Xi Squad Strikes

From Charred Marble

Felix stood slightly uneasy in front of the big castle. Some nearby guards looked suspiciously at him, but he ignored them. Instead he walked away from the Castle of Mjolnir and nodded to a nearby man, who had a faint, gray î visible on his shoulder only to those who knew what to look for. The seemingly completely normal blond-haired strider now turned about and walked behind Felix. Moving along the street, a crimson-haired woman clad in a dirty green dress flashed three fingers with her right hand so quickly that Felix was sure no one else on the morning-busy street noticed it - not that it would mean anything more than a hand gesture.

Felix nodded and as he approached a large market, he could feel that she too now joined as part of the Xi Squad Captain's tail. Pezza had said he would be waiting in the King's Tent on the market. Felix had entered Thunderton during the night, having sent Scarlet ahead as a messenger. Ben had also "infiltrated" the city during the night, independantly of Felix. He had sent messages to the Xi team leaders though, so he had expected to see him.

Where was Paul?

Felix stood completely still, observing the market before him, searching for Paul. He finally saw an old beggar nearby and walked over to the poor man, dropping a coin in his outstretched hand and receiving a familiar wink in return. Felix patted the man on the shoulder as if telling him that everything was going to be all right and he then approached the purple and white tent named the King of Photoshop's tent. "Invites only!" was written underneath the beautifully written name of the tent. A large guard was posted outside and Felix correctly recognized him as Makdath - an old Battalion member, Felix had not seen for years. His face had new scars - at least to Felix and he did not react as Felix approached him. After glaring him in the eyes, he asked with a rough voice:

"Elite Fellow?"
"Nah - it is actually 'Elite Felo' Felix corrected calmly.

Without a word, Makdath stepped aside and Felix entered the tent, crouching. Precisely two minutes later, Scarlet approached Makdath after seemingly looking at a fisherman's goods.

"Crimson?"
"Nah - my name is Scarlet, big one!"

She entered and remained silent as she sat next to Felix in the large, decorated tent. Felix could hear a short and to him predictable conversation outside:

"Sniper?"
"Funny word - I call it deignated marksman!"

Ben entered. Four minutes later the beggar approached Makdath:

"Give a coin to an old beggar please?"

Felix followed the shadows and realized that instead of taking a coin, Paul actually gave Makdath the coin that Felix had given Paul a few minutes ago. Paul then entered the tent, removing some of his disguise. He smiled and stuck out a tounge as he did so.

"Yeah," Felix said, "sometimes all of this secrecy is plain ridiculous!"

"But great fun too!" Ben added.

Now they just needed Pezza.

Shortly after the four members of the Xi Squad had entered the tent, Pezza joined them. Makdath let him through and has Pezza walked in he greeted Felix with a hug and Benjamin with a good handshake. Pezza did not know Scarlet or Paul but he had heard of both of them and greeted them with a respectful nod. Then he turned back to Felix, smiling sourly.

"Now?" he asked.

Felix spoke without further ado:

"I am very sorry to take away some of your precious time, Pezza. You must be busy with everything going on near the borders.

I see the Lord is leaving for Shiverland, but problems exist in other parts of the Realm too.

Therefore I had to set this meeting up, Pezza!"

Felix glanced at the back of the ten and the others followed him as he stepped away from Makdath's position.

"We have leads on a Serpent fort in Udelia!"

Pezza nodded quickly, "How long ago did you find out?"

This was good news, but if anything it could also be critical.

"Only five days ago - Scarlet and Paul had been assigned to that area as we had heard rumours from nearby settlers about some mysterious murders in the area." Felix answered. Scarlet took over:

"Yes. Udelia is thinly populated and far from civilization. It's a perfect hiding place - no big military pressence. It is quite large, however. Finding the fort itself might require a bit of aid from…the Joypad Order."

Paul added:

"We estimate it is the centre of their Southern operations."

"How many member of the Clan are there?" Pezza asked. "In the fort? Have you any clue on that?"

