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“Bloodbane! I need your-” As the door opened and Lady Kait poked her head into Bloodbane’s room, her voice cut off just as quickly.
Bloodbane was sitting on the edge of his bed, naked and toweling off the sweat from his previous vigorous activities. Behind him was Andromeda lying on his bed, no longer tied up. Her maid outfit had been tossed all over the floor, and she laid there completely nude. There were various bruises and hickeys over her body, but her fingers traced each one like a badge of honor. When her eyes met Lady Kait’s, an insolent and triumphant look flashed in them. The room was thick and humid with the smell of their love-making.
“Lady Kait?” Bloodbane asked, looking up at her with the towel swung over his shoulder.
She turned her head, her cheeks turning pink. “I-I am sorry… to disturb… I will… go…”
Her voice lost energy as she spoke, and the woman who would cut any man down with her tongue and even faster with her sword suddenly looked shy and uncomfortable.
“If it was important enough to burst into my room, then it was important enough for you to speak it now,” Bloodbane responded in a no-nonsense tone.
She jerked to attention, seemingly to fall on her training she avoided looking at either Bloodbane or Andromeda’s naked bodies. “Right! The inner city has been reclaimed. We’ve reconnected with everyone and made sure to remove all of the monsters. For the moment, the enemy has seemingly gone dormant.”
“That won’t last,” Bloodbane responded, standing up.
She tensed even more, her eyes only flickering a moment to his tall, muscular body that was on full display before snapping away just as quickly.
“I’m aware of that. However, our recent victories have only come from luck. I’m not sure how you’ve managed to strengthen a select handful of people by so much so quickly, but they won’t be enough to turn the tides of war. If we want to take back the rest of the city, we’ll need the soldiers that were sent to protect those that fled through the mountain.” Her words seemed to be filled with passion and sincerity as if she feared Bloodbane would argue with her.
“I agree,” Bloodbane responded. “That’s why I’m going to go through the mountain and recover them.”
Lady Kait jerked, first at his agreement, and then at what he said next. Andromeda also sat up, a worried look on her face.
“The journey through the mountain takes three days!” Lady Kait cried out.
“It’s been two days since the escape began. That means we can catch the fleeing citizens and soldiers before they reach the boats. At that point, there is no saying if we can get them back.”
She bit her lip. “That does make sense, but why are you the one going?”
“From what I understand, the escape route doesn’t go around the mountain, but directly through it. Hidden in the castle’s basement, there is a cave entrance that leads through a series of caverns and tunnels that cut through the mountain to the dock on the water.”
“This is known!”
Bloodbane nodded. “It is also known that the journey is treacherous and dangerous. I have an affinity with Earth magic. I can sense instabilities and I can mold Earth to my will. There is no one more suited for this journey than me. If anyone can navigate what should take three days in one, it would be me.”
“So, you plan to return in two days?” She asked.
Bloodbane nodded. “I don’t just want to reach the citizens that fled and bring them back. I also want to reinforce and fix the tunnel. I believe that access to the ocean will be fundamental toward our future survival.”
If Bloodbane had it this way, the path would be an open highway. The pathway didn’t just lead to a dock, but that dock was hidden in a bay. He wanted fishermen to bring back food to keep them fed. Bloodbane wasn’t just thinking about winning this battle, but what would happen after. He couldn’t help it thanks to the memories of the other Bloodbane. He dwelled on food stores and understood that even if they overtook the enemy and reopened the forms tomorrow, that the following winter would lead to untold death from starvation.
With luck, the dock could allow them to connect with whomever else was left alive in this world. Maybe, they could bring forces to Reliant to strengthen the stronghold, or at the least resume trading with others. As much as the monsters dominated the land, Bloodbane believed the sea was much more difficult to tame. He didn’t doubt that the sea was filled with sea monsters, but a small and quick boat could probably slip by unnoticed.
Now that the city had some breathing room, Bloodbane was willing to allow his men two days to rest. Particularly the men who had been fighting every moment to remain alive in the inner city deserved a break. In the meantime, swords would be sharpened, armor would be repaired, and plans would be formed. Bloodbane supposed he could help with his ability to make swords, but given all of the weapons dropped by fallen enemies, it wasn’t truly weapons they needed any more.
People were the greatest commodity left, and over half of the remaining people still alive in Reliant were under thousands of tons of rock, fleeing from what they thought was a helpless situation. Only Bloodbane would be able to convince them to turn back around and give it one last shot. Only he could reach them before they fled into an unknown and unforgiving sea. He was certain of that.
“I’m going with you.” Andromeda leaned over the bed, her butt in the air as she grabbed her scattered clothing, one article at a time.
“That was never a question,” Bloodbane responded.
“I-I will go as well.” Lady Kait declared.
