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Gentleman's Wars 2: A Tower Defense LitRPG Series (The Great Game)

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32

Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Epilogue

Gentleman’s Wars
Book 2: Expansion Plan
by Andrew Karevik

Gentleman’s Wars: Book 2
Copyright © 2021 LitRPG Freaks
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means without written
permission from the author.

Chapter 1
Four months ago, I was a student of the alchemical arts,
focusing on a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and science. Four
months ago, I’d have been locked up in my laboratory, studying
some treatise on physics or experimenting with isphene gas,
ignoring the rest of the world—especially politics! But now…well,
things have changed for me. Quite radically too.
My beloved Uncle Arnison was assassinated by some
nefarious power with unknown motives. Shortly after his death, my
cousins and own brother were killed by that same entity. The Blake
family tree was ruthlessly cut down so that only two branches
remained: myself and my little sister who had no power to form full
sentences as of yet.
No doubt we too would have become victims, had I not found
shelter behind a most peculiar set of laws and rules known as the
Gentleman’s War. For as long as my household participated in this
strange game, using golems to attack and defend territories, the
Crown would keep a close eye on me. Any assassin attempting to
violate the Great Game and take my life, or harm my estate, would
quickly be investigated by the most powerful force on the continent:
The Queen’s Men.
Four months might seem short during peace, but during times
of strife and pain they feel unnaturally long. With the chaos of
securing my estat; e, fending off invaders and would-be conquerors,
time seemed to inch by. But now, as the warm winds of summer
started to come in, I was starting to feel a little better about my
position. Enemies had tried to strike me when I was vulnerable, tried
to take my land and my valuable territories, but they had all failed.

My mad scramble to build a proper defense with only a scant amount
of resources had worked. For now, the Blake Estate was safe and
sound.
But safety did not equal prosperity! Not in the least! For even
villages on the outskirts of Velicia were considered to be safe under
the watchful eye of the Crown, but they were not wealthy nor
influential. As a gentry, the lowest rank in the nobility, there was a
great deal of room for someone like me to move upwards, provided
that I had the gumption to climb the ladder, so to speak. Winning
defenses, gaining new territories and increasing my influence would
increase my rank as a Gentleman, allowing me access to greater
defensive buildings and territorial upgrades.
If I continued moving up in the social ladder, not only would I
gain prestige and power, but I’d be able to obtain the resources
necessary to find my family’s murderer. The Blakes had never been
a particularly ambitious or well-known lot. The only opponents my
uncle ever had were around the poker table. Who would want him
dead, or why we were the target of such a cruel plot was far, far
beyond me. If I was going to get the answers, I’d need to search far
and wide for leads.
One lead had already presented itself during the course of my
first few months as a Gentleman of the House. The Lady Juliet
Efera, a gentry owner such as myself, had taken a liking to my
territory and due to a series of missteps of her own, she had found
herself desperate for a new estate. A foolish and forlorn attack on my
property had led to a devastating loss on her part.
In order to save her from utter annihilation, I had encouraged
Juliet to marry my newfound relative, Eustace Frankinson,
grandfather to my nephew-in-law. In doing so, she was able to keep
her status as a Lady. More importantly, she was able to keep her
territorial claims to the land that had been taken by a coalition of her
enemies.

Eustace, while friendly enough towards me, wasn’t interested in
granting me any favors. During the wedding feast with his new bride,
he had told me something rather cryptic. Lady Efera had some
information that could help me in the search for my uncle’s killer. But,
of course, she was far too distracted with regaining her land to be
able to focus on providing me those details.
The proposal was simple. Get Efera her estate back, learn
what she had to say about my family’s assassin. Otherwise, I’d be on
my own, without any leads. I was partly irritated with the old patriarch
for dangling this information above me, forcing me to leap like a
trained hound for it, but at the same time…I understood his
reasoning. I had offered Lady Efera entry into my family out of
empathy for the poor woman. I wasn’t about to rush into a great
conflict on her behalf (at least, not without the proper motivation.)
Eustace was clever enough to use this against me, putting me
at his mercy. And so, while my mad scramble to defend my estate
was over, I had a new task before me. I had to figure out how to
regain the Lady’s lost territory while avoiding a major conflict with her
old enemies, lest they decide to use their immense power to pave
over my estate in the process.
How was I going to get that land back? That…was a great
question. One that I didn’t particularly have the answer to just yet.
Because right now, I had no real resources with which to invade and
House Frankinson had no real desire to spend their own resources
assisting me in this task either. Not that they had enough for an
outright invasion of an enemy territory anyway.
“It’s here!” came the cry from outside my office, snapping me
out of my reflections. The shout belonged to Lily, the head maid of
the estate. She quickly scuttled in, beaming brightly at me as she
held up the parchment in question. The paper that I had been waiting
two whole weeks to receive. “The license application is finally here!”
My heart rose into my throat at the sight of the large envelope.
The royal seal of the Queen’s Men was upon it. “Open it,” I said,

pointing to the letter opener on my desk. “I dare not look myself.”
Miss Lily did not hesitate; she quickly took the golden letter
opener in hand and with a quick swipe, had cut the paper free from
its constraints. She lifted up the letter to the light and read aloud. “To
the Gentleman of the House, Richard Blake,” she said, grinning as
she looked at me for a quick second. “After consideration of your
previous application, the Institute of Warfare has decided to approve
your request for License Level 1. The following reasons are why this
request has been approved.”
“Yes!” I cried, interrupting Lily for a beat. She raised a gloved
hand to shush me and returned to reading.
“Reason 1: Your territorial holdings have doubled since your
initial participation in the Great Game. Reason 2: Your assimilation of
the Efera Gentry into your household. Reason 3: Your alliance with
the Frankinson Gentry. These accolades are deserving of immediate
promotion to the next rank. In addition, to reward your efforts in
improving your rank and status so quickly, the Institute has decided
to waive the remainder of your loan, effective…immediately.”
“What?” I gasped. The Institute paid off my loan? This would
dramatically speed up my ability to grow my property since I was no
longer on the hook for nearly 8,000 silver.
“That’s what it says, Master!” Lily said, giggling a little and
placing the paper on the desk for me to examine. “This is no joke.
You’re now Rank 1 and free of debt!” She clasped her hands
together. “I can’t believe it worked out like this.”
“You’re telling me,” I said, reading over the paper. It was
definitely real. Had the signature of the Queen herself (though a
Scribe Golem probably was just copying her style.) I had finally hit
License Level 1, thanks to my research assistant Nigel’s discovery.
While browsing the various rules of the Great Game, Nigel had
discovered a section called “Unquantifiable Advancements.”
Apparently, while winning invasions and repelling invaders was a

great way to increase one’s rank, the Crown had a supplementary
program recognizing clever deeds and actions. Participants in the
Gentleman’s War were encouraged to write often to the Institute,
bragging about great achievements and applying for license credits.
My first attempt had paid off marvelously. For not only had I unlocked
new golem types and new defensive buildings, but I had also opened
up two advisor slots in the Grid. What was an advisor slot? Well, I
guess I was about to find out!

Chapter 2
“Are you pondering? Or in the Grid?” Lily asked as I stared
upwards at nothingness. It was difficult for the staff to get used to my
constant departures from reality as there was no real indication that I
was mentally present or not. I had considered maybe pulling my
starmetal pendant out from beneath my tunic when using the Grid,
but no one seemed to ever pay attention to that subtle cue. So for
now I would have to suffer people constantly asking if I was using
the powerful mystic Grid or just staring upwards at the ceiling for
hours at a time primarily for my own amusement.
“Grid,” I mumbled, trying to focus on the bevy of information
that came flooding in to greet me. The letter from the Institute had
included a small metal card, pressed from what I presumed was
starmetal, indicating my new rank. Upon touching the card, it had
flashed green, transferring a flood of mystic energy into my locket,
triggering notifications for me to read.
Gentry Rank 3/5 has been achieved!
License Level 1 has been unlocked. New units, towers and
territory buildings are now available for deployment.
2 Advisor slots have been unlocked. Advisors may now be
hired in the advisor section.
Specialization must be declared before Queen and
Country. Please select from the list below.
My eyebrows raised at the sight of the specialization section.
These looked to be far superior to just another set of upgrades.

Specializations
Businessman
The Businessman specialization allows for higher
production of wealth, focusing on using territorial
buildings primarily for financial gain. While this
specialization doesn’t gain free upgrades per rank
advancement, you may always purchase unit or tower
upgrades with silver.
Passive Benefits:
- Revenue producing buildings earn 50% more per
month.
- Newly constructed revenue buildings gain one free
upgrade of your choice.
- Upgrades may now be purchased with silver.
Rank Increase Benefits:
- Renumerations are doubled in silver value with each
additional rank.
- Gain 1 free building or building upgrade of your
choosing.
Sentinel
The Sentinel is focused on protecting existing territories,
ensuring that none shall be able to break his well-designed
defenses. This specialization grants tower upgrades with
each rank increase.
Passive Benefits:
- All tower types gain 10 armor.
- Towers no longer cost mana crystals, regardless of
types.
- Barricades automatically repair themselves to half

health between waves.
Rank Increase Benefits:
- Each rank increase provides 2 tower upgrades.
- Every other rank increase provides 1 golem upgrade
and 2 tower upgrades.
- You may remove tower upgrades each rank, gaining a
refund on the upgrade spent.
Conqueror
The Conqueror focuses less on defending his own land
and more on acquiring land from others through the use of
golems. This specialization grants golem upgrades with
each rank increase.
Passive Benefits:
- Capturing a new territory with a valid claim allows you to
keep all buildings, upgrades included.
- Golems cost 50% less to repair when in a foreign
territory.
- Salvage rewards are increased by 25%.
Rank Increase Benefits:
- Each rank increase provides 2 golem upgrades.
- Every other rank increase provides 1 tower upgrade and
2 golem upgrades.
- When ranking up, you may sell off any number of
golems in any territory for a full refund.
“So many choices,” I muttered. I started to explain to Lily what
my options were, but the dead silence probably meant she was long
gone. I still couldn’t quite get a handle on how much time passed
when I was within the Grid. It certainly flew by, that was for sure.
I wished that I could bypass these choices right now and think
them through, but unfortunately the Grid was rather insistent that I

make the decision at this exact moment. Conqueror was certainly
not my interest here, as I wasn’t really interested in invading others.
Sure, I did have a claim to press on behalf of Efera, but there had to
be other means of gaining territory than just straight up war, right?
Businessman seemed interesting too, but…having to pay for
upgrades each time? I had no way of knowing how much these
upgrades would cost, but I could guess that they scaled up with each
advanced unit. I’d rather use that money elsewhere. I think for now,
the best choice would be the Sentinel. Free tower upgrades, no
more paying mana crystals for towers and best of all, armor on
everything. The perfect choice for a gentleman who wanted to keep
his territory secure.
Once the Grid was satisfied with my choice, I was informed of
new upgrades as well as the advisor tab’s appearance. I would worry
about upgrading my towers later, for now I wanted to see just what
an advisor slot entailed. Hopefully I’d be able to gain some much
needed guidance with the Great Game.
The instructions regarding Advisors appeared as I opened up
the new tab. Several large empty circles popped up with different
titles above each circle. Advisors are now available. 2 advisor
slots are open. Select Advisor type, then select Candidate.
The list wasn’t particularly long, but I could only choose two
advisors for right now. I examined the description of each advisor
type.
Claims Advisor: The Claims Advisor handles all matter of an
Estate’s claim, from issuing out new titles to family members, to
researching genealogies to find existing claims from family ties.
Erudite: The Erudite is trained in the rules, laws and art of the
Gentleman’s War, with a wide knowledge of all topics pertaining to
conduct and regulation in the game.

