[So how many people did you bring?] I led off with.
Isaac drew himself up.
[I've got eighteen o' the villagers finest, as well as some of me old guards back from Midum. They'll give a good account of themselves, no doubt about it.]
[That's great Isaac, just fantastic. So your thought is to form a spear wall with less than twenty people against a horde of a hundred thousand monsters?]
[Well uh, not exactly, you see, uh … how many?]
[Did they tell you anything before they sent you out here?!]
[Ms Morrelia did try to explain the details of the threat but I was a little … distracted … at the time.]
This guy… I can only hope that he wasn't staring at anything he shouldn't have been, I don't think he'd have any eyes left if he had.
[Alright, look. We've got a powerful Kaarmodo wizard with a cadre of its slave people assisting a Crocodile that looks so thick it shouldn't be supported by the surface of the freakin' planet. I'm talking about a reptile so massive it should have its own moon! Surrounding those creatures is a horde of monsters almost 100,000 strong. So let's think about some hit and run sort of jazz, ok?]
[Y-Yeah] Isaac stuttered, [sounds good.]
[We are deep in the plops, aren't we?]
[All the way up to our necks, Isaac. Not going to be easy to dig out of this.]
[S'all right] Isaac chuckled, [I've been shovellin' most of my life. You couldn't have a better man along for the job.]
We sat down under the watchful eyes of the villagers and began to plan our strategy. With such a small number of fighters, we couldn’t hope to engage the horde directly in any form, not even using the methods the colony had adopted thus far. That goes double now that the Kaarmodo had begun to take a direct hand in the conflict. Everything had become much more fraught with peril and the risks we could take had to be minimised.
In those sorts of conditions, it was unrealistic to expect that this small detachment would be able to inflict meaningful damage on the enemy, so we should instead turn our goals to more reasonable objectives.
[What would those objectives be?] Isaac asked me.
[Levels] I told him firmly.
[Levels?] he asked, puzzled.
[Absolutely. Don't worry about killing the entire horde, just worry about killing. There's literally thousands of monsters out there. That means thousands of XP sacks waiting to be harvested. As long as we are gaining XP and levelling our skills, then we are winning.]
Isaac stroked his chin as he thought through the idea.
[Inflict some damage, and power ourselves up for the final conflict.]
[Exactly] I agreed.
I wasn't about to tell him that gaining XP was extremely critical for me, in order to ensure that I could evolve, that was secret colony only information, but this also happened to be the best strategy for he and his people to adopt. If it worked out well for both of us, then what's the harm?
I spent an hour talking to Isaac and having him pass my words on to the rest of his group. I told them about the scrying magic at play, the way the last ambush had panned out and the best methods we could use to attack the enemy without endangering ourselves.
Satisfied that we'd ticked all the boxes we could, the humans loaded up their gear and we moved out. As we marched, I noticed that it was quite easy to work out which of the humans in the group had come from the 'old school' villagers, as I thought of those who had been there in the early days, and those who had come in the latest wave, the people Morrelia and I had liberated as we moved through Liria.
The OG villagers were super respectful, almost reverent, in their attitudes as I walked along with them, whilst the newcomers were much more distrusting, their eyes flicking toward me and my pets often and their body language betrayed their nervousness.
Not that I was surprised or unhappy with that. If anything, their response was the more natural one. I feared that in time these new villagers would adopt the same attitudes as the old ones, perhaps more exposure to Beyn and his preaching would make this inevitable. That guy must have some seriously high levels in his preaching skills, like rank four at least. When he opened his mouth, every person nearby went slack jawed and vacant eyed until he was finished. It was crazy to see.
It took our group long hours of quick marching to get close to the front line. The horde was closing the distance to the nest and village with every moment that passed and I could feel it in the diminished time it took to reach the front lines. The humans set up camp in a concealed location in a copse of trees but I took it a step further and dug out a tunnel for Crinis, Tiny and myself to rest in.
When the morning came the humans spread out and began to move more cautiously, scouting the road from a distance for signs of the enemy. It was close to midday by the time we found them, the thick carpet of monsters that blanketed a ridiculous amount of ground. We crept about through some low hills, flicking our heads over the top to monitor the progress of the monsters that continued to follow the road.
It was interesting, I knew for a fact that the colony had covered that road in traps, pitfalls with spikes and even more shallow traps designed to break limbs and inconvenience more that lethal damage, anything to slow the approaching enemy down.
But it didn't seem that they cared at all. The horde continued to push down the predictable path, generally following the road around the forest and to the south and the front ranks of monsters simply fell into the traps impaling themselves on the spikes only to be pushed further into the pit as the monsters behind them piled on top. With the pit trap filled with their own bodies the monsters continued to walk forward and crunched their own members under their feet.
It was bizarre to watch, and I couldn't make out the details at this sort of distance, but it seemed as if the traps may cause more casualties than anything else we’d done, which felt cheap in some way.
As we drew closer and began to engage our sneak Skills, we took care to ensure we had eyes on the horde at all times. Due to the scrying magic of the Kaarmodo, it's possible that it knew exactly where we were, but so long as we kept our eyes open for monsters heading our way, we thought we could manage it.
Low to the ground, we crept forward. I even made Tiny lie down and crawl, something he wasn't particularly happy about. The closer we got, the clearer I was able to make out the finer details, and I began to notice something happening on the edges of the horde…