Master Pacore the Deathless’ Point of View:
"This is revolting," I remark as I kick my boot through the charred remains of the field. "Did your nobles not think about the people they left behind in the city?" I turn and ask General Pitz, who's silently standing behind me, also looking over the fields of ruined crops. As far as the eye could see the earth was a desolate wasteland, with not a single sprout in sight.
Judging by the sour look on her face, she also doesn't agree with these scorched earth tactics, but her agreeing with me hardly makes up for the blatant waste of food.
My spies told me the city was rushing to harvest everything they could, but I never imagined they would burn everything they couldn't pull from the earth in time. Winter has just finished, and everyone's food stores should be low. Even if we don’t attack and just wait here, Drey would fall to starvation in a few short months, without us having to lift a finger.
I glance at the city in the distance, its beauty tainted by the plundered and scorched earth around it. Drey's walls are better maintained than Teeburn's were, but my scouts have already sent word back on several weak points they noticed. The wall has been maintained to keep the beasts from the forest out, not an invading army.
Even more disappointing are the siege weapons they’ve erected on top of the walls. Most, if not all, of the trebuchets and catapults, look weathered beyond use. The few ballista's they have were clearly built in the last week and obviously haven't been properly tested.
It's hard to pick out individuals on the wall from this distance, but they're too few moving bodies, indicating a skeleton guard holding the city.
“I thought my spies were underestimating Drey in their reports, but now that I’ve set my eyes on it, I can only say they were generous in their evaluations," I smirk at my magically restrained companion.
"It will still take you longer to take the city than it did, Teeburn," is the only response I get.
I let out a hearty laugh, "that's true. And even once I have the city, it will take a lot of work to get everything organized for us to move on to the next one."
“Do you believe you have enough supplies to do that?” I know General Pitz is trying to extract as much information from me as she can, but other than my apprentices I left behind to hold Teeburn, she’s the only person who can stand my presence without crumbling to her knees. It won’t be a problem if I give her a few snippets of information, even if she’s eventually ransomed back to Olebert.
“It will be hard,” I tell her. “Food is already a problem for my people.” General Pitz smiles, thinking I’ve just admitted my weakness. “I’ll need to have all these fields resown as soon as possible.”
The general frowns when she notices how calm I am. She underestimates my and my people's resolve to survive. Every one of our soldiers knows what's at stake; each one of them would gladly pick up a hoe and start farming if it meant saving their families back home. It won't be needed thanks to our superior planning, but they would if they had to.
As soon as I saw the scared lands around Drey in the distance, I instantly sent word back to the fort, giving them the go-ahead to start marching our farmers in this direction. Every farmer, fieldhand, and overseer, along with their families who the water dragon displaced, are headed in this direction to start farming immediately.
The general believes we will have a hard time controlling so many cities through military might alone, and she would be correct if that were under normal circumstances.
This corner of Olebert has long fallen to the wayside, a weakness I will be happy top exploit. We will bring such business to these cities; the people will sing Scholl's praise until they're blue in the face.
Of course, knowing everyone is on their way here, we can’t just wait out the city. “I’ll see Drey fall to me before sunset tomorrow,” I boldly proclaim, with only General Pitz to hear me.
General Pitz wisely doesn’t comment, knowing any rebuttal she makes will only stroke the flames of war.
"It's almost time; let's head back to camp," I motion for the general to walk next to me.
With all the sealing bracelets on her, the general moves at a slime’s pace, but I don't mind. We eventually make our way back to our camp, where everyone is preparing for battle. I brought only a fraction of my troops so we could move faster, but seeing our enemy's defenses, I could've made do with half my forces.
“Master Pacore, Master Pacore,” one of my communication mages runs up to me.
"Yes?" I ask in a low tone, projecting my status. When you're as strong as me, you can't just smile at a common soldier; it makes them think something is wrong.
“Reports back from the other side of the city!” The communication mage salutes me.
“And?” I stick to my one-word questions; that’s usually the best option.
