Bree, Part 2

So since several readers liked my earlier story about Bree, the mercenary pikewoman, I went ahead and wrote a story about one of her battles. It turns out that while apprehensive over matters regarding her father in the first story, Bree is kind of freaking savage in battle.

In retrospect, I’m really glad I made Bree a pikewoman. I feel like pikes are an underrated and underappreciated battle formation and I enjoyed getting to explore their use in battle. While mounted knights, heavy infantry, and longbowmen get all the attention in storytelling, pike walls and schiltrons were highly effective battle formations when deployed properly. Historically, the pike-combat that helped make Alexander the Great so successful saw a revival during the late Middle Ages and stayed in use well into the age of musketry.

The story probably happens before Bree’s meeting with her dad, but could just as easily happen after. I’m not super happy with some of the dialogue toward the end, so any feedback is welcome. (Part 1)


“What in the nine hells are they doing?” Bree scowled at the high-elf pike formation further up the mountain pass. “Are they seriously bracing their pikes against the ground?” she asked, turning to Lieutenant Jarl. “We don’t even have cavalry to charge them with; what could bracing their pikes possibly gain them against another pike formation?”

The dwarf lieutenant tugged his beard, also scowling. “No idea, lass,” he shook his head. “Unless it gains them nothing, and they only know how to use pikes as a counter to goblin worg-rider charges.”

Bree continued to study their formation as she adjusted her kettle helm. Bracing the butt of a pike against the ground was effective against a cavalry charge, sure enough, and worked reasonably well against ogres and other small giant-kin. But against infantry that only succeeded in making the formation immobile and the pikes less maneuverable. Plus the angle of the spearhead wasn’t good for penetrating even light armor.

Plus, no rational officer would let their cavalry anywhere near the front of a pike phalanx; and no rational horse would agree to charge a bristling wall of pikes.

Three of the company’s enchantment wizards cast Protection from Arrows and Extended Mass Bear’s Endurance on the front ranks of pikes as Sergeant Berl called the formation to attention. Lieutenant Jarl’s pike cohort consisted of three-hundred and twelve heavy pikers in chainmail hauberks and padded surcoats. Steel mail was standard-issue, though some soldiers owned mail of mithral or dark-steel. Similarly, those who wanted extra protection bought breastplates or spaulders of metal or hard leather.

In addition to their pikes, their cohort carried side arms and wore kite shields across their backs that could be unslung for close-quarters fighting. Most carried broadswords or short swords as side arms, but maces and hand-axes were also common. And everyone carried an extra dagger or two, just in case.

Their cohort was supported by three wizards, five healers, and a squad of fifty-eight heavy crossbows. The crossbows wore armor similar to the pikes and carried heavy mechanical arbalests that almost qualified as siege engines, as well as quick-reloading light crossbows for backup. Each archer also carried a sidearm and a tower shield with spikes on the bottom that could be driven into the ground and used as a portable barricade.

Ahead the high-elf besiegers stood ready in that stoic, self-important temperament common among soldiers from the elf kingdoms. Their armor was that ornate, leafy-looking leather, scale, or partial-plate that looked impressive but wasn’t actually any more effective than what the mercenaries wore.

The crossbows jogged a short distance ahead and off the pikes’ left flank as Sergeant Berl ordered phalanx forward. The elves had corked up a bottleneck a few-hundred yards further up the pass, in effort to prevent relief from reaching the beleaguered city of Ferul. Lady Theodora’s mercenary company had been commissioned by one of Ferul’s allies to uncork the passes to allow relief and reinforcements to reach the city.

Bree didn’t know or care why the high-elf kingdom of Ellené had declared war on Ferul and besieged its lands. But she’d seen the hungry and terrified refugees that had fled to neighboring kingdoms. One band of refugees found themselves driven into gnoll territory and killed or enslaved, with only a few escaping to tell the tale. These bloody high-elves considered themselves culturally and intellectually superior to other races, but tended to be real shitheads when it came to politics and treatment of their enemies—particularly those of non-elf races.

Just ahead, the crossbows raised their shields as elf longbows let fly from behind the pike formation. Bree estimated perhaps four-dozen arrows arching overhead, most of which stuck into the raised tower shields. Only two archers took hits from the elf arrows. One was clearly injured while the other’s armor absorbed most of the hit. A healer rushed to help the wounded archer, propping up his tower shield as cover while she readied her spells and bandages.

Once in range, the crossbows propped up their shields and let fly against the elf pikes. Bolts and metal shot shattered into the front ranks of elves, killing or injuring regardless of armor strength. After each shot, the archers crouched back behind their shields to reload while the pikes continued to advance.

Arrows started to land amid the pikes as the phalanx neared the elves’ bottleneck, marching ten abreast. Most hit among the front ranks, bouncing harmlessly off their arrow-resistant magic. Bree heard a half-orc yell as he took a hit, somewhere behind her.

Once within a few pike-lengths, Sergeant Berl ordered the front three ranks to lower pikes. As ordered, Bree leveled her pike at the enemy, aiming it at a particularly smug-looking elf in the enemy’s front row. Sergeant Berl waited a three-count, then bellowed a charge order. With the others, Bree belted out Lady Theodora’s battle cry and started at a jog toward the enemy formation.

Admittedly, pike charges required a lot of training to pull off, and even then couldn’t be any faster than a moderate jog. It certainly wasn’t something the average underpaid militia phalanx should attempt. For some reason even a lot of fairly experienced officers thought of a pike wall as a static formation that the enemy was supposed to be stupid enough to get themselves killed running into, or—at best—a means of pinning an enemy in place while whittling at their flanks with cavalry or more flexible infantry.

But in truth, pikes were excellent for shoving against and disrupting enemy formations. An experienced piker kept her weapon constantly in motion, shoving back against the enemy, knocking his weapons around, knocking his shield away for a teammate to take advantage of, gut-checking him with the spearhead, stabbing at his face or weak points in his armor. And those enemies who managed to get between the front row of pikes had a second row to deal with, and then a third.

