SKY – 06

SKY – Chapter 6

The mastig force slowly became visible from the southwest. This time it was larger than any sighted near West-Hail before and could truly be considered a fleet. There were two full sized mastig battleships along with an assortment of smaller ships adorned with pointed spikes and crude cannons.

Based on the initial estimates, the fleet had to number greater than thirty thousand. West-Hail’s entire defense force plus militia volunteers numbered less than five thousand.

“We are outnumbered to a ridiculous degree here Captain. What’s our game plan?” Traer asked Cruntiq while looking towards the incoming enemy force from the central command tower.

Cruntiq replied, “Like we’ve done in the past, if we can maintain the barrier systems, we can turn this into a battle of infantry units rather than a game of bombardments. If we can do that, then our victory is dependent on how soon we can kill this fleet’s Alpha. At that time, I’ll be taking to the front lines myself. Mastig alphas lead from the frontline, if I can kill him early we can take advantage of the chaos and either capture or take down one of their ships.”

“So the best case scenario is kill the alpha, secure one of their battleships. And the worst case is you die and the town gets destroyed.” Traer said.

“I won’t die.” Cruntiq replied with confidence. “The plan is if we can minimize casualties, we can outlast them. They have no ground to set up a base or recharge their ships. They’ll have to retreat before their ships fall out of the sky, which gives us the window to evacuate the town or call for reinforcements depending on how much damage we’ve sustained by that point.”

Veindelio, on the opposite end of the observation tower jumped in with, “So then for today are we just trying to make it to nighttime? You know they don’t tend to land units on unexplored ground when visibility is low.”

“Right. Although they may look like monstrous brutes, they are not a stupid or reckless enemy, at least strategically. Today, for both sides, will be to gauge the other groups strength and plan for the bulk of the fighting in the next coming days.”

***

The mastigs surrounded the town from all angles, above and below. Hleis and friends watch as the skies darkened with the shadows of their enemies.

“So, I’m guessing West-Hail has the standard barrier used throughout the kingdom? Spherical and covers all angles? Blocks all massive items and ones travelling above a certain velocity, you know, to block projectile bombardment and all that stuff?” Sota asked the others.

“You bet. Only way for them to attack us is to enter inside the barrier and fight us head on with infantry. Great tech, we’d have been wiped out ages ago if it didn’t exist,” Vayling replied.

“But that’s also why it’s crucial to defend the generator units. Without this, their battleships come into play and we’re all done for,” Maltii pointed out.

“Hmm I’m thinking concussion mages should be able to project our attacks outside of the barrier. I think I can hit them before they get to town,” Sota said.

“Have you not fought with barriers before?” Hleis asked.

“No, this is my first defensive battle of this kind. I’m the youngest member of the unit, and haven’t had any battles like this yet,” Sota replied.

“Well this should be exciting then, but I wouldn’t attack them from outside the barrier. We are right near a generator unit and wouldn’t want to attract unneeded attention,” Hleis pointed out.

“Got it, okay good point,” Sota said in response to Hleis. “Well I’m just brain storming some ideas. Its probably best not to carelessly use stamina on experimental spells. Do any of you know any magic?”

Maltii said, “There are a couple people within our town who can use magic for utility purposes, but they’re all stationed elsewhere and aren’t used to using it to fight mastigs.”

Seeing the mastig ships stop moving, Hleis quickly interrupted the conversation to give out his final instructions. “They’re going to be coming soon. Sota, we’ll take standard formations. That means I’ll take the front position and will meet them as they arrive. Maltii will remain near the support turrets where she can assign shields as needed. Vayling will be mobile along the wall to snipe and support nearby units. Sota, let’s stay together, I’ll get their attention while you focus on taking them down. We may have to go down there and stop them if they try and break through the wall with any explosives or siege weapons.”

“Alright, I’ll follow your lead!” Sota replied.

The doors of the mastig ships opened. Countless mastigs dropped down through the barriers onto West-Hail. The ones that dropped right above or near the town were met by a flurry of bolts fired by the fortifications hidden throughout the town, tearing the attackers apart. Viscera rained from the skies.

Only the weakened or lucky ones made it to the ground. They were quickly met and disposed by the soldiers waiting for them. The soldiers were ready for this. Cruntiq taught them the procedure, taught them how to deal with this situation.

To Sota’s surprise, the soldiers on the outside walls paid no attention to what was happening behind them. Their eyes were solely focused on the mastigs landing before them.

Vayling and the other marksmen had already drawn their weapons. Bolts and arrows flew upwards, taking out the mastigs that were dropping from directly above. Maltii and the other shield operators moved their generator disks blocking any falling weapons, projectiles and mastig corpses.

All of this was to her was fascinating to see. Interesting. With limited resources, this is how these people have survived so long all the way out here.

Hleis had his eyes focused on the mastigs approaching from the front. It wasn’t before long that the aerial drops stopped as the mastigs realized this wasn’t going to work and that they were just throwing away lives.

