131 Bird of Illest Omen
By the time morning arrived and the first rays of sunlight found their way to the canyon floor, the beast wave had been defeated. Commander Taigen was standing at the front of the defensive line as he surveyed the mess. His layered armor was splattered with blood, and certain parts showed missing plates that were ripped out by beast claws. His right hand still held the azure katana that was still dripping with beast blood.
As he watched, from the cracks and crevices of the canyon came the Bulwarks' cleaners, the slimes. These strange jelly-like creatures would appear after every fight in the canyon and completely absorb any dead creature left on the canyon floor, leaving nothing behind. They were efficient at their job, and harmless to the living as they only lived to consume the dead.
Behind Taigen his men were helping the wounded back up the canyon to where the healers waited for them. It had been a hard fight, with more of his men injured as a result and one on death's door. He clenched his fist as he stood there, feeling helpless and trapped. His men depended on him, yet he could only watch them fall one by one against the beasts.
Damn those greedy bastards in Brumau! Damn his own weakness and inability! Had he been stronger back then they would have been able to escape this cruel fate! But his anger could not save his men. He took a deep breath to calm himself before turning away from the wriggling slimes having their feast and headed back up the canyon with his men.
Only a decade ago when he was a child the Asurai were a thriving clan with thousands of warriors, but now they barely had fifty able bodied warriors remaining. Most of the remaining warriors were in a similar shape as he was, splattered in blood and armor in disrepair, the once vibrant colors had faded and the bindings holding the layers in place frayed with some missing entirely.
Their backs were stooped and their faces lined with fatigue, that much Taigen could see too well as he walked with them. The wounds he could not see however, were the ones that weighed the heaviest. Friends and mentors, family and lovers, all those that had joined the ancestors. It was their sacrifice that allowed the remaining few to live this long. If they gave up now it would disgrace the memories that they all held dear.
Taigen's blue eyes hardened as he looked over his tired men, but the anger and helplessness that he felt inside did not keep him from acting as a commander should. A pat on the back here, a word of encouragement there, a nod and a smile to brighten their spirits even but a little. He believed every little bit made a difference, no matter how small the gesture.
As he reached the camp, the first thing he saw were the shelters set up by the troops. He walked through the area to check and see if everyone was doing as well as they could. General Saigo stopped to speak with him briefly, but didn't stay for long. He had to prepare for the next wave.
Further into the camp he came to the white healer tents, currently full of warriors awaiting treatment after the battle. As bad as the warriors had it on the front, the few healers they had were being stretched to their limits as well. The last few days they had been unable to completely heal everyone, and some warriors had been forced to go to battle still bandaged up.
Taigen knew the healers were doing their best, they were led by his twin sister after all. She would not accept anything less than maximum effort from herself and held her subordinates to those same standards. When it came to healing the injured, she was quite the taskmaster.
Past the healer tents he came across a somber gathering of family members crowded around two still forms laid on the ground. Tears marked the faces of many of those gathered there as they hummed together the heart-aching hymn of passing over the bodies of the two fallen.
Montaro and Renzo were their names. They had been fine young men, and brave warriors, but now they were the latest in a long list of casualties that would only grow longer. Taigen had seen this scene so many times already, yet still his heart clenched with pain every time he saw the devastation and loss in the eyes of the grieving family.
He too paid his respects to the fallen warriors, then continued on. He was now in the middle of the camp where those unable to fight were placed. The young and old, noncombatants that could not stand at the front, they were all here. He could see faces thinned by lack of food and nutrition and it pained his soul to see his people so.
He still walked through their midst, listening to their grievances and offering words of encouragement when he could. He was their leader, Commander Taigen Asurai, and it was his responsibility see to their needs as best he could.
Once he had made his rounds, he made his way back to the healer tents. Most of the wounded had been treated, and only the severely injured remained in the tents. The few healers were all lying down, faces pale from exertion. Only his sister remained on her feet, still working, making sure all the medical tools were cleaned and stored properly.
"Baiken, how are things here?" he called out to her.
"Ah, Taigen. We're stretched thin. Supplies are getting lower by the day, and we're almost out of bandages. If it wasn't for Sai's continuous efforts, we would have lost far more than we have. But even he is reaching the breaking point," Baiken said as she faced her brother with a sigh.
Both of them had lines of fatigue under their eyes, only a hint of how tired they felt. Taigen looked over at Sai who was passed out asleep on a mat nearby. The young man was barely fifteen, and was one of the only healers they had that could actually knit flesh back together.
Baiken had been truthful. Without him, many of the warriors that could still fight would be dead or crippled for life.
The twins shared a glance. They both knew without some miracle they would at most last a few more days. They were hanging from a cliff and the rope was fraying right before their eyes.
"Get some sleep brother. You need the rest," Baiken said as she went back to her task.
"Same to you sister," he retorted as he exited the tent.
They both needed rest, that much was clear. Taigen made one last round to check on the sentries before he headed to the officer tent to try and rest for a bit.
Night would would come soon, and he couldn't shake the growing sense of dread that had started to creep up on him. Maybe it would pass with some rest.
He dearly hoped that it would.
Above the canyon in the sky a black feathered avian released a chilling call.
Like a bird of illest omen calling all impending doom, it circled around while its beady eyes glinted in the sun.
Did it signal hope? Or was it the herald of the end?
Only the gods could know for certain.