Disclaimer: See part 1
Fortunatus Light of Dark
by AJ Marks
Tess walked into the office quickly finding Russell studying a map at the table. He glanced up and offered her a smile, obviously glad to see her. Usually her generals disliked seeing her.
“Ah, Empress, welcome,” he said with a bow. He stood as tall as Becca, but had blue eyes and his hair had gone white some time ago. Tess noticed he still had his neatly trimmed beard, white like his hair.
“General, any change in the situation,” Tess asked, hoping that perhaps something had changed for the better, like the Grunts had realized their folly and retreated.
“Nothing, they are blocking communications at the moment,” Russell said. Tess felt no surprise, she would do the same thing. Prevent your enemy from gaining any information and you held a slight advantage.
“Any idea of their numbers?” Tess asked.
“Had our battle-mages scan the area, we lost two in the attempt but gained some information,” Russell said, returning to the map. “It appears they have two main forces, one here by Navatown, the other further away right here.”
Tess looked down seeing the position of the Grunt forces. They were well located to counter any attempt she made to help the city. She realizing that she either had to fight that force, or go a long way around and take a lot of time to help Navatown. She applauded the simple plan. She looked at the map for several more minutes going over all possibilities.
She finally reached a conclusion and nodded to herself, looking up at Russell, waiting for her to speak. “Assemble the captains,” she told him.
“At once Empress,” he replied. Tess wished she had Becca with her, but she needed her back at the capital in case something happened there. She also needed someone to gather the 1st army and lead it.
She turned to look at a few aides, standing nearby waiting for orders. “Any word from the Grunts?” Tess asked them getting a quick answer no. She sent off a message to the king of the Grunts this morning, but expected nothing back so quickly. Lycos was to inform her immediately if anything came back. She expected nothing for a while but anything could happen.
“Empress, all captains are gathered,” Russell said surprising Tess a bit. She expected it to take longer but went into the room taking the map with her. She looked at the room assembled in the area. Some thirty men and women, representing the armed forces she had for the mission at hand. She mentally went over her plan hoping she had enough soldiers.
“All right, first off we’re going to split up into two groups. The diversion mission will be led by me, the main group by General Russell. Both groups will have different missions. According to information gathered we have two groups of Grunt troops. We cannot reinforce Navatown without fighting our way there. I hope to avoid that,” Tess told them watching as they all listened to her.
“General, your group will wait here,” Tess said looking over at him. “My group’s job is to lure the Grunt forces waiting to attack any group from here away, allowing General Russell’s group to advance and free the town.”
“Um, Empress, how are you planning to do that?” Russell asked, his tone calm as normal, but she heard his worry about the plan.
“Simple, my group will invade the Grunt Empire,” Tess replied, looking up to see shocked faces on many of the men in the room. A few seemed ready to go, Tess made a mental note to include those men. They would work well with her plan, ready to attack. She spotted a few with the same look as Russell, and put them with his group, they would work better fighting to free a town. She knew they would do as ordered, but emotions played a bit part of any battle as well. Any advantage she could find, she would use.
“Empress, are you sure that’s wise?” Russell said, finally voicing his concern.
“They invaded us, I’m returning the favor, something they should have prepared for by invading my Empire. If I pull those troops away with this then you’ll have a clear path to Navatown. If not, I return and call up the 1st army, then it will be a full scale invasion,” Tess said, hoping plan A worked. Plan B became too complex. “Any spies in the capital will have noticed a small force sent out to help you. They will expect this force to head directly to the town, not to attack Grunt land.”
“Empress, me and my men will go with you,” a young blonde-haired officer said.
“Okay, how many squads do we have?” Tess asked.
“I have assembled twenty-two squads,” Russell said.
“And I brought five regular and four royal guard squads, so I’ll take ten squads with me the rest will go with you when the Grunt troops move out,” Tess stated. “I’ll be taking the royal guard squads with me and six of your squads.”
“Not your troops?’ Russell asked.
