Emily Pitz point of view.
“Why does there have to be so much fog every morning?” Scanning the opposite canyon walls, my eyes cut through the haze, spotting movement in a rocky outcropping two miles away. Between two boulders, crawls out a Bark Thrasher. The grey and brown spotted lizard is three-feet long and must be searching for an early morning meal.
“You think we can hold the fort?” Looking over my right shoulder, I spot one of the morning patrols approaching me. “They grabbed a bunch of random squads and had us race out here. Of course, we won’t be able to hold the fort.” His friend complains.
As they near me, I make eye contact with the first soldier. It takes a minute for him to realize who I am. With his face paling of all color, he elbows his friend before he can say anything else. Straightening his back, he brings his fist to his heart and salutes me. “Good morning general! Northern perimeter clear!”
His friend was too slow in noticing me, he could only stand to the side awkwardly as his friend offers me a morning greeting. Realizing who I am, he fumbles into a halfhearted salute alongside his buddy.
Both standing at attention, they hold their breath, looking worst by the second as the silence between us grows.
Before one of them passes out from the burden of my gaze, I dismiss them both. “Carry on.”
“General!” With my blessing to leave, they lower their arms and almost trip over themselves trying run away from me without looking disrespectful.
Focusing my hearing on them, I listen in on their fleeing arguments. “Gods, do you think she heard us?”
“Shut up and move you moron! That was General Emily Pitz, the strongest woman in Olebert. We’re lucky she didn’t throw us off the ramparts!”
I wish I could afford to throw them over the ledge. I’m sure their comments mirror the feelings of the rest of the soldiers.
Why did I have to get assigned to this fort!? That stupid mist mage Algate, would love this place. He may be ranked as the 7th strongest in Olebert, compared to me as the 6th, but his magic would have excelled in this environment.
Scanning the misty horizon again, my strong senses allow me to cut through the weather, checking on the watch towers being hastily constructed at different strategic points around the Scarred Divide. The divide is the only entrance between Scholl and Olebert. The Razor Back mountain range acts as a natural barrier between our lands, and the peaks are infested with high leveled magic beasts, many of which can fly.
I spent many years hunting across those peaks in my youth, making me the best archer in all of Olebert.
Making sure the watchtowers construction is moving peacefully, I turn my attention to the fort. In the three days since I arrived, the patchwork to the walls and keep are finally showing some semblance of progress. This fort has only been used as a trading outpost between Olebert and Scholl, and hasn’t seen a fight in over 80 years. I was barely born, when this fort was last used in battle and subsequently given any resources for maintenance.
Stepping over a loose brick in the fortification, I mentally mark its location, and move my sight to the swarm of people camping outside the walls. The sun may be obscured by the thick fog, but the light is strong enough to push through the covering and wake the camp below. Once the first person leaves their tent, the people swarm like ants, as each rouses the attention of the person next to them.
Thousands of local villagers and merchants have flocked here for work with the news of Scholl’s imminent attack. Builders, with arms bulging with muscle, move to their designated work areas. Merchants are selling daily necessities and any recreational items soldiers are willing to pay for. The camp even has tailors and miners trying to make a profit. We need stone blocks from the surrounding mountains, and with so much work happening tailors are stitching everything from clothes to tents.
It always amazes me how much war can spur a local economy. When there’s work and money to be had, commoners could care less about a possible war. More than half of these people would turn around and work for Scholl if we fail in defending the fort.
With my sweep of the outside surroundings covered, I turn my attention towards the courtyard. 200 new recruits have already started their morning training. Divided into three sections, the first thing we’re teaching them is archery. Defending our walls requires good archers. The recruits are lined up and told to hit a target at a hundred paces. A few are former hunters, so we merely have to teach them the signals to listen for in a battle. Most however are destitute men looking for food and shelter and have no prior skills with a bow. Only once they can shoot an arrow properly, we will teach basic swordsmanship and how to handle a spear. It’s up to a handful of my most talented warriors to prepare these solders for the coming battle. It will be their ultimate test to ready this sorry lot in less than a week.
The outpost had 120 guards stationed here, when our spymasters sent word that Scholl would attack within the month. His highness immediately sent myself and 700 troops that were ready to move out at a moments notice. I managed to recruit some trainees as we rapidly traveled to the fort, but that only gives us roughly 1,100 soldiers, 18% of which aren’t even trained yet.
