*Haaaaa-HOOOOOOOOOOM Haaa-HOOOOM HA-HOOOOOOOM*
The sound of a deep, loud tone resounded through the Rainy Woodlands, followed swiftly by several more identical notes.
The Echoes of War have filled you with courage. Glory to the Empire!
Increases resistance to mental status effects by 20% for 60 minutes.
Private Cohen Thomson tightened the grip on his spear and clenched the fist on his shield-bearing hand.
“Greater Blessing of the Sun!”
Following the unified chant of several Priests at his back, Thomson felt the familiar warmth of holy magic filling his body. And judging from the radiant glow that enveloped his entire unit, he was hardly the only one.
You are now under the effects of Greater Blessing of the Sun. Maximum HP +300. Healing received increased by 20%.
The effect will last for 60 minutes or until it is overridden by another Blessing.
Thomson cast a gaze up at the noon sky in a moment of bewilderment. How the heck were he and his colleagues receiving energy from the sun if it was hidden by so many thick clouds? Stranger still, how come those Priests could borrow power from the Sun God Solus even though they were all supposed to be Apostles of Justice in service to Teresa? He briefly remembered receiving some sermon regarding how ‘the sun does not pick favorites’ or something like that, but quickly cleared his mind of such idle thoughts.
The Sergeant, an old war dog named Smith, raised both his sword and his voice, and the entire 120-man unit stepped forward as one, Thomson included. As one of the frontmost row of the formation, he passed through the forest undergrowth while a column of his comrades followed close behind. With horns blaring behind him and the Rainy Woodlands rapidly thinning out in front, he and his fellow soldiers soon started emerging onto a grassy, uneven clearing. For the second time in a few days, Thomson found himself unusually happy to see an area so utterly devoid of blasted trees.
“Form ranks! Form ranks!”
Following the commanding officer’s instructions, he and his comrades quickly rebuilt their rectangular formation just outside the cover of the forest. Both to his left and right, the Private could see more and more Imperial companies emerging from the woods with a steady gait, and he was certain the units behind his would follow soon. And some 300 or so meters in front of him stood a wall that, by all means, really shouldn’t have been there. Granted, he was neither an officer nor a strategist, and had trouble reading maps to boot, but he distinctly remembered talk of how that city didn’t have any defensive fortifications. That was why the familiar sight of siege equipment was absent during their long march in the first place.
Leave it to those crafty twigs, to build all that in less than a month, he thought in half-admiration. Almost makes me regret having to help tear it down.
He then reached up to his forehead and lowered the visor on his helmet.
The Sergeant then began doing a little speech in a loud, clear voice, but Thomson didn’t really hear any of the words. He was sure that guy was being all inspirational and shit, but such gestures did little to raise his fighting spirit. After all, how could a mere man compare to the divine voice of Jonas Charlton. He was sure he could charge that little fence and tear it down with his bare hands, if only he had the chance to hear that indescribable song once more.
Unfortunately, he was one of the few people around who knew such a thing would never happen. After all, he was among the first to discover the gruesome scene where Charlton was murdered. Some might argue that since there was no body, that didn’t necessarily mean the man was dead, but the copious amounts of blood on the ripped up bed said otherwise. The fact that many of his personal effects had been shamelessly stolen on top of that was simply adding insult to injury.
His superiors immediately issued a gag order on the whole thing, under penalty of dishonorable discharge. Thomson thought the dishonorable ones were them, but he listened to orders and kept his mouth shut. There was also the matter of exactly who had killed the genius performer and how. Well, it was undoubtedly one of those filthy twigs that would murder an artist in cold blood like that, but the idea that an enemy spy or assassin had infiltrated their ranks was not a pleasant one. Neither was it something that Thomson would entertain further. He trusted in his squadmates and he trusted in his commanders, and that’s all there was to it.
That sort of unpleasant business was beyond his pay grade as a simple footman anyway. All that mattered to him was that a talented Imperial citizen had been gruesomely murdered and that he would make those blasted twigs pay for doing so. That was all the motivation he needed, and he was itching for a fight even more because of it.
“-and so it falls to us!” shouted the Sergeant as he was wrapping up his little speech. “We shall show those cowards what it means to face the might of the Empire!”
“For the glory of the Emperor! All hail!”
“Hail! Hail! Hail!”
Similar ovations coming in from the surrounding units caused the chilly atmosphere to rapidly heat up. Up in the distance, Thomson could barely make out the enemy forming their own defensive lines atop that wall, as well as on the gatehouses and turrets placed along it.
