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  1. Godless and Faithless Chapter 1
  2. Godless and Faithless Chapter 2
  3. Godless and Faithless Chapter 3
  4. Godless and Faithless Chapter 4
  5. Godless and Faithless Chapter 6
  6. Godless and Faithless Chapter 7
  7. Godless and Faithless Chapter 8

Godless and Faithless Chapter 3

Categories Fantasy, Male / Female, Violence

Author: Tyrone Wilson

Published: 19 October 2019

  • Font:

Turns out the Forest God was not as good as Yazid at setting fail-safes. Dodging trees and branches was not that hard, and the zombies no longer chased them. Axel thought the zombies would have collapsed after the forest god died.

They had escaped the forest and now traveled across rolling hills and farmland, looking for civilization. After much discussion they agreed to avoid cities, not wanting to be near the center of events. They still did not know what to do in this world. Yazid wanted them to be a force that did not have any loyalty to the gods, to help people without asking for permission.

“Is that smoke?” Rayner said.

“Yes, I can smell it from here. Let’s go around it,” Axel said.

“There could be people in trouble.”

“I know, that’s why we should avoid trouble. Look man, we have done pretty well since coming to this world. We fought a small army, a zombie horde, and watched a god die. Let's not push our luck."

“Stay here then.” Frustrated, Rayner ran towards the smoke.

He should have known; he was traveling with a hero. With a deep sigh, he followed after him.

When he caught up with Rayner, he was standing in front of a burnt-out home, a small hut in a little hamlet. Bodies lay strewn on the ground, bodies charred black, hands in the air as if reaching for the heavens. The hut Rayner stood in front of was where they put the children.

Axel put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. "We need to leave." Rayner said nothing, letting himself be led away from the morbid scene.

The scene played out again and again as they traveled across the plains. Every hamlet and village they came across had been ravaged. Mutilated bodies hung from trees, villages looted, crops burned. They had seen no survivors.

The Inimi were waging war against the civilian population. Axel remembered his history classes, armies of old did not like pitched battles. Easier to attack the peasants, take what little they had and deny their leaders of income, and their armies of food. Knowing why it was happening didn’t make the horror of it easier to witness.

Axel never considered himself a good person, an OK person, but not a good one. There were other reasons why he got the Thug class. Having parents in debt-slavery got him in as much trouble as them. Axel did not need to be a good person to think this was wrong, and that someone had to do someone.

“We should have seen a town by now,” Rayner said.

"I think we are at the border or a frontier." He looked around at the farms and hills. "Who wants to live near a forest full of zombies?"

He saw something off in the distance, people. Rayner ran toward them, not waiting for him and without forming a plan. The hero was going to get himself killed and Axel along with him.

As they approached, he realized the people were no threat. It was a woman and two children. She wore a ragged petticoat, her hair covered by a headscarf, her children dressed similarly. The child ran at Rayner, screaming. He was trying to attack him; the mother grabbed him while holding a crying toddler.

"Please forgive us, lords," the woman said, clutching her children protectively.

“We are not the Inimi, we are here to help,” Rayner said.

“Why did you call us lords?” Axel said.

After taking a moment, and making sure her son would not attack them again, she answered, “I can feel your level, it’s higher than mine. I know my place, lords.”

“Again, we are no—”

“Unfamiliar with the customs of this land,” Axel interrupted. Rayner looked at him confused. He probably thought he liked the idea of a woman calling him lord, and he would be right. The true reason was it would be easier to help people if they believed they had authority.

“I understand, my lords,” she said.

“Tell us what is happening to this land, is there no army to stop the Inimi?”

“A coalition of allied gods and their Worshipers gathered to fight an Inimi army at Grayhaven. Our people have little ability to defend ourselves.”

“Why not?” said Rayner, who now played with the child who attacked him, his experience with kids due to his upbringing in the corporate orphanage shining.

“We want no part in the games of gods. We worship many small gods, who are much weaker. The weaker the god the weaker the Worshiper.”

Could these be the people Yazid wanted them to protect? They lived a life seeking to avoid the larger gods and suffered for it. What really interested him was what she said about his level, others could feel his power. That could be good for avoiding fights, but he imagined it could get the two of them in trouble.

“Do you have a place to go?” Axel said.

“There is a town nearby, with high walls, called Yorkwick. Many worshipers stay there and rest before carrying out tasks.”

“By Worshipers you mean adventurers?” She looked confused. “People who go on missions for citizens. Gaining strength by killing monsters and obtaining treasure. They hang out at a guild.”

She looked at him with wide eyes. “Such an organization sounds wonderful. Worshipers work for their gods or their churches, not for the people!”

“I’m gonna guess that the churches receive a hefty tax to take out troublesome monsters,” Rayner said.

She stared at them with sad tired eyes, her circumstances proof of the lack of protection she got from the Worshipers.

“Well then we need a guide, and you need an escort,” Axel said. “How about it, you coming along?”

Axel knew that Rayner would not leave this woman and her kids behind and he grew tired of wandering around like fools. He wanted to reach civilization.

