Five minutes later, Alistair and Leah were with Byrne, Cassandra and Liam at the gate they had entered by. The village was a hive of activity, people carrying bundles of arrows and torches to a stockpile being formed near the wall, archers and huntsmen limbering up, and nervous guards, still in their rusty chain mail, holding their polearms awkwardly. Liam saw the two first, and held a hand up in greeting.
“Oh, I don’t know…”
Leah held up her hands, glowing with Life mana. Liam whistled, while Cassandra merely frowned at Alistair.
“Impressive, but you still aren’t getting out of training.”
An irritated cough interrupted the group.
“If you are done playing around…?”
Byrne pointed up a ladder, to a scaffold that encircled in the inside of the wall.
“Perhaps you should take a look at what we’re dealing with.”
“Surely Byrne, age before beauty.”
Liam ducked the swing at his head, and began climbing the ladder with a grin. Leah got a good look at him for the first time since arriving. He had certainly cleaned up well. Gone was the hunched over old man in loose fitting, well worn clothing, Byrne was now outfitted with a set of padded cloth armour, metal plates strategically placed over vital areas, and his beard was coiled up under his chin. On his back was a two handed sword of some kind. He caught Leah’s gaze.
“I wasn’t always the old codger running a back water village. This is my pension, you could say.”
Leah shrugged, and looked up the ladder, which Cassandra was beginning to ascend behind Liam.
“You aren’t going up there?”
“Do I look like an archer, girl? No, I’m leading the defence down here, and sallying forth if needs be. I paid you three to man the walls, until you are needed elsewhere. So man them. Alistair, you’ll be tending the wounded on the walls-”
“Actually, I think we can make an amendment there.”
He placed his hand on Leah’s shoulder.
“This one picked up my Life magic quite well. She can handle the wounded. I shall be blessing the arrows.”
Leah looked at him with shock. She wasn’t looking forward to the coming event in any case, but directly dealing with injuries… she wasn’t sure if she could handle it, especially after her reaction to the barrow chamber she woke up in… She cursed her near perfect memory, as the scene replayed itself in her mind, and her stomach threatened to make an encore.
“Me? I don’t think I can…”
“Of course you can. I didn’t train you out of the goodness of my heart, you know. You can handle the moderate injuries and get the walking wounded back in the fight. My skills are better served improving our weapons, lest our archers be useless. Plus,”
“Your… stature, is better suited to the ramparts. I feel I would be a liability. If there is anything serious that you cannot handle, send a runner for me and move on.”
“You can do this. You cannot trust in Uld, but trust in whomever it is you believe in. Today is not your day to die.”
Dying hadn’t been Leah’s concern - not until he mentioned it. After the battle, she would be sure to give him a piece of her mind about his motivational technique, because it was clearly lacking. She didn’t have time to do it then, because he turned and walked back into the village before she could answer, being swallowed by a throng of people.
“Cass was right. Priests are dicks.”
Shaking her head, she put a foot on the ladder and began to ascend after the others. At the top, Liam and Cassandra were crouched behind the top of the log wall, peering over the top.
“Don’t see much yet. A couple of lone zombies, skirting the edge. Still too bright for the greater, I reckon…”
“There’s definitely more out there. I’m shocked you can’t hear them.”
Leah crouched beside them, and Cassandra turned to her.
“Oh good. You decided to come join us, not the god botherer.”
Leah didn’t respond to her barb. Her nerves were too busy getting the better of her, and while running over what could happen in her mind, she inadvertently let out a yawn. That got both Cass and Liam’s attention.
“Leah, shit, you haven’t slept yet, have you?”
“No, I haven’t but I’m fine. I can manage another night.”
She really, desperately wanted to use this as an excuse. She really did. But something was driving her forwards to actually do this. Had Alistair’s words actually worked? Priests DID have to talk to a lot of people, so he probably had incredibly high skills related to convincing people… Damn him! She’d have to ask about that another time. Liam wasn’t convinced.
“Don’t try to put a brave face on this. We can find a way to manage if you need to take a rest. If you make a mistake because you are tired, though, someone is going to have to pull your arse out of the fire. I’ll ask again, and I’m going to check for the truth this time, fair warning. Are you up to this?”
Leah checked her Internal Mana reserve, just to be certain. It was only in the corner of her vision, but the actual act of checking still hadn’t been reinforced as a habit yet.
[Internal Mana Reserve: 5/10(5)]
[5 Mana reserved for maintenance from lack of sleep. Fulfil bodies needs to remove this reservation.]
