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Outskirts of Norshelm

Linx crept silently forward through thick underbrush and gently parted the thick spiny branches to peek at the strange happenings that were going on outside the city. He, his little sister and other children had run away from the orphanage when suddenly the skies turn red and stormy and the adults started going crazy and even attacked him and his sister.

He was terrified as he saw people once caring and friendly, turned against each other, tearing their clothes and flesh of each other in a mad frenzy. The other children in the orphanage followed along, and the children used their own secret route which they played daily in the city, managed to avoid the sudden violence that was happening throughout the city.

There was even an incident while they were escaping when one of their own suddenly went mad, and leaped onto the back of one of the girls and started tearing her clothes off and biting her neck like some kind of monster.

The older boys managed to pry the crazed boy away and had to restrain him as he tried to attack the rest while giggling and muttering some nonsense about a mistress that will reward. Frightened out of their wits, Linx did the only thing he could. He picked up a piece of wood and knocked out the foaming boy on the head and everyone ran out of the city.

For the past several days, they hid outside the city walls, finding shelter in a ruined hut that once belonged to a forester or hunter. They forage wild fruits and berries and even scavenged from the nearby villages which the owners had abandoned after news of a pandemic in the city spread to the countryside.

Linx at fourteen years old, was the oldest in the group of twenty children, the youngest being just eight years old. He had to step up and lead the rest of the children out of danger and survive out here away from all the craziness.

Woken by one of the children acting as a lookout, Linx followed the tiny boy and they crawled through the spiny bushes and peered upon an army with strange metal carriages. He watched the carriages lined up in a row and clearly soldiers came out of them, dressed in strange mottled colored clothing and armor.

He saw a small group entered the gates but thunderous roars could be heard and suddenly the entire line of the strange metal carriages erupted in thunder and flames, shocking both of them.

The boy beside him yelled out in terror and peed his pants in fright at the sudden eye searing flames and sudden loud roars. Linx quickly cupped his palm over his mouth to prevent the boy from making more noise. He ignored the stench and wetness coming from the boy and he quickly pulled the frightened boy back.

"Go back to the camp!" He hissed. "Tell everyone to pack up and be ready to run, just in case but wait for my return!"

The frightened boy with tears forming in his eyes nodded rapidly and shot off into the undergrowth like a little horned rabbit while Linx crawled back to observe the group of soldiers with their terrifying spells.

The more he watched the more surprise and excitement he felt, as he watched the soldier mages' spells cut down the hordes of terrifying changed people that flowed out of the city gates. He knew how scary and dangerous those people were as he witnesses the proud Imperial soldiers fighting against them, and one by one they fell and in the end, most of the Imperial soldiers become one of those things!

Linx debated whether should he approach these soldiers, he was not sure where they came from nor did he recognized their armor and colors. He has never seen a soldier that does not have any bright colors nor shiny armor and these soldiers with their strange metal carriages were clearly not from the Empire.

In the end, he decided to return to the camp and ease the fears of the others and once he did that, he took some fruits and returned to observe the strange soldiers. When he returned, he saw that the soldiers had apparently settled down guarding the exit of the gates. He noticed a small group of soldiers wandered a short distance away from him and there were two robed figures with them, which he suspected to be some nobles or high ranking mages.

After some consideration, Linx finally decided to approach that group of soldiers, hopefully, they could save everyone. The most the soldiers could do was to sell them to slavery which they were bound for when they were in the orphanage once they turned fifteen. The worst, they could kill him right here.

"No!" One of the older girls who followed him to observe the soldiers pulled his arm as he crawled forward. "It's too dangerous!"

"I have to!" Linx hissed. "We have no food and some of the rest are sick!"

"I know, but we don't know if they are good people or not!" The girl insisted. "It's dangerous!"

"I have to do it!" Linx gently patted the girl's head. "If anything happens to me, bring the rest to safety!"

With that said, he gathered his courage and crawled out of the bushes and walked determinedly towards the soldiers.

-----

Liz frowned as she tried to make sense of the turbulent energies around her while Magister Thorn was oohing and ahhing away at the corner. Suddenly one of the soldiers snapped his weapon up and yelled, "CONTACT!"

She turned around in surprise with her staff at the ready to defend her self and saw an unkempt boy standing at the forest edge with his hands out approaching them slowly. She quickly cried out, "Wait! Don't shoot!"

The Marines held their fire and yelled at the boy, "Halt! Hands up!"

The boy looked frightened and confused but he stopped where he was and raised his hands uncertainly.

"Who are you?" One of the Marine approached the boy warily while the rest kept an eye around their surroundings. The Marine did a quick frisk of the boy behind he allowed Magister Thorn and Liz to approach.

