In the Shadow of Virtue: Ricardo Captured / Bane Chosen Invade Yew Summary: Lord Captain Jenkins of the Royal Guard summons a militia of Britannic and Old World Volunteers, forming an expeditionary force to scout the edges of the Isle of Magincia. But their plans are cut short when Sherry arrives, announcing the Bane Chosen assault on Northern Yew. When the militia arrives they discover Ricardo, War Criminal from the First Ophidian War, has been captured. Nicholas and Yalp discover plans revealing a man named 'V' is behind the plot. Others find similar notes on the corpses of the Bane Chosen and their demonic reinforcements. The Queen arrives from the Countryside, seemingly unaware of the Invasion of Magincia. He watched them, a silent spectre wrapped in the accutrements of death and discord. "Remember," Lord Captain Jenkins shouted from atop the stair leading into the Interior Palace, "we do not aim to defeat them today." Indignant murmurs rose through the mass of armed peasants and guardsmen. One ascended the lowest step. Darius' eyes threatened to bore holes into the Commander of Queen Dawn's Palace Guards. "If the Temple of Magincia has fallen, I swear..." "Well, well, well," came a voice from the shadows. "You can hardly blame the Guardsman for the actions of the Bane Chosen." Jenkins turned. "Nicholas," he said, pounding a gloved gauntlet against his opposing shoulder. "Captain," Nicholas emerged to stand in the light, exchanging glances with Glinmiali Zanthes. Jenkins turned to again face the crowd. "Are the Banes massing in any particular Region of Magincia?" James cleared his throat, though the answer obvious. "Where the City once stood." "Everywhere," Nephthys breathed. Gilthas emerged from the throng. "When I was there, Captain," he began in the thick accent of his people, "I saw tents. Perhaps there will be something inside. Orders. Their plans." Jenkins opened his mouth to respond, but was cut short by a squeal, that of a wounded animal, and fierce scratching at his boot. "Sherry!" The strange mating of Mouse and Man fought to catch her breath. "Oh, how horrible! It's a disaster!" "What happened?" Jenkins removed his helmet and knelt before the Queen's strange, inhuman advisor. "I was at the Prison," she breathed, wiping her nose with an all too human paw. "Visitin' Ricardo! We were attacked!" She tugged on his boot. "You must come, fast! It's horrible." * * * The Knights of Bane and the Britannic Guard fought mercilessly 'neath a sun that refused to set. Garish light bloodied their sword blades and gilt their breastplates with liquid fire. The sound of mortars and explosions erupted in the distance, mingled with the fierce howls of Britannian War Wolves. Nicholas eased Sleipnir into a slow canter, fresh blood dripping from the tip of his undulating Flamberge and staining his sleeve. He had managed to take the mans hand, then his head, but only in poetry did a man face a band of hardened warriors and survive without wearing evidence of the struggle. Tarrant was tapestried in proof of such duels. He leaned forward as he passed beneath the Gate and into the Castle of Truth. When he emerged on the other side, he paused, drawing rein. There, guarding the entrance to the fortress and adjacent prison was a man, garbed in the accutrements of the Chosen. His armor was a mass of dangerous lines and sharpened edges. He was mounted atop a Bane Dragon, venom dripping from the maw of that fat, bloated creature. "Caught," Nicholas murmured, grip tightening on the Serpent embossed hilt, anticipating a charge. None came. The Bane Knight dismounted, removing his horned helmet. "Nicholas," he shouted in surprise. Nicholas' eyes narrowed. He recognized the man, though man was a stretch. "It has been some time," he replied. Dexter was young, not more than a year or two older than his own son. Yet the man standing before him was an efficient killer, a swordsman of rare talent that laughed when he shed blood. Nicholas had saved the boy from the Ophidians a dozen times earlier that Summer, in the employ of the Chosen, and Dexter had returned the favor in kind. Nicholas swung his leg over Sleipnir's Saddle, dismounting. "We've captured the Thief, Sir," Dexter announced. Was he truly that naive? "Come to help us retake Britannia from these Heathens and Blasphemers?" "I have," Nicholas said, approaching him. Dexter grinned. "I thought so," he announced, extending his hand to the older man. Nicholas ignored the gesture, and passed him. "Are you prepared to give your life for the Cause?" Dexter replied, though instinct guided his words. "Yes," he began, turning. "I..." His words were cut short, as the Flamberge drove into his stomach. Nicholas studied the face of a man he had saved numerous times, a comrade, as Dexter descended to his knees, holding the blade to his stomach. He looked up. "W...why?" "Be Brave," Nicholas tore the weapon free. "I will not be far behind." He swung, ending the young mans suffering. * * * Yalp led his War Wolf through the shadowed corridors of the Castle of Truth, delicate fingers wound tight around the winged hilt of his Planesword. The mithril weapon, carved with Enochian runes and long wielded in service to the Empress of Zento, glowed with a faint, spectral hue, though releasing captured blades of silver moonlight imbued in to the hilt. It helped him find his way around the corpses of Bane Chosen and Yew Wardens. Someone had come before him. He paused. The Wolf - a Cu Sidhe of the Dark Moon - began to snarl, her hackles rising on end, twisting her head to peer behind them. "Saesi... Air byrol sai thaes," Yalp murmured soothingly in the tongue of his people. "What is it, Girl?" Then he heard it, a loud, inhuman groan as the beams of the ceiling began to splinter and give way. "Vaeraer," he snarled. "Back." He and the Wolf just managed to clear the hall when the beams exploded, the ceiling collapsing under the weight of two massive creatures. Blackrock Golems. There was no going back now. The Managarm descended further into the Castle, fingers wound tight in the mane of the Wolf, using its senses to guide him deeper into the shadowy oblivion of Yew Prison. He was separated from the Britannic and Town Guard, but there was a chance the Thief was still alive, and if he could only find his way, hope remained. Moments passed. He descended into the Dungeon, the sound of moans and pleas for help echoing through the dimly lit corridor of Cells. The Prisoners, he observed in the torchlight, had been dragged from their cells and silenced by whatever evil had assaulted this place. Some had been beheaded. Some, stabbed. One, his tongue cut out. There was nothing he could do for these people, he thought, knowing he would have to save his energy for the fight ahead. Yalp found the Cell. XIII. He gripped his weapon, and threw the door wide. Movement. Instinct took over. He swung. Two blades slammed together in the shadow, sparks flying. "Nicholas," he breathed in recognition. Nicholas lowered his Sword. "You just missed him." "Where is Ricardo?" Nicholas gestured to a piece of rolled parchment on the bed. "Have a look for yourself."