Well, that had certainly opened up the floodgates. Luna seemed to almost visibly crumble when her obvious insecurities regarding the job were openly remarked upon. The fairy sat down and spilled out her thoughts over everything. Well, really she was spilling out nearly her entire life story. She hated death and violence because it was against her very nature and her culture. She went on from there to say how she never even wanted to be a wizard or a warrior or a guild leader at all, just wanting a small life with simple, honest goals.
The rant seemed to be a long time in coming, so Serilda didn’t interrupt the pink haired woman even a single time, just gave her full and undivided attention to respect the struggles Luna was dealing with. Even when the recently made fairy went so far as to insult nobility and the army, Serilda didn’t say anything or even get an offended look on her face. If anything, the Voidwalker was too focused on the details of the harsh reality that had been Luna’s life. The Magic Council seemed to have put quite a few burdens on her that she’d never wanted, which was more than a little concerning.
When Luna apologized again and seemed to be losing steam, Serilda knelt down next to her chair and gently took one of her hands. “You don’t need to apologize,” she told her earnestly. “I know better than most how cruel and selfish people with titles and money can be. It’s a well earned stigma that I’ve had to work really hard to avoid having put on me, and even despite my best intentions I know I haven’t been perfect. It sounds like you’ve had some real injustices thrown on you, and when all this is done I will gladly see if there is anything I can do to help you get off this career track and toward the kind of life you want.”
She meant it. Serilda did not enjoy watching people suffer, and it was not okay for Luna to have been forced into a responsibility she didn’t want and wasn’t prepared for. It wasn’t fair to her, or to the people that needed to rely on her. But for now, she needed to focus on the issue at hand. There were innocent lives on the line and if Serilda didn’t start getting the knights positioned soon they were going to be at a severe disadvantage to controlling the situation. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think it’s best if you do not involve yourself in the fighting. There is more you can do here that is just as vital to what we need to accomplish that doesn’t involve compromising your principles. There are going to be a lot of injuries, and the knights that are versed in healing could use all the help they can get. Why don’t you work with them, and I’ll focus on the rest.”
Serilda was more than experience with this kind of gruesome responsibility. She had grown up with the understanding that protecting her people often required making unideal choices, including whether or not to let another person live if their existence was a danger to others around them. She didn’t like killing -- at all. But she had done it before, would do it again, and it wouldn’t drag on her as mercilessly as it would this poor woman that wanted nothing to do with this entire situation. But Serilda also understood the desire to not return to her guild empty handed or feeling like a failure. So, she thought it best to assign Luna to using what her magic was meant for: healing people and saving lives.
Once things were settled and decided, she let Luna go get prepared for that task and called the knights back into the tent. “We have a change in plans, but only slightly,” Serilda told them once everyone was gathered. “I still think Master Mira’s suggestion is the best course of action, we just need different people to carry it out. I’m thinking a two pronged strike hitting each camp separately. Have the scouts returned?”
Quaid shook his head. “Not yet, but they should be back any minute. I have a squad that is experienced with the kind of work you need done. Once we know where the bandit camps are, they should be able to handle it discreetly.”
“Excellent. Have them prepare themselves.”
The captain nodded to one of the sergeants in the tent and they left to go see to it that the request was completed. Serilda leaned back over the map. “Ideally, we need to delay our direct involvement in the fighting as long as possible. Let these guys kill and wear themselves out so they put up less of a fight against us. But our priority is the villages. I don’t want to draw attention to ourselves prematurely, but I think it would be wise to station a group of knights closer to the villages just in case the battle starts to move that direction, then they can head it off before it reaches the civilians. Just make sure they can’t be seen, even by the villagers. I would hate to start a panic, or to tip off any bandit members that may have wandered outside their camps.”
As they stood and worked out a game plan together, the scouts eventually returned. They were able to pinpoint on the map where both of the bandit camps were. They had even managed to get their hands on a bit of equipment from each camp, which would come in handy for staging the planned set up. As they refreshed themselves with some water, Serilda and Quaid worked out the best place to drive the bandits that would keep them at a distance from the villages without compromising a Rune Knight advantage. When everything was ready and they were as prepared as they could possibly be, the troops were given their assignments and everyone was dismissed to their positions.