***

Axel may not have liked his friend’s heroic antics, but his personable nature came in handy in times like this. He handled the refugee woman and children well. Axel picked up from their casual conversation more of what she told them before. Meaning it was more bad news.

Axel now knew why the Coalition army and the Inimi were fighting here. He did not think even the woman knew just how screwed her people were. Stuck in the middle of a proxy war. A religious proxy war, fought by soldiers who did not care about the common people. Mostly because the people of Alta—the country they were in—did not worship as they did.

Looking back at Rayner, he could see his friend trying to stay positive for the children, but he knew his history better than Axel, it would be a hard road ahead.

As for roads, the woman had led them to one. She had avoided it before because that’s how armies travel and she thought it best to stay away. Smart woman. However, they were tired and hungry and the last of their supplies had run out, having been shared with the woman and children. She resisted at first until Axel told her the armies were likely gone. One army died in the Corpsewood forest eaten by zombies, and the other defeated at Grayhaven. Any enemies they would see would be deserters or bandits.

Their group approached the gates of Yorkwick; as the woman said, the town had walls, small ones. Smooth polished earthen walls surrounded a neat little town. Yorkwick had a bleak atmosphere. No people could be seen in the town. With the help of Rayner giving him a lift, he could get over the walls. But the woman warned them off.

“The wall is blessed by the local god, my lords. It expands when more room is needed for homes and raises when enemies lay siege,” she explained.

“Hey, could you let us in!” Rayner yelled.

They could see nobody on guard duty and had been waiting for some time. The town seemed dead. They were losing patience, they were hungry, tired, dirty, and the toddler kept crying.

“There are no bandits or Inimi behind us, you can let us in!” Rayner said, not giving up. “We have a woman and children with us!” Still no response.

Axel lost patience. "Enough of this! Rayner, can your Force Hammer break this gate?”

"No, and I don't think we should try unless we want to make enemies of the people in town."

“Now we know why everyone didn’t just flock here first. What do we do now?”

“Forgiveness, my lords, I thought they would take us in.”

“Not your fault,” Axel said. “My guess is that Coalition forces are using the town as a base. Or they don’t want to give us supplies.”

“Or both. I think the Worshipers in there are cowards. Definitely not the adventurers we think of from home. Easy money doing jobs for people who can’t take care of a little goblin themselves, then they cower when real trouble pops up,” Rayner said, pacing back and forth, playing with his hammer. He looked as if he was changing his mind on breaking down the gates, but he was still right. Making enemies is not the goal, and they still could not break it with their strength.

The woman was looking at them with some awe. They spoke casually of laying siege to the town by themselves. “My lords, there is another town nearby, Ridgehill. The hills provide a natural defense, and it is off the path that the armies marched.”

“Off we go then,” said Axel, leaving the unwelcoming town behind them.

***

The hunger began to affect their mana. It was the first time it went down due to something other than the use of their skills. This didn’t even happen when they ran for their lives from the zombies. As his mana dwindled the searing feeling of pain that usually came with losing mana reversed. Instead, a soothing calm came over him.

Rayner had told him much the same. He felt life leaving him through every pore on his body.

They were in dire straits. Worse, Tessa's toddler got weaker. The mother’s anguished face haunted him. He and Rayner had given the family as much food as they could, but it was not enough. Scavenging through ravaged villages yielded little food.

“Axel…Axel!” Rayner said, getting his attention.

“What? I’m trying to sleep on an empty stomach over here.”

“I hear screams and growls.”

He focused his hearing. “I hear it too, that’s the sound of wolves. They must be attacking people.” If they were lucky, the people had food. If not, they would eat the wolves.

Running to the sounds, they saw what looked to be several families surrounded by wagons, reminding him of those fleeing the attack on Grayhaven. They used the wagons as a barrier while some tried to fight off the wolves. The wolves were large, numerous, and did not scare easily when a member of the group tried to scare them off with fire.

“Axel, you’re the man with the plan. How do we approach this?”

“How much mana do you have left?”

Rayner checked his palm. “10. You?”

“…5. Damn it, we don’t have much to work with.” Would he have to abandon these people? There was a time he would have, but seeing what the Altans were going through, he began to understand why Yazid was desperate enough to summon two teenagers for help. Plus, they needed food, and this was their only chance to get it.

“OK…alright,” Axel said, rubbing his temples. “It’s not as bad as it looks.” Rayner quirked a brow skeptically. “Most of the wolves are to the left of the wagon, only three are on the right, we attack there. They’ll be stuck between us and the wagons.”

“And the other wolves?”

“I will use my Pain Knife on them, with the help of the refugees who are fighting. Get it?”

“Got it.”

"Good," Axel smiled and charged. Something he found himself doing a lot lately.

The wolves sensed them coming, it did not matter, nothing was going to stop Rayner. The first wolf got a hammer to the head and Rayner’s foot to its skull, ending its life. Damn, his friend lived up to the Title of Barbarian.

