"A great commander is not defined by his plans.  He is not defined by how well he can come up with strategies.  What defines a great commander, are the moments when his plan doesn't work.  When things do not go the way he wants. When he has his back against the wall, sometimes literally.  And he has to think on his feet. A great commander -- as well as his legacy -- is forged in moments such as these." ~ Unknown



Lorist drew his sword and dashed forward. A flash of his bladeglow saw the garrison soldier silenced. The corpse slowly collapsed in two halfs. Lorist's cut straight through him. The others, still only half awake, saw the flash and their compatriot's collapse and froze. They couldn't cry no matter how hard they tried. The abyss soon greeted them as it did their comrade.

Lorist stepped out of the barbican covered in blood. He lifted his gaze to the top of the wall to call his men, but a cry behind him interrupted.

"Enemy attack! Alarum! Alarum! Ugh!"

Lorist finished his jerk only to see the last moments of the figure whence the cry had arose's collapse. An arrow stood proudly, rooted in his neck, its tip replacing his tongue.

Moments later the buildings across the street's windows lit up, shadows dashed back and forth across them, and confused cries burst from inside. One door after another opened and soldiers poured out like hornets from a disturbed nest. Josk first continuously, but could not keep up. His shots were soon ineffective as shielded combatants charged out in front. They spotted the bloody Lorist and dashed at him as fast as they could.

His guards descended as fast as they could to join their lord, but would not arrive in time. Josk continued to fire. Lorist yelled at the gate. Once he saw the archer nod and direct the men emerging from the barbican to the gate, he turned to meet his attackers.

The city woke lazily to the alarms that spread across it. Dawn broke in bell chorus. Murder, death, and struggles for life chased away the darkness.

"Die!"

Lorist charged into the enemy's ranks like a dying tiger, slashing out ferociously like his death was certain and the only thing left to determine was how many would go with him. He didn't use his slaughter domain. He wasn't taxed even though he was using only his reflexes.

Heads divorced their bodies wherever his sword passed. They fell wordlessly, only the clinking and rustle of their armor audible as they flattened on the ground. Though could not keep track of their reaper's movements. It could only be glimpsed in the last moment of life when death was already drawing the soul from the body. One continuous strike, felled the men like they were nothing, like stalks before the scythe. Those not yet on the other side froze like their departed brethren. A moment later, Lorist drew his sword from flesh and looked around. Everyone was gone before he'd even gotten to enjoy himself. How unfair...

The new arrivals stood at a distance, staring at him. Behind him the reaped field stood empty. A hundred stalks had been felled. The furrow was littered with head divorced of bodies. Red oozed out of the point of divorce, and a crimson odor hung sickly between the buildings. Twenty unfelled stalks stood ahead, shivering in the wind. None had dreamt their harvest would come so soon. The wind, as if privy to the scene, quieted, and only the chattering of teeth remained, an eerie silence otherwise.

Clang! A giant metal leaf fell to the ground. The shock rippled through the unfelled stalks. A moment later a second, then a third, soon twigs joined the leaves. The repeated din of the falling parts uprooted the stalks and they dashed away with the wind.

"Demon! Demon!" they serenaded as they drifted away.

The masses withdrew like autumn leaves blew by the wind. Their reaper was left speechless, standing alone in the empty field, rubbing his nose embarrassedly.

Was I that terrifying? They actually called me a demon!

Lorist couldn't bring himself to chase his victims. His priority was to open the gate and let the troops waiting outside in. Just as he returned to the walls, however, one of his men reported bad news.

"The gate is frozen shut, Your Grace. We can't open it. Also, the gate is entire wrapped in iron, so we can't set fire to it either."

Lorist stared wide-eyed at the two three-meter tall doors that made the gate[1]. Usual gates were made out of wood and covered in iron or copper on the outside.

Is Wessia boasting their riches? They actually used black iron to make the gates, not to mention the latches that were 30 centimeters long and 8 centimeters thick… Must be from the cold. Everything is frozen into a single solid mass! Putting aside pushing, even ramming wouldn't open them.

"Is Wessia insane? Did they intend to lock themselves in every winter?"

He suddenly realized the northern gates didn't have to be opened in winter. If there were any emergencies, they could leave through any of the other gates. He was just unlucky to have chosen the northern gate for his assault.

The gates could technically be opened, but they didn't have the time needed. They'd have to fire the gate up first, then pour oil into the latches before working to open it. They couldn't afford to spend time on this. The men on the other side had to rush in immediately.

"Can't you cut the latches?"

"No, Your Grace."

The man pointed at the middle latch.