Shouts and the clattering of pikes drowned out all other sounds as the two phalanxes clashed together. Bree thrust her pike at the face of her target elf as she charged in, the extra momentum shoving the spearhead deep into his cheek. The elf screamed and fell back, dropping his pike and clutching his face. Wrenching her weapon back, Bree shoved again, catching another elf in his segmented cuirass hard enough to stumble him into his teammate. As he fell back, Bree took a half-step forward, angling the pike to penetrate between two armor segments. The spearhead wedged deep enough to cause injury, but not much else. Bree yanked it back out to keep the pike from getting stuck.

Around her the rest of the phalanx fared about the same. These high elves clearly weren’t real pikemen and had definitely never faced real pikemen before. Likely they were just regular spear-infantry given pikes, someone apparently assuming the two weapons worked the same.

Advancing in steps and half-steps, Bree and her comrades drove the enemy back. Dropping his pike, one elf drew his saber and charged between two pikes further down the formation. A Tiefling pikewoman in the second rank thrust her pike forward to catch him in the side, her spearhead snagging his chainmail and twisting him sideways. As the elf stumbled to recover, the Tiefling stabbed again catching him in the eye.

Stepping over the first line of enemy dead, Bree got in another good thrust to an elf’s armpit, catching her between leather breastplate and spaulder. The elf woman dropped her pike, clutching her arm and retreating back through the formation.

The half-elf fighting beside Bree hollered suddenly, dropping his pike. Bree glanced down to see a wounded elf wrench a dagger from the half-elf’s left leg. Thinking quickly, Bree lifted her pike upright to slam the spiked counterweight down on the elf’s temple, killing her. The wounded half-elf limped his way back through the formation.

An elf pike caught Sergeant Berl in the side, a few elves apparently deciding to emulate the mercenaries’ movements and tactics. Berl grunted but his mail held. Stepping forward and using his elbow to pin the elf’s pike in place, the sergeant slammed his spear forward to catch the elf in the teeth.

Their front lines collapsing or driven backward, the high-elves began dropping their pikes in panic. A few at a time, they disengaged from the mercenaries and fled back toward their encampment.

“Drop pikes and pursue!” Lieutenant Jarl bellowed to the formation.

Cheering, the mercenaries dropped their pikes at their feet, drawing their side arms and unslinging their shields. Bree charged forward, drawing her broadsword as they chased the fleeing elves.

The bottleneck widened back out after a few dozen feet, the elf camp’s outer palisades visible further up the pass. This left the attacking mercenaries exposed for vital yards before the edge of the camp.

Caught up in her pursuit, Bree was caught off guard when Lieutenant Jarl bellowed, “Shield wall!” On reflex, Bree dropped to one knee behind her kite shield, her fellow mercs falling in around her, staggering their shields high and low.

Elf arrows hit their shields barely a second later, several arrows also deflected by protection spells. Only a few injuries resulted from the barrage.

Rising, the mercenaries gave a defiant cry and surged forward again. Pockets of elves grouped together in fighting withdrawals as they gave ground back toward their camp. Here in the open, the elves got a number of their advantages back, including higher ground, a clear field of view for their archers, and better maneuvering for their lighter infantry. Bree saw Henna, a dwarf-lass friend of hers, take an elf arrow to the eye, but—thankfully—Henna kept swinging. Another arrow pierced the chainmail of a wood-elf mercenary.

Reinforced by their teammates from the camp, many of the retreating elves formed up into defensive clusters outside the palisade. A particularly nimble elf officer with short swords and mithral chainmail ducked a swing from Sergeant Berl’s flanged mace. Stepping to Berl’s right and spinning, the elf slashed one sword deep into the half-orc sergeant’s leg, dropping Berl to one knee. Keeping his dancing momentum, the elf slipped around to stab Berl in the face.

Twirling again, the elf slashed another pikeman in the sword arm, cutting deep enough to disable. Vulnerable, the pikeman took another elf’s glaive across the face before he could retreat.

Bree stepped in to cover the man’s retreat, blocking the glaive elf’s next swing with her shield. She stepped back to evade another series of slashes from the dancer elf.

Corporal Grom, a dwarf veteran who’d originally recruited Bree, rushed in to engage the slippery elf. The elf took a hit from Grom’s kite shield, but managed to keep his feet as he danced back to recover. The elf feinted to Grom’s right, then spun to his left to get around the shield and at the dwarf’s broad back. Anticipating this, Grom spun to the right, leading with his big dwarven war-axe.

Not expecting the burly dwarf to move so fast, the elf caught the blow in his right side. The mithral mail held, but the blow itself crushed ribs and probably collapsed his lung. The elf let out a screaming gasp as he toppled to the dirt. Grom stomped on his neck to shut him up for good.

Bree blocked a glaive-stroke from her opponent while parrying another elf’s saber. Stepping in, she risked a hit from the glaive-wielder to slash the saber-elf across the neck. Though her gamble was successful, the glaive-owner managed a solid hit to Bree’s left side before she could dodge away. Her chainmail held, but she felt the blow break skin despite her padded arming coat. Wrenching her sword from the first elf, Bree stepped inside the glaive’s reach to stab her opponent in the gut. The elf’s leather armor held as well, leaving a gouge that barely broke skin, if at all.

The flow of the battle seemed to change as the fresh reinforcements from the elf camp and the fresh mercenaries from the back of the phalanx engaged out in the open. Bolts and bullets joined the elf arrows as the crossbowmen set up their barricades and began targeting the elf longbowmen behind the palisades. The company’s wizards joined the fray moments later, casting protection spells on their allies to shift the balance of combat. The healers, meanwhile, scurried behind their lines stabilizing any wounded they found.

Bree felt her weapons and armor get lighter as their moon-elf enchantress cast Mass Bull’s Strength on Bree and several teammates. Her next stroke hewed her opponent’s glaive in half, leaving him open for another stab to the guts. This stab struck true, slicing inward and upward with seeming ease. Bracing her shield against the dying elf, she wrenched her sword away and turned to her next opponent.

The high-elf defenders gave way once again against the mercenaries’ superior training, heavier armor, and magic support. A few dozen clustered around to defend the outer palisade even as groups of defenders trapped in the open started to surrender.