“How’s the progress going, Cristopher?” Turning around I make eye contact with a dark corner of the battlements.
“Progress is slowing again. After three days of you pushing them so hard, most workers and trainees are exhausted.” Following the voice, my steward Cristopher emerges from the shadows. Covered in black robes, his smile annoys me as usual. He constantly tries to sneak up on me, despite the situation we’re in. He looks slightly younger than me, appearing to be in his middle thirties. Judging by his vitality glow, he’s in his fifties, probably 30 years my junior. He was assigned to me by the intelligence division and approved by the king, so I couldn’t officially complain about his character. That said, if I wasn’t starving for more solders, I would have put an arrow in his smug face days ago. Blaming his death on Scholl would be easy.
“Tell the workers they can take a break, but those who keep working will receive a bonus. These walls are still falling apart, and Scholl could be upon us any day now.” I keep my back straight, and make sure my eyes convey the seriousness of my request.
Still smiling, he takes a step back, trying to hide once again in the shadows. “We don’t have the budget to give any bonuses. The new recruits require the most of our free coin, the budget we were given by his majesty is almost completely accounted for.”
“Then tell the soldiers they’ll be paid after the first battle. Depending on our losses, we should have enough coin to keep the builders motivated. This strategy was employed 500 years ago, during the warring periods of the continent. It allowed armies to hire more soldiers and laborers after each battle.”
“To think, the great General Pitz would count on the death of her soldiers, and consider it as a good thing.”
With that remark, I release my many pressure skills on the disrespectful cur. “Say that again, and I’ll kill you no matter where you try to hide from me!” I hate men like this! Even being assaulted by my skills and threats, he can still stand there and smile at me.
“I meant no disrespect, general. I was merely shocked with your callousness.”
“Funny, you look neither offended nor surprised. In case I need to spell it out for you, we are the only defense against Scholl, till a proper army can be mustered for a proper defense. Depending on who’s leading Scholl’s forces, the surrounding lands could be spared or ransacked at a moment’s notice. If this fort falls, Scholl will have easy access to three cities, 27 villages, and almost 20 thousand lives. The kingdom hasn’t seen a large-scale attack like this in 50 years, we’ve grown soft in these peaceful times. I will have this fort ready to receive Scholl, if I have to make you help the builders move each stone into place! Make sure that it’s done!”
Turning around, I continue to check the work on the battlements. Cristopher’s presence fades into the shadows, but my senses easily pick him moving rapidly towards the barracks. I debate shooting an arrow at his feet, maybe then he’ll understand my feelings.
Taking a step, I push off slightly with my right foot, launching myself into the air. Keeping my balance, I soar through the sky for only a moment, before I land on top of the nearest observation tower.
Landing silently, I look at the three men surveying the canyon.“Anything to report?” Each jump at my question, and draws their bow as they turn to face me. I watch their expressions turn from anxious fear to a more respectfully fearful look. Lowering their bows, all three sound off as one. “No General! Everything’s quiet.”
“Good response, men. Just remember to check your whole surroundings, including your back. You never know what could be sneaking around you. You are the most important part of the watch, if something happens to you, we’re all in trouble. Carry on!”
“General.” The three salute me as I take another step, propelling myself over the towers edge, dropping twenty feet to the battlements below.
“I can’t believe we just saw the general up close.”
“I didn’t hear her approach at all, and I have the Sensitive Ears skill.”
“I heard she likes scaring new recruits like that.”
Why must rumors always paint me in the same light as Cristopher? I don’t enjoy startling my warriors! It’s a general’s job to test their forces. I just use one of the ways my mentor taught me, proper situational awareness is key in any situation.
Maybe I did pick the wrong time to test them? Maybe I’m starting to become too tired to properly judge situations accordingly. I haven’t slept for three days and could only rest sporadically on the long march out here.
Everything seems quiet, so I should take this time to properly rest. My stamina has been taxed constantly these days, and I need be ready for another night of spotting Scholl spies.
Vaulting along the ramparts, and using exposed bricks as footings, I quickly scale the southern side of the keep, entering my room through the window. I chose a small room in a section of the keep that hasn’t been renovated yet. The door leading from my room is barricaded on the other side by a pile of bricks that have fallen from the ceiling above. Only a handful of people know I’m using this room and I intend to keep it that way.
