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“Have you ever seen magicite like this?” I ask Sandra.

 

"The most magicite I've seen in one place was your storeroom," Sandra tells me while she stares wide-eyed at the walls of the mine.

 

"Really?" I ask, surprised. "I'd thought magicite would be a lot more openly traded in Drey, especially for mages? Master told me how magicite is rare in large quantities but not exactly hard to find in general."

 

Sandra shakes her head as she moves over to the cavern's wall and starts touching the protruding chunks of mana-dense rock. "I'm sure that's true from a Stone kin’s perspective, but magicite is mostly traded between mages and the wealthy. The average person doesn’t need magic items, meaning magicite itself isn’t needed. My master explained that magicite is actually one of the only cheap magic materials out there because the items that use it are more expensive than the ore itself."

 

"Huh," I remark. You learn something new every day. "Be careful with your hands. Magicite is crystalline in nature and can be quite sharp. Also, don't try to use your Sense Mana on it; you'll get a killer headache," I warn Sandra.

 

She carefully pulls her hand back before looking at me like I'm an idiot. "I'm not a child, and of course, you'd get a headache. Magicite is almost pure mana; if anyone other than you tried to directly sense that amount of overwhelming magic, they'd be knocked unconscious.”

 

"No one exactly taught me these things, ok?" I try to defend myself. Sandra continues to wearily shake her head, like an older sister berating their sibling for doing something ridiculous.

 

I huff in annoyance and move to the other side of the cavern. I do this partially to get away from my patronizing friend and partially to distance myself from her, so when I swing my pickaxe, she isn't harmed by any falling rocks.

 

“Everyone makes fun of the village girl for not knowing anything,” I playfully pout. Sandra starts giggling at my obvious overdramatization. “Keep your mouth shut unless you want to know what magicite tastes like,” I give Sandra one last warning as I raise Master’s pickaxe.

 

The pick glows as I fill its enchantment with mana. Using pinpoint accuracy, I slam the pickaxe into the rocky surface with all my Strength. I might not be as good as Master yet, but I still cause a small explosion of rubble with every one of my swings.

 

The enchanted pickaxe makes short work of the magicite walls, easily carving its way through the magically infused stone. Briefly looking back, I see Sandra watching me work with the kind of rapt attention people have when they're watching something be destroyed. Knowing my friend is watching me only drives me to work harder to impress her.

 

Even though it's entirely unnecessary, I activate Double Strike and Weighted Strike together. The two skills combined tear down hundreds of pounds of magicite as if the rock was made of foam. I have to remind myself I only have so much room in my cart before losing myself in the mindless digging.

 

Finished, I reabsorb the magic in the pickaxe and heft it onto my shoulder. While I look over my handiwork, I hear a light clapping behind me. Turning around, Sandra grins at me. "That was pretty cool. You're amazing; you know that?" I immediately start to blush under her praise.

 

I try to hide my face from Sandra, but my light spell overhead acts like a spotlight, drawing attention to my reddening face. "Thanks," I simply respond.

 

“I should be thanking you for bringing me along.”

 

“I thought it would be nicer hanging out with you rather than dragging Master down here,” I jokingly laugh.

 

Sandra has been hanging out with me in Master’s clearing a lot more this past week. She still spends time with her family and Richard, but when she’s not with them, Sandra is hanging me. Even when we’re not working on the formula for engraving ink, Sandra watches me forge or practices her magic off to the side. Master grumbles that his clearing is a lot louder these days, but I can tell he doesn’t mind having her around.

 

I mean, the two of us can't possibly be louder than when I’m blacksmithing, can we?

 

"I might have followed you down here even if you didn't invite me," Sandra grins at me. "I heard rumors of what it's like in a magicite mine, and I wanted to experience it for myself."

 

"Really; is it that exciting?" I ask.

 

Again, Sandra looks at me like I’m the weird one. “What mage wouldn’t want to feel this level of ambient magic?”

 

"I've been down here so many times; I guess I don't feel it that much anymore," I wryly remark. Sure, there's extra mana down here, but it isn't exactly hard for me to absorb mana from my surroundings. If anything, I find the extra mana annoying now. Usually, I can control how much mana I absorb, but the mana tries to force its way into my body when I'm down here. But thanks to my physical stats steadily increasing along with my magic skills, I'm able to block over 90% of the extra mana from entering my body.

