Chapter 17: Set

I’ll be honest, Chancellor – revenge is the motivation for over half the decrees I’ve made.”
– Dread Empress Sanguinia II, best known for outlawing cats and being taller than her

Nauk was napping when we got back to camp, resting lazily under a tree. One of his legionaries kicked him in the ribs when the war party passed by the sentries. Awaking with a growl, the orc swiped at the laughing dark-haired girl but she danced away. I raised an eyebrow at the exchange but passed no comment as I eased my armour’s straps and propped up my shield against a stone.
“Humans,” the wounded lieutenant rumbled. “You always think you’re funnier than you are.”
I felt I’d gotten enough of a handle on orc humour to know that was a joke. Still, it was always hard to tell with orcs.
“Still funnier than you,” Robber sniped as he set down his leather satchel.
Nauk eyed Robber balefully.
“You’re still conscious? Only half a victory, then,” the orc replied.
I didn’t know why those two had been at each other’s throat since last night, but frankly I was far past caring.
“If the two of you have that much fight left in you, I have a fort that needs taking,” I told them flatly. “Any volunteers?”
Robber rolled his eyes and wandered away without a word, leaving me to deal with Nauk – the orc scoffed but refused to meet my gaze. Yeah, I’m definitely asking Hakram what’s up with these two. Our situation was bad enough already without two of my few remaining officers taking verbal swings at each other in front of the troops.
“We cleared the watchtower and dragged back their sergeant,” I informed Nauk. “I’m guessing you’ll want to be there for the interrogation?”
The orc grimaced.
“You’ll need to help me up,” he admitted. “My leg hasn’t gotten any better.”
I crouched next to him and slung his arm over my shoulder, knees almost buckling under the weight of him as I bore the other lieutenant’s mass.
“Heavens, what did you eat to get this big?” I wheezed, forcing myself upright.
Nauk grinned toothily.
“Whatever was lying around at the time,” he replied, “we’re not as picky about food as you lot.”
“You should consider trying salad,” I said, only half-joking. “I hear it’s very slimming.”
“Do I look like a bloody elf to you?” the orc grumbled as we crab-marched to the rocky outcropping I’d seen my men dragging the sergeant behind. “I might as well lick bark and frolic in meadows while I’m at it.”
“Elves eat meat too,” I informed him, tone thick with amusement.
“Give it a few years and Lord Black will have us eating the elves,” Nauk replied conversationally. “My grandmother got a bite during the Conquest, said it was more tender than lamb.”
Does it still count as cannibalism if it’s another species? I’d have to ask Scribe, she probably knew. That aside, this was far from the first time I’d heard an orc artlessly profess trust in Black. It was proving to be a recurring pattern.
“Hakram said something along the same lines,” I replied. “He was keen on the Black Knight too. Is it an orc thing?”
I almost stumbled when Nauk stopped moving, turning to face me with an unusual serious expression.
“I like you, Callow,” he rumbled, “So I’ll give you a piece of advice. You look like Wallerspawn and talk like a Callowan, so your folks were probably on the other side during the Conquest. You might have an axe to grind and that’s your own business, but don’t ever talk bad the Black Knight in front of a greenskin.”
The orc’s dark eyes burned with an intensity I’d only glimpsed last night when I’d seen him trashing a pair of legionaries with his bare hands, roaring challenges as he knocked their helmets together.
“He raised us up, Callow,” Nauk said fervently. “He ended the wars between the Clans and told us that we could be more. That even if we were born in a hut, we could still become generals and lords instead of being meat in the grinder. If those fucking prissy nobles in the Tower were still in charge, I wouldn’t even know how to read.”
“I was just asking,” I replied quickly, awkwardly warding him off with a raised while still balancing his weight on my shoulder. “I’ve got nothing against him!”
Nauk eyed me sceptically.
“Even met him once,” I continued, “I was around when he had Governor Mazus hung.”
The orc grinned, doubts apparently cast aside for the moment. I reflected ruefully that with every passing day I was getting better at lying while saying the truth – no doubt Black would be proud. Or at least quietly approving, which was the closest I’d ever seen him to expressing that actual emotion.
“Heard about that,” Nauk admitted. “The old families in Ater threw a fit over it.”