"All of the cities gates are closed and barricaded. They appear to have most of their forces stationed on the walls in front of us, but they do have scouts watching the rest of the perimeter," he reports.
“Sir! We managed to detain four last-minute carts that we think tried to flee the city as we arrived.”
“Anything of note?”
“Nothing much, sir. Three of the carts had valuables, so we secured them in case they were local nobility trying to escape.”
“And the fourth?” If he didn’t include it with the other three, there must have been something suspicious about it.
"The fourth was a large cart drawn by four Silver Bivol. The merchant stopped when we flagged him down; the only thing is…" The communication mage pauses.
"Spit it out, boy!"
The communication mage straightens his back. "Sir, other than the merchant and his two bodyguards, the cart was empty."
"Oh?" My eyebrow raises curiously. "Did you search the cart thoroughly?"
“Indeed, Master Pacore. The cart was scoured inside and out, but we found no hidden messages or goods of any kind."
“Curious, what did it appear he was hauling?” I grill my suburbanite; they should’ve at least checked that much.
“All we found was small chunks of rock and some empty crates. It looks like the merchant was hauling some sort of ore, but there were signs of a struggle. It appears that they escaped from some bandits recently. Maybe they had to ditch their cargo.”
“Did he have any money on him?” I ask.
"Not much, sir. The merchant barely had a gold coin to his name; the bivol and cart were the most valuable things he had, even as damaged as they were." The mage freezes in the middle of his report for a moment and casts a quick receiving spell. "Word form the far unit, sir. They’re wondering what you want them to do with the people they captured.”
I stroke my beard, thinking. It sounds like the merchant they captured is one of Silver Herds people. They’re the largest merchant organization around; it would be useful to be on their good side. “Escort the three suspected nobles over to our camp. Tell the unit to let the merchant go peacefully. Hopefully, word will spread word of our generosity." I smile and chuckle while the communication mage takes a step back. This is why I like talking to General Pitz; she doesn't cower when I make a joke. She gets mad.
“I’ll get right on that, Master Pacore,” the communication mage salutes me, waiting for my signal that he can leave.
"Dismissed," I say once again, using my low-tone of voice. The mage scampers off like I'm about to chase him down.
I should've brought Tabitha with me; she could've been my go-between for all these commands. Tabitha might not follow me stat build wise, but she's still the best of my current students, maybe one of my best of all time.
Sighing, I can't help but remember how old I am and how many faces I can no longer put names to.
In my earlier years, I only took on students who emulated my path. Many became strong shields for Scholl, but none were able to replicate my success.
"Hey, old man, wake up!" General Pitz's voice pulls me out of my thoughts.
I turn to her, “do you need to use the chamber pot again?”
The general's cheeks turn red as she motions to my side. I look over to see one of my platoon commanders is standing near me, scowling at my captive for her disrespect. Huh, I didn't even notice him approach me. Was I that caught up in the past?
It doesn't help that I no longer feel danger as I once did. It takes a special breed of person to harm me. If ever a day should come that I do die in battle or by the hand of an assassin, I hope my stats allow me to survive long enough to offer them a proper congratulations.
I move my head from side to side to loosen up my tendons while I shake those thoughts from my head. I'm not dying today or any day until my homeland is free from that blasted dragon. "What is it, commander?"
The fully armored commander stops eyeing General Pitz and salutes me with gusto. "Master Pacore, our camp is set, and the men are ready to form ranks, on your command!"
That's the good thing about traveling in smaller numbers, organization is much easier with fewer people. "Good, spread the word that we're going with our double shield strategy again. But this time, inform the mages they're only to target the siege weapons."
“Sir?" The commander is confused by my orders. The quickest way to make a city surrender is to kill as many of its defenders as quickly as possible, reducing their morale.
I guess I should explain, so he can adequately inform everyone. "Commander, our goal isn't to sack this city and move on. We're to occupy Drey once they surrender. I don't know about you, but I don't wish to defend broken walls or worry about angry civilians if Olebert decides to become proactive and attack us."
