True Chivalry: Part Thirteen

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Cassandra returned to the Amazon encampment feeling triumphant.

Lynn and Rachel were the first to greet her.

“Well?” she asked, expectantly.

“We lured two of their captains,” Rachel reported. “With their units. About a quarter of the soldiers fell to Artura’s ambush. And one of the unit leaders. In short, we did awesome.”

“Very good,” Cassandra stated. “So, who slew the unit leader?”

“I did,” Artura answered. “One arrow through the throat.”

“Then I’ll see to it that you’re properly rewarded,” Cassandra stated.

Artura shook her head. “Just did my duty. No more, no less.”

“I appreciate that you think of it that way,” Cassandra said. “But I am officially offering special rewards to any warrior who slays one of their captains. And that, Dear Artura, includes you.”

“Then I will gratefully accept that,” Artura stated. Her voice was very monotone when she spoke.

“That’s the best I can expect, I suppose,” Cassandra said. “Any word from Caroline yet?”

“None,” Rose answered.

“Well, I’m going to get some rest for now,” Cassandra said. “I trust we have a rotating night watch lined up?”

“We do,” Rose said.

Cassandra yawned. “Then I leave it to you.”

She was on her way to her tent when Courtney approached her.

“Are you all right, Mother? You weren’t hurt fighting Miranda?”

“She’s a strong warrior, but she isn’t that strong,” Cassandra answered.

“Then you beat her?” Courtney tried to stop herself from sounding nervous.

“I would have, but she was fighting alongside a rather strong vulpine feralial,” Cassandra answered. “About the best I could do against the combination was hold my own.”

“Oh, I see,” Courtney allowed herself a slight smile. “Well, good night.”

“Good night, Dear,” Cassandra said. She had to restrain herself. Her daughter was too obvious. She just had to hope that Courtney didn’t encounter Miranda on the battlefield. She would never be able to bring herself to fight back against her.

*****

Miranda sat in her tent, staring at Courtney’s last message. She wanted to reply and let her know she was okay. She wanted to just chat about career aspirations, favourite animals and nothing at all. Like they’d used to.

But she couldn’t very well be exchanging correspondences with “the enemy.” Besides, she just couldn’t think of anything to say to her.

When had it become so difficult? They’d never stopped talking like this. Not even when…

Her thoughts were interrupted by someone entering her tent. She quickly hid the letter and turned.

“You wanted to see me?” Aiko asked.

“Yes, I did,” Miranda said. “I’ve relieved Captain Garnak of his leadership role. For the moment, I want you to take command of the combined forces of him and Captain Ogder.”

“You’re going to get yourself in trouble,” Aiko stated.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Miranda said. “Besides, I trust you not to make tactical decisions that are that bad.”

Aiko nodded. “All right. Shall I let them know?”

“No,” Miranda said. “At dawn I’ll come with you and we’ll both let them know. While I trust their professionalism…”

“They’ll find it hard to believe?” Aiko interrupted.

“That they will,” Miranda said. She stretched. “Well, I’m going to go take my turn a s part of the night watch. You should try to get some rest.”

*****

Francis couldn’t sleep.

He was still angry. Not just with the Amazons for their sneaky attack, but with Miranda for her soft leadership and for taking his unit from him.

Outliving her alone was not going to balance the scales to make up for this indignity. He needed more. He needed some way to make her suffer.

But he couldn’t do anything directly… No, that would be career suicide.

Maybe if he could find a way to get her captured by the Amazons, they’d properly mistreat her… No, that wouldn’t work. Amazons were too weak to treat their prisoners poorly. Besides, she’d grown up as friends to them. They wouldn’t…

He paused at that. Yes, she’d grown p as friends to them. The Queen’s daughter in particular. He glanced at his axe and smirked. If he could take her head, which he was confident he could, that would cause Miranda a lot of suffering indeed.

The best part was that no one could complain about him slaying an enemy.

He tested the edge of his axe. It was still very sharp. Would the Vice Captain openly weep? What sort of face would she show when he was through?

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Voyages of the Cerberus 216: The Truth Comes Out

The Blazer had seen better days. That was certainly true. They’d also seen worse…

“Everything is on fire!” Antoine shouted.

Probably seen worse. Elijah looked around the bridge. The fires were relatively small and contained, for the moment, but they couldn’t take many more hits.

“We have to get out of the line of fire,” Elijah said. “Ussie, I want you to vent the plasma from our weapons around the ship for a smokescreen. Antoine, when she does that, set off an EMP. It won’t do much, but it should take out their radars long enough for us to escape. I’ll pilot us out of here. Oh, and we should probably start putting out these fires once we’re clear.”

Ussie and Antoine went into action. Elijah immediately took the Blazer past the trio of ships that was bearing down on them.

He almost thought they were free, until two more ships moved in.

Elijah sighed. He hated when he kept getting attacked by people with no chill. It was ever so inconvenient.

“There’ssss another ship approaching,” Ussie reported.

Antoine was running around the bridge trying to do some damage control.

“One of the ones we left behind?” Elijah asked. The Blazer shook from torpedo fire.

“It’sss the Cerberussss,” Ussie answered.

“Great, now they’re hunting us too,” Antoine muttered.

The Cerberus unleashed a volley against one of the attacking ships.

“No, they’re helping us,” Elijah said. The second ship moved about to face the Cerberus only to get hit by both the Cerberus and the Blazer.