Knowing I’m in a secluded room, I can finally release some of the tension in my body. Walking over to my mirror, I clean myself with magic. “Ahyt ls weem appiss!”
My greyish hide armor is enchanted to repel dirt, but even Deep Dragon hide can’t protect my skin and hair from all the moisture in the air mixed with the dirt the construction produces.
My light brown hair, regains its rich color, and in one quick motion I pull out two greying hairs and toss them on the floor. I don’t like what this stress is doing to my hair. I’m still young at 87, with my Vitality I shouldn’t start getting grey hairs till I’m 100. Maybe some sleep will help?
Content with my appearance, I place my bow and quiver on my night stand. Keeping my armor on, I crawl on top of the creaking bed. I’m not sure how old this bed is, I hope it can handle me for a few hours.
Laying down, I miss the days I could fall asleep like a normal person. People who reach a level like mine, can never truly sleep again. The higher a person’s status rises the less they need to sleep, further complicated by the extra energy in the body, falling asleep is a challenge upon itself.
Different people have their own solutions to the problem. I once met a dwarf who would drink a gallon of his strongest brew, just to take a nap. I like many other high leveled people turn to alchemy. Reaching inside my pocket I pull out a small vial of sleeping tonic.
The thick purple liquid inside hardly moves as I gently shake the vial. With one finger, I pour a little bit of mana into the vial's stopper, allowing me to open the small container. A light fishy smell emanates from the opened vial and my Danger Sense lightly pings in my head.
A normal person would die from even a drop of my tonic but with my Resist Poison skill and high status, this is the only alchemical concoction that can help me sleep.
Placing my tongue against the vials rim, I let only a few drops touch my tongue before I reseal the bottle. Closing my eyes, I feel my body forcefully shutting down. My muscles enter a state of rest for the first time in 17 days. Even the naps I took on the road here would never allow me to experience the peace I feel now. Ever so slowly my consciousness fades, and I can fall asleep, albeit lightly.
Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang!
Throwing myself out of bed, I grab my weapon and move to the windowsill. I reach the window as my bed splinters behind me from my quick movement. Following the sound into the distance, my eyes search through the sunset and locate the sound. Our farthest observation tower is signaling an approaching army.
The sound travels to the next tower and they take over the signal. Leaping back out my window, in midair I watch the farthest tower start to evacuate. The protocol is once the next tower takes over the signal the previous tower evacuates and rushes back towards the fortress. The towers were only constructed as a quick solution to spotting the enemy, their defenses wouldn’t last ten seconds against any type of attack.
The closest tower starts signaling, as I land in the courtyard and start striking our signaling bell with my bare hands. The two men standing next to the bell flinch at my appearance, and start yelling at me for signaling a false alarm before they recognize who I am.
With my first few strikes, the keep freezes as all heads turn towards me. “Keep signaling!” I stop striking the bell, and leave the two men to continue signaling the fortress about the approaching army.
Inhaling deeply, I activate my Loud Voice, Defense Formation, and Valor skills. “Everyone to your stations! Scholl is approaching! Prepare yourselves!” My voice echoes across the battlements, and my skills spur the solders back into action.
I leap towards the closest wall, and then jump again landing on the nearest watchtower. The camp of workers below is a frenzied mess of activity. People are tossing their supplies in wagons and some are already fleeing for the closest city. Only a handful of merchants and builders retreat inside the fort, with the soldiers returning from the watchtowers, they’re the ones betting on us defending against the approaching army. Having the only extra supplies, they’ll make quite a bit of coin… if we all survive.
Looking away from the fleeing commoners, I see Cristopher talking with one of the tower runners. Each watch tower has a soldier with movement skills, who has the job of reporting the formation and numbers of the approaching forces.
There’s too much noise for me to single out their conversation, but after a few quick words, Cristopher dashes up the battlements heading straight for me. Not 15 seconds later, Cristopher appears by my side, for once with a worried look on his face. I thought I would be happy with the smirk gone from his face, but the victory seems hollow in the moment.
“How bad Cristopher?” My even voice gives him a little courage, easing the stress on his face. I stare at the remaining watch towers, watching our men sprint back to the safety of the keep.
