Dee’s infiltration of the elven war camp would be a difficult one. Her odd skill of making other people ignore her presence was very powerful, but it wasn’t without limits. Those affected would ignore her presence and see her as inconsequential and something that belonged. However, that did come with certain limitations. She wasn’t invisible, just something that should not be paid any attention to. Even if someone was looking for her but didn’t know exactly what they were looking for, their eyes would just slide over her, not paying attention.
There were certain factors that would determine how effective the ability would be on a given target. Some people and some races were naturally more perceptive than others. That wasn’t to say those races could not be fooled, just that it would take more to do so. Dee couldn’t completely control her ability, but she had gained a certain amount of control over the years. If she pushed the ability too hard, the targets would notice something strange and that they were being influenced by something even if they didn’t notice her specifically.
There were also factors that would make the ability less effective. Firstly and most obviously, if her target already knew she was there and was looking at her directly she couldn’t just disappear into thin air, although her ability to control shadows greatly helped in this regard. This was proven in her fight with the lich where Dee had been forced into just avoiding her enemy due to the situation.
Secondly, since the ability made it seem that Dee belonged where she was, the more obviously she didn’t belong where she was, the more obvious the incongruity was. If the dissonance was too jarring her ability would lose effectiveness. For example, a war camp full of elven warriors might find it slightly odd that an over two mel tall demon rogue was stalking through their camp. Again, not impossible to do, just much more difficult.
Third factor was her own behavior. The more she acted like she belonged where she was, the more those around her believed that she did in fact belong. That didn’t apply just for her own abilities as it was an important factor in any infiltration. If you looked like you belonged no one would question you, so it was not surprising that even her ability was affected. She also couldn’t do actions that drew attention to herself, otherwise the effect of her ability would be negated. That was one of the reasons her angel form was so ill suited to the task. The form drew attention to her even if she did nothing. She also obviously couldn’t just walk up to a group of guards and start stabbing one of them without the others noticing something was wrong.
Luckily her stealth abilities didn’t completely rely on her weird skill. One of the most important abilities for an assassin was to remain hidden, so she was thoroughly trained in the ability to find hiding places where there was none. Again her ability to control and meld into the shadows came handy as it could make her almost invisible if the situation was correct. She also had the weird Authority that hid her power from anyone that cared to look. Not that many bothered to search either for psionic power or holy power even if they had the ability to do so. Psions were stupidly rare and bearers of holy power weren’t exactly known for skulking around. Not that it never happened, there were certain gods that actually appreciated stealth.
Dee moved slowly between hiding places, sometimes waiting for several minutes for the right opportunity, and slowly made her way towards the tent of the people commanding the elves. The front of the tent was guarded by a pair of soldiers, but they were mostly there to make sure their commander wasn’t disturbed needlessly. The elves quite reasonably assumed that there was no need to surround the tent with guards, as it was already in the middle of a military camp. The soldiers also had better things to do than stand around guarding against non-existent threats. There was a fine line between being careful and being paranoid. As the old saying went though, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean no one is after you.
The preparations in the camp showed that the cavalry unit had done this several times before. Their movements in setting camp had no hesitation. There was no need to bark out orders as they all knew what to do. Further, they had also subjugated other cities before and they knew that either their target threw open the gates and allowed them in, or the whole thing could take a while.
This city had walls, albeit not very tall and sturdy ones. As they had the superior force when measuring purely by strength, laying siege would be unnecessary. The walls were something of a force equalizer, but real soldiers would do much better if they managed to breach through at a single point and take the fight into the city. They were trained for such fights whereas their enemies were not. That said, as the soldiers were professionals, they prepared for the possibility that things would not go according to plan. They might find a need for a fallback position, and preferably one they would be able to defend. Hence a potentially longer term camp.
Dee could hear voices from inside the tent, but the fabric was muffling the sound and a military camp did cause quite a bit of noise. That made snooping difficult. Dee applied a bit of her power to one of her claws. Then she ever so slowly dragged the claw over the fabric of the tent, slicing the fabric in two. She had chosen her spot carefully. The lights and shadows inside the tent showed that there was something large placed in front of the place where she made the incision, masking her silent entry to the tent from anyone occupying it.