Spymaster: A Spymaster is responsible for organizing
intelligence networks both inside and outside your territory, scouting
enemy positions and learning of plots being hatched against you.
Magistrate: The Magistrate handles affairs of your territory,
allies and relationships. An effective magistrate is able to improve
diplomatic relations, find potential marriage opportunities and collect
taxes from vassals.
There were more types of advisors, but they seemed to be
locked away currently. Too bad, because I was curious what their
jobs consisted of. Still, the four currently in my view were interesting.
A Spymaster would help me get answers about the assassin, but…I
think I needed more help stabilizing my regime first. Sure, we were
safe for now, and with the Sentinel specialization even more so, but I
already had one solid lead on my hands. Whatever a Spymaster
could reveal, it was unsure if it would be as advantageous as what
Eustace had hinted at.
Instead, I wanted to look to the past, not only to learn about
what claims the Blake family held, but also their ancestral ties.
Perhaps there was some enemy that had a claim to our land,
seeking to murder us as an easy way to gain entry into the nobility.
After all, if the murderer had a claim to our lands and was the only
surviving heir, no one would be able to contest his ascension.
The Claims Advisor was my first choice. A list of candidates
appeared as I made the selection. There were a few names, but the
one at the top seemed to be the most qualified. The Venerable
Hagen Lude was his name and he looked to be rather ancient. I
always thought that my butler was old, but this fellow, judging from
his portrait, looked to be nearly a hundred. Maybe even more. But I
suppose you want someone old when it comes to looking into past
genealogies. Who knows, maybe he even knew some of my
ancestors in person!

Once Hagen was selected, I was notified that he would be
summoned to the estate within the week. There was a not so subtle
reminder that the advisor would require his own quarters and office
space as well. That wasn’t much of a problem, of course, for Blake
Manor had more rooms than it did people at this point. Something
that I’d be able to hopefully change someday.
My second pick fell between Magistrate and Erudite. Having
someone who knew the rules of the Great Game itself would be
handy for certain…but I also wanted to expand my little family.
Adding the Frankinsons as allies was all fine and good, but there
were plenty more neighbors nearby. And honestly the best defense
was surrounding yourself with allies who your enemy would have to
go through before they got to you.
After some thought, I decided to go for Magistrate. I had allies
to manage already and even a small power to look after. Having
someone in charge of handling those people would be of great aid,
since I couldn’t be everywhere at once.
“Sir!” came a cry outside my door, snapping me out of my
focus. I deactivated the Grid to discover that it was afternoon now.
Had I been out an entire day? The door swung open with no regard
to my privacy, as Nigel, my First Alchemist, came scrambling in
shouting like a madman. “Outside there’s…a veritable army!”

Chapter 3
Nigel had not been exaggerating when he shouted of an army
gathered outside my territory. They had taken the main road to get
here, hundreds of iron-clad wagons, pulled by golem horses with
flaming red eyes and steam pouring from their backs. I had not been
alerted to an enemy attack by our Watchtower, so this army wasn’t
here to presumably break down my walls and help themselves to my
territory. Instead they were probably here to parley, bringing such
numbers as a show of force.
“I say we just shoot at the general from atop the roof,” Sigmund
grumbled as he followed beside me. Lily was hastily helping the old
man get into his service coat from his years in the Royal Army.
“That’ll show him what he gets for trespassing.”
“Ah yes, why not just murder a man for using a public road,” I
said. “Mind you, they haven’t stepped a foot on our actual property
yet.”
“Oh right, I forgot the old adage,” Sigmund said as he stopped
to let the maid finish buttoning up his jacket. “If an army parks at your
doorstep, don’t worry about it.”
I waved a hand at my butler, too focused on the task at hand to
worry about his fussing. He was rightfully nervous about such a large
host, and frankly, so was I. These men weren’t here to invade us,
that was for sure, but I knew in my gut that they were here for
someone specific. I had no real enemies right now, but I had just
taken a woman into my extended family who was enemy number
one in the east. No doubt these fellows were here to collect her.
We approached the main road, with Lily falling behind to
observe from a distance. She had her own responsibilities as

manager of the actual estate, including evacuating the staff should
things go poorly. The Manor had a decent security rating for certain,
but an army this big would overwhelm us instantly. Lily would have to
work quickly, getting the people and valuables out of the building
before the looting began.
I pushed the thoughts of golems tearing my estate to pieces in
the search for valuables aside and focused on what was at hand.
Before me, at the main road, was a tall man wearing dark black
armor.
“Plate mail?” Sigmund muttered. “An odd choice of armor,
considering that Karrack rifles tear through metal like tissue.”
“I think intimidation is more on the man’s mind,” I said. Indeed,
the black armor was forbidding, for the long goat horns of the helmet,
the blank expression upon the face and the large sword at the man’s
back gave me the shivers. Even though I couldn’t see his face, I felt
as if his eyes were staring straight at me.
This general was standing alone, with no other humans nearby.
His only companions were golems, standing far taller than him. They
were motionless and inert, however, uninterested in the world around
them.
“Richard Blake,” the armored man said, gesturing for me to
approach. “Come forth. Let us speak.”
“Is speaking all you intend to do today?” I replied, walking up to
meet him, doing my best to stand tall. I couldn’t show him that I was
intimidated by his massive army, or his armor, or the fact that he had
snuck up on me without anyone noticing.
“Depends on how this conversation goes,” the general replied.
“Allow me to introduce myself.” He removed his helmet, revealing a
man in his mid-thirties with the most piercing blue eyes I had ever
seen. Somehow, they seemed to sparkle with an almost mystic
quality. I tried not to stare directly into them, for fear of being
ensorcelled. A strange fear, perhaps, but I knew magical effects

when I saw them. I had spent many years administering potions to
test subjects to know the signs of enchantment.
“I am Baron Jerem Leiss, leader of the Eastern Coalition, ruler
over the Leiss Barony, owner of twenty territories and thirty lots.
Behind me, you see the combined efforts of my vassals, my allies
and members of the coalition,” he said. The man held himself with
great regard and spoke rather pompously. Of course, when you had
that kind of military standing behind you, you could be as pompous
as you wanted!
“I am Richard Blake, owner of not one, but three rare vases
from the Hissingtin Dynasty,” I replied. This caused the general to
burst into laughter.
“How very droll!” Jerem said, slapping his knee with an
armored glove, causing a loud ping sound. “You have quite the
sense of humor.”
“As do you, showing up with such a massive army,” I replied,
putting my hands on my hips. “No doubt this is a joke and not a
feeble attempt to intimidate me.”
“This army is not for show,” Jerem said, his voice quickly losing
all sense of jocularity. “But you are not the target. Word on the street
is that the Lady Efera managed to charm her way into a marriage at
the last minute, deftly avoiding losing her pendant. A marriage to
your niece’s patriarch, Eustace Frankinson.”
I nodded. “You speak truly.”
“The Lady Efera owns claim to many new territories that the
Coalition has recently acquired due to legitimate warfare. We did not
invade her without just cause, for her ambition and deceit dug her
own grave. You will see that our invasion of her territory was just and
moral,” he explained, crossing his arms. “You should know of her
ambitions. She once targeted you for such an attack.”
I shrugged. “Hardly a memory at this point. So what do you
want?”

“Her pendant. Simple as that. We don’t want to come into your
territory and start invading. We don’t want to attack the Frankinson
estate, nor target your small power vassal. We just want her to
abdicate her claims and her right to rule. Once we have such
guarantees, we will leave her be.”
“So why are you bothering me then?” I asked. “Go to the
Frankinsons and pound on her door.”
“Come now, Richard, do you think me dense? I did not become
a Baron by accident. There is a power structure in this land that
didn’t exist a year ago. The Northern Tip has always been a quiet,
sleeping realm, with little action or intrigue. Now, suddenly, an estate
begins to create alliances and expand its territory? You’re clearly up
to something, and that’s fine by me. I don’t much care what you do
with your land and energies. But I know you’re the one in charge.
Not just of your house, but of your alliance. It would be disrespectful
to bypass you and go straight to the Frankinsons.”
I glanced past the man, looking at the massive army. “You’ve a
funny way of showing respect,” I replied. “Showing up here with such
a force. I will not be cowed, nor will I be coerced. Should you try and
attack, I will tell everyone that you did not declare an invasion. You
will be scorned by your peers.”
The Baron scowled for a moment, but in a calculated move
decided against arguing with me. Instead he softened his expression
and sighed a little. “I did not bring this army to attack. Just to show
you what awaits you should…well, should you not cooperate. The
Coalition will have no choice but to invade, not to harm you or your
people, but to simply take down the Lady Efera. Personally, I have
no business with you, no anger at you. But you have a family
member who poses a great threat to our entire way of life in the east.
Because we cannot move on until we have eradicated her claims.”
There was an honesty in this man’s voice. It was becoming all
too clear that he really didn’t care all that much about the Blake
gentry. But I had invited that woman into my family. Now she was my

responsibility. And more to the point, I needed to press her claims in
order to learn what secrets she held. This meant that ultimately this
Baron and his coalition would be my enemy. Still…did I have the
resources or the power to fight back?
“I do apologize, Baron Leiss, but this display of force is not only
arrogant, but it is also rather inconsiderate of me and my household.
If you had reached out to meet up, sit down and chat, I’d have
happily listened to your terms,” I replied after some thought. “But
barging up to my land with an army? Passing veiled threats at my
family? I can’t help but feel like you’re here to intentionally cause an
incident.”
“Come now, don’t be so dramatic. Just give us what we want,
and we’ll go away. Easy enough for you. We don’t even want Efera
as a prisoner.”
“The choice isn’t mine to make. I’ll pass along your request to
Juliet and let her make the choice,” I said. “But just know that if I see
your army marching through these roads without sending a letter
ahead of time, I will put up defenses.”
The Baron put a metal hand upon my shoulder, looking square
into my eyes, scowling deeply. “The next time you see my army, it
will be tearing this manor down, brick by brick. You have two weeks
to surrender the Lady’s claims. If not? Then I will be forced to
declare war. And if you aren’t on our side…”
I shrugged his hand off my shoulder and returned the scowl to
him. “I’d be careful with your next words,” I warned. “Because you
might just make an enemy for life.”