“Clear the way!” Lieutenant Jarl bellowed to the mercenaries.

The elf defenders braced themselves, expecting a charge against the gate, only to be surprised when the attackers broke to the left and right flanks, opening a clear field of fire for the crossbows. The arbalests let fly on the clustered defenders, steel-tipped bolts and steel bullets shattering shields and punching through armor.

With the gate defenders devastated, the mercenaries not guarding prisoners rushed the gateway. Starting in twos and threes, the remaining defenders either surrendered or fled. Bowmen abandoned the palisades, though a few of them occasionally turned back to take shots of opportunity at the attackers. Leaving their shields and arbalests, the crossbowmen drew their light crossbows and charged in to aid the pursuit, taking shots of opportunity and crouching behind cover to reload.

Remembering she still had protection from arrows, Bree opted to lead the way. A good half-dozen arrows deflected harmlessly away as she deliberately made herself a target to draw the longbowmen’s attention. The bowmen either fled or surrendered as the mercenaries approached.

The chase carried her past their inner palisade and amid the elves’ tents and supplies. She wasn’t sure when the Bear’s Endurance wore off, but she could feel her fatigue starting to set in. A group of elf healers cast aside their weapons and surrendered to Corporal Grom and two others. Bree saw the elf command tent ahead, just past another few rows of tents.

The sight when she reached the command tent angered and horrified Bree. Eleven half-elves in servants’ clothes lay beheaded while another six begged for their lives. An executioner and elven commander stood over them.

Stop this!” she shouted, knowing she wouldn’t make it in time as the elf executioner raised his axe again.

A crossbow bolt hummed past Bree to take the executioner in the throat. The executioner pitched backward, dropping his axe into the dirt. Bree glanced back briefly as Elira, a wood-elf corporal, lowered her crossbow.

“And I supposed this was completely fucking necessary,” Bree demanded, sheathing her broadsword before punching the elf officer in the jaw.

“Of course it was,” the commander said, rubbing his jaw. He wore an ornate breastplate that had never seen combat, with fancy hose and doublet. “Corporal, if I’m not mistaken?” he asked, sizing her up. “I was merely weeding out a traitor; surely a non-commissioned officer such as yourself can understand the need for such measures.”

“Wait… are you saying you think one of these half-elves sold you out to us?” Elira scowled, kneeling to cut the bindings on one of the captive servants. Several other mercs knelt to help free other half-elves. One brought a water-skin to offer them a drink.

“Of course one of them did, it’s just how half-breeds are,” the commander raised a brow, as if it was a common-sense deduction. “We let a few nobles bring their half-elf servants along, and, sure enough, one of the mongrels sells our defensive plans to the enemy. How else could you have beaten us? It’s why half-elves are never allowed in the military and shouldn’t even be allowed as camp-followers.”

“Wow, and you sum-bitches have the gall to call my people ‘monsters’,” Draxa, a surface-Drow pikewoman, commented, helping up one of the half-elf prisoners.

“Don’t Dark Elves usually put their half-Drow on the front lines as arrow-bait?” another pikeman asked.

“I meant that as an insult,” Draxa shook her head.

“Ah, the infamous Drow dark-humored wit,” the elf commander rolled his eyes. “Or half of it,” he added. “Say what you want, you’re not going to convince me that a dusty collection of ragtag mercenaries bested a numerically superior force of her majesty’s elves without inside knowledge of our tactics and defenses.”

“So, your incompetent pike-work and obvious lack of a backup plan had nothing to do with your defeat?” Elira asked, placing a gloved hand next to her chin.

“No, no, I understand his position entirely,” Bree said before the commander could reply. “I mean, everyone knows how these damned half-elves are,” she continued, shouldering her kite shield. She saw Elira move her hand to cover a smirk, as if guessing where this was going.

“Corporal?” one of the human pikemen frowned, sounding confused—probably remembering that Bree was married to a half-elf.

“In fact, I can even help his predicament,” Bree added, placing her left hand on the commander’s shoulder.

“In what way?” the elf commander asked, looking up to eye her suspiciously.

The elf screamed as Bree drew her dagger and stabbed him in the testicles.

“There, now you’ll never have to worry about fathering some damnable half-breed,” she told him casually. “What, aren’t you going to thank me?” she asked, making him scream louder as she twisted the dagger a quarter turn before withdrawing it.

“Ingrate,” she accused as the elf toppled to his knees and forehead, screaming and clutching himself.

Stupefied, the others just stared at Bree as she strode away to report to Lieutenant Jarl. Behind her, she heard one of the freed half-elves start laughing with relief.

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Bree, Part 1

Hey, folks! So I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to get in a writeup this weekend, I’m afraid. Instead I’m going to go ahead and post a couple pieces of short fiction about Bree, a mercenary soldier I came up with for a fantasy setting.

Literature and entertainment are full of stories of that classic character who runs away from home to pursue their dreams. Depending on the type of story, they’re either wildly successful—saving the kingdom or marrying the prince or princess or whatever—or they become horribly disillusioned after trying their best and failing. But what about stories where the protag just does kind of average. They’re competent in their chosen field, but not exceptional. They settle down in a comfortable romance with someone who makes them happy, but who can’t exactly give them the world on a silver plate. I kind of ran with this idea for a quick story I wrote. It’s a short, one-scene fantasy story—I imagine the setting to be similar to the Sword Coast from the Forgotten Realms, series. It’s kind of rough, and I’m not super happy with the ending, but it was an interesting quick study. (Part 2)


“Ian?” Jen’s voice urged quietly, waking him. “Ian, you have a visitor.”

“What’s that?” Ian mumbled, reflexively adjusting his quilts. Jen grimaced as he coughed twice from the exertion. He blinked the sleep from his lids, focusing on his wife’s eyes above him.

“You have an unexpected visitor,” she explained, taking his hand and sitting on the stool beside their bed. “Our daughter, Bree, has come to visit you. I… think she genuinely wants to see you one last time. She said she’ll understand if you don’t want to see her.”

