War Aeternus 5: Chapter 1

Name: Lee Race: Human Class: Herald – Conqueror

Level: 56 Health: 660/660 EXP: 103491/465000

Primary Stats:

Power 66 (76) Toughness 66 (76) Spirit 66 (76)

 

Secondary Stats:

Charisma 32 Courage 23 Deceit 33

Intelligence 488 (561) Honor -3 Faith 36999

Personal Faith 561

 

Skills:

Unarmed Combat Novice Level 9 Swordplay Master Level 3

Sneak Adept Level 8 Cooking Novice Level 4

Trap Detection Novice Level 2 Knife Combat Novice Level 7

Mental Fortitude Journeyman Level 3 Sleight of Hand Initiate Level 9

Blood Shield Journeyman Level 3 Sewing Initiate Level 10

Glass Smithing Journeyman Level 4 Carpentry Journeyman Level 1

Masonry Novice Level 5

 

Heritage Town:

Satterfield (+10: Savior)

Defensive Strength Rating: 30 Economic Strength Rating: 25

Population Rating: 17 Territory Rating: 15

Tech / Utility Rating: 28 Influence / Tourism Rating: 25

 

Divine Skills: 

Golem Sculpting Master Level 5

Appreciative Drunk Adept Level 8

Nectar of the Gods Master Level 2

Spirit Smithing Journeyman Level 4

Faith Healing

Ignis Veritas

Ignis Vomite Journeyman Level 6

Telepathy Initiate Level 5

 

Divinity Powers:

Life in Death

 

Kingdom Modifier Rank: 2 (King)

Lion’s Mane

The People’s Will

The King’s Executioner

The King’s Grace

The Birth of a Legend

Titles:

Cheat Code Fighter

The Great Deceiver

The Aggressive Mile-High Chef

Man of Many Sighs

Genocidal Pyromaniac

Roasty-Toasty Regicide
———

Lee opened his eyes to find himself within a familiar white world with a table, chess board, and woman sitting quietly and sipping tea.

“You rang?” Lee asked, sparing the woman a momentary glance.

“I did,” she said as she waved her hand, a chair appearing at her table and sliding back so Lee could sit in it. In addition to the chair, a cup of tea appeared as well.

Lee looked at the chair and then ignored it, instead holding out his hand and materializing a sword within it. It was the exact same make and design as the Proxy Gateway that he used as his primary weapon when fighting outside this place.

“You’re not going to seriously do that again, are you?” the woman asked as Lee then conjured up his five Little Ethans.

“Yeah, I am,” Lee said as he gave each of the five mice two small swords for them to wield. The once miniscule mice were now large, and standing on their two hind legs, they were fierce opponents.

“Fine,” the woman said with a sigh. “Go practice your skills and ignore a perfectly good cup of tea and game of chess, but you won’t deny me my conversation or I will–”

“Fair. You can tell me why you’ve brought me back here,” Lee responded, giving the Little Ethans a moment to ready themselves before he charged at them. This time, the woman hadn’t tried to restrain him like before because now Lee could shatter her bindings completely. He had within him the ability to fully resist her magic, but he chose not to. He chose instead to let it work so that he would have a chance to enter the dream world she could create. It was a small, time-compressed realm, and its limits were only set by the capabilities of his own imagination or hers. The best part about this particular world, the main reason why he put up with her to use it, was the fact that it didn’t cost him a minute of his time awake. It was only accessible while he was dreaming, yet he could still level up his skills within it.

“Because of Red Ramen,” she said, sighing again. Red Ramen was the ruler and founder of the Spicy Noodle Chicken Surprise empire. It was the southern political giant that held the territories that Birnefeld, Satterfield, and Kirshtein all belonged to. 

“You don’t look surprised,” she noted. Lee hadn’t even paused his mock battle with the five Little Ethans for a second when she had brought up the emperor’s name. “You already know what is happening, don’t you?” 

“You know I know,” Lee said pointedly, but his attention was focused on parrying one of the short sword attacks that was coming at him. Because he gained whatever skill experience the Little Ethans did, the benefit of using his golems as sparring partners was that he could level his Swordplay skill by using his blade as well as by having the Little Ethans use theirs. “You know where my land is. How could I not?”

“Are you not going to do anything about it?” the woman asked, sipping her tea as she stared at Lee with a face of wonder and fascination.

Lee however, just ignored her. He didn’t want to give her any more information than he had to. If she gleaned information from him, that was one thing, but he didn’t plan to volunteer a single morsel of mental munitions for this woman to use against him.

“Ah, hmmm,” she paused, putting a hand to her chin. Lee, through the use of Little Ethan, could see everything around him easily. What the Little Ethans saw, he saw. What the Little Ethans smelled or heard, he smelled or heard. What the Little Ethans did, he could control for the most part. They were part of a hive mind. Each created by him and had a little bit of individuality, but not enough to be considered a distinct person. He, and the Little Ethans, were one in a sense, so he was able to study her without pausing his practice.

“Maybe . . .” she said, letting the word slowly exit her mouth and hang for a moment before following it up, “Maybe, since you won’t talk, I’ll just tell you my side of things. I’ll tell you about the six armed regiments that are marching south as a single massive army, numbering in the tens of thousands. I might also tell you about how normally, I’d have armies of my own to deal with it, but even though I have a stranglehold on five kingdoms myself, my armies are spent. Some rude and stubborn drunk killed one of the larger ones, as well as three of my bicorns, and the others were wiped out securing four of those five kingdoms, so I’m rather low on manpower.”

Lee knew most of these details already. While he was stabilizing his own kingdom, leveling his armies and gearing his troops, he had scouts spying on hers. He knew she had just finished a tough war with another Herald and won, reminding him of the fact that if she had sent everything she had at him during her first attack, he might not be around to have this conversation with her, or he might be the puppet he knew she wanted him to be.

