"Shepherd Six Four to Advance Party, come in over." Flight Lieutenant Peter spoke over the roar of the helo engines. He could see storm clouds gathering over the city that was coming up rapidly.

"Advance Party, Shepherd Six Four, send."

Shepherd Flight en route to your position in five mikes, over." Peter replied as he checked his flight instruments.

"Roger Shepherd Six Four, we laid out the tables and are waiting for you to join the party!"

"Affirmative!" Peter replied with a laugh. "Shepherd Six Four, out."

"Five minutes!" Peter yelled to his crew chief, the goblin Greg who followed Peter as he got assigned to flying the CH - 1 Griffin.

Greg nodded and easily climbed up stacked supplies secured in the middle of the hold. He used the cargo netting as footholds and he stood at the top of the stack, with one hand braced against the vibrating metal roof.

"DUMB MAR EENS! Five mikes to touch down! Get ready dumb Mar eens!" Greg shrieked at the two rows of Marines strapped to bucket seats at the sides of the cargo hold.

"ALRIGHT! You heard the green kiddo!" The Marine Sergeant yelled. "Check your gear! No one is to load any live ammunition! If you blow a hole into this bird... I WILL DUMP YOUR ASS OUT OF THIS BIRD WITHOUT A CHUTE! IS THAT CLEAR?"

"YES, SERGEANT!" The troops' chorus as they double checked their equipment.

"Me not kiddo!" Greg cursed loudly. "Me Greg the Great! Two minutes, ya dumb Mar eens!"

The medium lift helo panned as it bled off speed, swooping in low over the forested land and came to a hover over a flat field where dozens of animals fled in terror from the noisy flying monster.

Peter expertly aligned his helo's rear wheels to hit the ground with barely a bump before gently settling the forward wheels down. Beside him on both sides another two CH - 1 came in and landed, their combined downdraft from their powered down rotors washed away the red smoke signal.

A dozen men in Marine fatigues came running over while the pilots ran their shut down procedures. The rear ramps of the helos popped out and Marines exited from the transports.

"Lieutenant Svar, 1st Battalion, Bronco Company, Fourth Platoon," A beefy Orekin introduced himself to Lieutenant Trism, Sergeant Mills and Tyrier. "I got orders to support your men here. The second wave is enroute by water and they will be here in roughly another a day or more."

Mills whispered softly to Tyrier after seeing the muscular Orc looming at least a head over them, "Damn... I didn't know Orcs got the brains to be an officer... Hell... he even speaks like a gentleman!"

Tyrier gave a grin back and shook his head, deciding not to reply to Mills's gibe. Both NCOs saluted the Orc Lieutenant who gestured over his own NCOs to be introduced.

"So what is the situation now?" Svar asked when they entered the mansion.

"Not good," Trism said. "We got fires raging all over the city, a large number of escaped slaves rioting and fighting while there are reports of several monstrous creatures loose on the streets on the Eastern side of the city."

"What kind of creatures?" Svar asked.

"Erm... A copper Boa, some kind of giant dragon lizard, and a couple of owlbears," Trism replied.

Trism led the new arrivals into a library turned Ops room. He gestured to a hand drawn map on a chalkboard set up on one side of the room with several photographs taken from the ground stuck on it. "That's the Citadel, which is right in the middle of the city where it is our main objective.

"To get to it from here, we got to enter the Outer City gates, cross one merchant and one residential district before reaching the Inner City gates." Trism briefed the men. "After which you need to cross another residential area and one more commercial area before coming to the Citadel gates."

"The last report we had coming from the city is that everyone had turned crazy..." Trism said. "Robberies, murders, rape... all kinds of actoristies were being carried out everywhere in the city."

"Had the cause to this... madness found?" Svar asked as he rubbed his square jaws.

"No, but we suspect there is a third party in play here, rather than our objective's political enemies doing this," Trism said. "Some kind of cult probably... There was a red glow over the city moments before people who were exposed to it, turned crazy..."

Svar gave Trism a look before he turned and looked at everyone else, "And you all were not affected?"

"No, there is some kind of ward in this Estate that protected us all," Trism said. "We also confirmed most of the Houses have their own magical protection and any important locations in the city are similarly warded. And the red glow has subsided, two hours ago."

"This means the people in the Citadel are all safe?" Svar asked.

"Yes," Trism nodded. "Our objective, Lady Titanna last known position is at the Citadel which we know is under siege."

"So its a rescue mission?" Svar asked to confirm.

"Yes," Trism nodded. "We were planning to enter the city by our armored vehicles but since we do not have any real time intel on the city, we were waiting for the... helos that brought you here."

"So far, the unaffected Imperial army has tried to push into the city to retake it," Trism tapped his finger at the South Gate on the map and traced a route. "They were forced to stop here."

His finger stopped at a crudely drawn rectangle. "This building is a local Church of Healing, they are forming a strong point here."

"They encountered strong resistance from the crazed people, who still retain enough intelligence to use weapons and some even know how to cast spells even," Trism said. "The Imperials' commander has decided to hold their position there and force the crazed people to attack and break themselves against a fortified position."

