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30 km into the Kingdom of Meccan

The land was on fire and smoke. Fields of unharvested crops burned and wilted in the heat as the farmers and soldier laid torch to the fields. The air smelled of ashes as the farmers carried what little possessions they have while the carts and wagons pulled by land dragons and muffalos were piled full of harvest.

Those that couldn't be collected or transported were set to the torch by soldiers to the wailings of the farmers. Yet despite all that, the farmers and their families could only bear it as the threat of the Empire loomed upon them.

The fires were soon seen by the city when night falls while the thick black smoke could be viewed in the day. And scouts raced through the fire and smoke, carrying news of the sightings of the Empire armies.

Behind the fleeing Meccan scouts, came a screen of Empire war dragon cavalry. Long lines of black armor-clad Empire soldiers marched behind fluttering blue Empire banners over the fields, followed by wagons and wagons of supplies and camp followers.

The Empire cavalry rode down on the fleeing scouts and any other civilians in the area, capturing or killing them if they resisted and looted what pitiful processions they had. The Empire soldiers dabbed their blue capes with water and covered their mouths and noses to avoid breathing most of the ash in the air while foraging parties ventured around the countryside in search of food and water.

The retreating Meccans had poisoned most of the wells and torched whatever food supplies they couldn't transport but still, there were some that were missed or hidden away by farmers and their families.

The Empire forces happily pillaged whatever that could be found and filled barrels of fresh water from flowing streams and rivers while constantly advancing towards Frontier City behind the mass of panicking villagers looking for shelter in the city.

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Frontier City

The Grey Lord stood overlooking the battlements from the tallest tower in his Castle. The Grey family had served as the city guardians and lords for generations. He watched the flood of refugees streaming across the fields and fortifications towards the city gates and frowned, "Have the harvest from the farms being all brought in?"

"Yes my lord," One of his aide replied while consulting a scroll. "The granaries and storehouses are nearly filled and should have enough supplies to last the city for 3 months."

"Issue an order to the merchants to limit the sale of grain and other necessities, I do not want the people to hoard supplies." The Grey Lord said. "Have the scouts returned?"

"No, my lord," A military aide replied, "they are expected to return before nightfall."

"Close the gates before it gets dark," He ordered, "Turn the refugees away."

"B-but, my Lord, there is at least a thousand or more people still out there!" The military aide cried. "We can't leave them all out there?"

"The city is full," The Grey Lord said without any change of expression, "Tell them to head towards Winterfall instead."

"But my lord! Winterfall is at least a week march away!" The aides were looking at each other in confusion. "The refugees won't make it with the number of supplies they have!"

"Close the gate by nightfall," The Grey Lord repeated before he turned away from the view and headed towards the stone stairs. "I will not repeat myself."

"Y-yes, my lord..." The aides bowed as they watched the disappearing back of the castle Lord disappearing down the tower.

The aides looked out towards the crowd and shook their heads, "Those that can't make it in by the time the sun sets is doomed ..."

-----

Frontier City Eastern Wall

The setting sun had painted a purple-red hue over the city walls which beauty was lost to the one eyed soldier dressed in a mix of leather and plate mail as he shoved his way past the crowd of mingling soldiers who had gathered before the gate commander's room.

"Back to your posts!" Several nobles and officers yelled at the gathered men. "Back off!"

"Why do we have to close the gates?" The gathered soldiers called out, "There are still many people out there!"

"The Grey Lord gave the order!" The Gate Commander stormed out of his office cursing, "Now get back to your posts or I have you whole lot whipped!"

The one eyed soldier pushed his way to the front and said, "I didn't sign up to let helpless folk die!"

"Captain Borse!" The commander frowned, "What are you doing here?"

"My men want to know why are the gates closed?" Borse the one eyed demanded, "The city can still hold the refugee folk, why are we abandoning them out there? The Empire army is almost upon us!"

"It's the Grey Lord's order!" The commander retorted, "He wants the gate closed! Now back to your posts! And you too, Captain!

The gathered soldiers grumbled among themselves and slowly dispersed back to their post leaving Captain Borse glaring at the Gate Commander who lost in the staring match and retreated back into his office.

"Captain," A scrawny soldier dressed in oversized leather called to Borse, "What do we do now Captain?"

"Back to the men," Captain Borse frowned as he walked back towards the walls. "Call the squad leaders together."

"Yes, sir!" The scrawny soldier saluted and ran off ahead, leaving Borse alone with his thoughts.

Borse came from one of the many micro kingdoms dotting the continent, the small and peaceful Kingdom of Dawn before it got embroiled in a war with the expansionist Empire of Bluewood.

His kingdom destroyed and the remanents enslaved, he and his surviving company of soldiers fought on desperately for many years. His original company of over a hundred slowly grew to a thousand as soldiers and refugees from other defeated kingdoms joined up with him over the years.