Your mastery of Swordplay has progressed from the rank of Master Level 3 to the rank of Master Level 4. This skill improves one’s reasoning and execution of sword-related abilities in combat.

Due to improving Swordplay, you have received +1 Intelligence. Current Intelligence: 489.

“Still not talking then?” the girl laughed. “Hmm, then I’ll tell you this: I also know what Red Ramen is doing. He’s not just securing his hold on his land, marching down to force Birnefeld to pay the tributes I know you’ve been skipping; he’s coming to kill you specifically. He wants to kill every Herald in the world because he sees you as a threat.”

“And his general could,” Lee said, sighing as he paused his fight with the Little Ethans to look over at the shadow queen herself. “Most of his generals could defeat me in a one-on-one fight.”

“Right,” she smiled, happy that she had won a small victory by getting Lee to respond. “And not just his generals, those members of his guild, Heroes of Eternity, are considered the fiercest fighters in the kingdom for a reason. At least a handful could defeat each of us in one-on-one combat,” she said, picking up a pawn and knocking it over on the chessboard.

Lee took in a deep breath, sighed, and then looked over at the woman. He didn’t just dislike her; he loathed her. She had pressed him into doing some of the worst things he had ever done in his entire lifetime. She had made him kill thousands of innocent people, people who didn’t choose to be a part of their war, and she was the reason he currently had to wear such a heavy crown. Just the sight of her caused fire to rip through his veins and his blood to rush, but here he was, thinking the one thought he never wanted to think: She may also be the only way I come out of this alive.

“I know this well though,” Lee said. “What you’re telling me isn’t new information,” he added as he turned back to the Little Ethans, beginning his sparring session once more. “Those players have been here longer than I have. They dominated the other players and used massive fights and difficult battles to hone their skills as they grew to one of the top guilds in existence. I’ve heard it well from the players in my own lands.”

“Right, and they did it so well that despite not having a single Herald within their entire guild, they’ve managed to found an empire and destroy kingdoms.” She paused, taking a sip. “Though they don’t need a Herald. People who have seen him in combat treat Red Ramen like a God himself.”

Lee stopped the training session again. “I know,” he said. “I know exactly how rough it looks, but there isn’t much for me to do anymore. I stopped paying his tribute for a reason, though I suspect it wasn’t the same reason as you.”

Red Ramen, the highest-level, best-geared player in the game that Lee knew of, known as the scourge of the battlefield, hated Heralds and gods with a passion. He had been slowly, in the northern parts of his empire, stamping out the existence and presence of both of them by not only killing Heralds, but by lining up and executing all those who followed them. It was like a witch hunt when his army came to a town. He didn’t wait for a single verdict as he butchered every person accused of being religious on the spot, claiming that religions and gods were a plague upon the world that would cause man to turn against man so long as they existed.

Given the carnage that had risen in the wake of the Herald wars, Lee understood where he was coming from. The first Herald he had fought had once enslaved the people of Satterfield, forcing them to work day in and day out in the mines for his own purposes, and several of them had died during his struggle with that Herald. In his conflict with the second Herald, the battle had only cost more lives as Lee had tricked the army of Birnefeld to attack the army of Kirshtein so that he could leverage it for an opening to kill the ruling Herald, a Herald that was trying to kill all Humans himself. Then the next Herald hadn’t left less of a mark either, every single one of her followers killing themselves in front of him after a battle.

Then, in this last battle, he had fought against the very woman talking to him. She had sought to control him, as she had discovered that the powers of two separate Heralds could be combined for a much greater effect. She had used this knowledge earlier to combine her power, the ability to manipulate and control dreams, with the power of the Herald in Birnefeld, a man whose ability was growing plants at will, plants he could infuse with healing properties, to turn all those who ate the fruits into zombies over a week or two as her dreams infected them and forced them into action.

Just the thought of those enemies and the people he had lost fighting against this recent Herald made him wince. The body count of both enemies and allies that had died to prevent Birnefeld from being burned to the ground by her invading army had exceeded anything he had previously seen in the war, and it was something that weighed on him still.

“Yes.” She picked up the queen piece in front of her and set it down. “It was clear the money was just going to be used to buy more mercenaries and troops, troops that he would inevitably use to kill me and all of my followers no matter how timely my payments were,” she said.

This wasn’t something Lee would have always thought, but one of his Little Ethans, when scouting to the north, had discovered that Red Ramen had gutted and destroyed two cities, killing two Heralds and all of their followers, despite the fact that the two cities had never missed a tribute payment toward the empire, even paying slightly more than they should have to maintain the peace as the armies had neared their borders, likely knowing the fate that awaited them.

“So, if you have nothing new to say, what is it you have brought me here for,” Lee asked, ending his sparring session as he turned toward her.

“To show the Dragon King,” she said, referencing Lee’s new title as the ruler of Birnefeld, and then, likely knowing it’d get under Lee’s skin, she added with a sly smile, “My liege, what type of helping hand I can give?”

“You’re not joining me,” Lee stated. It wasn’t a question, and he made sure his tone conveyed that as he sat down at the chair and picked up the cup of tea. He didn’t know what her intentions were, but he didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her. There was no way she would join him.

“I don’t have to join you to help you,” the woman stated, taking a slow tip of her tea before casting her eyes at the chessboard below them. “Which is why I’ve organized a lesson and a present.”