Chapter 4
“A capital display of determination, Master Richard,” Sigmund
said as we watched the last of the wagons disappear from the
horizon. We were both staring out the window of the observation
deck, the highest room in the manor. Originally it had been used by
some astronomer in centuries past, to watch the Stars and divine
their will, but these days we just used it to watch the sunset and
drink in peace. “But you know he will return if we don’t meet his
demands.”
“Can we actually deliver what he asks?” I replied, in between
sips of the strongest brandy I could find. “Juliet is too proud to just
give up. I mean, I saw she’d rather kill herself than just hand over her
family’s signet.”
Sigmund shook his head and looked at me squarely. “You
made your choice already. You can’t just take in a woman into your
alliance and then throw her back out when an enemy comes
demanding it.”
“I’m not advocating for tossing her out on her ass,” I said. “I
mean, we can’t. I just…we can’t go to war with a Baron. And a
coalition to boot.”
“Then I guess you had better begin spinning your wheels, good
sir,” Sigmund replied as he uncorked another bottle. “Don’t forget,
there are ways to defeat an enemy without going to war. Such
methods usually require…”
“Skill?”
“Moral flexibility, more like it,” Sigmund chuckled. He poured
himself another snifter and knocked it back in one go. “In my

experience, nothing works like treachery.”
I nodded. “Anything you have in mind?”
“I’m afraid that is not my department, sir,” Sigmund replied with
a slight sigh. “I won’t be alive forever. Won’t always be around to
advise you in such matters. I’d rather see you figure this situation out
on your own, learning the lessons for yourself.”
“That’s a fancy way of saying you haven’t got a clue,” I said.
“But fair enough. I’ve actual advisors coming in soon. Hopefully
they’ll be able to guide me here.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of it,” the old man said, turning to look at
me. There was a graveness about his face, amidst the red tint in his
cheeks from all the drinking he had been doing. “A good leader uses
advisors to see his will come into fruition, not to lead him forward.”
“Hrm?” I asked. “Can you say that again?”
Sigmund turned around and staggered off, mumbling as he
took his leave. “Advisors always have an opinion and a plan. But
they don’t reap the consequences for their actions. Everything
begins and ends with you, so don’t let them lead you by the nose.
Tell them what you want to do and let them help you figure it out.
Otherwise, they’re the ones in charge. At least, till it all goes to hell.”
And with that, my butler left the room, taking the good brandy
with him and singing some old war songs, leaving me with my own
thoughts. I continued to stare out into the horizon, thinking of what
my choices were. I had barely been able to put together a decent
defense for my existing territories in the last four months but now…
now I would have to build an even bigger force to repel the Baron
and his alliance. In two weeks.
Groaning, I sank into a nearby chair, sliding all the way down.
What was I going to do here? I couldn’t give the damned woman up,
because she had the key to details about my family’s assassin. And I
couldn’t well keep her because the Coalition would cut through my
land as if it were made of butter. No wonder my uncle had avoided

participating in the Great Game his whole life. It seemed to be
nothing but trouble.
I opened the Grid to survey the situation. The Northern Tip,
nicknamed not because it lied in the north but because the highest
mountain range was right before the great ocean, was primarily
composed of small powers and a few gentries. To the immediate
east were the Frankinsons, though their territory was deep in the
hills, with no public roads to reach them. They would hold out well
enough against enemy invaders and, over the years, Eustace had
built up a proper military force to repel just about any troublemakers.
To my immediate west were my other neighbors, the Kinteli
Clan. The Kintelis were foreigners from a far-off land, who had
moved to this continent when their own homeland had been
consumed with war. Kintelis were elves, a race of people that was
fairly rare at this point. The elven homelands had been annihilated
by some terrible force and only a few clans survived such an event.
The Crown had unilaterally declared all elves within Velicia to be
citizens and neighbors. Any acts of “anti-elvery” would be met with
exile. It took only two boats full of Humaneers to be shipped off to
the frozen continent for everyone to realize how serious the Crown
was about racial integration. Since then, there had been no
widespread forms of anti-elf sentiment. Plus, to be fair, they were
such an unusual race to meet I often forgot about them.
The Kintelis were secretive and kept to themselves, but my
uncle had learned their greatest weakness: a fondness for jams and
jellies. Our vineyard produced a meager amount of jam each year,
mostly to gift to workers and visiting dignitaries. Such a gift was well
received by the Kintelis and I remember watching the elven Matrons
sitting with my uncle well into the evening, eating jams straight from
the jar with spoons, forgoing placing it on bread like a proper human
did. Of course, back then I thought they were just weird. I hadn’t
realized they were elves at all.
Examining their land, I could see they were quite secure on the
western flank. They commanded a much larger amount of territory

than the Frankinsons, with huge fields for farming and cattle raising.
Each territory was ironclad as well, with the average security rating
of 25. More than enough to repel a full-sized army.
Would they be willing to help me? I hadn’t heard a word from
them since my uncle had died. No flowers sent, no condolences,
nothing. Just silence. Though, they weren’t super close with him to
begin with. They just came around every few years at his invitation,
staying for only a few hours late at night, leaving well before the
morning.
There was no sense in just sitting around, waiting for
something to happen, however. The Kintelis had a great deal of
property and looked to be doing quite well for themselves. Best case
scenario, I’d be able to win their favor and gain an ally to protect
these lands from the Baron’s forces. Worst case scenario, I’d at least
be able to get to know these mysterious people and find out what
they wanted out of life. Maybe I’d be able to sell them some wine
too.

Chapter 5
The clock was ticking. Perhaps I should have thought things
out more, planned better or put together a retinue, but I couldn’t quite
sleep that night. Tossing and turning in my bed, I realized that each
hour that passed was an hour closer to the ultimatum being met. If I
couldn’t sleep, I might as well head out to meet the Kinteli clan in
person.
And so, alone in my autocarriage with only a Karrack rifle and a
box full of last season’s jams, I headed to the western fields, to find
new allies for our household. It would be two hours before I made it
to their manor in Belladonna Valley, enough time for me to look at
the new upgrades I could choose from.
Having taken the Sentinel specialization, I had gained two free
upgrades for my towers. And with the threat now looming above me,
I’d have to make some excellent use of those upgrades. I quickly
checked the Grid to see what was available, all the while trying to
keep track of time, so I didn’t spend too long in stasis.
2 Tower Upgrades Available
Wooden Barricade:
- Hearty: Increases the health of the barricade by 200 Hit
Points.
- Iron Lining: Explosion damage is reduced by a total of
50%. (This does not stack with Bronze Lining.)
Karrack Tower:

- Tri-Beams: The towers are now able to strike 3 targets
at once, but this reduces tower damage to 33% per
target.
- Hard Hitters: Increases tower damage by 25%.
Ballista Tower:
- Ricochet: When a bolt strikes one target, it immediately
rebounds to a second target at random.
- Improved Reload: Reduces reload time by 5 seconds.
Phlogiston Cannon:
- Oil Spritzers: Enemies have a 50% chance of being lit
on fire, taking damage over time even outside of the
cannon’s range.
- Armor Plating: Gains 100 points of armor. (Armor takes
reduced damage from all non-armor piercing attacks.)
Miniature Trebuchet:
- Aerodynamic Payload: Attacks now land within 5
seconds of being fired.
- Heavy Ammunition: Increases damage by 100% but
also increases flight time by 2 seconds.
An excellent assortment of options. I was pleasantly surprised
to find that the previously upgraded towers had additional upgrades
that were unavailable previously. This would reward me for
continuing to upgrade down a tower path, making already existing
towers stronger and stronger.
My hand hovered automatically over the Tri-Beams option.
Karrack Towers were mighty, able to wear enemies down quickly, but
the trouble was a large group could just push by. Doubling their
output had already worked wonders for my maze stratagems. Adding

an extra beam per tower would significantly increase my ability to
target golems, though the damage reduction was a bit heavy. Of
course, when it came to fast moving, brittle targets such as flyers,
damage didn’t much matter, did it?
I’d upgrade the Karrack Towers with the Tri-Beams, then focus
on improving another tower set, one that I hadn’t upgraded yet. I did
consider for a short moment seeing what the License Level 1 towers
were but reasoned that it would be better to get a return on my
existing investments. After all, every standing tower would
automatically be upgraded when I made the purchase.
Damage was where I was hurting the most these days. I had
many clever tricks to slow down an enemy force, but killing them?
That took a bit of work. Increasing my overall damage per second
would be the best strategy. Ballista Towers were fairly excellent at
dealing damage, and their range made them useful for just about
any battlefield. The 15 second shot time, however, was a bit of a
downside. Reducing the timer to 10 seconds meant they’d be firing 6
times a minute instead of just 4 shots. And that upgrade was per
Ballista Tower. Definitely worth the investment, especially if I could
drop the timer down even more with later upgrades.
A heavy bump caused me to remember the real world and I
was quick to exit the Grid after selecting the last upgrade. I’d have to
measure results later, but for now, I had business to attend to.
The autocarriage began to shriek as it tried to push forward, but
it could not. This squeal was not its normal, ghoulish cry that it
uttered from time to time. Something was blocking my carriage from
rolling forward. An ambush? No, if that were the case, I’d already be
hauled out by thugs. There was probably some damage on the road.
I climbed out of the vehicle to survey the area (though being
careful to grab a hold of my rifle, just in case.) Before me was a long
wheat field, golden and gently swaying as the sun began to rise
above us. The autocarriage continued to squeal as it tried to roll
forward, catching my attention. A long metal pole had been buried

beneath the dirt road. Something had pulled it upwards, catching the
front wheels of the carriage, forcing it to stop. The autocarriage didn’t
seem to understand that there was a blockage, however, and it
continued to push forward, endlessly spinning its back wheels.
“What do we have here?” I muttered as I examined the metal
pole. Nothing was attached to the item, but…it shifted as I grabbed
hold of it.
“Intruder,” the pole muttered in a gruff, metallic voice. “Blocking
passage. Protocol 877 in place.”
I rotated the pole slowly, to find the insignia of MM. Malphius
Masterson’s signature! This wasn’t a random pole in the ground, but
a type of golem, designed to stop vehicles from entering unlawfully!
Interesting. It could apparently levitate itself. I tried to pull on it, but
the golem refused to move, grunting the same words over and over
again.
“You don’t look like a bandit,” came a voice from the wheat
fields. I looked up to see a tall, handsome-looking fellow. He had
significantly darker skin than most folks in these parts and sharp,
pointy ears stuck out from behind his white hair. An elf!
“Er, I’m not,” I said, quickly putting the rifle against the carriage,
to show I wasn’t interested in using the weapon. I did not, however,
put the weapon out of arms reach. “Just a traveler in these parts.”
“Commencing kill mode,” the golem said, prompting me to leap
back. “Kill mode commenced,” it said after a beat. Nothing
happened, thankfully.
“Excuse the Stopper Golem, please,” the elf said as he strolled
out of the field. He had a gentle demeanor and was dressed like a
farmer, though the quality of his clothes was far higher than most
peasants. In his right hand was a long scythe, with traces of wheat
still on the blade. “We bought it a long time ago.”
“Ah yes, I could tell by the fact that it could talk,” I said, bowing
to the man. The first generation of Golems were all given the ability

