Monday, October 12, 2015

Xoniuqé Rising


Prologue:

Fulkh "Marshal" is young, inexperienced and orphaned. He and his father were on the side of the rebels recently at the "Ogmorhga". The marshal was killed. (The baron of Klyph is decrepit and sticks inside his palace inside the city of Klyph.) Most of the contingent of Klyph perished with their marshal; resulting in the barony being overrun soon after the tremendously bloody battle. (Which was a Pyrrhic victory for the rebel faction, resulting in the destruction of Antania's mercenaries serving the regent Lahrka, who also perished. On the side of the victors the duke of Ogmorh was fatally wounded and died not long after: and now we know that the Marshal of Klyph also died on the field, along with many of the nobility of the barony: they must have taken the brunt of the imperial attack.)

In the months since the Ogmorhga (which he escaped narrowly), Fulkh has been the leader of rogue elements, mostly men who, like himself, have found their fiefs (or otherwise homes) wasted. These "worthy unworthies" view the lordling as their natural leader in spite of his youth and unprepossessing personality. His family has been killed and scattered: mother definitely no more, one or more siblings' fates unknown; the family fief is wasted, the castle now only a burnt shell. So the men who survive and others from the barony, and still others in the area lacking any better prospects, have joined the heir to the marshalcy until he has quite a sizable, well-armed band.

"Marshal" recently met (his men apprehended, actually) a traveler of about his own age, who was hosted at the camp of the rogues. He introduced himself as "Kroné, disciple of the apostle Ahkrysyohs." (The apostle's name signifies, "ill judgment", but because of ignorance and lost lore, very few people would know that fact, probably including the apostle himself.) And then Kroné answered Fulkh's questions by telling him the doctrine of Qurosh'g: how the world's chaos was soon to be completed in a great deluge of flames from the sky, sparing only the faithful, who in this life could receive the blessing of "a lesser, or preliminary, or partial resurrection", thus being assured that they are indeed chosen for the immortality promised: in the meantime, they are to prove their faithfulness by resolving the state of the world's growing chaos through separation of the people into those who profess Qurosh'g, and those who will not, and eradicating the latter.

Fulkh then asked Kroné for a "sign", intending amusement for himself and his men who crowded about the "disciple". Kroné looked around the circle of faces and selected one that he could tell believed in his words. The hunger in the eyes had a consistent look: fear of death, lust for immortal life at any price. It always showed. He stood and took the man by the arm and led him into the center of the ring, near the fire. Obtaining the man's willingness to be a "sign and a wonder, for the glory of Qurosh'g", Kroné used his talisman, and carefully "emptied" the man's soul from his body, after first foretelling what was to come to pass.

Fulkh's hand tightened on the pommel of his broadsword as he watched one of his vassals slump in death, a witless smile on his frozen face. The Marshal stood and went to the corpse, which was already preternaturally chilly to the touch. He snatched back his hand and turned to glare at the "disciple of Ahkrysyohs". A threat of instant death if he did not fulfill his boast was given.

Kroné only smiled and continued to sit unperturbed. "How long do I have?" he asked. Fulkh thought about it and then told Kroné that they would wait and see. Kroné spent the night under vigilant guard, and slept deeply that repose which comes to the unafraid and self-assured.

In the morning, the corpse was crawling with vermin and was already beginning to stink. Fulkh led the "disciple" from his gaol (which had been the heavily barred corner within a warren of caves resorted to by the Marshal and his men). With suitable (but unrequired) mumbo jumbo the "disciple of Ahkrysyohs" raised up the putrefying corpse of the "believer". The man's form became glorious where it had been ghastly. The eyes shown with a weird, fey light. Many of Fulkh's men drew back in trepidation. Some were attracted in spite of themselves, because the miracle, the "blessing", was so unexpected. And suddenly a bigger power seemed to be walking the earth, that might offer hope of a new world order for those willing to profess belief and obedience.

Kroné spent the balance of that day preaching the doctrines and rules of the faith, and telling tales of the blessings that followed the faithful. They were simple enough for a child. And for men already accustomed to dealing in death and rapine, the "rules" seemed easy. Kill the unbelievers, without question or hesitation. So to their lust for vengeance and retribution was added this tiny distinction: that when they offered conversion to an enemy, if they refused, then their deaths would be twice justified.

