Marek took stock of himself. His body stood up, and moved as he wished. His heart beat… but Marek knew he was dead. His body was passable, if aged, but his soul was much worse. It was full of black globs of soul necrosis. Marek had sustained injuries to his soul when he was younger, and seen it in others over the course of time, so he had dealt with it. Now, it was most of his soul.
It hadn’t helped when he looked through William’s soul. Though their souls were of similar strength, that was only when Marek was in prime condition. William’s cultivation hadn’t been as strong, and he’d barely been able to resist… but it was a tiring act anyway. Still, once he had started he didn’t want to stop, even at the risk of damaging himself. If he was merely verifying the identity of who controlled the soul, it would have been simple. William was clearly in control, with the Demon King’s and other’s memories merely being there as supplements.
Marek would have stopped, but he saw the moment where William destroyed the Demon King, knowing what was going to happen- or at least what he thought was going to happen. He did it anyway… and Marek had to know why. Somewhere in William’s memories would be the answer, so he had gone through all of them. Marek himself was only left with a vague recollection of them, with mental notes on the important points… but what he found was simple.
There was no one thing or even group of things that made William do what he did. There was no special thing about him- besides the fact that he could that set him apart from other people. Most importantly, the only important differences between him and Marek was that he did it.
That had struck a chord with Marek… and even as he found himself devoid of energy afterwards, the thought had filled him with determination. He wasn’t going to let himself die. He still had to destroy the Demon King- or at least what remained of his fragments. He was going to do it… and nothing would stop him. Not even death. That was good, because Marek was sure he was well beyond the recoverable point… or even the point where he was alive. Even partially hiding it in front of William had been a pain… but he could do it. At first he was worried about using up too much ki, and not being able to do more… but then he realized he was already far past that point. He no longer had the energy to destroy the Demon King, but he would be damned if he wasn’t going to do it anyway. He just had to find him first… and that meant going anywhere but the gevai lands.
William found only one problem with taking over command of the keep’s forces. The commander easily capitulated, but having control was the problem. He needed to use the troops, but if he got too many of them killed, the lord who raised them might complain- even if he didn’t care about their lives in particular. Of course, he could sacrifice more of his own forces… but he had no intention to do that. His own troops were something special that he had invested time in… while the others were just… people. He still felt they had value, but not as much as his own.
The important thing was losing an acceptable amount. William had no doubts that soldiers under his command would die. There were far too many involved and so many things could go wrong, even if they had somehow been perfectly trained. The biggest problem were the two forces were nearly evenly matched. William thought his troops were better trained than average gevai, which would skew the numbers in his favor, but he didn’t know for sure how well trained the enemy was. Besides, a frontal confrontation would just result in the maximum loss of life on both sides, which was something William wanted to avoid.
It would be best if the humans just left, but they wouldn’t do that. It wasn’t like he could just go up to them and ask them to leave… William shook his head. He could do that, but it wouldn’t do any good. He did take note that negotiations wouldn’t always be off the table. He could actually speak the language, after all. All of the human languages, in fact… though he was a bit rusty at two of them. However, rusty communication was still infinitely better than none at all. This particular group looked to be largely Ostanan, and he’d made a trip through there recently, so he wouldn’t do too poorly.
First William would have to give them a reason to negotiate. That meant putting them on the back foot. For that, they would have to significantly improve their position here. First they would have to clear the nearby roads. It had been hard enough to get the wagons around the fort with extra troops to help get them unstuck, but future supply wagons wouldn’t have so many extra crew. William didn’t know if he needed to stay long enough for the next wagons, but he still needed to undo the trouble the commander of the fort had let happen.
After determining there were no humans nearby lying in ambush, cleaning up the caltrops was a matter of time… and searching through the mud. It would have been quite impossible without ki senses. Besides those cleaning, scouts were also stationed to watch for any movements from the humans… but it seemed they weren’t interested in starting a conflict at the moment. Perhaps it had something to do with the archers on the walls overlooking the work. William shook his head, wondering how they had even set that up in bow range. Surely arrows weren’t so precious that they couldn’t be traded for enemy lives… and they would even mostly be recoverable afterwards.
William was out with the troops, and while he didn’t do any digging through the mud, he did keep his senses open, warning his soldiers of some of the deeper buried caltrops and watching for enemies. That meant he was out in the mud with them, which they appreciated. He didn’t mind working with the troops… but he would rather do without the mud. “I’m off to hit the baths,” William said to Jordan at the end of the day, “Coming?”
Jordan shook his head, “I wouldn’t call buckets of slightly less muddy well water ‘baths’. Besides, I’m not a big fan of communal bathing.”
“Oh, I’m not using that water. I’m getting my own. Magic, you know. I might suggest you conjure up some of your own while I’m out. There’s mud everywhere, so it’s not hard to get a bit of water.” William was surprised at how little effort the average gevai put into magical training. It wasn’t difficult to get some basics down… and the more they did it the more useful it would be. On the other hand… most of the troops didn’t particularly care about being squeaky clean. There was worse than mud on the farms that many of them came from. William would still enforce a basic level of cleanliness, however. With such cramped spaces, they couldn’t afford to be careless about spreading disease.