From the looks of it, the prospect rather delighted the lieutenant. I frowned as we crossed the last few yards separating us from our destination. That was another pattern I’d noticed: most of the cadets hated the nobility in Ater with a vengeance. I could understand the resentment, having had a lean table at the orphanage more than once because of Mazus and his cronies, but it seemed to run deeper than that. Now that I thought about it, the Legion garrison in Laure had always been a little too eager to put the city guards in their place whenever they could. I’d first stopped being scared of the large orcs in armour after seeing one run off guards harassing an old shopkeeper, back when I was seven. The legionary had even helped the old man back to his stall before leaving, I remembered. So the Legions of Terror and the nobles hate each other’s guts. Then why did Black have Mazus executed? Wouldn’t that make things worse between them? My wayward teacher must have had a plan in mind, I guessed. Or, I thought with a sudden chill, he’s decided it’s not worth trying to keep them happy anymore.
That was the stuff civil wars were made of, I knew, and the prospect of a Dread Empire at war with itself was horrifying. Wars were brutal enough between Good and Evil, but between Evil and Evil? There might not be an Empire left by the time the dust settled. Putting the line of thought aside for the moment, I focused on the matters at hand: I helped Nauk sit against a rock facing the still-unconscious sergeant from the First Company and let out a sigh of relief when I dropped off the weight. The sergeant’s hands and feet were bound with thick rope I’d seen the sappers carrying around and Hakram was looming over her body with a patient look on his face. Robber was sitting cross-legged on a flat rock, flipping a brightstick in the air lazily and catching it at the very last possible moment. Hakram turned to face me, rolling his shoulders in an unconscious gesture: I could sympathize, after a night and half a day running around in legionary armour.
“Nilin’s setting up the watches,” me sergeant informed me. “Says he’ll be along as soon as he’s done.”
I nodded absently, taking a closer look at our captive. The girl was on the short side, skin the same bronze colour as Captain’s and hair cropped close in the haircut most female legionaries seemed to favour. Her armour was dented noticeably around the ribs: it must have been a nasty hit that had put her down.
“Do we know anything about her?” I asked.
“Name’s Juwan,” Robber said, stopping to play with his stick. “She’s from Thalassina, I think.”
Thalassina was one of the three great cities of the Empire, I knew, along with Ater and Foramen down in the deep south. It was the largest port in the Empire and the main hub of trade with the Free Cities.
“Let’s wake her up,” I said. “We might have to move camp and I’d rather do it before nightfall.”
Hakram knelt by the prone sergeant and slapped her none too gently. I winced: not the way I would have done it, but then I’d never interrogated anyone before. After a moment Sergeant Juwan blearily opened her eyes, squinting to get used to light before she took a look around her.
“Well, this is unexpected,” she croaked out. “I don’t suppose any of you asshats could give me a little water?”
Hakram snorted and uncorked his canteen, carefully pouring into the captive’s open mouth – he lost patience after a moment, pulling it away and closing it with a small pop.
“I’m Lieutenant Callow,” I said. “I have a few questions to ask you.”
“Lieutenant what?” Juwan replied incredulously. “Who in the Seventy Thousand Hells are you? I’ve never heard of you before.”
Seventy Thousand Hells? I blinked in surprise, sneaking a look at Robber to make sure I hadn’t misheard that last part. The goblin shrugged.
“They believe in all sorts of weird stuff in Thalassina,” the sapper told me. “It’s all that salt in the air.”
“That’s rich coming from someone whose patron deity is called the Gobbler,” our apparently unimpressed prisoner retorted.
“Hit her, Hakram,” Nauk opined over the goblin’s retort. “They always get mouthy unless you hit them.”
My sergeant shot me a questioning look but I shook my head. In all fairness, Robber had been asking for it.
“I’m new,” I addressed Juwan. “But that’s irrelevant –”
“Oh gods,” the prisoner muttered, “I was ambushed by a greenie. I’m never going to hear the end of this.”
“Are you quite done?” I said, a tad more sharply than before.
The sergeant shot me a condescending look.
“Look, ‘Lieutenant’,” she replied. “You’re new, so it’s understandable you might not get how fucked you are. Juniper’s out there looking for you guys right now and you’ve got what… maybe a line and handful of sappers? You can’t win this.”
My face turned blank as the sergeant continued.
“Look, you managed to ambush my tenth so you did well on your first game,” Juwan told me. “You might even get transferred to a company that actually wins once in a while. We’ve got Ratface and all your mages, just surrender the standard and we can all go home tonight.”
I could feel the anger coming from the other three officers at our prisoner’s casual dismissal and I felt the stirrings of it too, deep in my gut. I passed a hand through my hair and forced myself to calm down. Don’t make decisions angry. Angry means stupid, and if you get stupid you’ve already lost.
“Sergeant Hakram,” I said. “Hit her.”
Sergeant Hakram did.
“Now, as I was saying,” I continued icily. “I’m Lieutenant Callow. I have a few questions for you.”