A tense few moments later a war horn much louder than the ones from before washed over the Imperial soldiers. Unlike those morale-fortifying magic items dubbed Echoes of War, this one was nothing more than a simple instrument used merely as a signal.
“Advaaaance!” came the command.
“Oorah!” responded the soldiers.
And thus begun their march. For some, it would be their first. For many, it would be their last. But none of them showed a single sign of hesitation as they strode forward, shoulder to shoulder with their comrades-in-arms. Their greaves sank into the muddy ground, still wet from yesterday’s downpour as the nearly pure-white wall gradually became taller. Slowly but surely, the 300 meters between the two armies grew smaller as the Empire closed in from all sides.
At around the 260 meter mark, when the frontmost row of humans were well and truly separated from the cover of the forest, the elves atop the wall finally showed signs of movement.
The single word from the commanding officer caused his men to spring into action. Ranks were tightened and shields were raised as the 80 Warriors and Paladins of Thomson’s vanguard unit assumed the formation. In the blink of an eye the 10 loose rows became a steel box as their rectangular greatshields hid them almost completely from view, providing physical cover for themselves as well as the magical support troops. The numerous spears poking through the gaps in the shields completed the shape that gave this composition its name.
Being at the very front, Thomson was able to peek through the gaps in the formations and spot numerous flashes of red light coming from the top of the enemy ramparts. What followed was a sea of arrows that rose up into the air, threatening to blot out what little sunlight managed to poke through the clouds.
The entire unit hunkered down behind their shields, with the magic users taking cover in the gaps between the heavily armored soldiers. However, the latter did not deploy any defensive magic as the order to do so had not been issued. As someone who had taken part in taking down a series of smaller Republic fortifications along the border, the Sergeant knew full well that the incoming projectiles were a threat. However, they were not dangerous enough to expend MP over. The true battle would begin once his unit was 30 to 40 meters from the wall, as that was typically when the shorter-ranged but much more devastating Spells would start being flung by both sides. Therefore, all the Imperials had to do at this stage was to close the gap while receiving the elves’ ‘hospitality.’
Just as expected, the first volley of steel-tipped projectiles crashed against the porcupine formation doing little-to-no-damage. Some of the arrows embedded themselves in the metal shields, a few others broke through some of the gaps, but the majority of them were deflected without issue. Mere seconds later came the second volley. The third and fourth ones followed soon after as the Republic Legions’ vaunted Scouting corps pelted the Imperial soldiers in a literal hail of arrows.
Moving as one, Thomson and his fellow soldiers roused from their semi-kneeling position and started walking forward with a steady, practiced pace without breaking the formation. For the next 200 meters, their entire world would consist of nothing but the backs of their comrades and the sounds of arrows banging on the shields overhead. Even if they tried, however, their lateral movement inevitably created gaps in their defenses, causing more and more arrows to find their way through. Some of those errant shots found their mark and struck a lightly armored magic user, while others bounced off the vanguards’ steel plating. Healing Spells were thrown about as the unit endured the onslaught. Even if their attacks appeared to be lackluster to a layman, the enemy Rangers were by no means to be taken lightly as they turned the advancing porcupine into a pincushion.
Private Thomson, being at the very front of the formation, was extremely aware of that fact. Numerous pointed dents were visible on the inner side of his shield, which steadily grew heavier. Whether that was due to all the impacts his left arm had to bear or the combined weight of the arrowheads lodged into it was impossible to tell at this point. He could not tell how far he’d walked either, as peeking out from behind his shield was a risk not worth taking.
A lesson the man to his left had learned the hard way, as an arrow had struck him just as he did so. It flew through an open space that was only a few centimeters wide, pierced his helmet and struck his forehead. If it wasn’t for the armor lessening the impact, he was sure that shot would’ve bore clean through his head instead of leaving him with a head wound. The injured man promptly received healing from the Paladin behind him and kept pushing forward while groaning about the ‘lucky shot.’
But Thomson did not believe it was a lucky shot at all. His skirmishes with those twigs leading up to this point were very indicative of their skill with the bow and arrow. Indeed, judging by the impacts transmitted to his shield-bearing arm, the twigs were aiming almost exclusively at the edges of his shield at around the soldier's’ eye level. The power behind each shot was no joke either, as it would have definitely shredded the sheet of metal on the Private’s left forearm if it wasn’t magically fortified. The man therefore kept his head firmly hidden from view, trusting in his Sergeant to lead him to the enemy.