Another wolf lunged at Rayner, giving Axel the chance to go after the second. He had to trust Rayner could handle it. Axel could not afford to use a skill, instead letting the wolf bite his arm, or rather the bundles of cloth wrapped around his arm. He let himself fall with the wolf now lying under him, biting into the cloth. Axel drove his knife into the wolf's face. He had been aiming at its eye, but it turned out hitting where he wanted with a knife wasn't easy in the midst of a fight. The effect was the same. The wolf released his arm and left snarling in pain. It would die eventually.

Rayner had killed another wolf. Axel was right to trust him. They gave each other a quick check for wounds and continued to the wagons.

The refugees saw their fight. They waved them to an opening in the wagon. Rayner joined them, while Axel went to face the remaining wolves.

Axel didn’t try to kill them. He only needed to scratch the wolves. His skill had only been used on zombies so far, but if he was right, Pain Knife should be more effective on living creatures.

And he was proved correct. He ran slashing at the wolves any chance he got, waving a torch at a wolf that looked like it was preparing to jump him. The effect of his Pain Knife was devastating. The wolves howled in suffering. Axel had tested his ability on a reluctant Rayner, only a scratch. Rayner had described the feeling as having the same spot cut over and over again, and the worse the wound, the longer it lasted and the more it hurt. Axel had slashed the entire side of two of the wolves’ bodies, causing them to thrash on the spot. The other wolves, seeing the pain of the others and not understanding, started to back off and circle Axel wearily. He used the sickly liquid red glow emanating from his knife to ward the wolves off. It looked like the wolves forgot Axel was not alone.

Rayner left the protection of the wagons with his hammer raised, roaring. A small green distortion of air showed he had activated Force Hammer. All the armed refugees followed behind him. The wolves disengaged, then fled, after Rayner knocked two of them back with Force Hammer. The refugees, armed with spears, torches, and knives, fell upon the fallen wolves. They burned, slashed, and stabbed their way to victory.

Another battle won. Axel checked how much mana he had left. The screen coming from his palm tattoo showed 1 mana left and he felt so damn tired…

He woke up covered with blankets in a wagon, Tessa’s child watching over him. Tessa was the refugee woman he and Rayner saved. He no longer felt pangs of hunger. Either his mana recovered naturally or someone, likely the child, had helped him eat. The child ran out yelling that he was awake. “Good morning to you too brat.”

Before Rayner came to fuss over him, Axel checked his stats.

Level: 3, Class: Thug, Mana: 12, Skills: Pain Knife, EXP: 30

He had gained 2 mana and 30 EXP. He’d been resting for some time, as he’d recovered and gained mana.

Tessa came to him instead of Rayner. “My lord, I am glad you are awake. Rayner is talking with the wagon master.” She looked much brighter. She and her children must have taken the time to eat as well.

“Is your youngest well?”

Her eyes lit up. “Yes, she is running around with the other children right now. Thank you for asking, my lord.”

Eventually, they would inform her they weren’t lords. She offered her hand to help him out the wagon but he shooed her away. He felt great. “So, Rayner is too busy to see me?”

“Oh no my lord, he has been organizing our defenses and leading foraging parties. He recently returned from one along with Evans. You have been sleeping for 3 days.” Seeing his shock, she explained. “Overusing mana does that to people.”

“Oh, good to know,” Axel said. Tessa tilted her head, probably wondering why Axel did not know this. To avoid her asking him unwanted questions he went toward a group who looked like they were in charge.

Before he got to them, he was surrounded by people, thanking him profusely. They bowed and clapped him on the back. One guy even kissed him. He did not even notice them approach him. If they had moved this fast when the wolves attacked, they could have defeated them without his and Rayner’s help.

A big man came to tell them to go away, and led him to leaders of the wagon train. “Sorry about that, they have been waiting to thank you since you saved us. Rayner got the same treatment.”

“No problem, you folks saved us too. We had run out of supplies.”

“Well that’s something we have plenty of, and it has caused us trouble ever since.” His voice rumbled in frustration. “The wagon leader will fill you in.”

Rayner was speaking with a man wearing far too much jewelry and a colorful robe. He paused his conversation when he noticed Axel. “Oh thank god you’re awake,” giving Axel his signature bear hug.

“Stop it man. We are in public.” He clawed free from his friend's grasp.

“It’s just so good to see you awake! The others were saying you might need a healer to recover from the overuse of mana.”

"Well, I guess lady luck is shining on us."

“Is that the god you worship?” the bejeweled man asked Axel.

“No, it’s just a saying,” Axel said.

“I see,” the man said. He clearly didn't. “My name is Garman, the leader of this unfortunate group of refugees.”

"No offense, but you don't look like a leader of refugees." Axel’s rudeness caused Rayner to look at him reproachfully. Axel really meant no offense, but the man had a gold nose ring and silver in his hair. Maybe that wasn't expensive in this world.

Garman chuckled. “You are correct. I am a merchant, not a man of charity. I supplied food for the Coalition. Until they decided they did not need to pay for food because they had weapons and I had a few weak Worshiper guards,” Garman said, pointing to the big man that led Axel out of the crowd. "I have learned how to deal with such brutes. I poisoned the food and fled while they emptied their bowels. Along the way I picked up all these wandering souls." The others around the merchant gave a burst of nervous laughter at the memory.

