- Recently, a little girl showed up at a local Rune Knight garrison, covered in dirt and dried blood. Her clothes were tattered and torn, and she looked like she had been running for days with little to no rest or food. She barely had the energy to tell her story, let alone cry, as she explained through her fatigue about her small village being attacked only a few days before by a group of hostile bandits. They had quickly over powered her people and started taking them prisoner, and the girl had only managed to escape because her mother told her to run and provided a distraction so the bandits wouldn't notice. You are being sent to investigate the raid.
What the girl didn't know, because she had already left, is that this small tribe of bandits was a wandering group of cannibals that liked to pick off remote villages with minimal defenses. Usually by the time anyone finds out about their raids, they are already long gone. That being said, the bandits usually take anywhere up to a week or more to slowly enjoy their idea of food, rather than binge eating in one go, often keeping their captive alive until just before it was their turn to be eaten so that the meal can be as fresh as possible. Additionally, their leader is as charismatic as they are dangerous, and is known to occasionally try to convert others to the life of a cannibal if an opportunity presents itself.
Katsumi pulled her goggles down as she worked on her invention. The last time she'd tried this, her work had been interrupted by a messenger. At a critical moment too! Her Luck stat had only barely managed to ensure there were no serious injuries. She pulled out a small metallic orb and set it next to the glasses on her workbench. The last time Katsumi had tried it with a headband. It had bothered her, wondering if that might have factored into the explosive results. Though, she supposed, that result could be used by the Rune Knights to quell rioters. All it would take is a simple recalculation and nudging the results. Sleep gas or paralyzing agent instead of fiery death. She filed that away for possibilities. Time to-
"Private Akahoshi!" A voice called out. Katsumi sighed, swiping up the metallic orb. It seems something else needed the Engineering Corps attention. It took every point in her Charisma to paste the smile onto her face. Then she turned to face the messenger. "What can I do for you?" The messenger saluted which Katsumi snapped back. She found it odd however. Her rank as Private was the lowest in RK. More likely than not, this messenger outranked her. "Urgent job assignment, Private. A group of bandits has attacked a small town in the mountains and is kidnapping the inhabitants. We're pulling together a small squad to take care of it. You'll fill in as the representative from the Engineering Corps."
Katsumi started moving before he finished. Her workshop leathers were thrown onto a hook. The jacket of her uniform slipped on, followed by the belt holding her weapons. She threw her hair up into a messy ponytail. In hindsight, it should have already been up in the workshop. Katsumi waved to the messenger. "Lead the way, fill me in on the way." The messenger nodded, turning on his heel. Katsumi followed as closely on his heels as she could. "There aren't many Rune Knights in residence here. Staff Sergeant Holdings and Ensign Hampton are out on assignment with their squads. Corporal Nour Jenkins, Privates Rose Glover, Fay Tyson and Brodie Waters will join you on assignment." Katsumi frowned at the messenger's back. They didn't even have enough to field a full squad, even a small one?
The messenger stopped by a huge bird. White feathers, tipped with radiant blue, covered the exterior. Each feather, if stood next to Katsumi, would have brushed her chin. A sharp beak and swiveling eyes adorned the head. A crest of near black fully blue feathers lay near the neck. As Katsumi approached, the crest came up. The bird started hissing at the new arrivals. The messenger smiled weakly at Katsumi before beating a hasty retreat. A slim girl in a Rune Knight uniform hurried from behind the bird. "Matisse! Stop that!" The hissing cut off as the bird nuzzled the girl. She humphed as she pushed at the beak. "I'm sorry, she's not usually like that. I'm Private Rose, Bird mage! Its a pleasure to meet you!" Katsumi nodded, approaching slowly. Before she got close enough to offer her hand to Rose, a booming voice shot through the area.
"You're all here! Good! Mount up! No time to waste!" A thick man, whose uniform was ill fitting, strode past Katsumi. She tensed as another two Rune Knights passed by. "Did you hear me, Private Akahoshi? Private Glover? Mount up! We can get details sorted on the way!" The man boomed once again. He clambered up the side of Matisse with surprising agility. Katsumi could make out a small structure built onto the back of the giant bird. So Private Glover provided transportation then? Did she serve any other purpose? The swordswoman had a bad feeling brewing in her stomach. She hopped up onto Matisse despite the feeling. They were Rune Knights. They'd be able to handle a few bandits.
