The human lord Clovis approached Slayer in a defensive stance. He held his shield upfront to protect his body, while he raised his sword horizontally above his back. Slayer rested his sword against his own shield as he approached Clovis, and he prepared to make his first move once he was close.
Upon contact, Clovis attacked first, swinging his shield from the side against Slayer’s own shield to open him up. Slayer pulled his head back as the bluish sword skirted across the air, then countered by stabbing his own sword forward.
Clovis dodged backwards, creating a gap between him and the large drone. He once again took up his defensive stance while Slayer pulled his sword backward into a swing against Clovis’ exposed left side.
The baron intercepted the sword swing with his shield, then grazed Slayer’s forearm with his sword. Even though Slayer had fought a lot, it was still not enough against an experienced warrior like Clovis. His friendly spar against Ecgbert couldn’t even match up to the reality of fighting Clovis.
In the eyes of the combat-tested Clovis, Slayer was just a novice swinging his sword like an actor in a play. He waited for Slayer to make a move, then punished his clumsy moves easily.
Every swing Clovis made was covered by his shield, so Slayer couldn’t even retaliate back. As his chainmail and fur pelt covering his arms were being torn apart by the bluish sword, he was beginning to be pressured by the baron. It seemed that the bluish sword was strong enough to even hack chainmail apart. Instead of directly blocking the sword attacks, Slayer was forced to rely on parrying, deflecting, and dodging.
Slayer decided to adjust his fighting style. He stopped attacking first, then placed his shield and sword to his opposite sides to anticipate the baron’s attacks. Clovis realized that Slayer began to take the defense so he tried to open up the drone’s guard with a swing.
Slayer’s shield met with the bluish sword, but Clovis wasn’t relying on the swing as he launched his shield forward. Thanks to Slayer’s inhuman reaction, he threw his sword forward to deflect the shield upwards.
Locked in place, Slayer smashed his head forward at Clovis’ chest. The unexpected attack caught the baron off guard as he took a few steps backwards. He spun his sword around to readjust his grip, then took his defensive stance once more.
‘Though he is better at fighting, you’ll have no choice but to rely on what makes you, my minions, strong,’ Custodian commented.
‘Affirmative,’ Slayer replied.
Slayer raised his sword to attack and caught the baron’s attention. However, he feinted his attack into a strong kick, knocking Clovis backwards. Although the baron was braced, Slayer’s inhuman strength kicked the air off his lungs as he staggered backwards.
Not even stopping, Slayer slammed his hilt against Clovis’ shield, then lunged to the side. The drone spun around and arced his sword around into a large swing. Although it wasn’t smart to turn your back towards the opponent, Slayer could see what the drones around in the room could see. He made use of the multi-perspective advantage he had to study the baron’s weaknesses and took the opportunity.
Clovis turned his head to avoid the swing, but his cheeks were still grazed by Slayer’s attack.
‘Lucky hit. But, you should be recovering from swinging-...’
The baron didn’t even have time as another swing came forth immediately after the last one. What saved him was his own survival instinct to raise his shield against the sudden attack.
Since Slayer was unfazed by fatigue, he was able to swing strike after strike and even stop attacks mid-swing to keep up his momentum of attack. On the other hand, Clovis was already getting tired even though it only had been minutes - or even seconds - since he had begun fighting Slayer.
‘I have to end this with one strike…’ Clovis concluded in his thoughts.
He concentrated all of his efforts in analyzing the seemingly amateur fighter, and he silently prayed to any divine being listening to him to give him the opportunity to strike his foe down.
As if his silent prayer was answer, Slayer raised his arm for a strike which caused his side to be vulnerable. Clovis didn’t even hesitate for a second to lunge his sword towards Slayer’s underarm gap.
But Clovis stopped mid-swing.