to speak, so they could properly communicate their plans. The
unfortunate side effect to this was that the golems had no ability to
understand what they were saying, as they were simply automatons,
and so they just repeated orders incessantly. So much so that it
drove everyone up the wall. I remember the marketing class I had
taken at the college using the “Now Without Speech” slogan as an
example of effective advertising.
“We don’t get many visitors here,” the elf said as he knelt down
to deactivate the golem. The pole gave up a fuss for a moment, but
with the simple command word from the elven man, it ceased
struggling and returned to its inert state. “And those we do get aren’t
welcome.”
“Bandit trouble?” I asked.
The elf looked up at me and sighed deeply. I could see a great
deal of weariness on his face. “Something like that. We elves don’t
have hospitality rules here, so I think you should be on your way.
Sorry for the delay.”
“I’m here to speak with the elven Matron, actually,” I said. “I
was on my way to her estate.”
He stood up at that and dusted his hands off. “And who are
you, to be visiting our Kinmother?”
“Richard Blake, of the Blake Gentry,” I said. “I’ve come to
conduct business in an official capacity.”
The elf did not seem to like that. He crossed his arms and
looked at me, suspicion in his eyes. “Official capacity? Without
sending letters or gifts?”
“Oh I have gifts,” I said. “And it’s a bit urgent, too urgent for
post.”
The elf glanced past me and at the carriage. “What kind of gifts,
to be exact?”
“Just a few jars of grape jam, and some jellies as well,” I said.

A spark lit up in the elf’s eye, betraying his now hardened
demeanor. He looked quite thrilled at the offering but kept his cool. “I
see. I suppose we can afford some cultural insensitivity. Come, I’ll
take you to meet the Kinmother.”
At that exact moment, there was a rumbling in the distance,
towards the rolling hills behind us. “What was that?”
“Damn…” the elf swore. More rumbling, so strong that I could
feel it in the ground. It was getting closer.
“Are those the bandits you were talking about?” I said, grabbing
the Karrack rifle.
“Don’t bother with a weapon,” the elf groaned. “Is your vehicle
fast?”
Before I could answer the question, the source of the rumbling
made itself present. A large, badly damaged wooden wagon came
crashing over the hills, into full view. The wagon creaked a great deal
as I saw the source of its stress. A large Karrack Golem was in the
back of the vehicle, fully powered up. The long crystals on its arms
were crackling to life, ready to shoot.
“These bandits play the game too?” I asked.
“Are you that naive?” the elf said, grabbing me and pulling me
out of sight of the construct. I could hear the groaning of more
wagons. “Some time ago a shipment of golems was hit by some
maniac by the name of Blind King Ben or something like that. They
stole all the golems and somehow gained control of them. Now he’s
made a habit of sending his forces to hit our farm.”
“Why not simply repel them with towers?”
The farmer shook his head at that. “Because these golems
aren’t targeting our buildings, but our workers. They don’t have to
win. They just have to kill one or two of us a week. That’s enough to
get us to pay them.”

I frowned. “Surely this is something the Queen’s Men could
handle.”
“In our land, we have a phrase. The one you flee to is the one
who rules you,” he replied. “And we are ruled by none other than the
Matron.”
“A proud position,” I said, glancing beneath the carriage, trying
to get a view of the enemy. I could count six wagons in total. Was
there any way I could help here? I couldn’t just throw down a swarm
of golems with my Signet, could I? No, that would be nonsense. I
had to figure some other way to take down these golems.
“What kind of fertilizer do you use?” I asked as I ran the
calculations in my head.
“I’m sorry?”
“What brand?” I hissed. I could hear the sounds of men barking
orders to unload the golems. We had precious little time before they
came down to greet us. And with that Karrack Golem atop the hill,
there was no way we could ride away.
“The enriched kind…the uh, alchemically-infused herbal
mixture,” he said after a moment of trying to remember. “It’s fairly
cheap and doubles our growth.”
“Do the bags come in burlap? Or in metal containers?”
“Containers. Thick, heavy ones,” the elf replied.
I let out a deep breath of relief, thanking the Stars. “Perfect.
Then take me to them, as quickly as you can. I might have a way to
solve your little bandit problem.”

Chapter 6
The elven farmer, Molen, watched in disbelief as I poured as
much fertilizer as I could find into the wheelbarrow. We had retreated
to a large shed that was chock full of the chemical compound known
as Quickvine.
“What are you doing?” he asked, watching as I hastily began to
undo my fly.
“Turn around,” I said. “This is going to be less than dignified.”
The elf complied as I unzipped and erm, returned my water to
the earth, as it were. “Pissing into a wheelbarrow is your plan?” he
asked, arms folded. “Are you a madman by any chance? Your
clothes suggested otherwise, but I may have been mistaken.”
“Not quite,” I said, finishing my business and quickly grabbing a
nearby shovel. I began to churn the mixture violently, thoroughly
wetting the fertilizer. “Fun fact about this alchemical mixture. It
contains 90% effernum. In a dormant state, effernum is perfectly
harmless. But, when agitated, mixed with a certain chemical
compound found in urine, it becomes what we refer to as catalytic.”
“Meaning?”
“Meaning we really, really shouldn’t be selling this on the
market,” I said. The fertilizer began to bubble and fizzle quite a bit,
almost ready for its final transformation. I dug into my pocket and
produced the final component. A small piece of pure silver.
Silver, known as the Alchemist’s Knife, had so many uses that
any alchemist worth his salt carried a few pieces with them at all
times. In this case, effernum hated silver with a deep, burning
passion. When in an agitated state, even a single piece could trigger

a serious explosion. Such accidents were so commonplace in
alchemy that you’re not quite considered to be a professional until
you’ve destroyed your lab by introducing the two together on
accident.
I worked my alchemical magic as best I could, putting together
the deadly explosive, all the while explaining my plan to the horrified
Molen.
“Why don’t we just leave? They aren’t here for us,” he had tried
to say. “They just want to intimidate us into paying them.”
“And have you paid them thus far?” I asked.
“No, and we don’t intend to. We’d rather starve than pay these
bandits.”
“Then running won’t solve the problem. But this might,” I said.
“Now throw a tarp over the wheelbarrow and let’s go meet this blind
king.”
Molen’s protests were half-hearted, for he was curious to see if
I were truly a madman, or if I had managed to concoct a dangerous
explosive with only three common ingredients. If only he knew the
truth about how most potions and alchemical compounds were really
just unprimed explosives, waiting for the right amount of agitation to
go off.
To his credit, Molen didn’t back down from my plan. Once it
was clear I was committed to it, he grabbed a hold of the
wheelbarrow and followed me as we returned to the road.
By then, the bandits had already set up their little camp. These
brilliant thieves had already knocked over my autocarriage and were
leaping atop it like damned fools, ignoring the fact that this vehicle
was probably worth a moderately-sized house. The bandits were
composed of rough-looking men in various states of malnutrition,
with ragged beards and tattered clothes. They looked to be a
desperate lot, not the kind to be taken lightly.

But they carried no weapons, save for knives and daggers.
Who needed a weapon when you had a golem by your side? As we
approached, these golems began to walk towards us, stomping
loudly as the bandits whooped and hollered.
“It’s about time!” one of the bandits shouted as he climbed out
of the overturned wagon, a jar of jam in his hands. He was shorter
than the rest, with a bushy red beard and a pair of goggles on his
eyes. “We’ve been hitting you every week and finally, you send us
something.”
“I’m guessing that’s the blind king?” I asked as we stopped
walking. The golems and bandits had surrounded us at this point,
with the bandit leader eagerly approaching us, rubbing his hands
together.
“Indeed, be careful, he’s a bit…volatile,” Molen replied. He
glanced at me for a moment and then shrugged to himself, realizing
that I was probably just as dangerous as the bandit.
“So, boys, what do we have here? An offering?” the bandit
leader said as he strolled up to the wheelbarrow. “Or maybe there’s
a little elf in there, waiting to pop up and stab me.”
“No, not an elf,” I said, pulling the tarp aside.
“Aw what the hell?” the bandit king grunted, reeling back and
covering his nose. “That reeks worse than a corpse.” The offering
was grotesque, to be sure, but it didn’t raise any alarms in the
bandits’ minds. Instead, they were merely laughing, perhaps pleased
that they’d get to kill someone today.
“This mixture is known as an effernum bomb,” I said, casually
tossing the little bit of silver I had kept between my fingers. The silver
dropped into the mixture and immediately, it began to rapidly bubble.
“Weapons that were once used to level entire cities at the behest of
the Crown. A chain reaction has been started and it will explode
within say…ten to twenty seconds at the most.”

“What are you on about—” the bandit leader started to say, but
the compound began to burst into flames, snapping, popping and
hissing as the silver worked its magic. That, plus my warning was
more than enough to convince everyone (myself and Molen
included) to get the hell out of the area.
Everyone scattered at once, everyone except for the golems,
that is. Those large hunks of stone were barely able to register that
trouble was happening and while everyone fled to save their own
lives, no one bothered to order them to leave. They certainly had no
chance against such a blast.
The ground trembled violently and for a moment, my hearing
faded as the explosion rippled through the atmosphere. There came
a terrible ringing afterwards and I found myself on the ground,
clutching my back. Something sharp had pierced me from behind
and the pain was quite intense.
Smoke billowed everywhere, obscuring my vision. Bandits were
staggering past me, screaming in pain, many wounded by shrapnel.
They were fleeing back to the hills, as quickly as they could, too
panicked to try and attack me or my companion.
I lay on the ground for some time, trying to recover from the
intense pain of my injuries. I had not counted on the explosion being
so loud, otherwise I would have put something in my ears. Ears! Was
Molen okay?
That thought was enough to get me standing up, despite the
pain wracking my lower back. “Molen!” I shouted. “Are you alive?”
“Yes, I’m unscathed,” Molen said, emerging from the smoke.
He wore a great grin on his face and pointed behind me. “But I can’t
say the same for their golems.”
I turned slowly, trying to stave off the agonizing pain rippling
through my side. The golems had been decimated by the
wheelbarrow explosion. Chunks of stone, shattered mana crystals
and even constructed limbs littered the ground surrounding us. Only

one golem was still standing, but its torso had been blown out
completely, leaving a large hole in the center. Golems might be
tough, but an uncontrolled effernum explosion at that range would
easily break them to pieces. Hmmm, I wonder if I could make some
kind of effernum bomb for my mazes?
Unfortunately, that was my last thought before the pain spread
throughout my back even more, causing everything around me to go
black in an instant.