“Present? Lesson?” Lee asked as he also looked down at the chessboard. At first, he didn’t understand what was going on, but then he started to see it immediately. The chessboard was organized like his army, the one Miller was currently leading, and the castle it was sieging. It had four white rooks on the board, two at B2 and B7, the other two at G2 and G7, their combination making a nice square. Then it had eight pawns set up, two sitting in the middle of each set of rooks, such that they occupied spaces B4 and B5, D7 and E7, G4 and G5, and D2 and E2. They were the gates and gate guards that cross sectioned the town. Then there were knights, occupying the spaces C3 and C4, a bishop occupying the space at D5, and a queen at E5.

The knights represented the two 5,000-man army contingents the town of Schinhofenfurt had on the south side of the western wall. It was a frustration that Lee had been dealing with since he first reached that town. Lee had already besieged and broken three towns before Schinhofenfurt, and this one would be his fourth. He had been expanding in all directions, seizing the two towns south of Birnefeld immediately after securing his base in Kirshtein, their combined populations not equally more than three-fourths of Kirshtein’s, hitting the one northwest of Birnefeld next. He didn’t necessarily want to be the barbaric conqueror. Rather, his class and his situation demanded it. He had to grow his military strength and resource pool as fast as possible, and that meant conquering new towns. Each siege gained his armies levels, as killing NPCs and players was the fastest way to gain experience in the game, and each town provided him with the ability to levy new troops.

However, the next town on his conquer list, Schinhofenfurt, was much better defended and organized than the previous three ones he had hit. It’s population was half the size of Birnefeld’s, which should have made it an easy target, especially since the army Lee had sieging it was 15,000 men strong itself.

The advantage though, was that Miller’s troops were much stronger. If Lee had to classify them, when a soldier first finished his training and hadn’t gotten either levels or experience, he would be a tier 1 soldier. If he reached the veteran’s level, 20 to 25, and had gone through combat several times, he’d be a tier 4 to tier 5 soldier. If he reached Level 50 and was battle hardened to the point where he’d outshine Lee in terms of total experience, a thing very few accomplished, then he’d be a tier 10 soldier. That was how Lee broke down the combat capabilities of the troops. It also went without saying that in order to defeat a tier 10 soldier, at least 2 tier 9 soldiers were needed.

So, Miller’s soldiers, who had taken shifts to level in the monster-infested territories around Birnefeld as a means of both gathering meat for rations as well as training teamwork, were sitting at an average of tier 3 to tier 4, whereas the two 5,000-men enemy regiments were around tier 1, tier 2 at tops. This numerical and level advantage should theoretically have let Miller’s troops easily storm the castle’s walls, kill the King, and cede the territory and its people to Lee’s control. It should have been easy, however there was a problem: The fort’s walls were nearly impenetrable. They were made of six-foot-wide, reinforced layers of dirt, the type of reinforcements within the dirt that towns back in Lee’s world used to hold up multiple lane highways, with three feet of stone on each side of them. Lee had inspected the walls himself using his newest, smallest Little Ethan, and they were solid. They were also nearly thirty five feet tall as they surrounded the large city, giving the rows of archers they could field on top of them a significant range advantage against anyone trying to attack, and given the additional slotted wall atop the bulwark, the chances of hitting the troops on top would be very slim.

Lastly, the villagers in the fort had dug out a long, deep trench around the walls and filled it sporadically with spikes, a trick Lee had often employed and forced all of his territories to do, preventing the approach of any siege engine. It was true that Lee’s men were all soldiers of Augustus, and therefore, with their crafting bonuses that the religion seemed to provide everyone, could build the ramparts and bridging materials needed to get over the trenches without a problem, which Lee was planning to do, but that preparation was costing extra time. To build everything, Lee had to keep his forces in one place, more or less, and thus forecast his men’s position even further. Every day they were held up on the siege was a problem, so those knights were a serious issue.

As for the final two pieces, the bishop and the queen, they were clearly the royal guard and the queen herself. 

With 10,000 archers, a defensible wall, and 500 royal guards that could sweep out and defend a key point if Lee’s melee troops broke though, it was hard to imagine how Lee’s men would be able to break this particular fort without losing a costly amount of his troops in the process, and without the fort, his empire would be easily invaded from the north. If King Ramen’s troops were able to acquire the fort, they would be able to attack Lee’s small-yet-growing empire from all directions and have an easily defendable place to retreat back to. On the other hand, if Lee took the fort before King Ramen’s troops showed up, which was a few weeks away at most, he could do the same. He could force King Ramen’s men to either spend an additional week bypassing the fort’s territory, pushing through difficult terrain like miry swamps, mountains, and dense forests, or force the King Ramen’s men to attack directly into a nearly impregnable fortress so that their supply lines wouldn’t be threatened during King Ramen’s inevitable siege of Birnefeld.

Lee frowned as he looked back up at the woman who had set the board up while he was trying to practice his swordsmanship a bit. “What’s your point?” He asked. “I already know your group, the Messengers, has a vast and impressive information network. You aren’t telling me anything new.”

“Hmm, my point is”–she smiled, putting a hand forward and picking up the two pawns at G4 and G5 with one hand–“I can open a door for you.”

Lee’s eyes widened as he took in what she was saying. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Why would you do that?”

“You’re wondering right now,” she said. “You’re not actually asking what I mean when I say I can open a door. You know what I mean. It’s rather clear: I can make it so your troops can get into the city before the enemy has a chance to react. Rather, instead of that, you’re actually wondering, why should I trust her, you’re certain in your mind that there is nothing that you can get from trusting me, and I’ll betray you here,” she said, accurately capturing Lee’s thoughts on the scenario. “But,” she began as she toppled the two pawns over, “I’m not helping you at all; I’m helping me. I’m going to open this door for you, you’re going to go into this town, and you’re going to buy me another week to rebuild my forces and recuperate from the losses I’ve taken.”

