Chapter 43:

The Calm Before the Storm

The Children of Eris

Ten miles from Black Port, Prince Julius and his army had made camp.
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After departing from Themis with his twenty-thousand men, Julius had, per his father’s orders, sent word to every single lord and lady in the Gold Lands and Silverten, asking for their aid, and to the Paladins for them to mobilize their entire army.Bookmark here

The Paladins had answered; the lords and ladies, however, hadn’t fully committed their forces.Bookmark here

“Five thousand?” Julius repeated in disbelief. “Is that really it?”Bookmark here

“Unfortunately, your grace,” General Pontus replied. “Many of the lords voiced concern over their own land’s wellbeing in the event that your grace’s army failed to-”Bookmark here

“If I failed?” Julius grunted and spat onto the ground. “The nerve of those bastards. Pontus, I want the names of every noble that failed to send enough men to our cause. I’ll be sure to pass on their names, and compliments, to Father when I return to Themis.”Bookmark here

“Of course, your grace.”Bookmark here

Julius had called his most trusted advisor, General Pontus Antonius, to the war council tent to discuss the coming battle before the official briefing started thirty minutes later. Julius wanted to go over everything about their forces before the main meeting began, so he could properly plan their attack.Bookmark here

General Pontus was a fifty-year old man with thinning white hair and a small beard. Like Prince Julius, his suit of armour was beautifully crafted steel adorned with their family’s crests and symbols of the Holy Empire, and both of their suits had scratches and dents from the many battles they’d seen together.Bookmark here

“To think that we didn’t even get half the men I should’ve from the Gold Lands and Silverten,” Julius mumbled before sighing. “Then again, perhaps it’s to be expected.”Bookmark here

“How so, your grace?” Pontus asked.Bookmark here

“If I fail or die, I’m definitely not going to be next in line for the throne. That honour will go to my brother and then they’ll try to sink their claws into him.”Bookmark here

“To think they’d try something so stupid when your brother loves you dearly.” Pontus shook his head. “He’d never forgive those who abandoned you.” Bookmark here

Julius grinned. “Nobles are idiots, Pontus. They think that all families with power are like their own; dysfunctional, and a never-ending battle for power. They think that what they see at parties and balls between my brother and I hides the tension between us in the battle for ascension, even though there isn’t one.”Bookmark here

Julius began to chuckle as Pontus could only smile weakly. “Does that mean then-?”Bookmark here

“My brother will manage the nation when I’m made Emperor, and I will lead us into battles. It’s the best way for the empire to stand strong once my father passes on.” Bookmark here

With a sad smile, Julius sighed, then changed the subject of their conversation. “Any news on whether or not the Divine Caster or Paladin will be joining us?”Bookmark here

“I’m afraid that they’re both unavailable, your grace,” Pontus replied. Bookmark here

“Did either of them give a reason?”Bookmark here

“Sort of, your grace.”Bookmark here

“Meaning?”Bookmark here

“They said they were busy investigating a more serious matter that demanded their full attention.”Bookmark here

A more serious matter?Bookmark here

“It’s regrettable, but it can’t be helped,” Julius said. “How many adventurers arrived in the end?”Bookmark here

“Eighty-one, your grace.”Bookmark here

Julius snorted. “Quite the low turnout. Ranks?”Bookmark here

“Three of them are B-ranked and the rest are C-ranked.”Bookmark here

Julius hummed softly before smiling. “Not too bad.”Bookmark here

“Your grace, what sort of strength do they have if they’re C-ranked?”Bookmark here

“I believe they’d be about as strong as a veteran Paladin. However, a Paladin is a specialist who excels at fighting supernatural and undead threats; adventurers battle a great range of monsters and other humans.”Bookmark here

“I see. Then, how strong would the three B-ranked adventurers be?”Bookmark here

“If the three of them were working together, then they would be able to go toe to toe with the Divine Paladin,” Julius answered.Bookmark here

The Divine Paladin and Caster were two of the strongest human beings in the world, not just in the Holy Empire. The Divine Paladin had once cut a giant in half with a short sword and the Divine Caster had destroyed a thousand soldiers with a single low-level spell before. Bookmark here

