Chapter 6: Playing spies, playing tacticiens...

From the reaction of the rest of the players they had all received the quest upgrade, Captain Miller was dirrecting her troops against the encircling and enraged bandits. once the archers were taken care of the warriors formed a three level line and marched onto the enemies location. ofter players would breack rank to chase a fleiing outlaw or afinish off one of the NPCs' marks.
In just a battle they threw away the familiarity they had earned with the soldiers.

What a waist!

Everytime i would see a soldier in difficulty i would jump in and deal with the bandit swiftly.
Since i had killed their leader many of them were gunning for me either toavenge their chief or gain Notoriety.
The result was that i had no problem finding an adversary.
When twenty of their men died the outlaws finally realised they were being defeated and scattered away.

We all took a moment to gather ourselves, heal the wounded and catch our breath. the trailer's driver had taken an arrow in the shoulder so the mullet boys and i would have to take over his duties on the way back. still the man insisted on riding in the front. the Outlaw chief cadaver was wrapped in a tent and attached on a mullets back: it was the proof that we had done our work.

We set up camp for the rest of the evening and were divided in teams of five each was entrusted with an area of the forest
the Captain,the Mage Officer, the non-combatant and myself were in the group that would protect the wagon.

Of course.

I was about to protest when the black skinned mage took me apart.

"Who are you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't play with me Varrant, no simple Cook moves like you do!"
"Ho, that! Teacher kinda showed me a few times but this is the first i used them in a real battle."

Which would explain why i got the skill just now...

"Teacher?"
"Kaden from the Training Hall."
"Wait, you are kaden's pupil!?"
"Yes"
"...I see."

Somehow the mention of the Training Hall Master seemed to calm him. Was there a story behind it? I would have to look further.

"But if you are, what are you doing posing as a cook?"
"I am a cook! i just also happen to be learning how to fight for futur plans, that's all."
"Plans?"
"Yes. i wish to travel the world, discover new places, meet new people, learn of their stories and culture..."
" You wish to become an adventurer?"
"I don't know. it seems a bit...borring to me."
"An explorator, then?
"Carving my way to celebrity and wealth in blood isn't really agreeable to my morals."
"Celebrity and wealth, hum?"
"Who doesn't dream of those!"
"Indeed"

There was a moment of silence while he was looking at me, thinking.

"You have a gift with people, are hard working, knows how to manage goods, want to travel to many places... Say, you wouldn't be interested in becoming a Merchant by any chance?"
"A Merchant? What do they do?"
"They buy and sell goods to people and cities. To broden their income they often have to look for new prospects and clients."
"That sounds quit interesting... i will think about it."
"If you decide to follow the path of a Merchant go to the 'Bubbling Bar' and look for Gerry, he runs his old man shop and is looking for help. it should be perfect for you as a start."
"I understand. thank you"

When he left me three new windows showed.

"Kaden's name seems to have a lot of weight with the Military Officials. you should dig deeper."
"You were presented with the 'Path of the Conquering Merchant'. Ask your Menthor about it for more details."
"You were proposed the Position 'Gerry's old man Shop's Assistant'. To accept it go see Gerry at the 'Bubbling Bar' in Djaden."

Path of the Merchant... sounds like a special proffesion. i should deffinitivly look into it.

The rest of the day went buy. the cleaning groups came back around sunset. when all of them were back i looked at the mission status window. there was only 17 outlaws left. Most probably holding up in their Camp.

The Camp!

I took my map out and noticed a second red blinking dot. just next to the one indicating the Ruins.

Of course! they are using the Ruins as shelter!

My first instinct was to tell the captain about my discovery, the second not to, after all if the entire expedition force went there was the possibility that i would have to share the Forest Ruins Quest too. but then again, if all the bandits were there...

I will have to be smooth about it. get an escort without attrackting the attention of the players... it is worth the shot.

I went to the Commanding tent after finishing my Cook duties. the Mage Officer and the Captain were still looking at their map. black dots were spread randomly around the forest. Most of them were closer to the ruins.

locations of were the soldiers killed bandits.

I greeted my supperiors and started listing our remainîg rations one by one.

"I suppose that what you are triing to say is that we are still running out of food?"

The red head was loosing her patience.

