Shiori was calmly watching several buildings burn in the city of Caledor, the capitol of the duchy with the same name. All of the buildings currently burning were important buildings connected to the government of the duchy or buildings connected to the military. All of the burning buildings were also spread around the city at a considerable distance from the ducal palace. She could see guards swarming around the city looking for the cause and the culprits. She could see that most of the guards guarding the ducal palace had also left their positions. It seemed innocent enough to send a guard or two to see what was going on, maybe even help the city guards in containing the problem. The problem came when that innocent action happened twenty times, done by several officers that were not aware of the other officers also doing the same.
She felt the last of the fifth Order members land on the roof she was crouching on. They were twenty people in total, with similarly sized groups doing the same thing in other cities of the duchy. They were all dressed in a similar way, in the uniform of the Order, except it wasn’t quite the same. Where a member of the Order stood, the shadows around them stretched to hide the person, all sounds and presence muffled. The worst part for anyone trying to seek them out was that all eyes simply slid away from them, not paying any attention to their presence. It was not like they were invisible or anything, just that no one was able to focus their attention on their form.
Only those that carried the badge of the fifth Order were immune to this effect. The effect would also be dispelled if the wearer of the clothes was to take an aggressive action against an observer, or if the person had abnormally keen senses or strong mind. That said, all of the members of the fifth Order knew not to rely on this effect. It was simply something that made their work and escape a little easier. They also knew not to display any aggression, except to kill their opponent in a single strike, thus not triggering the problem with aggressive actions revealing them.
Without a word or signal the group broke into smaller groups of three or four and they all started to approach the ducal palace from all sides. Everything was going according to plan, and until something out of the scope of their margin for independent action came up, no words would be said. If something did come up that needed to be said, the words would be said through the use of the Order badges, which also functioned as a method of magical communication. This was something common to all Order badges that also allowed seamless cooperation and coordination on the battlefield. There would be no need for message flags or sending orders by a messenger. The badges also made sure that no one would be able to eavesdrop on their communication.
The fifth Order also relied on a series of hand signals similar to a sign language, as shown by Shiori who silently gave the instructions to her companions when they approached the main gate of the ducal palace. The other groups would go in using a more stealthy way, but their purpose was to take a path that would by necessity lead to their discovery, so there was less point in trying to hide. Instead, they would simply eliminate anyone that they came across, which was bound to be several people. Throwing daggers took the two guards in the eye, with the two assassins moving quickly to catch the bodies, and propping them against the wall in a way that would make the casual observer think there were still guards at the gate. Meanwhile, Shiori used her psionic abilities of telekinesis to control the dagger she had gotten from Neleh. The dagger flew into the throat of one of the two mages standing guard deeper inside the entrance. The dagger completely penetrated all magical defenses the mage had erected, while Shiori used the sword she had gotten from Asheara to remove the head of the other mage, that mage’s protections equally useless.
As if to make a point, the bloody dagger floated above Shiori’s shoulder. Shiori looked the dagger in slight disgust, avoiding the dropping blood, and made a small but quick gesture with her finger. The dagger imitated the gesture and shook away the last of the blood. Finally she deigned to pick the now clean dagger up, and sheathed it back in its place at the small of her back.
The three assassins moved through the palace taking action just like this. The two other assassins often used their bows to suddenly emerge from around the corner to shoot any guards too distant to take out with a throwing weapon. Without fail, the guards were all taken by surprise, as there was no sound, alarm or even sign of their passing, aside from the bodies littering the corridors. Shiori focused on taking out any magicians, as she was uniquely gifted and equipped to do so. Any unsuspecting mage was an easy kill for her. They might have fared better if they had seen her in action before killing their friends, and had some time to prepare, but such was not the case.
Shiori was starting to smell smoke just as they closed on the heavy doors of the treasury, with the guards dead at their feet. She could also sense the other Order members slowly converging on their position. The others had mainly been tasked with gathering or destroying any useful documents, items and materials. If they had wanted to, they would have been able to kill the duke and all his family, but that was not their mission. They were supposed to take everything useful and make the Caledorians feel unsafe in their home, not to kill their rulers. The death of the said rulers would lead to chaos, which wouldn’t serve Neleh’s purposes. Neleh wanted to make an example of the Caledorians on the field of battle, not in their beds with a dagger through the heart. There was still some risk for the ducal family of course, since they also set the palace on fire. Not badly enough to burn it into the ground, but bad enough to make a point.