“No, this way any spies will think that the reinforcements are here, and not doing something else until I attack them,” Tess answered. She wanted to keep some surprises. She also did not want to announce where she would attack until she left. But the knowledge that she might attack the Grunt Empire might cause some of the enemy’s troops to move early weakening his position already. Either way Tess had a plan of action to carry out. She only hoped nothing strange came up while she was out invading some Grunt town.
“Very well Empress, I’ll have the squads ready to move out, Eric, your squad will be one of them,” Russell said to the blonde guy. Tess quickly picked out her squads, recalling how captains reacted to her plan. Dismissing the men they left to prepare their men.
“What do you think of Eric?” Tess asked, after they all left.
“A hot head, but loyal to the empire,” Russell said. “He rushes into things without thought, so you might want to keep a tight leash on him.”
Tess mused about that for a few seconds. He might be the type of person she needed for this mission. Someone who went in with every spell they had flying. There was something to say for that type of person in such a battle. Usually she such soldiers were fools, but she had a use for him.
“I’m going to gather the Royal Guard then talk to my servant, treat her kindly and with respect, she represents me,” Tess said to him, waiting for his nod his head before finally heading out.
She walked along the busy men and women who were preparing to move out and those setting up. She found her tent set up. Walking in she noticed everything seemed in place, spotting Ami by the back of the tent looking at something. Tess walked up putting her arms around her startling her.
“Oh, wasn’t expecting you so soon, so, is everything okay?” Ami asked, recovering quickly.
“Yep,” Tess answered looking around the tent. “It’s a shame I won’t be here for long,” she said getting a strange look from Ami. “I’m heading out this afternoon into battle probably. You are to stay here, I’ll leave a guard with you for protection.”
Tess watched Ami’s face for a moment seeing shock appear in the green eyes. The thought of a guard came to Tess at the last minute. She quickly went thought the list of members of the Royal Guard. One came to her mind right away, Janice, an older woman who Tess knew had been with her during the conquest. She injured her knee in the last battle, and despite the woman’s protests, Tess knew it limited her movements. Tess could already heard the arguments from the older woman and thought of several counter arguments.
“How long will you be gone?” Ami asked.
“Not sure, depends on how well the plan works,” Tess said.
“I guess I don’t have a choice then,” Ami replied.
“No you don’t, and neither do I. I have to protect my empire,” Tess said. “The price of a being a ruler.”
“I don’t know anything about being a ruler,” Ami said to her.
“Neither did I, and some days I wished I never conquered this land,” Tess replied honestly, seeing a bit of shock in the green eyes. “Well, I need to pack light for my part in this mission.”
“You will return safely?” Ami’s voice said, stopping Tess in her tracks and looking back over into worried green eyes.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure,” Tess said.
“Good, I’d hate to lose one of my best friends,” Ami said in a small voice.
Tess knew she would do everything she could to get back and then return to the palace. She would keep that promise for sure.
Ami walked down the street with Janice right beside her. The brunette guard took her orders very seriously and had yet to leave Ami’s side since the Empress left. She knew Janice argued with Tess over the assignment. But she also knew that Tess had said something, that Ami did not hear, which seemed to end the discussion. It left her wondering what that Tess said. Janet’s all business attitude made breeching the subject difficult.
Ami looked at the market stands, which seemed out of place despite the large numbers of soldiers all around. She had heard that markets went with the army everywhere they went. A supply train of sorts that handled everything from food, to weapons, to other unmentionable things. Ami questioned Tess about that, and learned that there were tents that did nothing but prostitution, a position she could relate to, but only had to service one person.
Ami stopped at a stand selling a few interesting looking trinkets but she had no idea what they did. She looked at them while the merchant tried to sell it to her, before Ami moved on.
“Wise, those are nothing but a waste of gold,” Janice said, causing Ami to glance over at the guard.
“Really?” Ami asked before she could stop herself.
“Yeah, cheap magic, they last only once or twice before breaking,” Janice said.
