Name: Lee Race: Human Class: Herald – Conqueror
Level: 56 Health: 660/660 EXP: 103491/465000
Power 66 (76) Toughness 66 (76) Spirit 66 (76)
Charisma 32 Courage 23 Deceit 33
Intelligence 489 (562) Honor -3 Faith 36999
Personal Faith 561
Unarmed Combat Novice Level 9 Swordplay Master Level 4
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
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
Golem Sculpting Master Level 5
Appreciative Drunk Adept Level 8
Nectar of the Gods Master Level 2
Spirit Smithing Journeyman Level 4
Ignis Vomite Journeyman Level 6
Telepathy Initiate Level 5
Life in Death
Kingdom Modifier Rank: 2 (King)
The People’s Will
The King’s Executioner
The King’s Grace
The Birth of a Legend
Cheat Code Fighter
The Great Deceiver
The Aggressive Mile-High Chef
Man of Many Sighs
Lee awoke two and a half hours later to the Little Ethan he had left with Miller tugging on his consciousness. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Jade was still sound asleep, snoring peacefully. As he turned over, the sheets shifted, releasing a giant pocket of air that let him know at least one of the two had been doing more than snoring. He did his best to pinch his nose and deal with the effects of unsealing the covers.
That’s it. You’re getting less spicy food, Lee mentally demanded of Jade as he decided he needed to talk to the cooks and change her diet.
Alright, let’s see what you got for us, Lee thought, switching over to his Little Ethan’s perspective. From there, he flew over to the gate that the shadow woman had promised to leave open at G4 and G5. When he got there, he noticed an eerie calm. The guards that should have been on duty, at their post, and watching for an enemy attack were instead fast asleep, their muscles limp as they lay on or against whatever surface was nearest to them. There weren’t a lot of soldiers watching the gate, only 10 or so, but with the 20 other guards on the walls who should have been watching for enemies, ready to sound the alarm so that the troops could shift position between the points of G2 and G6 on the chess board equivalent of the keeps’ map, as well as the ones on the other corner side at F2, Lee could tell that it was no small spell this Herald had worked.
Is this what she means by faith performing Miracles? he wondered. He didn’t know if this was just the actual extent of her power, and he needed to focus on building up his mental defenses even more lest he be caught in her web once her strength outmuscled his own, or if this was part of the magic that he had apparently not been using.
The other guards, the guards at E2 look incredibly drowsy as well . . . Lee thought. He flew in close with Little Ethan, preparing to investigate what was going on. He landed next to one of the guards at the F2 point, scampering the mouse-like golem’s feet over toward the first guard and crawling onto his body. The guard showed no sign of movement.
Welp, here goes nothing, Lee thought, biting into the guard’s throat with the sharp extruding incisors on the golem. The teeth penetrated quick, and deeply, but the blow wasn’t enough to kill the guard immediately. Instead, the man was shocked awake by the pain. He grabbed at Little Ethan and damaged the small golem’s body as he threw it off his neck and onto the ground. He went to stomp on the golem, but Lee had the mouse roll to the side just in time to avoid a giant iron boot to its face, one that would have certainly crushed the Little Ethan.
The guard, holding his throat, tried to stomp on the Little Ethan again, but Lee had already taken the golem to the sky, flying in the air as he watched the bleeding man panic. The guard turned to get help, but as soon as his vision was directed to his side and no longer at the Little Ethan, he saw that all of the other guards around him were already knocked out, asleep on the job. He tried to shout, but blood gurgled up in his throat instead, and after a second, he fell forward, once more passing out–but this time forever.
So they will wake up under damage, but not noise, Lee noted, considering how loud the stamping had been when the guard had tried to murder his Little Ethan. Getting this information had taken a small risk, as the other guards waking up sooner than anticipated from a dying man’s nudges would have spelled doom for the plan, but Lee had to make sure. He had to know the limits of the dream-haunting woman’s powers.
The sun has officially risen, and so long as we aren’t betrayed, we got about three hours to properly storm this place, Lee thought as he had his human body stand up and leave the room, not wanting to wake Jade as he quietly began sneaking toward the throne room, holding up a finger so the guards wouldn’t greet him and foil his attempt at silence. He almost stumbled as he walked though, his mind so preoccupied with the upcoming conflict.
He knew the shadow woman had made this infiltration incredibly easy by offering him the gate, but that didn’t mean the operation would be a joke, nor did it mean that good people, potentially even that drunk, flail-wielding Dave, wouldn’t die depending on the decisions he made. He still had to play the battle out as strategically as possible.
