3 Start of the crusade
Standing on the small hill that separated the lands between the holy kingdom and the southern Kingdom of Akahia, Natan observed the orderly rows of the crusading army that he and his friends managed to gather in those short two weeks that preceded the start of the contest.
Most of the people that were even a bit less experienced than him would prefer to play their cards carefully, judge every step, make preparations for everything that could go wrong.
But the geopolitical situation of the holy Kingdom forced him to make his move right away.
Locked right in the hottest spot in terms of religion, there was only one way for them to expand without starting the damned holy war. To the north, Orthodox protectorate of Nahia, acting like a wall that separated the western side of the continent from the advances of insanely powerful Alaltian Caliphate. To the east, two border Kingdoms securing the Christian borders against the swarm of the Islamic princedoms of the golden road.
No matter how much any of those countries would like to change their situation, they were all locked in a friendly relationship because of the Islamic threat from the northeast.
Even if leaving the two of the five most important cities at the northern horn of the holy kingdom basically undefended wasn't the best and most rational move, ignoring the single opportunity that would never appear again to secure the rich lands of the southern central route along with the perimeter against the abysmal strength of the Lauvogia Hordes...
The whole map looked just like the earliest start in the previous iterations of Eurasia Universalis four. No matter where one would look, threats and opportunities flooded the vision, making it harder to make a single decision.
"All troops reached their positions. Cargo is proceeding like expected. We can move at any time."
Approaching the BattlePope was the second in command, Cardinal of the war, Blevik. While being the oldest of the entire group made him rather detached from the reality of the games, real-life experience on the battlefield made him an invaluable asset in the coming years of war.
"Any info from the hordes?"
No matter how well prepared they were, the initial state of the game prevented anyone from instantly overpowering the other. The higher on the rank one's state was, the more internal problems there were to settle before the commanders could start moving their troops for the war.
Lauvoghia Hordes were no exception. After a few days of drafting plans with them and preparing the deal, they were supposed to bait the troops of Akahia with aggressive deployment and allow the Holy Crusade to sweep through the country in one session.
Even if the deal was highly profitable for the hordes, who would receive most of the country despite not doing anything, this was the only way in which the Pope could secure his southern flank!
"So far, nothing. I doubt we can expect them to make it easy for us."
The gain for one group meant the tougher opponent when the time of facing against them would come. In the ideal situation, one could weaken everyone while strengthening oneself, but with the whole game filled with aggressive and cunning players, there was no way something like this could happen.
"I don't think we should wait for any messenger from them. Let's just proceed. Send the first line forward!"
The route of their attack was actually pretty obvious. With the scale of the world tuned down to allow for the better intermingling of the players, travelling on the road doubled the movement speed, making it the only viable way of proceeding with a quick campaign.
With only fifty hours long session inside the game world, they had to make sure to establish a proper foothold and reach their points of interest, if they wanted to stand any chance in the next session, three days later.
During the gameplay, every member of every group was limited to the perception of his own avatar. There was no way to know what was going on past the border of the enemy or even neutral state, unless one was willing to heavily invest into espionage., but at this stage of the game, where normal players were going to finally learn about the true stakes of this event, there was only a slight chance that someone would accept such unorthodox quest from the state.
The short distance between the city they were departing from and their first target proved to be a blessing.
After only half an hour of a steady march, their avantgarde units reached the unprotected gates of the town, opened like this was your every day in the life of MMO. With only a small handful of players ready to give up the chance to watch the stream from the event for the sake of taking part in it themselves, by the time the local people realised that something was going on, entire Meroro was already in the hands of the Holy Order, with most of its troops passively passing through the streets with the next city already in their heads.
What would be twenty kilometres long march in real life, turned out to be a five-kilometre walk on the road. In short span of a single hour, the crusaders managed to swiftly overwhelm two cities, blocking the only road leading towards the Holy Kingdom hinterlands.
"We have reports of some players rushing to the Pharcy. I doubt they will just allow us to take the entire north."
