Scourge Fifty – Brave
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Scourge Fifty - Brave

Commander Nunez looks over the Templars behind him, then he points to one of them. “Lieutenant Ciado, you’re in charge while I’m absent. Keep the men here. Guards up. Remember the teachings of our lord with regards to vigilance. Lieutenant Obrero, you’re with me. You too, Initiate Schild.”

“Commander,” one of the Templars says. It’s the guy Nunez called Lieutenant Ciado. He sits up straighter on his horse and glances at my friends and I quickly. “Is that wise?”

The commander works his jaw before answering. “I’ve risen through the ranks by doing three things. Listening to our lord, using common sense, and following my instincts. Our lord loathes the Dark Goddess, but he respects her as well. If I die today, it will be because the Dark Goddess has violated a truce. But I’m not so easy to take down. The initiate will come with me. That is all. You will respect the truce so long as they respect it.”

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant says with a snap.

I don’t know much about this Commander Nunez guy, but I have the impression he’s a pretty well-respected fellow. I don’t know exactly what the rank structure for the Templars is, but I don’t think there are many commanders. I do know that promotion in the Templars is handed out sparsely and only after someone has worked hard for it. Heroe is big on meritocracy.

The commander turns to me and my friends. “Lady Malvada, if you would,” he says while climbing off his horse.

One of the lieutenants does the same, as does a random Templar who grabs a hold of the horse’s reins. Then, with a disdainful sniff, Lily climbs off her horse and lands on the ground with a slight bend to her knees. “Don’t you dare hurt the commander,” she warns.

I blink. I have no intention of hurting the old guy, I don’t think she needs to worry. “Come, we have tea.”

“Poisoned, I bet,” Lily mutters.

I sigh. “If I was going to poison you, I’d use a bug-monster to inject it into your bloodstream directly. You have no idea how ineffective ingested poisons are compared to those injected intravenously.”

The Templars who can overhear me start to shift on their horses. I bet I’ve got them all worried about mosquitos now.

My friends and I turn back and start across the field towards our pavilion, Commander Nunez, Lieutenant Obrero, and Lily following us. Once there, I sit on my seat, put my hand on the head of one of my wolf-armrests, and start scritching its head while the others sit down across from us.

The Templars all have swords still, but they’re sheathed. I think that’s the best I can expect. “So, should we go over introductions again while the tea warms up?” I ask.

“Certainly,” Commander Nunez says. “I am Santiago Nunez, Commander of this company of Templars. This is Second Lieutenant Obrero, my third in command, and Initiate Lily Schild, whom I have gathered you know already.”

“We met, but just the once,” I say. At least, I think so. Something about Lily is always... strangely familiar. The way her lips tighten at me saying that tells me that she might feel the same way. Or something. I don’t really know what’s wrong with her.

“My name is Valeria Maldava, I suppose I’m a Princess of some sort or another. I never really cared much for that kind of thing. This is Felix, one of my best friends and confidants, and also my bodyguard.” Felix waves and gives the group a big goofy grin.

I gesture to my other two friends, then give Bianca a nod when she reaches for the tea set.

“This is Esme Fidelis. She’s an Archivist of Semper.”

“Hello,” Esme says. She’s not usually shy, but she’s not being overly talkative today either.

“And this is Bianca Malicieux, daughter of Lord Malicieux of Nafpakri.”

Bianca stands, then bows with a little curtsy that looks very fancy and well-practised. “Greetings, Commander, Lieutenant, Initiate. Though we are far from my family’s lands in this nation, I offer you my greetings as a lady of the Caselfella Republic.”

“That’s a fancy harem you’ve got here, huh Luna?” Lily says.

The Commander half-turns, giving Lily a chastising look that has her shrinking back.

I shoot her a glare. First of all, these are my friends, not a harem. Second, my name isn’t... Luna? It’s a very pretty name though. And also one that’s familiar. I’m not sure why my core roils every time she says it. “Please refrain from insulting my friends,” I say. “Also, my name is Valeria. But we can argue later, we’re not here to go over all of your issues.”

Lily’s chest puffs out and I can feel the rage magic stirring around her. It’s a lot more tempered than the last time we met, at least I think. My own ability to sense people’s magic and cultivation has improved a lot in the last couple of years.

Bianca snaps her fingers and a burst of fire scorches the air next to her, rolls around, and forms a burning circle in the air of flames that chase after each other. She brings that burning ring down and around the tin kettle for our tea.

Her control is pretty darned good for someone who’s only self-taught. I’m curious to see how she’d stack up against a hothead like Lily. But maybe that’s for later.

“So, Commander. What are a bunch of Templars doing out here?”

“I believe I could ask the same about a Princess of Darkness,” he says. “But, as guests, I’m willing to answer first if you agree to do the same.”

“I don’t mind explaining,” I say.

He nods cordially. “We have come from across the Abyssi Mountains, collecting a few promising Templars along the route to assist the people in the Caselfella Republic. Our lord warned us that his temple in Algecante was desecrated. We came here to discover who did it.”

“What have you found so far?” I ask.

“Altum,” the Commander says. “Or people are disguising themselves as his servants. We discovered a disturbing number of undead, as well as monsters.”

“Monsters working with Altum’s people?” I ask while sitting up. I’m not even going to try to pretend that I’m not interested in that.

The Commander hesitates for a moment before replying. “Not with them, no. But we’ve encountered two large groups of monsters in a row. Acting in a way that is unusual. They were almost being herded. Did you have anything to do with that?”

I shake my head. “No. Nor did Mom.” I ignore the way the Lieutenant and Lily both mouth-* ‘mom.’ “We were in Vizeda when the city was attacked maybe a week ago. The monsters there were herded as well. The next day, Altum’s people started to arrive in the city. I think they’ve found a way to trick younger, less intelligent monsters to do what they want. Did you encounter any undead?”

“Plenty,” the Commander says. “Altum’s people have been busy. We’ve encountered two small villages and an outpost empty of people. No signs of a monster attack, but plenty of the passing of people. Monsters don’t use pitchforks and swords, last I reckoned.”

“And the books?” Esme asks. “That’s part of the reason why we’re here. Semper’s vault was broken into. Books were stolen. Books about necromancy.”

The Commander’s lips tighten. “We might be in possession of those. Late the night before last we encountered a necromancer and a large group of the undead. He was... practising with them, turning innocents into macabre creatures. We put him to the sword. Among his possessions were some books on the undead arts.”

I nod. “So, you’re here for the same reason we are. And you happened to run across some of the books we’re looking to return to Semper.” I sigh.

Bianca rises up and places some cups down for everyone before she starts pouring with careful, dainty motions.

I take a cup first and sip from it loudly before the others can take some for themselves. A show of trust, of sorts. The Commander nods and takes one for himself and does likewise.

“We have sent scouts to Algecante,” the Commander says. “The city is lost.”

“Lost?” Bianca asks.

He nods. “To the undead. They roam the walls and the surrounding city by the thousands. Not only mere zombies and ghouls, but creatures far more foul as well.”

“What were you going to do about it?” I ask.

“We are Templars. For every one of us, we can assure the death of a hundred of those. But we are outnumbered by far more. Honestly, I believe that thinning their ranks with small raids is the best we can do for now. No doubt Altum’s cultists have plans for such a grand army of the undead. We will do what we can to gain the lords and ladies of Caselfella the time they need to prepare.”

Brave. A bit stupid, in my opinion, but brave.

“What would you need to take them all out?” I ask.

“An army.” he says.

I consider that for just a moment. “What if I can get you an army?”

***

Too lazy for author's note, have Bun instead

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