From the height of the walls of the border bastion of the Riolian empire, they seemed more like little stars in the sky, and the number of them was horrifying.
The siege of the fortress lasted already for almost 5 days, but the earl was well aware that the loathsome Arians people would not wait any longer. The help from the capital will come soon, and then their chances of capturing the bastion will decrease to the size of a fly.
"My Lord!" - A bright male voice interrupted the heavy thoughts. Earl didn't need to turn to recognize the young captain that only recently arrived at the fortress.
It was still a very young guy who had barely approached the thirty-year milestone. He must not have expected to face death so soon when he was sent here.
"Speak, captain" - said the old earl, without taking his eyes from the camp of the enemy.
"Everything is done as you ordered. All men of the appropriate age are armed with what we could find at the armory. We gathered women and children in the basement and masked the entrance with whatever was by hand. Just in case, I showed several women where there is a secret passageway from the fort. Fires for tanks with hot oil and tar are almost done. According to your signal, we are ready to start."
" I see, captain. Good job!"- replied the old warrior dismissingly.
The young captain was about to leave, but, in the end, curiosity got the better of him.
"Sir, can I ask you a question?" - he inquired carefully, trying to peer into his superior's face.
Earl pulled his brooding gaze from the horizon and turned his light, almost milky-white eyes to his subordinate, gesture for him to continue.
"My Lord, I may still be too green and have not yet been in large-scale battles, but I have heard a lot about Khail-hold's straight and about you as a legendary commander. There are almost three hundred fighters in the fortress. Should we bother the peasants? "
The general in reply just smirked and turned his eyes back to the edge of the forest.
"Son, what do you see?" - The general finally asked, nodding in the direction of the enemy troops.
"An army of damned Arians, eight hundred if I'm not mistaken. But the Arians are mostly just traders, greedy and stupid. I bet, they just rounded up some rogues from all over the continent. This is not a trained regular army, but a dozen various mercenary parties. They will not even go further than the first wall. " - answered the guy, throwing a disgusted glance below the walls.
" That's why you are still green. Maybe these parties look like a herd of robbers, experienced warrior will immediately understand with whom he is about to deal. Over there, for example, "- the count waved towards the left edge of the hill -" there are three or four squads of werewolves. I can even guess that these are from the Wastelands, judging by the number of rags that they hang on themselves. These guys are so accustomed to the scorching sun that as soon as they get into a normal climate, they immediately begin to feel chilled. "
" And over there," - he pointed to the central part of the hill closer to the fortress, where the colorful tents stood amidst a sea of red colored ensigns.
" Those are from Carpian lands. Crazy Redfaced bastards! I came across them a couple of times but never saw them in such a large number. These freaks, even if you cut off their hands and feet, will still crawl after you, trying to bite your arse off." - He said, chuckling coldly.
"And there," - the general turned his gaze to the right side of the hill, where there were no tents or fires. About a hundred warriors in identical gray cloaks just sat at a distance from each other.
The face of the old warrior instantly became severe, while he looked at this part of the hill.
"There, the answer to your question."
The young captain looked uncomprehendingly from the commander to the small figures in the distance.
"This, boy, is at least a hundred of Stone Beasts." - the quiet voice of the Earl made the Captain shudder.
Probably throughout the continent, there was not a single person who had not heard about them. It was said that this damn sect not only trained its warriors to the extent that humans and nonhumans turned into insensible murderers but also forced those who had been trained to fight each other to death each time for the right to live some more.
Fortunately, this has meant that the number of Stone Beasts was not large enough. But in spite of the enormous cost for the services of these monsters, there were a lot of people willing to hire at least a dozen. For even a dozen of these warriors was worth hundreds of ordinary ones.
"Even if Arians did collect a larger number of fighters, the whole army of powerful and skilled mercenaries, they still wouldn't have a chance to take those walls. But with Stone Beasts as the core and the main striking force, even a thousandth army has almost no chance. And even our walls will not save us from their claws. I once had a chance to look at them in action. And believe me, son, after what I saw, I wished with all my might to never be on the other side of the sword from the Stone Beast."
The guy looked uncertainly from the barely visible figures on the hillock to the solemn face of the general. Although Paris served under Sir Wolcroft for only half a year, he could already say with confidence that the glory of an outstanding strategist and an excellent master was fully deserved by this old man.
"I apologize for being rude, sir. Yet it seems to me that no matter how much these so-called beasts are skilled and trained warriors, much still depends on the direction and overall coordination of the parties. If teams will attack at the same time and each in their own way. They will only interfere with each other. It's not going to work well for Arians anyway."
"All that you said is true, Captain, but the one thing you do not know is that Stone Beasts are not only excellent swordsmen, but they also were taught all other military knowledge like you at the academy. The only difference is that you for an error or mistake was rebuked or given some small punishment. They, on the other hand, for a mistake could be skinned or decapitated without further ado. "- saying that Earl's voice became even deeper. And Paris felt like the temperature around suddenly dropped a few degrees.
"How do you know? "- Paris threw a quick glance at the warriors in gray cloaks.
"I saw myself once, how a captain of such a group pierced his underling's heart in a mere second. And the reason for this was that the sword was knocked from the young boy's hands, even though he won in the end. This boy was dying very slowly, it took him a couple of hours, but he did it without any sound or words. And the rest of them just stood and watched. In their eyes, there was no anger, pity or joy. Nothing at all. That's why they called a Stone Beasts. Because their hearts are cold as stones, but the minds are sharp as a razor, and the bodies are strong and fast as rockfall. They will plan the entire attack themselves and see that everything goes smoothly. "- Finished the commander. And from the look on his face, it was evident that he had said enough and didn't want to continue this conversation.
Paris, still digesting the information, politely thanked the Earl and headed for the stairs down from the wall. A whole horde of thoughts flashed through his head. He had heard a lot about the Stone Cult, except that rumors could not always be believed.
Paris was not stupid. He finished Academy in just 5 years, three years faster than others. And of course, he knew that even though there were a hundred rumors about different legendary mercenary troops that terrified people on both sides of the Podiej sea. Most of them were spread by those warriors themselves to boost their own worth.
Already almost reaching the turret, that hid a spiral staircase down, Paris suddenly turned. He did it rather on a reflex, caused by an incomprehensible feeling, that forced the hair to stand on the back of his head. Someone was watching him.
Paris thought that the corner of his eye grabbed the black shadow that flashed between the battlements of the wall. In one jump, he found himself at the very edge and carefully looked out, inspecting the outer part of the wall.
The centuries-old masonry, which withstood several attacks, struck with its evenness. It seemed impossible to squeeze even a needle between the stones.
And of course, Paris saw no one and nothing but mere rocks there. However, the strange feeling didn't leave the young man. He once again intently looked at the battlements and the wall, but there was still nothing unusual. Finally, deciding that it was just a delusion, Paris exhaled and moved towards the stairs.