“Are all Coalition soldiers like that?”

"The serve mostly benevolent gods, that is until you cross them."

“We were just talking about this before you came Axel,” Rayner said. “We can handle the wolves, and the wild goblins, but the deserters and the bandits will cause us trouble. We’ve taken the long way around to avoid them.”

“Smart, if you have lots of food you can afford to take your time. But, the longer we are out here, the more chances we run into trouble.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” the big man said, glad to have Axel agree with him. “Name is Barny by the way,” he said extending his hand. Axel saw the tattoo on his hand indicating he was a Worshiper. Everyone had the marking, Tessa had it, and so did her oldest child, but Barny's marking had larger and more detailed patterns. Axel took the hand, shaking it. This custom of handshaking had continued across worlds it seemed.

“So, where are we on the issue, any ideas?” Axel said.

“I was hoping you would have an idea, Axel,” Rayner said.

"Oh." He had only been awake for a couple of minutes, but monsters and armies would not wait for him to clear his head. "What's our battle strength look like?"

“6 guards, and 7 men and women willing to fight,” Barny said

“How long will supplies last?”

“A week at rest, shorter if we are active.”

“Any idea on the number of bandits?”

“Largest group we have run into was 12.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s the largest group but the bandits are a part of a larger force. The attacks on the villages are too organized to be a dozen random bandits,” Barny answered sharply.

Axel realized what he implied. “I don’t doubt your bravery Barny. I saw how your guardsmen fought the pack of wolves by yourselves. I forget fighting is harder when you have to protect dozens of people.”

Barny’s shoulders relaxed. The apology had been accepted. “That will always be a problem, fighting the enemy while keeping our people safe.”

“True. Which is why we must attack them.”

“Excuse me?” said a female guardsman.

“The bandits travel in groups of around 12. We can take them on, but only without the civilians to protect.”

“We can’t abandon them!” she said, indignantly.

“We won’t. We will pretend to.”

“I understand the young man’s plan. The bandits are keeping track of us. Waiting for an opportunity to attack. The fighters pretend to leave, come back and attack when the bandits think we are defenseless,” Garman said.

“Sounds good. It will shock them at first, but this still leaves us defending refugees,” Barny said.

“Unless…we send the civilians away, and we stay,” Rayner said.

“Exactly,” Axel said.

“If we could fool the bandits into thinking it is the fighters who left, then they would come to us, unaware who they are attacking,” the woman said, anger leaving her face once she realized we would not leave the refugees.

“Sounds complicated. If they don’t fall for it, the civilians are dead,” Barny said.

"They will because the leaders of this wagon train are going with the civilians. We will make it look like the rich and powerful have had enough taking care of the civilians, and took the supplies,” Axel said.

They took a moment to think on it, but Axel knew their answer. “We don’t have a choice; the bandits are probably watching any path to the town. If we ever hope to make it to Ridgehill, we will have to confront them. This is the plan; we will take the next few days to work out the details.”

The group nodded. If Axel told them the full plan, he wondered what they would think.

***

Axel wanted to ask them about their powers but avoided it thinking it would be impolite. However, the circumstances did not allow for much secrecy. If they wanted to live, they had to work together.

Barny and his guardsmen all worshiped the same god, an idol god. The god’s power was imbued in items they carried with them, allowing the god’s influence to reach them from a distance, and as long as one of them had their item or idol they would still have power.

The skills they used revolved around protection and communication. By working together, they could form barriers and speak to each other from a small distance. A formidable team indeed. All the guardsmen were level one and none had a class. When Rayner informed them of his class while he slept, they were impressed. When Axel told them he was level 3, they spoke to him differently.

“My lord, we have seen how many people we can force into the wagons, and one of the refugees found a way to fit everyone inside,” Barny said.

“Cool, let’s see it,” Axel said, forgetting Barny did not know what cool meant. He let Barny lead him to a freckled woman beside a modified wagon.

The wagon had been divided into sections, from top to bottom. “This way, we can take advantage of the height of the wagons. By making the sides of the wagon taller, I was able to put in 3 floors. The children would be at the top, and adults at the bottom,” the freckled woman said.

“A tight fit. Will it hold? You made this on the fly.”

“On the fly?” she said. “Ah, yes I rushed this, but it should hold a few adult men for a while. But I suggest only putting the women and children in these wagons.”

They had to leave enough wagons behind to trick the bandits into thinking only the soldiers abandoned the refugees. “This is good work, thanks.”

The woman straightened with pride, bowing slightly. He was embarrassed because he kind of liked it, and he could see her cleavage as she bent.

He had not thought about sex since coming to this world. The pretty Elf turned out to be a fairy, and the chaos did not give him a chance to relax. They had not run into princesses, or rich merchant daughters, or a maiden who was the last of her clan looking for an escort. Such women were probably far away, in a castle, palace, or temple. They were the smart ones.

If he were being honest, he would have avoided such women. A princess would mean dealing with knights. A merchant’s daughter would have well-funded enemies and a maiden…well, who wants to fight a horde of angry white knights. Heck, Rayner could be considered a white knight, and Axel would not want to fight him.