Ian frowned at the ceiling as he considered. So his prodigal daughter had returned to visit him on his deathbed. He hadn’t seen or heard from Bree in almost seventeen years and wasn’t sure how many years it had been since he’d even really thought about her. His initial assumption was that she must have heard he was dying and come to ensure her place in his will. But for his daughter to admit she’d understand if he didn’t want to see her—that wasn’t exactly the attitude of someone who’s trying to schmooze her way back into the inheritance.

At sixteen, she’d run away to become an adventuress or a knight errant or a paladin or whatever romantic damned notion she’d gotten from those books her grandmother left her. Bree was determined that she was going to learn to fight brigands and slay dragons and rescue princesses in towers. Before and for a long while after she left, her cousins used to joke and place bets over whether she would be slain by orcs, eaten by gnolls, or captured by Drow slavers. After years of not hearing from her, the joke became less funny.

“How does she look? Does she seem alright?” he asked his wife after a moment.

“Older, stronger,” Jen admitted, smiling tiredly. “She might be an inch or two taller, as well—or maybe she’s just standing straighter than she used to. I think even without the uniform she’d look like a soldier.”

“What kind of uniform?” Ian asked, frowning up at her.

“Chainmail with a cream-and-burgundy surcoat,” she told him, shrugging. “So, whatever city or guild or company that represents.”

He exhaled, mentally bracing himself. “Alright, tell Bree I’ll see her,” he decided, quietly, reluctantly.

Jen merely nodded, keeping her tired smile. Wishing he knew what to expect, Ian closed his eyes and tried to breathe evenly as his wife left the room.

“Poppa?” inquired the voice he’d never expected to hear again. He opened his eyes and slowly turned his head as his daughter stepped cautiously through the bedroom door.

Though the burgundy surcoat looked more like crimson to Ian, Bree looked much as Jen had described: older, stronger, and wearing infantry armor. The mail hauberk was elbow-length at the sleeves and knee-length at the hem, with a broadsword belted at her waist. She wore a grey travel-cloak, black boots, gloves tucked into her belt, and a dark grey arming shirt and hose under her mail.

He realized his daughter had definitely grown taller during her absence, but was sturdier and broader as well, particularly across her chest and shoulders. Her height and build filled up a doorway as easily as either of her brothers. Bree’s face looked darker and somewhat leathered from whatever adventures or campaigns she’d traveled on, and Ian counted three scars on her face, as well as two on her neck and a notch in her left ear—which made him wonder how many scars he couldn’t see. The dark-chocolate braid that had once reached her waist was short now, not much past her shoulders.

“Daughter,” he finally answered her, gesturing to the nearby stool. She smiled slightly and sat beside his bed. “Your hair is shorter,” he commented.

“It fits under a mail coif or kettle helm better,” she explained, her smile looking more genuine. She looked away as her smile fell. “I’m sorry, Poppa,” Bree admitted, blinking and fighting back a tear. “I’m not sorry for leaving, but I’m sorry for how I left. You were stubborn, and I was angry, immature, and stubborn, and I said things I shouldn’t have.”

“I’m sorry, too,” he agreed, trying not to relive their last fight. “We both said things we shouldn’t have. How… how did you know to come?”

“Laura wrote me,” Bree said, meaning her twin sister. She tucked a knee to her chest and rested her boot heel on the edge of her stool. “She said you’d been injured and were sick from the infection—something about a barn blowing over?”

Ian nodded, coughing. “Farmer Chalice, you remember him? He hired our shop to help shore up that old barn of his for that big windstorm two weeks back. The storm blew the barn on our heads before we’d finished. Killed his boy Abel and a couple horses, broke your brother Ryan’s arm, and bloodied up everyone else. I ended up with two cracked ribs and three rusty nails in my right hip. The apothecary gave me stuff to make me comfortable and keep the fever down, but there’s nothing more he can do for the infection.”

“I’m so sorry, Poppa,” she whispered, shaking her head and blinking back the tears. “I should have written letters to more than just Laura. I should have come back and visited sooner. But I didn’t know if you were still angry, and I knew that everyone else would want me to come back to stay.”

“I didn’t know you and Laura were even still writing each other,” he said, unable to think of anything else to say.

“A dozen or so letters, nothing regular,” she admitted, resting her chin on her knee.

“You know, it wasn’t just our hearts you broke,” Ian chided, unable to control his smirk. “There’s four or five of the local lads and three of the local lasses who all had their eyes on you and were plenty broke-up that you left.”

His daughter chuckled. “Only three lasses?” she asked, her smile returning. “I’m pretty sure I kissed at least twice that many.”

“Three that I know of,” he shrugged his good shoulder. “You look a proper infantrywoman, by the way,” he added, indicating her mail and surcoat. “That means you turned paladin or adventuress on us? Rescue any princesses from towers?”

“Fell a little short of ‘paladin,’ I’m afraid,” Bree admitted, perhaps laughing at herself a bit. “I’m just a corporal in a pike cohort for Lady Theodora’s mercenary company.”

“I think I’ve heard of them,” he mused aloud.

“We do sell-sword work all up and down the coast,” she explained, “but our winter headquarters is near Vestin with three training sites and recruiting stations as far north as Daggerpoint. We specialize in mixed infantry with archer and spell-caster support—between eight- and twelve-hundred standing at any one time. We have some pretty basic siege weaponry, mainly to supplement our clients’ sieges, rather than lay down our own. No regular cavalry, though, just a few squads of scout cavalry.”

“Mostly human, or do you recruit far enough north to get a lot of elves and dwarves as well?” Ian asked, genuinely curious.

Bree chewed at the inside of her cheek as she considered. “I’d say maybe sixty-five to seventy percent are human or part-human,” she estimated. “Many of our archers and wizards and a lot of our lighter infantry and scouts are elves, and a lot of our best pikes and heavy-to-medium infantry are dwarves.” She laughed. “And our best scout-cavalry squadron is made up of a bunch of loony halflings on wolves and riding-dogs.”

“Isn’t your Lady Theodora the one with the bodyguard of Amazon fighters?” Ian asked, trying to remember where he’d heard about this woman.