“Oh, well it’s not like I have any gold to buy something with anyways,” Ami replied with the truth. She never had much money even before coming here. She did love to shop though, and continued browsing finding what appeared to be a perfume stand. She sniffed the fragrances a bit before the merchant said anything.
“How about a nice lavender for you lovely lady here,” the merchant said, talking at Janice who appeared shocked at such a thing.
“She is the Empress’,” Janice said, causing Ami to blush slightly at the wording but the merchant quickly turned pale before apologizing to Ami.
“Um, it’s okay, really, I’m just looking,” Ami said, when he tried to force a bottle on her.
Ami left the stand holding a bottle of perfume, which she had taken reluctantly. She had no desire to take advantage of her position. Ami did wish for a bag or something to put the bottle in as she continued to walk through the merchants. She felt a bit hungry and looked over at Janice wondering if the guard also felt hungry.
“Let’s go back for a while and grab a bite to eat,” Ami said watching Janice.
“If you so desire,” Janice said. Ami felt weird having a guard tell her that. She thought that she would be the one saying such things.
“We could stop here at this stall if you want?” Janice said, as they approached a baker’s stall full of food. Ami noticed several rolls and some meats which she could use to make a sandwich.
“I don’t have any money and I don’t want to mooch off you,” Ami said.
“What?” Janice replied looking slightly confused.
“Um, sorry, I don’t have any gold, and I don’t want to force you to buy anything for me,” Ami replied, forgetting they did not use the word money in their vocabulary, but instead used gold. It sounded strange to her but she felt she could get used to it.
“It’s okay, the Empress said she would pay me back if you wanted something,” Janice said.
“Well, only if she pays you back,” Ami said, as they detoured to the stall. They picked out some food and then went over and sat down on a bench nearby that was empty. Ami noticed that Janice constantly scanned the area. She looked around seeing nothing out of the ordinary. “Expecting trouble?” Ami finally asked, about halfway though eating.
“I always do, the one time I didn’t, well, it didn’t end well for me,” Janice said, flexing her knee. Ami felt something happened to Janice.
“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you look around, being in the wrong spot at the wrong time can be even worse,” Ami said speaking through experience. She ended up on trial for killing ten thousand simply because she picked the wrong job to apply for that day.
“But if your careful then things don’t sneak up on you,” Janice said. “If I had paid attention I would have seen that soldier coming up on me.”
“Where were you?” Ami asked, wondering if Janice would tell her. She watched the older woman take a breath before replying.
“It was the end of the battle of Praxxi, we had won, and were cleaning up the last of the enemy, I thought the area was secure,” Janice said stopping for a second. “I relaxed for a bit only to have a squad of enemy men run into the area, catching my men off guard. I lost three good men and took an injury to my knee putting me out of action for months.”
Ami looked down at Janice’s knees spotting one knee which had a lot of scars on it. She quickly looked back up not wanting to make it seem like she was staring. Ami could not imagine what it felt like to be in charge and lose someone who counted on her.
“So they were hiding?” Ami asked.
“Part of a counter-strike,” Janice said.
“So you were not the only ones who were attacked,” Ami stated trying to make sense of it.
“No,” Janice replied. “But I should have seen it.”
Ami thought she heard something else in her voice but decided not to say anything. Her experience never covered anything like this. Instead she finished off her sandwich before deciding to change the subject.
“So, what did the Empress say to end the argument?” Ami asked, wondering if the guard would tell her.
“You heard us?” Janice said, her face showing shock and a mixture of sorrow.
“Weeell, it was hard not to, I mean being in the same tent as both of you, I could not help it,” Ami replied honestly.
“She reminded me of something I could not ignore,” Janice replied a bit cryptically. Ami eyed the woman for a few seconds seeing a mask fall over the woman’s face. She knew Janice would say nothing else of the conversation.
“I see, how long do you expect them gone?” Ami asked. She had asked the same question to Tess but got no answer, perhaps Janice might know.
“A couple of days, at least, depends on the terrain and the enemy,” Janice said. “But the Empress, she’s one of the best in tactical decisions, especially during the heat of battle. I never understood her ability, like some strange magical power.”
