War is hell. War games on the other hand can be quite a different story.
Since they had several new sparring partners to work with, the [Sisters of Steel] had set their next session up as an unusual castle defense scenario.
One area of the room was sectioned off by a ten foot high wooden picket fence with a single entry point. Inside the fence, a raised walkway behind the fence allowed the defenders to fire upon the attackers while enjoying a fair bit of cover.
For a normal town defense scenario, the attackers would have some goal inside the ‘castle’, anything from simply getting enough bodies inside before the defenders could repel them to needing to wipe out all of the defenders and claim the castle for their own.
In the version the Sisters setup though, things were a little more complicated.
“I understand the castle walls but why do the attackers get their own wall?” Rip asked, pointing to the smaller, four foot high barrier the Sisters had put up.
“Aggressors will most often enjoy the benefits of their own defenses,” Mother Graymourn said. “In this case, they’ll need them in order to deal with the defender’s allies.”
“Allies?” Lady Midnight asked as she strapped on a [Heavy Iron Chestplate]. Tessa wondered about that but a quick check of Lady Midnight’s normal gear revealed that she hadn’t found an updated robe since the tutorial which meant she was missing a significant amount of defense. The [Heavy Iron Chestplate] offered none of the spellcasting support a healer would want but it would at least reduce the blunt force trauma she was about to endure.
“The castle’s defenders will need to do more than hold out against a simple attack,” Mother Graymourn said. “In this scenario, the defenders have won the support of a local member of the nobility who has come to break the siege they’ve been under. The Noble and their forces will setup on the far end of the room. Their goal is to get the noble to the castle alive and, ideally, unharmed. The attackers can win either by eliminating the nobleman or by taking the castle. The defender’s earn their victory either by securing the alliance with the noble or by using the distraction of their arrival to eliminate the attackers.”
“How many fighters will each side have?” Obby asked.
“We’ll vary it up,” Mother Graymourn said. “That and the composition of the three forces. Mixed teams I think for the first battle though. That’ll give us the best view of where you all are starting at.”
“How many of them can you take in one battle?” Lisa asked.
“I think we’ve got room for eight,” Mother Graymourn said.
“That’s perfect. Lost Alice and I can spectate. That should help us plan out our battle strategies for tonight,” Tessa said.
It was an honest and true sentiment. Tessa was sincere in wanting a chance to evaluate her team’s combat prowess outside of a battle that she was directly involved in. That it also happened to allow her to remain cuddled up with Lisa and spared her from the inevitable beatdown the [Sisters of Steel] were going to deliver was really only a happy coincidence.
From the faint smile which rippled across Lisa’s face, she harbored similar feeling regarding the arrangement.
“Eight? So that includes us?” Baelgritz asked.
“Unless the years and the miles have addled this old noggin, I’m pretty sure I can count correctly still,” Mother Graymourn said. “Presuming you’re willing to step into the arena that is.”
Baelgritz shot a worried glance to Hermeziz, who passed it along to Illuthiz. Illuthiz answered with a roll of her eyes and a resigned shrug of her shoulders. Tessa suspected Illuthiz didn’t have much hope for the whole ‘leveling thing’ to apply to them, but the three of them at least seemed willing to prove the point out like the scientists they were.
“Wonderful,” Mother Graymourn said reading their silent acceptance for the confirmation it was. “We’ll form up into the first set of teams in two minutes. Make any plans you want and check your gear. Keep in mind though, you’re not going to be on the same side once the spar begins.”
“If we die, I’m going to haunt you both,” Hermeziz said.
“Exactly!” Baelgritz said. “Even death won’t part us!”
“They’re not going to kill us,” Illuthiz said, her amusement at their posturing tempered only by the need to deescalate the other two before they got completely out of hand.
“They won’t,” Lisa said. “As a warning though, they’re not going to hold back much either.”
“Are you used to sparring matches where magical healing is available?” Tessa asked.
“That sounds unpromising,” Hermeziz said. Tessa had originally pegged him as the most belligerent of the three, but time and exposure had changed that view. Hermeziz bristled the most easily of the three, but his concerns didn’t seem to be unfounded. That he was as open as he was about his reservations seemed to be a strange sign of trust. Tessa suspected that if Hermeziz had decided anyone around them was an immediate danger he would have said absolutely nothing to alert them to his awareness of it.
It wasn’t fair to analogize a sapient being with an animal, but, despite that, people shared more behavior patterns in common with supposedly “thoughtless animals” than they usually cared to admit.
In Hermeziz’s case, Tessa wondered how good a model a dog might be for predicting his reactions. He seemed to have a fierce and protective loyalty to Baelgritz and Illthuziz, and he seemed to prefer the threat carried by barking to escalating to actually biting. As long as he was grumbling, Tessa was willing to hazard the guess that they were still in safe waters. If he went silent though? Even with several new levels under her belt, she didn’t want to see what that would look like.
“Would it be wrong to make some wagers on the first battle?” Lisa asked on their private channel.
“Only if we tried to bet on our team winning,” Tessa said. She believed in her friends. She would fight and die with them. None of that changed the fact that she knew they were doomed.