The scratches on it showed they'd already tried. The deepest cut only struck through a few millimeters. Cutting would be no faster than the other option.

"Can't we just bash a hole in it?" Lorist persisted. Since he couldn't deal with the latches, he would just bust through the gate itself.

"We can't, we've tried already. The iron on the gates is just as hard as the latches, and the wood beneath very hard," replied the guard as he pointed at a few scratches on the gates.

Just like with the latches, the deepest barely made a dent. Lorist stared through the crack between the two doors. They were at least twenty centimeter thick, if not more. Beyond he could see Loze charging the final few meters to the other side.

He turned his attention to the latches again. He could probably cut through it, but it would still take him at least an hour. He would need at least five all-exhaustive strikes, and at least ten minutes of rest between each to recover his strength. Everyone inside the walls would be dead long before he finished. And if the city's one or possibly two blademasters showed up, he would have no strength to fight them.

The horns of alarm bellowed every further away into the city. The enemy was deploying. Lorist's expression grimmed.

"Your Grace, the gates to the military district are open!! At least a regiment's worth of men are coming this way! We only have a few minutes!"

Lorist laughed bitterly. Everything was fucked up the moment that single soldier managed to call out. Nobody expected Wessia to change the two gates. He checked his surroundings. He had less than 200 men with him when the mission began. Of that, only six had not left with Els and Shuss. And, though more were constantly pouring over the walls, they could not match the rate at which the enemy could march men through open gates.

He slapped himself and sprang into action. He had Josk send word to Malek, Dulles, and Loze to find a way to scale the walls. He had the men on the walls prioritize turning the ballistae on the city. He also recalled Els and Shuss's detachments to the nearest towers along the wall. The plan was fubar, and he now had to do what he hated most -- improvise. There would be no quick conquest of the city now, but at least they had established a foothold on the wall without any casualties so the greatest hurdle had already been overcome. Victory was still far from uncertain, it would just take longer and be harder earned than was ideal.

"Worridge, take a few men and clean up the buildings nearby. Collect everything burnable you can find and pile it up by the gates. We'll melt the bastards if we have to!" ordered he.

Worridge was Viscount Eidis' eldest son. He was currently a peak three-star-silver-rank. Lorist predicted he would break through to the gold rank in two or three years. He'd joined Lorist's personal guards with his brother Sykos and performed really well. He climbed the ranks from a corporal to a lieutenant-major. His brother Sykos was transferred to Jaeger and now a full major.

"Understood, Your Grace." Worridge took a hundred men and started scouring the nearby buildings.

Lorist had the remaining men build makeshift barricades with whatever they could find. They acted quickly and several barricades quickly blocked the streets. Some had even taken the initiative to pour water on the roads in front of the barricades. The water immediately froze and made it all but impossible to stay upright.

The roles were reversed, the attacker was now the defender. An hour had passed since the attack started, and the first rays of sunlight were hitting the tallest towers of the castle that watched over the city from the hill in its middle. The enemy's reaction was far faster than he had anticipated. He could only admire their discipline. The battle ahead was going to be even more bloody than he had first feared.

The soldiers weren't the only ones woken by the commotion. The peasants were also roused from their fitful slumber. The slum-dwellers gathered at the ends of the blocks. Their weapons glinted, reflecting the lightening sky. Figures pushed them aside and reformed in front. The front row hid behind shields, but pikes stabbed through the gaps between them and an additional row jabbed over the first's shoulders.

"Pikemen!"

Doubt flashed across Lorist's eyes. Looks like Wessia sent their elites.

Worridge returned with his men at that moment. They piled their plunder against the gate. The oil was poured out of their containers and lamps were smashed onto the pile. Several torches immediately followed and everything went up in smoke-choked flames.

"Worridge! Form everyone up behind the barricades! Keep the enemy away from the gate at all costs! Don't follow or send anyone after me! Understand?"

"I understand, Milord!"

Lorist vaulted over the barricades. He slid across the ice on the road and dashed on. His steps halted fifty or so meters beyond. His scabbard emptied, and he faced the oncoming black mass.

The mass became regular slowly as it approached, its footsteps regular and uniform, unrushed. It eventually stopped 40 meters away from Lorist. Silence pervaded.

A cry, and the battle was raging.

 


 

[1] That's one damn small gate for a city supposed to be as big as Frederika is… Plus, it's damn poor gate design. It's standard for gates to have at least two layers of ubstruction in a barbican with a killing pit between… Each double layer usually has an iron gate dropped down from the barbican above, and either a single or double door several dozen centimeter thick behind it. The doors are not always there, but the drop down steel gate is ubiquitous.