“The enemy is camped about seven kilometers away. Since we can assume that the speed they used to get here is not the speed they’ll use when they attack, we don’t have any proper estimate of how quickly they can close the distance. The enemy seems to be composed largely of infantry, with only a few battalions of cavalry among them, about forty thousand cavalry, it looks like. Their numbers seem to be a bit below the two hundred thousand estimate: it’s closer to one hundred and fifty thousand. We can presume the remainder either died or were too injured to carry on fighting.”
Victoria addressed the field as she spoke, briefing the people who would be involved in the battle. The people in attendance were split into three distinct groups: Lily’s party, the defensive garrison, and Victoria’s vanguard. Victoria’s vanguard was a company of five hundred soldiers, all elite warriors and battle-hardened veterans. This was the company that would be accompanying Victoria in her assault. Prei and Lily were both going to enter the fray alone – between Prei’s immense dragon form and Lily’s frenzy of wires, the presence of any allies that they had to avoid hitting would be only a hindrance. The defensive garrison, made of barely two thousand soldiers, were to be the last line of defence, holding the walls and standing by the gates in the event that the enemy broke through. Their numbers were small, but Tate’s barrier would hopefully provide the city enough protection that they would not be needed. Lily spoke up to clarify a question.
“Victoria, do we have any information on the size of the mage corps?”
The presence of enemy mages would be the factor on which the success of this operation pivoted. Each demon was far stronger than a human – one demon was easily the equal of fifty men. Victoria, with her strength, wit and experience, was perhaps the equivalent of five thousand. However, the advantage which the humans possessed was their access to magic. Magic allowed for bombardment at range, against which the demons could do nothing. In the plan they had laid out, Lily’s role was to head straight for the mage company and do as much damage as she reasonably could. With her ability to read ManaScript and the flexibility and power of her main mode of attack, she was the best candidate to fight other mages. Prei would engage the cavalry, while Victoria would engage the infantry or cavalry, depending on the situation.
“We’re counting a full mage division. Thirty thousand, it looks like.”
Lily groaned and ran the numbers. Their objective on the first strike was to take out twenty percent of the enemy fighting force. That meant that she had to eliminate six thousand mages on her own. Victoria noticed her groans and voiced her concern.
“Are you sure you don’t need any soldiers? Six thousand kills is a tall order.”
“No, no. I’ll be fine. More allies in my vicinity would just make it harder for me to fight.”
Lily cracked her neck in anticipation. This would be a long battle, but she would manage, somehow.
“Don’t worry about me, six thousand is nothing compared to what Prei has to handle.”
Prei’s role was a little different. While Lily and Victoria were aiming to wipe out twenty percent of their respective opposing forces, Prei’s target was fifty percent. This was due to the fact that cavalry was integral to a siege, so they had to cut the opponent’s cavalry strength as much as possible. Since the enemy had approximately forty thousand cavalry, that meant Prei had the unappealing task of massacring twenty thousand enemies on her own. However, Prei simply grinned and spun her spear-form Myriad around her wrist, flaring out her wings.
“Let them come. I’ll teach those horses to fear the queen of monsters.”
Prei was clearly trying to present an imposing image – Lily could hear a couple of soldiers gasp. But try as she might, Lily could only see Prei as that cute little girl who didn’t like vegetables and ate way too much meat. As a result, almost on instinct, she reached over and ruffled Prei’s hair while teasing.
“Oh? The queen of monsters who loves sweet things and drools on her pillow?”
Prei flushed crimson and squirmed, trying to free herself of her mother’s petting hand. It was a futile attempt, as Lily’s fingers were dexterous enough to stick to Prei’s head no matter how she tried to evade. Eventually, she resulted to launching herself into the air, but quickly despaired as Lily’s hand detached itself from the rest of her arm, a mass of cables trailing behind, while Lily continued to ruffle Prei’s hair with her detached hand. Finally, Prei gave up and returned to the ground, reluctantly allowing herself to be coddled. The display shattered the prior tension that had permeated the grounds, as the soldiers around them broke into warm smiles and quiet chuckles. Tate, standing next to the two, watched with a wry grin, having become accustomed to Lily’s excessive displays of affection for her loved ones. Even Victoria briefly wore a gentle smile, before remembering that this was supposed to be a war council and forcing herself to return to a serious expression.
“Ahem. In any case, I take it we’re all clear about our roles in the upcoming assault. Tate, are you good to go?”
Tate gave a thumbs up, her earring flashing in the light.
“Yep. Lily’s device works way better than expected. The conversion efficiency is honestly ridiculous. In fact, with this, I can probably sustain the barrier a full week without breaks.”
“Excellent. Then we can move on to contingencies. Everyone’s aware of the evacuation plan?”
Prei answered this time.
“If it appears that we can’t hold off the enemy, we’ll fall back and cover the citizens as they evacuate under cover of night. The prospective evac area has already been cleared. It’ll need to be expanded if we plan to stay there long term, but there wasn’t enough time to do that for now, so I just cleared enough to accommodate the city’s population.”
“Good. Hopefully it won’t come to that. Now, the final issue we have to contend with: Vessel. The reports of the survivors from the previous attacks state that she didn’t enter the thick of battle, instead commanding from the rear. This, of course, contradicts our initial reports, but it’s also possible that their tactics changed to protect their leader. Vessel seems to be the lynchpin of the enemy army. If we can take her out, it’s likely that their morale will collapse. But…”
“It’s too dangerous.”
Lily interjected here. She had given this some thought. They did not know how powerful Vessel was, nor did they know her motives, nor did they have any grasp of her ability as a commander. She was too much of an enigma, too great a risk. Even if eliminating her would bring the enemy to a halt – a risky assumption, at best – she posed too much of a risk to attempt singling her out. With this in mind, she continued speaking.
“If, for whatever reason, Vessel enters the fray, do not engage. Sound an alarm and retreat immediately. The only people who should engage her are myself and Prei, and only if both of us engage her at the same time. There’s too much we don’t know about her, and we should all assume she is at least my equal in combat potential. If she enters the battle, Prei and I will immediately converge on her position to cover your retreat. So, again, do not engage. This is an order.”
“Lily speaks with my authority. Do not engage Vessel. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get through this fight without battling her, but we should prepare for the worst.”
A heavy silence crept across the grounds. The enemy was only a few kilometers away from their walls, and the weight of that knowledge weighed heavily upon their shoulders. One of the soldiers, a member of the vanguard, a human man, raised a hand and spoke up.
“Lady Victoria. I believe that I speak for many of us here when I say that we don’t want to sit and wait for them to attack. Should we not launch a pre-emptive strike? Would that not be more effective in accomplishing our goal of disincentivising an invasion?”
Victoria shook her head.
“No. While you’re correct that it would be a better way to throw them into disarray, the enemy is far too numerous. It’s too dangerous to strike out so far from the safety of our city walls. Our objective is not to rout. Our objective is to deter. We wait for their charge, and each time they do, we halt their advance. That is how we will tire them out and outlast them.”
A general murmur of understanding and agreement ran through the crowd. The same soldier spoke up again.
“In that case, what more should we do to prepare? What should we do for now?”
Victoria took a deep breath and sat down, pulling out a whetstone to sharpen her spear.
“There is nothing more we can do. All our preparations are in place. All we can do now is wait.”