Just then, there was a brief, unnatural pause in the near-constant barrage. The momentary lapse of incoming projectiles had caused the unit to pick up the pace for several steps before they were stopped dead in their tracks by the Sergeant.
The unit moved as one, going down to one knee and keeping their heads low. The soldiers at the edges firmly planted their shields in the soft mud, while those in the middle tightened the ‘ceiling’ as best they could.
A series of explosions rang out all around the Private as the Republic’s newly-developed Boom-tubes augmented by their Rangers’ Multishot peppered the Imperial forces. Various shock waves rattled his bones and metal fragments pinged fiercely off his shield and standard-issue plate armor. His comrades weren’t as lucky, however, as groans and yells of pain rose around him. It was only inevitable that some of the countless jagged shards would find their way through the cracks in the soldiers’ defences and embed themselves in their flesh.
“Group heal! Group heal!” commanded the leader as the shock from the intense onslaught let up.
The Priests and Druids in the unit began applying large-scale healing magic as the familiar rain of considerably less explosive arrows resumed. Thomson shared a few sideways glances with his comrades, all of whom seemed to want to ask ‘What the hell was that?!’ but none of them dared to speak up.
“Forward, men! Double time!”
The trained soldiers unrooted themselves from their position and moved towards the enemy at a much faster pace than before. It was risky as the added bobbing and weaving loosened their formation even further, but the Sergeant could not afford to have his men pinned so far away from the wall. He didn’t know what those munitions were and was inwardly relieved he made that judgement call when he spotted the enemy behaving oddly, as the power behind those weapons was no joke. His shield had withstood a direct hit from one of those projectiles and was now thoroughly mangled. He had no idea if the enemy had more of those, nor how many his squad could take before they were ripped to shreds, so he made the decision to quicken their advance while keeping a trained eye on the enemy.
Surely enough, he noticed another break in the arrow onslaught followed by a volley of unnaturally thick arrows.
“Hold! Hold! Hold! … Forward!”
After getting the timing down, the Sergeant led his men through a number of stop-and-go motions as they were pelted with explosives. After a total of five volleys and killing several of his men, the enemy finally seemed to run out. The elves tried pulling a few feints by pretending to take extra time to reload, causing the incoming Imperial soldiers to hunker down and stop in their tracks, but it only worked once or twice. With the Boom-tubes depleted and having nothing but mundane arrows to rely on, it was the most they could do to keep the enemy on edge. Strictly speaking, they never had much of those things to begin with. In fact, given the short time frame, limited technical expertise and scarce raw materials, they only really had enough Boom-tubes for a single full volley. It was only through the frankly unfair interaction with Multishot that they could afford to spread them out as much as they did.
However, the psychological and physiological effect they had was tremendous. Even if it was objectively speaking short lived, the innovative assault certainly didn’t feel that way to one Private Thomson. The man’s arm creaked like it would break, sweat poured from his forehead as if it were a waterfall and his breaths had grown ragged and uneven. About a quarter of his shield was pretty much gone, he had an arrow lodged in his shoulder and he had lost count to the number of wounds and healing spells he had received. It was only 300 meters, right? So how come he felt like he had just run a marathon through hell itself? Why was he even out here in the first place?! Was he looking for glory? Was it just because it was his duty? Did such things matter in the slightest?
“Steady men! We’re almost upon them!”
The Sergeant’s loud yet strangely shaken voice snapped him out of his stupor. The same voice he cursed and dreaded during basic training now seemed like his sole sliver of hope, and he clung to it like a drowning man to a piece of flotsam. All off a sudden his awareness of the battlefield expanded. He saw bizarre lights flickering in the distance out of the corner of his eye, and heard the sounds of yelling and clanging as units elsewhere engaged in mid-ranged magical combat with the enemy.
The lowly Private steeled himself, as his unit was doubtless about to begin the most dangerous part of the assault.
“Morose and Feeb, get us some legs! Johnson, Johnson and Markberg ready those arias! The rest of you, get ready to blow bubbles and charge! We move in three! ... Two! … One! … Now!”
Like a well-oiled machine, the unit flew into action. First came up the bubbles - various defensive barriers to ward off both magical and physical attacks. Then came the Step of Wind, a shamanistic enchantment that gave a sizable but very temporary burst of speed to everyone around. Immediately afterwards, the shield-bearers broke the porcupine formation and charged forward in a blind rush that relied entirely on the Wizards, Priests, Shamans and Druids to provide cover.
The sudden breath of fresh air that stank of war entered Thomson’s nostrils. The unnatural lightness in his step caused him to push forward despite any exhaustion or mental strain he was going through. He wasn’t sure how far they were from the wall by now, but judging from the shards of ice, bolts of lightning and plumes of flames flying at them, they were most definitely closer.