Axel had spaced out while thinking of this, and did not notice Tessa’s brat trying to get his attention. “Mr. Axel, Rayner wants to see you,” said the brat.

“Sure, I’m coming.” Axel had not seen Rayner for much of the day. He went scouting with the guards, mostly so he can learn how to do it himself, not because they were looking for bandits.

“Axel, I think we should talk about my stats,” Rayner said. He sat by the remains of a fire.

“Again, still no change.”

“This is not a game,” they both said in unison.

“I think I know why the stats have been static. I have been talking with Barny—don’t worry, I was careful not let him catch on how ignorant we are—and discovered that class determines the allocation of attributes.”

“I’m not following,” Axel said, scratching his head.

"Mana is another way to tell how strong we are. It's all the attributes in one, and as a barbarian, my attributes lean a certain way."

“So, most of your mana is used for strength and mine for speed. Makes sense.”

“Does it though?” Rayner said. Axel waited for him to explain. “Maybe because mana feels natural to me, but I have not noticed a change in my strength, have you?”

“No, my speed feels the same. Maybe the change in strength is tiny. Maybe it takes having a 100 mana to notice a change.”

Rayner shook his head. “Class determines how much mana is geared to an attribute. Not all the mana would go towards strength, and if it is such a small gain, then I would need hundreds of mana points to notice a change.”

Rayner was right, there were other benefits for having a class. Like skills based on class, but Barny’s guardsmen had shown them skills could be gained without class.

“I suppose you have an idea?” Axel said.

Looking pleased with himself Rayner continued his explanation. “It’s not our speed and strength that have increased. It's your wisdom and my charisma."

“Say what now?” Axel said unwisely.

“You should see the look on your face,” Rayner said, holding back laughter.

“Well I don’t feel wiser, and I’m sorry, I don’t feel any super charisma coming off you.”

"As we talked about back in our world, stats are silly. Strength, speed, constitution, all are related to each other. A literal point system would not make sense. However, we can still be faster than normal if our other stats support it. Also, the increases are not manifesting in the usual way. Your wisdom has shown in the way you have planned these battles, and my charisma shows in how my enemies react to me. They're intimidated."

It made sense. It made a lot of sense. Rayner still looked at him smugly, knowing he did not think of himself as wise.

“Now, how is a Thug wise and a Barbarian charismatic? The definition of those words can’t be that different in this world.”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you. Thought we could brainstorm.”

“Off the top of my head, the de***********ions are still the same, so I guess it has something to do with our Titles.”

“Barny said all their Titles are the same, Worshiper. People stronger than him have the Title Acolyte.”

“While we have the Titles: Godless and Faithless.” He could see the pattern. “For now, let’s focus on the bandits. The wagons are ready and the refugees understand their instructions. Now we just have to check on Barny and work on those formations.”

Barny was hard at work drilling his guardsmen and volunteer fighters. They stopped on seeing both of them approaching until Barny yelled at the fighters to keep drilling.

The plan called for the volunteers to form a V-formation, or inverted wedge being the official term. The guardsmen would peel off, form barriers around the bandits to restrict their movements, while he and the volunteers killed the bandits.

Barny was right, it was complicated. They talked about just having a straight up fight to keep it simple. But then he would be unsure of the results, even if it was likely they would win. He wanted a clear victory. It’s what he came to talk with Barny about.

“I've got a suggestion, lord,” Barny said. “The volunteers will not be able to perform the formation you are talking about, at least not outside these drills.” Barny was much more experienced than Axel, he would not argue the point. He was sure Barny had a solution. “The goal is to surround them. We get the women out front, no armor, weapons hidden. The bandits chase them into the camp, you and the volunteers engage them, while my guardsman hiding in the dummy tents come out and surround them with our barriers.”

It was probably the plan he wanted all along, but Barny started deferring to him since learning of his level 3 status. By spending time drilling, he could say he tried. It was a waste of time, and they both knew it. He would have to sort out this lord thing as soon as possible.

“Then that’s the plan.”



All the refugees had left. The braver ones stayed to sell the illusion that it was the refugees who remained instead of the guardsmen. The women put their acting talents to work, weeping and wailing and throwing things into the night. Maybe they weren’t acting, using this as a chance to vent. They had suffered much.

Axel clutched his shawl. He was pretending to be a woman, a very tall woman. He was all in on this plan, and he dressed up to show it. The ploy seemed to build confidence among the volunteers and lighten the mood a little. He went into a tent, waited, and waited, and waited.

He woke up to shouts and the clashing of swords. The female guardsman from the meeting came to get him. “Were you sleeping?” Her eyes narrowed.

He would not be some beta boy and lie to her about it. “Yes. Have the bandits realized they’re in a trap?” he said, wiping the drool from his face.

His honesty threw her off guard; that was the idea. “…No, they charged right in and burned tents. The empty tents.”

“You being here means the others are already surrounding them.”

“Yes, but the bandits have scattered looking for loot. We could change the plan and pick them off one by one.”