“Her banner-guard consists of forty elite heavy infantrywomen, if that’s what you’re referring to,” Bree told him, frowning thoughtfully. “And there’re a few dwarves and elves and a couple Tiefling gals in that unit. They get to wear full-plate armor and train to fight with claymores or broadswords and shields, depending on the mission. I tried out twice for a position in the banner-guard, but was never skilled enough to make the cut.”

As strong and competent as his daughter looked in her uniform, Ian could only imagine how powerful the women in the banner-guard must be.

“So you’re not just trained as a pike woman, then?”

Bree shook her head. “No, pikes are great for open-field warfare or for corking or uncorking a bottleneck, but there’s other times when they’re just a pain,” she admitted. “Any kind of cluttered terrain makes them worse than useless, and one can’t exactly climb a scaling ladder or storm an entrenchment with one. When we can’t use pikes, the captains give us kite-shields and make medium infantry of us, since we all carry short swords or broadswords anyway.”

“I assume mercenary work pays well?” Ian inquired next. “As your father, I just want to be sure you’re making a good living,” he added.

“Over three times what our local militia makes,” she laughed, looking smug. “And they hate us for it. We get paid twice-monthly wages plus a share in any spoils taken during campaigns. As a corporal, I get about seven percent more than the regulars. And my wife makes reasonable money by making and mending costumes for the local theatre house.”

“Wait,” he sat up an inch, hissing painfully as his ribs protested. “Sorry,” he muttered, still grimacing. “I just… you startled me. I had no idea you were married.”

“Oh my gods,” Bree murmured, placing a hand over her mouth. “Laura never told you? Yes, a little over ten years ago I married Becca, a half-elven widow with two little daughters. They’re twelve and fifteen now,” she added. “Her husband Orrin was a sergeant in my pike cohort, back before I made corporal. He fell in battle about a week after their second daughter was born. While Lady Theodora keeps a policy of compensating the families of her fallen soldiers, it’s also a tradition for individual cohorts to take up a collection of our own for bereft families of our comrades. I offered to deliver the money to Orrin’s widow, even though I’d never met her and barely knew Orrin.” Bree smiled sadly, as if at bittersweet memories.

“Becca thanked me for the money,” she continued. “And I… I felt for her, you know? A young widow with a toddler and a newborn baby, I just felt so badly for her. So I accepted when she invited me in for tea. We talked for a long while, and I comforted her whenever she wept. And she invited me to please come back for tea again sometime. And I came back to see her during my next leave, and then during my leave after that, and the one after that. And she kept inviting me to come back. After the first few visits, I found I preferred drinking tea with Becca over drinking ale with the other mercenaries. Soon she started loaning me books, which I didn’t have many of at the time.”

“Which is a surefire way to win your affection,” Ian added, trying not to chuckle.

“To be sure,” Bree agreed, laughing. “It was nice,” she admitted. “It was this pleasant, comfortable, almost sisterly friendship that I didn’t really get from drinking with any of the gals in the company. A… friendship like I hadn’t had since leaving Laura behind,” she added, regret forming on her face. “I suppose it was around three-and-a-half or four months seeing each other when I took her to the theatre with me. It was some silly tragedy play—a forbidden-love tale between an elf prince and a half-elf commoner.”

“The kind where half the characters end up dead by the end?” Ian asked.

She seemed to think about it for a moment. “Yeah, I would guess it to be around half,” she confirmed. “I wore my dress uniform, and Becca wore a dark blue dress with a black corset. She’s kind of tiny, even for a half-elf,” Bree added. “She’s not even as tall as my shoulders, and sitting at the theatre that night, we learned that we fit together really well with my arm around her and her head against my shoulder. I kept my arm around her as I walked her home. I… uh, I kissed Becca goodnight for the first time when we got to her house. And… we didn’t want to stop kissing,” she confessed, blushing. “I, ah, woke up in her bed the next morning. I suppose you could say our courtship began in earnest after that.”

That’s my girl, Ian grinned to himself. “How did you end up married?” he needed to know.

“I bought her a house,” Bree smiled nostalgically.

He raised his brows. “Really?”

She nodded. “One night, around a year after we’d first met, I asked Becca how she was getting along financially. She admitted that things weren’t good. Her landlord had raised their rent again, and her seamstress work wasn’t enough to support them without Orrin’s income. She’d gone through all of the money from Lady Theodora and from our cohort. And she’d gone through most of the money she and Orrin had been saving to pay for their daughters’ schooling once they got older—which I know broke her heart to do.”

Ian grimaced sympathetically as she spoke. In a smaller town or village, it was common for a community to work together to help support their disenfranchised. In a big city like Vestin, it was painfully easy for a destitute widow to slip between the cracks. “So you bought her a house?” he shook his head, grinning and proud of his daughter.

Bree laughed. “I did,” she smiled. “I had a lot of unspent pay still in the company treasury, and I volunteered for extra patrols and other duties for the next three weeks to save up even more. When I had close to enough, I withdrew most of it and borrowed a little more to buy a house that I’d seen for sale. It’s not much larger than her old house, but it’s in a better part of the city, not far from the theatre—where Becca later got a job as a seamstress.”

“And you proposed to her after that?”

“She proposed to me,” Bree clarified, laughing. “I told Becca what I’d done and showed her the house. She started weeping and wrapped her arms around me, tucked her head to my chest, and whispered ‘marry me.’ And eight months later when we could afford it again, we did exactly that. A lot of Becca’s family didn’t come—her mother didn’t really approve of her daughter marrying some peasant woman—Orrin was from yeoman stock, you see—and I wasn’t sure where I stood with my family to know if I should invite you. Which I’m still sorry for,” she added. “But the wedding was still nice; we had a few of her family and friends as well as some of my colleagues from the company. Her daughters both got to wear pretty dresses and participate in the ceremony. Though, they were both kind of young to remember.” She laughed again. “That was when they started calling me ‘Soldier Mom,’ come to think of it.”

Ian smiled despite the sudden, slightly uncomfortable realization that he’d had granddaughters this entire time without knowing. For Bree’s sake, he decided not to mention anything. “I hope I get to meet them,” he said instead.