"Well we tried to count an average…" Felix started, but an impatient Scarlet interrupted him:

"Sorry, Squad Leader, but let me just get to the point!"

Felix blushed slightly, but decided to ignore Scarlet's insubordinance, recognizing his own flaw at talking too much without actually saying anything. He nodded and Scarlet carried on:

"The little bastard that betrayed his pals told us that there were 300 Serpents in that fort! He might be exaggerating, but he might be telling the truth as well. I wonder where they hid a fort that big, but well - we'll find out soon!"

"Three hundred?" Pezza said with astonishment.

Scarlet, Paul and Felix all nodded in union. Ben didn't say a word. He didn't even move. He had his eyes fixed on the tent entrance and a hand resting on a throwing knife.

Felix spoke once more:

"We feel that there is only one thing to do and it has to be done as soon as possible. A takedown operation!"

Paul added:

"The area is desolate. They probably have many sentries, but with a coordinated stealthy attack, we should be able to accomplish a succesful hit and run attack." He coughed and added: "Given we know where they are!"

Felix nodded and said:

"A direct assault would be suicidal, and with a stealthy attack we might just have a chance to kill them off."

Scarlet some dirt off her dagger and said, without looking up:

"50 Dragons with some additional as back up should be all we need!"

Pezza looked at Ben, then at the tent entrance with a disturbing frown before answering.

"I agree," he said. "I support the operation. But take some prisoners. Ash told me they had captured some prisoners from another operation, do you know anything about that?"

"Ben led a raid on a necromancer gathering spot." Felix spoke as he looked at Ben. Ben gave a curt nod, not removing his glare from the only potential entrance of enemies.

"Lucas died in that operation. Technically necromancers do not belong to our area of focus, so Ash has all prisoners taken away from our custody. He had James from Omega Squad handle the interrogations."

Felix hesitated and then added, visibly nervous:

"Ash has become more ruthless in some of his methods, Pezza!"

Paul did not like where this conversation was going. He quickly added:

"We will make sure to capture some of the high-ranking officers in the fort, Pezza! We won't kill them all - we are not like them!"

Pezza did not respons to Felix's comment about Ash' doings, he did not even meet his gaze.

"I understand Paul. I'm only concerned that they might rather kill themselves instead of being taken alive."

"Well," Scarlet said thoughtfully, "Oz has created a powerful paralyzing poison. It can be applied to arrows or crossbow bolts."

Before anyone else could speak, Ben spoke for the first time since entering the tent - he still gazed at the entrance:

"That paralyzer is still being tested." He finally looked at Pezza, "besides…the arrows or bolts can still kill!"

Pezza nodded, "There is a lot to do this. Nevertheless, you have my support. Do what your trained to do."

Felix was surprised at Pezza's coldness. He wondered what had happened between him and Ash last time they had met. Scarlet had said Ghendo seemed distressed last time she had seen him.

"There are…futher complications, Pezza!" Felix said. "I speak on behalf of Kevin of Zeta squad now. He said that they have discovered strong connections between the necromancers in the Realm - namely in Shiverland and some mysterious leader, who has given them a "joint cause" to fight for. It is all enigmatic and hard to be sure about, but we believe they now have a fellow goal to fight for, which might make them even more dangerous than before. If the hordes were to unite, they could put up some serious resistance in Shiverland!"

Scarlet added:

"And we can not rule out that Fenix the Serpent is going to help them destroy the Crusade force - if he is paid enough he would do anything!"

"Mysterious leader?" Pezza asked quizingly. "What do you know about this one?"

"Only what Kevin's men found in the documents." Felix hesitated. "It could be wrong of course, but why would they write lies in their journal?"

Felix walked around the tent, rubbing his chin. He finally spoke:

"Those perchaments spoke of a lich leader who could finally unite the dead in their quest for territory. It did not give details, but this particular necromancer cell seemed to believe that this…thing…would bring all necro-forces together in a massive army."

