OOC: Gods, how did I let the update be so late? Wulf listed who I still owed an update to and I felt bad and got straight here. I've been out every evening these past few days, I apologize.
Also, I took a break from the present tense; even though I find it a lot more interesting. Tell me if you prefer me writing in the present or past.
I have to go urgently. I missed dinner with my family because I was writing this. I'll finish for everyone else tomorrow, I promise.
Marshal Sherman rallied his forces and marched from Stratholme the following morning. The town officials organized a recovery operation for the bodies of the fallen, which were to be burned ceremonially on a great pyre.
Sherman only regretted that he would not be there to witness the last rites being given to his dear brothers in arms. There was just no time to be lost. The longer that was left until his arrival at Corin's Crossing, the more time that the Maroon High Council had to escape.
Pureblood and his Witch Hunters led the way through Strattania, past the remnants of towns and villages which had been burned ransacked by the rampaging armies of Brux; the very army that had been destroyed at Stratholme.
"How in the hells did the cultists manage to ally with Gnolls?" Sherman muttered to himself. At his side, Pureblood shrugged. "I've seen some nasty things in my time as a Witch Hunter, Marshal. This is was just another card in the deck that the pagans play." "What have they played in the past that I haven't seen, then?" Sherman asked. Pureblood managed an awkward grin. Sherman suddenly gave thought the scars lining the young man's face. "Well, Marshal Sherman. Let's just say that their Four Gods are more than just concepts. When you're in the heat of it, and you see some truly crazy things, you no longer question that much."
Corin's Crossing loomed over the horizon by evening. It was a huge settlement wedged between a myriad of hills. Corin's Crossing looked like a ghost town. There were no lights, no fires, no sounds of occupation coming from within. Sherman felt unnerved by the sight of the place. He could handle any foe upon the field of battle without fear, but something like this, a promise of an unseen enemy, was more intimidating. "What can we expect, Pureblood?" The Witch Hunter shrugged. "What can't we expect?"
The army moved into the town with utmost caution, every footstep crashing into the silence. Sherman began to suspect that he was far too late to catch the High Council, which would likely have heard of the defeat of its pawns, Wiglaf Folles and Sagan, by now. Suddenly, Sherman halted the battalions and stalled his horse. "Pureblood!" The Witch Hunter stood at attention. "Aye, Marshal?" "Spread out and look for traces of the High Council. If they are not here, perhaps we can catch up with them. Hopefully, they're not too far gone by now."
Sherman looked around him. He could not help but wonder what fate had befallen the innocent townsfolk of Corin's Crossing who had not yielded to the Maroon fanatacism.
A violent cry rang out; a shrieking wail. Two Witch Hunters beckoned Sherman inside what seemed to be the town hall. Pureblood was there with several of his lieutenants, with swords drawn, cornering a small gathering dressed in brown rags. "Whom am I addressing! Speak!" Pureblood commanded. "What have we here?" Sherman asked, relieved that the search had turned up something.
One of the elders stepped forward, hatred alight in his eyes. "You are too late! The High Council left before your arrival. Brux has guided them to safety so that they may fight you another day." Sherman lost control, for but a split second, and backhanded the man to the ground. "Insolent heretic!" "I know you." the man replied, as he wiped blood from his mouth. "You are the Butcher!" "Butcher? Do you want to know what I really am, cultist?" Sherman spat, drawing his sword. "I do the work of a righteous man. Have you ever read the Book of Patron Godfrey? No? Let me bless you with Passage 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I serve the Light when I lay my vengeance upon you." The man stood defiant till the end, but the Marshal decapited him nonetheless. "Pureblood! Mount the Witch Hunters! Sniff out the Maroon High Council! Lead me to them! You are trained to smell their ilk out. They can't have gotten far." Pureblood nodded. "What shall we do with the cultists that they left behind?" "Burn them." Sherman replied.
In mere minutes, Sherman, Pureblood and the Witch Hunters were mounting their horses. The trail was not yet cold. The training that the Witch Hunters received would lead them straight to the High Council. "They are not far!" Pureblood calls out. "A mile or two at most!" "Then ride, damn you!" Sherman roars, kicking his horse after the Witch Hunters. They thundered down onto the roads, leaving the army to continue on to Tyr's Hand. Sherman promised his lieutenants that he would meet them there.
Every minute that passed seemed to bring the Witch Hunters into a more furious frenzy. They were drawing closer and they knew it. Sherman felt the opportunity for vengeance bubbling closer. The riders broke into the open plains, and then they could see a cloud of dust being thrown into the air in the distance. "They too are on horseback! After them! Ride like never before!" Pureblood yells.
"Shoot down their mounts beneath them!" Sherman commanded. The Witch Hunters readied their bows, superior archers even on horseback. They drew nearer, and fired. Several figures tumbled to the ground in a heap. Sherman could see that some of the targets had been crushed or killed. "Round them up!"
Then the Maroons turned, and Sherman saw that they were willing to fight to the last. There were men and women of various ages, dressed in different robes and vestments. The gap between them and the Witch Hunters closed, and then they were engaged. Using nets, the Witch Hunters managed to bring down many Maroons without seriously injuring them, but the rest were slaughtered easily. Whatever they had to their credit, the High Council was not composed of the best fighters in Strattania. That much was clear.
After the struggle was over, the surviving Maroons were rounded into a crowd and shackled. Sherman and Pureblood dismounted to address them. Sherman felt a surge of relief. Now he would be able to exact vengeance. "Something is not right." Pureblood muttered. "What's wrong, Pureblood?" Sherman asked. "We have them at last, don't we?"
"All that matters, fools, is that Amron has escaped." one of the councilors laughed. She was a woman, fair haired and quite beautiful. Of all of the council, she had put up the most valiant resistance. "Damnit." Pureblood grated, turning to Sherman. "Our intelligence gathered enough to know that 'Amron' was their highest ranking official. These might have been decoys." Sherman folded his arms. "No matter. We have the rest of the council. What good is one man without anyone to command? You, what is your name?"
"I am Yune the Bloodmaid, chosen of Brux." the woman responded proudly, pride in her demeanor. "And whatever you believe, we will live on. Andol besieges Tyr's Hand as we speak. Amron lives, and thus the Maroon High Council will endure. You have failed, Marshal."