The first wave to land outside of West-Hail were not heavily armored and only carried on themselves utility tools and weapons, usually a one-handed melee weapon or a mid range projectile launcher with bayonet.

Not all mastigs wore armor to battle, but the people of CloudStock knew from centuries of war, that the ones that did were the exceptional ones to look out for. They were the individuals strong enough to not have to worry about giving up mobility for protection. These ones were often referred to as Mastig Elites. Several were scattered throughout the first wave.

Each mastig male stood a good half-meter taller than the average man and by muscle distribution resembled more a beast than a human.

Their white fur was thick and obscured the tough hide underneath. These creatures, in nearly every way, were physically superior to humans. They were bigger, stronger, faster and more durable, but the nature of their wars was always as the attackers and thus always fought against the home field advantage held by humans.

Vayling shifted his attention towards the mastigs that were approaching from the front. He started picking them off from a distance. Soon the other marksmen began to do the same. Following suite, Sota also began to fire a couple concussive explosions sending large groups of mastigs backwards from the impact.

“Whoa, so that’s magic huh?” Vayling exclaimed.

“If I was stronger I could kill them in larger numbers from here like the older mages, but the best I can do is soften them up before they reach us,” Sota replied.

“It’s good enough, can you kill them when they’re closer?” Hleis asked.

“Absolutely,” she said.

She materialized an ornate short sword in her hand.  

“Ha! Now that looks convenient!” Vayling said, interested by Sota’s display.

“Stay focused Vay…” Maltii mumbled. Her focus was on the approaching forces.

Despite Sota’s nonlethal attacks, the utility of a mage was evident to Hleis.

 The area affects along with the instantaneous nature of the spells were hard to avoid. The attackers had no response.

He noticed how individual mastigs could adapt by slowing down; shielding themselves behind rocks and trees, keeping low to the ground, but their approach options became limited. A great number had taken damage from Sota’s spells and were much less vigorous by the time they reached him.

Hleis had no problem dispatching the mastigs that made it to him.

The walls weren’t tall, but were virtually stone and wood prairies once on top. It didn’t take much effort for mastigs to climb, but it was a surprising distance to cross it once there.

Hleis’ sword cut into the injured mastigs before they could react. No blocks or counters. He would maneuver along his area, between the enemies with precision and quickness, fine control that he learned from experience fighting in the skies.

By this point though, unscathed mastigs were making it to the wall due to their sheer numbers advantage.

Vayling began moving, positioning himself in better spots where he could snipe critical targets.

Maltii from the back began to really focus on shielding those that needed it.

Blood dripped from his blade and slickened the handle, but the magnets kept the grip tight. He had slain all the weakened opponents and focused his attention on intercepting the largest and strongest looking mastigs to deter them from attacking Maltii or Vayling.

Sota resummoned her sword; her body glowed with a faint white outline as she took a position near Hleis parrying and exchanging blows with mastigs.

Sota noticed Hleis’ fighting skills. She thought to herself, Huh, they weren’t kidding. He’s fast and strong enough that the size of sword doesn’t hinder him at all in combat…Hmm. He may not be aware of it, but those aren’t natural abilities.

Spotting an armored foe, Hleis quickly finished the opponents nearby and began to charge towards the elite. Shield disks protected him from the bolts fired his way, while the assailants were sniped from a distance.

Soon it was just Hleis and the elite. His long sword clashed with the large blade wielded by the monster. He was strong and could keep up with Hleis’ speed. Hleis’ arms shook from the impact of each parry.

Things were at a standstill. He had to end it soon before he used any more stamina and before more enemy reinforcements could arrive.

The occasional shield disk would fly by, deflecting a projectile aimed at him, but when it would cross between the elite and himself, it would obscure vision for Hleis while it deflected a blow from the elite.

I can only kill it if I get in a blow while he’s not looking…Hleis thought. All my normal swings are read and reacted to…this’ll be risky…

 As the shield disk blocked a swing from the elite, he positioned himself directly behind the disk and pierced through it, enveloping it in sparks.

He couldn’t see his enemy, but he could tell he pierced it and did so deeply. Knowing he had very little time, Hleis ripped to the side while still lodged in the chest of his enemy, delivering a killing blow before he promptly retreated back to the fortifications.

Sorry Maltii, but I owe you one. If I can’t see him, he can’t see me.

Another mastig elite had made it’s way to the town wall. The neighboring unit was engaged with it. The main melee fighter of that unit had already received a blow to the chest by the armored mastig and was out of commission, grasping at his wounds. Fortunately for them, another mage, one clearly very experienced, had positioned himself in the elite’s blind spot and unleashed a fiery blast from point blank, leaving a searing hole through the creature’s chest.

“Damn, I see where they get their reputation from,” Vayling said to Hleis as he returned to the fortifications. All the while, continuing to shoot at nearby enemies.

Hleis responded as he once again took up his position, “Yeah, they certainly make good allies and provide a lot of offensive power.”

The day was drawing to a close, daylight was beginning to recede and the mastigs were starting to retreat back to their ships to regroup and strategize for the coming days.