“You will, Poppa,” Bree assured him, smiling with a tear on her cheek. “They’re staying with Laura’s family, but should be here tomorrow. I thought it would be good for them to get to know their aunt and cousins. I came early to make sure… make sure it was alright for us to see you.”

“It’s alright,” he assured her, feeling relieved at the purpose of his daughter’s visit—relieved that he hadn’t had to ask Jen to show their daughter the door. “I look forward to meeting them.”

“I’m glad,” Bree said, looking more relaxed at the sentiment. “I know this was a lot to take in, and I wasn’t sure how you’d handle everything. I just… I thought it best to make sure, you know.”

“You were doing reconnaissance,” Ian offered the analogy. “Makes sense: you’re a career military girl.”

Bree laughed again. “Yeah, good way to look at it.”

“Stay for supper?” he offered. “We can put you up for the night, too. And your family when they get here tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Poppa,” she said, kneeling beside the bed to give him a hug. She kept her arms around his shoulders to avoid his damaged ribs.

“Let your momma know. Your brothers will be back soon, and over supper you can tell us all war stories,” he suggested.

“I will,” she assured him. “Love you, Poppa,” she added as she stood to leave.

Ian smiled as he settled back in to his pillow, feeling a little better about the world in general.

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Armelle, by Elésiane Huve

armelleArmelle, by Aliciane Art (Elésiane Huve)

“If I don’t dress like this [adventuring parties] won’t look twice a me. It’s not just Amazon fighters. Those poor little sorceresses have to show a lot of thigh and tits, too, no matter if they could fry a bloke as soon as look at him.”
—Mavis Green, from 
Promises, Promises, by L-J Baker

Hi, folks! Sorry it’s been a couple weeks since I updated last. Depression/anxiety have been kind of kicking my butt lately, though I’ve managed to stay fairly active on Tumblr. Hoping to get better about promptness, but not making any promises.

I stumbled back across Elésiane’s lovely mage while browsing my folders looking for inspiration for today’s writeup. It reminded me of discussions I’ve seen on Tumblr in regards to the necessity of the archetypal pointed-hat and long-robe mages found throughout fantasy. I mean, if you think about it, based on how magic mechanics work in different story-worlds, there’s typically no reason a mage should have to wear those heavy, floor-dragging robes that snag on things and realistically are as likely to interfere with spell-casting gestures as armor. On the opposite end of that spectrum, we have storytellers who dress their sorceresses in next to nothing, as if arcane- or alchemical experimentation carries no hazards of blowing up in one’s face.

Several people in the discussions argued whether such tropes are even necessary. Why not just have mages wear nice, well-made nobles’ tunics and hose? Or durable riding attire? Or calf-length dresses with walking boots? Or travel tunic and breeches with a hood and mask to cover one’s face? There are plenty of options out there without falling back upon lazy tropes and dude-bro power fantasies. Thus it was difficult for me to not fall in love with Elésiane’s lovely spell-caster.

armelle

I love the Water Tribe coloration in the lovely Armelle’s cloak and robes, bringing to mind a cryomancer or water-mage archetype. Her shoulder pads and collar help give her a distinguished look, while her mantle offers warmth and protection while traveling. Her cloak looks mostly decorative, but should still protect from rain and weather while traveling. Our heroine’s dress seems to be three pieces: a light-blue, long sleeved underdress; a white outer dress, and a blue outer robe. Together the ensemble functions equally effectively for traveling, working in the lab, or studying in the library. Lastly, our mage’s boots are durable leather for wherever her travels take her.

I think what I love best about Armelle’s attire is how it could work in countless situations. Perhaps she is a student or instructor at a prestigious academy for wizards and mages, and the blue robes are indicative of her rank, position, or house. Or maybe she’s a magical advisor to the court of some queen, countess, or noblewoman. Or ’tis possible she’s a noblewoman herself, studying magic in secret to hide her gifts from her arcane-phobic family and subjects. (I love when there’s no shortage of interesting story ideas for these artworks. It’s a sign of smart character design.)

Huge thanks to Elésiane for the use of her lovely mage. Be sure to check out her galleries on Tumblr as well. Thanks so much for reading folks. Take care and stay awesome!

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How all of my SW:TOR characters ended up as ladies

inkyI’m not sure that I’ll have time for a full writeup this weekend, so I decided to offer up a discussion I posted to my Tumblr last week. In most games that allow male or female character creation, I try to keep the ratio of characters I build fairly even (Mass Effect being a key exception: Jennifer Hale’s FemShep is so much cooler than generic space-marine BroShep). While I tried to keep that balance for Star Wars: the Old Republic, I eventually ended up with heroines straight across the board. The second character I rolled was a beefy Zabrak Republic Trooper, and at different points I had a male Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent as well. But eventually I discarded each of these in favor of fem versions. The reason had less to do with plot or aesthetics and everything to do with character relations, specifically with the characters’ female companions.

trooper

My lady Trooper is likely the best example. Though I already had a male trooper, I couldn’t not make a femTrooper after I learned that Jennifer Hale is her voice actress. I deleted a Jedi Sage that I’d recently made in order to free up the character slot, then set about making my buff, scrappy, cyborg Heroine of Havoc Squad. Playing through both the male and female Trooper stories, I preferred my heroine’s interactions with Elara over the big Zabrak dude’s every comment sounding like he’s trying to get into her pants. I guess I didn’t feel like my male Trooper was good enough for the affection Elara kept showing him, and eventually I deleted him. The same fate befell my male Bounty Hunter for much the same reasons regarding Mako.

sniperI find these stories of strong women supporting each other more interesting than turning these well-written heroines into some fluffy, predictable romance for some generic space soldier, white knight, dark lord, space spy, or gunslinger. I haven’t finished my Jedi Shadow’s story, but I like Nadia’s hero-worship of her already. My Sith Warrior leads Jaesa down the path of the Dark Side, even while helping Vette find her long-lost family. My Jedi Sentinel quickly became Kira’s confidante and helps her cope with her trauma at the hands of her former Sith Masters. Mako looks up to my Chiss Bounty Huntress like a big sister and keeps her patched up after a fight, while my Huntress treats Mako as an equal and encourages her crush on Torian. And Kaliyo remains enthusiastic about ‘blasters and girl-talk’ and offers verbal high-fives when my Miraluka Sniper puts a bolt between some Republic soldiers’ eyes. These are smartly written character dynamics that I would love to see more often between women in storytelling in general.