Five? Did the effect scale the longer she stayed awake? And what would happen when it was depleted fully? Would she collapse, or just begin to feel the effects? Still, even if the rate of loss was growing, she estimated that she would be ok, at least for this night.
“I can do it. I’m operating at peak effectiveness right now anyway, the yawn was just a reflex, I think. If I need to take a break, I will, but I want to help.”
Liam shook his head, and shrugged to Cass, who returned the gesture. Cass spoke up.
“I don’t know where this confidence is coming from, but if you think you are fit to join us, I won’t stop you. We need all the hands we can get, despite what Liam tried to tell you.”
That got her a look from Liam, but he didn’t refute her. Leah looked down at her hands, which weren’t shaking, but she felt should be.
“It’s not confidence. I don’t want to be here at all. But I can’t exactly walk away now, can I?”
Liam nodded, and Cassandra hid a smile by looking back out over the wall.
“Right. So, up here, we reckon its going to be pretty calm initially. There’s not likely to be many ranged monsters out there, and Cass will be focused on them. I’ll be leading the rabble and making sure they focus on the right targets. Our main goal in the first stage is the thin things out down there, and get a gauge on how big the force is. I can’t say how long that’ll last though. We’ll be switching up when one of two things happens. If the gate gets broken down, we’ll be retreating back to the church. If that doesn’t look like its going to happen, we’ll have to make a decision whether to sally out and clear them up, or to hold out until morning. Thats up to Byrne, and we’ll have our orders when he decides. Your job is going to be healing, primarily. If you have the spare mana - which you should, like I said, theres unlikely to be many ranged attackers - then I want you to be throwing down Bolts of Life at targets either Cass or I call out to you. Make sure to leave a good buffer though, in case of any changes. Any questions?”
“Yeah, uh… where am I going to be? Do I follow one of you, or..?”
“No, you’ll need to follow your own initiative here. Cass will be posted at this gate, and I’ll be on the other. If you hear either of us whistle,”
He paused to demonstrate. The shrill noise cut through the hubbub below and got all eyes on him. Leah and Cass, at ground zero, had covered their ears, and were eyeing Liam with distaste.
“Ah, yeah, sorry. If you hear that from either of us, rotate around to the source. We’ll let you know what’s needed then. Otherwise, keep moving, throw out the occasional bolt at something that looks big and scary, and for the gods sake, keep your head down. If you need to go, let one of us know and we’ll sort things out. Got it?”
Leah nodded. She was as ready as she was going to be, at any rate. Her stomach was still doing back flips, but whatever was spurring her on refused to let her back down.
“We still have time left before sunset. Catch some sleep if you can, we’ll wake you when you are needed.”
Looking to Cass, who nodded, she settled in next to the two, who lowered their voices as they continued to debate back and forth over what would be coming. Leah wasn’t exactly sure if she could sleep, given her nerves and whatever was keeping her going, but as soon as she had settled down and thought about sleeping, the effect faded, and sleep overtook her immediately. Only her quick mental reflexes gave her the presence of mind to set her submind as an alarm clock, to wake her up should she feel anything touching her. Left hoping it would work, she drifted into a dreamless sleep, the exhaustion of the last two days finally catching up to her.
She awoke with a start a moment later. Or, it felt like a moment. Her clock, and the now dark sky, proved otherwise. Cassandra had shaken her shoulder, prompting her return to wakefulness. She looked around at the elf.
Nodding, Leah pushed herself up into a crouch, wary from the advice to keep low, and settled in next to Cassandra. Looking along the wall, she could see a dozen more men and women in similar positions, bows nocked and ready in front of them. All were looking through narrow slits in the wood, or to each other, and everyone was nervous. That didn’t help with Leah’s own nerves. A voice below caught everyones attention.
“RIGHT YOU LOT! We’ve held off monster attacks in the past, and this is no different. Shoot straight, keep your head down if you aren’t firing, and get anything that looks big and ugly first. If you drew the short straw and are down here with me, then today you’ll claim no glory. Because those bastards are never getting through our walls, isn’t that right?!”
Byrne’s voice rang loud and clear through the still night, the only other sound the clattering of bones beyond the wall. His speech was met with a resounding cheer from the defenders at the gate, and a matching cheer from the other side showed that someone had echoed the old mans speech. Once nervous faces set with determination, and the archers readied themselves to spring up and launch the first volley. Leah herself felt some of the confidence rub off on her. It felt like she could take on the world, with that man leading her. Another skill? Her submind had no answers, so it definitely wasn’t a mental effect…
She cut off her own thoughts, not wanting to get lost in another rabbit hole right before a battle. Cassandra matched the other archers, readying herself to join in the volley. She looked over to Leah.
