Three people were standing at the foot of a 5 meter-tall stone wall. They were wearing matching gray uniforms signifying they supported the Republic’s cause even though each was of a different race. The dwarf who seemed to be in charge had his greasy black hair tied in a ponytail and a well-groomed, short-haired beard covered the vast majority of his face. His ear was up against the wall and his gray eyes were closed as he tapped the rock several times with a small mallet.
“Humpf!” he scoffed disapprovingly after finishing his inspection.
“Is something the matter, master Boneshudder?” asked the male elf with lime green hair.
“Yeah something’s the matter!” complained the dwarf. “I’m getting tired of seeing shoddy construction like this! It pains me to think all that hard work wouldn’t last even a decade before it fell over on its own.”
The elf scratched his neck nervously while the female, blonde-haired gnome at his side rolled her blue eyes in exasperation.
“This again, you old fart?!” she raised her voice. “Even I know they did an amazing job considering the short notice! You should respect other people’s work more, you crotchety geezer!”
“Feh! As if a pipsqueak Artificer like you could understand an Architect’s work!” he snapped back. “Get a proper Job like the pointy-eared lad, then we’ll talk!”
“The heck did you just say to me, Gramps? Have you been breaking boulders with your head again?!”
“Gentleman and lady, please!” shouted the elf as he stood between them. “We were over this squabbling, weren’t we? We’re all on the same side here!”
The dwarf and the gnome glared at each other around the slim elf’s waist. Although inappropriate from a professional standpoint, the friction between them was only a matter of course. Architects and Artificers almost never saw eye-to-eye on a professional level. Even if their work appeared to be somewhat similar at first glance, the scale and direction of their respective crafts were completely different.
Architects were responsible for coordinating hordes of laborers as they put together structures of all shapes and sizes. Shacks, houses, mansions, castles, even sewers and underground mines - all had to be touched by the hand of a skilled Architect if they hoped to stand the test of time. Or in this particular case - the test of war.
Artificers on the other hand were more or less on the opposite end of the construction spectrum. They worked day and night locked in their workshops to create intricate, fragile and/or complex mechanisms. Unlike brick and mortar that were meant to be as still and sturdy as possible, an Artificer’s gadgets were fleeting existences not unlike a Meteor Spell - brief, but blindingly brilliant.
Ultimately, this general disagreement between the Artificers and Architects was just another in a long line of philosophical clashes between Jobs. The vast majority of occupations on this world had one or two Jobs that could be said to be their anthithesis, and certain clashes of interest would happen over and over, regardless of the place or time. There were exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of cases adhered to certain stereotypes.
The most notable example was the relationship between Priests and Necromancers, who were almost universally mortal enemies. Warriors and Berserkers, on the other hand, scoffed at each other’s methods of fighting while Bards and Artists argued over whose artistic medium was superior means of self expression. Even Wizards and Warlocks sometimes butted heads over what constituted as ‘safe’ practice of magic. Surprisingly enough though, Cryomancers and Pyromancers seemed to get along like a house on fire.
“... I suppose it can’t be helped if the quality isn’t up to my standards,” admitted the dwarf after a few moments of silence.
“Your standards are just too damn high, old man,” pointed out the gnome.
“You’re not one to talk, Jess,” said the elf with a smirk. “I hear your guys complaining how you reject their work all the time.”
“W-well, it can’t be helped. Shoddy Artificer work is the type of thing that gets people killed.”
“It’s the same with Architects you know. I’m sure you’d rather not have your house fall down on you.”
“No… Though if I had to choose, I’d much rather a building collapse on me than be at the receiving end of a faulty Tree-Trimmer,” she said with a shudder.
“Well, my verdict still stands,” insisted the dwarf while patting the wall. “I’m almost ashamed to have my name associated with this hack-job!”
“Look, teacher, can we forget about 10 years from now and focus on the next few weeks? The Empire is almost at our doorstep, after all.”