“Your grace, have you come up with the battle plan for recapturing of Black Port?” Pontus asked.Bookmark here

Julius nodded and gathered the wooden blocks that represented the soldiers of the battlefield, both friend and foe, onto the map of the south-east that was laid out on the table.Bookmark here

“Now that I know our numbers and our strength, I’m very confident that we’ll easily retake the city,” Julius said, setting up the blocks on the table. “In fact, I would even go so far as to say this entire mess will be solved before the sun sets tomorrow.”Bookmark here

General Pontus eagerly turned his attention to the map and the formation of the blocks.Bookmark here

The old general had served Prince Julius for many years and he had seen his majesty’s capability as a commander first hand. Bookmark here

If he declared that the battle would proceed smoothly, then he meant it. Bookmark here

“First, the division of labour,” Julius began, pointing the two separate groups on the map. “When we break camp tomorrow, we shall split into two main groups. The first group, consisting of our twenty-five thousand legionnaires and eight-thousand Paladins, shall move to engage the undead horde outside the city. The second group, consisting of the eighty-one adventurers and the garrison from Cliff’s Edge, shall head to the Shadow Tombs and investigate the site, destroying any undead they encounter.Bookmark here

“The scouts report that there are fifteen different liches in the city, meaning we’ll have to deal with the main brunt of the enemy’s forces. What this does mean, thankfully, is that our adventurers should have no issues handling whatever undead are at the Shadow Tombs.”Bookmark here

“How so, your grace?”Bookmark here

“It’s unlikely that the liches that raised this horde would want to be away from the main army, meaning that all fifteen of them should be with the seventy-thousand undead,” Julius said. “While the Holy Legion handles the bulk of the enemy force, the Paladins and our mages will handle the liches and dispatch them.”Bookmark here

“How do you propose to do that, your grace?”Bookmark here

“Simple. We’ll perform a pincer attack. Our main army from the Holy Legion will meet the enemy dead on. Then, our mages, calvary and Paladins will hit them in their flanks which should hopefully draw the liches’ attention to them where they can more easily dispatch them. Even if that doesn’t work out, an army fighting intensely on all sides will quickly fall apart.”Bookmark here

“What if there are a few liches at the tombs as well?” Pontus asked.Bookmark here

“A few liches shouldn’t be a problem for that many adventurers,” Julius replied. “Then, once Black Port is retaken, we’ll make camp outside the walls, thoroughly search the city and surrounding lands for any undead that escaped us, destroy them and return home within a week.”Bookmark here

“At which point you will be quite busy with a few home visits I imagine, your grace,” Pontus said with a grin.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s the part I’m looking forward to most,” Julius heartily said back.Bookmark here

“Your grace, the generals and senior adventurers have arrived,” one of the guards outside the tent called in. “Shall I let them in?”Bookmark here

“One moment.” Julius beckoned Pontus over to him and whispered, “Don’t let the men know about that last bit, eh?”Bookmark here

“Of course, your grace.”Bookmark here

“Excellent. Send them in!”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“So, what do you think?” Tiergan asked once the meeting was over and his party were back in their tent.Bookmark here

“About?” Alisa asked back.Bookmark here

“Everything. Our numbers, the prince’s plan, our chances, the other adventurers. Everything. Connor?”Bookmark here

“Hmm, we’ve definitely got the numbers at least. The army’s more than enough to handle the undead horde, unless there are any rare types among them besides the liches,” Connor confidently said. “If their intel is right, then they’ll be dealing with the majority of the liches, so, overall, I’d say our chances are very good.”Bookmark here

“What about his highness’s plan?” Alisa asked.Bookmark here

“I don’t have any doubts about Prince Julius’s plans for the legion and the Paladins, but I’m less confident about our side of things,” Connor confessed. “There’s eighty-one of us, and we’re the only three B-rankers among them. Everyone else is a C-rank. If there are any liches or rare undead types at the Shadow Tombs, then we could sustain heavy losses.”Bookmark here

“Great. That makes it even better that Kella isn’t here then,” Tiergan sarcastically said.Bookmark here

“You really picked a bad time to send Kella back,” Alisa mused.Bookmark here

“You don’t have faith in our comrades?”Bookmark here

“I do. I just have more faith in our group.”Bookmark here

“Agreed,” Tiergan added. “We’re a party of four that’s used to fighting as four.”Bookmark here

