Chapter 11

“My gut says bandits. Or deserters. Either way, let’s see what we are up against. There shouldn’t be anyone with a high or a medium ranked class, so there should be no problems for us.”

“Let’s check first then. It would be a hassle to deal with any hostages.” They both knew the first thing deserters did was kidnap locals. For ransom or worse.

“Well, you might have the chance at using your Warrior Subclass at least.” Paige responded.

“If they are army deserters, we should assume what skills or spells they know.” Nick said quietly, looking for a good vantage point to see the campsite.

“It will mostly depend on if they have any officers and their training. Most Alcudian officers will know at least [[Attack Locator]] or [[Dispel Camouflage]] at the very least. We shouldn’t expect any veteran soldiers with classes though, otherwise we’ll have bigger problems on hand.”

“Agreed. Veteran soldiers know better than to stay in a group when defecting. At least if they are found defecting and haven’t committed any crimes, they have a good chance of not getting executed. Let’s assume younger officers and forced conscripts then.”

Paige thought to herself quietly. ‘Bandits know better than to kidnap people; too risky a job for little reward, especially out here in the country where the ransom amount will be a pitiful amount. And the countryside will be up in arms if they are not ransomed.’ She relayed her thoughts to Nick, who agreed with her assessment. He added quietly. “Merchants groups usually deal with the bandit problem, so we’ll assume strictly deserters.”

“Now the only problem is what to do if they have formed a party.”

“Kill the entire party.” Paige said decisively.

“Really? Not just the party leader?”

“A band of deserters this big are most likely a small combat group to begin with. If the whole division has defected, then everyone has already agreed to it. Better to kill them all than to let a problem fester longer.”

“Do you want to check it out first or not? That will be the biggest factor in how we approach this battle.”

“…We’ll decide once we find a good vantage point. If they’ve killed anyone or have kidnapped locals, then we kill them outright. A soldier is there to protect the country, not terrorize it.” Her eyes scanned the tree line. “Have you found a location that isn’t being watched?”

Nick closed his eyes and released a bit of his mana. Frowning, he said to Paige quietly. “They’ve cleared the forest surrounding their camp for a few dozen feet and have a good patrol in place; two to a team, each watching the other’s positions. It’s not likely we will be able to sneak past them.”

Paige assessed Nick for a moment. “Use [[Farsight]] or [[Boosted Hearing]]. You should know those two spells. And before you say anything, I know that a Ranger with a bow and arrow pendant knows those spells.” She pointed toward his wooden pendant holding his cloak together. “You were a Hunter or an Archer before you became a Ranger; and a good one at that, judging by the mithril that is used to outline the pendent. So, you should know those two advanced spells as a minimum.”

‘Damn, she does know her stuff.’ “…your right. I do know those spells. Care to protect me while I use them?” Nick said after a moment of silence.

“Sure. Which one will you use?”

“I’ll use both. Let me get a get to a good location.” Nick eyed the tree lines for a good spot. He found one with a relatively good view of the camp. Stilling himself, he focused and said clearly in his mind ‘[[Owl Senses]]’ ‘She must not know using both at the same time creates this spell; odd, considering it’s Paige we’re talking about.’

Focusing his thoughts, he turned to the camp and started to focus on the conversations. “…your cooking is crap Jacob…. why should I waste my life on scouting missions…we should be moving on soon…the dogs are restless again…let me have a go at the prisoners, I’ll make them shut up…”.

‘Damn, they did kidnap people. Well, that sealed their fate right there.’ Nick thought to himself. ‘But are there any officers here?’

“…any good targets nearby…a few young girls and boys in the hamlet to the east of us; good money from the slave traders if we can get near the Leit borders quietly…Officer Dawood has assured us we won’t be noticed by the army. He knows how to spot scouts, we’ll be fine…Officer Killian disagrees, he thinks we should take over a hamlet until their division is declared dead before heading to the borders.”