“I’ll pop up first, and sight a target for you. When I give you the go ahead, get up, launch your spell, and get down as fast as you can.”
Leah nodded, not trusting her voice even with her new found confidence. Cassandra looked forward once more, and yelled out,
“On my mark! Three! Two! One! FIRE!”
As one, the archers stood, took aim, and fired below. Leah couldn’t see what was down there, but the telltale thunks of arrows hitting flesh confirmed that there definitely was something attacking them. That brought the fear back in force. She had no time to dwell on it, however, as Cassandra had ducked down, and began reciting off instructions.
“40 meters back, big fucker, looks like a bear shagged a barrel. Hit it with your best shot.”
Leah nodded, faced the same way Cassandra had been facing and took a deep breath. She counted in her head down from three, then popped up, hands already glowing with the energies of life. The scene was terrifying, but strangely familiar, though the monsters in this case where mostly animals. It was a scene straight out of a zombie movie, a horde of undead monstrosities clamouring around without any purpose other than to get inside the walls and take the life from those within. Wolves, deer, boar, even, to Leah’s surprise, some rabbits, any creatures you might expect to see in a forest were represented. And they vastly outnumbered the garrison. Even those near the walls were double the number inside, and more seemed to be stumbling or shambling out from the forest as she watched. She didn’t have much time to do so, however, as she looked for what Cassandra had described. True to form, it did look like a bear. A bear that had eaten far too much, and was now more belly than body. Bloated and covered in sores, its milky white eyes rolled wildly in its skull, mouth lolling open. Suppressing her stomach once again - something she hoped she would gain a skill for, from the amount she had had to do so over the last few days - she raised both hands, took aim, and let out a shout, perhaps of challenge, but mostly of terror as she released the pent up mana. The bear thing seemed to notice her, unseeing eyes drawn to the glow of life energy, and it turned to face her right as the bolt struck.
It was beautiful and horrifying at the same time. When the bolt of accumulated life mana struck the decaying flesh, it bloomed out, covering a third of the bear in a moment, and the energies began to eat into its flesh. Within a second, they had bitten down to the bone in places, and that was when the beast exploded. Its gut bubbled and rippled, before a split second later a thunderclap rang across the battlefield and Leah was pulled down.
“I SAID get down after you fire! Do you want to be killed?”
“I-I didn’t expect it to explode!”
“I did. Thats why I said get down. Was that just one shot?”
“Yeah. I didn’t have time for two.”
Cassandra whistled, but didn’t give it much more of her attention. Her voice once again rang out to the assembled archers.
“AGAIN! Ready up!”
She looked across to Leah.
“What are you still doing here? Rotate around, and fire when I give the order.”
Leah didn’t exactly want to leave the comforting presence of the elf. Though they met only days ago, she had faced all the challenges of this world alongside her, and going off alone, even amongst allies, didn’t fill her with confidence. But, she knew she had to. Nodding, and with a last wistful look back, she headed off along the walls scaffolding in a crouch, keeping her head low.
The battle continued thusly. Leah would stop with an archer, wait with them as they awaited the call to fire, then pop up alongside them and let off a Bolt of Life. She would target anything that stood out if it was in range, a range she worked out fairly quickly after she whiffed her third shot aiming too far away. Otherwise, she would shoot down into the crowd. The target rich environment left little chance of missing, so long as she fired within her range. She worked out from her experimentation, and a little guesswork, that her maximum range was about 50 meters - half the distance to the forests edge, and half that of what the archers were capable of. Still, there was no shortage of targets, making her limitation somewhat redundant. And the firepower more than made up for it. While the archers arrows had been blessed, and were capable of felling any of the smaller zombies in a single strike, only Leah could reliably kill the larger or skeletal foes with her initial attack. Whatever she struck fell immediately - whatever the reason, her presence rapidly became a boost in morale to those around her. 30 minutes passed, then 60, before she heard a whistle for her attention.
Moving around to Liam’s side, she soon discovered what it was she had been called for. An archer was slumped against the wall, blood oozing from between the fingers of the hand pressed against his shoulder. Grimacing, he looked over at the elf who had joined him, and said, bluntly,
“Fucking do something about it already! Dammit!”
Kneeling next to him, frowned at him, but raised her hands anyway. She didn’t like his tone, but could she really blame him?”
