“You truly are something, Asher.”
Coming from Anselm and in that tone, it wasn’t a compliment. “Why thank you, Anselm.” I smile in defiance to his chiding.
After a delicious and quite satisfactory breakfast, I stopped by the room to ‘retrieve’ my companion so we could both share in the briefing that the Mayor, Leriva has had her men set up.
“I don’t really mind you threatening her like that, it got results, but why didn’t you opt of the attack?”
The attack on the Cultists camps would go on as previously planned at my insistence. “I only need to kill one, Anselm.” I start, “I don’t know what sort of boon Lotar will bestow on me when I do but it will be well worth the effort, I’m sure of it.”
In truth, I’m not so much sure of it as I have faith in the promise of the otherworldly being. I held my doubts as usual, many of them in fact. But there’s just this essence of the Wolf that made me cease my worrying when I thought long on the matter.
“Leriva herself isn’t certain of her abilities, why are you so sure? We could be overwhelmed by the Cultists before we even get a chance to land a strike, just like what happened in Arak. You were thrown off your feet before you could even begin thinking of attacking.”
I heave a sigh, “Hey, I defended myself pretty well at first. Besides, we were fresh out of the cave then, no combat experience whatsoever, no proficiency with spells and worse of all, I was hungry.”
“Like a full stomach saves lives.” He grumbles.
I chuckle, “Hey, have some faith,” I catch myself as soon as I say the words. Was Lotar making me religious? Huh. I swallow and continue, “Regardless of full stomachs, other Mages and Wolf spirits, I truly have a good feeling about this.”
He sighs, exasperated with me, “Well, what other choice do I have?”
Not much my friend. Not much.
A few hours later yet another servant came knocking. Leriva is ready, composed herself, her scrambled thoughts from breakfast and called on her men to begin a briefing. Anselm and I were all that’s left.
I fully resummon him before heading out, a full fifteen minutes of being ‘alive’ if he doesn’t spend any of the mana.
The briefing room is held in one of the rooms that sat adjacent to the dining hall where I’d had breakfast. Trooping in with Anselm the first thing I notice is the large round table with a map splayed over it. Leriva and her men are all hunched over it, discussing with dire demeanours the mission we were to undertake.
Aside from the table, the rooms walls are decorated with weapons, weapons that held the look of monuments or furniture with how shiny they were. None of them possessed the crude look of an actual weapon, but still, surely even they could kill a man.
“Good of you to join us,” Leriva begins, her foul demeanour betraying her true feelings, “We were just discussing which camp would be best to attack.”
Anselm finds himself right at home staring at the map, “I see you have made extensive plans for a stronger defence.” He chortles, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you intend to turn this small village into a fort of sorts.”
Neither Leriva nor her men find any humour in his words, “Yes, that is exactly what we intend to do.” Leriva say, plain and clear, visibly shocking Anselm, “But this damned silent siege hinders our efforts. Which is why I am not absolutely opposed to trying this assault.”
“What could cause a small village to put up so many defences, all of these plans are prior to the Cultists camping around you I believe?” Anselm just doesn’t let it die. Well, I let him go on uninterrupted, Leriva say much on the matter when it came up at breakfast, maybe now she would.
“Carbina…” She sighs, “I have many enemies. Many aside from the Cult themselves, many who are arguably more sinister. Let us leave it at that.”
Anselm doesn’t seem satisfied with the answer, his eyebrows quirked in doubt and his lips part about to say something. I cut him off.
“Yes, let’s leave it at that. Your internal affairs are not the case and point at this moment, nor do I particularly care about anything past the Cultists. Let us move on. What are you suggesting for the assault?”
She shrugs, “We’re torn between two things when it comes to deciding where to assault and how to do so.”
“Trade and the number of Cultists in the camp.” One of her two men says.
“Trade?” Anselm says, voicing my thoughts, “What does trade have to do with the Cultists?”
Leriva finds herself a seat and a glass of wine, “If we attack based on trade then we’d be relieving the most profitable route of trade from the Cultists influence, this gives us chance to alleviate the immense strain this siege has put on my coffers. We’d be able to mount a defence there, secure trade of goods and build up the defences you noted earlier. Thus, making our survivability a lot higher if the Cultists ever choose to attack.”
“That’s sensible.” I mutter.
“It’s strategy.” Leriva sneers, gulping down the contents of her glass.
I flash her a cherry smile and ask, “And numbers?”
Her man answers this time, “We count the numbers of Cultists based on proximity. Just in case they use their hive mind to relay requests for reinforcements, we don’t want to be surprised when their numbers double.” He lets out a deep sigh as he tires, “However, it has become a question of whether we want to exterminate as many as possible and jump at the largest group or preserve our forces and chip at the Cultists numbers with periodic, persistent and rapid attacks.”
I snort. “So, three things then.”
“Sir?” he looks confused.
“You said earlier that…never mind.” I turn my attention to a glaring Leriva, “Leriva what will it be? Trade or numbers?”
“Don’t you want to give your opinion?” she asks.
“It doesn’t matter how we do it, so long as we kill Cultists. Also, we’d have to consider all these factors regardless of what mindset we choose to attack with.”
“Asher is right,” Anselm starts. Him admitting I’m right feels oddly satisfying yet strange at the same time. I’m so accustomed to his resistance. “If you go with numbers and bring relief to the road they haunt, then you’ll have to consider whether to mount a defence there and secure trade or leave it vulnerable to be retaken.”
Not exactly what I had in mind when I said they’d have to consider it all but it’s just as good, I think.
“So, lets focus on the route that will bring in the most valuable trade then. I think I can safely say you don’t want your roads occupied by Cultists, not if you can help it anyway, right Leriva?”
She shifts uncomfortably in her chair and bites out an affirmative. Her men nod and begin the briefing for the most valuable trade route.
Jabbing his finger at a round spiked image on the map the man from before begins, “This road leads to Aste, the city is one of the few we’re friendly with and so our trade is plentiful and valuable. We secure a majority of our coin from the crop and livestock purchases, but more importantly, they are the only steady source of smooth cobble and fine wood as well as many of the essentials needed to put up the defences, we’ve made plans for.”
“Hm, from what I see here the position of the camp is smack in the middle of two other camps, there are five in total but these three are the closest to each other.” Anselm says stepping forward, completely in his element. Sometimes I wondered if he was truly just a squire when he died.
He hums, rubbing his chin in a frown, “It will be difficult if they receive reinforcements from both camps, perhaps we chip at the other two first?” he suggests, drawing our attention to his plans. “The ones on the left and right are farther from each other, if we attack the one on the right in a quick assault and pull back then we can certainly hope to avoid heavy retaliation with reinforcements from our true target in the middle.”
“Yes.” Leriva’s man agrees, “It also helps that the one on the right holds the least amount of opposition. If all goes well, we could even exterminate them all.”
There is cheer and pep again with Anselm’s plan, Leriva’s men don’t look as downtrodden as before. I suppose it helps to have actual military experience on hand.
But I wasn’t distracted by the turn in the room’s atmosphere. A bit more occupied with the arrangement of the camps around the village though.
“Hey,” I call out. “Does anyone else think the camps look like a star? With the village right in the middle?”
They look confused. Leriva jumps out of her chair though, finally deeming to have a look at the map. Getting closer I begin to trace it out for them. Joining each of the five camps together in a star.
“See? Actually, it can look like one of those fancy stars if you want. What’s it called uhm…” I struggle trying to summon the name for the fancy star but I don’t have to.
“A pentagram. It’s a pentagram.” Leriva says. Her tone dark and low, her face struck still by whatever it is she just realized.
“We’ve been trapped.”