‘Two officers at the least. At twenty a person under an officer, that makes it forty people at least. Hmph, two full divisions have deserted. And we’re still a few days away from the frontlines. How is it going there then?’

Nick scanned the tents, keeping track of which tents were being entered and by whom. He focused on the voice that was talking about the prisoners and narrowed it down to three different tents. ‘Got it, protect those tents then.’ He silently canceled the spell and looked down at Paige, using standard Ranger hand signs to communicate. “Two Divisions…Captured Locals…Two Officers known…Thoughts?”

Paige thought for a minute and responded back, using outdated Ranger signs but still recognizable “I Around…Five Minute Wait…Pick Near Defenders…I Assault…Which tents?” Nick processed what he saw.

‘I’ll have to tell the Ranger Command to teach only the new hand signals. I can’t tell them why because of [Oath of Silence], but it shouldn’t be able to stop me from stressing to stop teaching the old codes.’ He silently thought of the older hand signals and quickly told Paige which tents to watch for. Paige signed them back to him and he affirmed she was correct. He watched as Paige unslung her small sword from her back, the blade shining dully in the forest shade, and walked quietly into the bushes. ‘A magic sword of some type? Or maybe a blended sword?’

He eyed the camp again, formulating his plan of attack. ‘Okay, the camp is arranged in a standard round camp formation, food and priority targets near the center of the camp. I’ll get rid of the ten sentries all at once.’ Activating his spell again, he slowly pulled his quiver to his side, selecting ten arrows and held them in the same hand as the bow.

‘I’ll have less than a minute before the rest of the camp notices something wrong.’ he thought to himself quietly. He decided to go and kill them all before he ran out of mana. He channeled his mana and said in his mind [Silent Arrow] [Armor Piercing] [Bow Stabilizer].  

Exhaling, he quickly kneeled and pulled his bow back; the short bow arching steeply. Sighting his first target, he silently gauged how much time he had remaining before his mana ran out. ‘Twenty seconds.’ He waited a few seconds as the guards were talking and shot two arrows, one in quick succession. Not even looking at the results, he quickly shot two more arrows at each of the sentries but stopped before he shot the remaining guards on the far side of the camp.

‘Almost ran out of mana. I should have rested beforehand.’ He thought to himself. This was the main reason he did not like using his short bow in the forest. ‘I have to get a better short bow. I only brought my Ranger longbow with me from Leit. [Bow Stabilizer] takes too much mana to reinforce these standard issue short bows.

He surveyed his results. Eight of the sentries were dead; none of them really knowing how they died. He knew that his skill [Silent Arrow] blocked the typical sound the fletching made while the arrow was in flight. Adding in [Armor Piercing] allowed the bolts to go straight through the sentries, dulling the sound of the impact as it tore open the men’s chest. ‘The blood smell is spread.’ He noticed that the dogs in the camp started barking erratically, heading toward the now dead sentries.

He abandoned his cover and pulled out his trusty longbow. Sighting the dogs, he used the remaining two arrows to put down two war dogs that were headed in his direction.

The camp burst into panic as the men saw the dead dog’s and sentries. “Enemy attack! Long range fighters!” Nick pulled more arrows out of his quiver and jumped out of the tree, running toward his next spot. He hoped his priority targets would show themselves. ‘We need those officers dead. Come on, show yourselves already.”

He watched as the deserters pulled makeshift barricades out from the tents and arranged them in his direction. None of them were as panicked as he hoped they would be. Seeing more people show up, he opted to start picking people off. Stretching his arms, he quickly discarded his typical, cast iron tipped arrows, in favor for his longer, steel tipped arrows instead.

He counted to three and walked out from behind a tree, selecting four targets hiding behind a stack of firewood. ‘Good idea, but only if your opponent isn’t a master archer. [Pulling Power]’ He pulled an arrow from his hand; sighted, drew and released all in the span of three seconds. Nick knew from experience that his arrow was flying true. He instantly repeated his shots, changing his angle slightly to adjust for the odd pieces of firewood.