 

“I should practice my earth magic while I’m down here,” Sandra excitingly tells me.

 

“Won’t all this earth mana poison your mana network?” I remind my friend.

 

Sandra shakes her head at me again before straightening her back and going into teacher mode. “If I was practicing any other type of magic, maybe, but as long as I only use earth attuned spells, it will reduce the stress on my mana network."

 

"You can do that?!" My surprised voice echoes in the chamber.

 

Sandra nods her head and grins at me like she’s expecting me to praise her. I’m too busy wondering how I missed something like that, but it makes sense. Our bodies convert ambient mana into our own magic reserves. That magic is what we use to shape spells in return. When I cast my cleaning spell or other spells, I’ve seen how my magic attunes itself to the element of the spell I’m using. I should’ve been able to guess I can mix in the ambient mana my body absorbs into my spells as long as it fits with the magic I’m casting.

 

Maybe I didn't realize this because I mostly absorb earth mana from the ground. After all, it's the slowest and easiest mana to work with, but none of the three spells I know use earth attuned mana. I should try pulling some of the fire mana from the forge next time I’m working and see if it improves my hovering light ball or small flame spells.

 

“All this extra mana is perfect for me to practice a few earth spells. It will help with my reduced mana pool,” Sandra’s comment pulls me out of my thoughts.

 

“What’s wrong with your mana pool?” I ask her.

 

Sandra brings her hand up to her stomach. “A quarter of my mana pool is protecting the baby.”

 

“Really?” I exclaim.

 

Using Sense Mana, I look at Sandra's mana network. She's right; a large chunk of her mana is revolving around the growing fetus. Her mana is creating a blanket, protecting the growing baby from any ambient magic her body absorbs. It's been a couple of months since I met Sandra and brother on the road to Drey, and since then, I haven't scanned her with my skills. Sandra is still in her first trimester, and the baby is still microscopic, but it's developed a lot since I had last seen it.

 

“Heyyyyy!” Sandra wraps her arms around her waist defensively.

 

“What?” I try to act innocent.

 

“You were scanning me again,” Sandra looks at me accusingly.

 

"How could you tell?" I ask her, not exactly denying her accusation. Unlike Sense Soul, Sense Mana isn't intrusive. Sandra shouldn't have been able to tell I was using the skill on her.

 

“You kept staring at my stomach like you were trying to see through it, obviously!”

 

I sheepishly look away. “I was just curious, is all. It’s not like you don’t check up on your baby.”

 

“It’s my baby!” Sandra stresses.

 

“Fair enough,” I admit.

 

I move over to the cart I brought and push it closer to the rubble I knocked down. Grabbing a shovel, I start scooping everything into the cart.

 

“I need to get one of those mana obscuring tools, like you have,” Sandra complains, moving closer to me now that I'm not tearing down the walls.

 

“It will have to be a good one if you want to block me,” I joke.

 

Sandra blankly looks at me, not impressed with my flexing at the moment. “That isn’t funny.”

 

“Sorry,” I quickly apologize. “As soon as we finish the engraving ink, that’ll be the first thing I make.”

 

Sandra snorts, but a smile starts to creep back onto her face. “You better after all the time I’m spending helping you.”

 

The two of us share a laugh while Sandra stands nearby, content to watch me shovel the magicite. Our conversation falls into a lull right up until I have most of the cart filled.

 

“How’s the discussion with your parents been going?” Sandra questions.

 

I let out a small sigh and not because I’m tired from working. "It's ongoing," I tell her. "You know how my mom can be. And this time, she has dad on her side."

 

“They still want to go to Scholl with you, huh?”

 

“No matter how many times brother and I tell our parents it would be safer for them to stay here, they don't listen. Thanks for having Richard help me convince them, by the way," I smile at Sandra.

 

"No problem, but he's still worried about you just as much as they are. We all are." It's sad to see my friends so concerned for me, but at the same time, I'm happy they care so much.

 

“Thanks,” I tell Sandra as I finish shoveling the last of the magicite. I throw my shovel and pickaxe on top of the ore, preparing to leave.

 

“That’s what I’m here for,” she beams at me.

 

“Is that why you’re here?” I joke as I start pushing the cart out of the magicite cavern and toward the mine’s exit. “Because I thought you missed me or something.”