“I understand, Master Pacore. I’ll see that every person shall know of your orders.” I dismiss the man with a nod.
"You plan to take the city without attacking it in earnest," General Pitz gives me a look that says she doesn't think my strategy will work.
“If there were real soldiers up on that wall, I’d have to attack, but those aren’t soldiers,” I grin and point out the frantic people up on the ramparts. “Those are city guards and conscripted men, forced to defend their city. Watch and see how they hold up against a true army.”
General Pitz grits her teeth in frustration, probably imagining herself leading the defense. I’m almost tempted to let her go so she can help them make things more sporting, but I don’t have time for games.
Our signal whistles blare as my men start forming their ranks.
“You,” I call out to a random soldier running past me.
The young man skids to a stop and salutes when he sees who I am. “Master Pacore, sir!”
“I have a special job for you,” I tell him. “Take the captured general to my tent and watch over her until I return.”
The young man takes one look at General Pitz and starts shaking under her intense glare. “Master Pacore, I don’t think someone like me should,” he stammers out.
I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “Her abilities are sealed so tightly she can’t walk a mile without becoming winded. A man at your level should have no fear of her as she is now,” I reassure the boy.
“I’ll rip your throat out with my teeth,” General Pitz snarls at the young soldier. The poor man takes a fearful step back from the defenseless general.
"Really?" I turn to her. I can't fault her for trying to cause me trouble any way she can. I guess I'll need to resort to the forceful approach.
“Are you disobeying my orders, soldier?!” I raise my voice and exert some of my pressure. A few soldiers nearby stop what they’re doing when they hear me.
“Of course not, Master Pacore,” the soldier lowers his head in submission.
"Good. Now get the general to my tent, and make sure nothing happens to her, or you'll have me to worry about instead of her."
“Right away, Master Pacore,” The young soldier almost sweeps the general off her feet; he's fleeing so quickly.
Time to get ready!
My hand instinctually travels down to the sword at my hip, as I start rolling my shoulders. Adjusting invisible armor is a pain but not as bad as having it charged. I’ve managed to learn how to feel mana over the years but like most, controlling it is beyond me. Every morning, select mages visit me and top off all my gear with their mana.
My armor, sword, and other gear were all specially made for people like me who can’t manipulate mana. Unless I’m in a battle, my magic items can function for three days straight. Of course, in a major battle like the siege on Fort North Ridge and my subsequent fight with the general, my armor’s charge dropped to 35%. My armor isn’t useless when it’s not charged, but I run the risk of the enchantments being damaged if I fight when it isn’t. And my gear is not cheap to replace.
Magic stones capable of keeping a magic item running for days on end are considered national treasures. You can remove a magic gem from a broken magic tool if designed properly, but the gem will never be the same. Each time a magic gem is removed and placed in a new magic item, it becomes weaker until one day it shatters.
I know this all too well because this is my third set of armor. Back in the days, I served under the previous king and was presented with this armor; the magic gem could hold eight days' worth of mana. After the first time it was severely damaged and replaced, the magic gem could only hold six days' worth of mana. The last time I broke my armor was years ago, back when Scholl was much more active in our campaigns, and after that, my new armor could only hold three days' worth of magic.
It's hard to guess if the magic gem inside my armor will last another transfer, but that's a problem for whoever receives my armor after I'm dead. I may be old, but my skills have never been stronger, and I don't see my armor failing me anytime soon. Especially not here in this battle.
Once I make my final adjustments, I find the nearest communication mage and have them spread the signal to form ranks, officially starting our siege on Drey.
I activate the magic tool that shields me from sight and start walking down the center of my troops. Anyone who's fought me before would know my formation, but it’s the most effective against new foes.
I picked up this tactic fighting the warlords of the west. Their soldiers were always zealots worshiping battle, even more so than myself, and it took an extreme show of force to demoralize them.
As the guards upon the wall prepare their few siege weapons and spells, I remember the first time I implemented this strategy.
If I remember correctly, it was while we were sieging a warlord’s castle in the summer. The battle had already gone on for four days straight without our opponents showing any signs of forfeiting their hold on the keep when my crazy idea came to fruition.
