LEVEL 3: Even the Best Laid Plans go Awry, but Such is This World
“…so that’s how it is.”
Bri had a bit of a cleft chin. No, not “a bit,” not “slight,” it was a huge, raging cleft chin that jutted out from the bottom of his face. His lips were black thanks to the black lipstick he wore and though he wasn’t beastly person, that lipstick sure made him look it. His eyebrows were thick and bushy, and Haruhiro wondered if they were natural or stick-ons. His rosy red cheeks were obviously painted on with blush. In fact, his entire face was covered with a thick layer of makeup.
Leaving aside his face, he was dressed in full plate armor today, complete with a sword at his belt. His movements were, as usual, curvalicious, which was terrifying in its own right. His armor bore a hexagonal emblem, which probably made him a Paladin like General Waters.
Bri regarded everyone gathered with eerie pale blue eyes and swiveled his hips around suggestively.
“…And that’s the status of the immediate area around Capomorti Fortress,” Bri finished. “To summarize, the fortress is surrounded by scattered orc camps centered around lookout posts. Each of these camps consists of two to five guards. I’m sure most of you already know this, but some might not, so I’m just making sure we’re all on the same page.
“What we call “Capomorti Fortress” actually includes the main fortress plus the lookout posts and all the camps. Everyone still following? Any questions? No? No questions? Good. I can’t be bothered to answer them anyway. Onto the main fortress then.”
Bri spread a map face-up on the ground and drew a lamp over to illuminate it. It was a drawing of the main fortress area of Capomorti Fortress.
“The heights of the walls surrounding the fortress are as follows,” Bri continued. “The main gate is located in the southern wall and about twenty-feet high. The eastern and western walls are both lower at around thirteen feet. Opposite of the main gate is the northern wall and rear gate, standing at more or less sixteen feet. Just inside of the northern wall is a set of outer stairs that leads to the rooftop. These stairs are the only way to reach the first floor because no other access point exists. The outer stairway is here,” Bri used the point of his scabbard to indicate a spot on the map that depicted the rooftop area.
“As you can see, the outer wall is built to connect to the main keep with an extension in the southeast corner. The outer stair to the rooftop, however, is located on the eastern side of this extension. In other words, even if we were to break through the main gate, we’d have to fight clockwise almost all the way around the entire fortress in order to reach the stairs. After that, we’d have to fight our way up the stairs to the rooftop, make our way to the rooftop entrance, and then fight our way back down to the first floor inside the main keep.
“Everyone knows why the fortress was built in such a maddeningly annoying way, right? Defense, of course! Once you reach the first floor, there are stairways to the watchtowers located on the northwest, southwest, and northeast corners of the keep. Oh yes, this is mostly information for you rookies out there, but these are three fabulously tall towers. That’s why they’re called watchtowers. The master of the fortress, the Guardian, is thought to reside in one of these three towers. Everyone got a mental image of the place now?”
Haruhiro stared at the map and bobbed his head up and down slightly. That was the place they were about to attack. He still had trouble believing it.
“Next is an overview of the attack strategy,” Bri shifted his sword to one hand and started to casually spin and twirl it around. It looked like a pretty heavy weapon, but he was handling it as if it was feather-light. “Our attack will begin at first light, but no worries! It’ll be fiiine. We’re detached from the main army so our role is to create a diversion. We move in first to attack the eastern and western walls. After we lure the enemy into diverting enough of their forces to deal with us, the main army hits the south wall and breaks through the main gate. Divide and conquer! Twenty parties will stay with me to attack the eastern wall. We’ll be called the Green Storm Regiment because of my fabulous green hair. The remaining fifteen parties will hit the western wall under Kajiko’s command. How about we call you the Wild Eagle Regiment? Pretty good name, right?”
Kajiko raised a single brow and replied, “Yeah, not bad at all.”
“I’ve already divided the parties into their respective regiments,” Bri said. “I’m only going to call out members of the Green Storm Regiment so pay attention! Ready everyone? Here we go… You, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, you, and… Renji.”