They conducted hit and runs attacks, lightning raids on supply convoys of the Empire but eventually were forced back and with over two thousand civilians, Borse had to make a choice of retreating or risk having the non-combatants killed by Empire troops hunting them.

Hence Borse gathered his men and the refugees and marched towards the Kingdom of Mecca when word came that the two remaining kingdoms have formed an alliance. Upon reaching Frontier City, the Grey Lord recruited him on the promise that the refugees with him were to be taken proper care of.

Borse nodded at the two sentries at the gate of a simple fenced off campsite next to the Eastern Wall. In the darkening skies, several braziers and torches were already lit, casting their orange glow to the surroundings.

Rows of mismatched tents were pitched up as neatly as possible in the hard-packed earth while the company's blacksmith and quartermaster had their stores and smithy set up against the city wall with a couple of simple wooden lean-to covered their supplies and the smith was at work sharpening and grinding blades.

"Captain," A small group of rough looking soldiers appeared before Borse gestured them to follow him. They entered a large tent in the middle of the camp and the men gathered around the only table in the middle of the tent.

"The Grey Lord gave the order to close the gates," Borse spoke. "The people are trapped outside."

"Is there no way for us to open the gates to allow those poor folks in?" One of the leaders asked. "We can't just let them be slaughtered out there?"

The rest of the men nodded and agreed, "Yeah, we seen too many of our own people dead! We must find a way to save them!"

"I say we storm the gate and open it!" Someone yelled, "The Empire army is still not here yet!"

"I will seek an audience with the Grey Lord," Borse slapped his hand on the table, silencing everyone. "I want no one to do anything rash while I am gone! Is that clear?"

The gathered leaders grumbled but they nodded in acknowledgment. "Now, I want you all to check on your men, make sure everyone is ready, the Empire..."

"Captain!" The same scrawny soldier burst into the tent in a hurry. "The Meccan scouts are back and they report the Empire is here!"

-----

The bells in the entire city toiled and rang as news of the Empire army is within sight of the city. Soldiers were ordered to their posts in the walls, while the citizens of the city flocked to the tallest buildings or towers to catch a glimpse of the invading army despite it being at night.

Screams and frightened cries sounded from the gates as desperate refugees hammered at the gates, trying to force their way into safety. Those at the rear that was smarter quickly make their way away from the city, knowing that the Empire army's focus will be on the city instead.

In the distance, hundreds and hundreds of fire lights slowly emerged as the Empire army approached. The Empire army stopped at the very edge of the city defenses and made camp before the whole city where the citizens were watching with a festive mood.

-----

"My lord, we should launch a night raid while the enemy is still making camp and in disarray!" The commanders advised the Grey Lord who was observing the pinpricks lights from torches and campfires in the distance with a magical scrying spell.

"Do you know who the commander of the Empire army is before us?" Grey Lord asked mildly.

"I heard it is The Rock," One of the aides responded to Grey Lord's question.

"Ahh yes, the Scorpion King," Grey Lord sighed, "And you want to lead the cavalry out on a night ambush against one of the Empire's greatest generals?"

"Why do you think he parades his army before the city and sets up camp before your eyes?" He continued.

The commanders looked at each other with frowns on their faces, "Because it's a bait to trap any forces silly enough to attack them?"

Grey Lord nodded, "Rotate the men on the wall and make sure everyone had a good rest and ample food, it will be a busy day tomorrow morning!"

-----

Black Scorpion Legion I Camp

"Have the men rest," The speaker in heavy armor removed his helm, exposing his bald head, "Half the sentries too, give the men a good rest."

"But my Lord, won't the Two Nations launch a sneak attack tonight?" One of the armored soldiers gathered in the richly decorated tent asked.

"Knowing that bastard in that castle there," The Rock gave a grin, "He won't dare to move his forces."

"I want scouting teams out tonight," He continued as he took a flagon of wine from one of the serving maids, "Map the terrain around the city and also set up distance markers for our troops tomorrow."

"Should we prepare for a preemptive attack before the sun rises?" One of the Black Scorpion commanders asked.

"No, I got something better," The Rock grin went wider, "Prepare the Bronze men, when the moon is at its zenith, send them in to attack the city."

"But my Lord, the Bronze men..." The commanders looked uneasily among themselves, "We do not know their capabilities..."

"Do not worry," He assured the commanders, "I know what they can do, and I have my plans. Get the engineers to work on building the siege weapons and ladders. Now go carry out my orders!"

"Yes my Lord!" The gathered commanders and leaders saluted and bowed before they left the tent.

The Rock finished the wine and tossed the flagon away before he picked up the soul stone controlling the Bronze men and grinned, feeling the souls conscious of the ranks and ranks of turned people, that stood in silence at the back of the camp where none of the other soldiers were willing to approach nearer.

"The Two Nations wouldn't know what storm is coming for them!"

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