"No, i meant to say that if we stay here two more days we will be out. exept if we find the Bandits storages."
"Storages?"
"Yes. food, water, weapon, treasure... i will need a securised and close by place. also has to be protected from the weather."

The mage was already back on the map.

"Here. the Ruins."
"Yes. that is the only place that would do we haven't looked at yet."
"Their camp would have to be in front or in one of those three small clearings..."
"Or in all of them..."

I let them talk it out for a while.

"We should send men to check the situation of all three places and the ruins."
"I volontere for the Ruins. as a Cook i should be present to evaluate any food supplies i can see. no need to risk more men if it is for a back of moldering bread and faned vegies.
"I agree. we will act as if we know nothing and still randomlly search them in the meanwhile we will acertain their exact location andnumber. at nightfall we will attack."
"What if they are in several places?"
"Then we will split up. the effect of surprise is primordial. As long as they have no leader they will be slow to organise under suden attacks and by attacking them all at once we will prevent any reemforcements from comming."
"So we attack all four places?"
"No, just the clearings at first."
"Very well. i will go get some men now."

The Mage officer came back with, to my horor six players, half of them swordsmen, 2 archers and the sole mage and an NPC archer and 2 mage soldiers.

3 men per clearing. Small enough to be fast and quiet but numerous enough to fight back any tipe of enemies or mobs.

"Here are our most trusty and capable men Captain."
"Good peak Beok."

She then mentionned the men to line up and devided them in three small groups of three. one swordsman, an archer and a mage in each.

"We belive we have finaly spotted the bandit hide out. the problem is that ther is a total of three of them and we ignore the disposition of their defencive power or their offencive capability. To remisiate to this it has been decided to send spies. you were chosen. Officer Cage, give them the details please."
"Yes, ma'am! tomorow, in the cover of cheacking the woods for any remaining bandits you will travel to one of their camps and come back after gathering information. be back before the next night. don't get spotted. if you do get one of you to escape and report. the rest will have to remain behind."

Seeing the men tense up the Captain spoke again.

"The success of this expedition is on you, yes, but it does not mean that you have to die. try to get captured. we will rescue you later. understood?"
"Yes captain"

The soldiers responded in unison while the players were fumbling in front of them with their hands. they had gotten a quest update.
Then she turned towards him.

"As for you, Beok and an archer will accompany you on you trip for your damn supplies."
"Thank you captain."

I then turned to the soldiers and players. i wanted to make sure they didn't suspect anything about the ruins.

"On that subject, please keep an eye open for their food storage's location. i won't hide that we will need any extras food available on our way back."

"Through your Cook position, leadership and respect you have added the sub-objective 'locate food storages' to the quest 'Bandits Camp Punitive Expedition Force: spy on the bandit camps'
The NPCs that are concerned will automaticly try to fullfil the objective(s).
The players will receive a bonus at the end of the Expedition.
Players on the quest: 6
NPCs on the quest: 3"

I saw the other player reading then closing the sub-questwindow announcement.
Captain Miller gave each team a leader (the NPCs) and a clearing to spy on the dismised us. the Mage Officer precised that the mission was secret, no need to have soldiers talk about it in the middle of the forest and be overheard by hidding bandits. This added another condition to finishing the quest.
I prepared everything for tomorow's lunch and asked (pleaded) for the mullet boys help. they accepted to replace me while i would be taking the day 'hunting and gathering suppies' in the forest. the next day as i was serving breakfast one of the archers took the time to have a chat.

"Hello sir Varrant"

Since i had obtained the Respect stat people started clling me Sir or Mister.

"I was informed by Officer Cage that we will be going 'hunting' together."
"Oh, yes! i see so you are the third person. please call me Ben."
"Very well. In that case address me as Nathan."
"Alright, Nathan! as soon as i finish with my duties here i will be ready to go. We should leave early."
"Understood."

He left to eat his breakfast and i served the next person in line. less than an hour later, when i finished cleaning the last wooden plate. i checked my equipment, equiping the 'Dark Green Long Sleeved Matlassed Leather Vest'. it added 2 in Toughness and 1 in Endurence and Dexterity.
Most of the men had already left the camp to patrol the forest, i gave some more recomendations to my replacements, went to see the driver, changed his bandages and made him drink a tea of various dry leaves. once sure he had emtied his cup i left to find my two companions.
They were waiting for me by the camp fire, chatting.