Fulkh Marshal was silently the least convinced by the antics of this man. He sensed something amiss with the "preliminary, this partial, resurrection". But questioning his once-dead soldier did not result in any evidence of trickery. The man seemed preoccupied by wondrous visions and answered slowly and distractedly. Fulkh doubted his continued value as a soldier. Could he obey orders? He tried the man, loudly commanding him to attention, then to a sentinel's duty, ordered to report at the end of his sentry-go. The "resurrected one" acknowledged his lord and commander, took up his weapon and shield and departed readily enough, his face still cast in that preoccupation with inner things. Fulkh glared after his back and said nothing.

He talked further with Kroné about how he had found the land as he traveled, seeking information of possible targets for aggression, especially to be directed toward any of Antania's minions. For it was believed by the Marshal that these had destroyed his ancestral home and slaughtered his kinsfolk and probably borne away some back to the Masterless Quarter.

The "disciple of Ahkrysyohs" answered with alacrity, learned somewhat of Fulkh's past in the exchange of words, and offered what the young warlord wished to hear: the identity of someone responsible for his losses. He had not learned before now of the "village of the court physician, retired". But Kroné assured him that the place was very well appointed, guarded and bellicose. "It is in fact an enclave of Antania's followers, and used as a base from which to raid", he lied. Coincidentally, he said, it was his present mission from the "apostle of Qurosh'g" to assault the place as imminently as possible. All he needed was more strength to assure absolute victory. What better way, than for Fulkh to join the "disciple of Ahkrysyohs", to show the apostle (and thus also the "god of flies, plagues and calamities") that belief was followed by faith?

So, Fulkh, pushing doubts aside, seized this chance to use his men in a venture that each one of them would appreciate: an assault on a rich, untouched village within the dominions of the imperial faction. And possibly Fulkh could learn more from its denizens of what had occurred at his ancestral abode whilst he and his father had served the late duke of Ogmorh in the battle.

So it was agreed upon. Fulkh and his men would join the forces of Kroné "the disciple". In return, Kroné would resurrect any and all "believers" who fell in battle serving the god's apostle, whose representative Kroné was.

Afterward, they would be allowed to see the apostle face to face and bask in the glory given to him by the god. They would see the "holy domain", the rebuilt city of the ancient "holy ones", who had, nevertheless, in their days, failed in their devotions and had been destroyed. But the god was patient and charitable. He offered this promise of immortal life to those who believe and obey. The world was ripe for fulfillment! etc. and etc. and etc.

It all got to be a bit of a droning repetition to Fulkh as Kroné led the Marshal and his band to where the disciple's troops were encamped, in a secluded place devoid of inhabitants (there are many such places within the empire these days). The disciple's troops were unimpressive to the Marshal. He pointed this out. And the "disciple of Ahkrysyohs" allowed that they were not much to look at, but they were very stalwart. Besides, these were not all. He had an elite company of "righteous ones" who would appear at the time and place appointed. Fulkh and his men were impressed, skeptical and in awe by turns. Anticipation of the forthcoming attack mounted. Enthusiasm increased.

The combined forces moved out of the wasted village where they had been staying and crossed over into the Kylburian Themes. And finally into the hills where "the village of the court physician, retired" stood.

Making camp together, well back from the village, they waited for the false dawn when the sentinels would be at their most incautious. Kroné, meanwhile, excused himself to attend on "allies" at the other side of the valley, on the other side of the village. When Fulkh asked who these "allies" might be, and why he had not heard of them before, Kroné said that they were a band of Urtukim who would be assaulting at the same time. Fulkh disliked the sound of that much. He loathed the Ekbashim races one and all. Almost he balked at the alliance with this strange man.

But Kroné sternly reminded Fulkh that the god was not to be trifled with once allegiance and obedience had been sworn. Caught by his own oaths of belief, and fearing now to offend or anger this "disciple of Ahkrysyohs", the Marshal bit back his objections and decided to see the attack through. He still counted on information to help him find those responsible for his ruined life and settle those scores upon the guilty....
 
 

Xoniuqé Rising


"The Chief" took all of the wounded up to his great hall and ministered to them in his role as a physician. Most of them recovered swiftly and took their turns standing guard on the village wall.

Xoniuqé exhausted himself with long hours of preparation for the worst. His bad dreams seemed more like portents than ever. And scouts that he sent out returned with news that sightings of brigands and marauders were increasing in frequency and numbers. The wizard made sure that his warding spells were in place. After several days, he finally allowed himself to collapse into a heavy sleep.

Myrdagyn kept a close guard over the companion of his late father as he snatched a few hours repose.