“Messsage incoming,” Ussie said.

Elijah nodded. “Hi, Ophelia,” he greeted. “You look a bit thin. Have you been eating properly?”

“We can exchange pleasantries later,” Ophelia said. “For now, follow us out of here.”

“Kay,” Elijah said. He switched the communications off “That woman really should relax, you know?”

“Maybe you should be less relaxed,” Antoine suggested.

“Too much stress is bad for you,” Elijah said.

The Blazer followed carefully behind the Cerberus.

“Another transsssmisssion,” Ussie sad. “They’re inviting ussss aboard.”

“Should I wear a tie?” Elijah wondered. “Wait, do I even own a tie?”

“You don’t need a tie,” Antoine stated, rubbing his forehead with his palm.

“Oh, that’s good,” Elijah said. “Well, Ussie, let’s go. Antoine, check on our guests and make sure they’re okay.”

Elijah took a shuttle over to the Cerberus with his serpentine right hand.

Lucy and Yuri were there to greet them.

“I attempted to contact you,” Yuri stated.

“Did you?” Elijah asked. “Interesting.”

“Our long range communicationssss went down after a mercenary attack,” Ussie explained. “How did you find usssss?”

“Ophelia and I used your last known location and referenced the general area against areas with increased mercenary activity,” Lucy stated. “Come on, she’s waiting on the bridge.”

The first thing they noticed when they reached the bridge was Filorya.

“Passssifican,” Ussie hissed.

Elijah gave her a sideways look. “Have we met?” he asked. “I feel like we haven’t…. Have we?”

“This is Filorya,” Ophelia introduced. “She just joined our crew recently.”

“And I thought you had ssstandardsss,” Ussie muttered.

“Ussie, chill,” Elijah said. “I’m sure she’s perfectly nice. We can trust Ophelia and her crew.”

“Glad you think so,” Ophelia said. “Because I want to know just what the hell you’ve done?”

“Like, recently or ever?” Elijah asked.

If anyone else asked that, I’d think they were being a smart ass,” Ophelia said. “I mean, why are so many mercenaries after you and why are they saying you’ve abducted princesses of Swieth,” Ophelia clarified.

“Oh, that,” Elijah said.

“You really ssshould have been able to figure that out,” Ussie stated. “You ssspend too much time sssmoking that weed you cultivate.”

“Cannabis isn’t a weed,” Elijah said. “It’s a wonder of nature. And too answer your question, Ophelia, we didn’t abduct anyone. We found Azilla and Vivuna at a port. They asked us to help them find somewhere their parents couldn’t find them and that’s what we’re doing.”

“I feel like there’s more to the story than that and you’re just not extrapolating on it,” Ophelia said.

“That’ssss correct,” Ussie said. “It ssseemssss the princessssesss became intimate after getting to know each other. Sssince sssuch love isssss forbidden on Ssswieth, they ssstole an experimental sship and fled.”

“I don’t get why their parents can’t just be understanding and give them their blessing,” Elijah said, scratching his head. “But they have to be, pardon my language, anuses about it.”

“They would certainly lose face if it became public knowledge,” Lucy said. “Given the political climate on that planet.”

“All right,” Ophelia said. “We’ll help any way we can. Lucy, gather everyone together and try to figure out a place for the princesses. I’ll take our ships into an area with high interference where, hopefully, we won’t get caught by mercenaries any time soon.” She looked at Elijah. “Unless you had someplace specific in mind.”

“You know he takesss on thingsss like thisss without thinking,” Ussie said.

Elijah just shrugged. “What can I say? I like to help or meddle, depending on your point of view.”

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True Chivalry: part twelve

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Miranda didn’t notice what Geoff and Francis were doing. She and Aiko were struggling against the Amazonian queen.

Cassandra’s blade nearly pierced her breast plate. Miranda barely parried the strike in time.

Aiko attempted to take advantage of Cassandra’s attack on Miranda by striking the queen as she turned. Cassandra stomped a foot and conjured an earthen spike that very nearly pierced the vulpine woman.

Miranda channelled some lightning magic through her blade in a bright flash to temporarily blind Cassandra. Aiko dove into a shadow and emerged right beneath Cassandra, slicing upwards.

The queen blocked the strike with her shield and kicked Aiko in the chest.

*****

Geoff and Francis pursued Lynn and Rachel.

“We’re closing in!” Francis declared. “I’ll take the blonde one with the sabre. You can have the brunette.”

Geoff didn’t like the way his associate said that, but he kept it to himself. They had to work together, after all. Truthfully, he also didn’t like the idea of matching his rapier against a scythe. It struck him as a poor match up.

They were close. The Amazons were moving more slowly than they were. It would be ten minutes, at most, and they’d catch the rear guard.

That was when the arrows rained down.

Geoff’s horse went down, knocking him across the ground. He scrambled up to find heavy casualties among their soldiers. Francis was swiping arrows away from him with his axe. He had an arrow in his left arm, but didn’t let that slow him.

“We have to pull back!” Geoff called.

“Let the weaklings fall! We’ll still take their heads!” Francis cried.

“Don’t be a fool,” Geoff stated. “We can’t push through as things stand. Would you really die without earning honour?”

Francis hesitated. He seemed to be judging the strength of the Amazonian troops versus who they had left. “Fine,” he muttered. “Retreat!”

Geoff breathed a quick sigh of relief. It was the last breath he’d ever take. An arrow pierced through his throat from behind and he fell.