sith_vetteAdmittedly, I’m still sometimes disappointed that romances aren’t available between my awesome heroines and their kickass partners-in-crime. I mean, Kaliyo admits to being bi, and Mako flirts far more confidently with my femHunter than with the male one I rolled for a while. And I really feel like any of the female companions could make terrific girlfriends with their respective heroines. But regardless, I like the existing friendship dynamics and remain content with them as kickass sisters-in-arms. (Plus, it helps my Jedi gals stay to the Jedi Code: I think I’d find Kira or Nadia’s advances much harder to resist than Doc or Therin’s.)

Anyway, that’s just my thoughts on the characters and character dynamics. Feel free to agree or disagree. Regardless, thanks so much for reading, folks! Take care, stay awesome!

knight

(Yes, my Imperial Sniper is blind. She’s also huge and buff. All screen caps taken from gameplay.)

 

 

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Oskara, by Tony Foti

oskara

Oskara, by Tony Foti

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” —Thucydides

Hiya, folks! Sorry this is a little late. I started it during last night’s overrated sports event, but didn’t get the chance to finish until now. I realized I haven’t showcased any of Tony’s art in a while, so I picked four of his characters I’ve wanted to write about and rolled a d4 to decide. It came up 2, which was this stellar battle-armored Twi’lek bounty huntress for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

What I love most about Tony’s Twi’leks is the lack of sexualization. Though I’ve no objections to Oola as character in Return of the Jedi, that she’s an abused slave dancer who ultimately dies for her master’s amusement I feel set an unfortunate precedent for the objectification of Twi’lek characters for the Star Wars fan base. Thus there are few things in the Star Wars universe that please me more than portrayals of Twi’leks as powerful, smartly dressed characters. Oskara the huntress looks to be both.

oskaraThe mighty Oskara’s primary protection is a durasteel battle cuirass for heavy combat against Black Sun enforcers or Imperial shock troops. Her spaulders should keep her shoulders and upper arms safe from Gamorrean vibro-axes or hits from Stormtrooper carbines. Her breastplate features ablative plating for shrugging off small-arms fire without sacrificing rotational-flexibility while laying down heavy ordinance. Her wired gauntlets keep her forearms safe and contain controls for her suit’s settings and/or other weapons. Interestingly, her gloves seem to be fingerless for unhindered gun play while on the hunt.

Rather than a helmet, our heroine wears a targeting device with a left-eye heads-up display for better targeting in a heavy firefight. Durasteel pauldrons protect Oskara’s hips from blaster fire or disabling melee attacks. Her pants are similarly armored for heavy protection to her legs, knees, and lower abdomen. Under the armor, our heroine wears a flexible black bodysuit for unhindered combat movement.

Oskara seems to be ‘loaded for bear,’ to use the old colloquialism. She’s set up to fight high-powered targets who pack battle armor and heavy ordinance of their own. I suspect her massive gun is either a rapid-fire blaster for heavy assault against armored or entrenched opponents or an anti-vehicle gun for battling light walkers or armored landspeeders. In other words, our huntress is after big-payoff, high profile targets, possibly with Imperial or Hutt protection, not some petty bandits or small-time spice-runners. Stellar portrayal and character design, all around.

Huge thanks to Tony for use of his huntress. Feel free to check out his online galleries and Facebook page. Thanks for reading, folks, and have a productive February. Take care and stay awesome!

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Game Armor Analysis: Valkyria Chronicles

title

Valkyria Chronicles, by Sega

So I started playing Valkyria Chronicles again here recently and thought I’d do a writeup on the armor and uniforms the infantrywomen in the game. Valkyria is a period-fantasy Anime with World War II technology and aesthetics. The story is decent, with smart turn-based combat and lovely graphics and artwork. Along with strong, quirky heroines, I like that the male/female ratio of NPC squad members is 50/50 or close to it. Additionally, the squaddies all have their own personality quirks and backstories for players to learn more about as the story continues.

The story centers around Gallia, a tiny, resource-rich nation, caught in a war between two super-powers. When the Eastern Europan Imperial Alliance invades to gain control of these resources, the Gallian people are forced to rally to defend their homelands. Protagonists Lieutenant Welkin Gunther and Sergeant Alicia Melchiott lead Gallia’s Squad 7 against Imperial forces.

The five character classes are shocktroopers, scouts, lancers, snipers, and engineers. I’ll cover the standard women’s uniform for each class. Uniforms are Gallian blue and made of durable material for combat or traveling. Women wear a durable outer shirt with a dark-grey, long-sleeved turtleneck underneath. Their pants are the unusual but not impractical combination of shorts over leggings. All of our ladies wear gloves to protect their hands during gun-play, knee pads for kneeling behind sandbags, and leather boots with padded gaiters to keep their legs safe and dry during trench combat.

wendy

Shocktrooper Wendy Cheslock. Shocktroopers are heavy, frontline infantry deployed for holding fortifications or storming enemy entrenchments. Armed with an assault carbine, Wendy and the other heavy infantry specialize in close-quarters fighting on the battlefield.

As such, shocktroopers are generally under constant fire, needing the heaviest protection in battle in order to close with the enemy and use their carbines to maximum effect. Metal spaulders allow Wendy to lead with her shoulder when charging Imperial infantry, deflecting shots and cushioning blows. Connected to her spaulders are two small plates on her upper chest. Her lower arms and hips bear similar plating, suggesting an armor design that relies upon the combatant keeping her gun held low and one side facing her enemy at all times. Wendy also wears spare ammo clips on her belt and carries rations, grenades, and Ragnaid healing devices in her backpack.

nancy

Scout Nancy Dufor. Scouts are a quick, medium infantry that sacrifices some of the trooper’s protection for mobility in battle. Though not as fast, our scout’s bolt-action rifle features better range and accuracy than the trooper’s carbine. Though not ideal for storming fortifications, Nancy’s mobility allows her to scout enemy lines and flank their entrenchments quite effectively. As a medium unit, scouts can also hold fortifications better than anyone but the shock trooper.