“No, we engage them as a group, and finish them as a group, it will confuse the volunteers if we change plans.”

She nodded and rushed away to follow his orders. He followed her, leaving his tent. The tents burned, filling the camp with smoke and flames. Axel's eyes became dry as he got his bearings. At first glance, it was a scene of utter chaos, but this was his plan.

The volunteers stuck with the plan and engaged the enemy together. Two of his people thrust their spears at a bandit, poking at him as if he were a dying animal they were afraid to touch, but their actions were not about fear. They kept him busy until Rayner came up behind the bandit and knocked him in the side of the head with his hammer. The volunteers finished the bandit with a spear in the gut.

Rayner approached him, hammer still glowing green. “Were you sleeping?”

“Yes,” he said.

“…I can’t believe we are friends.”

“Same.”

“Whatever. The bandits have not realized they are in a trap yet even though we are attacking them.”

"They're bandits, they see fire, destruction, and chaos and think they're winning."

With the two spearmen, they hunted for bandits. An idiot with bundles of clothes in his hands wandered out of a tent. The bandit got a spear in the chest for being a fool. The refugees had to leave their stuff behind to sell the illusion that they had stayed behind. It had the added benefit of distracting the greedy bandits.

The bandits had finally wised up to the trap, attempting to regroup. But the fires they set made it harder to do so. The smoke gave Barny’s guardsmen the advantage. In the eyes of the bandits, enemies were everywhere, coming from the smoke then disappearing. Seeing their fear Axel knew what to do.

He ran to a bandit trying to reach a group of his fellows, and stabbed him in the shoulder, twisting the glowing red knife before removing it. Axel returned to Rayner and his group, not worried about the bandit attacking him from behind.

The bandit’s scream could be heard throughout the entire camp. Axel wouldn’t be surprised if the refugees that left could hear it too. Axel had used Pain Knife on the bandit as a way to spread fear. It worked. They broke and ran, only to run into the spectral shield barriers of the guardsmen.

During the planning stages, Barny had demonstrated his skill. It wasn't just a massive wall, rather it looked like a ghostly shield. If the user measured from the tip of their raised hand to their feet and measured their width with arms outstretched measuring from tip to tip, that was the average size of their barrier. The guardsmen called it Shield Wall.

Using that skill, they could form a shield wall with their small numbers. The volunteers covered the gaps and herded the bandits to the center. The screaming of the bandit he stabbed never stopped, only getting worse. He read on the Internet there was a pain point in that area of the shoulder. Even if it wasn't true, a stab is a stab.

Rayner stepped forward and shouted. “We win, you lose!” catching the attention of the desperate bandits and bloodthirsty volunteers.

Barny had to restrain one of the younger volunteers. These people wanted vengeance, but it could come later. For now, Axel waited for them to give up. The shield wall had closed around the bandits and crept closer every second. The longer the bandits delayed their surrender the worse it would be for them later.

“What guarantees do we have?” the bandit he presumed to be the leader yelled to him.

“I want you for information, not execution,” Axel said. He signaled at Barny, and the shield wall moved closer. That should put his feet to the fire.

The bandit cursed and dropped his sword, the others followed suit. As Rayner said: We won, they lost.

***

The bandits did not struggle or try anything clever. Not after he threatened to use Pain Knife on them. The skill did not last long, but it did not have to. Axel found the blood-red glow—the signature of his skill—great for intimidation.

The refugees came back and threw a victory party. He got to try this world’s beer, or as they call it: devil’s water. It tasted like liquid candy and gave him a numbing jolt after swallowing. He would have to be careful of this stuff.

The refugees beat their drums and danced around roaring fires. Men and women got drunk on the devil’s water and played games off to the side. Some decided this was the time to get laid, and the younger refugees could be seen making full use of the wagons for their sexual play. Rayner received invitations from many women to join them and dance and join them in a wagon, but he politely refused. Rayner was still Rayner after all. Axel got invited as well, but he couldn’t do it. Maybe something was wrong with him?

Escaping from the group of women, Rayner joined him in leaning against a wagon. “Look at you, standing here by yourself trying to look cool,” Rayner said.

“I am cool, I don’t need to try,” Axel said, taking another swig of devil’s water.

“I don’t feel like partying, don’t know why. You feel the same right?”

“Yep. Instead of sitting here watching everyone else have fun and screw each other, let’s go see those prisoners.”

They kept the bandits in two wagons away from the main camp. Barny had been questioning them for information on the other bandits. He had told Barny about his real plan to remove all the bandits from the area. He was against it at first. Even Rayner had his doubts until he explained to them that going to Ridgehill with the bandits still at large would leave them open to attack.

“What have you gotten out of them?” Rayner said.

“Everything, they folded like blankets. Bastards have no loyalty to each other,” Barny said, huge arms folded in disapproval.

The first bit of information they found out from the bandits was their nationalities; they were a diverse group. All but one of the six surviving bandits came from other nations, leaving their homes to take advantage of the chaos. Axel would have to keep this truth from the others. The volunteer fighters already wanted blood. It would only make things worse for the refugees to learn their country was being destroyed by opportunists.