“What,” Renji said.
It wasn’t a question.
“You’re with me,” Bri said. “Too bad, eh, Kajiko?”
“Who you talkin’ to, huh?” Kajiko demanded, glaring at Bri. “You got a death wish, Brittany?”
“Nahhh, if you kill me then I can’t score with any more handsome men, can I?” Bri cast a fiery, lusty glance at Renji. “Right, Renji-boy?”
Renji didn’t even blink. He just met Bri’s eyes with a blank, impassive expression which, in and of itself, was impressive. That look in Bri’s eyes gave even Haruhiro, who had nothing to do with the exchange, goosebumps. Bri was just that terrifying.
“Drat,” Bri sighed with a creepy suggestive smile, looked straight at Haruhiro, then said, “And you.”
“U-uh,” Haruhiro stuttered. “Yes Ma’am—I mean, Sir.”
“Lastly…” Bri pointed to the leader of Choco’s party. “You guys. That makes twenty. Everyone else is with Kajiko, got it?”
Everyone responded and no one made any motions of disagreement. Even if they didn’t like where they had been placed, no one had the guts to bring it up with Bri. He was obscenely creepy.
“Kajiko, you’ve got a watch, right?” Bri asked.
“Yeah,” Kajiko raised the pocket-watch dangling underneath her breasts for Bri to see.
“Oh my,” Bri said, looking as if he was going to make a comment on the object resembling a pocket-watch he was holding in his own hands but thought better of it and said instead, “Someone’s spent a pretty penny somewhere. No, no, no, this won’t do at all. You make mine look like a P-O-S.”
Kajiko snorted. “That’s because yours is a piece of shit.”
“Let’s get one thing straight,” Bri replied. “Mine is expensive because it’s old, okay? It kind of stops working randomly sometimes, but WHATEVER! As long as we’ve got watches, we can coordinate our timing. I’ll let you know what time to commence the attack later. For now, let’s talk attack plan. Once the operation kicks off, we’ll advance towards the outer walls while taking down all the orc camps along the way. Whichever parties run into orcs, kill them all, quickly. If you don’t, the orcs from other camps will come to reinforce and then you’ll get surrounded and be in real trouble. That’s Phase One.”
Mogzo nodded vigorously. He needed to calm down more and save his strength for when he really needed it, Haruhiro thought.
“Phase Two begins after we reach the walls. We’re going to attack, but the enemy will probably be raining arrows down on us the entire time. According to the scouts in our Thief unit, there are about two hundred orcs manning the walls. It’s not a huge number, don’t wet your panties! Then again, if you get hit by an arrow in an unlucky spot, it most likely means instant death. So that’s why we’ve prepared shields!”
Bri’s chin twitched to a spot along the road where a bunch of flat boards that looked like shields had been stacked.
“Everyone, be sure to pick one up before we move out,” Bri continued. “The shields are disposable, so no need to return them!”
“Super generous of you!” Ranta yelled with a grin, but Bri ignored him thoroughly.
“There aren’t any gates for us to use, so once we’re at the base of the walls, we’re going to scale them en masse with ladders. We’ve got the ladders prepared, of course, but we’re going to need people to carry them to the wall for us. The ladder-carriers’ jobs will be to get the ladders to the proper spots, assemble them, and then run them up the walls. We’ve got four ladders each for both the Green Storm and Wild Eagle Regiments. Kajiko will be in charge of assigning the ladder-carriers for her regiment. As for my regiment the glorious ladder-carriers will be…”
Haruhiro had a bad feeling about this. He always turned out to be wrong whenever he had a good feeling about something, but his bad feeling predictions were always spot on. And this time, he hit the jackpot once again. Bri pointed to Haruhiro and then to the leader of Choco’s party.
“You people will be in charge of the ladders,” Bri ordered.
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!?” Ranta’s frown was so deep that Haruhiro thought his jaw might twist off. “What the hell!? Why do we have to be the ones with the sucky job? We gotta carry shields and now you’re making us carry ladders too!? That’s way too much baggage!”