I really wished we’d managed to keep at least one of the maps, because the vague outline Robber had traced in the dirt looked more like a Helike mural than the rendition of Spite Valley it was meant to be.
“So that rock is our position?” Nilin asked in a politely sceptical tone.
Robber rolled his eyes.
“That’s the fort,” he replied. “We’re the smaller rock.”
We let out a small noise of understanding in unison. Our captive had been blindfolded and stashed in a corner with a legionary standing guard over her, now that the questioning was over. I’d assembled the officers to hold an unofficial war council immediately after. Juwan’s interrogation had yielded enough information to make the skirmish at the watchtower more than worthwhile: the sergeant’s knowledge of troop disposition was a day old, but it allowed us to place our own position into a broader context. All of Rat Company except our motley band of survivors had been taken prisoner, we now knew, but there hadn’t been enough room in the fort to keep seventy-odd legionaries. There was a secondary prisoner camp, and that meant we’d just stumbled on a way to bring up our numbers before hitting the harder target. There was no way taking a shot at the fort with our current line and a half would be anything but suicide, but if we managed to free another tenth – or even better, a few mages – then it would be a whole other story.
“We should move to attack the prison camp as soon as possible,” Hakram said, breaking the thoughtful silence. “Juniper might post more soldiers there when she learns we already took out a tenth.”
“The men marched all night and fought not even a bell ago,” Nilin retorted, tone flat and disapproving. “There are limits to what we can ask from them.”
“The men will have to tighten their belt if they want to win this, Sergeant,” Nauk growled. “Nobody said it was going to be a walk in the park.”
“Says the guy who was napping when we came back,” Robber scoffed.
“Enough,” I intervened. “Sergeant Nilin has a point. I’d rather not attack a second time in daylight anyway, we might get followed back to camp.”
That gave everyone pause, as I’d intended it to: if even a single tenth found our camp, then that was it for the wounded and the handful of rations we’d managed to salvage. An empty stomach wasn’t the kind of enemy you could put down with a sword.
“There’ll be a least a line waiting for us there,” Hakram rumbled. “And they’ll be dug in behind fortifications, you can be sure of it.
“Juniper’s sappers are the second best in the College for building defensive positions,” Robber admitted, though it ran against his pride to do so. “They go by the book, though. If I get a look at it from a distance I could tell you what plan they’re using.”
I closed my eyes and silently weighed the risks against the benefits. Night attacks were a messy enough business without going in blind, I decided. The sapper had already proved he could get around quietly, and with the watchtower out of the equation this might very well be the best chance we’d get.
