Shadowy figures silently moved crept along a long irrigation trench next to a field of native grains. The man tall stalks of yellow-green crops swayed gently in the early morning wind and the six figures appeared next to a row of wooden fences.
"Sun's up in an hour or so. We are going to wait for the gates to open, then we are going into the city in groups," Tyrier said the team, "keep hidden till then."
Soon, the sky lightened up, the clouds turning red and the thin fog slowly dispersing and people started arriving in small groups to the town gates. The three stories tall wall festooned with arrow slits surrounded the whole town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants together with a moat. "Let's go," Tyrier waved everyone up and walked out from the grain field towards the small queue forming at the gates.
Tyrier's boots squelched as the morning dew and water from staying hidden in the irrigation trench had seeped into his boots. He ignored the cold and wet feeling, joining behind a couple of chatting gatherers with a large pile of firewood tied to their backs.
Hitsu formed up beside him, his hand gripping the pommel of his sword. "Relax," Tyrier whispered, glancing behind them to see the rest joining the queue behind them. Tyrier stepped up right behind the two wood gatherers and gave a polite cough, making the two gatherers to turn and look at him with curiosity.
"Greetings good sirs," Tyrier gave a disarming grin to the two old aged men dressed in coarse wool country clothes. "I have been on the road for some time, so I was wondering if you could share any recent news of the town?"
Both the gatherers looked at each other and hesitated, but their faces quickly turned to smiles as Tyrier flipped a silver coin to them. "Well, kind sir, what do you want to know?"
"What's the latest news and happenings around here and the town," Tyrier asked, "I been away for weeks with my friend here, so we are lacking news of the area."
"Oh, well, the Duke lost some kind of major battle down south with the rebels," One of the older gatherer whispers, "But don't go talk about it in the town, if the guards hear you, they will take you away, or worst!" He made a throat slitting motion.
Both Tyrier and Hitsu nodded, "What other news?"
"Well, spring is here, so the goblins are out in force now," The older gatherer said, "Other beasts are also roaming around too." He scratched his head as he thought, "Well, rumor has it that the Duke has gone missing."
"I see, anything else?" Tyrier asked.
"Well, the army has left, thank the heavens," The other gatherer spoke up, "It is more peaceful now that they have left." He looked closely at the two, frowned and whispered, "Are you two deserters from the army?"
"Heavens no!" Hitsu cried out, "What makes you think so?"
"Well, you have the feelings of a warrior," The gatherer rubbed his head in embarrassment. "Well, the guards are checking and arresting any army deserters."
"I see," Tyrier grinned, placing his hand firmly on to Hitsu's shoulder. "We used to be part of the Goldrose Army, but now," He gave a shrug and continued, "We are working as adventurers and problem solvers."
"Ahh, I see! My greatest apologies!" The two gatherers quickly gave a bow to them, which they hurriedly stopped the two.
"It is aright, it's all in the past," Tyrier said, "You don't have to bow to us anymore."
"We just want to thank you for your brave efforts against the Empire," The old man whispered, looking over his shoulder to the walls. "Be careful of the guards, they might mistake you all for deserters!'
"It will be fine, we have traveling papers," Tyrier grinned, touched by the sincerely from the two gatherers. "We will be fine. Can you recommend any inn for us to stay?"
"Hmm, you can try the Prancing Pony down by left of the main street after you pass the market stalls, you can't miss it, it has a sign of a prancing pony," The old man rubbed his chin said, "Tell the owner, that Old Raggins recommended you. He will give you a fair price."
"Thank you, good sirs!" Tyriers dipped his head in thanks and pointed to the front, "Look, the gate is opening."
A thick wooden drawbridge was slowly being lowered by two sets of iron chains set on each end of the drawbridge. It came to a stop with a crash and the gates of Falledge swung open, and a metal portcullis was lifted up slowly and several guards could be seen behind it.
The queuing crowd started to stir, some getting up from where they sat waiting, others started shouldering their bundles and goods while cart drivers woke their dragons up from their nap. A voice shouted from across the bridge, informing the queue that they can advance.
The drawbridge barely creaked as Tyrier and his men shuffled down the line towards the gate. The guards checked the identity papers of each person entering the town and soon the two gatherers turn were over and Tyrier and Hitsu stood before the guards who waved for their papers impatiently.
Tyrier and Hitsu handed over their scroll cases containing their travel papers and discretely observed the gatehouse, finding dozens of murder holes on the ceiling and a stout looking metal reinforced door at the side, most likely leading to the control room with the windlass which lowered or raised the bridge.
"Purpose?" The guard with a red cloth slash across his half plate asked snobbishly as he glanced at their traveling papers.
"Work," Tyrier said truthfully. "We are adventurers and problem solvers. He gave a slight bow to the guard.
"Oh," The guard raised his eyebrows, "You look more like soldiers than adventurers..."
"Kind sir, we just want to find some work to support our bellies," Tyrier gave his best smile, and clasped the guard's hand, handing him a small pouch of coins.
