Willis gradually regained his composure as he watched the woman crying.
"Just give me the map and I'll spare both of you," he said, then added after a pause, "I promise on my mother."
Glace fixed her gaze on her younger brother, the one she had never acknowledged, and suddenly felt as if she was finally getting to know at least a shadow of something about him..
"I'll trust you."
She sobbed again, tears once again running down her cheeks. She took off the sapphire necklace around her neck. She pressed on it, a finger on each side, and the pure sapphire clapped open like a clam. Everyone who could see its eyes shot wide open. Necklaces like this one were not uncommon amongst the nobility, but one made of a gem was unheard of.
Inside was a small roll of sheepskin and a black ring. The roll was a map which led through the Morphey Forest. The black ring was a token of trust from the manor in the Kingdom of Karaman.
Willis kept his word. He released Glace once she handed him the two items. Kristin and Laffey ran over from next door as she got up. Willis did not so much as glanced at them as he and his men left. There was no saving the city, and he was not going to go down with it. There was no standing against the thousand Faustian soldiers baying at the walls with just the three hundred armed men on the defenders' side. It was just a matter of time before the Faustians came over the walls or through the gates. He had assigned everyone who could still fight to the four gates to illude the Faustians into thinking they were ready to fight to the last man. He would instead sneak out of the city with fifty of his most loyal men once the attack got started.
"What about Sharpe? Where is he?" Glace asked when she noticed the old butler was nowhere to be seen.
Willis halted at the door and glanced at her over his shoulder.
"He was being too troublesome. His corpse should be around here somewhere," Willis said matter-of-factly and departed.
Glace's legs failed her and she collapsed to the ground again. She might have been able to make it through the forest if she had her maid and butler with her. She had long memorised the map, so she could make the journey even without the map itself. She had no hope without her butler, however. He had been a low-rank Knecht. Making the journey without him was suicide.
"What should we do now, Milady?" Laffey asked, as she squatted next to Glace, Kristin in her arms.
Kristin looked at her obediently, but after a sleepless night on top of Willis' improper treatment, she was even worse than before. There was an unnatural flush on her face and her eyes were glazed and vacant as if she could pass out at any moment.
Glace came back to her senses. She could not lose herself now. Her niece still needed her care and the Felippe bloodline could not be broken. She still had some property somewhere in Shalor, so she had somewhere to go to. The only way to go now was to disguise themselves as ordinary Shalorian civilians. Once they got their hands on their wealth again, even if they were nobles no longer, they could still live as rich commoners. As a famous countess, she could certainly rally some protectors. Her life would not be that difficult. As Glace imagined her beautiful future, she realised she could not guarantee the Faustians would not take note of her. That aside, how could she guarantee she would survive the assault itself? She had been a canary in a cage, protected from everything related to war and slaughter.
The four, including her and the butler, had been taken to the city hall by Willis' guards the minute they had exited their yard. Now the butler was dead, the stares from the refugees in the city instilled a sense of fear in her. Without his protection, gods knew what those refugees, who had nothing to lose, would do.
"Let's head back to the yard," Glace ordered.
Outside the city, Locke was charging through a flurry of swords with a shield he had gotten somewhere. Mond had settled below the wall and was directing some soldiers up the ladder. The rest of the platoon's jarls were leading their men towards him. Somehow, although the resistance was strong, the defence effort was disorganised. The city's captain of the guard must be a fool to waste all those hot stones to attack one spot. Mond only used a small trick to occupy a point beneath the walls.
Cardoj noticed that although the defence was turbulent, they were getting weaker and increasingly drained. He immediately sent out 4th Platoon and the newly regrouped 3rd Platoon, intending to take the city in one shot. Whoever could break the gate first would get the largest share of the spoils. Cardoj, born into a military family, clearly believed in his judgment. He was certain he would be the first to get over the walls. Even Cashel could not do so with the help of a caster.
Locke and the others neared the gate. Below the city wall, Mond had already set up three ladders.
"Bond, Morty. The ladders!"
Locke had twenty-odd men with him. Most were from his old squad and a few strong squad jarls. The others were left for Jersson as Solon's safety was their top priority.