“…and we’re not entirely sure how big of a portion of the population took part in the rebellion and how many more will stand against us to defend their homes. Judging by the population we’re estimating the rebellious forces to number around ten to fifty thousand people capable of fighting. Their strength will of course vary, but there is no real military presence among the populace. I would assume that breaching the walls would be a relatively simple task if we use the standard diversion to throw them off.” A male voice that Dee couldn’t see said in a confident tone.
Another male voice spoke. “I agree that the chances are slim that we’ll run into trouble, but we have to take into consideration any help they might have received. We already know someone is stirring up trouble. Since this was the second city to rebel, we have to assume the unknown party put some effort into the city. They might have provided some assistance in the form of weapons and maybe even advisors. Even a good general wouldn’t be able to turn rabble into real soldiers this quick, but we have to assume they will be aware of some of our tactics and they won’t be armed with just pitchforks. The first company left for the other city just before us and we haven’t heard from them yet. They might offer some insight into the enemy tactics, but we won’t hear from them until they arrive. They had a longer trip than us, so even though they left first…”
“What did the eagle riders say?” A firm female voice asked in a commanding tone.
“As they kept the safety distance they didn’t manage a headcount, but the enemies they did see were well armed and armored. Better armed than a random gathering of rebels should be. They were surprised by our presence but they had the awareness to mask their numbers by staying under cover and leaving only the necessary people to monitor our forces. Again, a tactic that random citizens would not think of.” The second male voice reported.
“So at the very least they have some old veteran soldiers among their number.” The female voice replied. “Most likely someone did provide them with advice and arms as well. The rebellion was very effective in dealing with the local garrison. They garrison might have been made up of crummy soldiers but they were still soldiers of the empire.”
“Helpers for ink pushers!” Scoffed the first male voice. “I still can’t believe we're supposed to take the city in one piece instead of burning it down as an example.”
“House Shadeleaf at work I’m afraid.” The second male voice said with a wry tone. His voice made it apparent that he wasn’t pleased with the situation either, just more pragmatic. “As much as we dislike upper ink, the substance is useful in certain situations and to certain people. I’d note though that we were instructed to make sure the ink was secured, but they never said we couldn’t make an example of the populace.”
The trio was quiet for a short while before the female commander spoke. “Have the eagle riders send them our greetings. No need to be too restrained with their targeting.”
Commander Luthana had led the group outside as soon as she had heard Dee’s report about the approaching enemy. Her choices were somewhat limited. If the enemy forces entered the city, then she could use their identity as a way of negotiating with the elven forces. However, if the elves were more interested in wiping out anyone in the city without even entering, then they were in trouble. She had instructed the recruits to go around and gather people so that they could offer those that needed protection their help.
As the city had been taken by the rebels, it had become quite obvious which of the inhabitants were part of the rebellion and which of them were simply caught in the middle. Those that took part in the rebellion were lording it over those that didn’t. Their general attitude could be interpreted as something like: “We helped you get free, so it’s only fair if you’d be thankful.” Of course, the majority of those that had not taken part in the rebellion were less than thankful. They knew there would be repercussions.
As such, the recruits had no trouble identifying those that were not really involved. The Radiant Sun was not officially taking any position in things so the commander couldn’t provide shelter for those that took part in the rebellion. Under the law of the empire, the rebels would be executed for their treason. However, she could try to shield those uninvolved, which is why the recruits were gathering people, mostly women and children. The group would not take part in the hostilities unless forced to do so and the paladins would do their best to shield the innocent. Those capable, mostly the men and women with some training, would stand with the paladins and protect their loved ones if they had to.
The recruits had just brought in a new group of people, when the commander senses trouble brewing. She could see the eagle riders gathering into formation above the city and gathering their ki. “Incoming, shields above, both physical and any protective spells you can manage!” She commanded.
