Planning to destroy a town and actually destroying a town were two different things. Planning made everything simple. It laid out every aspect of an angle. The pros and cons of various approaches were easy to see. Strategy was the only thing that mattered in the planning. However, execution held another set of challenges. The weather, emotions, morale along with a host of other things played a part in the success. If only one factor was off, even a little, a carefully laid plan could come apart at the scenes. Cetus had to admit that his plan wasn't well laid out. In fact, it was more of an idea really. Not much could be expected with what he'd laid out. This, however, was nowhere near what he'd expected.
The citizens of Cedar were coming out to defend their homes. Mages stood shoulder to shoulder with non-mages. Expressions of determination stood out on every face. The pitiful remnants of the Rune Knights coordinated the defenses. It was a challenge Cetus had never faced before. A challenge that made his blood roil. He thought back over his approach, wondering where it had started. Where was the mistake in his attack that pulled together this kind of response?
In the beginning, Cetus had systematically destroyed three blocks. This was after his destruction of the Rune Knights. Supposed destruction actually, given the information he'd found out later. His hellfire spell allowed the leveling of the buildings. His pistols and the White Dragon Emperor's Division allowed the assassin to pick off anyone that escaped the destruction. He'd run out of ammo somewhere in the middle of the second block. That allowed two people to escape the third. So it was either their escape or the noticeable swath of destruction behind him which had alerted the townspeople. Note to self: bring extra ammo or weapons when destroying an entire town. Wiping out the entire town in a single attack is also an acceptable alternative.
Now, the assassin faced a wall of determined townspeople. Those in front held makeshift shields. They seemed to be an assortment of doors, tables, anything that functioned as a large shield. It would only stop him for a few seconds. A few seconds could change the course of a battle though. Cetus glanced to either side. Groups of townspeople had gathered there as well. The Rune Knights leading them weren't stupid. No one stood in the ashy plain behind him. A wide open space gave him the advantage. There had been a long pause. A minute of held breaths as each side waited for the other to move. Cetus' flaming spheres floated lazily. They were the only thing that moved.
The silence was broken by a rip in space. A white tear opened up behind Cetus. "The Court grants you a boon, mortal. We are pleased with the sacrifice you've presented to us. Continue your good work!" The voice grated on Cetus' ears. It was suffused with power. A clawed hand emerged from the rift holding a book. Cetus gingerly took it. With a snap, the rift closed. The White Court was always watching, always listening. The assassin looked down at the book within his hands. It pulsed with power. A quick look told him everything he needed to know.
The book was massive, nearly a foot in thickness. The corners of the cover were capped in steel. A round gold ingot gleamed from the center of each triangle. Yet that wasn't what drew the eye. It was the face set within the center of the cover. It had a stern expression set to it. Looking into the eyes gave Cetus a feeling of sluggishness. Spreading out from it in every direction were snakes. They cupped the head, nestled it and spread out towards the edges of the cover. Some even spilled over the edges. A venomous feeling exuded from the entire book. Whatever it was, the White Court's boons were not to be thrown aside. Cetus placed his hand upon the book. His mana intertwined with the book's power. Several seconds told him everything he needed to know.
The book rose to float at Cetus' side. He grinned viciously behind the mask. The villagers had been stunned by the rift's appearance. Their fear was starting to overcome their discipline. The Rune Knights couldn't hold them together much longer. Against a mob, Cetus knew he'd come out on top. The book gave him an edge over the current situation as well. It tipped the balance of power in his favor. Should he attack or merely wait for the inevitable charge? Settling into a stance, Cetus decided to wait was in his favor. The villagers weren't trained fighters/mages. With his flaming spheres, there was little chance they'd even make it to him. Truth be told, he could move 10 meters in any direction to set fire to the nearest buildings. That would certainly jumpstart them into action.
There was the option of using the power of the White Court as well. The improvement to speed would provide easy access to the villagers in seconds. It wouldn't solve all his problems but at least one side of defenders would be wiped out. The idea juggled about his head. Ultimately it dismissed. With the number of opponents, wasting mana to quickly take care of a group was frivolous. It wouldn't lend itself to his mission whatsoever. Merely cause a depletion of resources that might be required later. This waiting wasn't a good thing either though. With every second wasted here, civilians had a chance to escape. Cetus needed to eliminate them all. His secondary identity couldn't be compromised in any way.