A couple of hours before dawn, sounds of panic outside the village were heard by the guards. A small group of a few peasants was seen running between the watch fires toward the gatehouse. They were looking over their shoulders into the darkness and called to be let inside. The Chief's man on duty at the gate, in full armor and bearing the two-handed sword of his social status, went swiftly up to the roof of the gatehouse and peered down at the terrified, cowering peasants pressed up against the doors, pounding to be admitted. He made a swift decision to keep the doors closed and prepared to lower the ladder. When he saw a large band of slouching Urtukim appear on the edge of the firelight, he waited not a moment longer and dropped the ladder. The four peasants quickly ascended to the roof.
 
Once there, and before the ladder could be drawn back up, three of the peasants drew weapons from beneath their cloaks and immediately attacked the commander of the guard and the two village's militiamen who had been keeping watch above the gate. The fourth "peasant" threw back his hood and revealed a young, proud face that contorted in a sudden effort as he muttered words, and summoned the band of "righteous ones" that his talisman accessed.
 


But the wards that Xoniuqé had in place turned the spell outward from the walls. Below, outside the gate, seventeen fully armored "righteous ones" appeared in dense ranks. At the warlock's command, they began to climb the ladder to the roof where the little melee shifted back and forth.

Below, inside the wall, the alarm bell sounded and more militiamen called out the warning.

Up on the hill, at the back of the great hall, Xoniuqé shot awake at the triple sensation of his gut tingling (his wards being assaulted caused that), Myrdagyn's touch on his shoulder, and the distant but clear sounds of combat and the alarm bell. He and the "greatest swordsman who ever lived" dashed from the great hall. Xoniuqé ordered his handful of stout swordsmen and mailed crossbows to follow him. Sheryvh and his spearmen, who had been standing watch at the fence, joined "the Chief" and his men and Myrdagyn as they ran down the slope and straight for the gatehouse.

The first of Kroné's summoned warriors reached the roof and joined the already uneven fight. One militiaman was down, and one of the thugs had the same instant been dropped by the mighty two-handed blow of the gate guard commander. For a long, desperate moment he was engaged by two of the "righteous ones", whose fey eyes turned his blood to water in his veins. But he did not shrink from the contest and stayed on his feet swinging with might and main.

All over the village, the sounds of alarm awakened slumbering defenders. Not all of them had been sleeping. Foremost of those instantly ready was the reformed prostitute, Jexebel. She had been relaxing pensively outside the house where the squad of the Knights of Mytros were billeted. These worthies were soon in the street behind their new commander, the veteran "Djo" (full name, Disýngo). But even before they had mustered, the squad of Drulathim legionaries, led by a capable captain named Khrohm (real name unneeded, as his polished bald pate is the physical inspiration for his epithet), came fully armed toward the sounds of struggle.

Jexebel was quicker than any of them. At the first clang of the alarm bell, she sprang to her feet, seized her sword and ran straight to the foot of a ladder and went up.

The "father and son duo" came to the gatehouse just as Xoniuqé, Myrdagyn and the others arrived. By that time the walls on either side of the gatehouse had been taken by the rest of Kroné's "righteous ones".
 
 
 
Right behind them came the Urtuk captain, Glushslug and his band of cleavers.
 
 
 
To their left streamed the whole attacking force, like moving shadows out of the darkness toward the earth and wood palisade. Thugs massed in the center. To their left came Fulkh Marshal and his troops, crossbowmen to the front, driving bolts into the palisade and forcing the thinly spread defenders to cower below the pilings. To the extreme left of the attacking line came more thugs, the largest single group of them. The steep slope of the earth embankment was soon a-swarm with the climbing horde.
 
 
 
 
For one brief moment Ahnxst and one of his companions got to the parapet and traded blows with the "righteous ones", but they were too formidable in their prowess and the fell light of their eyes. He fought on in spite of his fear. To his left he could see and hear the Urtukim climbing the embankment. Wounded and about to be overwhelmed (his companion had already gone down, trembling), Ahnxst quitted the wall, pivoting outward from the parapet to land on his feet in the street below. He glared up at his enemies and then he and his three companions joined the defense of the street with the Drulathim legionaries and Knights of Mytros. The wall was not possible to reinforce before it would fall to the attackers. So the imperial troopers had decided to await them below, where the narrow streets could afford some cover against overwhelming numbers.
 
 
 

Up on the gatehouse roof the fight was balanced again and stood even for a brief while. The "duo" split up, with the "father" staying down below to block the foot of the ladder leading down from the parapet, the "son" going up to the roof to lend his sword to the combat there.

Sheryvh went up, fancying that Jexebel could use his help. He was not mistaken.
 
 
She was hardly beset by the Thug commander, who drove her into a corner and knocked her senseless with his ax. By then more defenders had arrived at the top of the ladders, including Myrdagyn. The Thug had not the prescience nor the leisure to make sure of Jex. He turned to do combat with the growing number of defenders.