“Dishonorable… bastards…” Clovis’ last words left his mouth as he looked down on his chest to find a blade had ripped through his chest from the back. The owner of the blade, a huskarl drone he had stabbed in the chest earlier, pulled out the sword, then kicked the baron’s corpse forward before launching another attack at the nearest human.
The last remaining defenders surrendered their weapons and tried to plea for their lives, but the drones continued to cut them down without remorse. At last, the throne room was bathed with silence.
‘Status report,’ Slayer requested over the hivespeak.
‘Castle is secure,’ a drone had announced.
‘Material goods secured,’ another had reported.
‘Human non-targets causing disturbance,’ a drone declared.
‘Disturbance?’ Slayer asked.
Slayer and his huskarls went down to the castle courtyard to find his Vyssian allies shielding a few Rhankish troops from the drones.
“What is the meaning of this?” Slayer demanded as he approached the group.
“What do you mean by that?! These soldiers had already surrendered! There is only dishonor in killing unarmed prisoners!” Ecgbert shouted as he stood in front of Slayer.
Though the old man was much smaller than Slayer, he still stood straight and looked Slayer directly at his face. He pointed his finger at Slayer then said, “I don’t know which barbaric hole you crawled out from, but you’re fighting for Vyssium, so you follow our code of honor.”
Slayer stood still for a few moments trying to register what Ecgbert was saying.
‘Did we have another agreement which I am not aware of?’ Slayer asked over the hivespeak.
‘W-Well, you see, humans have a very abstract form of agreement amongst each other which they respect mutually,’ Red explained.
‘I do not understand,’ Slayer replied.
‘You don’t have to understand. Even I don’t understand…’ Red muttered back.
‘Just do whatever to appease the humans while achieving maximum profit,’ Custodian ordered.
Weaver approached the Vyssians then said, “Ah, you see, it’s just that we do things differently. You must understand that we came from somewhere else. We will agree to your… requirements, but we ask of something in return.”
“What is it? You’re already being paid, you know?” Ecgbert scoffed.
Weaver pointed at the dead bodies lying about and replied, “We wish to dispose of all the corpses ourselves, and to keep all the discarded equipment.”
“In return, you’ll leave the people that surrendered?” Ecgbert asked.
Weaver nodded and reminded the humans, “We already agreed that you get to keep the lands and that we keep anything not bolted onto the floor. But there’s one more thing I want to add to our agreement.”
“What is it?” Ecgbert asked.
“In regards to the prisoners, we will not be responsible for them. Their maintenance-... I mean necessities are your problem, not ours,” Weaver answered.
Aefelred joined in on the discussion and ran his hand through his beard. “What will be it, Ecgbert?”
“It’s unreasonable for us to be taking care of the prisoners since it’s these Varangians that have the army, but they’re only mercenaries. Send word back at home to get some men here to secure the land and prisoners,” Ecgbert ordered.
“I’ll get Gerard on it, then.” Aefelred nodded.
The castle defenders were kept in a corner while the drones worked around the clock. They stacked bodies onto carts, equipment were bundled in sacks, and the walls were being repaired by the same drones that destroyed them.
“Despite your people lacking in honor, you all are very terrifying,” Ecgbert noted as he watched the Varangians do their work.
“How so?” Weaver asked.
“You marched all the way here from Vyssium, immediately started to siege it, won the siege, then started cleaning the place up - all without resting. What are you people?” Ecgbert sighed.
“We have answered that before. We are Varangians,” Weaver nonchalantly answered.
“You people have a dry sense of humor, you know that?” Ecgbert shook his head then went back to his fellow Vyssians.
As the drones watched the old man leave, Slayer asked, “How could humor be dry?”
Weaver inspected various decorations and goods scattered across as he wandered around the castle. As he walked along the ramparts, he stopped to study the statues of winged wolves watching over the walls.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?”
Weaver turned to find Aefelred looking at the statue as well. He was running his hand against his red beard as he observed the winged wolf in detail.