The villagers broke first. Cetus never figured out what caused it. They simply started running at him all at once. Or rather, two or three started running at him first before all the others followed. Cetus heard the Rune Knights yelling desperately behind the charge. They knew exactly what their opponent was capable of. They had to have an inkling at least. The assassin began to laugh slowly. One hundred twenty meters apart. One hundred meters apart. Eighty meters apart. The flaming spheres began to spin faster and faster around Cetus. They became a whirling green ring surrounding him. Sixty meters apart. He could see the fear etched into their faces. Almost every villager was within range now. He couldn't hit them all but he could incinerate the front lines at least. Fifty meters. This was it.
The spheres slammed into the front line of the villagers. Their smoking corpses were slammed into by those behind them. A few of those people were also turned to ash. Cetus stopped his low chuckling. Time to get to work. The villagers floundered, the charge stopped entirely. The assassin reached for his new book. It floated before him, opening up. Cetus cursed silently. This book was more powerful than he realized. Had he been paying attention, he would have realized the houses and villagers were well within his spell range. Shoving the thought aside, the assassin activated another spell.
Burning similar to the White Court's power spread rapidly from the book. His body transformed. Scales grew in patches, most notably upon his back. His eyes burned. His tongue flicked out of his mouth, now forked like that of a snake. His teeth lengthened becoming the fangs of a serpent. There was an itch on his back. Cetus couldn't make out quite what was happening there. Not until a golden feathery appendage swung into view. The assassin laughed mirthlessly. He'd be the angel of death for Cedar. No one would forget the destruction wrought this day by the feathery being.
A flap of his new wings sent Cetus upward. His view of the battlefield improved immensely. The villagers gasped in fright. A few dropped their weapons. They attempted to flee. They could not get away. He would not allow it. Cetus felt something build up within his mouth. Globs of sizzling liquid fired from his lips. The villagers struck by it screamed. The liquid ate through them rapidly. It took seconds for most to die. Only one remained. That one had managed to dodge. Cetus used a fireball to incinerate him.
The Rune Knights stopped their cowering between buildings. Their armor gleamed in the light of the smoldering fires. They gestured to the villagers. Cetus couldn't discern the purpose of the gesture. Perhaps we'll take care of it? The fools. Using the new power of his book, Cetus directed the flaming spheres to rotate at their maximum perimeter and slowly squeeze in toward their caster. Four hundred and fifty meters away, the spheres hungrily ate away at anything in their way. It would take at least a minute for the spheres to reach Cetus again. Two minutes if he wanted to ensure everything burned. It wouldn't take him that long to deal with these infidels.
Villagers to the right seemed to have calmed down the most. They were beginning an orderly retreat back toward the houses. "Were da ya thinked yer goin'?" Cetus called dropping into their midst. They put up a fight. The shark-man had to give them that at least. If they hadn't been up against a trained killer, they might have even managed to win. Cetus didn't show mercy though. He cut through them ruthlessly. Each motion critically injured or killed another villager. The best part was the new wings upon his back didn't hinder him. It felt as if they had been a part of his body his entire life. The corrosive acid also helped. It was spat in the faces of a few villagers. They always fell back clawing to get it off.
The encounter left Cetus drenched in blood. It also allowed the other two groups to gather in ragged formation for a retreat. He wouldn't get both of them. Not before they reached the houses. Of course, his other spell would make short work of whichever group he didn't kill. The Rune Knights were another problem. One he couldn't figure out. Were these officers cowards? Or was there another mission they were accomplishing by standing back? Cetus resolved to ask one of them after he'd slaughtered everybody else.
Pushing off the ground, Cetus shot toward the far group. His wings flapped in an effort to increase his speed. A glance at his hands reminded the assassin of another spell in play. The blood was going to his head. He'd done his best to ignore it. The beast in his genes wasn't so easily dissuaded though. It smelt the blood. It craved the blood, the hunt, the power. The influence it possessed over him pushed rational thoughts out of his mind. The more blood he spilled, the greater its hold would be. Eventually, Cetus was sure it would take over. The systematic elimination would become a hunt about blood. He would have to watch himself carefully.
This attack was faster, sloppier than the first. Cetus' first attack put his fist through the villager's chest. His forward momentum bowled over every villager until the assassin stood on the other side of the group. Cetus didn't let his surprise register. His foot lashed out to end another life. His clawed fingers blurred, opening up arteries. Four dead. Roughly twenty to go. Cetus launched himself into the air to avoid clumsy attacks. As he moved to finish the group, something slammed into his back. His muscles screamed as he struggled to right himself. The Rune Knights had entered the fight.