Since then, this formation has always left the same impression on my opponents.
My men's shields go up as we march into Drey's firing range. I thought they would start firing immediately in a disorganized fashion, but instead, they hold until more of my soldiers are in their range. At least they aren't complete fools.
But unlike the lengthy stare down we had with General Pitz, Drey’s defenders release their first waves of attacks as soon as they think they have enough people in their targeted area.
Defender of All
I activate my favorite tier 5 skill.
As if everything was aimed at me from the beginning, every spell, bolt, boulder, arrow, everything curves in the air and diverts to where I’m standing.
The world becomes silent as I activate my many defensive skills.
The first to hit are the spells. Drey mustn't have many remaining mages because only two siege class spells are launched at me, both of them sub-par. I don't even count the lower-tiered spells that wash over me like a light rain. Forcing all the spells to converge on my location causes many of them to collide with one another. When spells collide, it reduces their overall strength by a good margin effectively canceling a good chunk of them out.
Spells of this caliber aren't able to hurt me, but they still kick up a large dust cloud, where two of my lesser-known skills come into play. I focus on my Danger Sense skill, predicting where the large boulders and bolts will land. It gets harder to predict their trajectory when skills boost projectiles; however, sadly, Drey doesn't seem to have anyone competent in working their siege weapons.
Activating my Dancing skill, I smoothly dodge each boulder and bolt as they land around me. Few know of my love of dancing, but I recommend it to each of my students to improve their footwork.
A few competent archers, around level 50, tag my armor with their arrows, but that's all.
When the dust starts to settle, and I make my presence known, my army cheers, further demoralizing Drey's guardians. It's easy to spot the panic in our opponents' ranks after seeing me appear unscathed from their attacks. To them I’m only wearing a simple uniform without any armor. Scanning the walls, just as I predicted, two of their catapults and one of their ballistas have broken after their first volley.
I should show them what a real attack looks like just to educate them. “Fire!” I yell using Loud Voice.
My commanders echo my orders, and my mage battalions unleash utter destruction against their pathetic siege weapons.
After a few continuous volleys from us, nothing remains on the ramparts other than their soldiers cowering in fear. They tried to protect the siege weapons with shielding spells, but once a few of our spells soared near the undisciplined mages, they dropped their magic to prioritize their own self-preservation.
Is taking this city going to be even easier than Teeburn?
Now that it's relatively safe, I summon over three communication mages from either side of me. "Send word out to the mage battalions; I want them to continue peppering the walls and the city with loud and flashy spells that do little damage. Then I want you three to make my voice loud enough so that the whole city can hear me."
“Sir!” They all acknowledge my orders and quickly get to work.
I thought I would need to assault the city for a whole day before I could break them, but judging how many people I see fleeing the ramparts, over half their forces must be deserting their stations.
I take note of a few brave men and women still trying to hold the walls. Our mages switch tactics like I ordered them to and start launching flame spells that are bigger and brighter than usual ones that lack any real substance behind them. Most spells like that only do damage with their blast waves, so they shouldn't damage the walls or the city much. But they will be loud and cause chaos amongst the people.
“Master Pacore,” One of the mages addresses me. “We’re ready to broadcast your voice to the entire city.”
I feel their mana wrap around me and solidify into their combined spell.
"City of Drey, I am Master Pacore the Deathless, and your city will surrender to Scholl's rule!" I can hear my voice echoing behind the city's walls. If they had any decent mages left in the city, they could've quickly terminated my broadcast, but seeing how the spell holds, I take it any remaining mages are long past trying to hinder us.
“I demand council with your city’s lord to discuss your immediate surrender. We are not here seeking wealth or to slaughter innocent civilians. Our bombardment will end as soon as your lord makes an appearance on the walls or the gates are opened. Make haste; I'd rather not burn down half of my city."
I signal the three mages to stop transmitting.
Now it's only a matter of time before the city is ours. If the lord doesn't come to speak with me, he'll have a riot on his hands.