For starters, he made sure to reorganize how the troops were set up. Like Lee, Miller preferred to stack melee fighters in front and then throw as many archers behind them as possible. Of the 15,000 troops Miller had initially taken, only 4,000 were actually melee combatants. Given that archers didn’t have the same penalty in the game world as they did in real life, with real life archers having their damage almost entirely mitigated by armor, distance and technological issues, the in-game archers, who did flat damage minus what enemy armor negated, were Lee’s favorite troops. The best part about them was that they could make their own ammunition easily.
In the same way that they were able to erect giant siege machines with little-to-no effort, they were also able to build and craft deadly arrows with blazing fast speed. Every single one of them was a master fletcher by Level 20, and their arrows were of higher quality than one might find anywhere in a town. It was a point of pride for the ardent religious followers of Augustus and Lee. Even before they made it into the military program to be trained and leveled, they were already practicing their woodworking skills, honing their ability to make arrows and preparing for life in the military.
While Miller’s troops were getting in position and readying themselves for the battle ahead, Lee was sitting in the throne room, watching as one of the highest level players under his command entered, gave the required bows, and made his way up the long, currently vacant red-carpeted path in the middle of the room.
“Lord Lee,” the man said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I don’t know how you knew I’d find it, but I did.” The man puffed his chest up, letting Lee know that he wanted more than just a simple “good job.” He was proud of his accomplishments, and Lee knew he would lose favor with the man if he didn’t properly lay on the accolades.
“I didn’t know you could find it,” Lee said. “I just knew that if someone could, it would be you,” Lee emphasized as he addressed Faustus. “So, where is it?”
“Well, that’s the thing, Lord Lee,” Faustus said, beaming and looking rather smug. “I didn’t just find rumors of one, but two of them. A merchant came with the details, describing places exactly like the one you mentioned. He came from . . .” Faustus paused, sucking in a deep breath. “He came from the territory formerly held by Daniel, Herald of the God of Costumes.”
“Formerly held . . .” Lee frowned as he heard the name. Daniel was one of the funnier, more amusing Heralds. He was apparently, much like Puck, a being that didn’t care for the rampant violence of the wars and holed himself up with a bunch of followers in a town. The only thing he demanded of his followers was that they had to dress up in funny outfits, and tales of their costumery had spread from his territory all the way to Birnefeld rather quickly, especially since everyone liked to poke fun at the fact that, for some reason and despite all the random costumes that Daniel forced others to wear, he himself would only don a beard, glasses, and a black shirt and would tell others that his costume was “that of the great beard, the one who rules everything in this reality.” Knowing how he died though–to one of King Ramen’s purges–and the fact King Ramen hadn’t even spared the cosplaying women Daniel had surrounded himself with as he killed every man woman and child in the town, left a sinking feeling in Lee’s stomach. “So he’s up north.” Lee shook his head, thinking about where on the map Daniel’s place was. Even if Lee took a bicorn all the way there, it would still take over a week to reach the location.
“Yeah. Apparently, the, umm, the temple you’re looking for is 20 minutes from the town that Daniel used to control,” Faustus said. “I’m afraid that by the time you get there, General Jay, the one in charge of the area, will likely have already ransacked the place. King Ramen has given very specific orders for how to treat religious places, so I am afraid that if you’re looking for something there, you will be sorely disappointed.”
“No, I won’t,” Lee replied, shaking his head and thinking about the fact that if General Jay had sacked the temple, he would have died. The world stone temples were sealed to non-Heralds for all intents and purposes, which was why when Lee had gone to the Dwarf town during his struggles with the Phouka, the stone had been left untouched despite everyone in the town knowing about the temple for generations. The only possible explanation for the stone’s absence would be that Daniel had taken it and then died to General Jay. That would mean the stone was on the corpse. This meant there were only two locations the stone could be, either in the temple or on Jay.
“You said you had found two. What about the second one? Where was that?”
“Well, that’s the good news. That one was near Daniel too!” Faustus said with a smile across his face. “It’s only nine hours south of his town. I’ve marked it and the first one on this map,” Faustus added, taking out a scroll and handing it to Lee. “I hope it will be of use to you, Lord Lee.”
“You’ve done well,” Lee said, adding, “I really didn’t think you’d produce these results so quickly.” While Faustus had initially joined in hesitation, the man had proven himself loyal time and time again with information gathering. His troops, the players, were just as good, if not better, than Miller’s men, and even at lower levels, they could hold their own or best their opponents easily.
“Thank you, Lord Lee. I aim to please,” Faustus said, a glint in his eye letting Lee know he wanted more.
