"We must burn it all."
The words carried through the air, passing around the makeshift temporary encampment so that no one could have claimed to have not heard them. They brought a pause to the activities of the occupants - here, a man oiling his gun stopped, head arched up as if to verify the statement; there, an idler sharpening the hook of his harpoon listening intently, eyes gleaming; and still further down, three men arranged around a water cooler pausing in conversation at the words. They were not words to be ignored.
Slowly, all eyes turned to the speaker, the leader of the encampment - Chaplain Adler Brandt. The Chaplain who led them, the scouting party, the tipped edge of the warbird known as the Order of the Talon. One among countless, they knew only their superiors - no other information of the Order was permitted for members so low in the Circles. And the Chaplain was the highest - one of the Third Circle. He did not attempt to repeat his words, but merely looked at each member deeply, expecting some remark, some complaint. There was none.
The Talon of the Hawk does not question its master's orders. As far as the men were concerned, the Chaplain's orders came directly from God. And the Talon did not question God's will - others had tried, and others had fallen. The Talon had endured.
The Chaplain spoke about the nearby village - barely a village, it was in truth no more than a collection of miners and their families, on the edge of a small ore mine. There were perhaps fifteen houses, a bar, and a village square in all, but the locals had done their best with what they had. They sent their ore to the nearest city in Libya, just across the border thirty miles away, by way of their sole vehicle - a dilapidated Scorpion Tank.
But as it turned out, there was more than one Scorpion lurking in the village.
The Talon scouting party had been encamped by the small village for several weeks now, and the villagers hadn't minded. Despite their strange garb, beliefs, and refusal of any of the young women, drinks, or other temptations the villagers offered as signs of peace, they still bought items from the bar (mostly water) and didn't start any fights. For their part, the scouts had kept up their regimen of discipline and strength by doing work in the nearby fields and mine, keeping body strong and wits sharp.
Even if it is not being used to catch prey, the Talon must always be ready to act in an instant at the will of the Hawk.
For several weeks, the two groups had gotten along...and then a boy, local, had came to them. He was just another young man born of the village, and no doubt normally he would have worked in the mine like his father and grandfather before him, married a girl of another family like his father and grandfather before him, and pass on the cycle in turn. But, on the night he came to them, the boy would change his fate for eternity.
He was drunk - there was precious few pleasures in the village, and a major one was alcohol - and he liked the foreigners who worked with him in the mine. He invited them to come to the village, play a game of cards, relax for evening. The scouting party, however, had refused. They could not relax - there was always danger waiting to strike. Alone, the Scorpion could not hope to best the Hawk - but if the Hawk slept, or the Talon was unresponsive, the Scorpion could approach and sting freely. The Talon knew that could not happen. It would not happen.
At length, the boy had left, but he had placed a series of chips down before he left, in case any of them changed their minds later. He could not have, in his state, foreseen what would happen to him and his village. Sometimes, an innocent turn of the light may bring the Scorpion to the attention of the Hawk - and this boy was, on that night, shining as bright as the stars.
It was noted, by one of the Footmen, that there was in the chips one unlike any other. It was not of wood, but of a stone...and it brought the attention of Brandt. What the Chaplain found horrified him.
The chip was foreign - of a quality higher than any in the village could have produced. Black stone ringed the edge, but the inside was of a ruby, red as the rays of the dying sun. And in the middle of the ruby, there lay the black, intricately made stonework of the Scorpion's tail.
The Chaplain had waited, was determined not to let this spur him into immediate action. The Talon does not strike until the Scorpion is within its grasp. Instead, he bade the scouts wait - and the next time the boy came, one of their party went with him. And after the member's return, the Chaplain's fears were confirmed - the Scorpion lay nestled in the village.
The bar had a rough underground area, and it was there that the adult miners and some of the older boys played their cards. The scout had seen more of the chips there, as well as a pile of guns laid out openly in the corner. When asked what they were, one of the villagers had said, honestly, that some men had agreed to sell them when they passed through. They warned on bandits, instabalizing elements, and said that it was dangerous for the villagers to live alone - they should take these, the weapons, to defend themselves with.
Chaplain Brandt did not regret the actions that would take place today. The men at his command would follow him without question - they as well as he recognized the harm that was already done. If even one Scorpion survives, they will eventually find more, and reproduce. There was only one option to be done - they must cleanse the village, and try to salvage what they could.
The villagers were outside, milling, watching the sky. One of the scouting party had told them that the party was with the Allies - and that a shipment of supplies was headed their way. The villagers, simple, uncomplicated, believing, had taken the lie to be truth. Even as the scout's Cleansers encircled the village with precision, even as the Footmen watched from afar with crossbows ready, they watched the sky, trusting in a foreign power that never knew they existed to provide for them.
Some of them might have even still believed the lie even as the flames sprouted.
The village had burned, and burned, the flames covering a circle, entrapping the villagers within. Some huddled with their families, praying to a god that, according to the Talon, wasn't on their side. Some tried to escape the flames, using themselves as living barriers so their wives, husbands, children could get out. Crossbow bolts went into those that tried.
Chaplain Brandt felt nothing as he watched the village burn. He never paused to consider a world where villagers eking out a life from the most common source of material in the planet might trustingly accept gifts and never use them except as intended. The Scorpion thrived on those worlds - insecurity, doubt, paranoia were their breeding grounds. The Talon knew only the will of the Hawk, and the Hawk thrived in the world of absolutes - good and evil, right and wrong, salvation and punishment. No room in-between.
After the flames had run out of fuel and the remnants of the villagers mingled with the dust of their once land, the scouting party sought out the survivors. Where they found children - and, in the aftermath, there was nothing but children - they soothed them, comforted them, took them. The children were pure from the Scorpion's taint, and they could be salvaged to join the Talon in service to the Hawk.
The Hawk was not a loving entity, Chaplain Brandt knew. It was not loving, and it was not hating. It simply was. And it was true.
When, in due course he would return to his base, his superiors would not castigate him for his actions. They too would recognize that the villagers had been a noble sacrifice - that Brandt had given their lives so that the Scorpion might have less areas in which to hide. The children would be separated from the party, brought to the schools, and his party would once more be sent out.
The Talon knows that even death is preferable to life as a Scorpion.