He was glad he used his longbow for this instead of his short bow. With his skill [Pulling Power], he was able to use his specialty Ranger longbow. Without that skill, he would not even be able to draw back his bow. His bow had a maximum of three-hundred-and-sixty-pound draw weight, he knew that the steel tipped arrows would have enough punching power to pierce both the wood and the people behind it.

He heard gasps as the deserters saw the arrows kill four men, even with them hiding behind a mostly solid barrier. “Get down, he’s an Archer! [[Attack Locator]]” the voice screamed out of a tent, a fully armored soldier walking quickly in his direction, looking for cover every few steps.

“Go three to a group; he can’t kill us all. [[Dispel Arrow Flight]]” screamed another voice; panicking at the situation.

He noticed as a thin red line of mana gathered onto him, while another red line of mana attached itself to his arrows. He pulled an arrow out, watching how the mana reacted. The red mana line attached to him gathered quickly into a line; which followed his gaze. The arrow in his hand felt slightly heavier than normal, and he noticed a shimmering on the arrows fletching.

‘Wherever my gaze goes the mana goes, and the arrows flight will be sporadic. It must be a full group of scouts.’ He was used to these disrupting skills; indeed, most of the Ranger’s enemies would often use these two skills if they had it. Knowing who was being targeted was helpful in a battle; and having his main weapon rendered mostly useless was also standard for him.

‘I guess Paige was right. I will get some practice in after all.’ He pulled out his dagger as he readied himself for close combat. Looking at the deserters coming closer, they jumped when his vision landed on them, as if they knew he was aiming for them. ‘Good, no iron armor, just standard leather gear. That confirms it, they were just scouts.’

Sighing lightly, he jumped out from behind the tree and ran straight toward the nearest enemy.

‘Well, it looks like Nick has it covered on that end. I guess Diana changed the codes after they defected.’ It made her sad to see the twins go, but they made their minds up after the Queen at the time gave them an ultimatum…but that was a different royal line. She was pretty sure that line died out a few hundred years ago.’

She heard a faint sound in the air. ‘[Silent Arrow] or [One with Nature]? Honestly, an archer with greater nature would probably be a pain to fight in a forest.’ She listened for the sounds. ‘One…three…seven…eight…’ Paige waited but she heard no other sounds. The camp was starting to come alive with barking though. “Well, killing eight out of ten defenders is good, especially considering his maximum mana levels. Did they somehow decrease the mana cost for the Ranger spells?’

She waited until the camp was fully alive and they had found Nick. The whole camp was focused on Nick’s side of camp, which made it easy for Paige to slip close to the last sentries; who were not paying attention to their backs. ‘[Blink]’ She appeared right behind them and quickly slit their throats; stopping any warning cries before they died.’

She heard a panicked voice scream a spell to stop Nick from picking them off at range.

Wielding her sword, she ran through the camp and killed anyone that moved; their leather armor providing no protection against her mithril blade. ‘Luckily Nick killed the two war hounds, so there shouldn’t be anyone or anything else to warn that she was there. Now, Nick said the three main tents in the center were suspicious.’ Casting a glance at Nick, she judged that he shouldn’t have any trouble on his end. He’d be letting the Ranger Class down if he can’t even beat a few normal scouts by himself.

She quickly went to the biggest tent, cutting her way in from the side. She noticed it was the officer’s tent and was full of maps and plans; presumably ones to get away from the frontlines. Quickly moving, she strode to the adjoining tent and discovered there were about ten frightened children huddling in a circle, some younger than Isabella. Around their neck were leather bands, and chains joined each child together with another one. ‘Slavers. Bah. At least it wasn’t full of captured women instead.’ Quickly walking toward the oldest looking one, she whispered loudly so that they could all hear her.” Be quiet. We’ve come to rescue you.” Her sword made light work of the chains adjoining them.

“Please, get our parents too!” The boy asked tearfully. “They were captured as well not three days ago.”

Paige hesitated. That must be the last tent she had not checked, but it could only fit a few adults in it; certainly not more than five or six.

