Authors: John Nest,You The Reader
Tags: #Computers & Technology, #Games & Strategy Guides, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Teen & Young Adult, #Children's eBooks
This book is dedicated to my fellow dreamers who love Zectas as much as I do.
Gloomy clouds loomed over Verbrannt as a red werebear was pacing back and forth on the balcony of Rauch castle. It had been two days since Sierra received a call from Smoke, telling her that he needed some time alone and that he will be back in Verbrannt shortly.
After taking a deep breath to calm herself down, she leaned on the ledge of the balcony and looked at the landscape in the distance. With Smoke on her mind and a frown on her face, she suddenly said out loud, "You know, sometimes I wonder if I should just forget about you. I’d stop playing Zectas and never come back. But I can’t...." Her voice trailed off as she thought about her situation with Smoke. It frustrated her that he wouldn’t let her help him deal with his negative feelings.
"Stop ‘playing’ Zectas?" asked Sharur as he interrupted her private musings, clearly oblivious to what she meant.
She was taken by surprise by the OrkElf, who was standing in the corner the balcony.
"Er...I mean ‘living in it’." Sierra answered quickly while thinking on her feet. "You gotta live your life here in Zectas as if it were a game in which you always want to win." she hurriedly added.
"I see. Never thought of it that way before." answered Sharur. "But going back to what you said, about never coming back to Zectas...please don't ever do that." he pleaded, "You know how Smoke is—he does his own thing, but he always comes back to you. Besides, there's plenty of other people here who would be brokenhearted if you left."
"I know, I would never abandon you guys. I'm sorry for worrying you, Sharur." said Sierra as she patted the OrkElf's broad shoulder. "It was just a slip of the tongue, I didn't really mean it. I know how Smoke feels about me, even though he doesn't say it. He's just made that way, I guess." she said with a deep sigh.
Suddenly, she received a call she had been waiting on for quite some time. It was from her mentor, Nenek.
"I know that I've asked you about this before, and I know that you've already given me an answer. Still, I can't help myself but ask you the same thing again." Sierra tried to speak in a calmly manner, but her voice revealed her annoyance. "Why in the world would you send a novice who just got a Job change to Acolyte out to Repormatl village? And have her run into the Witches of Wysteria, no less?"
"Sierra, Sierra, Sierra, as I told you before, I had a premonition that you could one day defeat the Witches of Wysteria. We’ve already had this conversation, just drop that topic already." said an exasperated Nenek. "Anyway, let's move on to why I called. It took far longer than expected, but I have finally completed your request. I may have only managed to train sixty of them, but they all have my seal of approval."
Sierra felt bad for criticising a person who just did her a favor. "Thank you so much for this, Nenek. I really appreciate it. I'll send someone to pick them up right away." she replied sheepishly.
"No problem. I'm always happy to oblige my most promising student. Even though she's stubborn and irritating at times." Nenek said with a chuckle, "Alright, I'll leave you to your little village. Although, I guess it isn't so little anymore, is it? I think I might come visit one day."
"Yes, please, do visit. You're more than welcome to stay here anytime you like." Sierra said with a big smile on her face.
Sierra then quickly called Gandiva and Laernea, who were out on a run and delivering weapons from Nanahuatl to Centza.
"Alright, we'll stop by Nenek’s and pick them up. Hmm, taking a detour to Centeo means that we'll probably get back in three days." replied Gandiva after Sierra gave them information on how to find Nenek in Centeo city.
"No problem. Just get here as fast as you can." replied Sierra. She would have wanted them to arrive sooner, but she understood why the Lioumereans' needed that much time. As the gears in her head were turning, working out what to do with the new units she was about to acquire, Sharanga suddenly came bursting through the balcony door.
"Espion just returned. He's been all over the place ever since he got that new acinonyx cheetah of his. He says he has some vital information on the Brandals." said the WoodElf enthusiastically, "He's asked for all of us to gather in the war room."
The three of them immediately headed there.
* * * * * *
Adder, Ledur, Thyrsus and Espion were standing at a massive rectangular table as they looked over the map of Centzo that was placed on top of it. Ichaival, Vijaya, Jinggu, Ehrlich, Stark, Weise and Rasant were behind them and listening to their discussion. As soon as Sierra walked into the room, they paused their deliberation.