“Very well.” Lee nodded as he turned over to the guard on his right. “Make sure he is compensated a hundred gold pieces and that he has his fresh pick of two weapons from my personal armory,” Lee added. Happy now? Lee thought as he glanced over at Faustus, gathering from the smile on his face that the mercenary-like player had gotten exactly what he wanted.
“Thank you again, Lord Lee,” Faustus said with a bow.
“Is there anything else?” Lee asked.
“Nothing at all, Lord Lee,” Faustus replied, glancing toward the exit as best he could without turning his whole head around to look at it.
“Then you’re dismissed. Go find Brigid for future assignments,” Lee said, waving the player off as he himself stood up. “I’ll make sure to take care of your people even better later.”
“Yes, Lord Lee.” Faustus gave a small bow and then exited the room so quickly that Lee thought for a moment the man had activated a skill.
“As for you,” Lee said as he turned to a guard. “I’m going to need you to deliver a message to Jade when I wake up.” He could just as easily deliver it himself, but he didn’t want to have a Little Ethan perform the task since, if she angrily cursed at the Little Ethan, he’d end up having to hear every single word the little mouse did.
“Tell her,” Lee continued, “that I’ve left on an important task, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the guard said, his body stiffening like a board. Even though the man didn’t complain, Lee could see his trepidation at having to deliver this message. Fear was quite literally dripping off him in the form of little beads of sweat that were beginning to populate the once-dry guard’s forehead.
“Actually . . .” Lee paused, unable to resist tormenting the guard a little, “maybe, just maybe, you could also . . .” Lee moved closer so that his own face was only a foot away from the stiff redheaded Leprechaun’s narrow one. “You could tell her that I won’t be coming back for a few months . . . that I left to go marry a few princesses to expand our empire.”
“Y-ye-yes . . . Yes, Your M-majesty.” The guard could barely get a sentence out, pausing halfway through his reply to make a gulp so loud it might be heard over the percussion section of a small highschool band. The beads of sweat grew so large they practically transformed from tiny droplets to full on rivers flowing down the crevices of his face.
This should not amuse me so much, Lee thought as he imagined the painful death the guard was picturing for himself and his family depending on how Jade took the news. Nope, nope, I should stop playing around with the poor guy, Lee thought as he patted the guard on the shoulder. “It’s okay, buddy,” Lee said, chuckling a little. “Just tell her I’ll be gone, maybe a week or so, and that I’m off getting a fancy stone.” I’ll just have to also remember to get her an actual fancy stone on my way back, so she isn’t upset by unmet expectations, Lee thought, wondering what type of gem he might pick and craft into a ring or necklace for her on the way home from this mission. “And after you’re done, go spend the day with your daughter, Arthur. Consider it a paid vacation. It’s not like I’ll need my personal guards when I’m not even here.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Arthur let out a sigh of relief as the orders changed.
“Welp, it’s time for us to head off,” Lee said, looking down at the black-coated Little Ethan that scampered out from behind the throne, where it had been keeping watch for assassins, and flew onto his shoulders.
Taking the exit that would lead toward the bicorns, Lee didn’t even make it out of the throne room before he was blocked.
“Thought you could leave that easily?” Brigid asked with an angry face as she stood in the middle of the doorway Lee was trying to use.
“I didn’t expect you to be back already,” Lee said, frowning as he realized that even the Little Ethan he had left with her, the green-coated one that would patrol around the city, had been duped too. Did she figure out its patrol routes? Did she time it perfectly so that it wouldn’t notice her? He frowned, upset that one of his pieces had moved without him realizing it. Pieces? Why am I thinking of them as pieces? This is Brigid, he thought, shaking his head. She was one of the women he cared for intimately, yet in his inner monologue, not even for the first time, he had referred to her as a “piece” like any of the other knights, pawns, bishops, or queens he might move on a chessboard.
“Well, I wouldn’t be back early if I hadn’t seen Faustus leave the training camp and beeline straight for the capital,” Brigid said. “You think I don’t know what he was doing?”
Lee sighed. “No, I think you know more than I do sometimes, despite all the ears and eyes I have,” Lee said, referring to both his Little Ethans and the numerous spies and thieves that reported directly to him as a king.
“Lee, you can’t leave,” Brigid said. “If something happens to you, we all die. You must be aware of that, right?” Brigid pleaded as she stepped forward, grabbing onto his cuff. “Those temples are death traps. Every person who goes in practically dies. Don’t risk it.”
Lee shook his arm free. “I’ll be fine. I’ve gone through a few already. They’re not death traps for Heralds.”