Sota moved back to her group and asked, “Where did you learn to fight like that Hleis? Those aren’t normal movements you do. Humans can’t move like that naturally you know.”

“He’s just fast. Also, Hleis you owe me a new disk. That was clever, but those things aren’t cheap to make nor are they disposable,” Maltii interrupted.

“Sorry about that, but I had to in order to take out an elite on the first day,” Hleis said. “It’s good though, we were able to take out two elites over here with only a couple casualties.”

“Well whatever, as long as we survive that’s all that matters right now,” Maltii says with a sigh of relief.

“Yeah, lets go into town once the nightshift shows up,” Vayling said. “Those guys were waiting mostly in town right? They only saw a little action at the start so they should be fresh and ready to take over.”

“Sota, want to join us?” Hleis asked her. “You were awesome today with those spells. We want to know more about your magic and discuss strategy together for tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I also want to talk to you about how you fight,” she replied as the next shift appeared to relieve them of their duties for the night.

***

“We lost twenty-six today. I can’t be happy that they died, but since they were the only casualties, the first encounter overall went well for us,” Traer said to Maltii. He was giving a logistics debrief to her and Vayling who were seated at the center of town resting and recovering from the days fighting. “Where’s Hleis?”

“Oh he’s with Sota, the mage that joined our group. He went with her to get tonight’s rations for us,” Vayling replied.

“Ah, you guys had a mage with you? How was that? From what I’ve heard they’re all really strong no?”

“She’s around our age and is pretty good. Magic users are really something, those spells of hers were really useful,” Maltii responded.

Traer, Maltii and Vayling were all discussing, not noticing Sota and Hleis, off in the distance, returning to their group with supplies in hand.

Sota asked Hleis, “Since when did you discover you could move the way you do and swing a massive sword like the one you used today?”

“I don’t know how many years ago. Maybe when I was sixteen or so, not sure, but it was during the first mastig attack that I participated in. I wasn’t actually a soldier at that time, but had to fight off a stray mastig with my dad’s large butchering blade. I was able to use with no real problems so that’s what I’ve been using since.”

“Were you exceptionally strong as child growing up?”

“No. Not really. I was training to be a ship mechanic until that incident.”

“Huh, interesting…”

“Is it? I mean, there are plenty of others who use weapons this size,” Hleis said motioning to the blade sheathed and hanging from his back.

“Yeah, but those people are both larger than you, but swing the sword slower than you. I think you’re unintentionally using magic to enhance your abilities,” Sota said.

“What? I can’t use magic. I’ve never learned and don’t have any talent in it.”

“You probably can and do, and have been using it this entire time, you’re just not aware of it. It’s not that uncommon of an occurrence, plenty of people in the kingdom don’t discover their magical abilities until they’re really forced to.”

“Why are you so sure I can use magic?”

“What you do is unnatural. I’m just guessing for now, but there are magical aptitude tests that we can give to you back in the capital.”

“Well, if we make it out of this we can find out. But I doubt it, if I was using magic I think I would’ve figured it out by now.”

“Again, I think up till now, you’ve just been passively bolstering your physical abilities, a strong and valuable ability, but not one that’s too visible and obvious. If there’s ever a slow moment during this siege, I’ll show you some tricks to use it better and to confirm if you’ve actually got it.”

“Hmm, well sure, but let’s focus on tomorrow for now. Oh! I see them, and it looks like Traer is with them as well. Here, I can introduce you,” Hleis said to Sota. The two of them approached Traer, Maltii and Vayling. “Hey Traer, this is Sota, the mage that joined our group today and helped us fend off the attack.”

“Hi, great to meet you. I’ve heard about you from Vayling and Maltii. I’m Traer, a member of the strategic team,” Traer said in the friendliest tone of voice he could make. “I was just telling these two about the plans for tomorrow.”

Other mages were intermingling with the denizens of West-Hail; several were interacting and socializing with their squad mates and their families. The people of the town were beginning to build trust and camaraderie with these once mysterious mages.

“The main plan for tomorrow, and the day after, is to hold your position and thin their numbers. The main priority is to draw out the alpha so that the two captains can take him out. From there on out, the mastigs will either continue the fight with no leader or retreat to regroup. Either way, we’d have a much easier time surviving and better odds of victory.”

“Is that the only way to win?” Hleis asked.

“We can’t exactly leave the barrier to try and kill the head mastig. We have to draw him in to us. The good thing about the barrier is that, although it’s keeping us in here, it’s also limiting the number of mastigs that can attack us at a given time, as long as we play things smartly we can gain incremental advantages.”

“And the idea is that the mastig alpha will see this and take command from the front lines themselves?” Sota asked.

Traer confirms, “Yup. They tend to do that anyways since the strength of an alpha is usually enough to overwhelm one hundred men. But we have Cruntiq, who has slain an alpha before, and your captain who I’m assuming is very strong considering what you and the other mages have shown.”

They chatted a bit more that night, met members of their families and checked out to get a nights rest before taking up their positions to spend the entire day tomorrow fighting mastigs.

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