“Take half a tenth and be back before sundown,” I told the goblin. “Don’t take stupid risks, we’ll need you for the assault.”
Robber’s answering grin was malicious as ever and he saluted before pushing himself up. I turned my attention back to the “map” as he left, wondering if I was making a mistake. The prisoner camp was my best shot at getting enough soldiers to assault the fort, I knew, but that meant Juniper knew it too. Were we headed right into a trap? It doesn’t matter, I finally decided. I can’t win this without taking risks, and this is the most reasonable one.
“Put the troops on half-watch,” I said, raising my head to look at the other officers. “Everybody should try to get some sleep, we’ve got a busy night ahead of us.”
Nauk grunted his assent and Nilin helped him up. Hakram was about to follow suit but I discreetly shook my head: I still had a few questions to ask me sergeant. The orc shot me puzzled look but remained seated at my side while the other two officers crab-walked away.
“Lieutenant?” Hakram prompted, raising a hairless brow.
“Robber and Nauk,” I said, going straight to the point. “What’s their problem?”
The tall orc grinned.
“You didn’t hear this from me,” Hakram replied, leaning closer, “but it so happens they’re both more than a little fond of Lieutenant Pickler.”
“The lieutenant for the sappers?” I asked, surprised.
“That’s the one,” the orc agreed. “They’re not usually that blatant about it, but without her around to keep the peace I guess the knives are coming out.”
I frowned.
“And what does she have to say about this?”
Hakram’s grin widened, showing razor-sharp white fangs.
“She might have mentioned something about how if they kept waving their genitalia around, something was bound to get stuck in a door hinge.”
I bit my lip not to burst out laughing, sneaking a look at the retreating Nauk’s back.
“I didn’t know orcs could be attracted to goblins that way,” I admitted.
“It’s not common,” Hakram replied. “But Nauk’s an odd one, and even I have to admit Pickler has a nice set of teeth.”
“Teeth,” I replied, tone flat. “You’re having me on.”
The sergeant looked somewhat offended.
“Teeth are very important,” he defended himself. “Why do you think no one’s interested in humans? You’ve all got cow teeth.”
If someone had told me a year ago I’d be sitting in the grass with an orc discussing the importance of molars in the mating habits of his species, I thought, I would have been rather dubious. Even now it felt more than a little surreal. Hakram apparently took my silence as a sign of displeasure, because he hurried on.
“No offense meant, Callow,” he assured me. “I’m sure you’ll find a nice human to eat berries and nuts with.”
“You know we eat meat too, right?” I replied, rather bemused.
He snorted.
“It doesn’t count if you roast it first,” he told me with a friendly pat on the shoulder. “You might as well be chewing bread.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that that was rather the point. We walked back to camp in a comfortable silence and I found my bedroll, barely closing my eyes for a moment before sinking into sleep.