"My apologies for the tardiness. the old driver wouldn't drink his medecine. Kept saying it tasted awfull... wich is totally true."
"No worries. we all were under your medical care once. I understand the old blowck: it does taste like sh-t!"

We all laught like old friends.

Hurray to the high Familiarity stat!

We were walking steathly between the trees, less than an hour later when we crossed a thief. An arrow and sword strike later, he had been delt with. A bit before lunch time it was a groupe of four.
We ate while walking. it was a simple sandwich of cheese letuce and dried meat and smashed seeds on the bread dut it had the effect of rising Endurence for a few ingame hours.
The closer we went to the ruins the more frequently we met outlaws. their numbers never went above five at a time but after the sixth time my two companions started to express concerns about their number.
Bandits were not the only threats, a few times we were attacked by foxes and boars, once by a bear. we also hunted every dear, rabbit, squirrel and bird we saw. i had said i would go gather food and i would do just that.

Around mid day Nathan spotted a sentinel pershed in a tree, a hunting horn on his hips. the men was delt both by Nathan and i, an arrow in his heart and the other in the throat.
Beok then went up the trunk and using a self applied spell named 'Hawk Eyes' scrutinised the forest. he took a few minutes then came back down.

"There is a few patrols up ahead. we will have to be carefull. eliminatîg them would alert the rest of our presence."
"How far way from the Ruins are we?"
"Two hours walk,tops."

We went on, hiding behind trees and bushes when we heard footsteps or chattings.
By listening to them we understood that the outlaws had been dispatching men to their other camps. it was good news for us as there would be less risks of getting cought but the other groups would have to be carefull not to get spotted from behind.
When we were finally at the Ruins we hid behind trees and bushes watching the bandits.

The camp was simple. Six wooden huts placed in a half circle surrounding an old tunnel's heavy wooden door. thick wood pikes barrier were placed between the huts, pointy side towards the exterior of the clearing. There was around 60 outlaws walking or sitting in the huts, each were armed with a sword or a bow.
The reemforced door was opening regularly, letting bandits in and out of the tunnel.

As we were watching the camp my quest window appeared.

"You have discovered the last bastion of the forest bandits.
Your map has been updated.
Observe them the whole night then go back to report.
Do not get caught."
"You have discovered the Forest Ruins Back Entry
Your map has been updated."

Back entry?

I gestured my officer and wispered in his ears.

"This is the back entry of the Ruins. we should check the front too, in case."
"Good point. if their number is smaller there we could pass through the tunnel and take them from the rear."

We stayed hidden there, observing the bandits for three more hours. when the sun set they all went inside exept ten men who were guarding the entry and those doing rounds. we regularly changed our observation point to not be found. by midnight we left Nathan there for the night and traveled towards the Ruins front entry.
Crossing the woods in the dark was a different experience: all the sounds were amplified, you could easily get desoriented or smash into a tree, bush or walk on a twig.
Once i even thought that we were being watched. it turned out to be a big grey wolf. anyone else would have been attacked but thanks to my Nature Understanding attribute and my Spirit of the Wolf skill we were spared.
Seing the predator gave me an idea. i took of my closes and equipment ans whispered.

"Spirit of the Wolf."

Imediatly i felt my whole body tickle as my bones and skin rearàges themselves to those of a gigantic black wolf.

"You have used the 'Spirit of the Wolf' skill, as a result you have shapeshifted into a wolf.
-150 Mana"
"As a wolf some equipments can not be worn and has been returned to your backpack.
You now have the skills, attributes and stats of a Wolf:

Max health: 205
Max mana:250
Vitality: 39
Endurence:55
Toughness:37
Strength: 45
Speed: 38
Dexterity: 47
Inteligence: 43
Ancient Rune Knowledge: 22
Leadership: 13
Respect: 15
Honor: 15
Luck: 37
Fame: 52