Vartack was ready for this battle to begin. His men had been itching to wipe out those Pyjack scum for months, and truth be told this war was a long time coming. Even before the recent events, the Buzzards had been sworn enemies of the Pyjacks since his grandfather’s time. Granted, the membership for both bandit gangs was much smaller back then as they were newly formed groups. Over the decades, they had both grown to formidable sizes. Since neither side really wanted to risk an all out battle, the cold war between them had gone on for some time, each gang progressively doing more and more things to provoke the other until everything had finally become too much to bear.
His son, Kartem, his pride and joy that was supposed to take over the reigns of the Buzzards after Vartack was ready to sit back and enjoy a life of luxury, had been killed. They had found his body displayed outside their camp in brazen fashion like a grotesque scarecrow. If it hadn’t been for his chief warriors, Vartack may have stormed the Pyjack base by himself in a fit of fury to tear them apart. But even he was not strong enough to take on an army equal in size to that of his own, and his men had managed to talk him down and steer him into a more efficient option: war. Every Buzzard was furious about their leader’s son, and vowed revenge on his behalf. They had been spending weeks preparing supplies and strategies in order to humiliate their enemies by wiping them off the face of the map entirely.
Unfortunately, the Pyjacks were also preparing for battle. The element of surprise was no longer with them, and the pressure was on to be fully prepared. Any day his enemies could beat him to the punch and get the jump on the fight, but he was determined to start it first. This was why he was floored and angered when one of his men came stumbling into the camp.
“Sir, we have a problem.”
He looked up from sharpening his sword. “Spit it out.”
The bandit pointed outside the leader’s tent. “Several of the men are getting sick, all of a sudden. Like real sick. Throwing up, can’t control their bowels… We noticed that some of our equipment is either missing or broken, too.”
Vartack gripped his sword so hard it was a wonder it didn’t leave grooves along the metal handle. “They’re sabotaging us,” he said. Storming to his feet, the Buzzard leader told the man, “Get everyone ready, anyone who can fight. The Pyjacks are trying to whittle us down to attack us while we’re vulnerable, but we’re going to meet them head on.”
The man sprinted back outside and Vartack could hear him yelling the call to arms. The sound of men and women springing into motion filled the camp, but the bandit leader was too busy putting on his armor to notice. He sheathed his sword and tied it to the belt around his waist. Reaching for his helm, he stopped as his fingers brushed over the final piece. His gaze had fallen upon the helmet that had belonged to his son, a gift he had given the lad only earlier that year to christen him as his official heir. He selected this helm instead, putting it on his head. Today, his son would be avenged. It was only right at least a part of him make it to the battle.
Reggie was livid.
“Get these vermin under control!” he screamed. All around him, his camp was in chaos. A herd of large animals were stampeding through with no regard to who or what was in their way. The beasts were frantic like they were being chased by some large predator. They trampled everything in sight, breaking bones of people that weren’t able to get out of the way quickly enough and trashing through supplies.
This was the last think he needed. Any day now they were supposed to be going to war with the stupid Buzzard tribe, and in a matter of minutes all the preparation he’d been doing the last few weeks had been greatly hindered. He growled his frustration, turning to kick a nearby bucket in rage. What was he supposed to do now? If Vartack caught wind of this, the Buzzards would surely go on the march immediately to take advantage of the opportunity to catch them off guard. “Clean this shit up! Figure out what we lost!”
He stormed back to his tent. This was going to set them back by at least a few days, and Reggie wasn’t sure they could afford that time. His spies had told him that the Buzzards were going to be ready to move any day now. He needed to act fact if they were going to be able to meet their rivals on equal ground. Perhaps it was time for them to go raid one of the villages, again. It had been a long time since they’d had a raid, but if they targeted a weaker town it wouldn’t take too much effort.
Reggie was starting to formulate a mental plan when one of his men came in the tent. “What now?” he snapped.
“Sir, we found this just outside the camp, in the direction the stampede came from.” The man offered the Pyjack leader a small bit of cloth that had been torn from some clothes. At first, Reggie couldn’t figure out why in the world this bandit would be wasting his time with so insignificant a thing, but then he took a closer look at it.
“This is Buzzard colors,” he observed out loud, snatching the scrap and giving it a closer look. The soldier waited patiently to see what Reggie wanted to go. This was potential evidence that their enemies had caused the stampede. Or at the very least that one of their men had been near enough to witness this disaster and was heading back to their camp now to pass the news along. He was officially out of time. Vartack was probably still pissed about the death of his son, though that had only been retribution for the loss of several of Reggie’s men in a bar brawl months back. Either way, the time for war was now.