 

"Well, that too." Sandra walks next to me. "Have you figured out where Pacore's student is going to stay? They're supposed to be here soon, right?”

 

“Don’t remind me," I grunt. "Pacore said 'she' would be here soon, and it's been almost two weeks now.”

 

“It’s been what?” Sandra starts counting with her fingers. “Five, eight, twelve days since Pacore left the village. Did he say where she would be coming from?”

 

"Nope, not a word. But if she were in Drey, she'd be here by now, so I guess she was in Teeburn or maybe even Scholl itself. Who knows how long it will take her to get here?" I push the cart of magicite up the gradual incline of the mine.

 

“But what are you going to do when she does get here? Is your family going to host her?"

 

"It's hard for my family and me to plan anything regarding her because we have no idea what she's like. What if she's an old weirdo like Pacore?"

 

"Didn't Pacore say she was his student like you? How old can she possibly be?"

 

"Pacore is ancient," I point out to Sandra. "For all we know, she's older than Granny Gellar."

 

"That would be funny," Sandra giggles. "Soooo…. you don't have any idea where she would stay?" For a second, Sandra smiles like her mom, and I know she has something planned.

 

“You going to tell me your diabolical plan, or are you going to make me guess?” I press her.

 

“Listen to this,” Sandra starts explaining her plan to me.

 

And the more she explains to me, the more I want to get behind her idea. Everyone wins, well…… Sandra and I will be the big winners.

 

**********

 

Master Pacore the Deathless’ Point of View:

 

"Master Pacore, your orders, sir?"

 

“Have the away units set up around each of the city’s gates. We can't have them getting ahold of any more supplies."

 

“It will be done immediately.”

 

"And young Jason…" I turn to address the young man beside me and stop when I remember it isn't Jason but one of the communication mages. The young mage doesn’t so much as twitch when I call him by the wrong name; he just waits patiently for me to finish my orders.

 

I clear my throat, pretending like I swallowed something wrong. "Excuse me; have the men start constructing three siege towers. Two for defense while the third will help us punch through the gate."

 

“By your orders,” the mage salutes me and steps aside to broadcast my orders to every unit.

 

Once I’m left alone, I start running my hand through my beard. I can’t believe I addressed that young man as Jason. This is the fourth time I’ve done that since I started my march on Blaiton, and the fourth time I’ve felt like a fool for doing so. It was right of me to leave him and General Pitz behind, but I miss the young man’s company. But as I predicted, this battle will be a lot more complicated than the last ones, no place for a child such as Jason.

 

Standing on a small hill, I survey our surroundings. We reached the city a few hours ago and are in the middle of establishing our main camp. Much like the siege on Fort North Ridge, I can immediately tell this will be a real battle. Blaiton has had ample time to prepare for us, and they didn't waste it.

 

The city has a trench dug around its walls, and all the water from the melting frost has turned them into one long mud trap. There’s a small bridge, maybe ten feet across, that stretches over the ditch to the city’s gates, but chances are it’s booby-trapped seeing as how they conveniently left it for us.

 

Unlike Drey, I can clearly spot thousands of figures stationed on the walls, along with plenty of siege weapons. And most of all, unlike Drey, there is a spark in the air. Blaiton believes they can hold us off, the complete opposite of what the skeleton force left in Drey felt.

 

It would be nice to order my men to form ranks and charge the walls, but this fight won't be that simple. Blaiton might not have someone at General Pitz's level, but they’re more prepared and better staffed.

 

To make things more challenging, I need to take the city in a way where we can march on Yleles soon afterwards. My spies tell me Yleles and the earl's fort are only held by a token force at the moment, so we can’t give them a chance to reinforce themselves. I can also see some of the soldiers are sporting Drey’s guard uniforms, meaning there are effectively three cities worth of defenders packed onto those walls.

 

Not even I will be able to take this city without incurring some losses.

 

With our forces stretched thin, I don't have the option to send for backup either. I would love to discuss these issues with Jason or mess with the General to distract myself from my problems, sadly, neither are here at the moment.

 

I continue to stroke my beard as small platoons of soldiers take off to circle the city. We don’t have enough men to surround the city altogether, but I can certainly make it difficult for them to receive supplies.