Track: (Passive) Beginer 1 (0%)
you can follow anything/anyone by smell
Bite: (Active) Beginer 1(0%)
You can attack your preys with your teeth.
Claw: (Active) Beginer 1 (0%)
You can attack your preys with your claws.
Howl: (Active) Beginer 1 (0%)
You can call for your wolf brothers by howling to the wind. the number of help depends on wether there is wolf in the area and of your leadership stat.
Mana consumpsion: 45
Growl: (Active) Beginer 1 (0%)
You can growl at your preys, it will paralise them for at least two seconds. the smaller the prey, the longer the paralisis.
Mana consumpsion: 20
Predatory eyes: (Active) beginer 1 (0%)
your prey's footprints are colored in a fluoresent color. Green for herbivors, yellow for carnivores and red for humanoids.
-7 mana/1 minute
Night vision: (Passive) Beginer 1 (0%)
you can see in the dark for 10 meters around.
Cushuned paws: (Pasive) Beginer 1 (0%)
you are in a constant Stealth status unless you are running or sprinting.
Predatory ears: (Passive) Beginer 1 (0%)
you can hear further away and better than a Human."

Awesome!

I rubbed my head on Beok's legs to tell him it was me. at first when he saw me he suddently got envelopped in a sour smell.

Fear.

then after looking around him he wispered my name and, like a god dog i raised my front paw. He chuckled nervously, half amazed half frightened by my unexpected transformation.
Once Beok was informed of my new appepence i went ahead, scouting the paths to check for enemies or traps. the floor was spread with many different smells.

sweat, humus, rabbit, human, wolf, moss, rotting fruits, rabbit again, squirrel, piss, human again...

I took the time to osentify each of them and hunted a few rabbits to get used to my new body. running and sprinting was difficult for me who was used to walk on two legs. the sounds were also overwelming: i could here insects roaming under the falling leaves, small preys jumping, climbing and fling around...
By the time i found the front entry of the Ruins i had farely adapted to my new body. i went back to my companion and after mimicking the act of walking close to the ground lead him to the front ruins.
The place had no fortifications or sentinels and compared to the back there was only a minimal guard of five sword equiped men and two archers.
Their carelessness surprised me until i realised that the Expedition had never neared the Ruins and even after sending the men out. To the Bandits, this place was the most unlikly to be attacked.

You are so gonna regret this.

We once again spent several hours watching them. i used my flair to count the different body smells and track their daily movements. By sun rise we went back to rejoin Nathan. Finding him hidden behind big bushs was no problem thanks to my Tracking abilities.
We spent the rest of the morning traveling back to the Expedition Camp. We reached it during lunch. i changed back to human shape before leaving the trees cover, made Nathan and Beok promise not to talk about my abilitty in front of anyone else but the Captain.
As we crossed the camp soldiers came to us, asking where we were and why i had not been there for three meals in a row.
Everytime i would answer the same thing: getting food, restocking supplies, preparing our return to Djaden. To further emphasise my words i had slung a dear we had gotten on our way back across my shoulder and Beok and Nathan had rabits in their hands.
We put everything we had hunted and picked in the forest in the wagon, i checked on the driver, went to see the mullet boy showering them with thanks and compliments for holding my duties for the two days i was away.
Pretending i had to update the Captain on the extra suplies we had gotten i followed Beok and Nathan at the Commending tent.
There we gave our reports. indicating the number of enemy forces, their locations and patrols movements, frequency and releve. we told her about the other entry into the Ruins, she emmidiatly understood the opportunity it gave us.
Once our report was complete she told us about the other three camps. apparently there was only around ten men in each of them, wich means that most of the Bandits troops were at the ruins. The other spies had also spotted food stocks of many kind of rations. according to their descriptions there should be enough for four more days.