“General! The towers report the enemy reaching approximately ten thousand strong. With four mage battalions, and fifteen siege weapons. The back of the forces also appears to be transporting ladders and plenty of supplies.” Cristopher’s frown worsens after repeating our dire situation out loud.
“Did the towers get a good look at the commander of their forces before retreating? Anyone dressed like they’re going to a weird ball, and not a battle?” I let the numbers settle in my head. Even if the enemy outnumbers us, as long as Scholl didn’t send one of their five guardians, we have a small chance.
“The towers didn’t report anyone matching that description, but they did spot a man stationed near the back with a hat sporting blue feathers.”
“Blue feathers you say!?” A small smile crosses my lips. “That means their commander is above level 80. Depending on his skill set we could have problems, but they must not have heard that I arrived three days ago.”
“This is the first time I’ll be seeing a Scholl commander. I’ve heard about their feathered hats, and the costumes of the guardian five, but I didn’t realize they would give away their levels like that.”
“It’s Scholl’s culture to show off their might before their enemies. We stopped their spies from returning through the pass after we arrived, and I easily hunted those trying to signal with magic. A level 80 commander would normally be overkill to crush whatever forces we could have sent here in time. Usually I or any other high leveled person needs a lot of time to prepare for any sort of battle. I just happened to be preparing to hunt a strong monster in the woods close to my territory. That said I only have four of my special arrows. His majesty said he would place an order with the dwarves for ten more, but they will only arrive with our backup.”
“Can you hold the Scholl forces back with only four of your special arrows commander?” Not only Cristopher but the other archers on the tower are looking at me with hope in their eyes.
“Humph.” Looking over the tower’s ledge, I watch as the last of the merchants flee, and notice most of our soldiers from the watchtowers are nearing the keeps gate. Checking one last time for enemy spies, I turn to address my subordinates. “Who do you think I am? I’m General Pitz, the sixth strongest warrior in all of Olebert, the strongest woman in the kingdom, and the best archer around. Four arrows?! I could make this army retreat even if I didn’t have a single one of my special arrows!”
Matching Cristopher’s gaze, my proclamation of strength restores his former smile. The other four archers are brimming with new found confidence as well. “You four go reinforce the surrounding towers; this one is mine.”
“Yes General!” The four shout and barrel down the stone steps, their firm resolve kindling hope in every solider they pass.
“Cristopher!” I tun to my steward. “Yes General!” He responds with a wry smile at my dismissal of the surrounding archers, it seems my pep talk rekindled his snarky attitude.
“Get me a communications mage up here, and go help organize the new recruits. We have one hour of light left, and I can see Scholl’s forces appearing in the distance. I’m not sure if they plan to attack straight away, or if their commander will decide to set camp for the night, either way I want our forces ready in the hour. Understood?”
“Clearly General!” turning back towards the canyon, I feel his presence moving away rapidly.
Reaching over my head, I grab one of the four arrows in my quiver. The magic radiating off the arrow can be seen by the naked eye without any skills. The magic pressure coming off of my arrow would kill a level twenty person if they ever tried to pick one up.
These four special arrows are strong enough to withstand my tier 5 skills, each one is a single chance for me to turn a battle in my favor. Too bad only the stone kin know how to make them, and each cost me 5 large gold coins.
Sliding my arrow back into its quiver, I focus on the steadily approaching army.
I hope I don’t disappoint Cristopher or my men, they needed to see my confidence, so I told them what they wanted to hear. The truth is I can’t remember the last time I was at such a disadvantage. We’ll be lucky to hold the fort for a month, let alone last the winter before our reinforcements arrive. I’m not sure if even I have the skill to protect this dilapidated fort against their siege.
Watching our enemies inch across the distant horizon, a vicious smile crosses my face. There is one thing I’m sure of.
I will bleed Scholl for every inch of this land. I might not be able to stop them here, but with my men’s help, we’ll litter the landscape with as many of their bodies as we can.
I stand ready as the world shifts around me. Time becomes meaningless as I watch the foreign army set up camp outside our range.
One of our three communication mages is standing behind me but I ignore her and in turn watch every movement of Scholl’s army. She knows her place and hardly makes a sound, afraid she might ruin my concentration.
I watch as their mages set up ward spells and how they organize their camp. As my eyes travel from tent to tent, I continue to count.