The dwarf looked up and down the wall, which encompassed the southern half of the city of New Whitehall. It was the last line of defense that stood at the edge of the Rainy Woodlands, otherwise known as ‘the eastern front.’ It was the nerve center of the entire region, meaning that if this city fell then the entire province would follow, which would be a serious blow to the Republic.
The dwarf’s shoulders drooped and he gave a deep sigh.
“Honestly? If those Empire lads do show up-”
“When they show up,” corrected Jess.
“... Right. As I was trying to say, it won’t stand a chance before the Imperial war machine. It’ll slow them down for maybe 20 minutes, an hour at most if they’re short on siege equipment.”
They were a far cry from the age-old fortifications of Fort Yimin, which could have lasted for days, maybe even weeks. Well, that sort of thing was precisely why the Empire sent so many of their Ultimate Skill users to that one place, although that decision had backfired splendidly on them.
“That’s still precious time that my people will have the upper hand for,” noted the elf.
“Perhaps. Though it is a shame. Such a waste of good stone and mortar,” said the old dwarf while stroking the wall in question. “Though I suppose even achieving this level of stability is more or less a miracle…”
Even if he spoke harshly out of habit, that was mostly because he was a perfectionist. He hated making compromises, but he knew deep down it was unavoidable. If anything, he was honestly impressed at the zeal that those Legionnaires worked with. In all his years as an Architect, Boneshudder had never once seen so much rock and stone move in such a short amount of time.
The Forest Gate in the center of the city allowed the transfer of large amounts of materials and manpower across vast distances in a matter of seconds. Even though there was a time and weight limit to how much could be transported per day, the Republic had also made use of the Skyfall River that ran east-southeast through the northern part of the city. That massive body of water that had a width of well over 250 meters served as a secure water route that ran within spitting distance of the capital. Not only that, but it flowed in all the way from the Cloudburst Mountain, hundreds of kilometers to the north, which also served as the main source of masonry materials for the Republic.
The old Architect was finally able to understand how come Azurvale’s Stone District had so many high quality dwarven-built structures even though there wasn’t a quarry for hundreds of kilometers around. Receiving sturdy stone bricks directly from the quarries at the foot of the tallest mountain in the world would make any stonemason green with envy. Even if the dwarf had heard of the Ishigar Republic’s ability to move goods and people before, seeing their supply lines operate at full capacity with his own eyes was almost terrifying.
And the result was that 3,520 meters’ worth of defensive fortifications had been completed in little over three weeks. The construction guild that Boneshudder ran had been offered a very lucrative contract if they were to oversee the project. Granted, he had to read and re-read the contract several times, but he was glad he took it. Not only was the work well-paid and challenging, but he was able to learn quite a bit about Republic architecture.
The way those elves layered processed Ironbark in between stone bricks to make their walls more resistant to impacts was an eye-opening experience, and he eagerly absorbed their technique. It showed that even an old dog like him could learn a trick or two, although he had to admit that this particular approach would not be possible without the right materials. He smirked as he recalled hearing about this ludicrous idea of bark shoring up stone from his disciples in the past. In his arrogance and stubbornness, he had dismissed the idea as preposterous and attributed such claims to a lack of understanding.
In some ways, Boneshudder thought it was strangely refreshing to be proven wrong for once.
“Yeah, I’ve actually been wondering about that,” said Jess, interrupting his introspective. “How come a city this big had absolutely no fortifications?”
The gnome had only arrived in New Whitehall a little over a week ago, and had spent nearly every waking moment working fervently in her workshop alongside 10 more of her colleagues. She was slightly agoraphobic, so she avoided going outside whenever she could. To say that her knowledge of the surrounding area was rudimentary would be giving her too much credit.
“Well,” said the elf while scratching his cheek, “apparently there just hasn’t been a need for one until now.”
“You know those Rainy Woodlands over there, yeah?” he asked while pointing to his right with his thumb.