Paul suggested:

"They could have been tricked just as we might be?"

"It might be possible," Pezza said beginning to walk back and forth. "There is some darkness going on in Weissland at the moment, something which was an important factor that made Weissland end the war. Something has risen in the Defiled Kingdom I believe."

"If Ariakas had not traveled to Weissland before we arrived here, and Andy had not ridden north to the Gates of Grief they could have told me more about whatever evil we faced and I could have given the info to you. But I'll say there is every possibility for some kind of liche lord, necromancer or some other bestial creature to have assumed command of the undead forces. What I'm unsure about is the Serpent Clans involvement, where did he find the documents? Does he know who of the Serpent Clan who wrote the journal?"

Felix shook his head. Sweat trickled down his face.

"Listen, Pezza! I am not supposed to tell you this. Ash would have me killed, but I have to. Kevin is missing! No one has any idea where he went. He disappeared the night after he told me about the discovery. Zeta had a team look for him in a large radius of his last known location, but he is gone! Robert now leads Zeta, but they are all distressed. Ash ordered us to keep our mouths shut - even to you - but I have a hunch that…his disappearence was no coincidence. The people in this tent are the only ones who know of this document as of now - he managed to tell me and no one else!"

Felix regained control of his emotions.

"I have not told Ash about this!"

"What?" Pezza was completely thrown off balance by this. "A member of the Dragon Battalion never simply disappears."

"So Ash does not know about the documents?"

"No"

Felix was clearly scared of this. He finally gathered courage and spoke:

"I…we…Scarlet, Paul, Ben and I…we do not…trust our Leader any longer, Pezza!" He looked at Pezza with an expression saying "Forgive me". He then said:

"I did not dare tell him of this. He is acting strangely - he has been anti-Realmish at times in coversations and…loses his temper whenever we mention…your name! I do not know what to do any more, Pezza. That is why I came to you."

Pezza looked at the ground, shaking his head. It could seem like he was fighting with himself.

"It's not… we can't think of that now Felix," he said. "I will come back to it. It's out of our hands now anyway."

"You have a mission to do."

Felix felt relieved by this answer. He felt his heart beat slower and gave a small smile to his fellow Dragons before hastily replying to Pezza:

"Yes of course. You are right. Well - I just…we wanted you to know about this necromancer business since it sure is a problem. Before the Battalion was tasked with tracking them down, I didn't even know we had necromancers in the Realm. We are certainly lucky that they are all isolated and few. If we had a necromancer of political power, things could go messy."

Felix cleared his throat and spoke again:

"Pezza, what do we do about Kevin though? Do you think he has been…abducted? Killed?"

"You will need to involve a few others on this, and set them to investigate the matter," Pezza said. "I can't help you with Kevin."

Felix looked disappointed.

"Well - if you hear anything about him, let me know!"

Ben suddenly rose.

"We have wasted enough time here, Felix. Pezza is no Dragon anymore after all. Let's just get going, prepare the Assault on fort Udelia and leave the…" Ben tried to remember the sign outside the tent… "King of Photoshop aone"

There was a hint of annoyance in his voice. Scarlet nodded and Paul fastened his belt anew.

Pezza simply nodded, though he remained silent looking at Felix, then at Ben and back at Felix again.

Felix felt a bit confused.

"Well guys," Paul said. He glanced at Scarlet with a smirk and added: "and lady, let us move on then. We have to ride to the Dragon Cave first anyways, gather up some Xi and Epsilon fellows and ride to the Musical Castle. I think we'll make it our base of operations for the takedown! I'll eat them serpents whole!"

None in the tent found the jokes funny, but as two of his companions made it clear that they should move on, Felix streched out a hand towards Pezza and said:

"Thanks for…listening, Pezza!"

"Thank you for self for telling me this," the man responded. "Now you must go, with all haste." He nodded to Ben.

Ben finally hid his throwing knife, having it on the ready all the time. Felix mumbled one more "thanks" before moving toward the opening in the tent. Ben followed, barely nodding at Pezza. Scarlet waved as she walked by Perry and finally Paul saluted before following his friends.