She herself lifted her arms and a protective bubble of golden holy power spread above the group of buildings the refugees were gathering in. She had use a rather high rank holy spell to protect the area from attacks. The spell would stand against a large number of attacks but not singular powerful attacks meant to pierce such shields. As the area covered was so large, the commander grit her teeth as she watched the shield slowly expand hoping she wasn’t too late.
Their actions had not been too early, as almost immediately after she had given her command the eagle riders let loose their bows and arrows started falling towards the city. The few hundred arrows split up in the air into arrows formed of pure ki, and soon the whole sky was covered in deadly projectiles. The arrows fell like a torrent of rain upon roofs of the houses, people and the protective shielding of the holy warriors. The ki arrows lost some of their strength as the attack was spread so wide, trading power for coverage, but they were plenty enough to kill any unprotected people they hit. Some of the stronger arrows penetrated the slate and wood roofs, hitting whatever lay below them.
The attack was wholly indiscriminate, meant to make a point. The elven soldiers were not here to play nice around civilians. They were here to restore their rule and avenge the dead garrison. Commander Luthana noted that her shield was still intact and the recruits caught outside the shield were alive. One of the recruits had been too slow to cast protective spells and had to rely on her metal shield for defense. Her armor had protected her from few hits that got past the shield, but one of the arrows had penetrated her leg, leaving a nasty wound. Nothing Luthana was unable to heal assuming she got the chance to do so. Which didn’t seem to be happening soon.
Three more waves of arrows followed the first. All the recruits managed to evacuate under the commander’s protective barrier, though they knew they would be in trouble if they tried to leave for more refugees.
“Did we really have to send out the one person who actually had enough power to create an Aegis by herself?” Shunkaha grumbled to himself. The rest of them didn’t have enough power to maintain that particular spell as they were too few in number. They might be able to form the spell, but not maintain it for any real period of time or under pressure.
A messenger entered the tent. “Colonel, news from the eagle riders!” The messenger announced.
“What is it now?” The irritated female commander of the elven troops asked. Dee couldn’t see her, but she could imagine the frown on her face just from her voice.
“They report use of holy power in the city. According to the report, their attack on a particular part of the city was met with a high level holy spell usually utilized by paladins.” The messenger forwarded the important details succinctly. Dee had to admit the efficiency was impressive. All the important details and nothing but.
“Paladin spell?” One of the male voices asked, more thinking out loud than asking a question. “What would a paladin be doing here?”
“Any chance we could get identification the particular paladin?” The other male voice asked.
“Sir, the eagle riders tried but the protective barrier prevents them from getting a good look. There’s also the risk of retaliation so they don’t want to fly too close.” The messenger knew to expect the question and had an answer ready.
“What are the odds of the paladin and his ilk being behind the rebellion?” The female commander, now identified as holding the rank of a colonel asked. She had her opinion but wanted the other two to voice theirs.
“Well, first of all it seems likely that the paladin is a member of the Radiant Sun. Normally I’d say it’s rather unlikely they would get involved, except I heard that our spies have already reported the order gathering weapons and supplies for something major. Also the grandmaster of the order is a member of House Arazana, a prominent player in the Spring court.” One of the male voices said.
“They are rather staunch supporters of the Summer court. This could be a power play. With the recent trouble the courts are a mess of plots and machinations. The paladin could just be caught in the middle of things, but that seems rather coincidental. I’m pretty sure I read a report stating that the order had visited other cities in the area, other cities that are also might be fermenting trouble.” The other male voice added.
Dee didn’t like where this was headed. She started to prepare to take action if it became necessary.
Commander Luthana was sweating profusely. The attack had continued for a while now, and rather than avoiding her protective shield, the attacks seemed more to be aiming towards her instead. The spell was not supposed to be held up for such a long time, and it was starting to take its toll even of the attacks were not too powerful. If this continued she would have no choice but to drop the shield, which would allow the refugees and the recruits to fall under fire.
