Steel crunched against white sand as the Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel with UNMC in white bold letters emblazoned on its side ran up the beach. The forward steel ramp dropped with clang and Marines double time out and quickly held the beach around the sleepy fishing village.

Villagers do their daily chores around the village paused in their work and stared in fright at the sudden intrusion of strange soldiers that had demi people in their ranks. Mothers grabbed their children into their bosoms while the men picked up whatever tools at hand as makeshift weapons, prepared to defend their families.

Mills carefully avoided the surf as he took a jump over the ramp. He hated having sand in his boots especially wet sand and he made sure to avoid getting wet. He strolled up the white sandy beach as if he was on vacation as he took in the sights of the sheer cliff walls that covered his view.

"Sir! All units have disembarked and have secured a kilometre radius around the village!" A lieutenant reported to him as he continued his leisurely stroll towards the village. "The LCVPs are returning for the second wave."

The village the Marines had secured was backed against a towering cliff face, hundreds of meters high and spread out across hundreds of kilometres of coastline. The sandy beach spread out for half a kilometre on both sides before disappearing into the cliffs and reefs. Palm like trees grew in abundance beneath the cliff walls provided a source of wood for the villagers.

There was a simple low fence made out of straw, most likely used to block the wind that surrounded the village which consisted of just a dozen or more straw huts, arranged in a haphazard manner. A row of catamaran canoes pulled up beyond the tide line was parked at the edge of the village together with racks of fish left drying out under the sun.

Mills stepped through an opening in the fence and saw the villagers had all gathered together in the middle of the village where a large fire pit sat. He ignored the improvised weapons pointed his way and glanced around the village in silence. His arrival and silence made the villagers even more nervous as the woman and children hurdled closer together while the men nervously held their weapons at the ready.

Finally, the silence was broken by an elderly elf who stepped forward and addressed Mills directly, "My Lord, we... are just simple fisherpeople... We are willing... to give you everything you need... But please spare our lives..."

Finishing the sentence, the elderly elf went down on his knees and kowtowed to Mills. The rest of the villagers hesitated briefly before they placed their improvised weapons down and kowtowed like the elder. "Please spare our lives, my Lord!"

Mills wrinkled his brows as he saw the actions of the villagers and a hint of mischief glittered in his eyes. He let out a cough and replied in a lordly tone which he had learnt from Titanna who forced him into some etiquette class. "Stand up, there is no need to bow."

"Thank you, my Lord!" The villagers quickly replied and they stood up, their heads bowed and unclearly frightened and uncertain of their fates.

"Do not worry," Mills grinned as he assured the villagers. "We are not here to steal or kill you folks."

"Unless... you possessed a threat to me, my men, or my mission," He stated directly. "In fact, we might pay you for your services if we require any help."

The villagers after hearing his words let out a breath of relief and some even showed an eagerness to serve. Some of the younger females were even throwing provocation winks at Mills and at some Marines, hoping to attract their attention. For they knew if they managed to catch the grace of even one of the lowly ranked soldiers, they could leave this village or gain a better life.

"My Lord! Sir!" A boy suddenly appeared from somewhere and ran over to Mills and looked at him with pleading eyes. The elder reached out to prevent the boy from going close to Mills for fear the boy might offend Mills and be punished or worse killed.

"Child! Do not disturb the Lord!" The elder pulled the boy back before he whispered in a low voice. "Do you want to die? Do not show disrespect!"

"But... The Lords had promised to help..." The boy stammered as he tried to wiggle out of the elder's grip. "They are my sister's only hope!"

Mills stepped forward and gestured to the elder to release the boy before he squatted down to the boy's height and asked, "What is the problem?"

"My sister! She is very sick! She needs a pearl of recovery!" The boy cried out. "One of the other Lord promised to help if I brought you to our village!"

"What?" The elder and the nearby villagers who heard the boy's words sucked in their breath in surprise and anger. The elder's face turned red and his clenched fists shook by his side, but he was too afraid of Mills to strike out at the boy whose stupidly nearly caused their whole village to be destroyed if Mills and his men were marauders.

"Can you save my sister?" The boy did not know his actions had caused the irk of the entire village. Many of the villagers were casting looks of hate and anger at him while those that were close to the boy shook their heads in pity.

"Let's take a look at her shall we?" Mills stood up and gestured for a medic over. He followed the eager boy towards his shoddy hut and found his sister laying on a straw bed with a high fever. The Marine medic bent over the small child who looked like skin and bones and checked her body while Mills looked around the hut.

"Are there many visitors to this village? Traders?" He asked the elder who followed in. The hut was sparsely decorated with a table, some chairs and a small hearth at one corner that strangely had an 'I' shape icon hanging over it. "Are there any roads?"