“So how much time do we have to get through the gate?” Lee asked. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to trust her or not, but he was running out of options. He needed Miller’s 15,000 men to be hunting and leveling, he needed them to be preparing traps and creating obstacles. Brigid’s 10,000 men were only tier 2, and Faustus’s almost 1,000 soldiers, the players that Lee had managed to contract with, were at most tier 4 to tier 5, while the first army that was swinging south, the troops of King Ramen, were over 10,000 strong themselves, and they were all over tier 6, and they were led by a general who specialized in killing Heralds and keeping the field even. Not to mention, Lee already knew that three more armies from King Ramen were two to three weeks behind the first one, all just as fierce and efficient as the first one.

“We both know I won’t be giving out my methods, we might be against each other one day after all,” she said. “Maybe even the first day I’m not worried about Red Ramen.”

Lee nodded. “Fine, so what’s the lesson?” he asked her. The conversation had been so slow as she gave him time to absorb what was happening that he wasn’t sure if he had missed the lesson she had mentioned.

“Try not to have Faith, dear,” she said.

Lee raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Faith,” she repeated. “You need to have less of it.”

Lee blinked. “I don’t understand, our goal as Heralds is to gather Faith.”

“I didn’t say not to gather it, but I also mean you should have less of it,” the woman said. “Faith is another resource, like food. The faster you accumulate it, the better your population will be, but if you leave it in the storehouses, it’ll be absolutely useless. The only point of growing it is to spend it.”

“Huh?” Lee didn’t understand. He had been in the game for months, and he hadn’t found a single use for Faith, aside from the fact it somehow let Augustus help him bring bacon and other items back to this world. What does she mean it will be useless if I leave it in the storehouse? There isn’t a way to consume faith, is there? I thought faith just ranked up my deity status . . . Lee tried to remember everything he knew about the system.

“Yeah, I was the same way at first. Then an accident changed my way of thinking. You need to think of Faith like money that can be spent in a market. I’m sure you’ve already had at least one run in with its use, as the accumulation of it can expand how much influence your Deity can have on you, but that stops rather early on. Afterward, it changes from how much influence the Deity can have on you to how much influence the Deity can have on the world,” she said.

“Oh . . .” Lee remembered the amounts of bacon and other goods that Augustus had helped him amass as he was first trying to establish his church. “But, how do I do more?” Lee asked, at a loss of how to use Faith.

“You’ve gathered Faith, either in yourself or your deity, but to use it, you yourself have to have belief too,” the woman said.

“Belief, but . . . I’m the Herald. Doesn’t belief go without saying?” Lee asked, picking up the pawn on G4, one of the two pawns that she had promised to remove.

“Faith and belief combined, they make the difference between an act of will by those with power exerting themselves on their surroundings and a miracle that might have previously been unfathomable,” she explained, picking up the pawn on G5.

Lee didn’t reply as he looked down at the board, thinking about what she had said. He wanted to ask her for further clarification, to make her specify exactly what she meant, but it suddenly dawned on him. He had already experienced a miracle. In his very first trip to the world, he had, through belief, actually performed a miracle of sorts: He had lived. Just doing it alone had given him abilities and shaped his powers in the realm. Is that what she means? Are those type of acts how one uses their Faith? he wondered, but then he recalled that his Faith had gone up, not down, after the event. If anything, that wasn’t him performing a miracle; it was Augustus performing one and saving him.

“So when will the guards be gone?” Lee asked.

“Tomorrow. I’ll take out the gate guards and the sentries right before the sun first rises. You’ll have three hours to work with,” she said, smiling. “I hope you can make them count.”

Lee looked down at the board. “And, besides making your barrier against Ramen last another week at most, what is it you actually want in payment for this?” Lee asked.

“What do I want?” She let the last word, “want,” linger on her tongue. “I want . . .” She paused, letting the word fill the empty space around Lee. “I. want. Everything.” As the last word came out of her mouth, Lee awoke in a cold sweat, almost falling out of the chair that he had been sitting in: his throne.

It was still dark out when he woke up, and there were still eight guards in the throne room, two at each of the two entrances, two some five or six paces away from his seat, and two halfway between his throne and the main entrance to the room. 

“How long was I out?” Lee asked, looking over at the guard on his right.

“A little over four and a half hours, Your Majesty,” the guard replied, not turning his head as he stared straight forward, ever vigilant in his service. He was one of the Kingdom of Birnefeld’s few tier 6 troops, and without magic, like Lee’s fire breathing, Lee wasn’t entirely sure he could beat the guard without taking a few wounds himself. They were two of the soldiers that had survived Lee’s first true large-scale battle with the Herald of Shadows, the one he had just met in a dream, and in doing so reached an astronomical level as the NPCs seemed to level faster than he did.

“A little longer than last time,” Lee noted. Ever since he had taken over the position of King, it had been nearly impossible to get a good night’s rest. The main reason was that he had either killed or dismissed most of the corrupt ministers when he assumed the throne, leaving him with a ton of administrative duties to take care of. Every new territory he conquered meant more work piled up on his desk, work that he couldn’t put off.

As he stood up, preparing to stretch his legs and make his way to the bedroom, he noticed that, sitting right beside him, curled up in a ball, was Jade. “How long has she been out?” he asked the guard, this time in a hushed voice, barely over a whisper.

“Only two hours. She tried to stay awake and watch over you while you were sleeping, still not trusting us, your majesty, but after two and a half hours, she tuckered out herself,” he replied, matching Lee’s soft volume.

You’re like a kid sometimes, you know that? Lee thought as he watched the blue-haired woman sleep. She looked both cute and peaceful as she slept in the Queen’s chair. Feeling a little bad for her since it was his fault she was sleeping on such an uncomfortable and awkward surface, he picked her up and carried her back to the bed with him.