She had avoided retaliating against the eagle riders for several reasons. If she struck back, then that would pretty much ensure they would be permanently caught in hostilities. So far she had just been defending herself, but if she struck back then there would be no mercy on the part of the elven army. Her striking back also carried some political implications. None of that would matter though if they ended up dead. The political implications would come to pass anyway, just in the other direction. The order would not just gloss over the deaths of a squad of recruits and an officer.
Making up her mind, the commander gathered her power and a golden glow surrounded her hand as she pointed towards the eagle riders above her. A projectile spell would be useless due to the distance, however not all attack spells were projectiles. Or at least not projectiles that you hurled at the enemy. Suddenly blinding pillars of light begun to fall on the eagle riders directly from the sky. ‘Punishment of the Divines’ was a stable offensive spell among high ranking paladins.
The golden light was quick enough to be almost impossible to dodge. The power was not great, but avian creatures such as the eagles were not known for their fortitude and resilience. Such features tended to be heavy, which made flying difficult. Even if the eagles were strong enough to resist, the golden light also stunned them leaving them to plunge down into their deaths. One of the benefits of the spell was also the ability to target multiple enemies. The commander couldn’t strike at all the eagles, but enough of them to drive them off.
The tent went quiet as they got word of several dozen eagles getting burnt to a crisp and more plunging to the ground, taking their riders with them.
“Well, that confirms the paladin as hostile.” One of the male voices remarked.
“Colonel, if I might be so bold as to make a few observations and suggestions.” The other male voice said. “We were planning on sacking the city anyway as a warning to others. If the paladin truly is a member of the Order of the Radiant Sun, then he would make for a very inconvenient witness in all that. Now, no matter the reason for him being there, the paladin has not been sending messages back home since our arrival. What’s to say the order even knows he is here? If he was to disappear…”
The other man picked up the thought. “If he is here on a secret mission, the order can hardly complain if something happens. And if they do have a problem with it, we can say he was regrettably caught in the crossfire. Very unfortunate but it happens. Now that I think about it, we could also pin it on him if something were to ‘accidentally’ happen to the upper inks in the city. The higher ups can hardly gripe about that.”
‘Don’t be stupid dear colonel. Don’t give that order.’ Dee thought silently to herself. But her hope was in vain.
“Make it happen.” The colonel ordered after a moment of thought.
Dee gave a silent sigh. It was time for her to take action. It would be unfortunate if her group got killed on the first mission she taking part in. ‘Croestia, full speed and strength buffs please.’ She ordered silently as she dashed out from behind the screen she had used for cover.
The messenger was just turning to leave as a dagger suddenly sprouted from his right eye. Before anyone could make a sound, one of the male officers was cleaved in two by a black wing that suddenly appeared; while several swords made of psionic power manifested out of thin air and skewered the other man. Dee had stepped up from behind the female elven commander. She had used two of her hands to immobilize her opponent’s hands while she had the colonel in a choke-hold with her other two hands. This really was her standard and most effective assassination method.
“It really is too bad it came to this, as I have nothing against you really.” Dee whispered into the colonel’s ear. “It’s just that I really can’t allow you to give that order.”
The colonel tried to struggle, but the struggle was cut short as Dee twisted her arms, snapping the elven woman’s neck. She noted with amusement that the souls, or whatever the wispy grey forms were, of the people she had just killed were drawn towards her without any action on her part. “Well don’t mind if I do.” She said while devouring them.
She didn’t really feel anything over her actions, except she felt it was a bit of a shame. The elven warriors were in her opinion in their full rights to do what they were doing. Even ordering the death of her group was at worst in the morally grey area. Realities of war were what they were. It was just waste of life that Dee had to kill them for her own ends.
There was a slight problem though. Even though she had done the deed fairly quickly and quietly, mostly thanks to how off-guard she had caught them, there had still been a disturbance. She could already sense the two guards calling for help. The guards were smart enough to realize that if whatever had attacked the people in the tent was skilled enough to kill the four people inside with such ease, adding two corpses to the pile was little use. In seconds the tent was surrounded.
“Well then. Getting in was hard enough. I doubt I can just sneak out. Now what to do?” Dee felt surprisingly calm about the whole thing.