After an hour of discution it was desided that by night fall the expedition would be devided in fiftyndifferent teams that would advence towards the four camps under the pretence of hunting go through different paths and regroup once close to their targets in eight groups. No need to wake the outlaws by making noise while traveling in big Numbers. There would be one group for each clearings, one for the front Ruins, one for the back of the Ruins, one who would guard the wagon and one spread between each three camps and the ruins, stopping any survivors traveling in between them.
We would all attack as the raising sun behind us blinded our enemies and sleep was taking over the sentinels. it would start with a stealthy attack, slitting throats and shooting arrows at the sentinels and lookouts. then the swordsmen would pass the wood barriers, enter the camp and slay the bandits in their beds. only when their presence was revealed and they had lost the effect of surprise would they be allowed to do noise. To this part of the planning i added my little personnal touch under the form of a particularly interesting set of herbs and leafs.
Hopefully it would be too late and the men had made too many victims in the enemy ranks and entered to deep in their teritory for them to fight back. When the battle was over, half of the unwounded and remaining forces would go with the group in between the camp and Ruins and slowly surround the sites, reemforcing any battle front in difficulty
The wagon would time its advance to arrive at the Eastern bandit camp an hour after the start of the battle and take everything that was stored at the hideouts, including the remaining Expedition forces and their wounded, as it visited them one at a time going west its guarding troops would increase and prevent any vengefull attacks from escapies. once done with all three clearings it would continue its road back to Djaden.
In the meanwhile, the troops at the ruins would be attacking at the front and blocking their retreat at the back. if by the time the reemforcement had arrived they did not take the camp then a siege would start, waiting for the bandits to come out in the front while heavy troops infiltrated them from behind. once the Ruins were cleared the soldiers would take everything they found and put it on the stolen trailer along with the stolen goods and food supplies. they would then join the Expedition wagon after two day of travels.
Once together the Expedition would divide into three squadrons, a trailer between each one, soldier on their sides.
Wounded would be placed with the second part of the procession. We would be arriving at Djaden through the East Gates after Seven days of travels. that meant two water riffils stops and half rations for everyone if we did not find food inside the Ruins.
Surprisingly i was given the command of a small troop of ten men, four pikemen two swordsmen, two archers and the two mullet boys with their donkeys. i would be a part of the team attacking the ruins from behind.

Thats a relief. i hope there isn't more players through.

Then it was time to designate the other leaders for each groups. The captain and the mage officers lengthly discussed about it. the names came rapidly but choosing were each men would be stationned was the problem. Group commenders were choosen first. Miller would be part of the Eastern clearing troups and join with the wagon in order to check on the result of the battle sites and take care of the wounded. Cage would be in charge of the frontal attack on the Ruins. he would hve to coordinate the troupes during the battle, when the reemforcements arrived, after the battle and durring their trvel to join back with the Captain and the other half of the Expedition's forces.
The comand of the other two battle sites were given to two other mages while the ones of the three interuption groups had been placed under the control of three swordsmen.
The group infiltrating the ruins were given to an archer.
Then the fifty or so team lieutnants were decided. That is when my name came up.
I was given the comand of a team of ten men by Beok.

"You guys will be the advenced party, scouting ahead for the rest of the group. don't take risks, don,t engage into unnecessary battles or play heroes. your job is to map the ruins, fing the positions of soldiers and storages. Especially their food and the stollen merchant trailer. Remy, Vrenn and Armand can disable traps. You already know Nathan. the rest o the team is made of bradon and jamy, swordsmen, carl and tirry,pikemen along with Remy and Vrenn. your second archer is Armand. the last ones in your group are your two friends Landell and Owen and their donkeys."
"Wait, the donkeys too? Why?"
"You might need them to transport things"
"Like what?"
"Food or the stollen goods. it is just in case we would meet a bigger opposition than planed and had to siege them. you would be snatching their rations, forcing them to get out of their refuge, and the Lords stollen goods, accomplishing one of our objectives."
"I see"

Yes! i am on the front line, in the Ruins with no other players!

"I understand. i will be ready for tonight. can i go see my men and get some sleep now?"
"Of course. goddess knows we will need it toworow."
"Well, see you later on then."

I left the tent, going to Nathan to tell him he will be in my team tonight. i asked his to pass the message to the other archer and the two swordsmen. i bid him good night and went to find my four pikemen, asking around for their location. i found one at the camp fire still eating, another in his tent, catching some Z's and the last two playing dise with five other soldiers. i all told them the same thing. that tonight they will be members of my team that it was in their best interest to get the maximum of sleep starting now and that we would meet by the trailer after diner was over.
When they asked me what our mission would be i simply told them we would be getting supplies. In a way it was true. I just didn't precise where and how. Their fault for not asking.
My last stop before going to sleep were the mullet boys, Landell and Owen.