Shiori used the sword to destroy the magical formations protecting the treasury. She could’ve used the keys of the guards they had killed, but that would be less effective than showing that they could easily enter anyway. As the other Order members started to come into the treasury and join in on the work of gathering any and all riches on inside, Shiori stood to the side and pulled a scroll from within her clothes. As she crushed the seal on the scroll, the whole scroll disappeared and turned into a doorway allowing temporary entry into the Nexus. As the doorway came into existence, the Order members started moving everything they had gathered into the Nexus. After everything had been moved, they all entered the doorway disappearing without a trace.
Normally Neleh would not allow access to that part of the Nexus, but the fifth Order was different. Unlike the other Orders, their loyalty was forced and could not be broken. For the other Orders, loyalty was their choice, but not so for the Fifth. They were the most powerful and dangerous members, specially trained for murder and mayhem. By their very nature they came across all kinds of sensitive information, and would be a danger beyond belief if they turned into traitors. Thus they were not given the option. Of course the people who became members of the fifth Order where given a choice before joining, and they were told that the choice would be permanent. The binds that bound them weren’t something that inconvenienced them in normal life, but they would die before being able to betray the Order, similar to how the Harbingers had died when asked certain questions during interrogation.
The doorway made by the scroll was different than the normal doorways, in that it was only temporary and could not be used again. In return, even someone like Shiori who was wholly unable to use the magic necessary to make the doorways was able to use the scrolls. Every group was given a scroll like this, and was bound to the members of the group so no one else could use them even if the group was killed. In fact, the scroll would ignite and burn down if all the members of the group were to die, to avoid any outsiders studying the scroll.
As Shiori directed the members of the fifth Order and where to take their spoils, the other groups started coming in. In the end, the biggest cities in the Caledor duchy had all been struck, with no one being able to say anything about the people that had attacked them. ‘Neleh will be satisfied with this.’ Shiori thought happily.
“I just got word. Our little operation in Caledor was a success. We can sort through the spoils when we return.” Neleh said to Estelar, with a satisfied smile.
“We can move on to the next step then.” Estelar replied, as he watched Commander Elendil approach.
“Did something good happen? I don’t think our battle is the cause of that grin.” Elendil asked after seeing Neleh’s smile.
“Let’s just say that today is the day of successful operations.” Estelar replied instead of Neleh.
“We can move on to the next phase. The larger army of Caledorians is our next objective.” Neleh said simply.
“I have a slight worry concerning that. We can test the tactics you’ve taught us easily against that army, but if we want to run a proper test, we should do it when down in numbers like in this battle. The problem is that if we assume something like one-to-three difference in manpower, we will not be able to stop the Caledorians from fleeing once they start losing. As you’ve said, what wins real battles isn’t killing all the enemies, but breaking their morale. Once they break, we might not be able to hunt them all down.” Elendil said in a concerned voice.
“No need to worry. I already sent another army through the faerie forest to close the border between the bothersome county they are using to enter our duchy and Caledor itself. They have instructions to let exactly two runaways through to carry the news of their defeat and kill the rest.” Estelar said.
“Then there should be no problem. I’m guessing we will be assuming control of the county aiding our enemies after the battle and while the Caledorians get their act together for a proper fight?” Elendil asked with voice that told that he already knew the answer to his question.
“Of course. Even if they didn’t join our enemies in the fight, they cast their allegiance with them clearly enough anyway. It’s only fitting that they pay the price. Just make sure the people will see us as liberators saving them from lousy leaders and not as conquerors.” Neleh said with a small smile. “I will pay a visit to the county myself to greet people, shake babies and kiss some hands. Or was it the other way around?” She said in a faux confused voice.
Elendil gave a small chuckle. “I better start preparing for the battle. Thirty thousand men require a bit more instructions than I needed to give to the previous group.” He said and moved to leave.
“May the fortunes of war be with you commander.” Neleh said simply.
Elendil gave another chuckle. He knew Neleh herself would not allow their plan to fail, and could defeat the Caledorians by herself if necessary.
Neleh and Estelar were once again observing above the battlefield when the two armies were about to meet. The Order forces looked wholly insufficient for the task ahead of them, but the two observers knew better. The Order forces were once again spread in a wide skirmish formation across the whole front of the Caledorian army thrice their size. This time the enemy general seemed to sense something was wrong, and kept his cavalry behind the infantry moving towards the Order forces.
“Good. This will make things more interesting.” Estelar grunted.
“Only momentarily.” Neleh said with another smile.
As she said that, the Order forces started pelting the packed Caledorians with arrows, while moving backwards maintaining the distance between the two armies. Even for the enchanted arrows, firing from the maximum distance reduced their power, but the enemy formations were easy targets, and it’s not like the Order forces were in danger of running out or ammunition. The Caledorians tried to speed up their movement and chase the skirmishing Order, but it was very obvious that soldiers moving in formation would not be able to catch the free running skirmishing troops. In fact, the only reason the distance wasn’t growing was that the Order members wanted to keep this distance.
