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Seeing me victorious in my glorious, mortal duel with the Vipers’ noble leader, The Fold’s fighters all scream in victory as well, stunning the Vipers. Kneeling beside the corpse, I bring my axe to its neck and start cutting into it, finishing it with a swift chop when I reach bone. Once the head is severed, I grab it by its hair and lift it high into the air, shouting, “Layton the Snake is dead! The fighting is over! The Fold is victorious!”

It’s pretty obvious, to me at least, the Vipers are winning this fight and by a pretty hefty margin as well. But hearing me tell them that I’ve killed Layton, the fighting is over, and that The Fold has won, the Vipers lost their will to fight. Seeing them look around in confusion with many of them quickly growing disheartened, I’m reminded of something Bertrand told me once a long time ago. He said people aren’t naturally born for the battlefield. A lot of it has to do with the normal human nature society ingrains into us from birth clashing with the brutal mentality necessary for war. They have to be reeducated, remolded for weeks, months, or even years before they can overcome their inherent fears of warfare and actually fight confidently on the battlefield.

But being in an army circumvents this intrinsic fear and alleviates it to an astounding degree. Hand an untrained individual a sword, point him in the direction of where he’ll fight, and he’ll piss himself on the spot. However, hand swords to an untrained squad of eight, point them to where they need to go, and there’s a damn good chance not all of them will piss themselves. Just by being in a group with other individuals in the exact same situation will lessen the overwhelming fear the individual feels as if that fear is shared with the rest of their squad. Bertrand explained to me this was the concept of morale.

But he also said morale was the biggest double edged sword on the battlefield. High morale obviously promotes confidence and allows armies to display their full strengths. Low morale, however, strips away everything until there’s nothing left. It strips away individual confidence, it strips away group confidence, and it exposes people for what’s truly inside them. The overconfident newcomers will crumble like sand castles while the weathered, jaded veterans show what their years in the army have done for them.

This is a test for the Vipers. This is a test of how experienced they are, how competent their surviving command structure is, and this is a test for how cohesive their gang is. If they pass it, they’ll win right here, right now without question. Layton’s horse can’t have run that far off when I took my eyes off of it and I’ll hop on its back, riding my way out of here on my own. If they fail it, it’ll be our victory and I can move onto the next step of my plan.

After my announcement of Layton’s death, both sides stopped fighting completely. The majority of The Fold’s fighters are still surrounded by the Vipers but it’d be impossible to judge that based on their expressions. The Vipers are looking unsure of themselves, fidgeting and glancing around, looking for a retreat path. The Fold is worse off physically, all of them covered in wounds or injuries and some even missing limbs. But they’re craving for the fighting to resume.

Soon, one of the Vipers in the encirclement shouts, “Don’t listen to a word that fucking kid said! We’ve won this fight already, look around us! We outnumber them, we have them surrounded, and we’re nowhere near as injured as they are! We just need to finish them!”

All valid points. Not a single thing he said was a lie. But is he charismatic enough to become their new leader? I’ve already planted a seed of defeat into every one of their minds and if he wants to turn back the tides, he needs to incinerate those seeds until nothing is left. Can he do it?

“Guys! What the fuck is wrong with all of you!? We’ve won already! Please just listen to me you dumbfucks! Kill them all! Go!”

Oh no. He almost had it. But he fucked it at the very last moment. Seeing nobody around him moving forward, the Viper stands where he is, further berating his allies while trying to incite them into continuing the fight. More and more Vipers look dejected with each passing second. The ones at the back of the encirclement discreetly take a step back in case they need to make a run for it.

He made the same exact mistake Mercer made back in The Pit. Even if all of his arguments are sound and correct, which in this situation he is, once morale has broken down, pointing out facts only goes so far. Mercer had me in the palm of his hand and all he had to do was crush me. But he was too afraid to be the one to take the first step. This Viper has the same problem Mercer did, he’s a coward.

No one wants to be the one who starts the fight because in almost every situation, the first one to go in dies. Everyone would prefer being in the second wave or even the third wave because fighting is scary. Dying is scary. Holding a sword itself is scary. I have no doubt in my mind that every single one of them is thinking about what they’d rather be doing or where they’d rather be than fighting for their lives here right now.

The only reason I can stand here and do the things I need to do to win is because Bertrand made sure I knew the consequences of cowardice. He beat me over and over again until I was black and blue, numb to seeing fists or blades flying at my face. If I shut my eyes, afraid of getting hit or cut, I’d just get my ass beat even harder. Though I do suppose my time with Kayman in the collapsed mine had a major hand in warping my brain and how it experiences fear. I wonder if this Viper was as distorted as I was, he would’ve been able to rally the rest of his gang tonight.

