As Xoniuqé and Myrdagyn drew their company clear of the woods and came abreast of the refugee camp, they got their first clear look at the gateways into Klyph Town. The apertures were packed with mailed spearmen and crossbowmen. A quick plan was laid to approach the lesser gate and try and convince the guards to either join them (and thus repudiate their baron), or at least step aside and let the party into the town. Having decided what to do, they made their way between the ruined houses and parallel to the city wall. But up ahead they saw enemies already making contact with the gate guards. With no other option offering a better way, the adventurers continued slowly toward the gate.
The Sire Ohblohd of Rhodwyn suggested to Fulkh Marshal that he ought to unite forces with the imperial army to face the approaching troops from the MQ, who seemed to be increasing in numbers as late arrivals joined the somewhat battered troops that Fulkh's men had just fought. More Thugs could be seen moving through the trees, and Warriors of the Chaos Lord Antania, both pikemen and halberdiers, all in cap-a-pie plate armor, were advancing through the open space between the woods. A few mounted Knights could also be seen riding behind the screen of pikes and halberds. Time was not a luxury now for the defenders!
But Fulkh Marshal still had the bit between his teeth. His original battle plan, to charge and take the main gate, was not something he would alter. Though persuasive and very intelligent, the Sire of Rhodwyn could not make headway in the brief time he had to convince the youthful warlord to follow his advice.
Refusing curtly, and restating what he intended to do, the marshal returned to the head of his troops. The baronial cavalry skirted the ruins, took the road and charged straight at the opened gate. Crossbow bolts struck the oncoming column of chivalry. And a chance missile took Fulkh's horse out from under him just as he arrived before the opening. He rolled nimbly off and got to his feet. His men had by then penetrated right up to the spears and shields of the baron's troops that filled the gateway. The cavalry charge was held off for the space of a time.
The Sire of Rhodwyn at first lined up his horsemen to oppose the approaching pikemen, but decided that his men would fare badly there, and instead pulled back and to the right, crossing over behind the ruins.
Facing left, he charged straight into a band of approaching Urtukim. The imperial cavalry (a mixed force of knights and serjants from his own holding and some troops sent by the regent) began to bear the Urtukim down. But it was a slogging match that required a blood price. The Sire Ohblohd could only press on with what he had at his disposal, but he feared that the quality of his men was deficient to the task at hand.
Meanwhile, the main bulk of his infantry had lined up to receive the pike charge. And it was a vicious one, throwing the dismounted men-at-arms and billmen back with heavy losses. It was a very short fight and then the remnant broke and were pursued until the more nimble footed managed to escape the field. The pikemen turned back and flank marched to the left.
While they had been dispatching Ohblohd's infantry, his longbowmen had also faced the approaching enemy the best they could: one body packed the open space between the ruined buildings, and the other archers entered the other ruin. The shot of the longbow shafts and crossbow quarrels was ineffective until the Warriors and Urtukim came within pointblank range, then casualties to the leading unit of halberdiers broke them. They swiftly retreated out of range and reformed. Marching to their right flank they attacked the archers in the ruin. More Urtukim attacked the crossbows in the other ruin.
The archers in the open were quickly dispatched and routed by the larger body of halberdiers, who then turned to attack Fulkh's cavalry pressing into the main gateway. The marshal's horsemen were breaking down the defense. The baron's men facing the inside of the town were attacked in the rear and scattered. But the halberdiers arrived barely too late to prevent seizure of the gate. Fulkh himself heaved the doors shut in their faces and dropped the bar.
Inside, the guards were pursued and hunted down by loyalists and Fulkh's horsemen.
To the left of these combat zones lay the refugee camp, its near end anchored on a ruined house. As the Thugs emerged from the trees beside a heavy unit of Urtukim, both forces took stock of the Ushim attack of the camp and decided to join it. The Thugs mainly attacked the ruined house: their attack was terrible, because this band of Thugs were "pumped" (fully charged on "juice" and getting "three hits" apiece). The Urtukim backed up the archers already engaged with the outer line of refugees, who were mostly unarmed peasants. The bandit "chieftain" and his men bolstered the defense somewhat. It was the superior numbers of defenders who made resistance possible and began to inflict casualties on their attackers.
In the midst of these worthy defenders (of the women, children and oldsters behind them among the tents) stood Auhxalys and the girl from the hamlet with the hewing spear. Her name was Sehlinah. The first Ushim archers to reach them were dispatched quickly. With blood on her hewing spear and in her eyes, the girl shrieked and rushed forward to engage the nearest of the Urtuks. Auhxalys ran to stay at her side. So the two of them, out in front of the whole encampment, were the first defenders to trade blows. They found themselves facing two Urtuks apiece.
