”Well at least someone outside has some brains.” Dee remarked calmly.
She could feel six mages that had traveled along with the elven cavalry getting into a formation outside the tent. The spell they were weaving wasn’t meant to blast Dee into smithereens along with the tent she was in. Instead the mages realized that whoever killed the officers in the tent had entered using stealth so they were taking measures against that. Dee could feel magical walls reaching towards the sky, stopping anyone inside the formation from leaving. The elven warriors could easily get inside the magical formation however. They were trying to catch her alive.
“It’s not a bad idea, even though it won’t work as they hoped.” Dee said with a nod of her head.
A pair of wings suddenly sprouted from her back. The spell the mages used had a slight problem. The walls surrounding her might be high but they weren’t endless, and they had no ceiling stopping her from flying straight upwards. It wasn’t really the fault of the mages though. Even among those beings that were able to fly very few among them were capable of ascending directly upwards with little space, especially from a standing takeoff. Even beings that relied partially on magic to fly such as dragons would need some space to gain altitude. Angels were one of the few exceptions to this rule, because their flight relied entirely on magic.
‘Wait, Dee!’ Croestia suddenly silently stopped her. ‘You might want to consider changing appearances. Do you want to fly out looking like that? The soldiers outside will report back to the empire and you look rather distinct. They might come after you.’
“Good point.” Dee replied with a frown. She quickly shifted fully to her angel form. She used that form a lot less so if one of them had to sacrificed…
Then it hit her. Why not use this chance to throw the suspicion away from her and eliminate the possibility of the order getting the blame? She could make some adjustments to her appearance and didn’t have to limit herself to her so called true forms. She just wouldn’t be able to maintain the altered form for long. First she looked at her lavender colored wing, which slowly turned to black as well. Shockingly the wing resisted the change quite strongly. Dee could feel the wing constantly trying to shift back to the original color. That particular appearance change could only be maintained for an hour at most.
Hiding the halo had already become familiar, even if it was still uncomfortable, and she then focused on her face. The angel form already had a slight otherworldly feel to it akin to elves, so she went with it and changed her appearance to fully elven. There was a race of winged elves in the empire known as the Avariel. They were rare and even more rarely seen outside the empire, but she could now pass for one for a short time.
Dee could sense dozens of elven warriors approaching the tent from all sides and realized it was time to go. Seeing as the elves excelled in archery, she would need a distraction to get some distance without getting turned into a porcupine. She gathered her psionic power and then let it loose in a completely uncontrolled storm of psionic energy around her. The pressure and lightning killed the warriors closest to the tent as the tent itself was turned into scraps. The power of the storm was not large enough to break the walls as the mages had been prepared for an attempt to do just that. However, it did obscure the visibility for a short time. A short time Dee used wisely as she shot directly upwards towards the sky, getting out of the effective range of the bows of the elven warriors.
Yells of “Dark Avariel!” filled the camp. Unbeknownst to Dee the Avariel also had their own warlike members similar to how their wingless cousins had Dark Elves. The difference was that the Dark Avariel were not a clan but individuals and usually very powerful ones at that. Where normal Avariel were very peaceful and freedom loving by nature, the Dark Avariel turned their considerable talents into an endless search for power and battle. They were also members of the more warlike Autumn court, working as their enforcers and elite warriors. The presence of a Dark Avariel on this occasion was much more significant than Dee could imagine as they were seen as harbingers of war as their nature seeped into their wings, turning them raven black.
Meanwhile Dee climbed higher towards the sky, trying to find the upper limits of the walls surrounding her, and she finally did reach the point that granted her free movement. She was less happy to notice that the elves had not been idle in the meantime though as the remaining eagle riders were now coming towards her at maximum speed, and they probably didn’t intend to discuss weather. She had read up on aerial combat in books but she had no real experience with it. How could she when none of her teachers could fly?
While the number of elves and eagles wasn’t huge and she could probably face them on the ground, they had the experience and training in aerial combat that she did not. So Dee did the only reasonable thing in the situation and bolted. To her surprise the eagles could maintain speeds fairly similar to her. The eagles were not the most powerful creatures in combat but they were fast. The problem was exasperated by the fact that the elves flying on the eagles were shooting at Dee and she lost speed while dodging.
One good thing was though that unlike the eagles, Dee didn’t really rely on natural means for her ability to fly. Her wings were operating fully under her psionic power and didn’t have to conform to the laws of physics. That’s what had allowed her to do such a crazy ascent directly upwards in the first place. As a result she didn’t have to flap her wings, she didn’t have to care about updrafts or air currents and she could certainly make much sharper turns than the eagles were capable of performing. This gave her a significant advantage in mobility, but it came at the cost of her power being slowly drained.
It was inevitable that the chase devolved into an ongoing skirmish in the air. While she wasn’t an expert in aerial combat, one thing that helped Dee was that both sides were quite happy to make their combat ranged, which made her inexperience less relevant. You didn’t need to be a genius to know that an aerial ranged skirmish was all about your ability to dodge and hit the enemies that tried to dodge your attacks. Dee might not have experience but she was a psion and her ability to quickly calculate trajectories and lead her shots was a huge advantage. She also realized that this shooting war was all about forcing your target into dodging in a way that placed them in front of another attack or eliminating your enemy’s ability to dodge by making your attacks cover a larger area.