“Well duh, how could I not?”
Indeed, one would find it hard to take a step outside the city without being instantly made aware of the slightly intimidating pine forest some 150 meters or so from the walls.
“Even a shut in like me knows about it!” she boasted.
“I don’t think that’s something to be proud of,” mumbled the dwarf.
“Ahah,” laughed the elf nervously. “But if you truly knew about it, then you wouldn’t be asking.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The entire forest is a white spot.”
“... Wait, what? That place?” she squealed wide-eyed.
“That massive sea of trees?!”
“All of it?!”
“Oh for- Yes! All of it is a white spot!” yelled the pissed-off dwarf. “Now shut your trap you bloody cow!”
“Unbelievable,” mumbled the gnome while ignoring those harsh words. “I’ve never heard of a white spot that vast…”
“Well, it’s not really an Artificer’s area of expertise, is it?” offered the elf.
“No… I suppose not…”
A ‘white spot’ referred to an area that was utterly devoid of ambient mana. Such places held no magical materials, such as alchemical herbs or exotic minerals. It was also the main reason why Hylt trees could not survive in this place. On the flipside, it also meant its monster population would be practically non-existent. Indeed, the only truly dangerous things in the Rainy Woodlands were either wild animals, such as bears and wolves, or the odd band of brigands trying to eke out a living in the wilderness. And neither of those things were a threat large enough to warrant fortifications.
Even so, this region was still a veritable goldmine of natural resources. The land was fertile, the timber harvested was of good quality and overwhelming quantity, both game and fish were abundant and there were even a few coal mines. It was hardly a surprise that the Empire wanted to capture it for themselves just to fuel their war machine.
“Come on then,” demanded the dwarf. “We still have 2 kilometers of walls to survey!”
“Ah, of course teacher!”
“Guh, more walking,” complained the gnome, which prompted the dwarf smash his fist into the wall with a heavy thud.
“Why are you even here, girl?!” he asked in an accusatory tone.
“I was told you’ve finished construction of this oversized fence, so I came out to survey where would be a good spot to lay down a minefield.”
This was the main reason she had to come out personally. It was a vital duty she couldn’t entrust to ‘those bolts-for-brains’ that she arrived with.
“... A what?”
“A minefield. You know, as in land mines?”
“Do I really need to point out how stupid it is to dig a mine underneath the wall?”
The gnome rolled her eyes once more.
“Not that kind of mine, ya old fart. The ones I’m talking about are the traps that me and my colleagues have been working on. Wonderful little things you know. You bury them just beneath the soil, wait for a human to step on it, and KABLOOEY! No more humans!”
“Incredible!” exclaimed the elf. “And you say this mechanism can target humans specifically?!”
“Well… no, not exactly. I mean, us gnomes will be fine but, uh… Let’s just say you might want to lose a couple dozen kilograms before you go for any long walks,” she added with a grin.
“Beh, you pipsqueaks are just as crazy as ever,” said the dwarf dismissively while the elf was seriously reconsidering his employment options.
The three of them continued bickering back on forth as the lead Architect personally verified the structural integrity of the wall every 50 meters or so. Some parts were naturally weaker than others, as inconsistency was one of the major pitfalls of rushed construction jobs like this one. Boneshudder made sure to note those locations in the small brown notebook he was carrying around. He was looking forward to showing them to that pompous Legate with an ‘I told you so!’ attitude, but it was also information that Jess needed to take into consideration when doing her own job. After all, it wouldn’t be funny if her explosives ended up collapsing a part of the wall.
The gnome, however, wasn’t actually staring at the ground or inspecting the soil. Such things didn’t matter so long as the dirt could be dug up. Neither mud nor sand would pose to be a problem, as the gnome was sure her ‘babies’ could remain submerged in swamp water for years and still go off without a hitch. When preparing a minefield, the location was far more important than the terrain. That was why she was staring at the deforested plain between the walls and the Rainy Woodlands. After all, she had to place the 500 or so explosive traps at her disposal in such a way as to maximize casualties while minimizing collateral damage. It wouldn’t be funny at all if the integrity of the walls was undermined by the very same devices that were supposed to help protect them.