The core members around the table made room for Sierra, as her cursed form took up quite a bit of space. After Sierra, Sharur and Sharanga took their places at the table, Adder turned to Espion and said, "Alright, you can start now."
"Right. From what I’ve gathered, it appears that the Sonstwelters in Centzo have united into one massive alliance. They're led by an Arch Bishop named Incitant." stated Espion, "Not only that, but he has also managed to convince the Zectians in the area to fight alongside them."
"That's impressive!" said Ichaival with a whistle.
Sharanga, who stood beside him, elbowed him immediately in the stomach and made him stop being a nuisance to the meeting.
"It appears that their alliance had been timely formed, because only a week afterwards, Duke Burmistrz ordered a full-on assault on the city." said Espion and began to describe the atrocities that the Brandals had done in the surrounding area.
"They created a wasteland in the circle of ten kilometers around Centzo. The homes and shops located outside the city walls were completely decimated. I saw dried-up bloodstains in the remnants of the houses; often, there were children’s clothes next to them. Thankfully, their bodies were absorbed back into Zectas, and hopefully they’ll find peace in Mictlan." Espion lowered his head as he thought about the lives that ended too soon.
Everyone in the room was taken aback by what Espion reported. This time, it was Sharanga's loud gasped that interrupted Espion. She covered her mouth in disgust and turned away from others. Ichaival hugged her in order to comfort her, and she allowed it.
"Calm yourselves." said Sierra in a difficult voice, as she herself had trouble taking in the description of Brandals’ atrocities. "This is the reason why we must overcome these scoundrels." Sierra remembered how she thought she lost Sharur and Jinggu when the Brandals attacked their wooden fortress in the past. "Don't worry. One day, we'll avenge everyone whom the Brandals have hurt." she said with strong conviction.
After everybody settled down, Espion resumed his report. "A lot of the city residents died when the Brandals and Centzo's alliance clashed. Incitant lost more than thirty thousand men that day, twenty thousand of which were Sonstwelters, while the rest were Zectians."
Espion paused again, as a low murmur spread across the war room. The core members started talking to each other after they heard about such a high death toll. The Spy had to speak louder to get back everyone's attention, "However, this turned out to be a big failure on the part of Duke Burmistrz, as Incitant’s forces successfully defended the city. Not only that, but they also killed about forty thousand Brandals in the process."
"Serves them right!" shouted Vijaya. The war room was filled with similar reactions after they heard the good news.
Sierra clapped her paws loudly and said, "Alright, alright, everybody settle down. Espion isn't done yet."
Espion nodded at her and said, "After suffering such a blow to their numbers, the Duke's legions have been reorganized. He kept the number of legions at ten, and because of that, most of them consist of less bandits than before." He pointed to the map on the table and said, "Every single one of the eight legions surrounding the city are now seven thousand five hundred strong, while the two legions assigned to transporting supplies remain ten thousand strong."
Ledur held his chin with his hoof. "That is indeed a favorable development, but we still can't handle a legion of that size." he said and pointed to the map, "Even if we did manage to defeat one, the other two legions adjacent to it would easily crush us afterwards."
"Agreed." stated Adder. "We would need at least three strike teams, and hit three of their legions here." he said and pointed to the left side of the city, "If we could do that, the other legions wouldn't be able to react in time."
"For that to work, we would need an army of at least twenty five thousand men, right?" Ledur consulted Adder.
"Actually, I was hoping to have more than that." replied a disheartened Adder, "That's why I was going to suggest we keep saving village after village, in hopes of increasing our numbers."
Sierra raised her paw and interjected, "We already have Mamelon and her regiment assigned to that. They're also out hunting for more mounts we could use for our men. But we can't wait for us to grow to that size. Who knows how many more innocent lives will be lost by then."
Anxious, she tapped her foot rapidly. "We have to take some sort of action now, but I just don’t know how."
"If only Smoke were here..." said Rasant out loud.