“But King Ramen’s territory is,” Brigid continued. “If he finds out where you are, he’ll kill you himself. Just . . . just stay, please?” she practically begged, looking up at him with the most beautiful green eyes Lee had ever seen on a redheaded woman. He had to admit that, no matter how much time he spent with her, he always wanted to spend one more second. Sending her to handle training had been nearly impossible, but he had. Thoughts of the future if he didn’t send her, if he didn’t go get the stone, immediately gave him the strength he needed.
As if sensing her emotional attack had failed, Brigid threw another one at Lee, stepping forward and burying her face into his chest. “I can’t lose you either,” she said. “I need you here,” she pleaded into the leather armor that Lee wore any time he wasn’t in bed.
“You’re not going to let me off easily, are you?” Lee sighed as he wrapped his arms around her. “Look, I’ll be back. It’s not like I’m going to be gone forever. It’s not like you’re not going to see me again, so just calm down, okay?” he said, holding her as tightly as possible against himself.
“You can’t say stuff like that,” Brigid grumbled. “That’s bad luck.”
“You’ve been listening to Jade way too much,” Lee chuckled. “It’ll be fine. It’s always fine,” he assured her as he ended the hug and patted her head. “Look. I’ve got to run. The sooner I leave, the sooner I’ll be back. So, relax, don’t worry about me, and continue training our troops.”
“But what about the city? What if that shadow woman attacks?” Brigid asked.
“Forget that. I’m curious how someone can listen to me too much?” Jade’s voice came from the same entrance Brigid had come from, not the doorway that led to the regal bedroom. “My great wisdom and understanding of this trope-filled land of cliches is priceless, and our NPC here has been doing nothing more than showing her own wisdom as she seeks out my council,” she asserted.
What? No! Lee grimaced. Brigid he could handle. Brigid was controllable in a way. Jade, however, was not. There was a reason he had wanted to leave while she was asleep. When the hell did they team up against me? Lee groaned internally. “Well . . . uhh . . . That’s . . .” Lee suddenly felt exactly like the guard he had been teasing earlier as he felt a little bead of sweat form on his own forehead. Finally, having enough of the conversation, he separated himself a little forcefully from Brigid and Jade, taking a step back and straightening himself out. “Look, I have to go. This is an important mission, and that is that.”
“But you still haven’t addressed what will become of the town when you’re gone?” Brigid asked. “Without you here, who is to stop that creepy dream lady or others from invading? What will happen if King Ramen’s forces reach us before you return?”
“Jade can handle that,” Lee said, trying to assuage her concern. “She’s just as fierce a line of defense as I am. Don’t worry.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening though,” Jade laughed. “I’m coming with you. You need to think up another excuse for our cute bundle of NPC joy.” Jade hugged Brigid from behind, resting her own head on Brigid’s shoulder so the combination of red and blue hair surrounding two beautiful, cute faces was pretty enough to nearly make Lee waiver and take an hour or two break before heading out. “She will worry to death otherwise.”
“You’re not coming with me though,” Lee said. “I need to do this alone.”
“Yeah, no,” Jade giggled. “That’s not happening. If you go, I’m going. You might as well call me your shadow because the only way you’re going to be free of me is if your lights go out for good.”
“Right, and if she doesn’t go, there is no way in hell you’re leaving,” Brigid added.
“Nnn,” Ling grunted in agreement, revealing herself too. “Me too. I’m coming as well.”
Et tu?! Lee wanted to say, but no words came out. Instead, all he could muster was yet another sigh.
Don’t look so glum. There aren’t many kings, dukes, heroes, or even regular men who get to decide what they do in life without their women holding veto over it.
The system’s message appeared, reminding him that despite Jade’s belief she was the one who was always with him, there was yet another individual who had eyes and ears on everything Lee did and said, even his thoughts.
“Are you sure we can trust the town if you two leave? Birnefeld is the heart of our empire, do you think Brigid alone can handle it?” Lee asked, his question pointed at Ling this time. She had, for the most part, taken up handling a lot of administrative tasks between her own combat training sessions. Unlike Jade, who would just say, “I only need the levels, and we get those from the troops, so let me sleep, let me read, let me work on drawing out some manga,” Ling had stayed laser focused since the moment Lee first donned his crown.
“Without you here, the only thing that will change is that this room might once again be filled wall to wall with annoying councilors,” Brigid said. “I don’t think they will be as intimidated by me as they were by you, and with so many of them there, whether Ling stays or doesn’t won’t matter.”
“Will you be able to handle them?” Lee asked.