“Only four and no patrols,” Robber said.
I clenched my fingers and unclenched them, taking a closer look at the fortifications. The outer wall was made of stacked stones and about the height of a half a man, with torches every few feet and four legionaries patrolling the perimeter at regular intervals. Behind it the First Company had built a palisade of stakes, too high for my soldiers to climb over. It hid the inside of the camp. There was only one way into the camp itself, an opening in the palisade swerving to the right and wide enough to be held by half a dozen legionaries. It was open field all the way to the first wall, I saw, and I knew my soldiers would have to take out the guards if we wanted to avoid the attack turning into a disaster. If we don’t, they’ll sound the alarm and the rest of the line will hold us off in the opening until reinforcements can arrive. Eyeing the wooden palisade speculatively, I gestured for Hakram to come closer.
“Could you break through that if we needed to?” I whispered.
Her sergeant grimaced.
“Not without a battering ram,” the orc replied. “They’ll have put up buttresses on the other side to hold it up, it’s in the manual.”
It remained unsaid that we wouldn’t have enough room to use a battering ram without tearing down a chunk of the first wall first, and that even then we’d have to make the damned thing first. No, this was going to have to be about getting my men in through the front door. Sergeant Nilin gingerly made his way through the underbrush to me, looking as uncomfortable in the woods as I felt – he was as much a city boy as I was a city girl, I’d gathered.
“Lieutenant, Sergeants,” he greeted us in a murmur, snapping a parade-ground salute. “All of our soldiers are in position.”
I’d told the sergeants to put all almost-thirty of my men in half circle around the camp’s only way in, the three incomplete tenths waiting in silence for the signal to assault the enemy. Only Robber’s sappers had remained marauding about in the woods, but I could see them trickling back into the ranks one after the other from the corner of my eye.
“Hakram,” I said, “I’ll need volunteers to take care of the guards.”
The tall orc grunted his assent and made back towards his men.
“My sappers could handle that,” Robber countered in a low voice. “Less of chance we’ll caught, too.”
“Your sappers are going to be with the rest of Hakram’s tenth and my own,” I replied.
The goblin’s yellow eyes shone with malevolent light in the dark of the woods.
“We finally get to play with the fireworks then, Lieutenant?” the sergeant asked eagerly.
“Hit them with all you’ve got, Sergeant,” I told him.
We’d been hoarding the sappers’ munitions so far, but now was the time to use them up. I’d thought about keeping them for the assault on the fort itself, but been forced to conceded that if tonight’s rescue failed there would be no assault worth the name. Better to use the brightsticks to ensure that the enemy line was too stunned and deafened to form up properly.
“Back to your tenths, gentlemen,” I murmured. “Let’s get this wheel turning.”
They replied with a handful of salutes and I ducked around a tree as silently as I could, electing to stay ahead of my legionaries so I’d be in a better position to watch events unfold. Hakram’s volunteers were already moving, I saw, the closest one crawling through the grass as he made his way across the open field. The next few moments would define if my offensive failed or not, I knew, so I held my breath as I watched the volunteer slowly make his way towards the unsuspecting guard. The legionary pressed himself against the outer wall as the guard passed him by, silently pushing himself up and climbing over the fortification. For an instant it looked like the sentry might hear him, but then the volunteer unsheathed his sword and hit the guard in the back of the head with the pommel. The First Company’s sentry crumpled to the ground without a dull thump, and with a peremptory hand gesture I got my soldiers moving. Not a moment too soon, as it turned out, for a cry of alarm came from the other side of the outer wall. One of Hakram’s volunteers had failed. I cursed under my breath.
“Double time,” I called out to my legionaries, running across the empty field as quickly as I could manage in armour.
A dark shape passed me by, then a second, and with my jaw gaping I saw Robber and his sappers scuttling across the grass with the unnatural grace of a pack of spiders. The goblins pushed ahead of my men effortlessly, their thin green limbs moving fluidly as they tore through the distance separating them from the opening. Raising my shield up, I forced myself to catch up with them, my soldiers following suit behind me. By the time my line got to the opening Robber’s sappers had already spread out in a line and were watching a half-dressed tenth from the First Company form up.