The elves quickly realized that shooting at Dee normally was fairly useless, so they went with the latter tactic. They once again used the same ability they had utilized when attacking the city, and covered the sky in arrows, leaving Dee no room to dodge. Unfortunately for them, Dee’s wings were also excellent shields as she could buffet away those pesky arrows that got too close. In addition she was fully capable of forming shields from her psionic power and the split arrows lost a lot of their penetrative power when they were used like this.
Dee was having similar bad luck on her side. She had shot some psionic weapons at her enemies, and the first time one exploded it took a couple of the eagles with it. The enemy quickly learned to watch out for the explosions and now gave much more room with each dodge. Even if they couldn’t avoid the explosion completely, they only got singed by the edge of the explosion. The only time Dee hit now was when she could attack in a way that the eagle that dodged exposed another eagle right behind the first one. The second eagle didn’t have time to dodge anymore as the attack was already too close. Situations like that were the reason why fliers usually moved in certain formations, but the skirmish had messed up the formations of the eagles. That kind of attack opportunity was rare though, and could not be relied upon.
Dee’s best chance was still to get away from her pursuers. Luckily she’d had a plan as she flew to escape. The elves also had a plan and they both came to fruition at the same time. One of the most powerful warriors among the elves had been preparing his attack for a while now, waiting for the perfect opportunity. When fighting against an enemy that was too fast and nimble, hitting them with a singular powerful attack was impossible outside specific circumstances. It was a principle similar to when one was hunting a stealthy prey. You didn’t chase and try to shoot at your target wasting power and arrows. Instead you had to know in advance where your target was going to move and shoot where the target will be when the shot arrives.
That’s where the elves utilized the second way of hitting people in an aerial shooting war. They forced Dee to dodge into a direction they wanted her to dodge by leaving no other choice. That’s when the powerful warrior shot his arrow filled with ki. The shot hit Dee squarely on the shoulder shattering the bones and sending her careening towards the ground due to the force of the impact and the loss of control. The only problem for the elves was that Dee was sent crashing straight where she wanted to go.
Dee had long since noticed the lone warrior gathering his strength for a decisive attack and decided to utilize it to her advantage. She protected her vitals with her wings and took the hit to an area that did the least amount of damage. Thanks to her heritage and the modifications done by Zabaniya, her body was sturdy enough to take an attack like that with minimal injury. The damage done was something that she could regenerate with a bit of time. The main point was that she ‘crashed’ into the great forest. Her crash was actually very controlled and she wanted it to look much more dangerous than it actually was. She simply wanted the enemy think she was seriously injured.
As she burst through a couple of trees, she was hit with the heavy and oppressive feeling of mana that filled the forest. She had almost forgotten how distracting the plentiful mana could be. She’d have to thank Taeral for taking her to the forest before; otherwise she’d be in real trouble. Now though? Good luck trying to find her in an environment filled to the brim with ambient mana and hiding places. The cat and mouse game she had played with Taeral so many years ago was still fresh in her mind, and she still knew how to play. In fact she had only gotten better at it.
“Please do me a favor and follow me in. Then we’ll see who the hunter really is and who is the hunted.” Dee grinned wickedly towards the eagles flying towards the forest.
Dee got her wish and then some as the eagle riders called the army to help with the search. The rebellious city wasn’t going to go anywhere but the assassin might and finding her was much more important. The army could help cover more ground in the forest and the eagles couldn’t really search under the canopy of trees anyway. They could monitor from the sky, but the tall trees and thick branches limited their visibility to almost nothing.
The rebels watched in confusion as the army that had come to subjugate them suddenly disappeared back into the forest they had come from. They had no idea what was going on. Neither did Commander Luthana but she didn’t care. The situation had been bad and getting worse before the enemy suddenly decided to leave. She knew they would not be getting mercy due to their identity once the soldiers came back, so she immediately ordered a hasty retreat from the city.
She and the recruits would cover for and protect any of the refugees that wanted to leave with them, assuming they were capable of keeping up. They would escort the refugees to the evacuation site where they would be directed to a more safe location. A large number of those that had not been involved with the rebellion had already seen how the elves where ignoring collateral damage and decided to take their chances fleeing with the paladins that had protected their loved ones. Some of the rebels wanted to flee as well, but Commander Luthana decided that the order would not provide sanctuary to the rebels. They would have to find their own safe haven somewhere else.
The commander tried to contact Dee with the magical amulet to recall her to help with the protection of the refugees, but the magic wouldn’t connect. She knew that meant that either the amulet had been destroyed or had fallen into the wrong hands, or Dee had deliberately set her amulet to not receive communications. The first option seemed much less likely, so Dee must be in a situation where receiving magical communications was problematic due to being in danger of getting the message intercepted or revealing her location.
