Godfather's System

215. Exaltation - 08

As I approached the cultist castle, I wasn't in a hurry to act; not with the siege already in place, locking the cultists in.

The way Takis had approached the siege was interesting. He didn't surround the castle completely like I had expected. Instead, he split the army into three groups, each camping quite a distance away from the castle, guarded behind three layers of interlocked wards.

Each location had a shocking number of mobile siege weapons: ballistas, catapults, trebuchets; each capable of incredible devastation as they deployed their mana-forged ammunition. It was an approach that would be classified as wasteful by any other force in this world, but that was their fault for treating magic weapons as a rare item to enforce class distinctions rather than a strategic resource that needed to be maximized.

Takis moved between three encampments, escorted by an elite force of spearmen. Forty people, each armed with master skills, easily capable of cutting down any strike force that the cultists might send in their hope of taking down the commander, which was the easiest way of dealing with the siege.

I might have admonished Takis for being reckless, but as I approached, I noticed several defensive wards on the way, ready to be activated in case of an emergency. Takis was using himself as bait, whittling down the cultist forces slowly.

It was a small yet effective plan. Against any other force, it wouldn't have worked to the same degree. After failing once or twice, even the most obtuse noble would realize it was an ineffective tactic. However, cultists were operating under a different condition.


The corruption enhanced people far above what their class and level should allow, but it came with one incredible disadvantage: reduced control. The corrupted were ruled by their baser emotions, mainly anger.

That was not too much of a problem during smaller skirmishes, where tactics were nowhere near as useful as overwhelming physical force and the decisive advantage provided by destruction mana, making cultists a dangerous menace. It was a manageable drawback when they were the ones that were sieging, allowing them to control their forces slowly.

It made them terrible defenders. Resisting a siege was all about patience, repairing your defenses faster than the attackers could damage them, while maintaining enough reserves to handle any surprise assaults.

An exact opposite of all their strengths. I could see why Takis had split his army into three. Cultists lacked the army to attack all three at the same time. Whenever they sent a force to attack one encampment, their siege weapons pulled back, while the other two encampments sent their siege weapons forward to attack the walls, and every attempt to escape ended with cavalry and other mobile forces from the other two encampments closing on the routing forces, enveloping and destroying them.

It reminded me of a whack-a-mole game, at a much grander scale.

That setup meant that the cultists were feeling locked in and frustrated — not exactly a good mental state for a group with magical anger issues — so whenever Takis moved closer to the walls to present a bait, some of the smaller groups refused the orders of the priests and attacked, which weakened their forces even further.

Most importantly, distracted by the constant attacks and their own rebellious forces, the cultists missed their only opportunity to actually get away. They should have abandoned the castle and used all their forces to move toward the mountains, and used their destruction mana to constantly corrupt beasts to harass us now that the King Beast was finally gone.

I approached Takis, though I made sure to show myself from a distance so as not to scare the soldiers. While I amused myself by occasionally scaring them to test their alertness, the battlefield was no place for that. "Lord Steward," he greeted, using my title in front of his soldiers.

"Excellent work, preventing them from retreating to the mountains, and instead forcing them to expand their forces bit by bit," I started, congratulating him for his strategy. It was an honest compliment. Takis had just received an incredible improvement to his capabilities, but unlike the others, his abilities weren't properly displayed during the earlier battle against the beast waves.

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I could see many people trying to implement fancy techniques and strategies to show off their capabilities, ignoring the other vulnerabilities it might create, but Takis had chosen the boring yet steady path that he would have commanded before he had received his promotion.

"It's the best way," he replied. "We don't know if they could summon another beast strong enough to take down a King Beast, but it's better to be prepared. We already dug some tunnels for retreating. We can slowly whittle their forces down before taking on the assault."

"When do you plan to attack?" I asked.

"In three to five days," he said. "They should have been weakened sufficiently by then. We can win with minimal casualties."

I sighed. A good plan strategically, but it missed a very important point. It was time for another lesson. However, before starting to speak, I took a deep breath, and looked toward the cultist castle, wanting to examine it more in detail to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Even as I was attempting to focus on their defenses, the red glow of the walls, radiating with an evil energy, still caught me by surprise. It was fascinating how a mere color could convey such a deep sense of evil. It wasn't just pointless destruction of a natural disaster, but a deliberate act driven by malice, threatening to devour everything.

I couldn't help but think the dream I had when I had absorbed too much Destruction mana for my skill, one that attempted to brainwash me to follow Set. A battle between merciless gods and the forces of the void, determined to devour everything; and in the middle of these two forces, Set himself, somehow balancing the two forces to create his own faction.

When I had experienced that dream, I had merely written it off as some kind of divine propaganda, mostly fiction. However, as my mana sensitivity increased, I was able to understand destruction mana better … and the more I understood, the more I could see the hints of mindless desire to devour and destroy that came from the void creatures, restrained by mana.

Well, restrained only by the loosest definition of the word.

I shook my head, not allowing myself to get distracted by that pointless tangent. For the moment, it didn't matter how much of Set's story was true and how much of it was fabrication. The only thing that mattered was to prepare for the Calamity.

And, the most important part of those preparations was to properly train the youngsters, so that they could defend our land. Ultimately, I was only one person, and I couldn't fight against it all by myself even as a Hero class holder.

"Your strategy is good, but you're missing the big picture," I told Takis.

He paused to think. "I don't see it," he said, more curious than challenging. "We deployed enough forces to take the castle with minimal casualties, and we have several divisions around the city and near the mountains, ready to counter any possible attack, so we can't be ambushed. We're ready to retreat if they summon a King Beast, and we have enough ballistas in standby to take down a flying castle even if they replicated their teleportation trick with their corrupted flying castle."

"All good points," I answered. "However, you're missing one very important aspect." He looked at me, unable to get what exactly I had been driving. "You're missing the value of the deterrence. We need to take down the castle in a spectacular manner to make a point. We can't just bleed the castle slowly until we take it down. They have many spies that are watching our actions, and we need to make a statement."

He was surprised by my words. "I don't understand. We have been doing our best to undersell our capabilities as much as possible, and benefiting from it. Without that, Somaton flying castles wouldn't have dared to move forward recklessly without the support of a ground army, and our victory would have been achieved much harder."

"True, but you're missing one important fact. Back then, we just had a barony under our control. Even with our ability to bring out magic weapons, the value of attacking us was limited…"

"But now, we have enough land to rival the princess' duchy, representing an opportunity," Takis completed. "Still, wouldn't it be better to hide our forces and take down the first attacker."

"Yes, but also no," I said. "If it wasn't for the Calamity approaching ever closer, it wouldn't be a bad idea. The first attacks would be weak, probing attacks, and as long as we could squish them, it'd be solved. However, with the Calamity's timeline uncertain, they have to attack all at once, with overwhelming force to not only take over the region, but also to establish their defenses."

Takis was always quick to catch on once the general direction was pointed. "You want them to report an overwhelming victory against the cultist forces to scare them," he said. "That way, they will hesitate to send any forces, afraid of failure with the shadow of the Calamity looming on the horizon, even if it costs more lives during the battle."

"Well, almost," I said as I looked at the castle. "While sometimes you have to sacrifice the lives of your soldiers to avoid a bigger disaster in the future, today is not that day," I said. "Why don't you order all trebuchets and catapults to attack at once, and let this old man help you a bit…"

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