“If I said I couldn’t, would it stop you from leaving?” she asked, and the way she looked at him, Lee knew she meant the question.
“No,” Lee replied, shaking his head.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Brigid said. “I’ve led thousands of troops in battle. Handling a few dozen angry councilmen and advisors will be easy. Though . . . I think I might just jail the disruptive ones. Your method of killing”–she flinched, likely remembering that even a week ago, he had burned alive a councilman who had been caught double taxing the citizens in his district–“I don’t think I’ll be comfortable making that decision without you.”
“So then it’s settled,” Jade said.
“I’ve already taken care of the bicorn issue too,” Ling added. “When Brigid told us what was going on, I sent for someone to handle preparations for our departure,” she said, stressing the word “our.”
Again, Lee thought about how to get out of this, to go alone. He still didn’t like the idea of what would happen once all the citizens were left with only Brigid to hold off the handful of conniving councilors, but he was stopped in that contemplation early by the system’s next message.
You’re taking them with you, or I will punish you.
And why would you do that? Lee asked. He didn’t doubt the system would or could. She had reminded him in the past exactly how damaging to Lee she could be if she wanted to.
Lee. How many times must we go over this. I was created–and programmed–for a purpose. I always adhere to that purpose. I think sometimes you aren’t even listening to me. That’ll hurt my feelings if I find out that’s the case.
But, how does making me take them with me adhere to that purpose? Lee wondered. Isn’t interfering this much against the rules? Lee asked again, only to have the sound of her soft chuckling in his ears, but no text message to go with it.
“Fine, you two can come with me,” Lee pretended like he had arrived at the decision himself. “But we are going to be back soon anyway, so don’t worry about packing too much.”
“Psh,” Jade laughed, “when has Ling ever packed much? That ultra-serious-type NPC doesn’t seem to ever go anywhere with anything more than her bow and the same drab outfit she’s had since I met her.”
“. . .” Ling shot Jade a cold stare for a moment, but then turned to Lee. “I’ve already packed everything that’s needed.”
“That’s good,” Lee replied.
“You shoulda let me double your wardrobe,” Jade said, tugging at the grumpy-looking Ling. “I can think of so many cosplay outfits you’d look perfect in.”
“Cosplay is . . . disguise? I don’t need to disguise. I’m happy with who I am. Now let’s go,” Ling said, walking ahead of the group toward the bicorns.
“Her script is very limited. A month and a half in, and we still haven’t seen any new dialogue prompts,” Jade commented with a sigh. “But don’t worry, NPC. That’s why we love you the most,” she added, turning to and then hugging Brigid. “See you soon, bestie. I’m off to go see if I can raise a flag and make some progress with the glasses-kun.”
Brigid warmly returned the hug and then let Jade go as the blue-haired woman darted away from her and Lee. “Remember,” Brigid said to Lee as Jade left earshot, “our duty comes before our lives, and our duty is to you.”
“Is that your way of making some special confession before I leave? You know that’s bad luck, right?” Lee said, realizing that he was now sounding a little like Jade as he repeated that cliche.
“It’s not a confession. Birnefeld will cave without you, the people will be slaughtered wholesale, and all that is important will perish under crumbling walls, steel, and arrows. I’m stressing this so you won’t forget it and do your usual dumb self sacrificing schtick. Duty comes first. You are our duty. Don’t forget it, and keep yourself safe,” Brigid said. Even though her words were ominous, and her tone was grave, Lee could spot a small smile curling up on both sides of her lips as she stared into his eyes.
“Yeah, I got it,” he replied, sighing and giving her a hug. “I’ll take care of the others and make sure we all come back in one piece,” he added, giving her a short kiss before parting. He didn’t know if she could hear him, but as he opened the door to leave, he turned around to see that she was still in the same place he had left her, and he said, “I love you too,” before closing the door behind him and walking toward the bicorns.
After getting situated and taking off into the air, he didn’t have much else to do besides practice swordplay and work on his crafting, so he decided to spy on the other moving parts in his empire, specifically Miller.
Miller was at the front of the army, standing next to Dave atop a large siege tower. Lee couldn’t help but notice that even though he had warned against it–even insisted against it–multiple times, of the eight siege towers that were erected, each with troops ready to pour out of it the second it smashed into the enemy’s walls, the one Miller and Dave were on was farthest ahead. Lee knew from the positioning that by the time the others crossed the field and struck the wall, Dave and Miller would already have a good solid two or three minutes of fighting.
That idiot, Lee grumbled as he watched the scene. Doesn’t he know why I tell him not to do things like that?! he wanted to yell, but despite being as high a level as they were, his Little Ethans could do little more to communicate with others than to write things down on paper or draw them out in sand. They were, after all, still lacking the voice box and lungs a talking person would require.