Bloodbane was a bit surprised at her words, but he still shook his head. “That will not be possible.”
“Why can’t I go?” She demanded, realizing she sounded a bit petulant.
“At the moment, there is no one else the men will listen to besides you,” Bloodbane answered directly.
Lady Kait wore a stubborn look for just a second, but then lowered her eyes. “I understand.”
Unfortunately, just about anyone else of significant rank had died in the previous skirmishes. Through will and rite, Bloodbane would get them to fight for him, but Lady Kait was the only other person with a significant sway in the army. Everyone else, whether it was Lieutenant Greeves or Sergeant Ross, they were still too low a rank to garner any respect, especially among the elite castle knights. As for Conner, he had only been a private. Giving them one of his positions of power didn’t make them any more powerful.
Speaking of which, he had finally noticed that while he was unconscious, his Path of the King had leveled.
Path of the King: Bestow subjects with positions of power.
Level 1: Assign yourself a position of power.
Level 2: Assign three additional subjects a position of power.
Level 3: Assign three additional subjects a position of power. Existing positions are more powerful and can support more subordinates.
Current Positions Available: Spy, Healer, Blacksmith, Fisherman, Knight
Currently Assigned –
Warrior – Andromeda
Scout – Greeves
Mage – Conner
On top of reaching level 3 and gaining three new positions, Bloodbane also had unlocked more options. It appeared that every position of power wasn’t necessarily centered around the battle. Bloodbane could justify spy and healer as fighting positions, even though their jobs were more ancillary, but blacksmith and fisherman were undoubtedly common positions. It did lead him to wonder how powerful such a position would truly be.
Bloodbane also couldn’t help but notice that he recently encountered both a healer and a blacksmith, and it wouldn’t be strange to call Lady Kait a knight. He wondered if the positions unlocked were based on the best positions for the people he encountered, or perhaps it was based on his need. Bloodbane certainly considered giving Mairi the Healer ability. The mage position had enhanced Conner’s electricity until he could send out shocks of lightning. What ability would Mairi have if Bloodbane gave her a position? Then, there was Roxanni. Would she be able to make weapons as easily as Bloodbane?
Bloodbane wasn’t going to run out and give them a position just yet though. They may have saved his life, but just giving someone such a thing because it was convenient would be foolish. If there were better blacksmiths alive, the position should go to them. This seemed to be a permanent thing. Bloodbane had given Andromeda a position because he was figuring out how they worked, and Greeves a position out of desperation. Even Conner was more of a test than his first choice. Now that Bloodbane had some knowledge about it, he intended his next one to be more well thought out.
As for giving Lady Kait a position of power before he left, that would involve Bloodbane needing to explain what they were and how it worked. He also had a feeling that she wouldn’t accept such a power. It required a certain degree of subservient. After all, everyone with a position of power would be under Bloodbane from then on. He didn’t see Lady Kait being willing to take on such a position, at least not at the moment. Therefore, he decided he would hold off on those. Conner, Greeves, and their subordinates would need to be enough to hold the city for two days. Bloodbane’s memory of General Nightingale told him that he would likely not make a move before then. Nightingale was a prideful man, but not a hasty man. After such an embarrassing loss, he would not move again until he was certain of his victory. That should be enough to buy them a few days at least.
Thus, Bloodbane went to his closet and began to dress. Andromeda licked her lips and watched him unabashedly, but Lady Kait wasn’t nearly as bold as the maid, and finally turned her back and waited in the hallway. By the time Bloodbane was dressed, Andromeda had managed to put her clothing back on as well. She helped Bloodbane put on his fine coat, and even helped with the leather straps. When he finally stepped out of the room, he looked both like a barbarian and a scholar. The contrast was enough to confuse the sensibilities of any girl.
Lady Kait had recovered a bit in the hallway, and she forced herself to meet his eyes. “What are your orders then?”
Bloodbane was a bit surprised that she would come to him. His memories told him that she had never cared about his opinion in the past, especially where the army was concerned. The vast majority of advisors and nobles went over his head, often ignoring his policies and his orders unless he was directly looking at them. Even then, the modest Japanese businessman didn’t like confrontation, and so he never brought anyone under his command.
The old Bloodbane might have told her to do what she thought was best or some other lukewarm command. However, those were the same actions that had pushed this country to the cusp of a bad end. Bloodbane considered all of these things. He recognized those weaknesses, and he knew he couldn’t allow them to exist anymore. He was neither the gladiator nor the academic. He was something new, and with both sets of knowledge, he aimed to do the impossible.
“Gather the highest-ranking soldiers. Before I leave, I should speak to them.” Bloodbane declared.