“I agree, but I still think I made the right choice sending her home to investigate the murders back home.”Bookmark here

“What’s the real reason?” Tiergan curtly asked. “You know Kella can handle herself perfectly fine in battle and we could’ve done with her help. Why’d you send her home?”Bookmark here

Connor smiled dejectedly. “I really wish I could say it’s because I wanted her to investigate the murders in Stonefall or because she was wounded, or that I didn’t think she was strong enough.” Connor frowned. “Honestly, it’s because I was scared.”Bookmark here

“Scared?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. We’ve fought all kinds of monsters, all kinds of people, and been in maybe a hundred battles in our life, but never in something like this. Not on this scale, not with this much at stake. I didn’t want to bring Kella along because I was scared something would happen to her.”Bookmark here

“Wow, so it’s too dangerous to bring your sister, but your best friends are fair game,” Alisa said, rolling her eyes. “Really makes you feel loved, doesn’t it?”Bookmark here

“’If my sister died, I’d be too heartbroken to go on. These two, however, sod them,’” Tiergan added, mimicking Connor’s voice. Bookmark here

“You know that’s not what I meant,” Connor said.Bookmark here

“We know.”Bookmark here

“Thank Themis-”Bookmark here

“That we’re disposable to you.”Bookmark here

“You’re both irreplaceable!”Bookmark here

“Sure, sure. Hey, Tiergan, should we have left you at home because it’s too dangerous?” Alisa asked.Bookmark here

“I was going to say the same thing to you,” Tiergan replied.Bookmark here

“Ah, but, actually, if it’s that dangerous, maybe we should’ve left the soldiers at home, too.”Bookmark here

“Good point. When there’s a battle tomorrow, some of them could get hurt or worse. It is pretty dangerous after all.”Bookmark here

“Well, it’s a battle, isn’t it?”Bookmark here

“To think that Prince Julius isn’t as kind as Connor, eh?”Bookmark here

“Okay, you’ve made your point!” Connor yelled.Bookmark here

“Right, now that we’ve annoyed Connor enough, I wanted to ask you guys something,” Tiergan said. “Did either of you know who those masked C-rankers were?”Bookmark here

“Masked C-rankers?” Alisa repeated.Bookmark here

“They were stood towards the back and wearing steel masks and black capes. They said they were from Adelite, but none of the other adventurers from Adelite seemed to know who they were.”Bookmark here

Connor narrowed his eyes a little. “That’s odd.”Bookmark here

“Yeah. They were registered at the guild though, right?” Alisa asked.Bookmark here

“They were, but no one had ever heard of them before. I checked their guild cards personally and they were the real thing.”Bookmark here

“It’s just strange that no one knew who they were,” Connor said.Bookmark here

“Exactly.”Bookmark here

“Well, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who they are. All that matters is that they’re here to help us and that they can pull their weight.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Connor whispered.Bookmark here

I’m sure it’s nothing, but…why do I feel even more anxious about tomorrow?Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Early the next morning, three hours before the break of dawn, the army divided into two.Bookmark here

The Holy Legion and Paladins, under the command of Prince Julius, marched towards Black Port, and the adventurers under Connor’s command rode for the Shadow Tombs.Bookmark here

Between the two groups was a whole company of cavalry that were to relay information, supplies and new orders. They were also escorting three caravans of wagons carrying medics and supplies to aid both sides of the operation.Bookmark here

However, as both sides were many miles apart from one another, it would be difficult for the cavalry to act effectively. Therefore, each rider was stationed at intervals more than a hundred metres apart within eyesight of each other, making it easier to communicate with one another.Bookmark here

Hidden from their sight not too far away from the army were six of Mimir’s Ravens, watching them.Bookmark here

“Two for the city, two for the tombs, two for everything in-between,” one of the Ravens restated their orders. “The two at the tombs are to retreat once if the Lich King is defeated, and not a second later. Observe everything, record everything, report everything. Bookmark here

“Remember, these are our orders from his majesty. We must not fail him.”Bookmark here

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“Of course!” The others cried in unison.Bookmark here

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