“Did you know that Rhankish knights used to ride winged wolves into battle? It was said that, a few centuries, a disease wiped out all of the winged wolves in the region. Some say that a witch cursed the Rhanks, causing the wolves to turn against their masters. Others claim that there’s still some winged wolves hiding in Varangia to this day,” Aefelred said. “It’s some kind of unspoken tradition for males of the Rhankish royalty to spend at least a week in the forests of Varangia in a symbolic attempt to find the winged wolves.”
“You know a lot about these people,” Weaver noted.
“It can’t be helped. The Rhanks may be our enemies for decades, but they’re still our neighbors. When we’re not busy killing each other, we would be intermingling with one another. You could say that we share some similarities in our culture.”
“Vyssians and Rhanks are the same?”
“Eh, not really. I mean we have some similarities, but it’s not as close as our cousins to the south of Vyssium. Just to be safe, don’t say that Vyssians and Rhanks are the same, unless you want to be killed by both sides,” Aefelred warned with a hint of laughter.
As the two conversed, Eoforwic called out to the two, “Aefelred! Have you seen Weaver-... Ah, there you are. I have a request. Follow me.”
Weaver followed the old man behind until they reached the group of Rhankish prisoners sitting in the castle courtyard. There were a few concerned Rhankish serjents pleading with Ecgbert, who was trying his best to calm them down.
“What is the meaning of this?” Weaver asked.
“The Rhanks wants to see their dead lord,” Ecgbert answered briefly.
Weaver thought back to the human with the bluish sword, then shook his head. “He is dead. Why would they want to see him?”
“We want to pay our final respects, and send him off to join Humanos,” one of the serjents interjected in Vyssian.
“I do not understand.” Weaver shook his head.
“Well, you just have to bring the body here for them to see. We’ll take care of everything else,” Ecgbert said.
Weaver didn’t feel like trying to waste his time so he had the drones find Baron Clovis’ body and brought back to the Rhanks. The Vyssians placed a cloth mat on the ground, then laid the body down. The Rhanks placed small wooden figurines around the dead baron, and the Vyssians wrapped the baron in more cloth.
After that, Aefelred and Eoforwic placed the body on a pile of firewood.
“We’re going to burn the body. Is that alright?” Ecgbert asked.
“Why?” Weaver asked back.
‘What is this nonsense? They’re wasting precious matter!’ Custodian harshly remarked.
“The Rhanks wants to send the baron to join Humanos. They even offered him their effigies, so they probably respect him a lot. By releasing the soul from the body, the baron’s soul could join the thousand other souls that make up Humanos,” Ecgbert explained.
‘Soul? The human body releases a kind of creature called soul? That sounds interesting. When they burn the body, I want drones to follow the soul back to this so-called Humanos,’ Custodian ordered.
With permission given, the humans cremated the baron, and the Rhanks gave their final words. Warriors drones and flying scout drones awaited for a creature to come out of the burning body, but nothing ever came out.
‘Was I tricked?’ Custodian pondered.
“Is he with Humanos now?” Weaver asked.
“Indeed. He is now with Humanos, and forever he shall be one of the many that would guide humanity,” Ecgbert declared as he watched the fire burn.
‘It seems that we were too late! Next time, we’ll catch this Humanos!’ Custodian proclaimed.
Sigburt, Baron Clovis’ close aide, rode atop his horse leading a small group of levies back to Castle Norwind through a thick snowy forest. Clovis had sent Sigburt out to call out the levies in haste to bolster the castle garrison, but it would be impossible to realistically get an sizeable army within a few hours, so he had to make do with what he had at the moment.
“You think this is enough?” the knight riding next to Sigburt asked. They both looked back at the poorly equipped farmers marching behind them, all clearly disgruntled that they had to be raised in the middle of the night.
“For now, I think so. The siege began a few hours ago, and the sun is rising. If Baron Clovis is right, he should have held the first assault off and caused the attackers to rethink their strategy,” Sigburt answered. “We’ll bring these men to the castle, then go back to fetch more levies.”