“M-move you hand away, I don’t know how the spell will be affected if its there.”
The man rolled his eyes at her, but complied.
“Of course I get a fucking novice, just heal me already! Fuck, it hurts.”
Her hands glowed once more with the energy of life, and she placed her hands firmly against his shoulder. Perhaps more firmly than she needed to, which elicited a pained groan from the man, but it was better to be safe than sorry. And perhaps it would help him learn some manners. She released the magic, and felt her mana dip again, which inspired her to check on her reserves.
It was getting low, though it was regenerating still throughout the battle. A thought struck her, though she saved it for after she had confirmed the man was ok. She lifted her hands, and watched with fascination - and not a little disgust - as the deep wound knitted itself before her eyes. She knew from her skill that only the surface damage had been healed, and it would be tender and weak, but he would be able to fight should be still have use of the arm. She looked down at her hands, covered in the mans blood. A man that she had healed. Her. A computer science graduate only a few days ago, had healed an archer in a fantasy village, using magic. For a moment, she was convinced that she must be dreaming, that this all had to be some grand hallucination, but she had no time for that.
“Can you move it?”
He gave his shoulder an experimental roll, and grunted.
“Still hurts, but I’ll manage. Thanks, and, sorry.”
Leah nodded, and continued.
“I did the best I can, but it might reopen. If it does, you’ll need Alistair’s help. Not much I can do if its that bad.”
It was the mans turn to nod, and he picked up his dropped bow. He looked over to where Liam was readying to call the next volley, then back to Leah.
“Lets get a little revenge, shall we?”
The night drew on, and hours passed. Leah felt the burn in her muscles from crouch running back and forth along the makeshift battlements, but she was saved the worst of the mana exhaustion thanks to her bright idea. She had dedicated her submind solely to Mana meditation, and the increase in her regeneration showed. So much so, that she had the opportunity to fire off many more shots than she’d hoped for. Notifications filled up the corner of her vision, but she ignored them for the time being. There was no time for idle thought, as every few minutes, a call was raised for her aid. She’d strike down a particular foe, usually one with ranged capabilities, or heal one of their targets, then move remain with the group, firing off shots until the next call came up. Moving back and forth along the lines, she noticed that the archers were beginning to flag, exhaustion reaching them after the long hours of constant firing. Though experienced and hardy, none of them were front line fighters, and this was possibly the longest battle they had ever been involved in. Leah was about to call attention to this, when she heard a call from Cassandra.
“Second shift, up! First shift, get some shut eye!”
The archers, relief evident on their faces, shouldered their weapons and hastily descended into the village below. Replacement archers were waiting to take their places, and soon the ranks were filled with fresh faces, eager not to be shown up by their friends and family. Leah’s surprise must have been evident, because one of them clapped her on the shoulder.
“Surprised tha’ us bumpkins know a bit of strategy?”
Leah turned to face him, frowning.
“I don’t think you are bumpkins.”
“You can think wha’ you like, so long as you keep us alive. We been watchin’ you run around all night. You ready for some more action?”
Liam smiled. She certainly was at this point. While she hadn’t gotten used to the sights, and certainly not the smells, of battle, it hadn’t been that bad so far. There had only been two major injuries, and Alistair had taken them off her hands quickly. And while there was no signs that the horde was being thinned out, it had also made little progress against the walls. Most of the undead were content to pound on the thick wooden trunks, doing little damage. Those who may pose a threat were targeted first, and surprisingly few ranged foes had emerged. Leah began to wonder what the point of them even being here was. The villagers probably could have handled it themselves. And as if channelling Liam’s cursed luck, her words were forced right back into her mental mouth.
A crash sounded from the forest, followed by a roar, and Leah’s head whipped around. It had come from Cassandra’s side of the wall, and her whistle wasn’t far behind it. She took off as fast as she could whilst still keeping her head down, and made it to Cassandra minutes later. The elf had a furious grimace on her face, and the archers she had passed didn’t look much better.
“What is it?”
“Take a look, and use that analyse skill of yours. Dammit.”
She did so, and paled at the sight. Stood at least 12 feet tall, it looked like a pile of corpses had mashed themselves together, then somehow gained the ability to ambulate. Walking on the legs of a dozen animals, it rolled forwards, a trio of wolves heads continuing the roars as it approached. A single massive arm on its left side, if you could call it that, hung limp, writhing and undulating as things moved beneath its ripped and rotten flesh. Leah gulped, and activated her analyse skill.
Flesh Golem (Lesser)
“Lesser? THAT thing’s lesser?”