 

Sieges are usually won by one side outlasting the other. For a country like Scholl, which prides itself on its strongest people, usually, such tactics would be considered a sign of weakness, but I have to be smart with what I have.

 

Instead of ordering my best soldiers to lead a charge, we’ll build a few siege towers. They’ll take the brunt of the force from Blayton’s siege weapons while we try to knock in their front door. I still plan to stay true to Scholl's methods of overwhelming force, only this time, there will be much more planning involved.

 

The downside is that the preparations will take days to set up correctly. Days of soldiers silently judging my methods without anyone to bounce ideas off of. It’s important for my image that my men never see me as weak. I can never complain to a random soldier, I can’t just sit down and explain myself either; no, I need to remain the unbreakable wall to all my men.

 

"Why didn't I bring Jason with me?" I groan aloud. No, bringing him would've been a mistake, I have to once again remind myself. This isn't a stroll to another village or a quick skirmish before the city surrenders. With everything the local nobility has done to prepare for my arrival, I have to assume they have assassins and other saboteurs prepared as well. If I brought young Jason along with me, he'd be one of the first people targeted. And no need to think about what would've happened if I brought General Pitz with me; Blaiton would stop at nothing to recover her.

 

It was the right decision to leave the two of them back in Drey. I’ll send for them after I take the city.

 

After I secure Scholl’s future.

 

**********

 

Aaliyah’s Point of View:

 

“Your friend not coming today?” Master asks me from his bench.

 

I smile at him as I stoke the forge. "You're just assuming she's coming here every day now?" I ask in a smug tone.

 

"It feels like it. She went into the mine with you two days ago and spent almost all day yesterday watching you work. I'd assumed the two of you were connected at the hip."

 

“Are you jealous because I have friends and you don’t?” I smugly ask Master Del.

 

He looks up at me with a salty look. “You have ‘a friend’, that’s hardly that much more than I do.”

 

“At least I have one,” I try to retort.

 

"One," master emphasizes. "I chose to live alone. Can you say the same thing?" Master smiles, knowing he won our little verbal spar.

 

I snort at his gloating and turn back to the forge. Damn, master is winning our back and fourths more and more often. Am I losing my touch?

 

Shaking my head, I clear those thoughts out of my mind as the forge reaches the temperature I want. Richard and Salus finished the village armory yesterday, and I figured I start off the day's work by making a few more shields as a warm-up. The village already has more weapons than a village our size should rightfully have, so I figure I should shift toward more defensive gear. My specialty is weapons, but I know I still need to practice my armor designs more.

 

“Maybe I should start making some helmets too?” I ponder to myself.

 

I’m about to move a steel ingot into the forge when I sense someone nearing the clearing. I assume it's Sandra and prepare to hear master say, 'I told you so,' but as the person gets closer, their mana network becomes clearer, and I realize whoever's approaching doesn't have anywhere near Sandra's mana pool.

 

"We have company, Master," I give Del a quick head's up.

 

Master swings his feet off his bench and sits up properly while I stop working the bellows. Thankfully I didn't start the day by preparing to forge kaglese weapons. I'd have wasted the better fuel trying to get the forge hot enough only to be interrupted before I could start.

 

If someone's coming to the clearing, it either means they want to order a pot or something, but more likely, it's…

 

"Good morning, Aaliyah. You look wonderful today," Sandra's older brother Braddon gives me his most charming smile as he enters the clearing.

 

I roll my eyes, "Morning, Braddon." I'm not stupid enough not to notice his advances, but I’ve never felt attracted to him. I don’t spend much time pondering my love life or a lack thereof, but I’m 100% positive I don’t have feelings for my best friend’s older brother.

 

I'm pretty sure he's noticed my verbal cues, but the hunter hasn't given up the chase yet.

 

“What brings you here?” I bluntly ask, already pretty sure I know the answer.

 

Not put off by my dismissal of him, Braddon continues to smile at me. "I was asked to escort the beautiful lady back to our house. Your guest has arrived."

 

Even though I was preparing myself for the news, my body still trembles a little, hearing Pacore's student has finally arrived. My plans will change a lot depending on my babysitter's mood.

 

I turn to Del, “Master, can you watch the forge for me? I’m not sure how long this will take.”

 

“You want me to come with you?” Master Del stands up, giving me a concerned look.

 

“It’s fine,” I wave him back down.