“Still, I never knew the Vyssians were so rash to attack a castle without preparations,” the knight remarked.
“I don’t care about that. It’s a good thing our enemies are dumb. If the Vyssians are attacking this place, the other parts of Rhankia must be under attack as well. We should do our duty and pray to Humanos that this will be all over soon,” Sigburt said.
“Indeed…” the knight nodded, then raised his mail coif up when he spotted a few black figures standing on the road. “Are those Rhankians up ahead?”
The knight never got his answer as his throat was pierced with a bolt before he even realized it.
“Vyssians! Prepare yourselves!” Sigburt shouted as he unsheathed his sword and raised it up on the air.
Large men charged out of the foliage from the sides, wielding large axes. The Rhankish levies raised their spears but they were torn apart by the sudden ambush. Sigburt and his small group of knights were already struggling to keep the ambushers at bay, so there was little to say about how the farmers would fare.
Sigburt skillfully rode his horse around, kicking and slashing against the large men. He cut one down, then tramped two down just before slashing the arm of one of his assailants. The large men in fur armor stopped attacking Sigburt and his men then circled around them.
Just five knights and a handful of peasant levies remained as they formed a tight circle against the ambushers. Sigburt was carefully studying the battleground to find a way to break through, but something else caught his eyes.
Up on the sky, a flock of birds flew right above their heads in circles, and Sigburt squinted his eyes to see what those things were. He eyes widened when the ‘birds’ stopped circling above them and began diving down towards the Rhankians.
“Above!” Sigburt screamed as dozens of bird-like figures fell from the sky. Metallic birds with barrels as wings flew down then suddenly back up as they rained rocks onto Sigburt’s men.
The Rhankish knights fell off as their horses panicked, and some men were even injured badly by the surprise attack from above. The ambushers didn’t let the opportunity to go to waste as they charged at the battered Rhankians.
As Sigburt was surrounded, he was overwhelmed and had lost his sword in the ensuing chaos. He crawled onto the floor then begged, “Please let me live! I have money!”
One of the large men raised his axe and swiftly put an end to the discussion. The Varangians immediately began organizing the corpses and equipment as soon as the fight had died out.
‘It seems I should upgrade the flying scouts. Perhaps creating some air drones that could shoot projectiles? That seems unnecessarily complex, though…’ Custodian silently pondered as he analyzed the results of the fight.
‘Master Custodian, might I remind you that we have a wide variety of potions at your disposals?’ Apoth noted in hivespeak.
‘I see. We could indeed use the flying drones to drop the potions at targets. I will have to modify a few of the scout drones to specialize them in bombing,’ Custodian replied.
‘Master Custodian, I have ran into an anomaly,’ Arcturus reported.
‘Anomaly?’ Custodian switched to Arcturus’ vision. The speed demon who was supposed to be exploring the underground network was now blankly staring at an underground passage.
If it was anyone else, there wouldn’t be anything to remark, but Custodian was an A.I. with inhuman capabilities and memory. There should had been a dead end in where the passage was at. It was as if that the entire section of the wall disappeared without leaving any trace behind.
‘Where did this hole come from?’ Custodian thought to itself. It was sure that it mapped out the underground without a mistake, so Custodian’s processors began turning fast.
Arcturus went through the passage and noticed a stone arch carved onto the cavern walls. He inspected the stone arch, allowing Custodian to analyze and study it.
‘Could it be a magical barrier?’ Custodian theorized.
Whatever the case, Custodian began sending scout drones to explore every tunnel once again. He noticed that quite a lot of dead-ends had suddenly vanished, only to be replaced with open paths to unexplored passages.
‘It could be related to Red opening the barrier which allowed us to go above… or not. Anyway, what matters is that I got more areas to explore. Time to build more scout drones,’ Custodian concluded.