Everyone instantly turned to the orange Maneator and stared at him with pitiful eyes. He just then realized that he had entered the realm of taboo as he stared at a motionless Sierra.
"Yes, if only he was here, maybe he could come up with something. But he is preoccupied at the moment, so we will have to make do by ourselves." said Sierra flatly.
Everybody averted their eyes and focused on the table. They blankly stared at it in silence.
Suddenly, Thyrsus came up with a question, "Espion, what exactly is the route of the two legions that carry supplies?"
"Well, they mostly stay in Braucht Hilfe village, here." he said as he pointed to a place on the map north from Centzo, "From there, they take turns at traveling back to Coatl. Upon their return to the village, they split up into four groups and then head to different directions towards the battlefield, delivering supplies to their comrades." He then pointed to the plains, mountains and forests through which the smaller groups of bandits travelled through.
Thyrsus promptly asked a follow-up question, "Have you ever seen them split up into even smaller groups afterwards?"
"No, not really. They stay in armies of two thousand five hundred men, although I haven't stayed long enough to see them get back to Braucht Hilfe village after delivering the supplies." answered Espion.
"Hm. Maybe we could use the mandragora flowers against them?" thought Thyrsus out loud, "Although, we only have a small amount of them left, and the flowers haven't grown back in the Mandragora forest for a while now."
"That's not a completely bad idea, Thyrsus. I like what you're getting at, but we can't use the mandragora flowers." said Sierra flatly. Slowly, a devilish grin formed on her face. "This will be where we make our first move." she said while pointing to the forest near the village.
Thyrsus nodded and said, "I think three thousand Mercenaries should suffice." He then turned to their Comptroller, Ehrlich. "How much do you think that would cost us?" he asked the elderly Dwarf, "I think we could get a discount from the Avendre Mercenaries if we ask for that many of their men, right?"
Ehrlich quickly did some fiddling with the abacus in his hand and replied, "According to my calculations, it should cost us fifty-two million zecs. However, I think it will take them more than a month to assemble that many Mercenaries."
"No, no, no." said Sierra strongly, "We can't wait that long. Besides, Verbrannt needs all the money it’s earning."
She slammed her red furry paws on the table. "We'll do it by ourselves!" she shouted, "With Ledur's brothers now numbering ninety-six and my werewolf pack numbering fifty-two, we can do this."
Adder, Ledur and Thyrsus were about to object, but as the rest of the core members cheered in support of Sierra, their voices were drowned out.
Finally, after the war room calmed down, Thyrsus got a chance to speak. "Sierra, even if a legion is split into four groups, that's still two thousand five hundred bandits in each of them. This sounds like a difficult mission for us, at the moment."
Sierra didn't respond, but it was clear that she was adamant about her decision, which made Thyrsus try to persuade her once more. "Do you remember what happened the last time we faced off against that many Brandals? We lost Mitleid and almost a thousand men that day."
"Thyrsus has a point." said Vijaya, "We also had the help of eight hundred Knights from Coatl during that battle."
Sharur clapped his hands loudly and caught their attention. "Come on, everyone, let’s hear her out. This is Sierra we’re talking about; I’m sure she has something planned."
Thyrsus raised his hands in surrender and said nothing more.
"Vijaya, Sharanga, Ichaival, Jinggu and Sharur, please assemble a thousand of our finest men. Tell them to make preparations; we'll be leaving in three days’ time." said Sierra. She then turned to Adder, Ledur, Thyrsus and Espion. "I’ll need you guys to help me plan this out effectively. I’m sorry if I sounded brash earlier, but rest assured, we'll have some much-needed reinforcements soon. I think this could be a game changer."
Sierra, the three strategists and the young Spy remained in the war room and brainstormed ideas for their upcoming operation.
* * * * * *
Even though Sharanga strongly objected, Ichaival managed to tag along with her to pick out members for Sierra's mission. As the two of them walked out the castle gates, they spotted Billig arguing with Sympa, the representative of the Banalite volunteers. Ichaival just recently changed the twenty-seven Banalite volunteers' Jobs to Archers.
"Like I said, no one is an exception." said Billig with his Merchant face on, "Composite bows are 10,000 zecs each."