"No, my Lord," The elder replied. "There is only one way in and out of this village."

The elder pointed out of the small window towards one side of the cliff wall and said, "When the tides are low, a path will open and it is the only way towards the Highlands."

"The sea path only opens for as long as the tide lowers," The elder continued. "As for traders, maybe once when the two moons are high, there might be a trading ship that comes by. It brings us news of the world and we trade for some basic tools with our catch."

Mills nodded before he said, "This seemed like a very closed off place for a village to be built..."

"Our ancestors had no choice but to live here after their ship got wrecked at the reefs," The elder quickly explained in a nervous manner. "My grandfather told me they were seeking passage to the other side of the world when the ship was caught up in a storm and they were stranded here."

"Did no one decide to leave this place?" Mills asked as he could not imagine anyone wanting to live here at such an isolated location for their entire lives. He did not quite trust the explanation of the elder who seemed uncomfortable by the question.

"None could afford to pay for passage on board any of the ships that passed by," The elder replied with a sigh as he held on to his necklace with both hands. "And the sea path to the Highlands is wild with monsters and dangerous. It was only a few summers before the path to the next village was slightly safer to travel."

"But it is dangerous to travel the Highlands without iron weapons or escorts," The elder added. "And we nay could afford any..."

Mills nodded again as he recalled the improvised weapons wielded by the villagers. It would be really dangerous to attempt to travel through monster infested areas with wooden weapons if the monsters here were as deadly as those on the New World. He changed the topic, "How about the rulers of this land? Do they come to tax you or something?"

"The Lords?" The elder frowned before he replied hesitantly, "No Lords ever come... you are the first we have seen in many summers..."

"Interesting..." Mills mumbled to himself. "So there are no other soldiers nearby?"

The elder shook his head and said, "My Lord and his soldiers are the first I have laid eyes on this village... Other than some... pirates that come here every twin moon..."

"Pirates?" Mills was intrigued. This location appeared to be a very isolated corner of the Highlands. It would be a great location to set up their base and dig in before anyone even knew they were here. The only problems that might leak their presence were passing merchant ships and pirates.

"Yes... pirates!" The elder started to tensed up when he spoke of the pirates. "They pillage the coastline and every village has to pay them tribute every month..."

"Are there many villages along the coastline?" Mills asked as he led the elder out of the hut. He wanted his command staff to be briefed on the pirates too. He waved his command staff over and gestured for the elder to continue. "Do you know where the pirates come from?"

"The pirates call themselves, The Hungry Hands," The elder said and he held up his left hand that had a missing pinky finger. "They took my finger when I was younger as punishment... For not giving them their tribute in time..."

"They arrived in their ships and took me to their hideout," The elder trembled slightly as he recalled his past. "There I was met with eight other village elders..."

"They, the Hungry Hands..." The elder closed his eyes as he said. "Chopped my finger off before everyone... As a warning for disobedience..."

"My Lord... can you...?" The elder suddenly opened his eyes and stared fiercely at Mills. "Can you destroy them?"

"My people... we are willing to give you everything we have..." The elder kneeled down as he begged Mills. "Please save us! My lord!"

Mills let out a sigh and pulled the elder up on his feet. "First before we decide anything... Can you tell us more of the pirates, their numbers, and their hideout?"


UNS Vengeance, Admiral Bridge

"So there's a hideout of pirates," Blake leaned over the map table and traced his finger along the coastline. "Hiding here... with a force of five ships... Sailing ships..."

"Yes, Sir," The intel officer assigned to the UNS Vengeance replied. "Their numbers are believed to be between two to four hundred strong. They are called The Hungry Hands and from the village elder, has been terrorizing this coastline for over five years."

"Hungry Hands eh?" Blake shook his head and he turned to the short stocky Dwarvan at the side and asked. "And the Cartel has not sent any anti piracy force to suppress them?"

"Blah..." Grand Lord Hammerfall shook his head. "Tis may be the borders of the Cartel, but no Cartel cities in the area! No cities, no troops!"

"Those villages... They are Banished! Outcasts, exiles!" Grand Lord Hammerfall growled. "No nation will take those Banished in!"

"Why are they banished or outcasts?" Blake asked curiously.

"They are Banished because either they or their ancestors had committed taboos or grave sins that no nations could ignore!" Grand Lord Hammerfall said. "No nations or kingdom is willing to take them in! Hence these Banished can only form hidden villages."

"What taboos or sins did they do that warrant such treatment?" Blake asked, his curiosity rising.

"Oh, they betrayed their own Gods and worshipped foreign Gods!"

A note from neo Koh

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