Jexebel regained her senses and swayed furiously to her feet. Before her was the backside of her vanquisher, who just at that moment slew one of "the Chief's" elite swordsmen. She saw only the Thug, and failed to notice the even more vulnerable back of the necromancer a few feet away, all but invisible in his dark clothing against the background of struggling forms. The woman warrior aimed a terrific blow at the exposed back of the Thug and nearly brought him down. He turned toward her again and they fought until he was pressed to the wall and unable to respond to her sustained assault.
 


Seeing the melee rapidly turning against him, Kroné decided at once to quit the rooftop. He slid down the ladder and there summoned a couple more "righteous ones" and sent them to bolster the occupation of the wall. Up on the gatehouse roof, Myrdagyn had the presence of mind to haul the ladder back up.

Kroné's Thug guard finally arrived out of the darkness at the same moment. And after bawling them out for their tardiness he sent them to break in the doors of the gatehouse. The squad of Thugs were drunken and sodden with drug-laced hard liquor. Sullenly they obeyed, but made quite a slog of the task of busting the doors in.

The final attacker on the rooftop was the Thug commander, who, after receiving one more wound from Jexebel, dropped over the side of the gatehouse to the parapet below, and from there, he slithered down the embankment to the ground and joined his men already pounding somewhat fecklessly in their inebriated state on the sturdy doors. He pushed them aside with curses. In a few blows he had the doors reeling and with brute force peeled them back and to the side out of the way.
 
 
 
 
But looking through the now-open gate, the Thugs could see several packed ranks of defenders awaiting them in a formed cul-de-sac. Observing their reluctance, Kroné ordered the Thugs to wait until the walls were taken and a general assault pressed home. So attackers and defenders stared each other down on either side of the gatehouse opening.

 
Meanwhile, the full-scale assault along the left-hand wall was quickly accomplished, the defenders there slain and driven down into the village, and the parapet massed with thugs and Urtukim and crossbows. Fulkh and his spearmen descended into the street and formed a dense block of mailed ranks and overlapping shields.
 
 
 
They faced down the Drulathim legionaries for a time, while crossbow bolts from the parapet rained down like hail upon them. Before any had taken any serious hurt, Khrohm ordered his men back out of range and between some houses that stood closer together. They would face any immediate attack on a narrower frontage. Seeing the incapacity of his crossbows in the new tactical situation, Fulkh ordered his troops to engage the Drulathim. In the exchange of javelins the legionaries had the best of it and then axes, spears and swords were busy.

Glushslug saw the melee below and down the ladder he went. His men lowered themselves from the parapet behind him. But his attack was premature, his men not beside him, when the squad of Knights of Mytros swarmed the Urtuk leader, wounding him and knocking him down quite senseless for a moment. His men swarmed over his supine body and attacked the Knights from wall to wall.
 
Jexebel and everyone else on the gatehouse roof had by then descended to the street and she joined in the attack on the extreme right end of the line formed by her admired Knights of Mytros, endeavoring to prove in their eyes her worthiness.
 
 


Outside, Kroné summoned more "righteous ones" and mounted the wall to the right of the gatehouse. By this point, Xoniuqé had discerned, through the casting of a "Magic ID" spell, the nature of his enemy: who and what he was, and more to the point, who Kroné believed he was following and what his troops were. Going up the ladder to the rooftop, Xoniuqé called down to the youthful necromancer.

"Hey there, sonny, that's quite a fancy bunch of troops you have there. But I have to tell you that your 'boss' is no apostle of any god. He's a dupe, just like you are. You are not followers of any 'god', and he doesn't bless his believers with resurrection. Just the same old foegim and balogim (undead) that our people have always been tormented with for generations. You might want to rethink your choice of a 'career', young man."

Kroné glared up at the much older magician, realizing the author of his earlier thwarted magic stood before and above him. Before he could formulate a suitable rejoinder, Xoniuqé spoke again:

"Here, let me help you." He drew back his sleeves and released a counter spell that undid all the illusory work of the talisman. In a trice, the "righteous ones" were stripped of their glorious seeming and assumed their true appearance of skeletal warriors drawn from the plains of the dead.

Momentarily aghast to be in the midst of such legendary filth and hell-spawn, Kroné quit the wall and slid to the ground below.
 