Chapter 7
The world slowly faded back into vision for me. Minute by
minute, I began to become aware of my senses, one at a time. First
the smell of dandelions and lilac roused me, then the feel of pulsing
within my flesh caused me to open one eye. I was in a medical
facility of some kind, lying on a long wooden table. The bottom half
of my shirt had been cut open and to my surprise, a large purple
crystal was sticking out of my skin.
Panic overtook me, at least until reason returned and I realized
that this was a healing crystal, meant to repair the damage that the
explosion had caused to my trunk. Moving was painful, but I
managed to sit up to examine my stomach. There was quite a bit of
blood soaking through the bandage wrapped tightly around my left
side, but I wasn’t feeling too bad. If anything, the pulsing from the
crystal seemed to be easing my agony.
“You’re finally awake,” said a woman’s voice from behind. I
slowly turned to see a tall elven woman, wearing a white doctor’s
coat and a pair of thin spectacles that barely covered her eyes. They
were gold-rimmed glasses and the way they sparkled in the light, I
assumed it was real gold and not just gilding. “I was starting to
worry.”
“I feel stable,” I said, touching my wound. At once, pain surged
through my lower half and I was forced to retract my hand. Stable
but sensitive, it would seem. “Thank you for taking care of me.”
“Don’t thank me just yet, Blake,” the woman replied as she
approached me and knelt down to apply a salve to my injury. “You
have a great deal of explaining to do.”

I tried not to writhe as she pressed some foul-smelling green
liquid against my bandages. This was no compound I was familiar
with, but it seemed to be botanical in nature. “My name is Richard,
Blake is my—”
“I know full well who you are,” she interrupted, continuing her
work. There was a sternness in her voice. A strength and maturity
that seemed to be beyond her physical age. I had heard stories that
elves were long-lived creatures. Molen himself had seemed to be in
his mid-thirties, but spoke like someone much older. How old was
this woman before me? “You are Arnison’s progeny. Adopted after
your parents died. An alchemist by trade but now a Gentleman of the
House.”
Her words were so confident. “I take it you’re the Matron?” I
asked in between winces as the elf grabbed the crystal and twisted
it, adjusting it within my body. It didn’t hurt, for the green stuff had
numbed everything, but feeling something writhing around inside felt
pretty damn weird.
“Kinmother Esha, at your service,” she said, standing up and
wiping her hands on her small white apron. The woman towered
over me, easily 7 feet tall. “I’m afraid we don’t have a proper
apothecary any longer, so you’ll have to deal with my butchery.”
“If you call this butchery, I’d be interested to see what you call
medical skill,” I said, standing up. The green salve had killed just
about all the pain in my body now and I was beginning to feel like my
old self. I stretched a little, before realizing that I was standing
shirtless and undignified before an elven Matriarch. Selfconsciousness quickly took over and I scuttled over to a nearby
dresser that had some clothes neatly folded atop it. I realized I
wasn’t as much in a medical lab as I was in a bedroom that had
been hastily turned into a healing ward.
“The crystal will dissolve within two to three weeks,” she said.
“Your organs should be fully healed by then. If not, you will probably

begin vomiting blood. If that’s the case, I’d suggest finding a doctor
or an astronomer.”
“Thanks,” I said. There were healing potions at home that I
could drink to fix this issue in a snap. Crystal healings were widely
out of practice due to their unreliability and the fact that they needed
to be placed inside the wound. A quick sip of some Revitatine Tonic
and I’d be as good as new. Of course, I wasn’t going to tell that to
the Matron who had probably worked for hours to heal me.
I threw a silk tunic on as the Matron watched me, arms folded.
She seemed none too pleased with me. Once it was clear I was
conscious, lucid and healthy, she didn’t hold back such feelings.
“Now then, tell me, Blake, why were you on my property this
morning? And why did you decide to agitate those bandits?”
“Agitate?” I repeated. “You mean decimate. We destroyed their
golems. I think only the Karrack survived. Not much you can do with
just one of those.”
Esha’s expression grew more irritated with me. “Those idiots
you attacked were just the oafs the Blind King sends to harass us.
You destroyed a handful of golems, yes, but not all of them. And
now, the bandit king himself is so displeased with our supposed
attack that he’s delivered an ultimatum. Part with our farm property
now, or face invasion.”
Oops. I guess I had just made things much worse. Or had I?
Something didn’t seem right here. “Why not just throw up a
defensive perimeter around your farm and call it a day?” I asked.
“Golem army or not, those bandits won’t have a chance against even
the most basic of towers.”
Those words caused Esha to walk over to the open door of the
medical room. She glanced outside and spoke some words in a
foreign tongue, then slammed the door shut, turning to face me. “I
fear it’s not so simple, Blake,” she whispered. “There has been a…
slight complication in the recent decades for our gentry.”

I tilted my head. “Something amiss, ma’am?”
Esha sighed deeply and motioned for me to sit down, walking
over to the medical table and leaning against it. I took a seat on the
large bed that had been shoved into the corner of the room. “Your
uncle was a good man. A man of leisure, for certain, but kind and
curious. Always tried to find some excuse to visit us, to learn about
our culture. Normally for elvenkind, our ways are…tolerated, at the
most. Velicians are happy to regard us as pointy-eared humans, but
when it comes to our cultural customs and mores, they don’t like how
we conduct our lives. But not Arnison. He never judged our rituals,
customs and beliefs. Always wanted to learn more.”
That description certainly fit my uncle. He was a man who
loved life fully and was endlessly curious about its mysteries. I
always thought he’d make for a great alchemist, if only he could
have sat still for more than ten minutes before going onto the next
thing. “So you were close to him?”
“We were, for a while, close enough for me to trust you with our
trouble…” Esha said, sighing once more. “I don’t know how to say
this. But you’ll find out sooner or later. The whole world will. Our
Starmetal Signet is missing. It has been for some time.”
My eyes went wide at that. “Don’t you need that to access the
Grid?”
Esha slowly nodded. At once, the realization hit. The reason
why these bandits were giving the Kintelis such trouble wasn’t their
access to golems. It was that Esha couldn’t put up towers to defend
her property. “How long has it been like this?”
“Ten years, give or take,” she said. “An alarming amount of
time. But our efforts to find where the damned thing went have been
in vain. Starmetal is immune to all forms of magic due to its
properties. That’s why they were imbued with the Grid’s power to
begin with. No spell could force it to fly off a wielder’s neck. No
summoned being can slip in the middle of the night and grasp it. A
perfectly secure item.”

How does one lose such an important item? It wasn’t like a
wallet or house key. Rather it was the single most important object in
any gentry, county or barony.
“Don’t give me that look,” Esha growled, her features darkening
more. “It’s not like we misplaced it somewhere around the house.
Someone stole it. Someone cruel and conniving, someone with
blood ties to our family.”
“Why not go to the Crown?”
“Because if we announce to the world that we are completely
unarmed…” she trailed off to let my imagination finish the rest of the
sentence. It didn’t matter how secure Esha’s current territories were,
if she couldn’t access the Grid to repair, eventually any noble could
wear her defenses down. Her land would be gone in a month.
“I see. This is alarming,” I said, feeling my heart sink down into
my stomach. Not only did this mean the elves wouldn’t be able to aid
me in my cause, but it also meant I had condemned them to losing
their farms to those fiends. That had not been my intention in
attacking those bandits. “I’ll pay you compensation for the farm. Or
perhaps you could offer a wage to the Blind King? Pay him off? I’ll of
course handle those payments in perpetuity,” I said.
A look of surprise washed over the elven woman’s face. For a
moment she looked confused, then amused, and finally pleased with
the offer. “You take responsibility for your actions. I like that. Few
men do so. Even your uncle would blame the drink when a joke of
his went poorly.” She paused for a moment and frowned. “But why
did you come to see me? My husband mentioned you wanted to
meet with me for some business?”
Molen was her husband? He could have mentioned it. “Ah, yes.
I was hoping to conduct some trades and maybe talk about a
relationship between our houses,” I said. “But it would seem, er…” I
paused and shrugged at her.

“Yes, such an endeavor means little when I cannot access the
Grid to make arrangements,” Esha said. “I’m sorry you had to come
this way for nothing.”
“I wouldn’t say it was for nothing. It’s nice to get a chance to
meet you, Esha,” I replied. I paused for a moment and decided to
press a little. “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Esha laughed at that. “Ah yes, you’ll just waltz in and solve our
decade long trouble in a single afternoon.”
“With an attitude like that, I doubt you’ll ever find it,” I replied,
standing up and making my way for the door. I might not know the
ways of the elven folk, but I doubt mocking someone to their face
was considered to be acceptable in any culture.
“Wait, wait,” she said, standing up and grabbing me by the
shoulder. “I apologize. It’s just that you humans often have a way of
just…trying to take charge as soon as trouble rears its head. I’ve not
met a man who doesn’t assume he’s the right one for the job,
whatever it may be. And the results of trusting such impulsive folks
tend to be rather troublesome. I mean…you did make my situation
with the bandits far worse due to that desire to throw yourself into
conflict without a second thought.”
I opened my mouth to say something terribly racist, but my
common sense and proper upbringing stopped me in my tracks. I
almost said that if the ways of elves were so great, why didn’t they
have a homeland anymore? Yes, I know, a terrible thing, that’s why I
didn’t say it. Instead, I merely shrugged. “I don’t think it’s pride,
ma’am. I think it’s just that our desire to help often clouds our
judgment.”
Before we could continue this discussion, there came a
pounding on the door. A man popped his head and began rapidly
shouting in elven to Esha. I could make out a few words but got the
impression that the Blind King was here to cause some trouble.

“Fuck,” Esha said in her native tongue. I certainly knew what
that word meant. “There goes the farm,” she said, speaking back in
Velecian. “A dozen carts spotted on the road. There’s no way we can
repel them.”
An idea struck me, a strange and curious one, but I couldn’t
push it away. “Ma’am, do I have your word, on your homeland that
you’d return this to me?” I asked, pulling off my own signet necklace.
Esha looked back at me and raised an eyebrow. “You mean for
me to wear your pendant? Why?”
“What if it’ll let you access your Grid? Long enough to put up
some defenses?” I said. “I mean, it can’t hurt to try. As long as I have
your word that you’ll return it to me.”
Maybe it was foolish to just hand over this amulet, but they had
already saved my life. If I couldn’t trust Esha to return the signet, I
doubt I could ever work with her. “You have my word,” she said after
a moment of pondering. “To be honest, I have no idea if this will
work. But…it’s worth a try.”
I handed the necklace to her and she quickly slipped it over her
neck, wincing as if expecting it to shock her. The idea of this
experiment being potentially deadly only occurred to me as the
signet dropped down around her neck. But by then it was too late.
There was a green flash from the amulet, blinding me for a second. I
squinted, hoping to see that she still had a head.
Indeed, Esha was fine. But she was staring upwards at the
ceiling, eyes darting left to right as if reading something.
“Interesting,” she mumbled. “Very interesting.”
“Can you access your Grid?” I asked. “Can you set up
defenses?”
“It’s giving me three options. The first is to contact the Institute
of Warfare and return this signet, if I had found it. The second is for
me to issue a notification to you that I intend to claim this amulet
within 24 hours…”

“And the third?”
The corner of the elven woman’s lips curved upwards slightly.
“It’s giving me the option to authorize this Signet’s owner as a
protectorate of my land.”