“The location of their camp?” Axel said.

“It’s close, a woodland 30 miles from here.”

“Do they have any other detachments out raiding?”

“No, the groups take turns, one group scouts, the second group attacks. As for defense, no organized force is looking for them. They won’t know what hit them.”

“Well, you guys seem confident. How do we take out an entire bandit camp?” Rayner said.

“There are only about 40 of them,”

“That’s it?”

“It doesn’t take an army to pillage a defenseless village. Most of their activity was during the initial invasions.”

“Still more than double our number.”

“We have done it before, but I don’t know how we should approach them,” Axel said.

“Not everything requires a detailed plan, in my experience conflict works better by keeping it simple. We take out the scouts when they head out, then move in and kill the rest.” Barny plunged a fist into his palm.

“Will your Shield Wall be effective in the woodland?”

“I asked one of the refugees who lived around here. He said the woods aren’t dense.”

Axel didn’t want to let on that he was nervous about this as well. It needed doing, but still, it made him sweat. They were also on a time limit. The bandits would expect the group they captured to return. They had to strike before the bandits noticed their missing comrades.

Barny moved past them, heading back to the main camp. “We’ll flesh things out tomorrow. I’m going to join the party,” Barny said.

"Have fun," Rayner called to Barny. "I'm going to sleep," Rayner said to Axel.

“Before that, stat check,” he said, raising his palm. Rayner did the same while yawning.

Name: Rayner, Level: 1, Class: Barbarian, Mana: 30, Skills: Force Hammer(0.5), EXP: 31.

Axel, Level: 3, Class: Thug, Mana: 12, Skills: Pain Knife(1), EXP: 30.

No change. Only 1 EXP for Rayner. They had expected this. It was the quality of the experience that mattered. All they did was defeat a small group of bandits. The planning had been the hardest part. They would need to talk about how to get stronger without relying on combat. Grinding in real life would get them killed. Having done all they needed for the night, Axel headed back with Rayner to camp.

Axel stood with the leaders of the camp: Barny, Garman, Rayner, Tessa, Dara, and Evans, to plan the attack on the bandit’s hideout. Dara was the female guardsman from the last meeting and the one who caught him sleeping before the battle. Evans was the leader of the volunteer fighters.

Tessa had become the representative for the refugees; he thought it was because she was close to him and Rayner, but it turned out she had killed a wolf by herself. He and Rayner had left her alone when they went to charge the wolves; one of the wolves lunged at her and she killed it with her dagger. They did not know she had that but understood why she hid it. She was traveling with two strange men and had children to protect.

Garman spoke, “I will take the refugees far from the battlefield, to avoid the chance fleeing bandits will run into us.”

Tessa rose her hand, then lowered it; she did not need permission to speak. “If we are sure of our lords’ victory, we could head directly to Ridgehill, and they can meet us there,” she said tentatively.

Garman rubbed his chin. “It would be the best time to go; even if they lose the battle, they would be engaging the bandits, allowing us to pass.” Garman was a shrewd man. A good trait for a merchant.

“We thank you for your confidence,” Dara said.

“Whether we live or die, we will have accomplished our goal. We will be sure to take as many bandits with us to the hells if we die,” Evans said. All the volunteer fighters had lost their entire families. Evans was the most fatalistic of them all.

“We have stood around talking long enough, everyone is armed and ready. Before the tension wears us down, we should start moving.” Barny looked at Evans. “Agreed?”

They did. They separated to inform the others and leave for battle.

Axel wasn't practiced in stealth. If he were in an urban environment, he could hide in the urban jungle. Instead he, and several others followed Dara through the woodlands. Evans was farther away from his group, barely in his range of vision. This was to cover more ground and take advantage of the guardsmen’s skill to communicate across short distances. Short Call was the name of the skill. Evans and Dara were not experts in stealth or forestry, but they were the most experienced in the combat group.

Dara rose her hand, signaling for them to stop. Axel had heard and seen nothing. Did she get a message from the other group?

After a minute of waiting, a man appeared in the distance. Evans’ group launched spears at the man. One of the spears pierced the bandit’s leg, causing him to cry out in pain. Dara was already dashing toward the man to finish him off. She took one of the thrown spears out of the ground and stabbed the bandit in the neck.

Evans didn’t have a choice but to launch an attack; the trees in these woods weren’t thick enough to hide behind and the grass was low. Silence and distance were their only means of hiding. They had lost that advantage. The only way the bandits did not hear the scream was if they were sleeping or drunk. Even if they were both, the scream would have woken them up.

The two groups jogged forwards, weapons ready. They were close to the enemy. Axel heard another man further ahead, calling out for the dead bandit. Axel wished someone on their side could use a bow and arrow. The bandit spotted them and yelled a warning. The bandit should have learned to yell and run at the same time because he got hacked to death for wasting time. Using swords wasn’t fancy like the movies, the guardsmen had used it like a hammer rather than a blade.

According to the plan, if discovered they would engage the enemy as fast as possible. The two groups would then join when in the bandit camp. A camp he could now see. No fencing or trench was in place; no defenses at all. Axel looked up to the trees, nobody with a bow and arrow to worry about. He pushed forward, running beside Dara.