The structure on Matisse's back was built for a small group of people. The front was angled back away from the bird's head. The front most portion of the triangle got used to store equipment as well as any additional baggage. The rear part of the structure hunkered down against Matisse's back. It gave the impression of a rather small discolored hump on the bird's back. Katsumi stepped inside to find that dimensional magic had been used to make the space bigger. Not much but enough that the smallest squad of Rune Knights could move about comfortably. It looked like the structure was an ongoing project of someone's. Katsumi couldn't say that it was Private Glover's even if Matisse was most likely her bird. The other two Rune Knights tried to introduce them but the thickset man cut them off. No talking was tolerated.
Corporal Jenkins waited until Rose had gotten Matisse into the air before speaking. "Alright!" he snapped. "We're going to rescue a village in the mountains from a bandit incursion. No killing unless absolutely necessary." The man passed a meaningful look at Katsumi. She stared back unabashedly, calling up every bit of Deception she had. Inside, she was shaking. How many times had she been written up for 'excessive force'? "I'm Corporal Nour Jenkins, B rank Physical Mage. I'll fight on the front lines, provide distractions and act as rearguard if needed. Private Rose Glover is a C rank Bird Mage. She'll be transportation, obviously, and provide support to the rest of the squad." Katsumi raised an eyebrow. Bird mage could have meant a lot of things, as did Physical mage. Jenkins skipped a lot of pertinent information. The thing the Swordswoman couldn't figure out was why. The information might keep them all alive. "Private Fay Tyson and Private Brodie Waters are C rank Water Mages. Waters, you'll focus on defense, providing cover for civilians and Private Glover. Tyson, you'll be long range attack. Hit bandits out of my reach, as well as those that might be about to hurt civilians." The Corporal had gestured to the other female and the male in their midst. The woman was fidgeting nervously with the edge of her uniform. She seemed on the unhealthily thin side, a pallor to her skin that appeared to be gray. Katsumi would wager this would be her first mission. Private Waters was a solidly built male. His uniform stretched enticingly over his muscles. Short brown hair was swept off to the side. Smiling green eyes sparkled from a mirthful face. Katsumi might have eaten him up if she ever thought she had a chance.
The silence from Corporal Jenkins brought Katsumi's attention around again. The Corporal was discussing something with Rose. The gamer girl's jaw dropped. He'd deliberately ignored her presence. He'd left her out of the briefing entirely. Katsumi put her hands on her hips. Could it be a misogyny thing? No, he'd introduced Private Glover and Private Tyson easily enough. Katsumi went back over the briefing in her head. She thought she might know why Jenkins never rose above a Corporal. If her hunch was correct, that is. Katsumi leaned back against a nearby wall. She could make this into an incident. That wouldn't be too hard. The question would be whether Jenkins wanted her to do so or not. He might be looking for justification in his ways. Katsumi could also individually introduce herself to each member. That might rub that Jenkins was incompetent. She liked that idea but also didn't want to create discord and distract from the mission. Katsumi decided to try a different approach.
The swordswoman approached the Corporal. She saluted briskly. "Corporal Jenkins, you forgot me in your briefing. I thought it might be beneficial for everyone to know my capabilities." The corporal turned from Private Glover. His body suggested it was the last thing he wanted to do. Katsumi was sure her suspicions were correct. "Well, you hardly need direction from me, Private Akahoshi. Your strength easily surpasses my own. Do what you will, don't get in the way of the squad. Isn't doing your own thing what your family is good at?" The color drained from Katsumi's face. Her assumption hadn't been even close to the mark. This situation couldn't be worse. Her back straightened, her hands clasped behind her back. "Very well, Corporal. I find your decision rash and petty but I'll follow orders." Jenkin's curled a fist. Magic flared around his clenched fingers. Katsumi raised her chin, a subtle challenge. Let him hit her. His backwater career would be over. There were three witnesses to back Katsumi up. Maybe. She might be overestimating whether they were loyal to Justice or to Loyalty.
Rose interrupted the spat. "We're here! Get ready to drop!" Corporal Jenkins offered Katsumi a tight smile. "Ready to Drop! Three! Two! One!" The others of the squad clearly knew what was going on. Katsumi on the other hand was clueless. She'd only been in that RK station for a little R&R. When the back of the structure opened up, Katsumi couldn't hold back her scream. They were all sucked out into empty dark sky.