Granted, her knowledge of warfare was highly theoretical, but then again, so was the idea of using minefields in armed conflict. After all, it had only been 120 years or so since a certain clan of gnomes first discovered the Artificer Job, and it was still undergoing development. In fact, the landmines themselves had been invented just 4 years ago, so their military applications were still largely unexplored. However, if anyone could be considered an expert in the field of minefields, it would be Jessiwick Wobblebang.
“... Huh? Did anyone else hear that?” she asked suddenly.
“Hear what?” answered the elf.
For a moment there Jess had forgotten that her senses were quite a bit sharper than those of the two blockheads with her. Even if she was well aware of that fact, the faint tune in the wind had momentarily derailed her thoughts. She strained her ears even more as she stared out towards the edge of the Rainy Woodlands, trying to locate the source of that disturbance. Several seconds later, she spotted an armed group of 20 or so people emerge from the treeline. She could just barely make out their uniforms that identified them as part of the Republic’s armed forces. They were probably some sort of scouting party, that much was obvious.
What was less obvious, however, was the reason why they were singing in the first place. And as they jogged closer to the city’s perimeter, her questions only multiplied. For one thing, why did they sound so damn cheery even though they had clearly seen combat? What was the deal with that purely white gnome-sized thing that glistened in the afternoon sun with unparalleled radiance?
“Oh do you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man?”
What in the world could produce an odd voice like that?
“Do you know the muffin man,
That lives inside my head?”
What the heck was the deal with those lyrics?
“Oh yes we know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man!
Now we know the muffin man,
That lives inside your head!”
And just why the fuck were those guys singing along?!
The stupefied gnome turned her head to the side, only to realize that both the elf and the dwarf were completely ignoring the spectacle. Were their heads so filled with rocks that they still didn’t hear that procession? No, the way the dwarf was shaking his head and muttering something about ‘bloody gnomes’ was indicative that he was already very familiar with this sight and purposefully ignoring it.
“Uh-uhm,” she spoke up,” what is that?”
The dwarf thoroughly ignored her, but the slightly more agreeable elf turned his gaze towards Jess, and then towards the direction she was pointing in.
“Oh, that must be the Juggernaut’s squad. They keep singing that song every time they enter or leave the city.”
The blonde, blue-eyed gnome scanned the merry men and women as they steadily approached the gatehouse further ahead of her.
“... What Juggernaut? I don’t see any-”
“It’s the short white one,” said the elf in response to her dubious reaction.
“You’re shitting me! Surely someone with a name like that should be like, 3 meters tall and half as wide and have arms the size of tree trunks!”
“Well, I know it’s hard to believe but the Rustblood Juggernaut is none other than her. Or is that an ‘it?’ Hard to tell with golems, you know.”
“Oh yeah, a mithril one. Also a Paladin and an Artificer. Way I heard it, she used to be a- Hey! Where are you going?!”
The hyperactive gnome had sprinted off in the direction of that squad without letting the elf finish his explanation.
“You can’t just-”
“Leave her be lad,” said the old stonemason, interrupting his disciple’s shouting. “We still have a contract to fulfill.”
“... Yes, teacher.”
The squad Fizzy had been a part of finally piped down when they approached one of the three large gatehouses in the newly-established perimeter. Although their uniforms were similar to those of other legionaries, the three vertical lines on their shoulders marked them as officially belonging to the 3rd Legion. Their Legate had sent 4,000 of his own forces to shore up the 10,000 strong 2nd Legion and give them an actual fighting chance against the incoming Imperial troops.