The enemy general could see their losses mounting, and ordered his infantry to break formation and give chase at top speed. He also had the cavalry spread around on the sides to surround the pesky enemy. At worst his cavalry would be able to catch the enemy that moved on foot, at best he could trap the enemy between the infantry and cavalry.
Elendil waited until the cavalry had moved away from the infantry and the infantry formations were thoroughly broken, and then gave the signal. The Order members suddenly formed into several thin needle-like formations that rushed into the ranks of the confused enemy infantry. The needles were basically similar to the diamond formation used against the cavalry in the previous battle, except a lot thinner, with less empty space inside the diamond square. The weapons also changed a bit. The diamond was basically a defensive formation with pikes and crossbows. The needles were much more offensive, with the front soldiers using glaives that still retained good reach bur had much better effect as shock weapons and breaking through enemy infantry. The front ranks on the sides of the needles favored shields and swords to protect the sides, while they were killing the disorganized enemy. The rest still used their bows that were much handier on the move than crossbows.
The needles penetrated into the disorganized enemy ranks almost without resistance. Had the enemy been in formation, they might have been able to stand against the charge of the Order members, but they had forsaken the formations to give chase earlier. Now they simply died where they stood, either by sword and glaive, or by the arrows shot at them. To add insult to injury, the Caledorian infantry was now once again between their cavalry and the enemy. The needles stopped after penetrating through the enemy ranks, leaving corpses of enemies behind, and formed into the defensive diamonds.
As the command of the infantry had completely broken down as a result of the sudden action, the Caledorian infantry trickled in to try and engage the enemies that had just killed their fellow soldiers. Their disorganized approach only earned them a bolt in the eye or a pike point in the chest. The Caledorian general tried to re-establish order, but he now faced the problem of the enemy being between his command post and his troops. Any messenger would be shot down, while the Order members had prudently shot anyone that looked like and officer amongst the infantry, those officers being the ones with the ability to take control or receive magical communication.
Finally the Caledorian infantry had simply had enough and tried to move out of the way, to allow the cavalry a chance to engage the pesky enemy. The order replied by once again spreading out and taking this chance to keep shooting at the infantry, eliminating their threat from the battlefield. The Caledorian cavalry tried to take this chance to make a full charge, but they ran into the same problem of caltrops as their scouting force had. With these numbers, the cavalry managed to circle some of the caltrops, but this turned out to be almost worse.
This allowed the Order to form up against the few directions the cavalry managed to come from, and the cavalry ended up trickling in, eerily mirroring the broken efforts of the infantry earlier. In both cases the Caledorians managed to bring only a fraction of their forces to attack at once, which resulted in those attacks being mercilessly cut down by the focused efforts of the Order. Even though the Caledorians had superior numbers that mattered very little if they didn’t manage to bring those numbers to bear.
“Well that was brutal. I’m starting to feel sorry for the enemy. No matter what they do, you seem to have an answer ready, and all the tactics are extremely annoying, giving the enemy the sinking feeling that they’re just playing straight into our hands.” Estelar said.
“Well, I’d call this a successful test. This is again something that will not work as easily once the numbers grow, and the enemy is better suited to fight against us. Also, more of the enemy forces got away than I thought.” Neleh said waving her hand towards the fleeing enemy forces.
“They shouldn’t be a problem for the other army. Unlike here, that army is not running a test and outnumbers the enemy clearly.” Estelar replied.
“Not the problem I was thinking of anyway. I was just hoping for more effectiveness out of these maneuvers. Still, the focus was not on killing power, so I suppose that’s only to be expected. The killing power test is next, once the Caledorians manage to gather all their forces.” Neleh replied with an evil grin.
“Oh right, the whole point was to make the next battle into the real example.” Estelar sighed.
As Neleh returned to the Nexus, she found Shiori going through the documents she had taken from the ducal palace. “Anything interesting?” She asked.
“Mostly it’s the standard fare. This one however should pique your interest.” Shiori replied, handing her a stack of documents.
A quick read brought a conflicted expression on her face. “Well, this will provide us with a good excuse to take over the Caledor duchy once the warriors have done their thing. The downside is that we’ll need to go cult hunting. I’m sure the Inquisition will be happy to finally have proof that the pleasure cults are up to no good, but I don’t think they expected the reach of the cults to reach this high up. We’re going to have a real proper purge in the duchy once we take over.”
“It’s time for Yunalesca to earn her wages.” Shiori replied with a grin.