The alarm had roused the bandits. It looked like they were having a party before Axel and friends came to crash it. He could hear Rayner’s battle cry. Axel wished he could shout like that. Rayner’s cry meant this battle had truly begun.

An axe-wielding bandit came at Dara and got a sword in the gut. She used her foot to kick him off her sword. “Barny and Rayner are pushing through to the center of camp, we caught the bandits with their pants down.” She must have gotten that information using the Short Call skill.

“Good, they’re looking for the leader. And Evans?”

“Sticking with the plan. We don’t need to tell him to kill as many bandits as possible. We are free to look for their loot.”

Their role was to distract the bandits. If they thought this was an attempt to take their stuff, they would run to protect their ill-gotten goods.

He and Dara ran through the camp, avoiding combat, the guardsmen watching their backs. One of those guardsmen caught up with them. “Sirs, they have prisoners. Women and girls. This is why they have their pants down.”

How did he not foresee this? “Dara, communicate this to the others: setting fire to the camp may hurt the prisoners.” She nodded, her eyes looking off into nothing, indicating she was sending the message. “The rest of you will find, free, then get the prisoners to safety.”

"Yes Lord!" they all said and went to follow orders.

“Just you and me now,” he said to Dara.

It became clear the bandits they captured lied about their numbers. At least 50 bandits were part of this camp. And those numbers began to take their toll. Evans's group was doing most of the fighting as the others were busy rescuing prisoners. Dara told him Rayner and Barny were engaging the bandits' boss.

When they found where the bandits stored their loot, it was being guarded by four bandits who looked ready to defend it to the death. So be it. He and Dara did not stop running. She raised her sword; he readied his knife. The bandits ran at them, plowing into Dara’s ghostly white Shield Wall. Two of the bandits fell, the other two who did not run into the wall stopped in shock. He had learned something in the battles he fought in since coming to this world. Hesitation meant death.

Dara pierced both bandits, and he used Pain Knife on the others, ignoring the feeling of death he felt every time he used the skill. Axel only scratched the bandit, but he ran off screaming like a baby, maybe because the scratch was on his throat? The remaining enemy, seeing he was now outnumbered, ran. Not before Axel let him hear they would burn all the loot.

They would do no such thing. The refugees needed it to rebuild their lives. Rayner had plans for the loot. The bandit ran through the camp, shouting that the loot was being burnt. All the bandits would come there.

“I have already told the others our location using Short Call," Dara informed him.

They held their ground until the others came. They would form a wide shield wall using the guardsmen's skill. Axel’s group was the first to reach them.

“What about the prisoners?” Axel said to them.

“Two of them are Coalition soldiers, they took the rest to the wagons.”

Evans' group followed them soon after, carrying two injured men. “We had to burn the wound closed, he will need proper healing soon. This one is just unconscious,” Evans answered without Axel needing to ask.

Good, no deaths, he had to thank the guardsmen’s extremely useful skill for that. Barny told him Shield Wall drained around 0.7 mana a minute, but they all had around 30 mana. More than average for people like them. The Idol god they carried around helped with that.

Everyone was ready, with their Shield Wall up, as the greedy bandits came to protect their loot. Some bandits threw their axes before crashing into the wall, kicking, and shoving at it. One of the weaknesses of the skill was the user could not attack through it, making it the same as a normal shield. Another negative was it was only as strong as a normal shield. A plus was weapons did not get stuck in it. The Shield Wall was transparent, making it quite intimidating to see the screaming bandits pound against the barrier. They had to wait, let the bandits tire themselves out, then counter-attack.

The opportunity came, but Dara stopped him and could not say why, as she was straining to hold the Shield Wall. She and the others still had enough mana keep the skill active, but it did not prevent them from being overpowered.

The rest had been standing with their weapons ready to take advantage of an opening, but seeing the defense falter they had braced the front lines. “We need more time everyone. Hold the line!” he said to them. All of them moved up to push on the wide barrier. “How much longer Dara?” Some of the bandits were getting smart and moving around them.

“3…2…1. Push!” Dara bellowed. He and the others put everything they had into the shove, pushing them back.

Before the bandits could recover, they charged into them. The numbers were still not on their side. Then he heard a bone-chilling roar from behind the bandits. It was Rayner, veins on his neck popping out, blue eyes glowing, and teeth bared. The bandits closest to him fell back. The others froze. Then he remembered, hesitation meant death. Evans was the first to get back into the fight along with the rest of the volunteers, and the guardsmen soon followed.

Stuck between the two groups, the bandits folded. Rayner must have seen the captured women because he was in a rage. He wasn’t trying to kill the bandits; he was trying to maim them. Both methods put them out of the fight. The bandits still outnumbered them, but the numbers did not matter anymore, and some tried to run.

Evans’s fighters did not let them. They had held back their blood-thirst for too long. They killed no one who tried to surrender because Evans did not give them the chance.

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Doozy woof Hunter — 18 October 2019 15:30
what a good story so far!
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