Chapter 8
Kinmother Esha and I had made a startling discovery. When
nobles presented amulets to one another as a sign of trust, they
could link their Grids together. Doing so allowed for the
establishment of a “Protectorate” for a set amount of time. While the
reasons behind such a feature’s existence eluded me, I was pleased
with the discovery. It meant I’d be able to make up the trouble I had
inadvertently caused to the elven folk.
By becoming a temporary protectorate (set by Esha for 4
hours), I was essentially connected into the Kinteli people’s Grid. I
had access to all of their resources, territories and units. However, I
couldn’t touch anything other than battlefields. I tried to access tabs
but was quickly rebuffed by the words Protectorates may not
perform any changes to the Kinteli Gentry.
Accessing a battlefield itself, however, was another story. I
could see the enemy wagons making their way to the farm and was
quick to select the area in question. Molen Farms was the name of
the territory and it was composed of four lots, each lot a farm. Losing
all four farms would more or less destroy the Kintelis’ food
production, devastating them. But thankfully, once I was in the Molen
Farms battle zone, the unit and tower tabs became available at
once.
“What are you seeing?” Esha said. I could feel her hand
against my back, gently rubbing it up and down.
“I can access the Grid,” I explained. “And all of your resources
are available to me. I can spend them as I like. But only on defense.”
I glanced at what I had available.

Silver: 100,000
Mana Crystals: 1,000
Fire Spice: 250
“You have quite the stockpile,” I said, trying my best not to
sound jealous. These elves were rich.
“Indeed. Please, mount an effective defense, but don’t spend
too much,” she said. “The farm is valuable but we’ve no other
enemies in the area. I’d rather keep our coffers full. One bright side
to our miserable situation is that the production buildings maintain
themselves and deliver easily enough.”
“Got it,” I said, rubbing my hands together. This was an
excellent learning opportunity! Not only would I be able to take
advantage of the new License Level 1 units, I’d also be learning on
someone else’s silver!
“Would er, ten thousand be acceptable?” I asked.
“Can you make it five? We have Elrensung coming up soon,”
she said. “Really, they’re just goons. A few towers ought to scare
them off.”
“Sure thing,” I replied. With a deep, almost sinister chuckle, I
opened up the towers section and prepared to hastily assemble a
masterpiece defense. But first, I’d need to see what new towers were
in my roster!
License Level 1 Towers
Thorn Spire
Cost: 500 silver
Health: 600
Range: Melee

Thorn Spires are heavy-hitting towers that fire armorpenetrating thorns when enemies pass by.
Strengths:
Armor Piercing: All Thorn Spire attacks ignore
armor and deal damage directly to the enemy unit.
These attacks do not reduce armor, they merely
bypass it.
Burst Fire: Thorn Spires hit all targets within melee
range.
Weaknesses:
Wilting: Fire deals triple damage to Thorn Spires.
Regeneration: A Thorn Spire generates 1 thorn
cluster per 5 seconds, up to a total of 5 thorns
clusters. The Spire can only attack when it has thorn
clusters present.
Repulsion Tower
Cost: 150 silver
Health: 500
Range: 50 feet
The Repulsion Tower stores kinetic energy and releases it
when a target falls within range. While the tower deals no damage, it
can delay enemy movement by knocking them back.
Strengths:
Anti-Flight: Flying enemies are disabled by the
Repulsion Tower. When hit, a flyer will fall to the
ground, taking damage from the fall itself. Most weak
flyers will be destroyed, but those who survive will be
stunned for 2 minutes.

Stunning: If an enemy target is too big to be
knocked back, they will be stunned for 10 seconds.
Weaknesses:
Toothless: The Repulsion Tower deals no damage.
Redundant: Multiple Repulsion Towers within the
same area will yield no additional results.
Enervation Wall
Cost: 1,000 silver
Health: NA
Range: Melee
An Enervation Wall is a field of mana-draining magic that is
fixed to one square. Whenever a golem, regardless of allegiance,
passes through the enervation wall, they begin rapidly losing power.
Unpowered golems deactivate and are worth double salvage.
Strengths:
Immaterial: The Enervation Wall uses two small
silver mana reserves buried beneath the battlefield,
making it impossible to destroy.
Draining: Golems passing through the Enervation
Wall take temporary damage equal to the damage
they have already received. If the temporary damage
is greater than the golem’s current health, it
overloads and powers down for the rest of the match.
If the temporary damage is lower or equal to the
current health amount, the golem is unaffected.
Weaknesses:
Obvious: Intelligent golems will automatically avoid
the Enervation Wall if they cannot survive passing
through.

Undiscerning: The Enervation Wall will affect
golems of either side.
Automated Boulder Dispensing Apparatus
Cost: 500 silver
Health: 200
Range: Straight line
The Automated Boulder Dispensing Apparatus generates
boulders composed of earth mana. Once generated, the boulder
waits until targets come within range, at which point the tower
automatically releases the boulder to deal damage to any incoming
golem.
Strengths:
Heavy Hitter: The boulders are composed of the
same dense matter that golems are constructed with,
allowing it to plow through most golems with ease.
Larger golems take even more damage since the
boulder will attempt to pass through them.
Unstoppable: Once rolling, the boulder will complete
its course.
Weaknesses:
Construction Time: Generating new boulders takes
a full minute.
Barricade Buster: The boulder stops rolling once it
hits the first barricade in its way, after which it will
destroy the barricade and disperse into thin air. Note:
If no barricade blocks the boulder, it will continue
rolling until it reaches the end of the battlefield or hits
a tower.

Four new towers, four brand new ways to fight my foes. Armor
piercing, energy draining and anti-air capabilities? These were
exceptional additions. Already I was beginning to form a clever
combo with the Repulsion Tower and the Boulder Dispenser. But
before I could start building, I’d need to look at the new golems. After
all, Esha had a great deal of mana crystals lying around!
License Level 1 Golems
Berserker Golem
Cost Per Unit: 100 Mana Crystals
The Berserker Golem is a significantly upgraded Stone Golem,
designed to deal high amounts of damage while ignoring most
enemy attacks.
Strengths:
Overwhelming Attacks: A single Berserker Golem
is strong enough to take down a Siege Golem by
itself. They deal significant damage over time and do
not slow down.
Structural Integrity: Berserker Golems can continue
fighting as long as they have one hit point left,
regardless of the amount of damage they take.
Weaknesses:
Unyielding: Berserker Golems do not stop attacking
a single target until it is dead. They cannot respond
to any orders during a fight.
Solitary: Berserker Golems cannot attack a target
already engaged with one Berserker Golem.
Frost Golem
Cost Per Unit: 100 Mana Crystals

The Frost Golem is capable of generating chilling vortexes,
slowing down targets or outright freezing them. In addition to their
Vortex ability, Frost Golems have a short-range ice blast attack.
Strengths:
Polar Vortex: When commanded, all Frost Golems
within an area will create a polar vortex. The more
golems contributing, the stronger the effects. Any
enemy unit trapped within the Vortex is slowed by
50%. Staying within the vortex for more than ten
seconds causes the unit to become Frozen, removing
all armor and causing all incoming damage to be
tripled.
Frost Spikes: Frost Golems are able to shoot out
high damaging ice spikes towards enemies up to 3
squares away.
Weaknesses:
Prompts Required: Frost Golems cannot use the
Polar Vortex without a direct command.
Recharge: Polar Vortex can only be used once per
wave, regardless of how many Frost Golems you
own.
Overheating: Any form of fire or explosive damage is
doubled to Frost Golems.
Chase Golem
Cost Per Unit: 25 Mana Crystals
Chase Golems are rapid moving golems designed to target and
kill specific enemies. Unlike other golems, they are able to move
through occupied spaces, bypass Shield Golems and even move
over barricades to hit their target.
Strengths:

Relentless: When Chase Golems have been
ordered to attack a target, they can pass through any
active obstacle or golem to reach their target.
Numerous: Chase Golems can be grouped into
squads containing up to as many as 10. Selecting
one Chase Golem from a squad will select all of
them, and any orders one squad member receives
will be undertaken by the entire squad.
Weaknesses:
Brittle: Chase Golems aren’t terribly strong due to
their size and quickly fall to pieces if directly targeted
by an attack.
Numbers Required: A single Chase Golem will deal
very little damage. At least 5 are required to do a
Stone Golem’s worth of damage to a target. Any
lower and the damage will be significantly reduced.
Banner Golem
Cost: 500 Mana Crystals
The Banner Golem is a powerful unit that is able to rally nearby
golems, granting them special bonuses based on the Rally Marker
placed down.
Strengths:
Rally Marker: You may place down a rally marker of
your choosing on the square the Banner Golem
inhabits. All golems within 50 feet of the rally marker
gain one bonus based on the Rally Type of your
choosing. As long as the rally flag is up, the bonus is
conferred.
Defensive Rally: All units gain 50% damage
reduction.

Overdrive Rally: All units gain increased attack
speed.
Resistance Rally: All units gain 75%
resistance to a chosen element.
Regeneration Rally: All units begin
regenerating health at a rate of 5 points per
second.
Banner Defender: The Banner Golem deals a heavy
melee attack to any unit attacking the Rally Marker.
Weaknesses:
Unique Unit: You may only have one Banner Golem
on the battlefield at all times.
Banner Vulnerability: The Rally Marker is a physical
item with a high capacity crystal attached. The crystal
can be destroyed, rendering the Banner Golem inert
for the rest of the round.
Switch Limit: You may only change the Rally Marker
in between rounds.
These were quite excellent! The Banner Golem would give a
much needed boost to the Stone Golems, which were cheap but
fairly useless so far in terms of hitting hard. Granting them extra
combat speed would give them considerable boosts. And Chase
Golems might help me deal with the constant Siege Golem problem.
A swarm of those little buggers should make short work of such a
slow-moving enemy force.
I had precious little time to think of all the uses for such things,
however, for the enemy was still impending. It was time to begin
developing the map, as cheaply as I could.
There were some advantages to this situation. I was fighting off
ruffians and scoundrels who had access to golems, sure, but no
other special abilities. They probably had little idea how to deploy
such tools tactically and thus meant I had the upper hand. However,

ignorance could be dangerous. An enemy with no idea how proper
strategy was formed might prove to be ruthlessly efficient, an idiot
savant if you will.
Surveying the battlefield, I took notice of the farm’s unique
design. Since the battlefield was composed of four lots in total, there
were four corners of the map where the enemy could enter. The
outskirts of the farm had lanes four squares wide. The farmlands
themselves served as obstacles, unable to be passed directly.
Instead, the exterior lanes all led to a small central area where a
Mana Sphere had already been placed. This central area was twenty
squares wide.
From the looks of it, enemies would be coming from all
directions, from the top, bottom, left and right entry points. They’d
move to the long center lanes in between the gaps of the four
farmlands, creating a large tic-tac-toe type of path. Immediately, I
could see the trouble with such an open design.
Towers worked best when enemy forces were clumped
together and forced to walk the same pathway. A single tower dealt a
considerable amount of damage if it were able to hit all passing
enemies. However, if there were two entry points, the tower would
become half as effective, since it would only hit half the enemy
golems. And with four entry points…well, I’d need to set up a proper
maze here.
The four unpassable squares created an opportunity for an
interesting design. By placing barricades at the entry to three center
lanes, it would force all enemies to move downwards to the one
available lane in order to reach the Mana Sphere. Enemies that
appeared at the furthest point would have to go all the way around
the farmlands in order to reach the open point, breaking up the
groups considerably. Then, I could just invest placing towers in a
single choke point, knowing that all enemies would be hit by those
towers regardless of their starting position.