"Where's Uncle Yoshk and the others?" Locke asked, feeling something off.
He had seen Yoshk and some of the platoon jarls gathering, but they were nowhere to be seen now.
"Oh, Locke, Yoshk and Clarion have gone up. I've spent too much of my impetus. I can only stay here for now," Mond explained breathlessly.
They had made it here only thanks to Mond. He had used his impetus to block an immeasurable number of rolling stones and arrows. Locke was not surprised he was spent.
The news of the other two's going ahead made Locke anxious, however.
"Gulas, Hans, Caen. Follow me!" he ordered as he snatched one of the ladders
He bit onto the back of his sword's blade and clambered up the ladder as quickly as he could. Yoshk had become a second father to him. He may be strong, but he was not immortal and Locke did not dare risk losing him because he was not at his side at the crucial moment.
His men followed without hesitation. Gulas was even more determined. He had disliked Locke because of his promotion despite his lack of physical stature. The utter lack of hesitation to throw himself into danger he had just shown had force Gulas to acknowledge his courage. He and Hans, who was as strong as him, followed on Locke's heels. Caen went last with a bow and arrow in hand to clear obstacles or hidden threats for those coming up before him.
Locke clambered up with all fours. Yoshk and the others should be at the top, trying to stabilize the ladder as arrows and rocks continued to plunge from above. Fortunately, Locke was wearing a helmet and a half-suit of armour. He could still block the arrows near him and dodge rocks.
The soldiers below him were not as fortunate. Whether it be arrows or fire jars, they fell once they were hit. Although the wall was not particularly high, a fall would still cause serious damage, especially with all the thrown stones littering the ground at the base. Speaking of the stones, a hit from one of those would crush a head, and the falling body brought all the men below them on the ladder with it. Only second-rates, all squad jarls, and third-rates powerful enough could follow Locke.
Locke did not look back. Despite that, he could tell from the dull thuds and screams below him he was losing too many good men. He had been just a squad jarl during his last assault. He had just had to manage his own squad. Now he was a platoon jarl; he had many more men to lose.
He took a deep breath and guided his impetus to his right foot. He slammed his foot against the wall like stepping on a step and flew into the air. The enemies on the walls stared at him in disbelief. Locke was just as shocked as they were. He had expected it to give him a little boost, but not fling him into the air. And it had even burned through a quarter of his reserve, and that before he'd swung his sword even once.
"It's another knight! Stop him!" a Shalorian shouted.
Locke came back to his senses. He grabbed onto the wall's ledge and flung himself onto it. He landed safely in a patch of wall Yoshk and the others had already cleared. Things did not look good, however. Locke could see Yoshk and the other three platoon jarls being pushed back to him, clambering over the corpses of their enemies and their own men.
His eyes darted around the wall, but he noticed only two enemies using impetus. Both were standing behind their men, however. Under their guidance, and occasional direct intervention, the defenders were pushing Yoshk and company back step by bloody step.
Their escape was still open, so things weren't absolutely dire, however. As long as they kept control of the ladder, they could still pull back, and it was not likely to go that badly, despite how it looked, especially not now that more men were coming up. The Shalorians clearly knew about the four Knechts and had acted swiftly to either take them down or push them back before their conspicuously absent reinforcements could make it up the ladder.
The fights by the two closest gates were less intense than on the wall. Despite that, however, Cashel was still sweating. He did not have spare low-rank Knechts to move about and send into faltering spots like Cardoj could. He had only one and he did not want to risk him.
According to the agreement, whoever broke through the gate first would have first of the spoils. It hadn't mattered much when they'd been sweeping the countryside. The towns and villages had little of worth, but this was a city, one ruled by the son of a margrave. It would be no small catch.
"Meister Jackson," Cashel said softly.
"Lord Baron," replied an old man in a black cloak as he emerged from the shadows.
"We must breach this gate."
A minute or so later, a massive crash shuddered along the walls. Those who could spare their eyes, and had an angle on the gate from whence the crash had come, saw three fireballs suspended in mid-air above the gate.
"Magic..." Locke whispered under his breath.
It was an important culling factor on battlefields, a mysterious yet powerful force indeed.