I wish my apprentices were here to bet with me on how long it will take. I'd try asking the general for her opinion, but I doubt she'd feel like guessing how quickly she thinks one of her cities will buckle under our might.
As the general of this army and as the strongest person here, it's my job to stand and watch how everything plays out. If I were a lesser man, I'd be back in my tent waiting for a response from Drey, but that's not me. I stand proudly in front of my soldiers, waiting for a response.
Not that standing here for two hours isn't the most boring thing ever. In the beginning, I was at least occupied by the occasional arrow aimed at me, but those stopped after the first few dozen bounced harmlessly off my invisible armor.
I'm about to start considering sitting down at least, when I see someone waving one of Drey's flags, trying to signal me from the wall. I've already given out orders to stop our barrage if such a thing should occur, so it doesn't take long for our mage battalions to stop casting their magic. My men are under orders to retaliate heavily if this is a trap, but the battlefield goes silent until then.
As I make my way over to Drey’s wall I get a good look at the man waving Drey’s flag, he appears to be in his thirties, practically a child in my eyes. With everything quiet, I can use my skills to communicate without needing a mage, so I just shout up at him. "I thought I demanded the city's lord to make an appearance; who are you?"
Even looking up at this distance, I can see the young man's face is pale and covered in sweat. "The city's lord is out on business to the neighboring city of Blaiton. I was left in charge in his absence," he shouts back down to me, fear in his voice.
I'm honestly, 100%, shocked! It takes me a whole minute to come to grips with what this young man just told me. The city lord had the gall to flee his own city! If such a thing happened in Scholl, he'd be executed in front of his people!
I have to bite back the anger rising in my throat. How could this be acceptable? Now I need to convince a scared child to open the door to his house. “Then does that mean you represent the city?” I ask.
“It does,” he answers in a quivering voice.
"Fine, then open your gates, and we'll stop our attack."
“How do I know you won’t kill everyone once I do so?!” At least the lad has a head on his shoulders.
“I’m willing to enter by myself and sign a contract of surrender with you if I must,” I tell him.
The young man takes a while to think over his options. More than once, I see him look over at my experienced soldiers who are still in perfect formation with a look of utter dread. Poor lad, even I feel bad for him. It isn't his job to make these kinds of decisions. I'm honestly scared to see the state of the city if this is what I have to deal with.
"I'll allow you into the city to discuss the details," the boy eventually agrees to meet me face to face. One of the soldiers next to him whispers in his ear. "And have your army move back, as well," he hastily adds.
“I agree to your terms,” I call out, signaling my nearby commanders with had gestures. As one, my army retreats while maintaining its formation.
I make my way up to Drey's main gate with a prideful strut and wait for them to open the small metal door next to it that leads into the walls. The door opens as soon as I'm a few feet away from it, and five heavily armored and armed guards burst out to secure the area. They're all in the level 50's range, meaning they’re the strongest soldiers here.
I'm escorted through a small tunnel and up the many stairs leading to the city's ramparts without a word from my guides. I measure my steps, making sure not to move to quickly. I don’t want to startle them.
You can smell the old brickwork and feel the dampness in the air as we make our way to our destination. I'm not sure if that's from their winter just finishing or if these are signs the wall isn't properly being taken care of.
When I finally taste fresh air again, I'm standing on the ramparts, able to see my men in formation in the distance as well as finally laying eyes on Drey. The city looks abandoned; everything is boarded up, and not a soul is walking the streets. Drey doesn't appear to be in as bad a situation as Teeburn, but who knows how many people are still in the city. If more than 30% of the citizens have already fled it could be difficult to get the city in working order, even with reinforcements on the way.
I'm escorted over to a spot nearby with a small field desk. The young man who negotiated with me is sitting there. Up close, he looks even younger than I thought; possibly he's only in his late 20's, he's dressed as an aid to a noble would be. His black hair is in disarray, and his panicked expression only grows more pronounced when he sees me approaching.