"I understand that, but can't you give me a discount? I'm gonna buy twenty-seven bows, after all." said Sympa in a sweet voice as she tried her best to convince Billig.
"If I’m going to give discounts to everyone who asks, then I'd better just give my fortune away and live like a beggar." scoffed Billig.
Sympa then knelt down in front of Billig and begged him, "Please, all of us are excited to see what we can do with composite bows."
"I'm sorry, my dear, but these prices are set in stone." said Billig with finality.
Upon hearing this, Ichaival decided to help out and rushed to where Sympa and Billig were. "Billig, my good man, can't you bend those prices a bit?"
"I'm sorry, who are you again?" Billig asked Ichaival.
"Come on, Billig. It's me, Ichaival." he said with a big grin on his face and did a little bow.
The Gnome Merchant shook his head and said, "Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell." He then turned to his cart and started to put the bows away.
Ichaival quickly grabbed one of the composite bows and said, "Stop joking around, Billig. I'm one of Smoke's core members, one of the only four Hunters here." Billig still shook his head. "I'm a battalion commander, too. Ah, I know! Maybe you don't recognize me because my falcon isn't here." Ichaival shouted his falcon's name, "Ichai! Ichai! Come here for a bit."
Billig stopped stowing away the bows and waited for the falcon to come. However, no falcon came flying at all. "Ha!" said Billig and continued on.
"Billig, stop. I really am Smoke's core member." said Ichaival.
Sympa patted Ichaival's shoulder and said, "It's okay. Maybe we'll be able to buy them next time, when we save up more zecs."
"Ah! I could cover the remainder of the price for you. How much more do you need?" he asked Sympa.
"Let me check." Sympa quickly got out her zecs and said, "We only have 162,000 zecs. So just a little over a hundred thousand, I guess?"
"Oh, I got that much." said Ichaival, but as he was about to reach into his bag, Sharanga stepped in and stopped his hand.
"Hello, Billig." she said calmly.
"Oh, Miss Sharanga. A pleasure to see you, as always."
"I'm sure." she replied with a smile, "So, how much are these composite bows again?"
"Well, I'm selling them for 10,000 zecs each." replied Billig with a nervous smile.
"Hm. That's odd. Three weeks ago, you were dying to get rid of some composite bows, and you sold them to the Bowed Fishermen for only 4,000 zecs each." said Sharanga pleasantly, "Now, you're not trying to con these good Archers, are you?"
"Me? Of course not, Miss Sharanga." said Billig and shook his head furiously. He then displayed the bows in front of her. "You see, these particular composite bows, that the girl there is interested in, have somewhat unique features." he said smoothly and kept moving the bow about, never allowing Sharanga to inspect it carefully. "But, seeing as they can't afford these special bows, I think I might have some left over from three weeks ago." Billig speedily took the composite bows on display and stowed them into his cart. He then appeared to be rummaging through some things inside of it before taking out the same exact bows. "Ah, yes, these ones should be 4,000 zecs each."
Billig then placed twenty-seven composite bows in front of Sympa and she paid him the exact amount. She then bowed to the Gnome Merchant and said, "Thank you so much for these, Mister Billig." Right afterwards, she turned to Ichaival and hugged him. "My friends will be so happy with these. Thank you so much, Ichaival." she said and kissed him on the cheek.
Sympa then bowed to Sharanga and walked away with the bows. Billig also swiftly took his leave and carried his wares elsewhere.
With her arms crossed, Sharanga said to Ichaival, "Nice girl. So that's the leader of the Archers you organised in Banal, huh?"
"Yeah. They're still rough around the edges, but they're hard workers." answered Ichaival proudly, "By the way, thanks for helping me out there."
"Sure. I thought I should help, since you looked really concerned with her." she said in an irritated voice, "Although, I don’t see why she kissed you; I was the one who helped with the price."
"Why, Sharanga, if I didn't know any better, I would think you're jealous." said Ichaival teasingly.
Sharanga swiftly got out her five-trap system and threatened him with it. Ichaival reflexively covered his head with his arms and prepared for the worst. Seconds passed and nothing happened. He looked up, only to see Sharanga walking away.