"My name... is Linx," The boy replied nervously. "I... I cam from the orphanage in the city..."

"You escaped from the city?" Magister Thorn's eyes glowed and he clasped the boy's shoulder happily. "Let's do a check on you!"

"Magister!" Liz frowned and pulled the Magister away. "Let's the boy rest first... he looks like he's going to fall over!"

"Oh... yes yes!" Magister Thorn coughed to cover his embarrassment. "I was too excited, my apologies!"

"It... it's alright..." Linx was used to it, as he has seen some of the nobles that came to the orphanage used to do that to the children. "Do you have food?"

"Of course!" Magister Thorn quickly agreed unaware of what Linx was had just thought of him. "Come, we get some hot food in you and you tell us what happened in the city!"

"I... I still have some friends..." Linx spoke in an unsure voice, "My sister too..."

"Bring them!" Magister Thorn said. "We have enough food for you all!"

Liz nodded and spoke gently, "Don't worry, you are safe now!"

The boy nodded and he turned towards the forest and took off into it while they waited for him to return.

Not long, a party of ragged and sad looking children appeared from the forest. Liz and the Marines quickly lead them towards the tents that the Marines had set up beforehand. The children huddled together, untrusting and fearful of the strange soldiers but soon their attitude softened when hot stew was feed to them.

"Strange... hmmm..." Magister Thorn sat next to the children, listening to their accounts of what had happened in the city. "Hmmm..."

"What is it?" Liz asked, tapping her staff impatiently at Magister Thorn's way of dragging things out.

"The children all reported the skies turned red for a moment and people started to go crazy and attacked each other..." Magister Thorn said. "But one point seemed strange..."

"They only saw adults going mad, rarely a child," Magister Thorn stated. "Does it affect adults more than children?"

"They also said the affected people kept repeating something about a mistress or queen that rewards..." Magister Thorn added.

"Wait!" Liz frowned. "A mistress or queen that rewards? It sounds... familiar..."

Liz suddenly smacked her palm as she realized something, "Its HER!"

"That bitch goddess!" Liz growled. "At the cultist house were Eveyln was lured to! It's that bitch!"

Magister Thorn frowned as he heard Liz's swear words but he ignored it, "If this is the case, we are dealing with a Goddess with the power to seduce and manipulate people's heart!"

"Could be why children are not as affected as adults!" Liz said. "Since children are more... innocent and pure hearted... but there are some exceptions I guess..."

Magister Thorn nodded, "This is not good. We need to come out with a way to protect ourselves against her powers... If not we will could be easily converted over and become one of them!"

-----

Marine Captain James rode in the back of the command Jeep and hopped out as it stopped. He walked over to the line of vehicles and greeted Magister Thorn, "How is everything? Heard you found some survivors."

Magister Thorn gestured to the tents and said, "Yes, a large group of children..."

"We might have a clue of who and what is at work here," Magister Thorn said as he led James over to the tents. "Seems like the same Goddess we encountered at Orwell's Point."

"That mind controlling Goddess?" James asked.

"Erm... not exactly mind controlling," Magister Thorn sighed. "But close enough and yes, so we might have some troubles ahead if we do not prepare sufficiently for it."

"Are we safe here?" James looked around their surroundings. "Will we get affected?"

Magister Thorn gestured to the storm clouds and said, "As long as we are not under those clouds, we should be good, but just to be safe I will place a protection ward around the camp, so at least we will not be affected in the long run."

"What do you need?" James stopped at the tents. "I got people making landlines to the beachhead to create a communication line back to HQ already!"

"Oh, I need lots of silver, feathers or fur of an owlbear, iron dust-" Magister Thorn started stating out what he needed when James put up a hand to quickly stop Thorn from continuing.

"Got it!" James quickly said. "Tell it to the operator in the command vehicle, he will arrange what you need!"

Magister Thorn gave a sheepish smile and walked off towards the vehicle while James felt several pairs of eyes staring at him. He turned around and saw several heads ducked back into the tent and he shook his head at the scene.

He entered the command tent and quickly got himself and his officers up to date about the ground situation. "Lockdown the two other gates of the city, the harbor side, we can't really do much till the PT boats join us."

"Send in A and B Company to probe the city, see if they push to their way to noble's district and link up with the embassy party there," James ordered as he looked at the crude map they had of the city. "If it fails, wait for the PT boats to arrive before pushing by the river with one of the LCVPs to dock at the Rothschild Estate's private docks."

"Sir, what are the ROEs for the men?" One of the staff asked. "And the SRMs?"

"Rules of engagement are as usual," James's face darken. "Anyone hostile is to be treated as an enemy!"

"And for the SRMs, have them on standby," James said to the command staff. "We will only use them as the last resort if all else fails."

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