Captain Nikau stood on the wall with Colonel Kuros and General Stratagos. The fort was completely dark in order to make it a harder target for the coming attackers.
“General,” Captain Nikau whispered, “what are we waiting for?”
General Stratagos thought for a moment. “At fort Hellios we were awakened by a loud noise slightly before dawn,” he said. “When we arrived at the wall to see what the noise was, we saw nothing. Then the forest exploded around us. I never got a good look at our attackers, but they were very good at killing. If they aren’t gods, I fear they have the gods on their side. Our only chance is to destroy them before they can get to us.”
“You said they were in the woods?” Colonel Kuros asked. “When they attacked, they were waiting in the woods?”
“Yes,” General Stratagos said fearfully.
“If they wanted to take this fort, they made a mistake letting you get this far,” Colonel Kuros said. “We’ll hit them before they know what’s happening.”
“What if they aren’t in the woods?” Captain Nikau asked. “What if this is a trap?”
Colonel Kuros shrugged. “Then at least we’ll distract them long enough to kill a few,” he replied.
The men stood on the wall waiting. They were surrounded by archers. Horses stomped below as cavalrymen and foot-soldiers waited for the gates to open. More foot-soldiers waited throughout the fort in case the Paidon made it inside the walls.
As pre-dawn sent the first hints of light into the sky, Colonel Kuros began the first maneuver. “Light the barrels!” he cried.
Six foot soldiers placed barrels into two catapults. They lit the barrels on fire and shot them over the walls into the woods below.
“Archers!” Colonel Kuros cried. “Light your arrows. Shoot anything that moves.”
The archers lit their arrows on fire and waited for any sine of movement below. It didn’t take long: as the fire began to spread through the woods, the Paidon began to charge towards the wall, screaming.
Dozens of warriors abandoned the woods. They were all on foot. They wore little armor and their weapons looked fit for the scrap heap.
Captain Nikau stared at their attackers in surprise. “Those are children!” he cried, appalled.
“Those are girls,” General Stratagos said with equal amazement.
“They’re killers,” Colonel Kuros replied. “Don’t forget: they’ve already taken three forts.”
“But why?” General Stratagos asked. “What do they gain from it?”
Colonel Kuros shook his head. “They gain nothing,” he said. “We should try to capture one alive. We need to figure out who their masters are. Who sent them.”
The children below were falling to the arrows quickly. They were fast, but they no longer had the element of surprise. Their lack of armor made them easy targets for the archers.
“Lacedaemon!” Colonel Kuros cried. “We need some of them kept alive. Take your men and finish the job.”
“Yes, sir!” Lacedaemon called back. He and his men rode through the gate towards the remaining girls.
“Archers!” Colonel Kuros cried. “Hold fire!”
As Captain Nikau watched, Lacedaemon and his men took down another dozen girls, but they were able to capture five of them. The rest of the girls fled back into the woods.
One of the archers snickered as the girls were brought in through the gates. “I wonder if any of them has ever known a man,” he said to his companions.
The other archers snickered back.
“Enough,” Captain Nikau snarled at the men. “They are prisoners of war, not play things for you to do with as you will. None of you will so much as lay a finger on them unless given a direct order. Understood?”
“Yes, sir!” the archers said smartly.
“Captain Nikau,” Colonel Kuros said. “Let’s go see who sent our guests.”