The Private threw his gaze skyward. A house-sized Meteor - the biggest one he’d ever seen - was bearing down almost directly on top of him and the rest of his unit. His mind drew a total blank, but his body reacted the only way it knew how - he crouched down to one knee and attempted to cover himself with his battered shield. In hindsight, not the best decision, but the only one available to him at the time. Even if he ran, there was no way he could get out of that thing’s range.
Suddenly the gigantic meteor was engulfed by a dense purple miasma and instantly changed course. It did a sharp upward turn and flew high into the air, towards a man draped in an ashen robe with a blue tabard covering his chest. His hands were stretched forward, as if getting ready to catch the incoming Spell. However, when he swung them sideways, the mass of molten rock followed their motion. It did a splendid half-circle around him as he spun around and flung it towards the enemy wall.
A wave of anti-magic crashed against the redirected Meteor, causing it to evaporate into sparks and ash. Thomson and the rest of the foot soldiers were caught up in its effects as they lost all the magical effects strengthening their bodies. The one who had unleashed said De-spell was a female elven Wizard flying under her own power. She wore a set light clothes deep red in color that were under a heavy, lavender coat that had the Republic’s black-on-gray flag proudly stamped onto her back and chest. The pure-white metallic bracers on her forearms were nearly identical to those of the flying human who was leering at her.
“Imiryl!” he shouted with a joyful tone. “So good to see you haven’t kicked the bucket yet!”
“Do I know you?” shot back the High Elf Wizard while power gathered in her hands.
“Don’t you worry! I’ll make you remember, bitch!”
“I’m not in the business of paying attention to insects!”
The elf clapped her hands as the human threw his arms out in front as if he were holding an invisible ball.
A blinding bolt of lightning shot out from Imiryl, but was deftly ‘caught’ by her opponent inside a small, invisible bubble. The bright-purple colored sparks lingered around for a few moments inside that confined space before they died away into nothingness.
The hooded man then swung his hand in a sweeping motion as if he were slapping someone. Imiryl was suddenly thrown to the side from a gigantic impact, as if an invisible boulder had crashed into her. However, whatever the attack was, it did little to actually damage her Mana Shield and merely pushed her around. Rather than waste time on this peculiar foe, Imiryl decided to fly off and find another Imperial unit to harass.
“Oy!” shouted the hooded man. “Come back here so I can properly sock you in the cunt! … Huh? Woah there!”
The flying human suddenly realized the Republic defenders atop the wall were targeting him with arrows, spells, knives, axes and anything else that could be thrown upwards. He waved his hands in a few grand circles, causing all the projectiles aimed at him to alter their trajectory and circle around him as if they were caught in his orbit. He then pointed at the elves atop the walls, as if instructing the various projectiles flying around him to return to their owners. Which is exactly what they did, prompting his targets to evade or block them as best they could. Without even caring for the results of his counter-attack, he looked down at the regrouping Imperial squad that the High Elf had tried annihilating just now. He gave a heavy sigh as if to say ‘what a pain’ and decided he might as well lend them a hand.
The man called Hook, currently the only holder of the Psionic Job on this continent, raised an open palm above his head. He then swung it down in a grand arc as he had done earlier. As if mimicking his gesture, an invisible forcefield shaped like a human hand smashed onto the wall from above. It instantly killed all the people on top or behind it, flattening dozens of people and breaking nearly every bone in their bodies. The wall itself shook mightily, but remained almost completely intact. Truly a testament to dwarven architecture and elven ingenuity. Satisfied with the outcome, Hook flew off into the distance, hell-bent on settling his score with that snarky bitch. While also fulfilling his mission of keeping her from running wild, of course.
Thanks to his casual assistance, Thomson and what was left of the unit he belonged to managed to reach the foot of the 5-meter tall wall before the elves could regroup.
“Morose, Feeb - get me a ramp!” barked the ever-vigilant Sergeant. “The rest of you - don’t just stand there gawking at the people in the sky and cover them! Let the big boys fight it out among themselves, we got our own job to do!”
The two Shamans in the unit moved forward, stood about 4 meters opposite each other and began a synchronous chant while the others quickly established a perimeter around them. The Republic forces tried to fill the gap in their defenses and put a stop to what the humans were doing, but the Imperial troops that were catching up with the vanguard unit were doing everything in their power to keep them pinned down.
“Mudslide!” the two Imperial Shamans shouted in unison.