*****

Cassandra was getting tired. She was confident that she could beat either Aiko or Miranda one on one, but the pair of them covered for one another very well. She couldn’t break them apart and their youth granted them a level of stamina that she didn’t quite have any more.

She channelled magic into the ground once more, showering the area with dust. She withdrew under the cover of the dirt screen. Lynn and Rachel would have finished already any way, one way or the other.

*****

Free of Cassandra’s attacks, Miranda was able to take the situation in. There were a lot of casualties in her unit. Dead Amazons too.

Patricia hurried over to her. “Problem,” Patricia reported.

“What is it?” Miranda asked.

“Francis took Geoff,” Patricia answered, nodding her head outwards.

Miranda understood the gesture immediately. “I warned them about the traps!” she declared. “Dammit!”

“We following?” Patricia asked.

“No,” Miranda answered. “If they make it back, they make it back. For now, the three of us will have to distribute our units to guard this site properly until reinforcements come in the morning. Aiko!”

“Yeah?” Aiko asked. She ran her fingers across her scar.

“I want you to take a portion of the irregulars and take charge of the rear,” Miranda said. “Patricia, you take the left flank. I’ll take the right until Francis and Geoff return. Judith’s unit is still fresh, she can take charge of the front.”

*****

Francis returned in the early hours of the morning. He had a good amount of troops left, when you counted both his and Geoff’s.

He noticed Judith manning the front. She gave orders to a nearby soldier upon seeing him. He was not looking forward to this.

Miranda met him shortly upon his return.

“What happened?” she demanded.

“Geoff and I pursued some fleeing Amazons,” he answered.

“I know that much,” Miranda said. “What happened to your soldiers and Geoff?” she kept glancing at the arrow in his arm.

It got on his nerves. She knew what happened. She was just going to make him say it. “Dead,” he answered. “Ambush.”

“And did I not warn you against pursuing them?” Miranda asked.

“And how many of your soldiers died?” Francis pressed.

Miranda sighed. “Get your arm fixed up. Until further notice, you are not in command of any unit. I’ll assign what’s left of you and Geoff’s soldiers to someone who understands the importance of thinking things through.”

“You can’t do that!” Francis protested.

“Yes, I can,” she said. “If you have a problem with it, talk to Maximilian when he gets here.”

Francis watched her turn and walk away from him. He vowed, in that moment, that he was going to outlive her.

Next Chapter

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Voyages of the Cerberus 215: Elijah in Trouble?

“How are you settling in?” Ophelia inquired.

“If I may be so bold as to speak openly,” Filorya said “Your ship is run unlike any other I’ve been on. I am having some difficulties adjusting.”

Ophelia nodded. “Space… Space means different things to different people. For some, it’s a great adventure waiting to happen. For some, it’s an opportunity for riches. For some, it’s a repository of new discoveries waiting to happen. For this crew, it’s the only place we can call home.” She smiled at the large pacifican. “To understand my ship and this crew, that’s something you’re going to need to know.”

“I will keep it in mind,” Filorya promised. “What is our next mission?”

“Lucy’s looking through potential missions now,” Ophelia said. “She’ll bring me the four best offers and we’ll decide which one to take. After that, we’ll let the rest of you know and we’ll take care of the mission. Until then, just keep following your schedule.”

“I understand,” Filorya said. She left the bridge and went on her way.

The Cerberus seemed an overly lax place. Farah and Grace were playing with Hyper in the corridor.

In the mess hall, Leon and Kat were playing some type of card game.

“Care to join us?” Kat asked, noticing her.

“Perhaps next time,” Filorya stated. She excused herself.

*****

“Find anything good?” Ophelia asked.

“Swieth’s top families are offering a job I think you’ll find interesting,” Lucy stated.

“Swieth?” Ophelia was confused. Swieth was, in many ways, a backwards world. The members of her crew wouldn’t even be allowed to express affection for their significant others on Swieth. That was, by any reasonable metric, an excellent reason to avoid the planet entirely.

“I’m not saying we should take their job,” Lucy said. “But it does concern our old friend, Captain Elijah Taiwag. Adventurer, ne’er do well, noted horticulturist, occasional solver of mysteries, Saviour of Prinaria, Yvelt tamer and abductor of princesses.”

“No bloody way did that man abduct anyone,” Ophelia said. “He may not have much of an attention span and he may get himself into trouble trying to help others, but he’s also the most virtuous person I know.”

“Agreed,” Lucy said. “That’s why this case is interesting. It alleges that our old friend and the crew of the Blazer have abducted princess Azilla of the Retunia clan and princess Vivuna of the Bloir clan.”

“And how much are they offering to get them back?” Ophelia asked.

“Ten billion credits, each,” Lucy answered.

Ophelia whistled. “That’s going to be a lot of mercenaries.”

“Including us?” Lucy asked.

“Yes, and no,” Ophelia answered. “We’re going to find the Blazer and hear from Elijah himself just what the hell is going on. After that, we’ll decide whether or not we’re going to aid and abet him. For now, let’s call everyone together.”

*****

Lucy and Ophelia explained the situation.

“I’m confused,” Filorya said. “Should we not be claiming the reward?”

“Elijah is a friend,” Ophelia said. “It may be difficult to understand right now, but an ally like him is more worth while than twenty billion credits.”

“Besides, fighting with him should give us a lot more combat opportunity than going against him,” Lucy added, giving Filorya a knowing smile.

