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Dawn rose over Moon Wolf Citadel, the clouds painted a bloody red. The night had been long, and the light revealed how much damage had truly been done. His face impassive, Thorn stared out over the scorched field that lay in front of the citadel wall. According to the scouts, the Crimson Snake camp was in shambles after the night time raid. Between the trap in front of the citadel wall and the chaos caused by the Night Walkers, the enemy had been reduced from 1700 down to 1100, with over 600 enemy soldiers falling.

The trap had taken down just over four hundred and fifty soldiers who had died to arrows and spells. But the truly surprising thing had been the devastation caused by the Night Walkers, who had claimed a full one hundred and fifty enemies through assassination during the chaos. Confused about how they had been so effective, Thorn had talked to Elder Havva, who had showed him the poisoned dagger that all the Night Walkers used.

A simple cut was enough to drop a player, especially when left untreated, and ingesting the poison only made it work faster. The Night Walkers had slipped through the crowds, ambushing players they found alone and wounding as many as they could. By the time that they were discovered, it was too late to save most of their victims, and they slipped away into the darkness.

While the night had gone as well as Thorn could have hoped, he was still concerned. He had a nagging feeling that something was going to happen today. The Crimson Snake camp was still there, and the ringing of axes floating from the forest sounded the preamble to a bloody day of fighting. The sound had not stopped since the night before, and siege towers were starting to rise at the edge of the pass.

“I guess we know what Ouroboros’ answer is,” Thorn remarked to no one in particular.

“Was that ever in any question?”

Hearing Velin’s voice, Thorn glanced at her before turning back to watch the Crimson Snakes hurrying around.

“No, I don’t think it was. He made it pretty clear where his priorities lie. And they are not with us.”

“They are not with Ragnarok either. Which is why he stood by while Angdrin lost. This is the curse of power. Once you have it, you have to keep it. And to keep it, you have to get more of it.” Velin sighed, pushing a wisp of hair out of her face. “He was not always like this, you know.”

“No?”

“No. He used to be quite gentle. But between the pressure from his family and a few key disappointments, he grew cold. Hard. He raised walls around his heart and learned to manipulate others into doing what he wants.” Velin shivered, remembering Ouroboros’ magnetic voice from the night before. “It seems like his class has just added to his abilities. Be careful of him, Thorn. He gives me a really dangerous feeling.”

“Yeah, me too. And it is highly likely that we have used up any possible goodwill that he had toward us last night.” With a shrug, Thorn straightened up and stretched. “Time to eat some breakfast. I have a feeling we’ll need quite a lot of energy today.”

It was almost ten in the morning by the time the remnants of the Crimson Snake army marched on the pass again, this time with Ouroboros at their head. He had not bothered with a helmet this time and had replaced the Crimson Snake flags with his own Blood Guard flags. Of the remaining 1100 soldiers, two hundred of them were members of the Blood Guard, forming the most elite group in the army.

Dragging four hastily constructed siege towers with them, they stopped outside of arrow range. On the wall, Thorn, Mina and Velin stood with Captain Del’har, Elder Havva, and Horvir, the leader of the Freemen.

“This is going to be tough.” Thorn pointed toward the siege towers. “The last attack was anger driven, without thought or plan. In fact, it is highly likely Ouroboros instigated it in order to get rid of Angdrin. Our raid last night went really well, but we’ve only cleared the chaff. The true elite core of the enemy force is still there. Our advantages remain what they were previously, but those siege towers will be a problem.

“Thankfully, they were put together pretty quickly, so they should not be that sturdy. Let’s focus our attention on destroying them as fast as possible. Captain, we need four teams to target the towers. Please organize those. You’ll be leading one and Mina, Velin, and I will each lead another. Elder Havva, we will be committing our whole force to this battle. Please organize the remaining disciples that have not yet participated in two groups. I’d like to deploy them in the towers on the front wall to provide help clearing the wall should the enemy make it up.