Nancy’s spaulders are noticeably smaller than Wendy’s, but are flatter across the top to allow our heroine to lift her rifle to her shoulder better. Her leg plates, meanwhile, are positioned more toward the front, offering better protection when running or kneeling. Foregoing the weight of a backpack, Nancy carries her ammo, grenades, healing devices and binoculars on her belt, for quick access on the run.

elysse

Lancer Elysse Moore. Lancers are a heavy, anti-tank infantry who carry a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher, styled after medieval lances. Having to face-off against enemy tanks, the lancer of course needs the heaviest armor available. As such, however, lancers are also the slowest infantry units in Squad 7. Though one blast from a lance will drop most infantry units, their lack of accuracy against smaller targets makes them less than ideal for holding or storming fortifications.

Elysse wears a large shield on her left arm to protect from enemy bullets and shrapnel from tank shells. In the manner of Alexandrian pike soldiers, lancers wear their shields on the upper arm instead of lower to keep the shield from interfering with their aim on enemy tanks. Their hip plates are identical to those the shocktroopers wear, and for the same reasons. As their lances are heavy, they’re unable to carry a secondary weapon, relying entirely on their lances, grenades, and Ragnaid in combat.

catherine

Sniper Catherine O’Hara. Snipers are long-ranged infantry used for dropping enemy infantry at impressive distances. Despite being a light unit, they move about the same rate as the shocktrooper, perhaps sacrificing mobility for accuracy in combat. With minimal armor, however, snipers are the most delicate unit in the game and work poorly for capturing or holding fortifications.

Catherine’s only armor appears to be padded gloves and a single leather shoulder pauldron to prop her rifle against. She also carries an ammo baldric and extra pouches for grenades, Ragnaid healing devices, or even binoculars. Her primary weapon is a long-range, bolt-action sniper-rifle featuring a variable-zoom scope for pinpoint accuracy.

dallas

Engineer Dallas Wyatt. Engineers are a light, support/utility infantry. Like in most games, engineers perform a myriad of duties such as replenishing ammo, building fortifications, repairing vehicles, and holding entrenchments. Their mobility makes them invaluable for distributing ammunition to lancers and snipers and for rescuing wounded comrades. While almost as delicate as the snipers, engineers are almost as mobile as a scout and can perform recon and flanking duties competently when need be.

Lacking in armor, engineers work best when partnered with other squadmates (girls preferably, in Dallas’s case) and can be vulnerable when left on their own or in the open. Engineers carry the same rifles as scouts, with similar accuracy and killing power. Additionally, their hip pouches and backpacks carry spare ammo for their squaddies, grenades, entrenching spades, pliers, spanners, Ragnaid, and various other tools to aid Gallia and Squad 7.

If I were to make one recommendation for all of the squaddies in the game, I would insist that they wear helmets. While Wendy wears that knitted beanie, Nancy wears a tam, and Alicia wears her trademark handkerchief, none of Squad 7 wears a helmet or other head protection in combat. I mean, I get the importance of hair design in Anime, but I kind of feel like they could have kept the hair styles for their training- and profile-pictures and given them proper head protection in battle. Beyond that, decent uniforms, all around.

squad_7

Bonus image of Squad 7 standing ready to roll out (image source, click image for larger). On the whole, I enjoy Valkyria and definitely recommend it to anyone who’s into Anime and/or squad-based combat. As always, thanks so much for reading, folks! Take care and stay awesome!

Valkyria Chronicles logo is property of Sega. All screen captures taken from gameplay.

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Ulfen Guard, by Akeiron

ulfguardUlfen Guard, by Akeiron (art direction by Andrew Vallas)

“Their rage and pride is focused on a sharpened point.” —Attila: Total War, in-game lore

Happy 2017, lovely readers! I hope everyone had a stellar holiday season, regardless of what holidays you celebrate. Starting the new year off with this stellar spearwoman design from the always-awesome Akeiron.

So, of the handful of Norse words I know, ulf is their word for ‘wolf,’ which to me says a great deal about our Ulfen guardswoman, in terms of both character and world building. As wolves had sacred significance in Norse culture, it’s possible that the Ulfen Guard are clerics or guards of the temple of Freya. As wolves are pack hunters, it’s possible the Guard are huntresses, patrolling the countryside for brigands or tracking fugitives from justice. As wolves are powerful fighters, perhaps the Guard are bodyguards for the local Earl or elite infantry for the Olaf. As wolves can be nomadic, it’s even possible that the Ulfen Guard are a mercenary company, fighting as sell-spears for the highest bidder. Our heroine’s armor and equipment are perfectly suitable for any of these roles.

ulfguard

If I were to guess, I’d suspect our heroine’s fur cloak came from some variety of arctic wolf, perhaps a trophy taken from a successful hunt. Regardless, the fur pelt should keep her warm though the biting northern winters. Our lovely wolf’s cuirass is a fur-lined or fur-trimmed leather with studded steel disks sewn into the padding. The leather should provide effective deflection against arrows and spears while the studded plates help absorb blows in heavy melee. A leather skirt helps keep her hips and upper legs similarly safe, while loose wool pants allow for quick movement over arctic terrain and solid stances when fighting on the shield wall.

Leather gauntlets keep our guardswoman’s fingers warm and well protected during heavy spear-play. Her hide boots, meanwhile are thick and insulated for long treks through deep snow. Our heroine’s primary weapon is a long spear for goring wild boars or orc brigands, with a short dagger for backup. Her shield protects from axes and arrows and works great for knocking around marauding snow-goblins.

Another huge thanks to Akeiron for the use of his guardswoman for the blog. Please feel free to check out his other online galleries. Thanks for reading, as always, folks! Take care and stay awesome!

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