“There is also something we are not being told,” Yuri stated. “Captain Taiwag would not abduct anyone. If these princesses are aboard his ship, it is of their own volition.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Ophelia said. “Which is why we’re going to hear the truth from him.”

“We should send him a message over a subspace channel,” Kat suggested. “That seems the most painless way to get his attention.”

“Yuri, I want you to handle that,” Ophelia said. “You served as a temporary member of his crew. He might be more inclined to answer you than me or Lucy.”

“I will send a message immediately,” Yuri agreed.

“Kat, Farah and Leon, I want you all ready to sortie if you have to,” Ophelia said. “Filorya, I want you to work the weapons on the Bridge. Me and Lucy will explore some other methods of finding his location. Just in case he doesn’t answer Yuri’s call.”

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The Angel and The Demon

Jen didn’t know what to expect when she volunteered to help prepare for her town’s Independent film festival. She’d only done it in the first place because she was in her school’s theatre club and their “esteemed” coach, Miss Swanson, had encouraged them all to volunteer. She’d done so with the heavy implication that their chances of getting a good role in the next production hinged on their participation.

“Don’t see her here,” Jen muttered.

“Hey, whatcha looking down for?” The question came from a girl with curled blonde hair, violet eyes, crimson horns, a pointed tail and bat-like wings.

“Hi, Viola,” Jen said.

The demoness smiled. “I thought you loved films and festivals. Shouldn’t this be paradise for you?”

“What’s so fun about running errands?” Jen asked.

“Well, we could have made a film of our own,” Viola said. “But it’d be illegal for adults to watch.”

“Viola, stop being vile,” the girl peaking had short black hair, green eyes, a halo and feathery wings.

“What are you doing here, Bridgette?” Viola demanded.

“I came to see my dear friend, Jen,” Bridgette answered. She glared at Viola.

“Don’t fight, you two,” Jen implored. She always had to defuse the situation when hanging out with both Viola and Bridgette.

“Oh we aren’t fighting,” Viola said. “She’s just a bit, you know, annoying.”

“I’m not boring, you’re simply unpleasant,” Bridgette said.

“Please, don’t fight,” Jen entreated. “I didn’t know you’d signed up to help out, Bridgette.”

“I enjoy helping,” Bridgette said. “I’m more surprised that she’s here.”

“You saying a demon can’t help?” Viola asked. “Didn’t know you were that racist.”

“I’m not racist!” Bridgette declared. “I simply know you. You aren’t the helpful type.”

“Well, I want to spend time with my friend,” Viola said, putting a hand on Jen’s shoulder.

“Why don’t both of you help me organise boxes in the storage room,” Jen suggested. “Please?”

“Fine,” Viola said. “You don’t need to come.”

“I’ll be coming all right,” Bridgette said. “I don’t trust you alone with her.”

Jen sighed. She was, of course, glad to be with her friends. But the pair of them were difficult when combined.

The storage room had all the supplies they needed for the festival. Decorations to make everything look appealing. Tents, chairs and supplies for the viewings.

“I’ll get all the supplies together for the outdoor viewings,” Jen said. “Viola, you get the supplies for the inside viewings. And Bridgette can get the stuff for the refreshment areas.”

“I’ll finish first and help you out,” Viola said.

“At least do it properly,” Bridgette said.

“I’m sure she will,” Jen said. “You know. I think you two would get along well if you’d just try. So, try to be nice to each other today, please.”

“I will be most kind,” Bridgette said.

“If she can get along, so can I,” Viola said.

It was an interesting situation. Angels and demons had, for the longest time, been considered folklore. UFOs had, for the longest time, been considered a combination of hoaxes and secret military devices. Then, a half a century ago, humans had discovered that angels and demons were real. And they were alien lifeforms.

Angels had come into contact with humans once and spread the mythology of themselves as great, virtuous beings while undermining demons as evil, corrupted creatures. Only to have their long running war end before humankind had developed enough for the propaganda to pay off. Which had resulted in some largely forgotten tensions getting stirred back up when the demons had found out.

The three of them chatted about theatre and what kinds of films they were going to watch out of the festival’s offerings. Bridgette was excited for a film about the last battle of the angel and demon war and the soldiers on both sides who lost their lives even as a treaty was being signed.

Viola really wanted to see a romantic comedy about a young, awkward demon who took on the role of a tempter because he found out it was the fetish of the human he liked.

It was an enjoyable conversation. With both Viola and Bridgette keeping their word and being civil towards each other.

“And the best part is that Mr. Veras is giving the proceeds for the event to charity,” Jen said.

“He’s only doing it for the public image and tax break,” Viola scoffed. “Besides, he gets to profit off of some of the small films since he owns Gravity Studios and they always pick up a few of the more popular ones.”

“He gives a chance to small directors who could use the break,” Bridgette countered. “And they get a much better budget and a lot of exposure.”

Jen knew the start of an argument when she heard it. “Hey, calm down. You can both be right, to a degree.”

The other two ignored her.

“Honestly, that cynicism of yours…” Bridgette began.

“That naive innocence of yours…” Viola stated.

The two had walked towards each other and were in the process of facing one another down.

“Is such a turn on.” They spoke the last part in unison and immediately began sloppily snogging.

Jen watched with disbelief for a moment before quietly leaving the storage room and carefully closing the door behind her.