A little under ten thousand people. Subtracting their noncombative forces, we’re looking at roughly 8,500 soldiers.
With the sun finally receding, campfires dot the landscape making their forces look twice as big.
In the darkness, I watch a small entourage escort an elderly man to the front of their camp. His blue feathered hat, sways in the nights breeze. He has six bodyguards that I estimate to be close to level 80 as well and three mages weaving defensive spells around their little group. We haven’t had time or resources to set up our own warding spells, so I can only imagine the info they’re gathering on us.
They’re most likely scanning the fort trying to determine our numbers because I can see a little shock on their faces. They were probably expecting no more than 400 defenders instead of our almost 1,200. They still outnumber us seven to one but that means less in a defensive battle.
“Cristopher, call our best mages over here. Quickly!” the communications mage looks startled as Cristopher materializes off to my left side from the shadows. “Right away general!”
While waiting for our mages to arrive, I continue to focus on the Scholl commander. I can tell he’s a support class. He’s most likely focused on Vitality and Endurance, and his best skills probably affect others as a whole. He’s probably twice my age and has led many battles for the glory of Scholl.
He knows how far away he has to be, and still keeps other high leveled bodyguards just in case.
After a few minutes of observation, Cristopher returns. “The best mages we have, general.”
Turning around, I face the seven mages before me. Level 40, 35, 50, 50, 65, 60, 40, I don’t even have a quality mage to help me defend the keep. Not one of them is over level 70.
“You, you, and you two.” I pick out the four above level 50. “Yes general!?” They all respond with curiosity and fear.
“I want the four of you to chant different enhancement spells. I need you each to cast the best you can do in three seconds.” Only the level 65 mage has the guts to ask me why. “Why the time limit general?”
“I’m going to kill their general, and they’ll notice the magic quickly, giving us a small window to act.” My words stun the surrounding mages and Cristopher. I can’t waste anymore time so I continue with my directions. “As soon as I fully nock my arrow, you have exactly three seconds to cast your magic. Prepare yourselves, we only have a single chance.”
Turning back to the enemy’s camp, I can still see them casting their scrying spells. Reaching behind my back I draw one of my special arrows. Cristopher takes a step back and the mages freeze sensing the might of the arrow in my hand.
I give them a few breaths to calm their selves, before I take my stance. The world becomes solid beneath my feet as Sure Footing and Archers Stance take hold. Leveling my bow, I marvel at its simple design. There are no inscriptions on the surface of the white wood, or is it metal? The man my family bought it from refused to tell us the material it’s made from. It holds no enchantments but is strong enough to handle my stats combined with my skill levels.
Long Shot, Exceptional Aim, Silent Strike, Enhanced Perception, Strong Bow, Perfect Draw, my skills activate one after another as I pull the drawstring back with my arrow in place. Even with everything I have it still takes four seconds to fully draw my bow.
Once the arrow is fully nocked, I hear the mumbling of the four mages surrounding me. One second, my hand is trembling. Two seconds, I slightly adjust my aim. Three seconds, I empty my mind and drop all my fears as magic reinforces my body.
The Scholl elite forces have noticed something is wrong. The bodyguards tighten their formation, and the mages are preparing a stronger defensive spell.
I release my fingers and fire my arrow.
“Instantaneous Strike.” I tell the darkness surrounding me the name of my tier 5 skill. My mana halves itself and I lose a tenth of my stamina. My body becomes weak as the arrow disappears into nothingness. I hold myself up as I watch my arrow reappear a foot in front of the Scholl’s commanders head. Without any of the force being lost, the arrow obliterates the upper half of his body and creates a crater behind his still standing lower half.
The arrow, still standing in the middle of the crater, turns into ash with the nights breeze.
Stumbling to my knees, I can’t help but pronounce my success to my surroundings. “Got him!”
As the mages and Cristopher celebrate, I try not to show the pain I’m in. 5 large gold coins, 500 mana, damage to my stamina that only rest can solve, and a cooldown of five days; but it was worth it.
I was given a single opening, and in their lax opinion of our forces, I might have just evened the field.
Reaching behind my shoulder again, I feel the three remaining arrows. Three hopes that we have at winning this siege. We still have a major fight coming to us but this should delay their attack for a few days.
Then the war begins.