“Our strategy will be fairly simple: do our best to ensure that the enemy does not get a solid foothold on the wall and delay. I don’t have any illusion that we will be able to win a direct fight against their forces, so we should avoid direct combat as much as possible. However, if we can delay until this afternoon, we should be able to pull out the victory.”

“We have reinforcements coming!” Mina’s brow had been furrowed, showing how much effort she was putting into thinking about Thorn’s words. As realization dawned, her face lit up with a smile, and she shouted, as if she had discovered the greatest secret in the world. Seeing her so pleased with herself, the rest of the group burst into laughter.

“Correct, Oberlin is on his way.” When the laughter had subsided, Thorn continued. “Alright, everyone has their orders. Let's take our positions. Horvir, please stay, I have a couple things I want to talk to you about.”

“Yes, my lord.” The leader of the Freemen saluted as the others split up to take their positions on the wall.

After a hushed conversation with Horvir, Thorn took his place on the wall with the others. Just like the day before, the Freemen were spread along the wall in teams of four with hunters standing by to help. Today the disciples of the Temple of the Moon had also been deployed, hiding behind the large wooden shields.

“Steady!” Captain Del’har’s voice rang out across the wall as the siege towers began to rumble forward. Unlike the mad rush of the last attack, the enemy army moved slowly forward. The first two rows of the army held shields in front of them, trying to provide the army with some cover against the waves of arrows that were sure to come. Behind them, the siege towers were being pushed toward the wall.

Due to their hurried construction, the towers were simply frames with three sides covered, leaving the back completely open. Each stood thirty five feet tall, ten feet higher than the wall, and contained a drawbridge opening on the top. Built almost entirely of wood, the towers were effectively a one use item, but, should the attack succeed in breaching the wall, that would be enough.

“Steady!” Still, the captain did not give the order to fire, his eyes locked on the advancing troops. While the enemy had entered into the maximum range of the Freemen longbows, the arrows would be spent by the time they had traveled that far and would deal little damage to the shield-wielding soldiers.

Time seemed to slow and crawl by at an agonizingly slow rate. Despite the day being cool, Thorn felt a bead of sweat roll down his cheek. Unblinkingly he kept his eyes on Ouroboros’ dark-armored figure at the back of the enemy force.

Across the field, Ouroboros frowned. He had been hoping to waste some of his opponent’s arrows by baiting them into attacking his shield warriors, but they had not fallen for it. It would seem that the mysterious Lord Greymane had a competent military commander.

“Tell the vanguard to advance at normal speed. Our goal is to breach the wall as soon as possible, so hold nothing back.”

“About time.” The leader of the Blood Guard, a heavily scarred half-orc nodded, bloodlust rising in his eyes. “Advance! For Ragnarok!”

“For Ragnarok!” The shout echoed out over the pass, and the whole army accelerated abruptly, sweeping across the field.

“Steady! Steady… Fire!” At the captain’s command, hundreds of arrows arced over the battlefield. Immediately after the first arrow, the archers reached down, taking a second arrow and sending it flying at the enemy. Sacrificing accuracy for volume, the defenders rained arrows down on the battlefield as fast as possible.

Thorn watched the enemy streaming toward the wall, a slight smile curling the corner of his lips. The arrows were not dealing much damage to the advancing soldiers, but really, that was not their true purpose. Thorn’s slight smile blossomed into a grin.

The soldiers at the front of the the charging army lifted their shields to ward off the falling arrows as they sprinted forward. In the real world, charging like this in full armor was a death sentence, as they would be too tired at the end of the charge to fight, but in Nova Terra, their armor weighed almost nothing, enabling them to quickly cover long distances and still operate at full fighting capacity.

Running forward at full speed, the first few soldiers felt something strange under their feet but were moving too quickly to shout a warning. With an echoing crack, a long trench, jaggedly cut, appeared underneath their feet, sending them plunging down into the earth. The soldiers behind them tried to stop as well, or tried to jump over the pit, throwing their lines into disarray.

“Focus on the shields!” Captain Del’har shouted, directing the archers to target the shield warriors trying to cross the wide pits. Thorn had spent much of last night after the army’s retreat quietly digging out a trench that spanned the width of the battlefield. Due to his strength and endless stamina, Thorn could move earth better than an army of diggers, and it had only taken him six hours to riddle the battlefield with traps.