Ami thought about the answer, realizing she would have to figure out something to keep herself occupied for a couple of days.
Tess looked at the map, then over at her two head captains. She had divided her forced into two. Her royal guard and the locals each with a captain to lead them. They were now standing with her looking at the map which showed both where they were and the surrounding landscape.
“Are you sure Empress?” Eric, the captain of the local forces asked. She had appointed him hoping that he showed the same courage and determination during the meeting.
“Yes, the scouts reported a lightly defended town,” Tess stated.
“And civilians?” Lisa, the captain of the royal guard unit asked.
“I’d like to avoid any such fatalities if possible,” Tess said. “However don’t put anyone in danger by trying to avoid them. Its combat, not an exercise. I want as many of my troops coming back as possible.”
“Understood empress,” they both replied.
“Good, now Eric, your men will be in the main charge which I’ll lead, Lisa, your objective is once the battle has started to come around from this point in the town,” Tess said pointing to the map which had changed to a layout of the town. “The militia is located here, so expect them to come out. They either don’t have anyone here or they don’t know we’re here yet based on their movements.”
“Are we taking the town?” Eric asked.
“Yes, I want them to think its an invasion, not the diversion,” Tess said.
“You really think this will work?” Lisa said.
“The Grunts will come flying back if their home is under attack,” Tess said. “Their one fatal flaw. Usually we would to, but I want to know why they are attacking, and this will be the most direct way to end this war, I hope.”
“My men are ready, when do we attack?” Eric said.
Tess looked up at the sky, taking into account the time of day and how much daylight they had. She wanted to attack as soon as possible to relieve pressure on Navatown.
“Any word from the scouts on the army near Navatown?” Tess asked.
“They have not moved, we have arrived undetected,” Lisa replied back, leaving Tess slightly nervous about the situation. Something seemed wrong to her and she could not figure out what that might be.
“Then we’ll attack the moment the royal guard is in position,” Tess said. Both captains nodded then took off to tell their men that the attack would happen now. She now had to wait for her men to get into position. When that happened the attack would begin.
Tess looked back down at the map wondering if the town’s militia left to attack Navatown, or stayed behind. The villagers would not allow her to walk into the town. The walls were in disarray, and in some areas almost non-existent. Had the Grunt kingdom neglected their defenses so much to the point of decay? If that happened then her intelligence needed some work, especially for missing so much.
She folded up the map, tucked it away, and headed over to where Eric stood. He appeared ready but Tess could read his body language, the soldier was nervous.
“Your first action?” Tess asked.
“Yes Empress, I joined after you finished conquering the land. I originally wanted to join to defend my village against you, but I was away at the time. Then I thought about revenge, but after studying you, realized you were the best. If I wanted to grown and win, I had to serve under you. So this will be my first actual combat” he said in a rush to her.
Tess took a moment to study him, almost feeling sorry for him. He looked calmer than most though. She knew he understood what would happen, confusion, pain, and sorrow. Living for the moment to live, not for the glory of the empire or anything like that. Tess hoped he lived as he would make a good general someday in the future.
A small flash appeared beside them indicating that the royal guard had moved into position.
“That was quick,” Eric murmured.
“They are the best,” Tess replied, knowing that she had trained all of them. “Come on,” she said to him as her wand transformed into a sword. The others followed suit. Tess used a bit of magic and her sword changed slightly from a normal metal sword to one bathed in flames.
“Nice,” she heard someone say as a few others did the same. She spotted a few with ice. She saw a few maces which were probably filled with earth magic. She raised her sword, then motioned for them to move forward, into the town.
Tess watched as civilians fled from the attack, but did not bother to pursue. She continued her charge right through the open doors of the city, quickly making her way towards the militia fortification. She slowed down a bit as she closed in, looking around for anything that might indicate a trap. She saw nothing out of the ordinary and walked towards the building. She looked all around, seeing that the civilians fleeing from the attacks and out of the city. Lisa attacked from a different direction allowing a safe path for them to flee.