Lady Kait lowered her head and then left without another word moving quickly. Bloodbane began to move in the direction she had moved but at a much slower pace. As he walked, several other maid warriors joined Andromeda’s side. As he walked, Andromeda exchanged orders with them. She didn’t use words, but hand gestures. At first, Bloodbane didn’t know where the maids had picked up such hand gestures, but then he remembered that one of the maids on his staff had been deaf.
The old Bloodbane had learned sign language in his youth, and eagerness for the opportunity had forced the entire maid staff to learn sign language so that the maid felt wanted. After becoming warriors, Andromeda had suddenly adopted the sign language as a means of quickly and silently relaying orders to the others. Although Bloodbane didn’t watch their hand movements closer, he did pick up their orders.
Maid One would lead the girls in protecting the castle while Andromeda and Maid Three would join her in protecting me. Bloodbane came to realize that Maid Three was the deaf maid from long ago. He didn’t disapprove of this. One of the most difficult parts of being underground was that sound bounced off walls and caused disorientation. A deaf woman wouldn’t be affected by said problems. Furthermore, she had a sensitivity to vibration which may help as well. At least, that was Bloodbane’s reasoning.
By the time she had finished relaying orders, Bloodbane was walking out onto the balcony that overlooked the inner courtyard. Furthermore, Lady Kait had already hastily gathered a large audience. It wasn’t surprising she was able to gather them so quickly. Most of the people of significant rank would remain near the castle where they could receive orders quickly. Furthermore, it was still a safer area than the rest of the inner city.
Bloodbane raised a fist, and the whispering and muttering quieted down and eyes raised to him. There was a time not too long ago where he wouldn’t have been able to get a group to quiet down or even give him the time of day. Many of those eyes that had once held ridicule and scorn were now filled with, if not respect, then curiosity. Most of these men had seen him fight. They had seen the giant statue of Bloodbane. They had seen him close the entrance to the inner wall. They had seen him fight. Those that hadn’t still heard the rumors, and even if they felt disbelief, they had hopeful bright eyes that wanted to see it.
These were people who wanted a miracle. They needed someone to step up now. In the letter, the first thing he had read when he came to this world, the former king had happily spoken about how strong and determined they were. They just needed the right catalyst, and Bloodbane decided that he would be the one to set that fire.
“People of Reliant!” Bloodbane’s voice boomed out across the crowd. “Right now, sitting just outside our walls, it an army of undead, monstrosities, and traitors who were sent by the gods themselves to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth!”
His words were loud, and they echoed into the distance. This balcony had been designed to be seen not just by those in the castle, but those in the city as well. People who had been picking up or running around with innocuous tasks could hear Bloodbane’s distant voice and they stopped what they were doing, looking in the direction of the castle.
“They expected to race through this city, to cripple us in a manner of days.” Bloodbane continued. “And they succeeded! They tore through our outer walls, they tore through our inner walls, they broke into our castle. Many of us fell, many were trapped helplessly, and many fled.
“Yet…” He stopped for a moment. “Yet, here… today… we stand!”
There was a small roar as some people shouted in excitement.
“We stepped back, and we stepped back again, and then we decided no more!” Bloodbane yelled. “We pushed them back out of our castle. We pushed them back out of the inner city, and we will continue to push them until Reliant is ours again!”
There were more cheers.
“General Nightingale…” His words led to an immediate silence. “He was one a strong and respected general. His death… was regrettable, and now he sits on the enemy’s side.”
Everyone looked down in shame and anger. It was well known after the battle for the inner city that General Nightingale had led them as some undead monstrosity. Bloodbane knew he had to address it because this was something that would be weighing on all of their minds. If he simply chose not to address it, it would only have served to continue to damage their morale.
“I am not General Nightingale…” Bloodbane’s voice quieted for a moment as if to show modesty. “However, I am the one who pushed him back into the outer city! You are the ones that pushed him out of your city. This is your city, not theirs. This is the city of the living, and we will have it! We will pay with our sweat, we will pay with our blood, but in the end, we will be victorious.”
“How can you be sure?” A voice yelled out, causing several others to murmur in agreement.
“It’s very simple,” Bloodbane responded without a lost second. “They do not care of this city. They only wish to come here to kill and to destroy. Nothing here matters to them in the slightest. Even to the great general, his loyalty to this city ended upon his death, and he sees this place and the people in it as no more than kindling meant to be burnt to ash!”
This caused the group to start murmuring unhappily. No one likes being told that their home was meaningless.
“However, this is our home. This is my home. To them, our home is nothing. To us, this is everything! Remember that as you fight to take it all back. They fight for nothing, and we fight for everything. That’s why we’ll win. That’s why they’ll fail. So, I know you’re tired. I know you’re worried. I know you’ve all lost something… but you have everything on the line, so will you fight?”
“WE WILL!” A booming shout came, so loud that it even resonated in the old city.
For that brief moment, even the undead trembled.