The group of four walked past Makdath and when out of hearing range, Paul mumbled:

"Not exactly what we had hoped for!"

Felix frowned and said:

"Not indeed!"

The Dragons exited Thunderton with all haste. They were all eager to kill Serpents!

  • * *

"The Order of the Joypad are pussies, Felix!" Scarlet said, rolling her eyes.

"True, but we need intelligence, Kitty! Remember last time we went a place we knew nothing about?" Felix replied seriously.

"If you mean Phil's room, then I see your point. I will never forget that stench!" Scarlet said, smiling.

Felix and Scarlet were riding towards a small outpost of the Order of the Joypad a few miles south of the Joypad Tower. They had decided to meet here through a "neutral" messenger. They needed maps and other important information on the bumpy part of the Zealous County known as Udelia. Xi Squad suspected that a Serpent Castle was located somewhere in the Udelian Hills. They were to root them out.

With Louise's permission a special "Honour Guard" unit had been allowed to reside in the Musical Castle for the moment. This special unit was in fact Xi Squad, but as always - no one knew. They were just on a special mission of sorts and usually people in Southern County required no more info than that.

About one hundred Dragons now waited. They were all eager to kill these traitors. They all thanked the idiot who had told them of the secret fortress in Udelia. Of course they had not moved the entire unit without making sure that the hint had at least some basis.

Xi Dragons had found out that the regional Town Guards and authorities had had some problems with mercenaries and private contractors. Recently, a member of the Court had been assassinated. It had been a high-risk assassination, which went perfect. Felix and his men and women knew that that probably meant former Alpha Dragons at work.

Felix and Kitty spotted the Ordermen at the small outpost. They waved at them. It was a hot afternoon. The two Dragons wore light Honour Guard uniforms and Kitty cursed, because they made her sweat incredibly much.

There was a group of five Ordermen waiting for them.

"Hello!" their leader said as he bowed to Scarlet. She merely nodded. Felix replied verbally:

"Greetings, Ordermen of the Joypad. We won't stay long!"

"But of course," the bearded leader said. He looked slightly intoxicated Felix thought. Scarlet found him pathetic. He was short, hunchbacked and half of his teeth were black. The Order attracted all kinds of people, she saw. The leader carried on while handing over six pieces of perchament to Felix, "you will find two maps of Udelia as well as several written notes on notable landmarks. May I ask what the Honour Guard is lookin' for? Maybe we can help? I know I'd love to work together with your hot girlfriend there, sir!"

Kitty was about to kick the man in the groin, but Felix held out a hand and replied:

"No. This is none of your concern. Thank you for your help!"

The bearded man looked displeased as one of his companions whispered something in his ear. Scarlet looked around nervously. Something annoyed her and it was not this pityful creature in front of her. It was something else.

The Orderman snapped his fingers and both Felix and Scarlet lost consciousness.

The bearded man named Martius grinned as four Ordermen approached from their hiding places in the woods.

"They never saw it coming!" he shouted as he removed the two poisoned bolts from their bodies. Bring them to the fortress! Aurellio was right! Someone had told them about our fortress in Udelia, boys! But I bet they didn't expect it to be the Joypad Tower itself! Har Har!"

All ten Serpents laughed as they put the consciousless bodies of the two Dragons in a horse-pulled cart. Then they headed for the Joypad Tower.

Three Serpents remained at the outpost. They were not in doubt that the Honour Guard would quickly come looking for their comrades when they did not return to the Musical Castle. They would act as if nothing had happened, hopefully make them look somewhere else than Joypad Tower.

The Serpents responsible for this audacious ambush were not some of the most experienced Serpents in the Clan, but they were aspiring quickly. The leaders in Joypad Tower would know what to do with these Realmers. Ask for ransom seemed like the most intelligent thing in Bafgar's mind. He rubbed his beard. Aurellio would know what to do with them.

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