Ranta… Haruhiro thought. You’ve sure got guts. Before Haruhiro could say anything out loud though, Bri drew his sword and put the tip to Ranta’s throat.
“I’m the commander,” said Bri. “If you disagree with my orders, then go home. Of course, I’ll have to ask you to return the advance payment you received.”
“N-no way!! I-I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to… I can’t…” Ranta’s gaze dropped to the ground as he gave a small snort. “I spent it all.”
Haruhiro almost fell over with astonishment. “ALREADY!?”
“Shut up, Haruhiro!” Ranta yelled. “It’s my money so I can do whatever I want with it! How I spend it is none of your business!”
“In that case,” Bri raised his sword slightly so that it touched the underside of Ranta’s chin. “Stay quiet and obey orders. The moment you disobey is the moment a bounty gets put on your head.”
“B-b-bounty!?” Ranta repeated. “Uhhh, that kinda sounds like a bad thing…”
Shihoru shook her head, “Not ‘kind of’.”
Mary’s gaze was glacial. “It’s unequivocally, irrefutably, indisputably bad.”
“You know,” Bri withdrew his sword and gave it a spin. “The ladder-carriers’ job is vital to the success of the assault. They need to avoid fighting to the utmost of their ability, reach the base of the wall in one piece, and when they’re there, BAM! Run the ladders up swiftly as possible. It’s a cool role for cool people.”
“Cool people,” Ranta repeated, as if tasting the word in his mouth. His mouth then twisted into an unseemly grin. “Welllll… I guess if that’s the case, then I gotta do it. If it’s that important of a job, then no one else is cool enough to do it, right?”
“We’ll do our part too,” the oafish Warrior from Choco’s party pointed out.
“Shut up!” Ranta shot him a vicious glare. “You guys are you, I’m me. Besides, you guys are rookies that got here after us so you got no right to steal your elder’s spotlight, octopus-balls!!”
“I’m not an octopus-ball!” the other protested.
“Squid-head then!” Ranta exclaimed.
“Whatever,” the Warrior sighed. “I don’t care anymore.”
“HAHAHAHAHA! I WIN, YOU LOSE,” Ranta gloated.
The short-haired girl in Choco’s party eyed Ranta like she had just spotted a cockroach on the side of a room and said, “Scumbag jerk.”
Haruhiro buried his face in both hands, “I don’t think it can get any more embarrassing than this…”
At any rate, they were assigned to transport the four ladders so that’s what they would do. As the more experienced team, Haruhiro would have liked to take three and leave Choco’s team with only one to worry about, but it was just not possible. Two each would be the most appropriate considering that the ladders were a little over six and a half feet tall. More importantly, each one consisted of two halves. When assembled, they would stretch to over thirteen feet high. That meant there were actually eight ladders total that needed to be carried up to the base of the wall.
Haruhiro, Ranta, and Mogzo would take one each while the three girls handled the remaining one. Choco’s party consisted of four boys and two girls, so he guessed that the four boys would carry one each. Considering that each of them also had to carry shields, Haruhiro got the feeling that they had just been assigned the most labor-intensive role of all. They might not even make it to the wall before someone dropped from fatigue.
“And now,” Bri swung his hips around and thrust his butt out straight into the air. “It’s the main army’s job to penetrate the keep and clean up all the resistance inside, but I’ll go over the enemy troop strength just in case.
“Like I said before, we estimate the fortress garrison is two hundred orcs strong. Most of them belong to the Zesshu Clan. Members of this clan dye their hair black and sport red tattoos on their faces. They’re all equipped in a similar manner with single-edge swords called Gharii, bows and arrows, fur-covered shields, and red plate armor. Just because they’re assigned to guard the outer walls doesn’t mean they’re weak, so don’t be mistaken. The orcs within the keep are a mix of various clans, so they aren’t the most unified bunch. Supposedly.”