She heard the sound of fighting from inside the fortification and headed inside seeing a scant few resisters, trying to hold off her forces. The few defenders were quickly defeated leaving Tess in control of the town. Now she made her way into the main building, hoping to find someone higher up in the Grunt military who could answer some of her questions.
She met the first guard who never hesitated to attack, a wind element magic user. She quickly attacked using a combination fire and wind shattering his weapon, using the fact wind was weak against fire against him.
“Yield!” Tess ordered, watching the guard hesitate for several seconds before lowering his shattered weapon. Looking around she noticed a few others in combat before turning back to her defeated foe. “Where is your commander?”
She glared at him for several seconds before he finally cracked and pointed to the doorway. Tess motioned for a few men to head through telling them she wanted the commander alive. The sounds of a scuffle came through the doorway causing Tess to talk though. The commander was a tall Grunt, about five and a half feet tall and very muscular. He was fighting off her men using earth attacks. Tess shot fire across the room followed by a massive wind sheer tossing everyone in the room before using her full elemental power and causing even her armor to glow with fire.
“Surrender,” she said, pointing her sword at the commander. She hoped to minimize the casualties for future negotiations.
“I yield,” he finally said, lowering his weapon. Tess returned to normal taking a seat at the desk motioning for him to do so as well.
“I have a few questions for you that you probably can answer, or give me some clue about the answer,” Tess said, watching the commander swallow slightly before sitting down.
“You won’t get away with attack us,” he finally said in defiance.
“My dear commander, I had so many other plans but I had to suddenly change all of them, do you know why?” Tess said glaring at him. Eric chose that moment to enter the room but waited by the door. She motioned him inside the room.
“The town has been taken, we lost four men, ten enemy were killed and no reports of civilians, but most fled so we don’t know,” he stated.
Tess nodded, not liking the fact that with superior numbers she had lost four men. Turning her attention back to the commander she continued. “Now, I want to know why there is a Grunt army attacking my empire?”
Tess watched his reaction carefully. He showed no surprise at the fact they had invaded the town, only by the fact she was here.
“I don’t know, only that the orders came in five days ago by the king himself,” the commander finally replied.
“I see, well you’re going to write a new report telling him that you’ve surrendered to me,” Tess said, watching as his eyes went wide in shock at her casual tone about it. She needed them to think that it might be a full-scale invasion to pull the Grunt troops out of her empire. “Of course I’ll be watching what you write so don’t mention too much, only that the town has fallen.”
Tess watched him pulled out a piece of paper and began writing a very simple message. He wasted no words saying that a human force had attacked and captured the town.
“Very good,” Tess said, watching as he send it off. After it vanished he looked at her.
“Now what?” he asked.
“Simple, we wait for your counter attack, if not, well I’ll just have to attack and conquer another town,” Tess replied. “I figure while I’ve got your forces tied up in my empire I can easily take a chunk of yours before you even know what happened.”
She tried not to smile at his shocked expression.
“Seems like you got some wrong information,” she said, realizing that the commander knew more than he said earlier.
“But you’re about to go to war with the Soulviers,” he said. “You don’t have the soldiers to fight us both.”
“Hmm, that information is incorrect, I just had an ambassador from them, and we reached a deal,” Tess said, thinking about how the Grunt king could have been convinced of something like this.
“You have forces near the Soulvier border, our mages know about them.”
“Nope, that is a large human mercenary force, but I will do nothing if the Soulviers attack them,” Tess replied honestly. She had no desire to go to war with them now. It served no purpose for her empire.
“Then you have the full weight of our army to come after us,” he said. Tess realized he understood their folly. He gave the information of why they attacked. Though the king could have different reasons for such an attack. Were he and the some other force planning a split attack? Tess felt a bit relieved she had ordered the 1st army to assemble. Next she would have to order Becca to be wary of any new attack. For now she would wait to see what the Grunt’s response would be.
End Part 7
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