Admiring the keen edge of the newly purchased axe, Johanna compares it to the one she had brought with her, already largely worn down after just two engagements. The Warriors Village was known for their swords, but they certainly didn't shirk quality in other weapons as well. Just as she's finding a place for the new armament at her hip, the sound of rapid approaching steps is accompanied by a call in her direction.
"Excuse me! You the Guardsmen, the two of you?"
She glances to Ceridwen, then to the approaching villager, who looks rather alarmed. "Yes."
"Something's going on at the gate," the man continues before she can even ask what's going on. "Some guy came flying in looking all haggard, asking for you. We don't know what the heck's going on, never seen lizards like them around these places before."
Concern eclipses the urge to inform the villager that they are not 'lizards', and she frowns. A rider, flying all the way out here? In a rush, it sounds like. It can't be anything good. "Ceridwen, please gather the others. I'll see what's going on."
A not-small crowd has amassed to get in on the commotion by the time the rest of the Allied Guard are assembled, Rhian and Kerr from their training, Argos and Dulcibella from the elder's house, and others where they had been. Villagers of all ages linger some paces away, gawking and pointing at the armored man on the dragon as he talks to Johanna, both of them looking grave, even from a distance. None of them come too close, as the fully-grown dragon growls when anyone comes within a certain radius, but both man and beast look worn. It's clear they've been flying at an arduous pace for days to find the Guard.
After another few moments, Johanna nods slowly, then leaves the man to come over to where the Guard is gathered, moving through the throng of villagers as they step aside for her. She unfolds a map she received from the rider as she draws close and presents it to the Guard, gesturing to various circles and arrows on it as she speaks. "Everyone, listen closely. There's been an attack on the Dragon Knight's Stronghold. The man I spoke with is a messenger from Captain Levenheit. The advancing army is none other than a section of Caliss' National Army itself, led by General Milich Oppenheimer. The Knights are holding them at chokepoints in the mountains, but from what our messenger says, there's no sign of the offense slowing down, and they have the advantage of numbers. The Knights have tried to negotiate multiple times, and have received no answer, and there has been no word from President Kirov, either.
On top of that, as of when our messenger departed the Stronghold, there's been a turn of events. The Calissians have taken a prominent Mid-Wing Commander hostage, and there's concern over how this will affect the defensive.
The Calissian forces' base of operation and supplies is Scarleticia Castle, located here at the base of the Antei Mountains. Captain Levenheit has ordered to strike there and take the castle, which will cripple the offensive and hopefully end the stalemate. As we are still a small force and Scarleticia is no doubt heavily manned, I've decided that we'll approach from a rear entrance and proceed as far as we can without drawing too much attention. This was five days ago now, and there's no telling what else may have happened. There is no time to waste, so we will move out immediately. Finish up whatever business you have left; we will be departing in no more than an hour."
After dismissing them, Johanna moves over to Idriss, who has since returned from his foray into the forest and waits by the front gate, and retrieves his tack. Fastening her new axe to the holster on his side, she lays the heavy saddle across his back, the expression on her face unreadable.
CHAPTER 2 : Antoinette's Thorns
Solis Y3302, Summerswane
It takes two weeks for the Allied Guard to travel from the Warriors Village to the war front, receiving short epistles along the way from Captain Levenheit, who directs their movements alone for now due to President Kirov's silence. On the journey, the Guardsmen have little to do but march and wonder: what has happened to cause this unexpected attack? In those brief but tumultuous weeks, little changes on the status of the stand-off. The Dragon Knights continue to hold the pathways up the mountain at pre-designated defense points, staving off the Calissian advance. Battles are brief but bloody; thus far, casualties seem to be more or less equal on both sides, as the Calissians come armed with bows and magic to blast through the Knights' fabled defenses. But the Knights defend their longstanding home with tenacity, and refuse to give ground, making the Calissians pay for their efforts.
However, according to Captain Levenheit's letters, morale has notably been flagging within the Knights since the capture of one of their mid-wing commanders. The commander has yet to be located, and there is no news on what has happened to him.