Abacinate,” Robber called out, his grin sharp and vicious.
All four goblins pulled out thin, elongated sticks and lit them up with the pinewood matches they carried around everywhere. They threw as one and I barely had the time to close my eyes before the brightsticks exploded, the deafening bang and bright light searing my eyelids anyways. Unlike a real brightstick those wouldn’t blind permanently, but they still stung like a bitch. I opened my eyes, already moving forward, only to see the sappers had little spheres in hand, already lit.
Spargere,” the goblin sergeant ordered, and the sappers rolled the balls under the enemy’s shields with unerring aim.
A moment passed and then a series of explosions scattered the first rank of the enemy, sending shields flying and throwing the legionaries to the ground. Those cussers packed quite a punch, for a training version. I grinned at the goblins as I passed them, my soldiers close behind, and the legionaries threw themselves into the holes the sappers had just torn with savage enthusiasm. A dark-skinned girl around my age bashed her shield against mine, but I used the momentum of the charge to push her down anyway. Knocking out the enemy soldier with the pommel of the short sword I didn’t remember unsheathing, I pressed forward into the camp as my legionaries broke the enemy formation. The inside was nothing unusual, four lines of bedrolls where the last handful of legionaries were hastily putting their armour on. There was a long tent in the back where the prisoners were no doubt being held. Signalling for another handful of legionaries who’d broken through to follow me, I set to pacifying the rest of the camp. It was a grim business, but now was not the time to be gentle. We overwhelmed the first enemy before he managed to land anything more than a glancing hit on my shield and pressed on to charge the next two. One of my legionaries got a nasty hit on the shoulder, but in a matter of moments it was done. Four outside, I counted mentally. Twelve at the breach, and three we just finished. If they were a full line, that still leaves… There was a flash of flame and the legionary at my side was blown away.
“Guess I still have to work on my aim for that one,” a lone legionary in light armour mused as red-orange flames wreathed her hands for a second time. “You’d be the Lieutenant in charge of that lot, then?”
“Lieutenant Callow, third line of Rat Company,” I agreed as she raised my shield and steadied my footing. “And you’d be?”
“Lieutenant Assaye, fourth line of First Company,” the honey-skinned girl replied with a smirk. “Should have brought a mage, Callow. This is going to have to get messy.”
“I seem to have misplaced mine,” I told her flatly. “You wouldn’t happen to have some spares in that tent, would you?”
“Well look at the mouth on you,” Assaye said. “Here’s a tip, though, rookie – don’t banter with mages when they’re buying time to cast.”
The flames wreathing the other lieutenant’s hand grew in intensity and gathered into an orb that the girl sent flying right at me. I smiled. Here’s a tip for you, Lieutenant, I thought, learn to recognize when you’re being baited. Ignoring the primal part of my brain that was screaming at me to duck out of the way, I raised my shield and ran right into the fireball. The impact nearly blew me off my feet but I grit my teeth and pushed through the flames, closing the distance separating me from the gaping lieutenant. There was no way I was taking another one of those, so I struck the girl on the temple with the flat of my short sword before she could summon up something more vicious. Before Assaye ever hit the ground, I dropped my shield and blade with a curse to put out the flames on my shoulder pads, doing my best to ignore the fact that I was letting out smoke like a small chimney.
“I’m not sure whether that was very brave or very stupid,” I heard Robber mutter from behind me.
“I heard she castrated an ogre in single combat,” Hakram grunted back in a low voice. “Thought that was just Ratface making the best of things, but I’m starting to believe it.”
I turned around to shoot both sergeants a dirty look but they adopted the most innocent expressions they could – which, given that Robber was a yellow-eyed pyromaniac and Hakram had a set of teeth that would make most wolves balk, would have gotten them instantly convicted in any court of law.
“If you two have time to gossip,” I told them, “you’ve got time to go check up on the prisoners we’re rescuing.”
“Aye aye, Lieutenant,” Robber grinned, following Hakram’s example and saluting before he made a strategic retreat.