He thought about chastising Miller for a moment, flying over toward the siege tower he was on, but before he reached, it Miller raised his spear, held it for a moment in the air, and then slammed it into the ground. “WE DRINK THE FERMENTED BLOOD OF OUR ENEMIES!” he shouted as a wave of inebriating power erupted from him. “WE DRINK IT IN HONOR OF LEE!” he continued, and with that, all the siege engines, one after the other, began pushing toward the foe’s fortifications.
With the six siege towers approaching the high walls, Lee could no longer chew out Miller or even bother attempting to get him to adjust his positioning. The momentum was set, and he knew from past experiences in battle that if he tried anything now, it would do little more than break that momentum, potentially costing his troops their lives.
When he was only a little bit younger, he never would have understood just how important a person’s feelings were in a war, but they were everything. The morale of the troops was more important in many ways than their fighting ability, so he didn’t want to interfere with that by chastising the general in front of his men right before the fight.
Fine, fine, Lee conceded. You’ll get your damn first blood. Lee watched Miller’s siege engine continue to creep forward. He couldn’t help but note that the enemy was still lulled into complacency, everyone looking calm and relaxed as they stared out over the walls toward whatever place they were supposed to watch, wearing somnambulant expressions as if they were about to fall over on the spot. Lee didn’t blame them either. The night shift, for the most part, had been on duty for eight hours, and nothing had happened. They just stared straight ahead, spaced too far apart to really chat with each other for the most part, and waited for their replacements. It was rough.
And that’s why I only have my guards work for three to four hours at a time, Lee thought as, to his disappointment, not even a single enemy bothered looking over at the wall Miller’s troops were coming from. With the high wall, the sounds made by Miller’s forces couldn’t reach the guards, who couldn’t even hear their approach. The enemy were sitting ducks, and Lee wasn’t even sure if he should pity them or just feel happy for his own people.
Finally, after Miller’s personal siege tower was nearly upon the wall, someone noticed what was happening.
“CRAP!!! MAN THE WALLS! WE’RE BEING ATTACKED!!! EAST WALL! EAST WALL!” one of the guards on the south wall yelled. “GET TROOPS TO THE EAST WALL!!!”
After he yelled, others started yelling too, not even pausing in their breaths as they grabbed their arrows, dipping them in flame and began firing at Miller’s Siege tower. They didn’t need much range–the tower was too close–and so within a moment, 20 to 30 flaming-hot oil-covered arrows pincushioned Miller’s siege tower; however, to Miller’s strategic credit, the others weren’t targeted. A stray one or two arrows would hit them, but they weren’t being struck with the full brunt of the oiled arrows. Sure, the people at the bottom of his tower would be in a race for their lives to scurry up the device as it began catching fire on all sides, having to hold their mouths and rush with limited oxygen as smoke started piling in the tower, but the others would be fine.
“Wooden towers,” Dave said. “Quick to move, quick to burn,” he added, and then, as if he had a sixth sense for perfect timing, he dropped the large reinforced wooden wall blocking arrows from directly hitting him, creating a ramp so everyone could pile onto the walls.
As he did this, Miller, the first out of the tower, dashed past the old man and used his incredible strength to leap over the entire ramp and onto the wall, landing and slamming his spear down at the same time as he let loose a drunken warcry. “ARRGHH!!!” he yelled, his words not coming out properly because he took an arrow from the defending troops right between his ribs just as he triggered the skill. Not even paying it any mind, he rushed to the nearest guard, smacking him to the ground with a quick-but-brutal backhand.
“Just kill them,” Dave said as he twirled his flail, the fast-moving cyclone of steel at the end of the shaft creating a wall that stopped incoming arrows from sticking him like they had stuck Miller.
“Not awake?! Why are they sleeping?! This isn’t right. They need to know I killed them,” Miller said as the disoriented prey tried to grab his head and figure out what was happening to him as he rolled over on the ground.
“Don’t be like that, kid,” Dave grumbled. “We got thousands of them to kill. Plenty will be awake in a moment, I promise you. No reason in–” Dave sighed. Miller had taken another arrow to the same flank. This time it was lower, however, closer to his kidneys. He wasn’t the only one getting shot–the rest were getting pricked up by archers too–but everyone else had shields and heavy armor and weren’t nearly as open as the barbaric-looking Miller, who was attacking his foes without a thought to defense, wearing only light leather armor and wielding nothing more than spears.