 

"Shall we?" Braddon offers me his arm as a boyfriend would.

 

I just sigh and walk past him shaking my head. At this point, I'm debating whether or not I should try using Sense Soul on the persistent bugger, but I'm not even sure that will work at this point. I did beat the crap out of him in his basement that one time, and if anything, I think that only made him more interested in me.

 

"Wait up!" Braddon calls out after me as I start jogging toward his house. I make sure I use Double Step just enough to stay a few paces in front of him.

 

It isn't surprising that as soon as we make it back to the village, I see groups of people talking to each other, groups of people that stop talking as we near them and watch us as we head towards the headman's house. Since we’re a small village with a tight community it’s always easy to tell when something happens or if someone shows up unannounced.

 

The groups of people grow larger as I see Camden's house in the distance, and I can hear whispers of a knight.

 

A knight?

 

The whispers continue as Braddon and I make our way over to his front door and walk inside the house. Moving down the hallway toward the drawing room, the passageway feels longer and narrower the closer I get to the door. I know it's just my imagination, so I stop myself before opening the door to collect myself.

 

Shake out my shoulders, crack my knuckles, take a deep breath; make sure my mana obscuring magic tool is topped off, and I’m ready to meet Pacore’s student.

 

Pushing open the drawing room door, my eyes immediately fall on my target, and I can see why everyone was calling her a knight. Sitting in a chair across from Camden and Sarette is a woman who looks like the quintessential picture of a female knight. Her dark blue hair draws my attention along with the multiple feathers adorning it. Red, gold, black, each feather has a different mana signature to it, but with one look I could tell each came from a fearsome magic beast.

 

Pulling my attention away from her hair and feathers is how young the woman looks. I was expecting an older woman or maybe someone who looked to be in their 40's, but the lady in front of me appears to be around the same age as Mom. She has more of a Vitality glow about her, so I'm sure she's older than my mom, but it’s hard tell by just how much.

 

She sits with a rigid military posture wearing a shiny grey set of platemail. To her side is a traveling pack along with her sword and shield, while her gauntlets and helmet are placed on the table. She's sipping a cup of tea as I enter, and like a machine, her arms gracefully lower the cup away from her lips before setting it on the table. Her every movement is precise as she turns to look at me.

 

When her green eyes meet mine, I have to swallow back a lump in my throat. Unlike Pacore, who gave off the air of a sleeping monster, the woman before me feels like a drawn blade ready to strike. I only need to see a vague glimpse of her soul to tell she’s around level 90. I’d guess at least 20 levels higher than me.

 

"Are you Aaliyah?" The knight asks me in a robust and noble voice.

 

“Yes,” I hesitantly answer.

 

She looks over me once and nods once like I passed some sort of unspoken test. "I thought master was exaggerating in his letter, but I guess I was wrong."

 

"What did the old man say about me?" I ask.

 

The knight's eyes narrow, and every hair on my body stands on end. "You are now an official student under Master Pacore. You should address him as such," she informs me in a cold voice.

 

Everyone in the room flinches. Sandra and Nicolas are standing in a corner, telling me to shut up with their eyes. I haven't even fully stepped into the room yet, and if Braddon wasn’t standing behind me, I might have turned and bolted that very second.

 

"Lady Tabitha, I'm sure Aaliyah didn't mean any disrespect," Camden tries to appease the knight.

 

“I’m sure,” she flatly responds without looking away from me.

 

So, her name is Tabitha.

 

I don't know what possessed me to, but in that moment, I felt my anger start to build under her judgmental gaze. I might be considered Pacore's apprentice, but there's still the fact that title was forced upon me. So, I do what comes naturally.

 

I stick my foot in my mouth. "No, there was some disrespect intended."

 

Camden and everyone else pales in fright. Lady Tabitha just continues to stare at me, and a deep silence fills the room. I return her cold gaze with a challenging smirk while I mentally kick myself for saying that.

 

“I see,” Tabitha closes her eyes, looking like she’s thinking of a million ways to murder me. After a few seconds, she opens her eyes again; only instead of anger, she looks tired. "I see you and master share the same challenging personality." I want to disagree with her, but she turns her attention to Camden. "Before she arrived, we were discussing what I would be doing in the village?"

 

“Yes,” Camden wipes a bit of sweat from his forehead.

