We made good time through the forest. Excellent, in fact. On the third day, we encountered a group of Barbarian warriors, wielding simple clubs. We made short work of them, without a single casualty. This gave us confidence, you see, because we thought that the Barbarians would all be like that small group. Following Wen Tao's directions, we came to the Barbarians' delineated border in a week.

It was a simple thing. Clearly they'd made it themselves. There were sharpened sticks placed in the ground at certain intervals, and occasionally a ragged, black banner hung from them, emblazoned with a skull. These fluttered ominously in the wind. A raven, too, perched on the closest beam. It was utterly unafraid of us, staying where it perched even as we rode past. As my chariot passed it, it cawed raucously, and I noticed that it had a shining scar on its underbelly, as if it had cut itself on something.

It flew away after we passed. In the distance, there was a severed wolf head on a stick. This reinforced our preconceived impressions of the Barbarians, and at the time, the sign just beyond it disgusted me just as much, for it was written in our letters. I could not identify what the paint (if that was what it was - it was an odd brown color) was made of, and I didn't care to find out. But what disgusted me was to think that these animals - that was exactly what ran through my head, animals - originated from the same ancestors as ourselves. The sign read simply, 'Anasazi'.

Renee and Thierry drew alongside my chariot.

"To a good fight!" said Renee, pulling down his helmet visor and raising his sword arm.

"A good fight!" said Thierry and I, doing the same. Wen Tao winced noticeably.

We crested a hill, and saw the city ahead. My heart sank slightly when I saw the high, formidable stone wall surrounding the entire border of the tiny city of Anasazi. This was not a level of technology we had expected from the Barbarians.

"Nothing to worry about. We storm the gates, use a few battering rams. Seriously, it's not like they've got archers," said Thierry. If only we'd known how much we truly had underestimated the Barbarians.

But no. We all yelled to our troops, 'CHARGE!' and we sped down the face of the hill towards the Anasazi, announcing our presence as loudly as possible. The sounds of our horses galloping drowned out all other sounds.

Suddenly, a black cloud of missiles arced over the wall. We reined in our horses, but not quickly enough. Looking to my left, I saw Jean, a charioteer serving under Renee, looking up in panic one moment, then the next falling off the back of his chariot, peppered with shafts. He looked like a gigantic porcupine.

Thinking quickly, I pushed Wen Tao down and covered us with my shield. There was a clattering noise as the barbarian arrows bounced off the shield. When the noise stopped, I chanced another look.

They were opening the gates. A small group of warriors with clubs, like those we had seen earlier, stepped out and looked towards us.

I looked around at our own people. Miraculously, casualties hadn't been too heavy. Some, like Jean, had died without a sound, but others were completely unharmed.

I looked back, at the arrows sticking up from the ground. They were gathered into many close-knit clusters, rather than spread evenly throughout the battlefield.

"Their tactics are inferior! Quick, before they can shoot again, make for the door while it's open! On even ground, archers stand no chance against us Charioteers!" I yelled. My troop charged the warriors, followed by the other two, as Renee and Thierry echoed my orders.

It was more folly.

As we reached the exact point where we could not turn back, more soldiers stepped out from where they had been hidden behind the Warriors. These ones were armored in bronze, and wielded bronze spears six feet long. As we approached, too fast to turn, they levelled the spears at us, impaling and killing many of our horses. As the charioteers whose mounts had been slain attempted to climb out of their overturned chariots, the spearmen walked casually up to them and beheaded them.

We fought well, but due to our poor foresight, our 'quick cleansing' very nearly ended then and there. I called the retreat after about five minutes, and we fled back into the hills, where we set up camp. The barbarians dragged our fallen comrades into the city as we watched from above.

We were safe enough in the hills. We decided to use the opportunity to plan out what we would do in the rest of our campaign, to prevent such things from occurring again. The first thing that we suggested was that we send Wen Tao back to safety.

"It's only through good luck that he survived this fight," I said. "It's not safe enough for a civilian out here."

He replied with surprising force, considering how nervous he was. "No. I started this. I intend to see it either completed or stopped." He was almost less nervous now than he had been when we had found him in the streets of Orleans. "I'm not going back to the Empire."

I recall wondering what scared him more about the French than the Barbarian hordes that had almost killed him. However, given that he was a civilian, I didn't have the authority to order him back to Orleans, and it seemed we could do nothing to convince him, so we let the matter rest temporarily. Instead, we focussed on ways to get the upper hand over the barbarians.

It was Thierry who suggested a solution. "What if one troop were to lead the spearmen away from the city? To the north, say? If that were done, the rest of the garrison would fall easily to the remaining two troops, and the spearmen, unfortified, could easily be destroyed in the wilderness."

He volunteered to take his troop. I agreed to let him do so, while Renee and I waited in the woods to ambush the undefended city. At sunup Thierry and his troop rode north past the city, winding their war-horns. The barbarians' response time was admirable: it took less than five minutes for the spearmen to pour out of the gates and pursue. We waited about half an hour, then stormed the city (this time I at least insisted that Wen Tao stayed in the woods, where he'd at least be safer than with us). This time we knew to cover ourselves with our shields against the barbarian arrows.

Once they realized that we were protected from their arrows, they had what may have been a tough decision to make, but in the end they made it: they opened the doors and sent out their club-wielders to deal with us. This, as it turned out, was the wrong decision: we routed the warriors, and then streamed through the doors before they could be reclosed.

True, we suffered losses, but we also routed the archers just as easily as we had the warriors. Once we had established control, I went over the resource assessment data that Roberto and Maurice (the captain of the Second Warrior Troop and Roberto's fellow early explorer) had collected regarding the area. There was a herd of wild cattle to the west, but nothing else of value. And if there's anything France has too much of, it's cattle. I ordered the city burned; we'd wait for Thierry outside.

Before we set our torches to the houses, I took a small group of people around the city to search for the French who had been killed during the first disastrous charge. Eventually I found what was left of them: some burnt bones, ashy arms and armor. My first thought was that they had been roasted and eaten. This heightened my resolve; we would kill every last one of the Anasazi. Later I realized that some of the arms and armor in the ash pile were actually bronze rather than French steel; our comrades hadn't been eaten, they'd been given the same funeral rites as the Anasazi gave their own dead. By the time I realised this it was too late; I had already exterminated the Anasazi, except for a few who escaped and headed west. But more about them later.

That night, the flames from the burning city staved off the cold air. Wen Tao had an odd look in his eye as he gazed upon the flames, clutching a pendant that he carried around his neck.

/

More writer's block being staved off back here. I'm currently working on new chapters for four stories, between here and FictionPress. Also a new story or two, both crossovers. (Dead Space/Portal, Stargate SG1/Doctor Who). Anyway, it's nice to get this updated. Unfortunately, I'm going to be correlating this to the events of my file more and more from memory, given that someone has uninstalled Civ4 from my computer. Fortunately, I have written down the major details. (city names, etc.)

Madhighlander Away!