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The boy was dressed in a faded yellow tunic with sweat stains panted his way up the steep flights of stone steps before he nimbly climbed up the wooden ladder and took a second to catch his breath. He gazed out to the far distance over the fort walls and saw the dark blue squares of infantry appearing over the summer crops, trampling the unharvested yellow fields of grain down.

"Wake the fort!" An elderly sentry yelled below him, "Hurry!"

A tingle of dread, fear, and excitement ran down his spine as he reached under the bronze bell hanging in the watchtower and grabbed the wooden rod tied inside and struck the bell madly.

"TONG TONG TONG TONG TONG~~~!!"

The echoes of the bell woke the guardians of the fort who roused themselves out in confusion before their leaders and officers yelled at them to arm themselves with weapons and don their armor. It took the confused men sometime before they realized that the Empire was here at their doorsteps and they hurriedly sprung into action eagerly.

"TONG TONG TONG TONG TONG~~~!!"

Heavy footfalls echoed up and down the entire fort as the men rushed to their defenses. In less than a turn of the hourglass, the guardians were all up and ready, their sweaty palms gripping spear shafts and clutching shields while others held onto the risers of their bows and fingered the fletching of their arrows, making sure they are nicely straightened to ensure a proper flight.

Their sister fort, a few stone throws away, were the same, it's one thousand defenders rushing to make ready for combat as the Empire forces marched steadily towards the two tiny forward forts guarding the farming land.

The marching Empire forces clashed to a stop well before extreme bow range and the squares and lines of blue armored clad soldiers shook themselves into formations. Dozens and dozens of mantlets or portable shields made from wood logs were carried forward by Empire archers. They hide behind the mantlets as they cautiously advanced to within bow and crossbow range before slamming the sharp stakes of the mantlets into the ground.

"LOOSE!" The guardians of the fort released volley after volley of arrows at the advancing enemy that was hidden behind the mantlets who exchanged bow fire with them.

A horn blown by the Empire cut through the cries and curses of the guardians in the fort and the heavy marching of the Empire troops stormed their way step by step towards the two thousand defenders barring their way forward.

The Empire heavy infantry squares raised their shields to protect themselves from the rain of arrows but here and there, an arrow found an opening, sending a soldier to the netherworld. The archers behind the cover of the mantlets shot back at the defenders with equal results, dropping the defenders in ones and twos.

As the distance closed, mages from both sides started their spells while the defenders having an advantage of magical protection spells and formations carved into the stones of the forts. Bolts of lightning and balls of fire landed among both sides.

Empire mages split their duties in defending and attacking. Half of the mages in the infantry squares cast protection spells to block as much of the arrows and spells that were thrown their way while the other half focuses on attack spells.

A heavy ballista bolt hammered against the closest infantry square and the bolt splintered against the magic barrier. The barrier held for a split second before it collapsed, the mage who expended his mana, fell back as he convulsed from mana burn. The shattered bolt flung splinters as long as a man's arm into the infantry square, fraying any unlucky soldier who was exposed into a screaming bloody mess.

Each infantry square composed of over a thousand troops with its support of mages and other auxiliary troops. Six infantry squares were thrown forward with another thousand archers as ranged support against the two forward forts with a thousand defenders each of the Two Nation alliance.

The forward forts were built to provide a system of early warning for the cities behind them. They were built in pairs, each able to "flank" the enemies' attack on either fort. Should the enemy choose to attack a single fort first, the defenders in the other fort will be able to hit the rear and flanks of the besieging enemy while attacking both forts at the same time will split its forces thin, granting an advantage to the defenders.

Yet the enemy commander could not ignore the forts and skip past them as they can carry out attacks to his rear or his supply lines. Thus the forts had to be destroyed, delaying the main attack to cities, which granted the Two Nations more time and warning to prepare for an invasion.

The defenders were all volunteers as they knew that the forts were just a delaying tactic and they are selling their lives to buy time for their loved ones in the cities. The defenders roared as one as the Empire infantry slammed into the spike moat covering the forts and siege ladders slammed up against the stone parapets.

-----

The boy wiped streaks of tears off his face as he clung tightly to the buckling saddle of the sprinting war dragon. The war dragon's two feet kicked against the dirt path as the boy guided its movement towards one of the signal towers behind the forts and away from the madness.

The tower keepers hearing the boy's yells and reports of the Empire forces, turned pale before they quickly climbed to the top of the wooden tower and doused the dry straw and wolf dung with dragon oil and stuck a flint against a piece of stone, creating sparks which set the whole thing on fire.

Soon a thick smelly grey cloud appeared over the signal tower, which soon was followed by another tower and another as far as the eye can see.