I decided to test this theory out. I placed three barricades in
each center lane, except for the bottom one. Immediately, I could
see a line appear from each corner of the map, showing the enemy’s
path. No matter where they came from, the line moved all the way
down to the open lane, in between the two patches of farmland.
“Fantastic,” I muttered. The path line seemed to still be taking
the fastest route possible to reach the center of the map. The two
upper corners of the map would come down and join the golems
coming from the bottom corners. But…if I cut off access to the
middle on the left, the upper left golems would have to go all the way
around, taking the most possible amount of time. Wait! If I moved the
opening to the bottom left lane, it would take everyone except for
one group even longer.
I quickly shuffled things around a bit. By blocking off every
possible route except for the opening on the bottom left of the map, it
would divide the enemy golems up into four groups. The first group
would move the fastest, the second group would reach the core at a
moderate pace, the third group would take twice as long, and the
fourth group would arrive long after the rest of the enemy golems
were destroyed. This design would maximize the time enemy golems
were exposed to my towers.
Ultimately, this wasn’t a complex maze design. Three blocked
entrances to the center and a scattering of barricades to ensure the
enemy couldn’t just break one and come flooding in. The lanes were
wide enough to fit plenty of towers on the way into the center square.
Now, I just needed to figure out the right combo to decimate the
enemy before they destroyed this farm…

Chapter 9
My first area of concern in the enemy attack would be flyers.
The map was brilliantly able to slow down terrestrial enemies but
flying golems would have an easy time making a beeline straight for
the Mana Sphere. And if enough of them came my way, I’d be
overwhelmed. So, the first order of business would be to set up
these brand new Repulsion Towers.
Since there were four points of entry and any flying golem
would go directly towards the Sphere, I’d need to place four
Repulsion Towers. For 600 silver, that wasn’t a bad deal. The
Repulsion Towers would be placed on each corner of the central
section, creating an effective barrier against flying units. Anything
that tried to get close to the core would be thrown back.
Unfortunately, the towers were too far from the entrance to the single
opening to hit enemy forces, but maybe that was a blessing. Their
sole purpose would be to deflect flying golems, and they’d have
nothing to distract them.
With the airways secure, it was time to focus on attrition.
Longer travel times meant longer exposure to my towers. Enemies in
the back would take the most damage from Ballista Towers, and with
the increased shot speed I’d be hitting six golems per minute per
tower. For only 50 silver each, I could create some serious trouble
with these things.
I placed four Ballista Towers on each side of the central square
except for the open area, making for a total of 12 ballistae. They
would be firing nonstop, hitting all manner of targets. Their range
easily covered most of the map, though the bottom could not reach

the top squares and vice versa. Still, all in all, the coverage was
excellent for the cost.
Now, there was no reason to waste good golems. If my attrition
strategy worked to maximum effect, most of the lagging enemies
should be at very low health by the time they reached the entrance
to the Sphere. It might cost 1,000 silver, but the Enervation Wall
would be well worth the cost. First off, it instantly disabled enemy
golems, so any stragglers who had a few hit points left in them would
just shut down. Second, it would give me double salvage! And while
this fight might be at the behest of someone else, I figured they
wouldn’t mind sharing the extra mana crystals, right?
After putting up the rather expensive wall, I turned my attention
to the only path that every golem had to cross in order to reach the
Sphere. There was very little time before the bottom left golems
would be at their objective and that meant I’d have to create a heavy
kill zone to decimate their forces as quickly as possible. Fortunately,
there were a few ways I could achieve this.
First and foremost, I’d force the approaching golems to form a
single file line as they marched forward. Reducing four lanes to one
was rather easy; I’d place two barricades diagonally on both sides to
create a choke point. The diagonal design would allow me to place
Karrack Towers behind each barricade, while using the second box
to cut off enemy golems from striking it as they passed.
Once the Karrack Towers were positioned, I continued the
funnel design, but instead of using barricades to block the enemy
from spreading out, I placed down Thorn Towers on each side, two
each. That cost me 2,000 silver, bringing me down to a measly 500
left in my budget. Money enough for the cherry atop this destruction
cake—the Boulder Dispenser!
At the end of the choke point was one extra square, not
particularly in the way of anyone. The enemy would turn to the right
in order to reach the Mana Sphere. But before they could turn, they’d
have to deal with a massive boulder rolling their way. Best of all, the

boulder wouldn’t hit any of my own stuff, since it would just crash into
the end of the map. Since all golems would be forced to march in a
single file line, they would be annihilated by such a heavy
concentration of power.
There were imperfections to this design, of course. The choke
point towers were dangerously exposed here, allowing enemy
golems who attacked buildings to have a field day with the Thorn
Towers. I wasn’t worried about the other three groups, since they
would be targeted mostly by the ballistae. But the exposure time for
the fastest group was short and they could heavily damage the
towers if we didn’t have guardians in the way.
Five Shield Golems would solve that problem. I placed one in
front of the main entrance to the choke point, blocking it off
completely. The other four were put directly in front of the barricades,
just to add some extra protection.
Wait…no, I couldn’t put the Shield Golem in the main path,
because my boulder would obliterate it. Come to think of it, any
golem would take damage being in the front lines…hmm. Well, there
was still some space before the enemy made it to the choke point,
so I could place some heavy hitters down there to soften up the
group.
While I had been given no budget for Mana Crystals, I could
see that Esha only had a thousand total and I couldn’t very well
spend all of their crystals. So I’d have to be a little careful with the
budget here. Four Shield Golems to protect the barricades, two
berserkers to meet the enemy where they emerged from, two Frost
Golems to hold the center and hopefully avoid the boulder, and five
Chase Golems hanging back in the center field. 605 crystals total. A
little more than half their existing amount. Hopefully I wouldn’t need
to spend more in between rounds.
The unrelenting passage of time finally caught up with me as
the enemy wagons arrived. My eyes grew wide at the sight of how
many there were. At least twelve vehicles were rolling up. While they

were in about the same condition as the previous ones I had seen,
these wagons had large steel crates attached to them. These were
the typical golem containers that were used to transport much larger
armies. A chill ran up my spine as they all rolled forward at once,
thundering towards the farms.
“Here it comes,” I muttered. “Let’s see how it goes.”
Much to my surprise, a prompt appeared in the Grid. Outlaw
Battle impending, it read. Unregistered Participant is invading.
This attack is unsanctioned by the Institute of Warfare and by
extension, the Crown. No titles may change hands, nor will the
Crown recognize the invaders’ right to own captured territory. If
the landowner loses their territory, they will still be responsible
for collecting taxes from the Outlaw Participant and paying the
Crown its rightful due.
I scoffed as I read the large disclaimer. Of course the
government was more concerned with getting their taxes paid, as
opposed to showing up and helping us out. I searched for some kind
of Summon Judge button, or some way to alert law enforcement, but
no such option existed. I guess defending this land was our
responsibility alone. Typical.
For the first time, I could see actual people approaching the
battlefield. Would the towers fry them on the spot? My stomach
churned at such an idea. Sure, these men were thugs and fiends,
but I wasn’t about to hand out a death sentence for trespassing.
Fortunately, one of the men spotted the sudden appearance of
crates, golems and towers, and began quickly retreating. It was at
that point when the golem crates opened up.
The moment the crates opened, however, my vision became
locked to only the battlefield. My perspective became fixed and I
couldn’t look past the actual warzone. It seemed that the Grid didn’t
allow participants to peek, even at unlawful opponents.
There was that customary lull that happened right before the
Grid’s horns bleated in my ears, heralding the beginning of the first

wave. I took a deep breath, tensing up. I felt someone grab my hand
and squeeze it, reassuring me.
“You can do this, Blake,” Esha whispered.
I didn’t reply, for fear that my nerves would betray whatever
empty bravado I had in store. It was fun spending someone else’s
money in order to set up a defense, but having to actually stick
around and watch your investment? Terrifying.
Wave 1/4
Enemies Remaining: 16
Total Enemies: ?????
The first wave arrived as the horns blared. Four golems
appeared in each corner of the map, just like the pathway marker
had predicted. They were all Karrack Golems, arms crackling with
mystic power, ready to blast away at any enemy in the area.
Immediately, my ballistae began firing in all directions at once. My
eyes grew wide and my heart swelled with pride at the sight of
dozens of bolts firing, wave after wave, at the invaders. The random
targeting systems had plenty to work with and the enemy golems in
the back rows took heavy damage.
Unfortunately, four Karrack Golems proved to be more than
enough to handle the two Berserker Golems I had placed on the
field. These large, earth-colored titans with red streaks running down
their arms and legs carried mighty axes meant to hew the enemy to
pieces. But range beats melee every time, and Karracks were
intelligent enough to stay put instead of moving to engage. Four
beams focused on the first Berserker, melting it to pieces in a matter
of seconds.
The second Berserker rushed forward, undaunted by the death
of its comrade. It swung an axe and cut the first Karrack in half, the
stone axe sending bits of rock and mana crystal everywhere. The
other three Karracks were helpless to fight back, for they still had a
cooldown after getting the upper hand on their first target. Thirty