The wet ground churned and groaned as a large mound of mud rose up in an extremely unnatural manner. It flowed between them like a miniature tidal wave and crashed against the stone wall. A quick serving of fire magic courtesy of a few allied Pyromancers quickly dried up and solidified the dirt, creating a solid ramp that went up to a height of about one and a half meters. It was far too short to allow anyone to climb over the 5-meter-tall wall, but it was merely a start. The two Shamans would need to perform this Spell at least 4 to 5 more times before the foot soldiers could rush the wall.
There a sudden loud crash, several meters to the side of them. Thomson, who was currently a part of a half-crescent shield, chanced a glance towards the sight of the disturbance. Someone clad-head-to-toe in an elaborately decorated silver-like armor had slammed into the wall with enough force to make a visible dent in it. He peeled off the stone surface and fell down to the ground, landing onto the mud on all fours with a heavy thud.
He rose immediately to his feet in one smooth motion while grabbing hold of the large, two-handed warhammer he’d dropped during his fall. He glanced down at the boot-shaped dent on his chestplate and then looked up at the winged, black-haired angel staring him down with a cold glare.
“Alright, Jennifer,” he mumbled under his breath. “Hard way it is then!”
The Level 100 Paladin known as Lichter then unfurled his own angelic wings and bolted upwards to meet his former teammate in single combat. He really should’ve known talking to her was not going to accomplish anything, though. Hilda had already made it abundantly clear the woman who now called herself Zone was not only the enemy, but also the one who killed Faehorn. And yet the old Paladin couldn’t help himself and tried to reach out to her with words rather than force.
It was a mistake he would not make a second time.
The Imperial troops that had seen their second enemy VIP in such a short span of time could do little to stand in the elven Paladin’s way, so they merely let him go about his business. Besides, the improvised ramp was about to be finished any moment now, and they had to pour through the opening before the enemy Druids or Shamans could undermine their foothold. Not to mention things would get really dicey if that High Elf Wizard decided to pay them another visit and finish the job.
“C’mon men!” shouted a newly arrived troop leader. Judging from the markings on his armor and helmet, Thomson was able to identify him as a 2nd Lieutenant. “We have our way in! Go! Go! Go! Go!”
Dozens of Imperial soldiers began scaling the dried-up, hard-packed mud and climbed onto the top of the 3-meter-wide stone wall. They split up left and right, finally engaging the enemy in close quarters combat as they pushed to take possession of the wall. Private Cohen Thomson, being one of the first among them, had already managed to impale an enemy soldier on his spear and was currently engaging yet another silver-armored elven Warrior.
The two crossed spears and traded blow after blow as the battle raged around, below and above them. Thomson felt like he was gaining the upper hand, when the elf then suddenly received blast of ice to the side of his face, causing him to stagger. He reflexively raised his kite shield in defense, but the human’s spear managed to unerringly pierce him through the throat. The Private received a notification signifying he’d reached Level 39 of his Warrior Job, but he really couldn’t afford to pay attention as he charged forward towards the next one.
The humans and the elves fought each other fiercely, but the Empire was clearly taking control of the wall. Seemingly routed, the Republic troops in the area were given the order to fall back, which they did with great haste. They leaped over the side of the stone wall, landing on the ground below with a small roll to soften the impact, then running off into the city proper, their boots clattering against the cobblestone road as they vacated the area.
Thomson and the rest of his comrades followed after them, intending to mow the twigs down for daring to show their backs in such a shameless manner. However, in their rush the humans failed to account for the elves’ relatively lighter armor and natural nimbleness, so their own jumps from atop the walls ended in much harsher and more staggering landings.
Before any of them could truly regain their footing, the Private spotted something bizarre. There, at the edge of the open area between the walls and the nearby city buildings, was a single wooden fence post. Nailed to it was a steel box with a lever poking out of it. One of the last few Republic soldiers in the area then flipped said lever as he ran, causing several sparks to fly out of it.
The familiar Sergeant’s voice ran like a bolt through him.
“Circle around and pincer the enemy still on the wall! Watch the buildings and give the twigs no quarter!”
His momentary hesitation evaporated as he and his fellow soldiers moved forward and spread across the other side of the wall. He then felt his left foot sink a few centimeters deeper than it should have, followed by a barely audible click, and the momentary sensation of his body being violently ripped to shreds.
Your body has been ripped apart by explosive force. HP -542.
You have been pierced by numerous sharp objects. HP -1,264.
Proficiency level increased. Toughness is now Level 10. END +8.
You have died.