"He has sent the rest of his troops to block off all the exits, and luckily, the city towers and bastions are all warded, so he making sure to retake and link up with those troops still holding out in those defense structures," Trism added. "His goal is to prevent any one of the crazed to break out of the city now, in case it spreads to the countryside."

"High Command has given their orders," Trism said. "We are to move in and save members of the governing council, and our top priority is saving Lady Titanna."

"We plan to do this in two steps," Trism said. "First we airdrop in a platoon of Marines to secure and protect our target at the Citadel."

"The second step, another platoon goes in with an armored convoy with support from local forces," Trism tapped on the map. "The convoy will push all the way in to the Citadel and extract our people out."

"The helos will provide aerial recon and support in the air, while the operation is in progress," Trism added.

"Plan sounds good," Peter asked for the pilots in the room. "Any enemy dragons or anti air threat?"

"We saw several of their dragons flying off," Trism said. "Other than that, there aren't any more sightings. The Imperials have been warned that we will be flying in the AO, and their commander has guaranteed that they will not attack us."

"Can we trust the word of a Blue Boy?" Peter remarked. "How can we be sure they won't take a crack at us when we are flying over?"

"That is something we have to risk," Trism replied. "Besides, they have bigger problems to worry about than us flying overhead with the number of crazed people in the city."

"Do the dragons go crazy too?" Peter asked, clearly unsatisfied with the reply. "I don't want my helos to get attacked by any dragons."

"It's another risk we need to take," Trism said. "As for fuel, you guys brought plenty."


Norshelm, Citadel, Inner Sanctum

Titanna watched the nervous council members yell and shout at each other as one faction blamed the other for the events happening outside the Citadel walls.

"My Lords!" A breathless messenger hobbled into the Inner Sanctum. "My Lady!"

Instantly all conversation ceased as they turned their attention over to the messenger. "The scouts are back! But... we lost over eighty men!"

"What happened?" Titanna raised a hand to silence the rest of the council. "What is going on in the city?"

"The people... they seemed to be possessed or gone mad!" The messenger replied. "They swarmed our troops as they exited the gates!"

"Children, women, elderly!" The messenger spoke in a voice full of dread. "We cut them down as they rushed us but they use their bare hands... to tear those caught... into..."

"Enough!" Titanna quickly said as the members of the council started to panic from the news. "Go find the healer and get some rest!"

She turned her attention and observed both Lord Taron and Deflin and found them to be quite unsettled. "Lord Taron and Lord Deflin," She called out after a moment of hesitation. "A private word with both of you?"

Both Lords looked at each other but they followed Titanna to the side, out of hearing from the rest of the council.

"I know the escape of the slaves were both your doing," She directly asked without beating around the bush. "But is turning the city crazy part of your schemes?

"N- no..." Lord Taron replied. "No matter how we won't turn the city into... that! We are merchants! What good does a city have if it's in chaos?"

Ttanna nodded. "I will overlook what schemes and ploys you both side before. But now, we have another player here, which is unknown to us."

"This player has turned the city mad!" Titanna said. "We are lucky because the Citadel is warded, and I and my guards were also protected by magical amulets that is why we are still sane."

"We are the only ones here still sane while there is most probably a whole city of crazy people beyond the walls," Titanna said. "So I say, we put down our differences for now and work together to survive this. Deal?"

Both Lord Taron and Deflin nodded, "We too thought of this, and did not expect you to raise this up. Hmmm... Why don't you marry my son?" Lord Taron gave a sincere smile. "Once married, we are all one family! Our feud will be over and with your outstanding capabilities and our support, we will grow bigger and stronger!"

"Now, old friend! How could you snatch her away?" Lord Deflin snapped. "My son is a better choice!"

Titanna shooked her head inwardly. She was amazed how shameless these two old men where. One moment they were plotting to kill her, and suddenly they were asking her to marry their sons.

"We will talk about that later, once we have settled this... problem," She gestured around her. "Also I want you to release Knight Captain Judis if possible."

Lord Taron turned and gestured one of his aides over and spoke a few words with him. "Done! Your Knight Captain is been held in the Citadel's dungeons, so he shouldn't have gone mad."

"Good! We need all the fighting power," Titanna sighed in relief. "How about your troops?"

"They... shouldn't be affected..." Lord Deflin threw a look at Lord Taron who gave a slight shake of his head. Lord Deflin understood that Taron did not want Titanna to know about their strength.

"Hmmm..." Titanna ignored the byplay and said. "Other than the Citadel, there should be other places which are protected or warded with magic."

"Most of the guilds are protected, the temples and places of worship too, even the central barracks, and City Guard barracks," Lord Taron said. "And all the Great Houses and some of the Minor Houses should have a magic ward too."

"If that is the case," Titanna said. "Less than a fifth of the city is protected..."

Lord Deflin sucked in a deep breath, "This means over eighty thousand people affected at least!"

A note from neo Koh

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