When i reconected 5 ingames hours later, i started preparing dinner. tonight it was a meat ragout, full of proteins, and an entire bread loaf each. the with the help of the boys i prepared a bit over 900 sandwitches, and prepades a hundred small cloth bags filled with sticks of braided together herbs and leaves.
As we were preparing those Owen and Landell started questioning me.

"Something is going on isn't it?"
"How so?"
"All afternoon the graded officers and a few others held a big meeting. it took over an hour. as soon as it was finished they all started talking to the rest of the soldiers."
"And you, when you came back from your 'hunting report' also spent way too much time in it, we are going hunting at night, the whole camp spent the afternoon sleeping, you are preparing enough food for everyone for three meals and those strange smelling herb braids..."
"Okay,okay! i get it! you saw through it all!"
"So?"
"What is happening"
"We now were the bandit camps are located"
"CampS?"
"How many of them?"
"Three clearings and an underground ruin dehind those. the ruins are the most guarded but there is a rear entrance. that's where We are going."
"All three of us?"
"With your damn donkeys to boot!

There was a long silence as the boys slowly took in what i told them.

"What about the others?"
"We will divide in small teams and spread ourselves throughout the forest, slowly direct ourselves towards the four camps, regroup in eight groups at disignated areas. five of them will attack the camp, three block any survivors. the last group will acompany the wagon. At dawn we attack. all of us."

I slowly told them of the strategy put in place. at the end of it their heads were spinning.
When the sky started turning orange i announced that dinner was ready. each time i gave a man a plate i also distributed three sandwitches. To the en who presented me with a special paper slip i also gave a dozen braided herbs pouches and instructions on how to use them.

"Try to use them in small enclosed spaces or to shoot a few in camp fires.
Give a good fifteen second for the smocke to take effect. it smells a lot. stay up wind to avoid any backfire. wear wet cloths over their nose and mouth if they had no other choice but to go in the smoke..."

The team leaders listened carefully conscious of how important a good understanding of their new weapon would be.
The soldiers comming after them would also litsen in as it was no longer a secret to any of the expedition member that tonight would be a busy one.

When everyone, including Beok and the Captain, had received their meals the three of us ate ours then i went to see the trailers driver. I told him that we would ba absent for three days but would expect to see him back to full health by the time they were back.
The old man had understood that the final battle was closing in an wished me good luck.

"You know when i was young, i wanted to travel the world."
"Really? me too!"
"You are still young, boy!"
"True enough. and you are not dead yet either."

He took a moment to consider what i had said

"I am retiring after that. my parents used to have a farm. its a ruin now, allong with all the other ones around it. i think i am gonna rebuit it. try to live peacefully now."
"Sounds like a good plan. Where is it so i come visit?"
"Behind Djaden City Northern Walls and between the old Wind Mill and the Zerfa River."
"Okay."

"Your map has been udated"

I left him to find my tenmen and two donkeys waiting outside the trailer. They looked quite frightened.

"I see everyone is here, good. i supose by now everyone knows what is going one?"

They all noded. Still i contunued talking.

"Tomorow at dawn we will ttack all four bandits hideouts. it will be the last battle. in two days we will either ne on our way home or eating wild grass by the roots! i would rather like to avoid the last option. what about you guys?"

They gave small ascent noise.

"Tonight we get in position. discretly. We won't get any sleep in between the positioning and attack as we are gonna take care of the furthest site. don't needlessly spend your energy. don't talk if there is no reason. don't eat your sparce rations. keep count of your arrows and bandages. and finally, never lose sight of each other. i want everyone to survive the folowing days. understood?"
"Yes, sir!"
"Any questions?"
"Yes. will we really be infiltrating the bandits stronhold on our own?"
"No. we will scout The bandit strongold on our own. big difference."
"What is the difference"
"We will have 20 en ready to avenge is if we die."

There was a small silence.

"Ah."
"It warms your insides doen't it? any other ussless questions?"
"No, sir."
"Good, lets move out then. check your backpack once more, verify the staye of your weapons, your canteen and give a small prayer to whichever god you think will be willing to hear you."

The men uickly folowed my instructions then once again stood. this time i could see in their eyes that they were ready.