With everyone else having left to either lead troops or hang out with someone who was leading the troops, Jade and Lee had gotten a lot closer over the last few weeks. She had watched over him as he worked, which was a never-ending task of passing laws, appropriating resources, analyzing reports and dealing with some judicial issues. She shared meals with him, and, when he fell asleep on the throne, as he seemed to often do, watched after him. He assured her that he’d be fine, that he didn’t need her to act like a bodyguard, but everytime he brought the subject up, she just argued about how he got the throne. “Don’t forget how you became King and go acting like they’ll keep you safe when they couldn’t even keep the last King safe,” she’d say.

“I can’t tell if you’re getting lighter, or it’s just the levels I’ve gained,” Lee said as he walked with her in his arms through the castle and into his large bedroom. It was massive, over 25 feet by 25 feet, and had two built-in fireplaces. While the room itself was large by Lee’s standards, as he was used to apartment life back in his home world, the bed felt even larger. It was big enough that, if Lee wanted, he could throw half the women from a professional cheerleading squad on it and have enough space to sleep comfortably.

“It better be the levels,” Jade mumbled as Lee gently placed her onto the bed and began tucking her in.

“Have you been awake the entire time?” Lee asked as he climbed over her and began to claim his own spot.

“Since the point you picked me up,” she said. “I woulda said something, but I was trying to go back to sleep. I’m so tired,” she grumbled. “We’re in a fantasy game, and I still can’t get the ‘you have awoken well rested’ message to appear.”

“System not even throwing it up there to taunt you?” Lee asked, remembering that the system had actually done that to him earlier, just to make fun of how little he had been sleeping.

“Huh? What? No. Why would the system talk? It’s just a stat bot,” Jade said, rolling over to face the middle of the bed where Lee was lying.

“I wonder,” Lee responded, but he didn’t say anything else as he pondered the words she had said. It wasn’t the first time, whether he was dealing with a player or Jade, a Herald, that he had heard the system be treated like that. They all agreed, the system was just a method of updating them on their stats within the game.

“Jetpack,” Jade said after a moment of silence as she shuffled awkwardly across the bed. It was the position in which Lee would be the larger spoon, Jade calling it “jetpack” since she said it made Lee look like a jetpack. As much as his friend Wolfe back home might make fun of him for it, Lee actually didn’t like being the big spoon. Even with his power-enhanced super arms imbued with the strength of dozens of levels, Lee still could not for the life of him cuddle at night without his arm falling asleep. Then, when he woke up, he’d have to deal with that agonizing pain of a thousand needles as his arm slowly regained blood flow. Except, because more than just blood flowed through him, with spirit somehow making up a large part of that flow as well, the morning wake-ups were even more painful after cuddling in this world than they had ever been in the real one.

Fine, he grumbled to himself as he pulled her close. She didn’t last more than 30 seconds before she fell asleep in his arms, leaving him to deal with her occasional petite and cute, but still distracting, snores.

So, how’s the stat bot doing? Lee asked mentally as he did his best to fight off Jade’s long blue hairs, trying to keep them out of his mouth as he took in air. He hated how easy movies and television shows had made cuddling seem.

That’s because I don’t waste my time with her. She isn’t my little tyrannical despot.

As Lee brought up the status message, he couldn’t help but feel that lately “despot” was less of a taunting insult and more of an apt description. When it came to managing his towns, he was far more brutal than he’d have ever been when he first reached this world. Plonk had taught him the price of apathy and kindness toward those that would do wrong, and he now took that lesson to heart in each and every decision he made as a ruler. His old forgiving, kind nature was a luxury that a responsible leader could not have.

Class: Conqueror.

Kingdom Modifier Rank: 2 (King).

Abilities

Lion’s Mane: Your presence alone is capable of intimidating non-leading individuals, either in battle or diplomacy. The impact of this intimidation will vary based on your Kingdom Modifier Rank. 

The People’s Will: Your stats will receive a temporary boost based on your Kingdom Modifier Rank. [Current boost: 20 seconds of 200% increase to all three primary stats]. This skill is usable only once every 24 hours.

The King’s Executioner: Summons a floating spirit axe for 10 seconds. The blade will aim for the target’s neck. Damage is based on the Kingdom Modifier Rank. This skill is usable only once every five minutes.

King’s Grace: Bestows a shield upon a target. The barrier absorbs a set amount of damage before finally shattering. Damage absorbed before shattering is based upon your Kingdom Modifier Rank. This skill is usable only once every five minutes.

The Birth of a Legend: Your heroic disposition, struggles helping peasants against cruel monarchs, and legendary rise to power have given you a favorable reputation among all people who know your name. When you conquer an adjacent city, and there are no kingdoms, towns, or territories between you and the seized polity, the people within the city will treat the event as a blessing, not a curse. They will work hard for your sake. The previous nobility, however, will treat this as a death sentence and struggle against your yolk.

The skills were all based on his Kingdom Modifier Rank, and that was based on a myriad of factors according to the system. The main four were the total resources and wealth his territories had accumulated, how much his kingdom produced, how strong his kingdom’s military was, and what the total population of all his territories combined was. Increasing any one of those significantly might raise the kingdom rank, and from what Lee understood, there were 10 ranks. Each rank also had a title, which was separate from the people-given title of Dragon King.

