Chapter 75: Blood on the Steppes (4)

“Archbishop, it was the camp of Sir Aleksandros, the young noble whom joined up with us recently.”

Archbishop Ragnir and Bishop Girard gasped, but then glanced at each other with a sly expression.

“I see, this is… unexpected. To think the young lad would be wiped out so early in the expedition. Hmm, it seems my plans for him have come to naught and that priestess will not be happy.”

Despite losing one of his subordinate armies, the Archbishop only initially seemed surprised, but then a look of indifference crossed his face. He had never intended to keep Aleks alive to begin with and had even planned to offer him up to the Church of Tihr once his usefulness was at an end. Little did he expect that something like this would happen but nonetheless, he wasn’t too unhappy about it. Losing a single small army wasn’t too much of a loss, especially when he would gain such an enormous asset in Flash Blade Brock in the process.

However, despite the brief night raid that took place there were quite a number of casualties, especially at the southern outer camp which had been hit hard before the twin direwolves could arrive to provide support. That was the only location where the Orcs wouldn’t die no matter how many times the soldiers stabbed or hacked at them. Only with the aid of the two werewolves were they able to finally kill the Orcs. There, several dozen Orcs had died and their body parts littered the area but there was no trace of magic upon them which baffled the clerics and mages.

“What do you make of this Girard?”

“I am not sure Archbishop. I have never seen anything like it before. Could this be some form of shamanistic magic?”

Archbishop Ragnir had brought some of the clerics and mages to investigate the Orc corpses after they had been cleaned up and placed on wooden carts.

“There is something strange however.” Ragnir ran his hands through his beard while eyeing the corpses carefully.

“Have you discovered something then?” asked Bishop Girard curiously.

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“As I said before, their souls are gone and their eyes are hollow. It’s just too strange and this must be the key to this mystery, but I have never heard of anything like it no matter how much I wrack my brain. We are fortunate that only these few dozen Orcs were affected by this strange power and none of the others. Otherwise there would have been many more casualties.”

“Do you think it is an ability that is limited in scope? Perhaps only so many can be affected by it.” Pondered Girard while inspecting one of the corpses.

“It doesn’t seem we will figure this out anytime soon. For now, we need to stop word getting out about Aleksandros’s army being destroyed. If Brock hears of it, he may try to escape the camp. Soldier, go order the soldiers that escaped to keep silent about what happened. I will question them later. Also, send some scouts to confirm the destruction of the camp and see if there are any other survivors.”

Archbishop Ragnir looked at the corpses one last time and then made his way back to the central part of the camp along with the mages and clerics who had been investigating the corpses with him. None of them spoke as they walked, as they all seemed to be in deep contemplation. The circumstances of those Orcs perplexed and unnerved them. Although they theorized that whatever power had allowed those Orcs to become almost impervious to damage must be limited in its scope, this was just an assumption. If that ability could affect a whole army, it would be extremely troublesome.

After heading back towards the central and most important area of the camp, Archbishop Ragnir immediately interrogated the soldiers who had fled from Aleksandros’s camp. Originally, the Archbishop had sent two hundred of his soldiers to keep an eye on Aleksandros under the pretense of providing support. With the army that Aleks possessed and with the two hundred soldiers provided by the Northern church, it shouldn’t have been so easy to defeat his army. Also, there were too few survivors. Only a handful of the Northern church’s soldiers had escaped with their lives.

From what he was able to glean from the survivors, there had been a large army of Orcs that outnumbered the slaves and soldiers in Aleks’s camp. They attacked at night from all sides in what seemed like an endless tide. The camp was woefully unprepared for the attack and the slaves and soldiers were either slaughtered or captured and dragged away by the Orcs. The entire camp was burned to the ground and corpses were piled up into huge bonfires. It all happened quickly and without much warning.