-----

"Lord Rock," A fully armored soldier with a motif of a twin-tailed scorpion on his breastplate riding a war dragon, dismounted and saluted, "The defenders of the two forts have been destroyed. We have taken over five hundred defenders and another five hundred wounded."

"Kill the wounded," The bald muscular knight replied on his war dragon mount. "Keep the rest as slaves. Rotate the regiments that fought out and move the rest forward."

"Yes, my lord!" The soldier saluted again and dashed off back onto his mount and charged off to issue the orders of his lord.

The Rock sat upright on his war dragon as he glazed across the smoke tinted battlefield littered with dead and dying bodies. He turned and looked at the rows and rows of silent soldiers clad in heavy armor and touched the bloodstone amulet hanging over his neck.

They have wasted almost a day destroying the two forts, The Rock thought to himself. Its time for them to move before the enemy can react!

He gave a mental command and the silent soldiers moved as one, marching forward without a single word. The other soldiers strayed away from this group, whispering among themselves as they watched the eerily silent regiment marched over the trampled ground.

The Rock gave a wave and a horn blew across the fields and the tired Empire soldiers picked themselves up and formed into ranks before trotting across the broken fields, advancing towards their next objective.

-----

Windkeep Castle, Frontier City, Kingdom of Meccan, Two Nation Alliance

Hurried footsteps echoed down the marble-like flooring of the great hall as the courier half ran towards the Castle Lord's private study. The two guards gave way to the courier who had a red sash trimmed with gold diagonally over his shoulder which identified him as an important messenger.

The courier knocked on the thick double doors and not long the doors were opened inside by a manservant who led the sweating courier inside the study.

"My Lord!" The courier went down on one knee, "The warning towers... they were lit!"

The Grey Lord placed his quill down as he heard the news. "When was this?"

"Just earlier!" The courier, "No more than a turn of the glass! I came as soon as it was reported!"

"You may leave," The castle lord also known as the Grey Lord to the people here dismissed the courier who stood up and retreated from his study.

"Call all the commanders for an urgent meeting now," The Grey Lord said to his servant who disappeared out of the study behind after the courier.

It took less than an hour for all six of the commanders stationed at Frontier City to arrived at Windkeep Castle. The great hall had a massive rectangular table laid out by the servants with some light refreshments.

The Grey Lord sat at the head of the table, his long grey hair tied in a ponytail, while his thick bushy grey beard was combed neatly and tied with tiny gold bands. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with a wrinkled and sun-baked face, and deep grey eyes. Even his simple dressing was in grey-white tones.

The commanders arrived one by one, all dressed for war, as they filled up the seats. Other officials dressed like scholars and merchants also arrived and soon the table was fully filled.

"As you all may know by now, the warning beacons along the border had being lit up," The Grey Lord stated once everyone was seated. "I want all able men to be armed and ready for battle as soon as possible."

"Next, I want the farmers to move all the harvest in and burn the rest that can't be moved. I also want the merchants to provide all the carts and wagons they have to help out," He looked at the group of civic officials and merchants who nodded.

"I already sent out the messenger wyverns out to the next city and the Capital," The Grey Lord said next, "I expect reinforcements to arrive within two five days week."

"My Lord!" One of the commanders spoke up, "Will we be moving the troops to relieve the forward forts?"

"No," The Grey Lord shook his head, "The border forts could only buy us a day or two of time the most. By the time we muster our forces, the forts would have been lost."

"I want the soldiers to dig in and fight," He continued, "Frontier City has never been lost and we have fought off invaders ever since its founding as long as we stand strong behind its walls. Strong together!"

"Yes, my Lord!" The men echoed. "Strong together!"

-----

The city inhabitants remained calm and went on with their normal activities even as news spread of the coming invasion. The trust the inhabitants had to their city was immense as the city walls had never been breached since it was built a hundred years ago.

The city sat in a mild raise, with the south side facing the enormous inland freshwater sea, the source of all life on this continent, the Source Sea. Large swaths of farmland spread out from the city walls provided food for the sixty thousand inhabitants and soldiers living in Frontier City.

The walls that the inhabitants placed their faith in stood over 20 meters high. Made out of granite and magic, it held against dozens of invasions over the years. Massive siege engines sat on huge square towers covered the approaches to the city while dozens more of ballistas were hidden in embrasures within the wall.

Flags of red trimmed with gold and flags of purple were flying on the walls as soldiers dressed in tabards of either red or purple. The red represented the Kingdom of Meccan while the purple represented troops from the Kingdom of Foral whom both Kingdoms were allied as the Two Nation Alliance.

A grizzly looking soldier with a crude leather band covering his left eye spat over the battlements as he caressed the well-worn wood of the crossbow in his hands lovingly.

"Come on ye bastards! I'm waiting for ye!"

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