The first rank of the Conqueror class, the one he had been given a month and a half ago after he took over Birnefeld but before he gained absolute rule over Kirshtein, had been Prince. At the moment, his Kingdom Modifier Rank afforded him the place of King and nothing more. He didn’t know what would be next, but he knew he’d either find out within the year or die. His land compared to Ramen’s land was like a puddle of water next to a pool. The only thing he had going for him was that King Ramen’s attention wasn’t focused on him entirely. The four contingents of troops that King Ramen had sent down were indeed enough to wipe Lee and his people off the face of the world if he couldn’t figure out how to handle it; moreover, Lee’s armies were not even close to the full force that King Ramen could exert. The Herald-hating emperor could summon troops from a hundred kingdoms. Lucas could at most summon the leftovers of two. So he knew that he would either grow to Rank 3, Rank 4, or some greater and larger rank, or he would die, and King Ramen would butcher every man woman and child who had professed their faith in him, as he had done in other Herald-led kingdoms in the past.

If you’re that worried about death, then why don’t you just conscript more troops? The population will always replace itself quickly, taking a month at most. You can always dip into it further and deplete it for a short time.

The system knew his worries better than he did. But, Lee thought in reply, if I do that, I won’t have the resources to train them, arm them, or send them into battle with a fighting chance. If they’re willing to die for our cause, for our chance at self-rule and a happy future, the least I can do is try my best to make sure that they don’t actually die. Lee had, for the most part, broken down each city into type and rank. Kirshtein could produce, arm, and train only 250 troops to tier 1, giving them the most basic fighting chance in a battle. After another week, they’d reach tier 2, and after another 2 weeks, they’d reach tier 3.

The reason why Kirshtein couldn’t produce more than 250 troops wasn’t the lack of officers, nor was it the lack of crafted weapons, armor ,and supplies. It was actually the lack of monsters. There were only two ways for an NPC to level up, either by killing a person or by killing a monster. Players could receive quests that rarely involved violence for the first 10 levels, stuff as simple as finding a lost cat, but NPCs had to fight their way up to a higher level.

Lee wasn’t sure why, but it worked out in such a way that the larger the city, the larger and more numerous the monsters surrounding the city, and as such, the more troops Lee was able to train for the city. The system had explained it as being relative to the total number one would get when adding a city’s six basic stats, Defensive Strength, Economic Strength, Population, Territory, Tech / Utility, and Influence / Tourism Rating. For this reason, due to its massive technology, tourism, and defense advantages, Satterfield had enough monsters around it to let Lee train 125 troops there every week even though it had a very small population.

Birnefeld, having twice the number of Kirshtein, was able to train 500 troops a week, and the two new cities were, like Satterfield, only capable of training 125 troops a week. This meant that Lee’s total troop replenishment rate was only 1,125 troops a week. However, to the ire of the system, Lee had slowed down troop production and made sure that every single one of the troops that he trained was tier 2, not tier 1. This meant that every two weeks, not one, he’d have more troops to throw on the battlefield.

Jade and a few of the players, such as Faustus’s more vocal advisors, had actually suggested taking advantage of the respawn mechanic to speed up the process. They pointed out that while monsters didn’t give much experience, especially in the lower levels, NPCs and players did. They proposed drafting three or four thousand soldiers at a time, training them up, and then having them kill each other until 250 tier-2 soldiers remained. They had pointed out that while it’d be a bloodbath, and it’d cost them resources in the short term, over a long period of time it’d be the quickest way to put together a competent army, and with this method, they’d be able to save the monsters for higher-tier soldiers, helping Lee accumulate better soldiers faster.

Why won’t you and the others understand? I’m not going to just throw an NPC into battle to die because I can. I can’t do that, Lee told the system. Even if he knew that, for the good of the whole populace, he would have to send waves of troops to their death, knowing that there was no way to make sure that every single one of them came home, he drew the line at ever treating NPCs less than he would treat his own family members just because they were “replenishable” as the system, Jade and other players had said. They were real to him. They thought, felt, and suffered as he did, and he couldn’t ever forsake them.

It was his one guiding principle as a king and ruler: he would always behave in a way that he believed would be in the best interest of all those underneath him. Granted, Lee didn’t try to worry too much about those who weren’t under his control. There was no way to protect them, and with the way other monarchs treated their populations, he would never get an ounce of sleep if he let those types of thoughts fester in his mind and eat away at him. It was also necessary to be so pragmatic given how much he’d be forced to kill people as he expanded his territory and gained the power he needed to both protect himself and his people.

The system interrupted his contemplations on troop size and mobility.

You’re really too into your own head, and take that as you will from a person actually in your head.

Well, you’re the one bringing up topics. Anyway, thanks for the advice, as always, he replied, making sure to compliment the system, remembering how fickle she could be if she felt scorned, and how deadly the consequences were if she was. But I need to let you go for a moment and focus. I need to tell Miller about the gate that will be open tomorrow, Lee told the system. 

Do you actually trust that woman to help you? Are you sure she’s not leading you into a trap, playing off of your belief of a mutual foe to send you to your death?

I don’t trust her, but what are my other options? It’s a risk versus reward. There is a small chance this is a very elaborate set up, and she’s somehow managed to convince that anti-religious zealot that people of faith and Heralds aren’t worth killing, just so she can backstab me, but there is a large chance that if I don’t take her advice, I’ll lose a lot more time and soldiers, Lee explained.

Have fun then, but I would have thought that a good tyrannical despot like yourself would just crush the town and burn all of your enemies within it to the ground. I thought you were the type who loved to burn people alive.

Lee frowned. He actually did love to use fire on a battlefield. The more he used fire, the more tolerant he became to the flames. He was truly filling out the term: Dragon King, but he also knew he was still needed here, and he was only one man: he couldn’t take on all fronts by himself. He needed to make sure his generals could handle fights without him.

If I had Masha’s dad, Alexander, with me, then I wouldn’t need to worry about any of this. He’d be the perfect general, Lee thought absentmindedly as he switched his focus to the Little Ethan that was scouting around Schinhofenfurt for Miller, sending it back to convey the move orders.