As it turned out the tent held only a tenth of prisoners, which would have been disappointing if not for the fact that there were two mages and a sergeant among them. Both of the mages knew how to heal, which was even better news: I fully intended put them to work as soon as my troops got back to camp. Robber had argued we should take a different way back to our clearing to shake off possible followers, meaning the trip back was twice as long as the one to the enemy camp: it was the middle of the night by the time my soldiers were finally able to put down their shields. The sergeant we’d rescued was a short brown-haired girl by the name of Kamilah with a nasty scar running across her cheek, and she was sitting in on the unofficial officer’s meeting I’d ordered as soon as watches were set up. Nauk was getting his leg looked at so he’d be missing this, but the orc lieutenant had shrugged and told me he didn’t mind being brought up to speed when he was back on his feet. I’d gotten the impression he was rather eager to start moving on his own again, and I could hardly blame him for it.
“They moved some of us earlier today,” Sergeant Kilian said. “To the fort, I think – I don’t recall hearing anything about another prisoner camp. We used to be a full line of prisoners.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” I muttered.
If there’d been another camp it might have been possible to assault it to add a few more legionaries to our forces, though I doubted Juniper would have made it as easy on us the second time.
“The fort’s next, then,” Hakram rumbled.
“We have healers now,” Nilin disagreed. “And enough soldiers to keep prisoners. We could take out some of Juniper’s patrols before risking an assault.”
“We’re dealing with the Hellhound, not a godsdamned first-year,” Robber chided him. “The moment we make a patrol disappear she’ll be able to guess what part of the woods we’re in, and it’s all downhill from there.”
Nilin shrugged.
“She’ll have at least a line getting healed and she’ll be forced to leave a garrison at the fort – I say we should take our chances,” he replied.
“We’re not meeting Captain Juniper on an open field,” I cut in. “Even if we win, we won’t be in any shape to assault the fort afterwards.”
Sergeant Kilian cleared her throat.
“No disrespect intended, sir,” she said, meeting my eyes squarely, “but why are you in command? You’ve been in the company for barely two days, if I’m not mistaken.”
My own sergeant growled, but I held up my hand.
“It’s a valid question, Hakram,” I said. “Lieutenant Nauk ceded command to me when he was wounded, but now that he’s getting healed he has seniority.”
“Balls to that,” came the voice from behind me.
I turned: the orc in question was striding towards us, leg finally out of its cast. I frowned at the other lieutenant.
“Are you sure, Nauk? I like being in charge,” I freely admitted, “but you’ve been at this a lot longer than I have.”
“I would have been in that prisoner camp if not for you, Callow,” the large orc replied. “You got the standard and you’ve bloodied First Company twice. Only idiots change generals halfway through a campaign.”
The short sergeant smiled uncomfortably.
“It wasn’t meant as a criticism of your performance, sir,” Kilian said. “I just thought it was a question that needed to be asked.”
I could appreciate that. It would have been awkward for me to bring up the issue myself, anyway.
“No offence taken, sergeant,” I replied. “Take a seat, Nauk. We’re planning our next move.”
The orc plopped himself on the log and everyone politely ignored the creaking sound that came from the wood – except for Robber, who snickered and seemed about to make a comment when Hakram spoke up.
“We should assault the fort in the morning,” he gravelled. “No point in giving them more time to prepare than necessary.”
“My sappers can have ladders done by then,” Robber offered up, looking a little irritated he’d been cut off from indulging in his feud with Nauk.
“How are you doing on munitions?” Nilin murmured.
The goblin waved his hand vaguely.
“Out of cussers and brightsticks, still got enough smokers to ruin someone’s day,” he told them. “I’ll manage.”
“We’ll have only two lines for the assault,” Nauk rumbled. “That’ll be hard fighting.”
The officers looked rather uneasy at the thought, but I shrugged.
“They won’t have a full house waiting for us in the fort either,” I replied.
“Do or die, then,” Hakram grinned. “Worse comes to worse, we go out with a bang.”
Nauk looked like he rather approved of the thought, slapping the other orc’s shoulder cheerfully. I only barely refrained from rolling my eyes.
“Let’s set up a full watch tonight,” I ordered. “That makes it twice we’ve kicked the hornet’s nest – sooner or later, something is bound to follow us home. Dismissed.”
After a round of salutes, they rose and returned to their men. I remained behind, looking up at the night sky and wondering what tomorrow’s battle would have in store for us. Only one way to find out, I suppose.


