Hues of dull orange began to streak across the sky, heralding the arrival of a new dawn in the town of Redonwier. Usually, few people, and even fewer animals would be awake before the sun's warming rays broke the horizon, but today, as had occurred more than once in this town's history, the walls acted as silent witness to the spectacle within: six hundred warriors mounted and ready for battle; the gates struggling to contain the restless horses like a rickety dam about to burst when a river swelled over its banks. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters… all who were remaining came out to wish their beloved a hearty battle with many victories and a swift, safe return. And when the yellow orb finally made its presence known, the dam broke and the sea of green capes that easily identified the Order of Pantheos flowed along its designated course to Poleyn, led by five bearers of an incredible destiny, and accompanied by one mother's simple blessing:
"May all the good spirits be with you."
Two days later, the force of six hundred arrived on the outskirts of Poleyn, merging with an equally strong force approaching from the western side, bright blue identifying them as the Mystic Dragons. By nightfall, every tent was pitched and a council of war was called and attended by eight: the pinion bearers and their 'guide', along with the guildmasters.
"Well, sis… what're we looking at? Since I've heard nothing from my contact, your info is all we've got to go on."
"Unfortunately, Joe, I don't have much myself. My guy didn't get too far up the chain, so his info is limited. All he would say is that we're dealing with a well organised force here."
"And if we're talking about all the brigand guilds in the surrounding area, that's quite a few. How many scouts did you bring with you, Francie?"
"You know me… standard fifty."
"Same here. We'll pull straws for flank detail tomorrow, then send 'em out to get some numbers and an idea of rank formations." Joe then addressed Mr. Fushichou. "Where is this thing, anyway?"
Mr. Fushichou closed his eyes for a moment before responding. "More to the north. I suggest you both keep your soldiers on alert. They should know we're here. If the campfires aren't already a dead giveaway, the energy of the other pinions will be."
"So then, what's the plan of attack?" Kaze inquired.
"The only thing to the north of here that could be of any interest to someone holding an army is that cave network. Hopefully the reinforcements from the coastal networks will arrive tomorrow." Joe mused. "Then, we can run the Shield Pierce tactic."
The only one confused was Chikyuu. "Shield Pierce?"
"It works kinda like this, Chikyuu…" Hikari explained, illustrating on the ground with his scabbard. "The objective is to get a core group of soldiers to the position of the enemy commanding officer, or into an enemy stronghold. This core group is surrounded by another group of soldiers, and they basically plough through the enemy ranks towards the target. The remaining soldiers follow the core through and begin to separate the enemy ranks into two groups, eventually flanking them on all sides. The core group carries out their mission at the same time."
"I… kinda get it. So where do we fit in?"
"The five of us will be the core group, and we're heading into the cave network to find and capture Dorei. Joe and Francie will decide on who our shield group will be, as well as lead the two flanking groups."
"Okay." Chikyuu looked over at Faia, Kaze and Aisu. "And you guys knew all that already?"
"Hey, I'm in a guild, remember?" Faia smirked.
"I'm a prince. Military strategy was pretty much fed to me on a constant basis." Kaze shrugged.
"Yeah, we had it drilled into us at the monastery too." Aisu nodded.
"If it helps any, Chikyuu, look at things this way. I may know military strategy, but I can't grow a decent vegetable if my life depended on it, so, we're basically even."
"That's probably a good thing, Hikari. I wouldn't want to see those vegetables, let alone eat them."
"Faia, that means a- HEY!!!"
Uproars of laughter from the council tent joined the others that emanated from the various campfires where old friends traded tales. Much the same was going on in the camp on the other side of the city of Poleyn, but the council of war was reduced from eight around a fire to one kneeling before an altar, shrouded in black mist.
"Give me your news, child."
"All of the pinions have arrived in the area, just as you have planned."
"You are aware of the possible tactics they may use in this battle?"
"Yes. They most likely will charge a small force through in order to infiltrate the caves."
"Allow them to pass. Their willingness to embrace their own demise serves only to make things that much easier."
"As you wish."
"Morantos was an opportunity that we did not expect, and not only did you fail to take advantage of it, you lost control of a valuable resource when your spell failed and your mind faltered. I have given you a source of immense strength, and a deep well of resolve, because you apparently lacked both before. I have taken you in when the rest of the world thought you dead, given you life again, and made you great. For all that I have given to you, Dorei, all I ask in return is that you not fail me again, and once I am free, that you serve me for the rest of eternity. Lure the fools to their doom, claim the power that is rightfully mine, and join me in using that power to fulfil my grand design. Now, Dorei… will you honour my requests?"
"To the letter, master."
"Excellent, my child. Rest now, for we have much to do tomorrow." The black mist disappeared, leaving Dorei resting on the altar, scythe in hand.