It seemed like the hardest part of their job was going to be getting the ladders to the wall. The reservists’ role was to be a diversion. If they really did run the ladders up and start going over the wall, the enemy would probably retreat rather than only get distracted like they were supposed to. If that was the case, then the ladder-carriers really did play a critical role.
Ladder-carriers were supposed to avoid the fighting so the bottom of the barrel teams, Haruhiro’s and Choco’s, had been assigned to the role; but if they failed, the entire plan would fall apart.
“The Guardian, Zoran Zesshu, is the chief of the Zesshu Clan. Zoran-darling is so big that you’ll know him when you see him. His hair is black and gold, and I’m told that he dual-wields a pair of swords. He’s also surrounded by an honor guard of about twenty orcs at all times, and they’re all pretty nasty customers. Oh, there’s also a couple of orc shamans mixed in. They’re lightly equipped and don’t wear armor or helms so you should recognize them pretty easily. I’m sure a few of you here have never fought shamans before, so be on your guards.
“Orc shamans have psionic and insect-swarm control abilities. Their magic is also very different from ours; they don’t rely on verbal chants or physical gestures to cast spells, so their attacks can take you by total surprise. They can make a fight extremely tough so if you encounter one, make sure you prioritize taking them down first. And umm, what else? …Oh yes, the smoke signal.”
“Smokin’ kills, you know…” Yume commented off-handedly.
“Yes,” Bri replied. “Someone gets cut down, and blood, blood, blood everywhere, no more breathing, DEATH!? Okay, who did it!? WHO KILLED—no one said anything about killing! Dangit, now you got me all into your killing talk! Me!? Preposterous! What are you gonna do to fix this, HUH!?”
“Uh…” Yume hesitated. “Are you angry at Yume? Maybe?”
“I am NOT angry!” Bri shot back. “Do I look like some six-year-old brat throwing a tantrum to you!?”
“Oh gosh…” replied Yume. “Yume’s sorry, Cap’n Bri! But Yume’s lendin’ you her ears properly, really!”
“Now’s not the time to be lending me anything!” Bri said. “I want you to be ALL ears, got it? But I guess you don’t have to be if you don’t want to…”
“If not all ears then what?” Yume asked. “Yume’s curious now…”
“Just drop it!” exclaimed Bri. “Shut it and let me talk! It’s not that I don’t like you, I do, but you’re distracting me so SHUSH, ZIP IT, SHHHH!”
“Now then. The smoke signal,” Bri went on. “Whenever Capomorti gets attacked en masse, the orcs send up a smoke signal to alert Steelbone Stronghold. I’m sure they’ll send the signal right away like always, but this time, Steelbone’s got their own troubles. Even if Capomorti requests reinforcements, they won’t come. Don’t be surprised by the signal and don’t stop advancing.
“Hmm… I think that’s about it? I’ve done a bunch of doom and gloom talking, but unless we screw up royally, the operation should succeed. There are bounties on the heads of the Guardian and a few of the more well-known shamans and even reservists like us can claim them. This is NOT a difficult battle. So children with no experience, don’t worry. You’ll be just fine.”
Haruhiro was certain that Bri was looking straight at his party. He couldn’t completely relax, but he did feel like this wouldn’t be as hard as he initially thought. The most difficult part was probably going to be carrying the ladders and their shields the three and three-quarter mile distance to the fortress walls.
“HOWEVER,” Bri said dramatically, tone menacing. “These are orcs we’re dealing with. They’re the ones who drove out the undead after the passing of the Deathless King and they’re proud of the superiority of their strength out here on the frontier. Get careless and it won’t end with some weak counterattack you can just brush off. You’ll die, understood?”
Haruhiro swallowed hard. Work someone up then slap them back down. Haruhiro supposed that was just Bri’s way of doing things, but it might have been pretty effective. Just when he was getting slightly overconfident about the entire thing, Bri cut him back down to size and now he was feeling physically and mentally balanced.
Bri licked his black-painted lips with a pink tongue and said, “Come along then, my kittens, summon those fighting spirits and let’s be off.”