*****

She thought about the incident for the rest of the day. Had Viola and Bridgette always been attracted to one another? Had she been in the way instead of playing peace keeper?

She ran into the pair of them the next day. They were working together to set the outdoor refreshment booths up.

She almost went in the other direction, but Viola beckoned her over. “Hey, Jen, over here!”

Jen walked over. She didn’t listen much as Viola started talking about the event.

“Whatever is the matter?” Bridgette asked, walking over to her.

“I… It’s just… Was I in your way?” Jen asked. Both of them looked at her quizzically. “I mean… yesterday… in the storage room…”

Bridgette’s face flushed.

“Right, you were there for part of that,” Viola said. She clapped her hand across Jen’s back. “Look, just think of it as having two friends who won’t fight as much but may have to excuse themselves for a make out session.”

“Jen, you are still very special to both of us,” Bridgette said. “I would never have spent as much time with Viola to develop these feelings were it not for you. You were never in the way.”

“I wasn’t?” Jen asked.

“I mean, you could get between us if you want,” Viola said, her voice taking a flirtatious tone.

“No, she can’t,” Bridgette said. “I do not consent to this idea.”

“She’s just teasing,” Jen said. “I know her. She’d never make an actual move when she’s in a happy relationship.”

“Tell the world why don’t you,” Viola muttered.

Jen laughed. It was a relief to know that they hadn’t really changed. It was just going to take some time to get used to them as a couple.

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True Chivalry: part eleven

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Miranda read over Courtney’s letter. She wasn’t surprised. The Amazonian unit leaders were considered the priority for them as well. After all, take the head and you threw the entire unit into temporary disarray. She was glad Courtney wasn’t a unit leader and that she was fighting from a distance.

Truthfully, she had been far more concerned about Courtney than herself. Courtney wasn’t a fighter. She’d always wanted to be out in nature, going on expeditions to gather supplies and feed people.

Courtney was skilled, certainly. But she didn’t have the inclination to be out fighting other people in a bloody conflict.

And the worst part was knowing that that sweet girl she’d grown up with could be put against a merciless fighter like Francis and she wouldn’t be able to do anything for her.

Aiko burst into her tent while she was considering how to reply to the letter. “The Amazons are coming!” Aiko declared.

“All right, we’ll stay close to the base,” Miranda said. “We have maybe ten hours at most before reinforcements arrive. We just have to hold the line until then. Send word to the others.”

“Got it,” Aiko said. “Be careful out there.”

Miranda grabbed her zweihänder and ran to organise her soldiers.

The Amazons were already at their front lines when she arrived, engaging her troops.

She hurriedly took in the situation, her mind racing to figure out some orders. Her thoughts were derailed when a thrown short sword nearly sliced her open. Fortunately, she slashed it away just in time.

Cassandra slammed one of Miranda’s soldiers aside with a blow from her shield and retrieved the blade.

Miranda hesitated. She didn’t want to harm Cassandra. Not only had she grown up admiring the Amazonian queen, but she didn’t want to make Courtney cry.

That hesitation cost her.

Cassandra leapt into the air and slashed downwards. Miranda instinctively held up her arm. Cassandra’s blade sliced into Miranda’s gauntlet, cutting into her wrist.

Miranda kicked her away and brought up her own blade.

Cassandra landed easily and moved into a series of slices and thrusts. Miranda found herself hard-pressed and very much on the defensive.

*****

Lynn and Rachel rode their horses to the left flank of the Torlan forces. Followed closely by the Vipers and Panthers.

Francis barked out orders to his soldiers “Slay them all! Don’t let a single Amazon escape!”

He grabbed the nearest soldier. “You! Go grab Geoff and his unit. There are too many for just us to handle.”

The woman nodded and hurried away.

“And don’t stop to do your hair!” Francis called. He hoisted his battle axe and ran for the front. There was no way he was going to allow the low ranking knights in his unit to claim more glory than him.

*****

Courtney sat in wait with her bow. Her mum was going to be fighting Miranda already. Miranda had the advantage in terms of reach, but she’d also learned a lot of her fighting skills from Cassandra and those tricks she’d learned from her grandfather were familiar to her mum.

“Don’t worry,” Artura stated. “She’s just there to keep Miranda pinned down.”

“I’m not worried,” Courtney lied.

“You’re holding your bow too tightly,” Artura said. She moved through the trees to look over her other soldiers.

Courtney hurriedly corrected herself. Trying to banish her concerns and stay focused.

*****

Miranda hurriedly cast a bolt spell, trying to take the offensive. Cassandra stomped her foot, causing the ground to erupt upwards and block the bolt.

Cassandra was rushing back towards Miranda when a very strange looking void bolt nearly hit Cassandra in the back. She sensed it approaching and hit the ground, avoiding it at the last second.

Aiko emerged from a shadow and swung her blade at Cassandra. Miranda moved to join her.

Cassandra’s blade blocked Aiko’s, her shield came up to bash the vixen in the chest.

She whirled around to block Miranda’s sword with her shield, dropped and kicked Miranda’s feet, causing her to nearly trip.

Miranda and Aiko both managed to recover quickly. They nodded to one another and moved forward in tandem.

*****

Lynn and Rachel fought side by side.

“Five!” Rachel declared, cutting a Torlan soldiers neck open with her sabre.

Lynn swung her scythe, slicing a soldier in half. “Six for me.”

“Show off,” Rachel muttered.

“You said it first,” Lynn countered.