 

“My master ordered me to defend this village and to look after Aaliyah.”

 

“I don't need a babysitter, and I’m standing right here,” I growl.

 

Tabitha ignores me and continues to talk to Camden. "I was informed there might be some magic beasts in the forest, but if there isn't, I can patrol for goblins or anything else."

 

"That would be very generous of you; thank you." Camden forces a smile. “What do you want me to tell the villagers?”

 

"It doesn't matter," Tabitha tells him. "This village is quite remote, but the less word spreads about me, the better. As long as you explain this to your people, we should be fine." Tabitha reaches over and picks up her teacup. She takes a sip before asking, "Where will I be staying?"

 

Am I invisible now?

 

Camden awkwardly looks at me, and I angrily fold my arms in front of my chest. "I believe you'll be staying..."

 

Camden tries to say that Tabitha would be staying with us but he is quickly cut off by Sandra before he could finish. "You'll be staying in my room here." Sandra finishes for her father.

 

Tabitha nods curtly while Camden’s eyes turn into dinner plates. “What?!”

 

“Lady Tabitha is an important person, and it’s only right you host her, Daddy,” Sandra feigns innocence. “Most of my stuff is at Richards house already, so I’ll just move in with him.” Sandra turns to Tabitha. “If you give me an hour, I can have the last of my stuff out of my room.”

 

“I’m in no rush,” Tabitha takes another sip of tea, undeterred by the atmosphere of the room.

 

“It’s settled!” Sandra happily claps her hands.

 

“What is happening?” Camden is stunned in his seat.

 

Sarette leans over and grasps her husband's hand, "breathe, dear."

 

Sandra looks at me and winks. Well, her plan went off without a hitch. Tabitha doesn't need to move in with my family, and Sandra gets to live with Richard like she originally wanted to. "I'll go grab Richard and have him help me move my clothes’ chest,” Sandra dances past me out of the room, happy as can be.

 

Camden wants to shout after his daughter, but he’s painfully aware of the woman sitting across from him. “Can you excuse me for a moment?” Camden politely asks his guest.

 

"Of course,” Tabitha nods to him. "I would appreciate some privacy anyways so that I can discuss a few things with my master's youngest disciple."

 

"Of course," Camden readily agrees despite seeing me frowning at him.

 

Moving aside, I watch as Sandra’s family leaves the room, shutting the door behind them.

 

“You should take a seat,” Tabitha motions to where Camden and Sarette were sitting.

 

“I’m fine where I am,” I continue to keep my distance from the armored woman.

 

“Suit yourself,” Tabitha remarks in an uncaring voice.

 

I continue to hatefully stare at the woman while she sips her tea as if she's at a garden party.

 

My anger starts to build again as she continues to ignore me, until I hiss, “Isn’t there something you wanted to talk about?”

 

“I’ll wait for you to sit,” she informs me in a monotone voice.

 

So, this is a test to see who cracks first. Well, game on, bitch! I'm not letting her establish dominance.

 

Minutes pass as I stand near the drawing-room’s door watching Tabitha slowly drink her tea. I expect her to demand me to sit once she finishes what’s in her cup, but she just sets it down and continues to sit with her back straight, the whole time staring at me with her green eyes.

 

Another five minutes pass, and I start questioning what I'm doing. I'm starting to feel like an idiot.

 

I'm thinking about what I should do when Tabitha breaks the silence. "I'll remind you I have to deal with my master on a regular basis. He once made me wait in the same spot for two days just to prove a point."

 

What the fuck!

 

"I'm used to being tested, and I'm even more used to having my buttons pushed. If you wish to continue this, then fine, we will. But I hope you'll realize how childish you are being and sit." Tabitha proceeds to reach over for the teapot Sarette left on the table and fills up her cup.

 

I might have bitten off more than I can chew.

 

*********

 

Lord Rayes of Blaiton Point of View:

 

Hands on my head, I glance around the command tent and listen to the various nobles quarreling with one another.

 

"We should use long-range magic to attack them while they are building their siege towers!"

 

“Scholl doesn’t use stall tactics; the towers are a diversion. We should send scouts out to investigate the surrounding area!”

 

“Then what?! Are you suggesting they spent the last two days building those towers for no reason, that makes a lot of sense!?” Kelder, a high leveled mercenary sent by the lord of Yleles, angrily slams his hands against the table, earning him an angry look from the man who continues to suggest Scholl is building ‘Fake’ siege towers.