Oh well, his loss. I’ll show him what he really needed to do in this situation. When Gavin arrived next to me, I gestured toward the encirclement with my head and he nodded back, hopping off his horse with his sword in hand. Making our way over as the Viper was still trying to muster his troops, Gavin and I started tearing our way through the wavering Vipers.

Our sudden attack horrified them as they were still trying to decide on whether to keep fighting or not. But I’ve made the decision in their stead. Caving in a bandit’s skull with my axe, I raise Layton’s head high in my left and scream, “Kill them all! Don’t let a single one of them get away!”

That’s obviously an exaggeration but I’m choosing my words carefully. I want the Vipers to think that I think the fight is an already foregone conclusion. Hearing my domineering command, The Fold shouts to raise their own morale and start fighting as well. The Vipers at the back of the encirclement have seen enough and they break away from the melee, running towards the gap in the wall. With all our archers dead, there’s not much I can do to stop them but I don’t think I would want to stop them even if I could. Their sudden departure causes panic to spread amongst the remaining Vipers and seals this fight’s ending.

The Vipers all start to disengage and retreat but The Fold’s not letting up their onslaught. The Viper from before is still trying to reorganize his gang to no avail and when he sees he’s about to be left behind, he turns around to run away. He’s unable to even make it five steps before Gavin impales his sword into the Viper’s back. Pulling it out and going after his next target, Gavin doesn’t even spare another look at the Viper as his body falls forward, landing on the ground with outstretched limbs. I can picture the look of despair and resignation on the man’s face without even seeing him.

He was this close to turning things around. If he was only a tad bit braver, but it’s too late now. With the Vipers in full retreat, The Fold has a field day as they chase after unresisting opponents, cutting them down from behind. Most of the surviving Vipers manage to escape through the gap in the wall and when The Fold reaches the gap, they stop, raising their swords in the air, and start cheering their hearts out. I don’t blame them, that was too close of a fight. If Gavin didn’t chase Layton into the citadel when he did, I would’ve left, abandoning all of them.

The losses tonight are… ruinous to the cult. Looking around at all the survivors, I don’t count more than 40 heads still alive. Even the ones still standing might not make it through the night seeing how severe their injuries are. Honestly, the Vipers made it out of here in better condition and they probably have over 60 survivors.

Fuck, I really hope they don’t mount a second attack. I’m fine with this amount of survivors and the Vipers have already completed their role in my plans, they can go away at least until tomorrow night. Once the fervor dies down, everyone looks around, confused with what they should be doing now. Gavin steps forward and starts giving out orders to clean the bodies up. There’s not much they can do to the wall except station a guard or two. Luckily for them, the fire didn’t spread too far and only burned a few more yards of the wood wall on either side of the gap.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Yoel running up to me, beaming with pride and excitement. Without stopping, he wraps me in a tight embrace and starts shouting right beside my ear, much to my annoyance, “Brother Isaac! You were amazing! I can’t believe we defeated the snakes! If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what would’ve happened to us all!”

Surprisingly, Yoel doesn’t seem injured at all even though he started this fight drunk. Before I can even respond, he starts shouting again after catching his breath, “All those stories from today’s ambush didn’t do you any justice! You were even more magnificent here than earlier today! When I heard your riveting words before the battle, my blood boiled like never before and it felt like I transformed into a different person! Brother Isaac, you’re a hero! The Fold’s hero! The Savior’s champion sent to guide us to victory!”

Overhearing Yoel’s boisterous praises, other Fold members stop around me to thank me as well or to continue heaping on compliments. Smiling at all of them, I try to stay modest by saying it’s all thanks to the Savior’s grace. Seeing all of them smile back at me, I can’t wait until I slaughter each and every one of them. I wonder if this is how the man who stabbed me in the back felt. Maybe I was too harsh on him.

After Yoel and the others finish their business with me, another Fold member who I don’t recognize and who didn’t seem to have participated in the battle at all comes up to me, saying in a respectful tone, “Brother Isaac, you need not help the rest with clearing the battlefield. Elder Niel has requested you pay him a visit after breakfast tomorrow, bright and early. You’ve already done more than enough, please go and rest so that you’re refreshed for your meeting with the Elder tomorrow.”

Hmm, interesting. The Fold brother then explains how I can find the elder’s residence. Once he was done, he left in the direction he told me about. After pondering about what it could be regarding for a moment, I looked up to see Gavin a few yards away, staring at me. He didn’t look happy at all and I immediately brightened up. An unhappy Gavin is a good Gavin.

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