When Lee’s Little Ethan managed to finally make it back to the camp, he had no trouble finding Miller. There, in the middle of what seemed to be a hundred men, was the large red-headed Firbolg holding a cup of beer that was the size of a normal man’s skull. Actually–Lee glanced at the mug more closely–that’s . . .That is a man’s skull. That Firbolg really did make a mug from a man’s skull, and he even welded on and smoothed out part of the jaw bone to act as the handle . . . Lee, who had spent his nights recently with Little Ethan scouting the enemy, had not ventured back to the camp often enough to realize that Miller had decided to put the good book of crafting to use, making actual cups and silverware.

“And then,” Lee heard Miller shout, standing up and holding his cup high as all of the soldiers around him watched. “I walked right into the apothecary and told him to make me his strongest liquor. He called me an idiot and said I was some sort of moron and needed to go back to school, that apothecaries don’t make liquor, so I punched him in the face. Right square in the middle of his fat tiny-nosed face.

“And would you believe? That bastard started cussing at me again, so I punched him once more. He tried to tell me I couldn’t do that, so I punched him yet again. By that time, he was furious, so he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You filthy bastard, I’m going to make a poison so strong it’s going to kill you! Just you wait!’ he screamed. At which point–” Miller paused his story, taking in another large swig of his drink. “At which point, I just looked at him straight in the face and said, ‘That’s the spirit! I can’t wait to see what type of liquor you can make for me and the Herald of Augustus himself. Wouldn’t you know? A week later, he gives me a whole batch of this stuff.” Miller patted the seat beneath him. At this point, Lee saw it more clearly: It wasn’t a chair or a wooden stand. It was a miniature keg.

“General, you’re just pullin’ our legs,” one of the Leprechaun captains said, laughing as he drank some of his own beverage. “There is no way you punched the–”

“Are you calling me a liar?!” Miller stood quickly, chugging the rest of his beverage in one go before tossing the skull on the ground. “You better watch what you say, or I’ll be sending you home in five separate bags.”

Yeah, and he will, Lee thought, knowing for certain that Miller was one of the few people that never broke his word, even though his word was often a promise to mutilate someone in a horrible way.

“No! I wasn’t! I was just, umm . . .” The captain, who had been laughing and having a good time with the rest of the men a moment ago, was now stuttering and stiff, clearly failing to reason his way out of an apology.

Miller looked like he might really blow a fuse, making the captain’s life even more precarious, when he spotted Little Ethan flying toward him.

“The Herald has come!” Miller said, reaching his right hand up and providing a place for Little Ethan to land as he reached into his pocket with his left hand. A second later, he produced a tiny little writing instrument, just small enough for the scouting Little Ethan to use. Lee, having learned how to expertly navigate the little golem’s tiny mouse-like appendages, was able to communicate rather smoothly.

“Gather the men. We move now,” Lee wrote quickly. “Leave two thousand men and have the rest follow me. Do it quietly to make sure the enemy can’t tell that we’re circling.”

Miller stared at the note. “Quietly?” Miller laughed. “Nothing is quiet here, Lee. We’re all drunk. We couldn’t walk ten straight feet quietly, much less a circle . . . but don’t worry. They won’t notice us. I have an idea!”

Lee almost cringed. Even the Little Ethan’s face contorted. Miller’s “I have an idea” was often the equivalent of the “hold my beer” used by people back in Lee’s world. The only difference was that Miller never set down his beer to execute any of the ridiculous ideas he came up with.

Lee started to write down his response: “What do you plan to do?” However, Miller was quicker with his own plan.

“Alright, I need bonfires! Five of them! Get big bonfires, and the first two thousand soldiers to chug two beers by the bonfires wins a prize!” Miller shouted. “The prize being that you don’t have to stop drinking. The rest of you bastards line up and get in motion. We’ve got a hike to do. King Lee doesn’t want his subjects to have a hangover, and he knows how much you people have been drinking already,” Miller laughed.

Yup, that’s Miller, Lee sighed. But the plan wasn’t bad. Two thousand very loud and rowdy drunks making as much noise as possible would definitely mask the movements of people behind them. Lee didn’t know sometimes whether Miller was actually a genius of sorts, hiding behind a fake persona, or whether he really was the Miller he portrayed himself to be.

“Come on, you sad sack of day-old produce! Get in line!” Miller shouted. “I’ve fought and killed more men than the whole lot of you together while drunk, so don’t you dare go telling me that a little bit of liquor is an excuse for walking funny or falling out of formation! Move! Move, you little girly men!”

As Miller was shouting, Lee caught sight of Dave walking out of one of the tents, a young female following him and putting on her armor as quickly as she could.

“Miller, if this ain’t coming from Lee himself, I’m going to smack you with ol’ Candy so hard you’ll be flying straight to him to find an excuse,” Dave grumbled as he adjusted his pants. “My first week free of that workaholic, I’m finally getting me a nice easy girl to–”

“Hey!” the girl protested at being called easy.

“I meant easy on the eyes, doll, not the way you’re making it out,” Dave laughed, quickly changing his words. “And if you looked at yourself in the mirror, you’d agree with me too,” Dave continued, picking the girl up as he tried to give her a kiss, but before he could even get close, she wriggled free.

“Stop it! We can’t! The Dragon King is watching!” she said, pointing to Little Ethan. “And I have to get in formation. Good luck!” She gave him a little wave and darted off.

Dave’s face soured. “Not even one for good luck, ey? You youngsters have no sense of priority. You could die today, sooner than me, and you won’t even enjoy a moment with an old man first?” he grumbled, looking over at Little Ethan. “How is it that you can molest a woman on the battlefield, and it’s perfectly fine, but here you are bothering me so that I can’t do the same? Shameful!”