They heard the faint sound of a horn and noted a second unit joining the fray.

“Give the signal,” Rachel said.

Lynn whistled a quick bird song and their units began withdrawing.

Rachel sheathed her sabre and began shooting arrows back at the Torlans with her short bow.

“Looks like we scared them off,” Geoff muttered, watching the retreating Amazons.

“We’re going after them!” Francis declared. “You,” he pointed to the nearest soldier. “Send the word.”

“We shouldn’t,” Geoff said. “We should wait for our reinforcements.”

“Don’t be a coward!” Francis sneered. “We have a chance to slay two of their unit leaders. Your unit is fresh, so you’d better come.”

“It would be a great honour to slay the first of their unit leaders,” Geoff agreed.

He gave his unit the order to advance after the retreating Amazons and quickly fell into step behind Francis.

Next Chapter

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True Chivalry part ten

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

“Rose, can we count on your support?” Caroline waited for a recess in the talks to speak with the pixie in private.

“I will not pass to the next world leaving a burden on those who follow in my tracks,” Lithe Rose answered. “The pixies will work with you to protect the forest. We can not permit Torla to encroach into our habitat for short term gain.”

“And, do you believe the centaurs will follow if we can persuade Lord Wyrd?” Caroline asked.

“I think,” Rose said, after a momentary pause, “that you have it the wrong way round. Oak will keep the dryads noncommittal, unless there’s pressure on him from all other sides.”

“And you believe she can be persuaded,” Caroline observed.

“She’s young and uncertain,” Rose answered. “But she’s no fool. If we can show her that the threat is true, she will stand with us.”

Caroline nodded. The pixie elder’s judgement could certainly be trusted. They’d have to come up with a plan to convince Ida.

“Do you have any ideas?” she asked.

“Now that, that is the trouble,” Rose said. “The young don’t always stop and listen carefully. They can oft be better persuaded by their hearts than their heads.”

Caroline thought for a moment. What could she use to get in Ida’s good graces?

*****

“So, we failed to draw them in,” Cassandra said.

“We did make the attempt,” Rachel stated. “But Pienta’s granddaughter has spent enough time among our people to be able to deduce our strategies.”

“She is a valiant warrior,” Petunia agreed.

“Majesty, I recommend isolating her unit and trying to lure in a less prepared commander,” Rose stated.

“One problem,” Artura said. “She is strong.”

“I’ll take the panthers and go in,” Lynn volunteered.

“You’re that confident that you can beat her?” Cassandra asked.

“Not beat her,” Lynn answered. “But keep her occupied and get out alive, certainly.”

“We may not have to distract her,” Ivy said. “If we strike an hour or two after she’s gone to bed, we may be able to draw in another unit before she’s been roused.”

“We could pin her close to the base,” Artura suggested.

“We could also wait for them,” Rose said. “They’ll have to come through here to get their deforestation under way.”

“Yes, but if we do that, they’ll be better prepared,” Rose argued. “They’ll already have reinforcements preparing, if they haven’t left Torla already.”

“Agreed,” Cassandra said. “We’ll have to act quickly if we want to get an early advantage. Lynn, take your panthers and work with the vipers to draw out any unit commander who seems vulnerable. I’ll take the falcons and personally see to it that Miss Pienta doesn’t interfere. I may very well get the opportunity to slay her. Artura, you and the hawks will set an ambush near here, before the traps. We may be able to save them for when they take the offensive. The wolves, tigers and eagles will defend this outpost. The vixens will stand by to receive wounded. We’ll strike at the first sign of nightfall.”

*****

Miranda, 

Things seem to be escalating quite quickly, huh? I’ve been thinking, this has to be the trial that Old Elm mentioned all those years ago. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I feel I have to warn you that you’re considered a priority target. 

I know, it’s probably obvious given how strong, bea and cool you are, but I do want you to be careful out there. Don’t worry too much about me, I’m part of the archery team. So, I probably won’t get too close to the front lines any time soon. 

I wish I could just get a good shot at your king. I know, you’re supposed to protect him and everything. But if he died, I think we could end all this. Maybe that’s just stupid, wistful thinking. But it feels like he’s the whole reason this is happening, you know? 

I appreciate your vow not to harm me. I know how much that means coming from you. I won’t harm you either, but do be careful. Remember, you are considered a priority and I can’t protect you. Let’s both make it out of this alive. 

Yours, no matter what

Courtney

Courtney watched her falcon take to the sky. She hadn’t given away their plans or anything so it was okay, right?

She looked over at her bow and her halberd. She really hoped that neither her mother nor Miranda was seriously hurt.

Next Chapter

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Detective Hildegard Case Files- The Shambling Corpses part eight

Hilde found no sign that Bianca had visited Benjamin. Ben didn’t recognise her description and both his children were fine. It was a relief, but she didn’t know what to expect from her. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Bianca. She just sometimes forgot that Bianca wasn’t quite human and she did have ties to other magical creatures, which would sometimes lead to her siding with them over normal humans.

To be fair, Hilde understood her logic in this case. It was undoubtedly wrong for the brownie to make bargains for human lives, but it was also wrong for Franz to make such a deal and not keep his part of the bargain.

She didn’t manage to find Bianca that day. She went to the graveyard and watched the brownie do her usual mischief.

Bianca didn’t show up.

Hilde returned to her office. What was she up to?