Cetus scowled at the man who'd thrown the magic ball. The Knight paled, another blast prepared in his hand. The assassin gave him a faceful of corrosive acid. Unlike the villagers, the Knight didn't die instantly or quickly. He began blasting the area around him, driven mad by pain. The Knights would be distracted for the time being. The assassin grabbed the opportunity. The villagers were not to get away.
The tactic was the same as with the first group. Cetus dropped in among them. He used their inexperience and crowding each other to his advantage. Unlike the first group, there were cowards in this one. Every time a villager turned to run, the assassin doused him with poison. Those around him learned quickly not to turn their backs. The fight was still over quickly. The last villager died, his head yanked off. Cetus dropped his gory prize. Red flickered at the edges of his vision. A great hunger for flesh, for blood, rose within. The shark-man struggled with his nature. The struggle became invasive to the point, Cetus stopped moving forward. He stood still upon the battlefield. That was a mistake.
The Rune Knights standing before him weren't inexperienced fighters. They didn't man bank tills, or mill fields or teach children. They were warriors. While not all had seen combat, they were trained. Moreso they were cowards. With the chance to ambush their opponent clearly presented, they rushed forward. Their first attack took a chunk from Cetus' shoulder. The second sliced open a wound on his side.
Cetus came out of his reverie with a roar. A glance told him everything. Three Knights stood before him. They were backed by four or more mages. All were heavily armored in glistening plate mail. Those before him held a combination of weapons: quarterstaff, sickle, longsword, left to right. No mid-range fighters then. The next sword stroke was blocked with his arm. Cetus snapped the fingers of his free hand. "Divide!" He growled. The magical pressure pushed against the Knights. Each shrank under the White Dragon Emperor's power. The assassin punched his fingers through their weakened armor. One, two, three, each strike to a major artery on each opponent. "You let innocents die in your place." He growled yanking bloodied fingers from their corpses. "Cowards"
The assassin decided to test something on the remaining Knights. His lips pursed. Four doses of acidic poison shot into the air. Time to see if armor would stop it. The Knights cowered, having seen what the poison had done to others. Initially, it seemed as if the poison wouldn't penetrate the armor. Cetus took a step forward. He'd have to close the distance. Then the knights began to scream. The poison had eaten through the metal, proceeding right to the flesh. The assassin turned his back on them. There were more important matters to attend to.
Cetus raised his hand and closed his fist. The flaming spheres smashed their way through barriers to reach him. There were a couple of screams as a result. Once they gathered, Cetus directed them into the area containing the last of the defiant villagers. The fireballs swarmed the area. For a short time, his victims screamed. Short flashes of defensive magic popped up. Too late, Cetus remembered there were Rune Knights there as well. A deep growl reverberated through his chest. The hunter wanted loose. He shook the impulse off. Now wasn't the time. Taking to the air, the acid poison was soon added to the assault on the villagers. Neither the Rune Knights nor the villagers were left standing. Mission accomplished.
The flaming spheres were sent back to raze the area. The last defiant defenders was a tiny patrol of cowardly Rune Knights. A few would die easy. A few would die slow deaths. Slower anyways. Cetus didn't have the time for lengthy torture. He flew over to the location of the last patrol. The area was empty. Those cowards had abandoned their fellow Knights and the villagers. Anger stirred within his gut. Normally he would have pushed it aside. For the moment, he would allow it to burn and fuel his hunt.
The death that came to those Knights wasn't easy. Cetus broke their limbs, pinned them to the sides of buildings high in the air. When he finally ended them, the assassin impaled them on burnt timbers. A devious message/sign came to mind. However, it required a clear area to be seen. The assassin razed the rest of Cedar. Man, woman, child, none were spared from his cleansing of the land. He never prolonged the suffering but he spared none. The buildings were obliterated, destroyed down to the foundations. A few of the people of Cedar escaped. Of that Cetus was sure. That annoying defense force had bought enough time. Luckily, the number was under one hundred. Just over it at best. The defense force nor the Rune Knights had bothered to warn the rest of Cedar.
The bodies of the cowardly Rune Knights were gathered at the center of the blackened land. Each was stripped naked before impaled upon a stake. Cetus placed them all in a circle. Then he wrote in large letters around the edges. 'HERE ARE THE COWARDLY RUNE KNIGHTS. THEY SACRIFICED VILLAGERS FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY. THIS IS THE TRUE FACE OF WHO PROTECTS YOU.' Satisfied with his work, Cetus took to the air. The world would see his work. They would make the assumption it was that new dark mages guild. Errings Rising. His identity was safe. Even if the survivors had seen anything, nothing he'd done would lead anyone back to Caimilier. Mission success.