 
He got himself behind his Thug guard and there summoned more fresh warriors. Now, however, he could see them in both guises: Xoniuqé had undone the talisman's power to that degree, but everyone else saw newly summoned "righteous ones". Xoniuqé did not bother to counter anymore of Kroné's necromancy, as the retired wizard's powers had been taxed quite enough. And the purpose of the counter spell had already worked: the youthful acolyte of Qurosh'g was experiencing cognitive dissonance of major proportions. Xoniuqé could tell that the necromancer now only wanted to get away from the influence of the illusionist and test out his new doubts and theories: either to prove them wrong (he really had been duped) or right, it was all the tricks of the illusionist up there on the gatehouse roof.

But none of this little tête-à-tête had been noticed by any of Kroné's men. And the attack was going forward inside the village.

Turning from his shaken foe, Xoniuqé saw the desperate condition of his people. The melee in the street between the rogue Kylburians, Urtukim and the imperial troops was in a deadlock, men dropping on both sides. But further out, moving between the houses, came a pack of Masterless Quarter thugs, turning the flank of the Drulathim legionaries. Following them up were more crossbows and thugs. Far too many for his people and their friends to defeat. And his energy was getting seriously taxed.

Putting his fingers between his teeth he gave a mighty whistle up to the great hall compound. The three hounds up there answered and at once their handler came on the run with all three on a short leash. Xoniuqé met them. And summoning his will he made sure that the nearest approaching ranks of thugs saw him "change" the dogs into hell hounds. With a combined song to chill the blood the three war hounds vaulted the fence and launched themselves into the first thugs that they met.

Unaccountably, these were so sodden in liquor that they didn't really see the danger for what it was until too late. They stood their ground stupidly and died where they stood. The hounds tore them to pieces and thrashed their way in, making short work of the flanking movement. Myrdagyn prevented a few thugs who had avoided the carnage from reaching the panting illusionist.

"Call them back," Xoniuqé commanded his handler. The dogs returned to the feet of their masters. Xoniuqé maintained the illusion of their horrid size and energy, timing the release nicely into the next mass of thugs to come around the corner. These unworthies saw the strewn corpses and body parts and paused. When the hell hounds came for them they broke, almost to the last man, in total panic and fled back the way they had come.
 
 

The hounds carried on except for one which had been stopped by a thug braver than the rest. The illusion broke before his eyes and he took a swipe at the now crouched and much less threatening war hound. The handler called his pet with a whistle and the stroke missed. Myrdagyn's follow-up attack did not miss and he laid another marauder in the dirt.

"Jexebel" fought next to the wall with an "Urtuk" that chopped her down. (She failed her "CON" check, and the "LUK" check that followed.) Dead on her feet. As she dropped, not far away the rout started among the Masterless Quarter thugs who fled from the "hell hounds". This screaming mob ran slap into the flank of a company of crossbows who also fled.
 
At the same instant, the uneven fighting between Fulkh's men and the Drulathim finally took it's toll and they too broke for the open street behind.
 
Seeing this collapse of morale, a woozy "Glushslug", having barely regained consciousness and his feet, joined it with his remaining men. The attackers lining the parapet above swiftly decided that all was lost. Before another minute had passed the wall was devoid of enemies. The Thugs that had been swarming around the gate disappeared, and Kroné with his replacement bodyguard of apparent "righteous ones" retreated. The balogim left to themselves on the parapet no longer responded to any command and were easily dispatched soon afterward.
 
 
 
 
 

If Jexebel had lived for just one more turn she would not have been killed. We decided that some metaphysical influence accepted her selfless sacrifice and sent terror into the hearts of the enemy. One minute the defenders looked like they were going to be overwhelmed. Then in an instant all aggression evaporated and every single enemy had turned in flight and disappeared into the predawn blackness.
 
 
Epilogue:
 
The erstwhile constable, Sheryvh, has decided that "his town" needs his leadership. Taking his four surviving spearmen he departs for home. (Adventuring is not quite what he had thought it was!)
 
The squad of Knights of Mytros remain in the village for the time being. Djo leaves one of them in command and departs in the company of Sheryvh to report to his commander in Vylakros. The Drulath legionaries and Khrohm accompany them for similar reasons: their work in this area is done for the moment and they will likely be sent elsewhere.
 
The Knights of Mytros bury the hacked body of Jexebel with full military honors, worthy of a companion in arms, even though she never fulfilled her dream of being accepted into the Military Order.
 
Xoniuqé no longer believes that he can remain in his village. His very presence increases their danger now. He knows who "Qurosh'g" is, and he understands that the wraith, Ghrusoq, knows who he is. There will be no peace or safety for any of them until his power is broken once and for all. So the illusionist has made up his mind to accompany Myrdagyn and help him get as formidable a party together as possible and make the attempt to destroy the wraith's power and mischief, before he grows any stronger.