seconds was an eternity in a battle and by the time the Karracks had
the ability to shoot again, only one remained. It didn’t last long
against the sole Berserker.
Meanwhile, I could see that my long walk strategy had worked
wonders. The ballistae had a bit of a damage multiplier effect with
each golem they killed. One less golem meant more damage
distribution to the other damaged golems. The heavy concentration
of bolt fire quickly annihilated the remaining enemies, with only one
Karrack able to get a pot shot off at the remaining Berserker before it
was riddled full of holes. The round was over, and no one even made
it to the choke point.
Wave 2! appeared in my vision. “What?” I gasped as I watched
the new number count appear. There was no break? No, of course
not! Why would there be? This wasn’t a game; it was an actual
attack by outlaws. Why had I assumed there’d be a break? Curse my
sportsmanship!
Enemies Remaining: 10
This wave was smaller. I wanted to believe that was good
news, but my gut told me that these were going to be heavier hitters.
The first golem appeared in the bottom left—the fastest route to
my sphere. This was a very different kind of golem from the ones I
had seen before. It was a floating pillar, made of smooth
meerschaum, its head an ornately carved skull. Black flames
radiated around the entire pillar as it bobbed up and down. Groaning,
I clicked on the description of the new entity.
Terror Golem: This unique golem radiates energy that causes
enemy golems to go into a panic. No defending golem may enter six
squares surrounding this unit. If the Terror Golem moves towards a
defending golem, it will be forced to retreat.
My Berserker Golem took one look at the Terror Golem and
decided it had better things to do with its day. The supposedly
“unyielding” golem backed up as quickly as possible, forced to

retreat any way the floating pillar went. The pillar continued to chase
my golem, forcing it to rush as fast as it could to the second enemy
spawn point. Four Karracks appeared at the second spawn point at
that exact moment and they easily killed my hulking golem.
I squinted as I watched this unfold. These were not…not the
actions of automatons sent into the battle to mindlessly attack. That
brilliant ambush suggested an intelligence was actively directing
these things. But how? I thought only the Starmetal Signet could
control the golems?
I didn’t have time to come up with a theory, however, for more
golems were emerging from the second spawn point. They looked to
be Barrier Golems, little floating orbs that stopped elemental attacks,
but these were just a little different. The three Barrier Golems floated
in a triangle formation around the Karracks and the Terror Golem.
Once in place, they created a large blue dome around them,
repelling all shots from my ballistae.
At the same time, two Siege Golems popped out at the first
entrance, kneeling down and entering their 2 minute preparation
time. The enemy forces all converged atop one another, the Barrier
Golems expertly shielding their allies from all harm. Nothing was in
range of my towers yet, so all I could do was wait. Wait and plan
some counter.
I glanced at the Terror Golem and then at my Chase Golems.
They should be able to take down at least one Siege construct, but
how would they get close? The Terror Golem had taken some
damage from the ballistae, but the unit was also armored, making
the damage minute at best.
I quickly opened up the Alchemical Bombardment ability and
looked at the notes my alchemist aid had written up for me
previously.
Quicksilver: When combined with a mana blast, causes a
huge explosion damaging everything in a six square area. This

explosion bypasses all forms of damage resistance.
Ichor: Binds all units in a target square for 1 minute.
Pulvarium: Causes target golem to become brittle. Every time
the golem makes an attack, it receives half of the damage it
deals out.
Lectinus: Accelerates the movement of all units within target
square by 3x for 1 minute.
Aquani: Interferes with the pathfinding energies of a target
golem, causing them to move through the maze backwards
until they reach the beginning again.
Calator: Creates a four-square-sized black cloud upon impact,
obscuring the targeting abilities of any unit within the area.
Units cannot attack while within the black cloud, but turrets
cannot target those units either.
Solin: This oil creates a thick coat around a target unit. Oil
absorbs 90% of magical attacks for 2 minutes.
Sandozium: This dry grain compound is rough, coarse and
gets everywhere, infecting target golem, dealing damage to
armor. When target golem occupies the same square as other
golems, the Sandozium spreads to those golems regardless of
their allegiance. This compound wears off when all armor has
been consumed.
Aquani! Of course! I didn’t have to kill the Terror Golem, I just
had to move it away from the group. Such a feat wouldn’t take much
effort, truly. Just a healthy amount of expert timing and an even
healthier amount of luck was needed to pull this off.

Chapter 10
The siege engines awoke; the massive behemoths with arms
the size of tree trunks climbed up onto their feet and shrugged left to
right, as if they truly had been sleeping. I gritted my teeth and
readied my order of action. I had to hit them hard, fast and in the
right sequence, lest those beasts break my defenses and annihilate
the Mana Sphere.
The first step was to delay the advancement wholly. It was a
painful move, but I had to do it. I ordered my Shield Golem to block
off the main path, forcing the two Siege Golems to attack to get it.
The Shield Golem would hold up for a little while, but with the extra
damage from the Karrack Golems, it wouldn’t be that long. Time
enough, however, for me to execute the next step.
As I had suspected, the Barrier Golems were able to block off
the brilliant triple beams from my Karrack Towers, absorbing the
mana from the energy neutral attack while simultaneously blocking
the bolts from my ballistae. This was high level stuff, way
disproportionate for fighting a Level 1 gentry, but then again, these
guys were just using whatever they had stolen. Proper
sportsmanship was not on their agenda.
While the Siege Golems laid waste to my poor little Shield
Golem, I activated my Alchemical Bombardment ability, selecting
Aquani and targeting the Terror Golem specifically. From the
heavens, a small blue vial came falling down, bypassing the barrier
and shattering over the Terror Golem. Instantly, the golem began to
retreat backwards, right as my Shield Golem fell to pieces, opening
up the pathway.

In an instant, I ordered the Frost Golems blocking the lane to
activate Polar Vortex, causing a wild white storm of snow and ice to
appear over the choke point. The storm slowly swirled, more and
more, until it became a whirlwind, freezing over the enemy units.
Much to my surprise, as the ice overtook the Barrier Golems, the
shield vanished!
There was little time to act, but I managed to execute both
plans at the same time. First, I ordered the Chase Golems to swarm
the now inert Siege Golems. These small little scarab-like golems
complied quickly, scampering forward, chittering as they scuttled
over the barricades. They moved quickly and were atop the Siege
Golems in an instant, biting and stabbing their little spiked legs into
the big beasts. I could see the damage was rather steady, dropping
the enemy health bar slowly and constantly.
My second action was to urge my Frost Golems to march
forward, hoping they would reach the enemy Barrier Golems in time.
However, in the heat of the moment, I had forgotten about my newly
improved Karrack Towers. The frozen enemy Karrack soldiers were
shattered by the powerful triple beams that swept across the
battlefield like a scythe. By the time my Frost Golems were within
firing range, only the siege beasts remained.
I noticed that the Terror Golem was not simply retreating to the
spawn point it had emerged from. The Aquani seemed to shortcircuit its map finding abilities so much that it was going all the way
back to the top of the maze, at the furthest spawn point. As it
marched backwards, it fell into range of every last Ballista Tower.
And while armor greatly reduced incoming damage, the sheer
amount of bolts striking the golem every 10 seconds pretty much
meant there would be nothing left.
Returning my focus to the choke point, I noticed there was only
one Siege Golem left. It stormed forward, absorbing the hits from the
Thorn Towers. These large towers were basically shaped like one
long thorn with dozens of small thorns sticking out of them. The
spikes fired from each tower as the siege beast tried to move past

them, its health dropping faster and faster with each passing second.
And then came the click! The gloriously loud click as the Automated
Boulder Dispenser recognized a foe.
The device itself was just a large scaffold with a ramp attached
to it. Atop the scaffolding was a platform that swirled with mystic
energy, bringing a huge stone boulder into existence. The clicking
was caused by the ramp lowering down, swinging to let the payload
loose. The boulder came rolling down, perfectly moving along the
lane I had created for it.
The Siege Golem had stopped to try and attack one of the
Thorn Towers, but the boulder wasn’t about to let that happen. The
huge rolling stone, nearly as big as the siege construct, crashed into
the beast at full speed. There was a horrible cacophony, one that
somewhat reminded me of two wagons rolling into each other at full
speed. The boulder did not stop and merrily ripped the Siege Golem
to pieces, continuing on its path without losing any speed.
Of course, in any form of scientific endeavor to learn new
things, there are sacrifices. And my poor Frost Golems were
unfortunately those sacrifices for my test drive of the Boulder
Dispenser. They were flattened like pancakes, smooshed into dust
by the boulder as it continued its course. It reached the end of the
map and faded instantly, simply blinking out of existence.
I let out a deep sigh of relief as the wave ended but tried not to
relax too much. The battle was still raging. Who knows what
enemies would be coming immediately next?
Wave 3:
Enemies Remaining: 30
I gritted my teeth and waited for the enemy to arrive. All four
spawn points activated at once as a massive swarm of Vulture
Golems came flying out of all corners of the map. I felt at first a
supreme terror at the sight of so many flyers, knowing they’d bypass

the farmlands and my barricades, but let out a short breath upon
realizing my Repulsion Towers would do their job.
And how marvelous of a job these wonderful towers did! Since
the fastest path to the Mana Sphere in the center was a straight line,
all golems were converging diagonally, flying across the map with
great speed. However, I had anticipated this, placing those towers at
all four corners. These marvelous towers, with their glistening white
domes and crackling mana energy, fired off pulses of kinetic power,
creating shockwaves in the air.
These shockwaves sent the vultures scattering in all directions
at once. Well, not all directions, because truthfully, they were only
going one way: down. The impact of being struck in midair and
thrown like a ragdoll decimated these pitiful vultures with ease. And
the few that didn’t take full damage due to landing atop barricades
were quickly sniped by the ballistae. Thank the Stars that I had
thought to put those towers there. Because had I not, those vultures
would have annihilated my Mana Sphere, especially since I had
already used my wave power for the day.
I wiped the sweat from my brow as the round ended and the
next wave immediately began. Final Wave! It was curious to see the
words Final Wave, for normally my enemies would surrender before
the final wave. Strange to finally see it all the way through.
Remaining Enemies: 1
Well, this was either a throw-away unit or something earthshattering. I didn’t have time to utter a request to the Stars, for
immediately the enemy golem emerged. My eyes went wide, and my
jaw dropped at the horrific sight.
The golem itself was perhaps thirty feet tall, made entirely out
of iron. It was in the shape of a classical knight from the old ways of
war, holding a massive shield in one hand and a great lance in the
other. It lurched forward, causing the ground to shatter with each
step. Never had I seen a golem of such size before! Sure, they were
normally tall, but this big? This was a veritable giant! Something able

to kill just about any unit or tower in its way. How the hell did they fit
that in the back of a wagon?
Before I could say or do anything, however, the Grid crackled to
life in front of me. Restricted Unit Detected. Extraction Imminent.
And then…a bolt of lightning struck the giant golem. It was the
same lightning that had been used to transport Judges from battle to
battle. Only this time, the lightning didn’t place anything, rather it
simply took the golem away. There was nothing left but a smoking
crater where it had been standing. Of all the times for the Stars to
show favor on me, they certainly picked the right moment!

Chapter 11
The battle had ended abruptly. The enemy forces were
thoroughly thrashed (and one was apparently abducted, I suppose),
leaving the bandits defenseless. The moment I told Esha that the
fight was over, and we had won, I heard a loud, piercing whistle in
the room, followed by whistles being returned. Within seconds, elven
men and women had emerged from the farmlands, apparently
having been hidden there beforehand.
The bandits, who had been trying to get onto their damaged
wagons to escape, tried to surrender as they were flanked by thirty
fighters, but no