Although Ragnir found the report to be strange, he had no reason to doubt his own men. He decided to halt the advance of the army and remain camped there for another day in order to send out scouts to both determine the fate of Aleks’s camp and search for the army of Orcs that had attacked. The scouts returned and reported that Aleks’s camp had been destroyed and described the scene exactly as the survivors had done. There was no sign of the Orcs at all and even though they followed the tracks for a while, they eventually lost the trail. It was as if the Orcs had completely disappeared without a trace.

Ragnir and his commanders could only shake their heads and decided to begin their march again in the morning. They had only just begun the expedition and had already met one setback after another. Not only could they not complete their objective of eradicating the local tribes, but they had even suffered a severe loss at their hands. All they could do was continue on and keep up their guards against any future attacks while remaining wary at all times. However, this was only the beginning of their woes.

The army of the Northern churches marched cautiously throughout the day which meant they could only travel a little more than half the distance of the previous day. They continued to find tracks leading in various directions but were unable to locate any of the local tribes. They had wasted another day and could only make camp once more as night approached. Many guards were placed on watch and some of the less prestigious mages were required to remain on constant vigil in case of attack. The Archbishop did not want a repeat of the previous night raid.

However, because the outer regions of the camp had received increased guards and most of the attention was placed on outer defense, the inner areas of the camp were more lightly guarded. No one was expecting an attack from inside the camp, it was the danger of another raid that had taken up all their attention and consideration.

“It’s time, the guard is lax around our targets. Let’s move.” A shadowy figure whispered to a small group of soldiers.

These figures were all wearing the armor of the Northern church’s elite soldiers and were in fact all soldiers who were once part of the Northern army. However, they were now all puppets and followed only the commands of their master. The group of soldiers appeared like any other and there was nothing out of place about their appearance or actions. There was no reason to suspect them as they made their way towards the central area and the tents located there appearing as if they were a normal patrol.

It was already quite late and those who weren’t on active duty were either sleeping or entertaining themselves with dice games or maintaining their weapons and armor. These men were all hardened veterans and used to conditions in the army. Those who lived more pampered and comfortable lives would certainly be sleeping in comfort at this time. Those being the mages and clerics who were far above the soldiers in rank and social class.

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Once arriving at their destination, the group of soldiers suddenly dispersed in various directions rapidly. They each made their way into a tent where the mages and clerics slept. They were careful not to draw attention to themselves and made sure to only enter the tents of those who were sleeping. Luckily for them, their targets were completely lax in their environment thinking themselves safe. It would have been next to impossible for a group to sneak in from the outside of the camp unless their power was at Legendary status or were powerful individuals with special abilities, so no one expected that a group of their own soldiers would harbor malicious intentions.

They had no understanding of Aleks’s power and even though they had come into conflict with marionettes which had been put under the control of Aleks in the previous night raid, their understanding of such an ability was limited. Also, this group of soldiers were in fact ‘Soul Puppets’ and not ‘Marionettes’, which meant there was no way they could ever figure out that these particular soldiers were already under Aleks’s control. ‘Soul Puppets’ retained their intelligence and memories from when they were alive. There was no difference in their actions or appearance and even their own family members wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The only limiting factor was the number of puppets that Aleks could create. At this time, his power allowed him to create one advanced class puppet and three intermediate class puppets. These were the so called survivors that had returned to the Northern church’s camp.

Without delay, the puppets entered as many tents as they could and easily killed the inhabitants without making much of a sound. It wasn’t until one of the intermediate class puppets attempted to kill one of the mages and was initially unsuccessful that a loud shout pierced the quiet evening causing others to become alarmed. Although one of the mages was initially able to survive the attack by one of the puppets, he was still killed in the end. However, the camp had now become alarmed and soldiers from the area swarmed into the tents finding the other puppets standing over the corpses of clerics and mages. A fight ensued and dozens more casualties were inflicted before the puppets were put down. The puppets were much stronger than marionettes and it wasn’t as simple to defeat them. However, they were eventually surrounded by many soldiers and torn apart.

Nonetheless, with their actions, the Northern church’s expedition lost quite a number of mages and clerics which only decreased their overall strength and the gloomy atmosphere overshadowed the initial excitement of the expedition.

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