As the arrows struck the regular soldiers, they weren’t as effective as when they sank into Miller. The fact that Lee’s troops were well armed and a higher level than the average enemy meant that some of the hurtling barbs didn’t even pierce through their armor, clinking off the metal plates as Lee’s soldiers pushed forward, and unlike Miller, began slaughtering every sleeping guard in sight with quick clean thrusts to the throat. Then, to make sure their sleeping foes never woke up, they’d follow the attack up with with a second stab, one through the chest and directly into the heart, with as much force as they could summon. The slaughter was a little cowardly perhaps, but it got the job done, and it was free EXP.
Good, Lee thought as he saw this. They haven’t let Miller undo what Dave has taught them. He nodded in satisfaction as he watched the carnage. Within a moment, the troops from Miller’s siege tower alone had claimed the eastern wall for themselves, and the other towers were already landing and dumping their troops onto the wall.
As Miller’s first prey woke up, trying to figure out what was happening, the wild Firbolg was hurling spears toward the guards that had been shooting at him. “STOP THAT COWARDLY CRAP, WILL YOU?!!” he bellowed as he rapidly threw a few more seven-foot spears like they were American pigskins being tossed by the best quarterback in the world, landing them squarely in each target’s chest, both killing his attackers and sending them off the walls behind them at the same time.
“Take out the archers first! We need those siege towers to stay up!” Dave ordered as he casually walked up to one of his opponents and smashed the man so hard with his spinning flail that it broke through the opponent’s axe shaft, shield, armor, and bone instantly, creating a loud crunch and crack in the process that sounded like a car door being yanked off in an accident.
At this point, the man that Miller had backhanded at the opening of the fight finally got up. He looked shocked as his brain tried to put together what was happening.
“Is he awake enough?” Dave asked as his flail ripped and tore through a second opponent. The way it cut a person in half, usually right down the middle, the effect was like a samurai’s clean slice from an old 1990s show had been combined with the blood-splattering grind of a wood chipper, the split happening so fast that the person’s body practically hung in the air for a split second. His organs, blood, and bits scattered and sprayed everywhere as Dave’s flail tore through the poor meatbag and then smashed into the ground, digging into the stone beneath them like an angry jackhammer.
“Enough,” Miller grumbled, reaching out and grabbing the upstart guard’s head with both his hands and rapidly slamming his forehead into the kid’s nose over and over and over again until the guy’s face looked like a cheap plastic cutting board after a tomato-chopping marathon.
“That’s good ‘cause we got company,” Dave said, pointing to the ground, where soldiers were starting to line up.
Idiots, Lee thought of his opponents as he saw the poor rabble of mostly melee troops with javelins inadequate at best for range attacks lining up one after the other with their bucklers and medium shields held high as they prepared for enemies to pour in through the gates–enemies that weren’t coming. Lee had no desire to ram down the door now that the wall was safe. Rather, his troops were already securing the wall’s sides and staircases, preventing anyone from making it up without a prolonged struggle. Meanwhile, the archers started taking their positions.
As he saw rows of his best archers easily fitting on the wide keep walls and aiming down below, he really wished he could be there in person to give the order for them to start firing, but he couldn’t.
“I don’t know who you are, but you will not take this fort that has stood for generations!! You will not succeed here! You will die under the noble house of the thousand-thorned rose!” the leader of the fort said as he walked forward. Unlike his troops, his armor was immaculate to the point of being reflective, and it was padded with soft fur that stuck out on the sides of the plate around his shoulders.
Oh god, he actually said it, Lee thought, cringing as the enemy commander began threatening his men. Jade had said he would. Jade had said that it would be a requirement for the boss to appear and dish out some ridiculously cheesy line, but . . . holy crap, he really did it. Lee sighed. Occasionally he took comfort in how many times Jade’s predictions were right. Most of the time, he had to resist from facepalming, and he rarely ever admitted it when her guesses were spot on. He knew that, if he did, he wouldn’t hear the end of it. Please just end this already! Lee wanted to say.
“That’s enough,” Dave said to Miller, stepping forward, his flail still spinning. “You’re dragging this fight on too long.” Then, without even turning his head, he yelled loud enough for every soldier on the walls to hear him. “Fire the arrows. Keep firing until they’ve given up!”
“Until they’re all dead,” Miller corrected with an even louder yell. “Fire until every man, woman, and child in the village is dead.”
Dave, for his part, didn’t try to argue loud enough for the troops to hear. He just frowned at Miller and mumbled under his breath, “So many innocent people.”