The commander’s guess was that Dee had followed the army when it left to see what was going on, which seemed like a dangerous but a potentially very rewarding move. Finding out why the army had suddenly retreated could be important information, even though doing that meant defying the commander’s orders. That said, the recruits were told that a certain amount of autonomy and improvisation was expected and approved of when situations suddenly changed. She didn’t for a second think that Dee was the reason for the army’s retreat, instead she assumed it had most likely something to do with the internal politics of the empire. Some other threat elsewhere that took priority over a rebelling city perhaps?
A messenger knocked on Taeral’s door and he waved the man in. Taeral was currently dealing with the inevitable paperwork that came with his position. Usually his capable assistants could handle things like this, but some decisions needed his personal approval. This mountain of paper was also the reason he so rarely spent time in his office. He often took any excuse offered to get away from dull duties like this. If the matters were really urgent, they wouldn’t be ending up on his desk anyway. Most of his time was spent either wandering out in the great forest mapping potential threats and taking down dangerous beasts.
You would think a ranger general of Tuatha Dé Danann would have more important duties, but the reality was that the heavy mana environment of the great forest spawned beasts that were more powerful than what the normal rangers and soldiers could handle. Sometimes a more powerful hand was required. As such the ranger generals were something of a unique position. They had the authority of a normal general but spent most of their time away from the army. The army was normally too spread-out for a proper central command anyway. The great forest and the spread-out settlements of the elves didn’t really lend themselves for large gatherings of troops. Most of their forces were divided into small groups and rapid response units of ten thousand soldiers at maximum. Someone still had to make the decisions though. Taeral would prefer that someone to be someone other than him though.
“Report.” Taeral commanded.
“General Faeydark, the third company sent to deal with the rebelling city of Lios just outside the forest has run into trouble.” The soldier reported. Taeral idly noted the sergeant’s insignia on his armor.
Taeral frowned as the message sank in. “The third company, as in the mobile cavalry company led by Colonel Wynrona? What trouble could they have gotten into? Weren’t they sent on a standard subjugation mission?” The orders for that had not passed through his office, he was simply aware of them. Rebellions were not the purview of rangers. The fact that the report on the issues came to him was strange.
“Reporting, the colonel and her two advisors are all dead. According to the message sent by the company’s mages they were all assassinated by a Dark Avariel who was then pursued into the great forest. The assassin was presumed injured in the chase and the company launched a full scale search inside the forest. However, the search has failed. Several hundred of the soldiers sent into the forest have died in the last three days, presumably at the hands of the Dark Avariel.” The sergeant reported with a grim tone.
Taeral cursed. He realized the trouble of trying to find a single person adept at stealth in the forest, but this was just stupid. Having the tables turned on them like this was incompetent to say the least. “What the heck are they doing? Didn’t the company have any rangers with them?” He drummed the fingers of his right hand on the table in frustration. Most units had at least few rangers for scouting purposes.
“Sir, the rangers of the company were the first to get picked off. The enemy seemed to have aimed for them in particular. Frankly, with the rangers dead and their officers also gone, the third company is scrambling. Sir, they’ve already nicknamed the Dark Avariel as the Shadow of the Forest. That’s not all though. There’s another problem.” The sergeant was clearly as unsatisfied with the third company as the general, though he was not showing it as openly.
“Well don’t keep me in suspense.” Taeral prompted with a frown. What else could go wrong with a routine operation?
“Sir, apparently the city of Lios had members of the Radiant Sun inside when the third company attacked. The colonel had ordered the eagle riders to open fire on the city before this fact was discovered, and the paladins inside the city were forced into retaliating. Those same paladins are now leading a large group of refugees away from the city. Sir, the third company is without orders and unsure if they should try to pursue. They already have their hands full with the Dark Avariel and now this.” The sergeant’s words gave Taeral a headache. This was also turning into a diplomatic disaster it seemed.
“The colonel probably assumed the paladins might have something to do with the rebellion. Not a completely unreasonable assumption seeing the timing and the identity of their grandmaster, but it’s too late to do anything about it now. Getting the paladins caught in a battle is one thing, having them chased down and killed is something else entirely. Let them go, but report this to the courts. All four of them. Let the courts make of it as they will.” Taeral frowned. He hoped his old friend Faylen wouldn’t get caught up in things. Seeing as her brother might be wading into the situation, that seemed unlikely.
‘I’m pretty sure my old student would be able to find this Shadow of the Forest in no time. Now there’s a girl with talent for being a ranger.’ Taeral thought to himself with a slight smile as he remembered his lessons with Dee.
“Send some of our high ranked rangers to help with the search, but tell the army to simply form a containment circle around the area. There’s no point in getting more of them killed than already have. In all likelihood the Dark Avariel will be long gone by the time our rangers get there, but we have to make the effort anyway. Also report the presence of the Dark Avariel to the courts. It seems like the Autumn court is making a statement with all this. With the presence of one of their more notable assassins, it’s pretty clear they have a hand in these rebellions.” It was a good thing this fuckup wouldn’t land on his desk, even if he had to take part in the cleanup after the mistakes were already made.
‘Gaia dammit, the Autumn court actually sent one of the Dark Avariel to stir things up. This is going to cause problems.’ Taeral thought while rubbing his forehead in resignation.