“We’ll get them after. Huddle in a circle, quick.” She shooed them into a circle and quickly drew a circle around them, adding in a few symbols around the perimeter. “This should keep you safe. Don’t break the circle, got it?” Waiting for their nods of affirmation, she quietly released her mana, powering the magic circle. “[[Concealment]]” The circle glowed in response and the children abruptly vanished from her sight.

She walked around the tent, making sure the circle was hidden from all angles. “Stay quiet and still; it won’t mask sounds.”

She quickly dashed out of the tent, killing the two guards stationed there. They never thought they would be attacked from behind since only the kids were inside.

‘We’ve killed almost half of the camp now, I guess I’ll help Nick out.’ She found the two officers yelling orders to surround Nick. ‘He’s doing fairly well actually; I don’t think he’s used any of his subclass skills yet.’ For his part, Nick was moving erratically; and was making sure he had an opening to run towards. He had already killed four opponents in close combat.

‘Something is wrong she thought to herself.’ She idly wondered why the deserters only had daggers and standard armor and realized that something was off about the officers as well. “They haven’t used any skills or spells to enhance their men.” she said quietly.

It struck her suddenly; she had been in this situation once before. A long, long time ago. “Nick, kill them all, hurry!” Her shout rang across the camp, startling everyone. ‘[Blink]’ The officer’s startled, looking down at the sword now in their chest; while the other wondered why he could see his body from below. She hurriedly slashed her opponents, fearful that she would not kill them all in time. “It’s a trap; they’re demons from Trent. Kill them quickly!”

Nick blinked for a second, watching Paige go on a killing spree. He quickly backed up, drawing his short bow and shooting the soldiers close to him; their leather armor doing little to stop the steel tipped arrows. “Why do we need to kill them so fast?” He yelled to Paige.

“Because they’ve already started their sacrifices!” He noted some of their complexions had changed to white from fear, and some had grim looks on their faces. “Did they really not know?”

“Forget this!” Paige yelled suddenly. Nick watched as she burned the rest of her mana, her weapon quickly changing from a pale grey to a brilliant red, almost matching the setting sun in the sky. “[Setting Sun]!” The heat of the sword started to warp the air around her. He noticed her movements became slightly weird, as if she was following a pattern of some type.

Her mana quickly flew out of her, wrapping around the remainder of the enemies. “Oh, Goddess of Sunset, Smite my enemies with your heavenly fire!” He watched as the sun above flashed in time with Paige’s sword. ‘[Inferno Slash]’

Nick’s vision went white, and he quickly flipped the hood on his cape onto his head. His Ranger cloak was embedded with [[Flash Protection]] and [[Greater Heat Resistance]]; just in the off chance his enemies tried to burn down a forest, with him still in it.

He quickly saw the rest of the opponents scatter into ashes; Paige’s strike thoroughly killing everyone she thought was an enemy. He noticed that she had also focused on the smallest tent, one that he thought would have captives in it, judging by the conversations he heard.

The tent burning, he realized that there was only an altar there, the air around the altar stopping the flames from coming close. He quickly noticed the dead bodies stacked around the altar; placed mockingly around it as if worshiping the altar. A symbol he had never seen before flashed above the alter, and he vaguely realized that Paige knew what the symbol represented.

She quickly ran toward the altar, stopping to look at the bodies around it. “May you all rest in peace. Your children will be taken care of; that I promise.” She did a weird gesture herself and raised her hand toward the setting sun. “[Holy Sun Dog]” Suddenly, the sun split into three different parts of the sky, each one a different color. “[[Blessed Sun Ray]]” A beam of light from the suns adjacent to the true setting sun suddenly fell onto the bodies, cleaning the remnants of blood and changing their faces from one of suffering to peace. The last beam of light fell onto the altar; breaking the symbol hanging above it in two.

Nick realized that those weren’t Warrior Spells, or really any spell he had heard of himself. ‘I’ll ask Zenith about it. Chances are Paige won’t say anything anyways.’

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