"Hmmm," The guard turned to the side and deftly checked the contents of the pouch, where a few gold nuggets could be seen and seemingly satisfied, nodded and returned the papers into the scroll cases, handing it over to Tyrier and grinned, "Welcome to Falledge. Word of warning, don't get into any trouble, or we will throw you in the dungeons! Next!" The guard turned attention to the next in line, waving for them come forward.
Tyrier looked at Hitsu who gave a shrug and they entered into the town.
UNS Singapore, Conference Room
"Attention on deck!" A Marine bellowed from the opened from as Captain Blake entered the conference were all the heads of departments rosed and saluted.
"At ease, people," Blake waved everyone to their seats and nodded to his second in command, Commander Ford. "Let's start."
Ford continued standing and patiently waited for everyone to settle down in their seats, "Alright, a quick report on our current situation." He activated the main display screen and a series of graphs and charts appeared.
"As of Start of the Year, first quarter, almost nine months we arrived here, we have finally some nice green lines to show on our charts," Ford grinned, "Despite that, we are still in the red for several items on the list."
"Food, population, education, transportation, production, mining, and military sector have shown positive growth over the last quarter, while ammunition, medicine, technology, and magic research has declined or stagnated." Ford tapped on the screen to highlight each point.
"We need to focus more on those lacking, especially ammunition and technology," Blake spoke next. "So I am gonna divide everyone up into different sectors to work on."
"There will be five key sectors, Military, Production, Transportation, Magic, Science, and Technology, and finally Civil." Blake listed out five points. "Major Frank will head the Military sector, which will cover, all forms of external security and threats."
"Chief Gale will be in charge of Production, which will cover all forms of factories, mining, and construction."
"Quartermaster Chen will head the Transportation sector, which will deal with our transportation network and including supplying goods and resources to each area."
"For Magic, Science, and Technology, I want Magister Thorn, Dr, Sharon, and Chief Matt to handle it all, including medicine and research."
"Finally for Civil, Princess Sherene will take the lead with Ops officer Letts in support. Education, housing, agriculture, fishery, healthcare, public works, and police will all fall under Civil," Blake finished outlining his plan. "I want all of you to list out and recruit who you think is a talent to your sectors that you will be running. Questions?"
"How about the budget?" Quartermaster Chen asked, "We need something to pay for workers and salary."
"Accounts department will be working with everyone on this," Ford explained, "They will work out a budget to be assigned to each sector and also other special requests."
"How about manpower? Who can we draw from?" Chief Gale asked, "We can headhunt anyone we like?"
"If you find a talent from the locals, recruit as per normal procedures, if they are part of the crew or Marines, apply directly to HR for approval," Blake clarified. "Any other questions? No? Ok, next."
Lieutenant Tavor stood up, "The next agenda will be for 'Your ears only', rated top secret," He warned everyone in the meeting. "Failure to comply and leaking of top secret information will be met with severe consequences."
Everyone including the elves present nodded seriously, all their faces grim. "Now, two days ago, we launched Operation Dagger, and top secret information gathering mission within enemy territory, which in this case is the Empire."
"The Hundred and First, Claymore One had inserted successfully in the border town of Falledge, formerly part of the Kingdom of Goldrose." Tavor informed those that were in the dark. "The timeline for Operation Dagger will be one month, for Claymore One to infiltrate and blend into the population within the Empire, subjected to be extended if required."
"Operation Dagger primarily objectives involved information gathering, scouting of enemy dispositions, supply depots and stockpiles, weapons manufactories, troop strength, morale and marching routes," Tavor highlighted the main objectives. "Secondary mission is to discover the families of those who decided to join us and the possibility of recruitment of local supporters."
"So basically, it's a spying mission?" Dr. Sharon pointed out.
"Yes, in the simple sense," Tavor nodded, "We also want to know if is it feasible to project our forces into occupying Falledge."
"You mean, an invasion into the Empire?" Sherene's delicate eyebrows rose all the way up. "You want to take Falledge?"
"Hmm," Blake interjected, "Well, if it is possible to take and hold it, yes. I would rather the enemy fight on their own land than on ours, this way we can limit the destruction on our own infrastructure and also we have more room to fallback or maneuver should we need to." He admitted frankly.
"But what about the civilians?" Sherene half rosed from her seat, her fists clenched tightly as she glared angrily at Blake. "Their homes and livelihood?"
Blake stared back at Sherene calmly, "It is war, but of course we will try to prevent as many civilian casualties and evacuate them to safety beforehand."
"But, who if they do not want to leave?" Sherene shot back, "Are you just going to let them die?"
Ford gave a cough and interrupted, "Please, Princess, we will do everything to ensure the safety of non-combatants and besides, it is one of the options we are looking at, we are still looking at the feasibility of the operation. If the information given to us states that the town is not suitable for a long defensive battle, then, of course, we will not commit to it."
Sherene gave a jerk and sat down, muttering, "I am sorry for the unsightly outburst, please continue."
Lieutenant Tavor nodded and continued the brief as if there were no interruptions, "By identifying key supply depots, stockpiles, roads and bridges, and staging areas of enemy forces, we can predict when the enemy will make a move against us again."
"Once identified, Valkyries will commerce long-range bombing of those key locations, stopping the enemy before they can even think of coming within a 1000 kilometers of us."