I boldly stroll over to the small desk and sit across from the young man like the guards surrounding us don't bother me in the slightest. He looks like he wants to say something, but I'll be taking the lead in our discussion. "It is polite for both parties to announce themselves in these situations. I am Master Pacore the Deathless, one of the strongest people in Scholl; who are you?"
The young man swallows a lump in his throat, and most of the guards watching us flinch at my introduction.
“I’m Jason Hailes, aid to the city lord and current highest official in the city."
I can't help but snort, causing young Jason to flinch back. He's probably not even the head aid to the city lord, or he would've introduced himself as such. “Do you know how this works?” I ask him.
"Yes," he doesn't answer confidently. "The two of us discuss the terms of surrender for the city. I think we should first talk about what will be the city's new tax laws under your rule."
What is he doing?
"Then we can talk about citizens' rights," Jason continues despite the frown on my face.
Is he trying to piss me off?
"Securing enough food for everyone is also an important matter," he nervously continues.
No, I see what he’s doing. He’s trying to stall for time. It was probably the last order given to him by the city lord.
"Enough!" I interrupt his ramblings. All the guards around us level their various weapons at me. "I did not come here to negotiate daily affairs; I came here to sign a binding contract stating I won't kill everyone in the city. This city will be under Scholl's control from this day forward. We'll decide how we wish to run the city."
"You can't just force us to sign anything. You're in our custody now!" Young Jason tries to put on a brave front; he might be of some use in the future.
I start off chuckling before I break into a hearty laugh. "I hate to tell you this kid, but even if all the men on this wall got together to kill me, I’d still walk out of here without even a scratch. I could kill all of you myself and take the city single-handedly if I was inclined to. The only reason I came up here to talk was to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power."
The guards with their weapons drawn step back, and I noticed a few others listening in take-off in fear.
“I can’t just give you the city,” Jason grits through his teeth.
"You can and you will," I tell him in a firm tone. "You said it yourself; you're the highest authority in Drey at the moment. That means you're responsible for the lives of everyone in the city. I can spend the next day destroying your walls and making my way into the city, slaughtering all the guards as I go. Or, you can surrender and be guaranteed safety."
"I won't be executed?" Young Jason asks me.
“No executions,” I reassure him. “In fact, you’ll be promoted. I need someone who knows the city and its surroundings as I’m sure you do. And I can promise you; you'll never be left in a situation like this again."
“Truly?” Jason asks, his bottom lip quivering.
I nod my head. "Draft up what I tell you to, and we can both sign it."
A smile crosses my face as I walk Jason through our contract. He's a trained aid, so he quickly picks up how he's supposed to form the document so I can't go back on my promises. He'll be invaluable in controlling the city.
After we sign at the bottom, Drey is officially under Scholl’s control.
I stand on the ramparts watching the setting sun.
My men have already confiscated the guard's weapons and long since sent them home, taking their place on the walls. We have regular patrols moving throughout the city, but opposition is few and far between. An optimal outcome.
“I should’ve said I would take the city before nightfall,” I joke to my companion.
General Pitz is still steaming after I just got done telling her how quickly the city fell and my negotiations with Jason. “A bunch of cowards, all of them,” the general spits on the ground.
"Hey, don't spit on my new wall." The look the General gives me could kill a lesser man. I think I've teased her enough for one day, so I'll give her a bit of good news. "If it makes you feel any better, everyone who escaped Drey is mounting a proper defense in Blaiton. Apparently, someone believes they can defeat me if they have enough time to prepare." I laugh to myself.
“You’ll get the fight you’re looking for,” General Pitz says in a low tone.
I don't answer her, but I hope she is right.
Taking Teeburn and Drey feels hollow after my fight with the general. I crave a real challenge, real battle, a chance that I might die, no matter how small that might be.
But first, I'll need to get this city in order before the refugees start showing up. I sent word to the King asking for skilled leaders to run the cities I conquer, but I don't know who was sent.
At this rate, it will be at least a month before I can march on Blaiton. Let's hope they don't disappoint me for the third time after I'm graciously giving them so much time to prepare.