He motioned for the man to leave. “Get everyone ready. If they’re not on their way already, they will be soon. Gather what we can and prepare for battle.”
Serilda only had to wait an hour or so for the sabotage parties to return with their news. One of the rune knights that was a mage with an affinity for communicating with animals had convinced a massive herd of antelope like creatures to storm through one of the camps, injuring a number of bandits and thrashing their supplies. He had also placed some incriminating evidence nearby that wrongfully tied the deed to the Buzzards. Likewise, members of the other team had put some mild poisons in some of the food and rations, and used some of their magic to destroy an alarming number of their weapons, making it seem as though the Pyjacks had set up a secret preliminary attack to lead into the full blown war.
Both teams stayed long enough to confirm that the bandit camps were preparing for battle before rushing back to where Serilda was waiting with the knights that had yet to be dispatched to alterior waiting locations. With any luck, the timing would work out where the two armies would meet at a neutral ground in the middle of the cliffs, far enough away from the villages to not pose any kind of problem.
A couple more hours passed and the scouts returned within a few minutes of each other to report that both armies had been seen approaching. Not long after that, the war exploded. It was a horrific scene that Serilda took no pleasure in watching. Senseless battle was hardly worth watching, but the awful truth was that her strategy was condemning hundreds of criminal lives to end today in order to protect and preserve thousands of innocent ones, including the men and women standing beside her. She owed it to those who would die today to at least witness the event and acknowledge their suffering as they went.
The battle went on for at least an hour. The air was rippling with magical energy from a few of the bandit members that happened to wield it, but thankfully neither rival had a heavy population of mages. After all, they were bandit groups not dark guilds. Most of the fighting was done by sword and fist, observed quietly from afar by the rune knights in their various positions. The knight leaders kept in contact with Serilda through enchanted pendants that allowed them to speak as though they were standing right next to one another, even though they were hundreds of meters apart. Together, they were able to monitor the progress of the battle to ensure that it never got too close to the villages.
When it started getting a little too close to the edges of the Serene Cliffs for her liking, Serilda made the call. At this point, both armies were down by at least half their men. Their leaders had yet to find one another, but they were quickly heading in the right direction and soon would clash. She had hoped that they would kill each other off a little bit more -- even with both bandit groups at half capacity, they still outnumbered the knights as a whole. But, Serilda was afraid that if they waited any longer they would start to put the villages at active risk, and she was not willing to gamble with their safety. Once she got confirmation that everyone was in formation and ready to move out, she gave the signal and the knights joined the fray…
Vartack was seeing red. The battle had gone on what felt like forever, and both sides had suffered heavy losses, refusing to give up. He was exhausted, but as much as he wanted all of this to finally be over he wanted to find Reggie so he could get proper revenge for the murder of his son. It had been infuriatingly difficult to try and locate the man in the middle of the chaos, but Vartack was determined to stay alive and to find him.
By the time the two men ran into one another, the battle had nearly spilled out of the cliffs and into the villages just outside. Not that either of them cared about this, of course. The instant their eyes locked both of them got tunnel vision and squared off with one another. Vartack was wielding a massive broadsword that he handled with both his hands. Reggie instead fought with two smaller warhammers, one in each hand. The two threw themselves at one another violently, neither of them looking to draw out the exchange any longer than was necessary. Their need for the other’s death was far too great to have room for taking any kind of slow satisfaction out of the ordeal.
Furthermore, the more they fought the quicker they realized just how much on even ground they were with one another. They went blow for blow, so locked on their opponents that they hadn’t even noticed a fresh wave of bodies join the battle. From seemingly all sides, the bandits were being swamped by rune knights stepping in and making themselves known. Even though they were outnumbered, the bandits had been fighting for an extremely long time and were on the last reserves of their energy. Meanwhile, the knights were fresh and prepared for the battle.
By the time the majority of the bandits even realized that the law enforcers had arrived, their numbers had once again been significantly reduced. They certainly continued to put up a fight, but it would be a lie to say that the knights did anything but essentially step in and slaughter the criminals. As many as they could they subdued to apprehend and bring back to Era later, but the rest they were simply killing. There was no way that they were going to be able to escort some thousand odd vagabonds back to the jails. They didn’t have enough men, and there simply wasn’t enough space in their prisons. That said, they did try to spare lives when possible, but the bandits fought very hard to keep that from happening, most of them preferring to die than be taken alive by the law.