“Feeling lonely?” Sakura asked. “We could have a girls’ night if you want. I’ll put on my jammies. We’ll watch a romance and talk about girls! Oh, we can also braid each other’s hair!”

“Maybe next time,” Hilde said. “I’m just a little worried. I don’t know what she’s thinking…”

“Sometimes the people we love just have a lot of their minds and they can’t tell us. But you know she loves you and would never do anything to hurt you. So, just believe in her and she’ll confide in you when she’s ready.”

“Guess I just have to believe in her until she’s done,” Hilde muttered. “She won’t take long. She’ll want to finish this up before Veritas gets involved.”

“Oh yuck,” Sakura stated. “Don’t like them at all. They kill fairies for no reason, you know.”

“I recall you mentioning that when we encountered a pair of them,” Hilde said. “Don’t worry, if they show up I’ll make sure you’re protected.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Sakura said.

*****

The next night, Hilde occupied herself until night time and returned to the cemetery.

She trusted Bianca, but she was curious about how she was going to resolve the situation. She wasn’t going to kidnap Ben’s son. So…. some kind of magic?

Hilde decided to stay out of sight in case Bianca didn’t want to finish this in front of her. She secreted herself away in some shrubs.

This time, Bianca showed up after the brownie showed up.

“The time has come to end your mischief,” Bianca said. “None tonight and no more after.”

“My payment then, you’ve brought?” The brownie asked.

Bianca held out a silvery egg looking thing.

“You would give me your own?” the brownie asked. “A true witch spawn?”

Bianca shook her head. “Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t use my own blood for this one. In this, the blood of Benjamin Porter and his wife mixes. Take it and you can reshape it as you will.”

The brownie scurried over to Bianca and took the strange orb. “Acceptable tribute, Spell slinger. It is a payment long overdue.”

“So, you’ll stop the mischief?” Bianca pressed.

“None tonight and none hereafter,” the brownie agreed. “Perhaps, we’ll meet again.”

The brownie left, carefully cradling her orb. She didn’t disturb the corpses.

“So, that was your plan,” Hilde stated.

Bianca didn’t give any sign that Hilde had startled her. “It took some rare reagents, but it’ll put an end to this. And all in a way that keeps everyone happy.”

“Now the problem is how to explain our solving the case without mentioning magic,” Hilde said.

“You’ll think of something,” Bianca said. “Come on, we’ll explain it together.”

Hilde’s explanation didn’t sound all that convincing to her. She made up a story about some prankster rigging the corpses with very thin but strong wire in order to move them around without anyone noticing.

Much to Hilde’s surprise, the widow believed her story. She and Bianca were thanked profusely and even given a bag of freshly baked cookies as a bonus.

“I didn’t think she’d believe it,” Hilde said.

“Well, it’s a story that basically explains what happened in a way a normal person could accept,” Bianca said, grabbing a cookie. “No harm done since the case is resolved.”

“There has to be more to it,” Hilde said. “Bianca, what did you do?”

“Clever girl,” Bianca muttered. “All right, I may have cast a little spell to make people see you as more trustworthy in order to help your story stick.”

“How long will that last?” Hilde asked.

“About a week,” Bianca answered. “At that point, she might have a moment where she wonders about your story, but since nothing will have happened in the meantime, her doubts will be quickly forgotten. And she’ll have believed your story long enough that it’s pretty much set as fact at that point.”

“It’s funny,” Hilde said. “Before I met you, I used to have clients doubt my work in spite of my providing well documented evidence. Now I can make up some crazy story so I don’t have to explain the existence of magic and people just believe it.”

Bianca put an arm around Hilde. “Great, isn’t it?”

It wasn’t a sentiment Hilde could disagree with.

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True Chivalry part nine

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Miranda met with Geoff, Francis, Judith and Patricia to discuss the attempted incursion.

“So, they’ve made their move,” Geoff muttered. “Hey, at least we won the first battle, right?”

“Course we did!” Judith declared. “I’ll bet half of them were frightened out of their wits to see our heroic vice captain swinging that massive blade of hers. Why, I remember the first time I saw it when…”

“Peace, Judith,” Miranda said. “We can’t call that a proper battle.”

“True enough,” Patricia agreed. “They were testing us.”

“I think they did want to kill as many as they could,” Miranda said. “But they certainly weren’t trying to break through our defences in order to end things right away.”

“In short, they’ll be back and the little princess needs our help,” Francis said.

“Sir Garnak, now is not the time for your petty baiting,” Miranda stated. “Right now, we need a more involved plan to hold the line while Max and the others get here. The first thing is to stop the workers from advancing further, at least for the moment.”

“Second thing is not to be baited,” Patricia added.

Miranda nodded. “When they retreated from me, they deliberately made themselves a tempting target by leaving some holes in their rear. Undoubtedly, they have some nasty traps ahead.”

“We can’t win if we hide here like a buncha cowards!” Francis declared. “Or is that your intent?”

“Miranda wouldn’t lose this war for us,” Judith said. “I just know she has some very well thought out plan to carry us through. I’ll wager that we’ll have this war won within the year, maybe even six months. Oh, it would be lovely to take victory that quickly.”

“Shut up for five seconds,” Francis said.

“Judith is correct on a few counts,” Miranda said. “I don’t know if we’ll win this war that quickly, but I do have a plan. We’ll just need the other units to make it work. Fortunately, the bulk of them should be here tomorrow and we’ll just have to wait on Max.”

“Typical, can’t make a move without the Captain,” Francis said.