The group’s commanding officer - an Optio - stepped forward and identified himself to the gatekeepers. The steel portcullis began to slowly rise to allow the returning soldiers entry. Once inside the city, the squad would rest, resupply, rearm and reinforce before being sent out yet again. That being said, this particular squad had only seen battle 3 times while they were on this front, although they had emerged victorious with minimal casualties each time. Such success rates could be attributed to their veteran nature, but was mostly due to a certain Paladin’s terrifying strength and potent healing magic. To these men and women, Fizzy wasn’t just some ornament or mascot - she was their guardian angel.
Well, Boxxy wouldn’t be able to feast on them if they were dead.
The sudden high-pitched scream from the side had caused the entire half-platoon to raise their guard and turn their attention to the right. They relaxed somewhat when they realized that the one approaching was one of the 500 independent contractors hired to assist with the defensive fortifications. The blonde haired gnome arrived in front of Fizzy and grasped both of her shoulders. The corners of the golem’s eyes twitched a bit. How dare a lowly meatbag dare to put its filthy hands on her glorious frame?! It took some effort, but she still managed to suppress her natural reaction to such insolent behavior.
Because no matter how gratifying it would be to turn that blondie into a red smear, such a thing would interfere with Boxxy’s instructions to make nice with the Republic.
“Haaa! Haaaa! Haaaa!”
Jess, on the other hand, stared at her feet and panted heavily from what she had just put herself through. She had gotten a bit over-excited and sprinted all the way here, which was a terrible idea in retrospect. Sweat dripped from her forehead, her legs were trembling, her head felt dizzy and her throat seemed like it wanted to throw up. It was basically her body telling her that it wasn’t built for this sort of physical exertion. She would’ve already collapsed if she wasn’t leaning heavily against Fizzy.
“Another one, huh?” mumbled one of her comrades-in-arms.
“I mean, what’d you expect?” said another with a chuckle. “This sort of thing happens every time Fizzy goes out in public.”
“Yeah but, you’d think people would be used to her by now.”
“I dunno, man. I see her almost every day and I still can’t stop staring at her sometimes.”
“Mmm, yeah, can’t argue with that.”
“Enough chit-chat!” shouted the officer-in-charge. “Go get your gear checked in for repairs and get some rest, you’ll be needing it!”
“Yes, sir!” replied the soldiers as they slowly filed through the now-open gatehouse.
“Fizzlesprocket - you just… do what you gotta do. Just make sure you’re there for the debriefing.”
“Yessir,” answered Fizzy with a small salute, prompting her commanding officer to turn around and walk away from her in an exaggerated ‘I didn’t see anything’ kind of way.
With the rest of her squadmates filing through the gate, Fizzy turned her attention to the gnome who was still leaning on her. Her blonde head had at some point leaned so low, that it was currently pressing against the golem’s bare bosom. Well, even if the Paladin was rather partial to going around naked in public, her current unclothed state wasn’t caused by her exhibitionism. It was just that her tussle with that Cryomancer yesterday had left her without anything to cover herself.
Yup, absolutely nothing could be done about it until she got back to base.
“Haah, haah, haah, phew…”
However, the sorry sack of meat that was still clinging to her shoulders and fogging up her sparkly frame with that disgusting breathing was really starting to grind her gears.
“Uhm, can I help you with something?” asked Fizzy with a twitching smile.
Jess, who had somewhat caught her breath, looked up at her with a face that was way too excited for her own good.
“I want to feel your insides!”
That shameless, full-volume declaration was perhaps not the best way to express her academic interest in the fascinating construct before her. It caused Fizzy’s squadmates that were still within earshots to giggle quietly while peeking over their shoulders. As for the golem herself, she smiled sweetly and raised her loosely clenched fist up to the impertinent meatbag’s forehead. She then flicked her mithril finger with enough force to send the female gnome tumbling ass-over-tits before coming to rest with her face in the dirt.
Satisfied with the busybody’s loss of consciousness, Fizzy continued through the open gate while muttering something about ‘bloody gnomes’ under her breath.