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Hearing the news, Natan couldn't help but scratch the side of his huge helmet with his war mace.
'If the players manage to report to the enemy capital, there is no way they will let us off...'
Despite how successful the start of the campaign was, only a two hours passed since the start of the session, leaving forty-eight more of the time they had to use to the best of their capability. If they fail to conquer the entire north and march at least half of the troops back to the country, they would be in for a certain invasion from the Loncia horde.
It didn't matter that they had their own share of troubles and potentially bothersome neighbours if anyone saw an opening this early into the game, there was no way their greed could be stopped by any rationale.
"Fuck it, let's push forward while we can. Judging by the level of those players from the report, we have up to three hours if they had their troops rallied already, or even before the daylight if they slacked off!"
With the session starting at the daybreak, if they had time till the night to ravage the country, the war would be as good as already won. Even if the conflict would extend over to the next session, there was no way the hordes would miss such a tasty bite!
"Everyone! We are moving out!"
Even if the city they were currently in was the pearl in the north, the most populated area in the entire place and the southernmost port city in this part of the country, they had to move out. Wasting time here meant giving up the initiative to the enemy!
It was only by the time they reached the city of Azapi, that their insane speed of progress was stopped by the closed gates of the fortified town.
Plotwise described as the settler's town, it was the guardian of the crossroads leading to the eastern city of Gaya, which might be smaller than your average, big village, but thanks to the abundance of natural resources, was a paradise for the craftsmen.
"Are you sure you want to start the siege? It will take a while to wear down those walls, especially with how low our levels are!"
To make things fair for everyone, there was a level cap implemented for all those participating in the grand slam.
With the exception of the leader's avatars, everyone who wanted to participate had to have his level manually lowered down five times, making even the most hardcore players back to the 100th level. As the current cap settled at five hundred, it was clear how weak player avatars were against the structures made to fend of those monsters of the max level!
"Leave it to me. This is barely the first day, everyone is bound to be confused and weak to persuasion. I doubt that our citizens would fare any better if someone is attacking them right now."
Events on this scale never have happened to "The World Universalis" yet. Being only half a year old game, it was still in its infancy phase, making all sorts of new content highly sought for.
'As long as I play my cards right, they should change the sides...'
Moving forward, Natan exposed his gallantly armoured avatar of the BattlePope. Even with how little the religion matter in this time and age, with the world plunging into the age of darkness, he had to start playing on the feelings of unity for those people, if he wanted to have a shot at uniting them against the threat of the insane Alaltian Caliphate.
"Citizens of Azapi! I'm his Holiness Pope! We came here in peace, hoping to free you from the rule of the weak lord of yours, who preferred to indulge in his own pleasures instead of taking care for his own citizens!"
'Oh damn, this is soo embarrassing!'
Speaking towards the huge crowd of players watching him from the walls of the fortified city, made Natan think that he could feel his nails bitting down on the skin of his hands, despite being fully immersed into the VR world.
"What the fuck do you mean by that?"
Seeing the stupified reaction of the self-appointed leader of the defence, the reality of the situation dawned on Natan.
'Those idiots were probably too concerned with the threat from the west to care about the north! If they didn't inform the players about the coming change in the last session...'
Sensing the opportunity, Natan moved his character forward a few steps, despite entering the range of the archers on the walls.
While it looked like an act of courage, it was a coldly calculated act. Being at level one hundred fifty, there was no way those small fries would be able to kill him on the spot!
"Citizens of Azapi and you, dear players who apparently were ignored by your own damn rulers to get any information about what's going on!"
In a fit of faked rage, Natan took down his helmet and threw it on the ground.
"THIS ISN"T FUCKING FUN!"
Cursing to the Heavens just like a true player would if he was deprived of his dose of fun, Natan took his sweet while with his act, before apparently calming down and turning back to the people at the walls.
"I know you don't realise what is going on, but this game entered a new stage. To cut the crap, we are supposed to enter the age of war and conflict, yet your stupid leaders didn't tell you about it!? What is this bullshit?!"