In the most recent handful of days, however, the Calissians have broken through one of the defense points and resumed their advance towards the Stronghold. The Knights scramble to rearrange themselves and continue holding off the onslaught. The urgency of the Allied Guards' mission only grows.
"Kill them! Kill all of them, damn it! What is taking so long out there? Those overgrown reptiles and their knuckle-headed animal tamers should be groveling on their knees to us by yesterday! Do I need to go out there personally?"
"No, General Oppenheimer, sir. We've received a report from the scouts, sir."
"Another damned report. Out with it."
"There appears to be a small group moving towards the castle, sir. We don't know where they came from, but they're armed, sir. There are some rumors that the Knights have called for reinforcements of some kind. Some are saying that it's the Allied Guard."
"Some are saying it's the Allied Guard," Milich mocks in a high-pitched voice. "I don't care who it is; get rid of them! Squash the rumors and whatever little children are trying to play hero out there, got it? Move some people to the rear entrance. Aaactually...!" He pauses for a long moment, a rabid grin spreading on his face as he holds up a gloved hand. "This'll be the perfect time to test out my beloved Antoinette."
"Don't interrupt me, you waste of oxygen!" He thinks for a second longer, stroking his chin. "Yes... arm Antoinette! That idiotic overseer didn't like her, so why not let her show just how splendid she really is, in his memory! And drag out that bag of mangy fur and her cohorts too and make them work for once. They've been spending too long living off my generosity with no usefulness to show for it. Station them in the courtyard. Perhaps the fresh air in there will make them stink less."
"Yes... sir. At once, sir."
A group of about a dozen soldiers, dressed in poorer gear than the rest of the men patrolling the castle, are ushered into the finely-curated courtyard of the castle. Only when they are all inside does the guard who leads them dispel the magically-forged chain that links them before fixing them all with a hard stare. "Now, Master Greyson isn't here to oversee all of you, but the General is expecting you all to do whatever it takes to put these intruders in their place, y'hear mongrels? One whiff of trouble and all of you will be getting the burn. So, do your job and no funny business."
After he leaves and the haggard-looking group is left alone, one of them scoffs. "Letting us play unchaperoned now, are they?"
"Don't joke around," another says. "These beorc might be chumps, but the light magic burns aren't funny."
"Beorc..." The one who looks to be the leader of the group echoes the word softly, then her face contorts with disgust and anger. "You still call these people beorc? You call that shit-spewing flower dandy a beorc? Tch. Let's just get this job done. He wants some corpses? Fine. We'll play around until Master Greyson gets here, at least."
"You're serious? Today? Hati... is this... because of last week..."
"Don't fucking talk about that shit!" Her snarl causes the other laguz to flinch backwards, and she fidgets restlessly with the pages of the thick tome in her hands, looking down and off to the side. "Don't want to think about that anymore. We wait for Master Greyson to be released, and we go. No more waiting around. If I'm here one more day, I might just eat that fucker."
"Maybe you should." That gets a dry chorus of bitter laughter. "I'm serious!"
"Are you going to be okay to fight, Hati? With... I mean, with the burns... sorry, I know you don't want to talk about it."
"Shut up. I'll be fine with this armor. Just fan out. Our afternoon snack's coming our way."
The tall turrets of Scarleticia Castle loom ahead of them as the tree line clears. Likely the middle of the day isn't the best time to try and sneak into a castle from the back entrance, but as Johanna peers up the path, she realizes that it doesn't seem to matter. A pair of armored guards have been placed at the doorway she had hoped they could use, and from the looks of it, they're not the only ones patrolling.
"It looks like they had some warning," she says quietly to the others. "It doesn't matter. Our objective remains the same. Seize the castle and cripple the Calissian offensive. Everyone, please be careful in there. We are all coming out of this alive, and we will get to the bottom of this."
VICTORY: Seize Throne
DEFEAT: All Player Units are Defeated