Oh, they’d be on separate teams, so one of their teams would win, but the chance that any of them would still be standing once the final victory was secured was effectively zero from Tessa’s perspective.
Lisa wiggled a little closer as the first spar got going.
Mother Graymourn had split the eight evenly between the defenders and the attacker, but had let them choose who they wanted to fight alongside. Rip, Matt, Lady Midnight, and Starchild had chosen to play as the attackers, while Obby, Baelgritz, Illuthiz, and Hermeziz assembled in the castle.
To those teams, Mother Graymourn added a eight of the [Sisters of Steel] each, and setup another six as the allies. She took role of the Noble for herself, though she warned that the Noble was a noncombatant and so she wouldn’t be fighting and even a single attack against her would be enough to win a victory for the attackers.
Rip tried to take advantage of that the moment the battle began, firing a [Training Arrow] at Mother Graymourn for an instant win. It was a good idea, but also far too obvious to have a hope of working. One of the nuns near Mother Graymourn yanked the arrow from the air and hurled it back narrowly missing Rip only because Matt tackled her to the ground taking the both of them out of the fight for the first few moments.
That let them survive longer than Baelgritz and his crew though.
Rather than attack Mother Graymourn directly, the other [Sisters of Steel] among the attackers elected to make a frontal assault on the ‘castle’. Baelgritz, Illuthiz, and Hermeziz were defending the gate, and trying to take advantage of the full cover the position afforded. That prevented the first round of missile fire from targeting them, but when Sister Cayman burst through the gate, the three of them fell to a single spinning strike from the nun’s spear.
A minute later, the three plopped down on a spectator’s bench beside Tessa having removed themselves from the battlefield after the attackers were driven back. For authenticity they could have lain where they fell, but the prospect of being stepped on after losing so quickly didn’t seem to appeal to them.
“Well, that was worthless,” Hermeziz said.
“Also, not conclusive,” Illuthiz said, plopping down to sit between the other two.
“Yeah, we weren’t ready,” Baelgritz said. “We should play defense again next time.”
“Next time? We have to do a next time?” Hermeziz’s frown was audible in every syllable as he rubbed his collarbone.
“Want me to fix that up?” Lisa asked, beginning one of her healing spells.
“Can we stay on the bench if you don’t?” Hermeziz asked.
“You can stay, I’m going back in there,” Illuthiz said.
“Fine. Go ahead then,” Hermeziz said.
The next battle did see them on defense once more, but it did not see them last all that much longer.
They opted to defend the gate again, but only the presence of one of [Sisters of Steel] with them preventing a repeat of the first round when Sister Cayman once again pushed through into the castle.
“How is she so fast!” Baelgritz complained, and Tessa felt all the sympathy in the world for him.
“She’s higher level than us,” Tessa said. “But she’s not using raw speed. It looks like she’s doing what she did when I fought her. She makes really fast distracting movements but when she strikes, she’s slowing down her blows just enough to give her the control to move around your defenses. You had a good block there, it was just in the wrong place.”
“We should change up our order,” Illuthiz said. “Herm, how would you feel about taking point?”
“Terrible,” Hermeziz said. “I can’t keep up with that monster as it is. Being the first line of defense isn’t going to make that easier.”
“I know,” Illuthiz said. “We normally let Baelgritz take point, but you were on the [Fencing] team. I think we need your speed here.”
“I can’t fence properly with these clunky things,” Hermeziz said, gesturing with the [Blunted Long Sword] in his hand. “And even if I had a proper sword, I’m still not as fast as that woman is.”
“You won’t have to be as fast as her. Not if this idea works,” Illuthiz said.
After a quick question was tossed over to her, Mother Graymourn supplied Hermeziz with a practice weapon more to his liking. He wasn’t thrilled with it, the weight was wrong, the length wasn’t ideal, and against plate armor, light blades were a terrible idea. He had a whole litany of complaints, most of which seemed fairly reasonable, but despite them he still trod out onto the field.
And returned a couple of minutes later, once again defeated.
Tessa was pleased to see that they had survived Sister Cayman’s initial charge this time. In part that was because two of the other [Sister’s of Steel] had been there to help blunt Cayman’s attack. In part though, Illuthiz’s plan had worked.
Hermeziz wasn’t a threat to Cayman, but that was only because she was able to disarm him fairly quickly. Even a fairly quick disarm however cost Sister Cayman a precious second in her attack and broke up her momentum. None of that was enough to allow them to steal a victory from her. Not that time, or any of the next half dozen until the teams got rearranged and they switched sides to try going on the offense.
Offense proved to have it’s own headaches, with the trio being alternatively overrun by the allies in one round and then the defenders in the next as they surged out of the castle.
“This is the definition of insanity,” Hermeziz said. “We haven’t survived for even sixty seconds in any of these fights.”
“That’s true,” Lisa said. “But you are surviving for longer.”
“It feels like luck,” Baelgritz said.
“It is,” Tessa said. “But it’s luck your making for yourselves.”
Luck that was on course to turn into something much more from what Tessa could see.
They weren’t progressing despite their failures. Each failure was teaching them, and helping them learn. Beside their names, new numbers had appeared.
Just like an [Adventurer].