but as entities in their own right. From that day forward, I made an effort to socialise with both my soldiers and the other officers - between continued training bouts with Libra, a keeping up thoctar cleaning. It’s the plight of being a leader, more responsibilities, but no more time to do them in. To make matters worse, we received our first reinforcements from Tarakhe. But some functionary refused us additional herdsmen, or to divvy up the new beasts ourselves, ‘administrative reasons.’ Officially the reinforcements left some of our squads as 70 beasts, while others had as little as 10, in truth I fudged the numbers. That little desk jocky would have never left his papers in Tarakhe, let alone fought a battle. It was such times like that I thought the thoctar were the soldiers, and us herdsmen the cattle.
The next morning, reports flooded in about Sharuum returning, I was starting to miss the days of nothing already. Then the worst thing that could happen was getting drunk, now I didn’t know how many days I had left. Back into the streets, we were to lead the thoctar in tidying up the rubble from the previous battles to make barricades before hiding within the ruined buildings. I picked an old estate on
Fortunately my musing was interrupted as the sounds of battle outside echoed, explosions and rumbles rocked the old estate. But keeping a careful watch on
The clarion call soon came that enemies had breeched the walls of the city. I didn’t need to look outside this time, but could hear them crashing through the streets. Crumbling masonry echoed within the mountain as my fellows lead their thoctars smashing through buildings into Phyrexian flanks. Whipping Thurstan, I lead my beasts into the fray, and directly into more of those accursed sky swallowers. Confined in the streets and unable to turn around I was able to tear through its tough scales into the flesh beneath. All along its length, my thoctars were tearing open the sky swallower and consuming its innards. A fitting vengeance for Ploppy.
Throughout Karesta the same image was repeated. We of the thoctar managed to take down 400 of the largest creatures that Phyrexia had thrown against us. We thought it a mighty victory, that Sharuum will soon be fleeing with her tail between her legs. As testament to our prowess, massive sky swallower bodies were piled throughout Karesta. But out victory was short lived, more Phyrexians were coming and our angels could not join in our exhalations.
What happened next proved to be our end. The bodies and barricades throughout the streets meant our mobility was ruined, preventing us from bringing thoctars to the main areas quickly enough. Even then, we had become separated and spread throughout the city, forced to rely on ourselves without support. Those beasts far enough from guiding hands went berserk, carving new roads, or being crushed with ease in their isolation. We went from victory, to being slaughtered as Phyrexians breeched the aerial forces.
Yet that wasn’t the worst of it, somehow, the Phyrexians managed to fill Maroa with fog. Slowly at first, no one even noticed, but it didn’t take long to smoother Karesta. We were left fighting blind and fear set in. I could hear the sounds of death all around me, macabre silhouettes in the mist. Thurstan panicked, making a headlong dash from the city - and nothing I could do would stop him.
Thurstan didn’t slow until he reached the edge of Maroa’s crater. Taking a chance to look back, I could see my comrades fleeing the mists, but again far fewer than had entered. Occasionally Phyrexians burst from the edges of the fog to drag back soldier like some hungry mass. But they mostly seemed content with finishing off those that had yet to escape. After all this time, Karesta was again in enemy hands.