Lee wanted to reply that it wasn’t his fault, that he said nothing, and he was only here to get the troops ready for battle, but he couldn’t exactly speak through Little Ethan’s mouth, and he couldn’t exactly write fast enough to give Dave a reply before the grumpy old man had picked up his flail and headed over to Miller’s side, completely giving Lee’s golem, Little Ethan, the silent treatment.

It took over half an hour for the 13,000 troops to line up, but as soon as everyone was in formation and accounted for, they were marching, or more aptly, they were quietly sneaking. Lee enjoyed watching from Little Ethan’s perspective as 13,000 men and women in full sets of chain mail armor attempted to walk quietly across a forest floor layered with twigs and dead leaves, but for some reason, their Sneak skills were all high enough to manage it well, more or less. The only time Lee ended up hearing one of them step out and make a bunch of noise was when a drunk almost fell over, and the two people on each side of him caught him quickly but weren’t paying attention to their footwork as they did.

“So when is the attack?” Miller asked. Even though he was clearly attempting to whisper, he was still louder than most people would be when talking normally in a conversation.

“When the sun rises, I’ll give the signal,” Lee wrote out for Miller.

“Excellent. Then when the sun sets, my spear shall hoist the corpse of a king as the flag of victory for all to see the triumph of the Dragon King!”

“Love the enthusiasm, but mind your voice. We can’t let them know we’re shifting positions,” Lee wrote out for him. No matter how stealthy the troops managed to be with the help of Sneak, it would all be for not if the blundering general’s voice alerted the enemies of their presence.

“You know, honestly, you need to worry less about this siege,” Dave grumbled from Miller’s side. “You coulda let me have my fun, and we coulda rolled to the other side before sunrise, and they still wouldn’t have noticed. This keep was clearly built by a more strategic mind than the one living there now.”

“If you keep complaining, I’m going to tell Henslee where you’re at right now, and what you were doing,” Lee threatened. Making sure to add a little heart above the loyal old priestess of Satterfield’s name.

When Dave saw that, his face blanched. “What? No. There’s no reason to bring her into it. I swear, just leave her out of it. That woman is umm, yeah. Don’t do this to me. What happened to the code among brothers?”

“A code among brothers? A bro code? I don’t remember signing that contract or passing that law,” Lee wrote, doing his best so that he didn’t laugh as hard as his Little Ethan proxy and wake Jade, who had just fallen asleep. 

“What? Don’t betray me like this! If you tell Henslee I was with someone, then I’m telling Brigid who has been warming your bed while she’s off training the troops,” Dave threatened.

“She knows,” Lee responded. After all, it’s not like she hasn’t been there in the same bed with Jade before, Lee thought. He had always taken it for granted that Jade and Brigid wouldn’t get along since Jade considered Brigid to be an NPC, but now the two of them talked much more than Jade ever talked to any of the other players.

“Freaking hell, is this what all your lechery gets you? How is it that we keep adding females to the party, yet I’m still not getting one? Do they have to be a certain level of ugly for you not to sink your lascivious claws into them?” Dave went on, but even though his words were filled with complaints, his actual tone was upbeat. “Oh well, if I were a king, I’d be way worse than you. I’d have thirty women in the best gear money could buy going around leveling me up in and out of the bedroom. That’s how a king should be. Leave all that administration stuff to Bronagh back in Kirshtein since she has such a crush on you.”

Yeah, the Human leader, Lee thought, remembering the one who had volunteered to handle all of Lee’s admin interests if he’d just marry her after he married Brigid and Jade, a thing that every single person in the kingdom had taken for granted as they gossipped right in front of his little spy golems in the streets.

You know, speaking of women, it’s not really something tracked or handled properly on your stat sheet, but I could definitely add it. I can see it now: Carnal Pleasure Initiate Level -10. That should do, right?

It’s not tracked? Lee questioned. That’s funny, I could have sworn that’s what my Sleight of Hand technique was.

Oh, now that you mention it, perhaps I’ve just been doubling the purpose of Unarmed Combat.

Really? Do you really think I’m that rough at it that you need to call it combat? Lee asked. Conversations like this had been happening more and more often with the system. He talked to it more than he did any of his party members on many days.

There is a broken bed, hole in the wall, slashed painting, and cracked nightstand that all might say, “Yes. Yes you are that rough, and it should be treated like combat.”

Anyway, Lee replied, changing the topic with the most grating segue word a person could use, what do you think of the upcoming siege? Think we have a good chance?

You know I’m not allowed to interfere in the war. Advice and speculation at this point would be counterproductive to my purpose.

How is it that you can’t interfere in the war, but you can encourage me to kill random people on the street just because they’re NPCs, and you think better ones would spawn in their place if they die? Lee asked, a little annoyed with the fact that the system was never consistent in what type of advice it’d give.

I think you’re missing the point of my existence sometimes. I was created–and programmed–for a purpose. I always adhere to that purpose.

The system’s reply creeped Lee out a bit, giving him a thousand questions and not even properly answering the one he had asked. With that, though, Lee let the conversation die as he watched Miller and the others round the castle walls. After making sure they were on the right path, and the area they were moving to would have plenty of lumber to quickly construct siege devices, he left the mouse with Miller and gave the Little Ethan explicit instructions to wake him up when the festivities began. He would normally have had his mouse help, as it was a skilled craftsman despite his size, sharing his own lumber-working capabilities, but he needed sleep badly. He had worked a seventeen-hour day, and on top of the battle tomorrow, he still had many small court duties and other related issues to take care of. Most of all, he had a war to plan, and that needed rest.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s