“We shouldn’t do anything reckless at partial strength,” Patricia stated.

“Really, you are the most awful man,” Judith said. “Always trying to cause problems. Did your mother raise you to act like that? I’ll bet she didn’t. You just need to work on that attitude.”

“And now all the wenches are on my back,” Francis muttered. He glanced at Geoff. “You going to chime in too?”

“I believe the esteemed warriors in this company can handle themselves,” Geoff said. “Although I should warn you that if I catch you speaking with such disrespect towards the lower ranking Dames of my company, I’ll be forced to thrash you soundly.”

“You may be one of the twelve best fighters in Torla, but that don’t mean you’re better than me,” Francis said.

“Francis, that’s enough out of you!” Miranda said. “If we’re going to win this war, we can’t have discord among us. If you can’t either sit quietly or speak constructively, I’ll deal with you personally, Are we clear?”

Francis glared at her. She met his gaze with one of equal ferocity. There was silence as they stared one another down.

“Understood,” Francis agreed, looking away.

*****

Artura sat down beside Courtney.

Courtney didn’t think much of it. Sometimes Artura just wanted to be near someone and she knew Courtney wasn’t going to get in on her case. That was when Artura spoke.

“You know what needs said,” Artura stated.

Courtney sighed. “You saw then?”

Artura nodded. “I understand. You have strong feelings. But you have to ask. How much will you give up for them?”

“It’s not that easy,” Courtney said. “I just… I just want us both to survive. So that… when things are over…”

“I do understand,” Artura said. “But right now she’s an enemy, and a strong one. If you protect her again, I’ll hold you accountable for any Amazon who dies by her hand.”

Courtney listened as Artura made her way elsewhere in the camp. Undoubtedly to go deal with something else or train some of the younger Hawks.

Courtney was somewhat taken aback. She wasn’t used to Artura talking that much.

Unfortunately, Artura was correct. As nice as her dream was, Miranda was going to be out there fighting for Torla against her sisters. As much as she wanted to say “she’s still worth protecting” Courtney knew she couldn’t say it to any woman who had a relative, lover or close friend who fell by Miranda’s blade.

She just had to hope Miranda could take care of herself.

Next Chapter

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Detective Hildegard Case Files- The Shambling Corpses part seven

Catching the brownie in the act a second time was simple enough. She was using her magic to position Franz’s body so that it looked like he was doing rude things to his own grave stone while other corpses looked on or just ignored him.

“Hold!” Bianca called out. “We would have an audience with you.”

“Slinger of spells and human pet,” the brownie greeted. “Come, have you, to pay my due?”

“We know that he owed you his son,” Hilde stated. “But the boy’s fully grown now. Surely, you can’t still want him.”

“We’ve come to seek a prize of equal value you would accept,” Bianca explained. “That you may leave this body in peace and we may move on to other tasks.”

The brownie smiled. Showing her teeth through the massive ball of fur. She disappeared and reappeared in another location further away from the pair. “A replacement payment, there already is. One just has to seek out the original claim and make him pay his father’s shame.”

She vanished again. This time, she didn’t return to sight.

“Does she still want him after all?” Hilde wondered.

“No,” Bianca shook her head. “Not him. You said that Franz left behind two grandchildren, didn’t you?”

“So that’s it,” Hilde muttered. “I guess we’re going to have to try to fight her after all.”

“I won’t do it,” Bianca stated.

“You’d rather give up an innocent child?” Hilde demanded.

“Sweetie, I understand your position,” Bianca said. “But I’m afraid the reverse can’t be said in this case.”

“Then tell me,” Hilde said.

“Magic,” Bianca began “is a wondrous, even miraculous tool. It can do things beyond human ken. But there’s always a price. When a witch, brownie, pixie or other magical creature makes a pact with a human, it’s because we stand to gain something to offset that price. In the case of this brownie, she gave the Porters the child they desperately desired. With one extra for herself.”

“And you think she has the right to trade in human lives like that?” Hilde asked.

“I’m telling you to look at it from her perspective,” Bianca entreated. “Children that would never have existed otherwise were born because of her. Ultimately, she just wanted the same thing they did. A child of her own. She even took great pains and expended more magic to protect her rightful child. Now, we have a man who only existed and survived to adulthood because she took action to create and protect him. And yet, for all she gave up, she’s received nothing.”

Bianca paused and looked Hilde in the eyes. “I know you don’t like the idea of giving away a child who had nothing to do with their grandfather’s choices. But, at the very least, I think she’s entitled to vandalise a graveyard for whatever petty satisfaction it affords her.”

“There’s just one problem with that,” Hilde said. “That Veritas organisation is definitely going to pick up on it.”

“True,” Bianca admitted. “It’s too high profile for them to not notice. And if they send someone out here, they aren’t going to let any magical creature they spot get away.”

“Including you, your sisters or Sakura,” Hilde pointed out. “We have to put a close to this incident before they show up.”

“I admit it, you’re right on that one,” Bianca said.

“So, you’ll help me stop her?” Hilde pressed.

“Yes, but I won’t hurt her,” Bianca insisted. “Just give me a day. I’ll resolve this whole thing.”

“What are you going to do?” Hilde asked.

“I’m going to handle it,” Bianca said. She grabbed her broom.

“You’re going after Benjamin’s child, aren’t you?” Hilde demanded.

“Just trust me,” Bianca said. She flew off on her broom.

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