The only two that Serilda had been instructed by the Magic Council to bring in alive at all reasonable cost was the two leaders. Since she didn’t know what they looked like, she and the knights had to resort to quick interrogations in the middle of battle as they took down some of the men. Eventually, she and Quaid were pointed toward the direction where Vartack and Reggie were duking it out. “I’ll handle the two of them,” she told the captain. “You take over with your men and see to it the rest of this war is put down.
The noblewoman approached the dueling pair and they failed to notice her. She decided to make her presence known through the means which were more likely to get their attention. Using her Voidwalking magic, she waited until they both aimed to strike at one another again and then snatched hold of their weapons, practically freezing them in place. The two jerked back as they found themselves unable to move forward without letting go of the items, and took a precious moment to stop and blink at one another in confusion.
They turned to look at her when she spoke up. “Now that I have your attention, I suggest you surrender peacefully. Those of your men that weren’t already killed by this useless slaughter are currently being finished off or arrested by the present Rune Knights. This battle is over.”
Both men scoffed at her, even as she released her hold on their weapons so they could move freely, but they did take a second to look around and confirm that she was telling the truth about the rune knight involvement. It was Vartack that spoke up first. “Stay out of this, you stuck up bitch. If the knights want to die too that’s fine by me, but this is Buzzard business. Personal business. This man,” he pointed at Reggie, “and his farce of a gang killed my boy, and I aim to get retribution.
The Pyjack leader snarled back at him. “Your boy was the revenge you ignorant jackass. Fifteen of my men were killed in broad daylight by your self righteous pack of wanna be thugs. And they weren’t the first casualties! Too long you have been murdering my people without provocation! Your son was a lesson!”
“Oh, don’t even think about trying to give me a history lesson. We all know that the Pyjacks started all this in the time of our grandfathers, with the first offense of--”
“Alright, that’s quite enough of that.” Serilda cut the argument off, no longer willing to entertain it. “I’m very sorry for both of your losses, but you had plenty of time to handle this in a less idiodic and senseless fashion. You’re both under arrest. Put down your weapons and submit yourselves to the justice of the rune knights.”
“We said stay the hell out of this, lady!” Reggie threw one of his heavy hammers straight for her head. If Serilda had not been anticipating one of them to attack, it may have hit. As it was, she raised her hand in the air and used her Voidwalking abilities to pull the weapon off its projected course, causing it to twist around and slam into its owner’s abdomen. As he doubled over in pain, Serilda calmly repositioned herself.
Vartack laughed at his enemy’s misfortune and took it upon himself to try and take the opportunity to gain leverage from it. Raising his broadsword high above his head, he swung it down, aiming to sever his enemy’s skull from his shoulders. Instead, he found his point blank aim tugged out of balance by invisible forces. Caught surprised, Reggie had enough time to raise up his other hammer and hit the bottom of Vartack’s jaw.
At this point, both men were starting to get more frustrated, realizing that if they wanted to settle their score properly they were going to have to deal with the steely woman confronting them. They shared a look that Serilda recognized well, the look of two people silently agreeing to put their differences aside for a temporary truce to deal with a mutual annoyance. As one, they turned toward her. “It’s gonna take a lot more than a few telekinetic tricks to take us down, you uppity slut.”
Having received much more colorful insults before, Serilda barely even heard the man’s words. “Well, how lucky for me that my magic is much more than telekinesis.” With the wave of her hand, both men suddenly found themselves gasping for air that their lungs refused to take in. They stubbornly fought past it for a few seconds, coming at her in a unified front to try and take her down before her suffocation spell could render them too weak to fight, but their attempts were fruitless. Both their weapons went right through Serilda’s body like it wasn’t even there,
The heiress simply stood there while they quickly tired themselves out and fell to the ground, desperate for oxygen. Drawing Moonlight, she snapped both of them hard on the temples with the pommel of her sword and knocked them out.
By the time everything was said and done, the knights had suffered a number of losses but nothing anywhere close to what they otherwise may have. Serilda sighed and looked around at the thousands of corpses around her, resisting the urge to spit out the bile that was threatening to claw its way to the top of her throat. While she’d been exposed to fighting and death en masse, she never had anywhere near this extent. It was going to take some time to clean this mess up and make sense of everything, but she knew she would rest assured that the villages had been spared and countless criminals would never threaten their homes or lives again...