24 thoughts on “Chapter 17: Set

  1. danielmc73

    Love this story. I don’t know how she going to win when attacking a fort with less troops but I’m sure it will be great reading. Wish it was realeased more often. Thanks for the chapter


    1. Yeah, I’d like to do the same but between work and university classes my schedule’s pretty full. Should I ever get ahead enough in chapters I’ll probably start updating twice a week, but I wouldn’t count on it for the foreseeable future.


  2. nipi

    Love this story.

    Too bad we didnt get to hear how the information was gotten out of the captive (torture?). And what Callows thoughts on it were.

    Noticing plenty of female sergeants and other leaders. I guess the Empire is not sexist. However I do hope that the vast majority of the legionaries are still male. Because from a societies point of view unlike women men are expendable.


    1. The Legions of Terror are a professional army, not a levy, so the proportion of women in the ranks isn’t an accurate reflection of the gender percentages there would be in a general mobilization. That said, sexism has more or less been eradicated in Praes – early Dread Empresses thoroughly expunged the concept out of the imperial mindset, often by the sword. The Guideverse in general is a lot less sexist than our own world because of Names, which are roughly split half and half between men and women. Hard to tell a woman she can’t do something when she has a mandate from the Heavens that says otherwise.


  3. nipi

    Some thoughts and perhaps inspiration for the author.

    So far we have had sword fights. I hope we see some spears or polearms if we ever have a battle in an open plain. They have an advantage against swords in unconfined conditions.

    Spear shaft cutting test:

    We had some hits with the pommel in this chapter. Story didnt really tell how exactly they were delivered but perhaps some of them were a Murder strike (Mordstreich in German).
    Example of half-swording and murder strike:

    About Talhoffers manuscript:

    Spear vs sword sparring (H.E.M.A.):


    1. The Dread Empire has been known to use pikes in battle – a direct response to the fact that their closest neighbour had the strongest cavalry on the continent – but polearms aren’t a popular weapon in the region aside from the Free Cities.


  4. Here are a few grammatical errors I spotted.

    Don’t make decisions angry. (Don’t you mean “Don’t make angry decisions.”)

    I have a few questions got you. (Don’t you mean “I have a few questions for you.”)

    I am really enjoying this arc of the story, and like Daniel stated above, I do wish this was released more often.


  5. Geli

    Wow, quite a read. I read it all in one sitting and I’m impressed. That’s a great character, some great chapters and quite a unique and interesting idea!
    I really like Catherine. I think (like most readers) that the moment of Doubt with her healing and the consequences could have been handeld better, but really that’s the only problem I have seen so far at all.
    So great work, keep it up and you have definitely won a loyal reader with me!
    Only one question: How often do you update?


  6. Unmaker


    (second is the British spelling, first is the US spelling)

    ground. Those

    Well look at the mouth on you
    Well, look at the mouth on you
    (comma indicates a pause, doesn’t sound right without one)

    (the colons are back)

    “Look, “Lieutenant”,”
    “Look, ‘Lieutenant’,”

    I have a few questions got you.
    I have a few questions for you.


    Very nice overall.


    1. An explan

      Its a typo, erraticerrata probably meant to say sgt. Kamilah, the sgt. from the prison camp, instead of Kilian, who’s a mage lieutenant.

      So in short, exchange the instances/mentions of Kilian with Kamilah and that’ll clear up a lot of confusion.


  7. stevenneiman

    “awkwardly warding him off with a {hand?} raised while still balancing”

    I really wonder what Juniper will think when she realizes that she got (seriously challenged/her butt kicked) by someone who has only been around for one wargame.


  8. I’m enjoying this story quite a bit, although I confess I tend not to be military-strategy minded. But why choose the word “gravelled” in your dialogue? It just sounds odd. A gravelly voice? A grumble? It’s an odd word that makes me think of ground cover. I appreciate that you seem to be looking for dialogue words other than ‘said,’ but sometimes, ‘said’ is just fine. Or no marker at all. I also think Catherine does an awful lot of ‘grunt[ing]’ for a young person. I think of that as a trait of an old, taciturn person.

    Also, stylistically speaking, I’d suggest someone taking a run through your book for words that don’t fit the setting. A couple chapters back, I believed you used “tetchy,” and I think there have been a few word choices along those lines. I assume you are grooming this for publication, because it’s very good, and far and away above most self-published I’ve looked at, so I offer these as the kind of suggestions that help people further dive into your world-building.


  9. stevenneiman

    “just like when [I’d used->I used to] sneak out of the orphanage”
    “We’re looking for {a} safe place to rest”
    “but I’d nixed that idea in the bud” should be either just “nixed” or “nipped in the bud”
    “Hakram had roused [up] the other officers”
    “put all almost-thirty of my men in {a} half circle”
    “Less of {a} chance we’ll caught”


  10. Letouriste

    “Dread Empress Sanguinia II, best known for outlawing cats and being taller than her”
    So there ARE cats^^! This quote made me think about animals in this novel:we know the animals in praes often have genetics modification,consequence of the craziness in the Tower.
    So i’m wondering if cats and dogs are present or not…(the same for usual other common species)


  11. linnilalartyr

    Thanks for the chapter!!
    It’s so good as always~~

    I am still feel weird reading the goblin as the engineer though. In my mind the goblin is not intelligent enough to even speech.


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