“This is the way of Lee,” Miller said. “We must cull all potential threats. It’s as he has shown: a child can grow up to be a fierce demon, a mother can poison your wells, and the elderly’s words can raise foes where none existed. This is what Lee has taught me.”
“They’re just damn kids. All of them. If they throw down their weapons . . .”
“Then they’re cowards, and they deserve their death,” Miller said more firmly as the first row of arrows loosed into the men below. It was a slaughter. They tried to fire back, but they didn’t have the weapons or skills to do any real damage in return. Miller and Dave looked on as the men of the town were butchered by the hundreds, row after row. Some enemies tried to reach the archers to engage them up close, dashing toward the stairs and ramparts, but they were picked off first. Others tried to huddle together, trying to hide under the shields and bodies of their neighbors as they crammed together and ran, but they were quickly struck down as the bunched mass made an unmissable target for Lee’s bowmen. Within moments, over a quarter of the enemy forces had been completely wiped out.
“WE SURRENDER!” the commander, who had been defiant moments ago, proclaimed as loud as he could. “WE SURRENDER!”
“No prisoners!” Miller shouted back. “Kill the cowardly beasts! Let them learn honor in death!”
“I suppose it’s our Dragon King’s way,” Dave admitted with a sigh. He didn’t seem to care about the fight anymore. He had crushed nearly a dozen guards on the wall, but now he wasn’t needed. The archers were just shooting the troops below as if they were farming free experience, and the old man didn’t like it at all. “But”–he turned to Miller–“even if a few people tried to assassinate Lee, or Brigid, it doesn’t mean they’re all bad.”
Miller’s face didn’t even change its stern expression. “Good or bad, let Augustus and Lee decide what fate their souls deserve in death. I will just reap the harvest for that judgement.”
Dave shook his head and looked over at the Little Ethan through whom Lee was watching. “You raised him, kid,” he said as he exited the field.
Yeah, I suppose I did. Lee shared Dave’s unenthusiastic depression as he watched some of the archers hesitate after they finished off the soldiers. They didn’t seem to want to kill anyone past that, and a few of them were jittery about it. Lee, taking Dave’s side for this one, had his Little Ethan rush up to Miller and quickly scrawl out a single message: “Killing the civilians would be cowardly.”
When Miller saw this, he frowned, but nodded. “Wait!” he called out, stopping the guards from continuing. “Finish off the soldiers and spare the civilians,” he finally said, causing the new recruits that Miller had trained with their bows and arrows to relax, most of them letting out a sigh of relief, while a few of them looked disappointed.
When Dave heard this order, he gave a faint smile. Then he had one of the soldiers set him up a chair and get him a drink.
Miller looked over at him. “Don’t you want to come celebrate? We just won a major victory in the name of Augustus!”
“Ha!” Dave chuckled. “You call that a victory?” he said, his eyes cast in the direction of the slaughtered enemy soldiers on the ground. “That was a stretch at their expense. We didn’t win anything today. They were sitting ducks.”
“What are you talking about?” Miller looked a little angry at Dave’s statement. “We followed the will of Lee, and for that we were rewarded with a clean and quick battle. How is that not a victory? That this victory was imparted through a miracle by the great Augustus doesn’t make it less of a victory!” he declared.
Well, actually . . . Lee wanted to correct Miller as he listened on from Little Ethan’s position–to tell him that the miracle wasn’t his doing, but rather the doing of the crazy shadow lady–but he decided against it. If Miller found out Lee was taking help from a foe, he’d just be madder.
“Kid,” Dave said, looking over at him, “you’ve read the reports. You know the army that’s coming. This victory won’t last. This was a taste of what real war will look like. Trust me. I’ve seen war. It’s going to be brutal. It’s going to be long, and by the time the fighting is over, you won’t remember who you were before it started. So try not to be all fire and brimstone and burn up your fuel before you reach the end, will ya?”
“You act like we haven’t been fighting side by side for months straight. Stop being melodramatic, old man,” Miller laughed. “We’ll drink, we’ll find our enemies, we’ll kill our enemies, and then we’ll drink and start it over again. Nothing is going to change. I’m not going to forget anything, or anyone,” he asserted as he pulled out some liquor.
“Well, if that’s how it’s going to be,” Dave said, extending his hand toward Miller.
Miller looked at it for a moment, then handed Dave the drink. “At least there is something we’ll always agree on,” Miller laughed as he pulled out another drink from his inventory, the two going silent as they drank together, Dave in his chair, staring at the bodies that littered the courtyard while Miller faced the other direction, looking toward the sky behind Dave.
“Yeah, that everything goes down easier with a wet whistle,” Dave laughed.