 

"We should attack first and reclaim Drey!" Everyone groans and hurls insults at the lord who fled Drey for suggesting such a stupid idea.

 

“We need more archers around the main gate!”

 

“We need to spread the archers out!”

 

"We need fewer archers!"

 

I suddenly feel the need to bang my head up against the table. It's a miracle we have men stationed on the walls at all. I can only hope that the constant shifting of our men makes our forces seem larger than they truly are.

 

Standing up, I walk out of the tent with only a few people actually noticing my leaving.

 

Walking a ways away from the tent, to a spot without anyone nearby, I lean my head back and close my eyes, letting the spring sun wash over me. That is until a familiar voice calls out to me.

 

“Things going that well, are they?”

 

“That obvious?” I turn to face Giovanni and his bodyguard Marshall who’s confidently strolling over to me.

 

Giovanni glances back at the tent we're using for a command center and frowns. "The earl appointed you to lead; why not kick them out?"

 

I sigh and meet my friend halfway. "It isn't that easy. Unlike you, who owns his own company and can fire people on a whim, I have to contend with the other nobles in the area. Most of the people in there are in charge of the surrounding villages. They came here thinking they could earn merits in battle but are just now realizing things aren't that simple. Then there are the representatives from Yleles and high leveled warriors sent by the earl. I can kick them all out if I want to, but then who will help me defend the city. Have you received any word from the earl, any news about reinforcements or more supplies?"

 

“Just more requests for food and alcohol," Giovanni disappointingly shakes his head. "Now that the city is cut off from Yleles, the branch over there is having a hard time meeting his demands."

 

“You don’t think the earl will flee, do you?” I ask my long-time friend for his opinion. Giovanni has a talent for finding a good deal and an even better knack for knowing when it was appropriate to jump ship.

 

“Honestly?” Giovanni scans our surroundings before answering in low voice. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”

 

I inhale a sharp breath; I expected as much but hearing his answer only brings the proverbial axe that much closer to my neck.

 

My family has overseen this city since it was a budding village. We were spared when the previous earl's family was removed from power, but my grandfather told me stories about how we were almost implicated for the support we gave during his reign.

 

"Do you have an exit strategy?" I ask him, glancing around to make sure no one is listening.

 

Giovanni gives me one of his merchant smiles. “One must be prepared for all possibilities.”

 

I nod in understanding. “Would the two of you care to join me on the wall?”

 

“Sure,” Giovanni readily agrees but not without an angry look from his bodyguard. The man has always taken his job seriously, but he has nothing to worry about; Scholl is still preparing for their offensive and has only launched a handful of spells at us periodically.

 

The two follow me up the ramparts until we stand above the eastern gate. In the distance, you can see Scholl halfway finished with assembling three war towers. I was told Scholl detests such tools, so maybe I should feel honored they broke tradition for us.

 

“Giovanni?”

 

“Yes, my friend?”

 

“If I should lose, could you help my family escape the city?”.

 

 

“If it should come to that, I’ll do everything in my power to protect your family,” Giovanni thankfully reassures me after a brief pause.

 

“Thank you, my friend.” I don’t ask the reason he had to think about my request, simply happy he agreed in the first place.

 

"Our families have done business for years; it's the least I can do. But if I may make a suggestion?"

 

"Yes?" I turn to my sly merchant of a friend.

 

“Do your best to protect the city, but that doesn’t just mean keeping Scholl out. I’ve heard rumors from my people who stayed behind in Drey,” Giovanni leans in closer to me.

 

“You have my attention.”

 

"My people tell me Pacore is a battle maniac but not a monster. There's little chance he'll go on a slaughter should they break through the walls," Giovanni tries to reassure me.

 

I have to chuckle at that. The idea of Pacore sparing myself or the other nobles is a laughable one. Leaving us alive wouldn't be practical. Not that many of the men arguing below plan on being captured. They think I don’t know about their hidden men readying to help them flee the city, but I do.

 

"Let's hope you're right," I remark, watching Scholl move about in the distance. "Let's hope you're right."

 

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A note from kosnik4

6,200 words.

 

I hope you had a great weekend; see you tomorrow with another chapter. 


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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