The Dusk Walkers and hunters from Greymane Village had showed him how to stretch thin cloth over the trenches and scatter dirt and ash over them to make them blend in to the burnt ground. As soon as any significant weight was applied to them, the cloth would collapse, sending the person who stepped on it tumbling into the pit.

If he had the time, Thorn wanted to add spikes or something dangerous like that, but he had barely been able to finish before the plain began to grow light, so he had to put that part of the plan aside. Still, he felt quite proud when he saw the enemy army falling into the deep trench. Six feet wide and eight feet deep, the trench zig-zagged this way and that, making it extremely difficult to determine where it began and where it ended.

The Crimson Snake army slowed to a crawl, the momentum of their charge stopped by the deep trench. While many of the soldiers who fell into the pit lost a good amount of health, few actually died in the trap, and soon a ragged line of shields formed on the far side of the trench, trying to block the arrows streaking in from the wall. With the added layer of protection, more and more soldiers climbed their way over the pit.

Almost one hundred shield warriors had fallen to arrows as they tried to climb out of the trench, but once the shield wall was re-established, the number of casualties began to fall. On the wall, Mina glowered. The trench had been her idea, and she had hoped that it would take more enemies out.

“It was well worth it.” Thorn was all smiles. “The first trench will slow them down, the second will slow them down even more. Both were great ideas. Remember, our goal is not to kill them all, we just need to slow them down.”

“Killing them all would slow them down.” Mina glared at the enemy army, her voice heavy.

Thorn looked at Velin, slightly concerned. The elf, catching his gaze, nodded and stepped forward, putting her arm around Mina’s shoulders. Giving her a squeeze, Velin pulled her away.

“Let’s get ready for the fight. They will be here sooner than you think.”

On the battlefield, the shield warriors had begun to push ahead again to make room for the rest of the army. Walking instead of running, they tested the ground for more traps, making detours around them when they were discovered. The large siege towers stopped before they reached the trench, pausing while soldiers began to collapse the sides of the trench to create a large bridge for the towers to be pushed over.

The ringing of axes echoed across the battlefield again, and the bridge was soon reinforced by newly cut trees. Balancing the towers precariously on the bridge, they were pulled over. Spreading out again, the towers resumed their advance, pushing toward the citadel.

Ahead of them, curses began to ring out, mixed with laughter from the wall. Only fifty feet from the wall, the shield warriors had discovered another deep trench, though this one was a bit different. Rather than dropping straight down, this trench featured a long sloped side that dropped more than ten feet down into the earth, ending abruptly with a ten foot wall of dirt.

Just short enough that the tower’s exits were too high to be easy to use, the wall of dirt would require the ladders to climb. However, if the ladders were being used to climb up the wall of the trench, they could not be used for climbing up the citadel’s wall until the whole army finished getting over the trench.

On top of that, the endless rain of arrows had not let up for even a moment, and once they were within fifty feet of the wall, the shorter distance would make the arrows all the more dangerous. Not to mention, the whole army had heard about the magic wielded by Mina and Velin the night before, and fifty feet was perfect range for the Ice Witch and War Priestess’ spells. Looking at each other in frustration, none of the officers wanted to be the one to order their forces to breach the dirt wall. Without a doubt, the group that did would get obliterated.

“Let our glorious leader decide.” A grizzled looking native officer spat on the ground. Already upset by how many of his men had fallen, he had no interest in sending the rest to their death. Nodding, the others agreed and sent a soldier to call Ouroboros up to the front.

A few moments later, staring at the newly discovered obstacle, Ouroboros began to swear.

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Did you know that Book #2 and Book #3 are already finished? If you've enjoyed what you read and are interested in reading more, please consider supporting me at www.patreon.com/SethRing where you can read the rest of Book #2 and all of Book #3. You’ll even get advanced chapters from Book #4! Come explore the world of Nova Terra and help me determine where the story goes.

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WildCard

Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.

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