Sehlinah was thoroughly outclassed. But she could hardly even be aware of the fact, so furiously did she ply spear and shield. Her opponents wounded her and pressed her back and struck her to the ground where she lay bleeding and out cold. They left her for dead and proceeded on to attack the refugee camp. Auhxalys clouted one Urtuk on the head and he dropped, then she forced the other back several paces until he too was felled, though not killed. By that point her first antagonist had regained his feet and was attacking her again. She noticed that Sehlinah was down and this made the woman desperately angry. Her cudgel fell again and again, knocking the creature senseless in the dirt. By that point the rest of the Urtukim had all passed by on either hand to attack the camp. Auhxalys only wanted to get to the girl and carry her out of danger. But no sooner would she knock one of the Urtuks down than the other would start to regain his feet, looking around with bleary red eyes and spitting out snarls and threats through a mouth full of yellowed tusks and fangs. With greater deliberation, the woman controlled her next attack, stepped around behind the Urtuk and aimed a ferocious blow to the back of his skull. His brains flew with the shattered helmet as the heavily muscled body collapsed one last time. Her other enemy was upon her. He was dispatched in like manner. She had begun to learn to strike with calculation and force.
While all of this was going forward, over at the far end of the refugee camp, Ushim and masses of MQ scum ("lesser" thugs) had all but closed the gap between themselves and the stone wall. The inside of the wall was packed with defenders awaiting their enemies.
But those unworthies maintained their discipline, having deemed that the refugees were unimportant tactically and that the real battle was shaping up beyond the camp, in front of the main gate. The Ushim saw the lesser gate near to hand and made for it, expecting, as planned, to be admitted into the town by the gate guards.
The thugs moved off to the right and skirted the camp near the edge of the trees. They were joined by another body of thugs that had issued from the woods. As they marched in column they watched the attack on the camp. All of these troops passed close by where Auhxalys was fighting. But they did not break ranks to attack her, although some of those closest to her appeared sorely tempted.
Then three things happened in quick sequence. The girl Sehlinah regained consciousness and struggled to her feet all quaky and furious. The Ushim archers and Urtukim attacking the camp suddenly panicked at the losses they were taking and bolted toward the thugs. And seeing this setback, the thugs, almost to a man, fled toward the trees. Sehlinah, whirling around with her hewing spear outstretched and shrieking like a scalded cat, only saw her enemies fleeing and naturally thought that somehow she had managed to scare them off. It took Auhxalys arriving at her side to convince the girl to go to the relative safety of the encampment. On the way, Auhxalys kept all enemies that came near away from Sehlinah and in the event felled a number of them, Ushim, Urtukim and Thugs, until she lost count of the number of enemies that she had dispatched, and then also quite lost sight of the girl.
In the pause that came, while the routed troops of Antania sorted themselves out some distance off, Auhxalys rejoined the much thinned line of defenders. It was a good place to stand and meet the enemy. Because many thugs had rallied and were being reorganized to attack the camp in dangerous strength.
The "pumped" Thugs were still attacking the far end of the encampment. They had killed and driven off the defenders of the ruined house and were now assailing the defenders remaining in the camp. The few horsemen from the camp rode to attack flanks and rear. But desperate fully "pumped" Thugs are hard to kill! They drove off their assailants. But with Auhxalys entering the fight and laying even "three-hit" Thugs low, their morale finally broke. Those which did not escape were finished off where they stood.
The rallied MQ scum were now upon the defenders of the refugee encampment.
Relief was about to arrive from the opposite side of the camp: Xoniuqé, Myrdagyn and Company. These had just emerged victorious from a sharp little battle with the Ushim who had approach the secondary gate. Arriving there, the guards had refused them entry, deeming any races of the Ekbashim, under arms, unworthy to admit to their fair city. Words had been exchanged but no blows. The Ushim had backed off, at first seeking the location of their commander to report the nature of their failure to enter the betrayed city. Then they had seen the approaching party of adventurers and turned left and attacked them instead. But they had not known the formidable quality of their foes and paid the ultimate price of their mistake, perishing to the last man.
As soon as this had been accomplished, Myrdagyn had approached the gate guards and tried to explain who they were and to request admittance. But the guards would have nothing to do with the heroes either: "Yes, we understand that you are here on business and that you are not taking sides. But our lord Baron Nhyrblas is keeping everyone out of Klyph except our allies. So, move off!"
Losing patience, Myrdagyn attacked the nearest pair of gate guards and felled one instantly. Ahnxst followed up and defeated a second guard.
As fortune would have it, at that instant, from within the town a body of loyal empire men, including a couple of retired Imperial Knight veterans on foot, deemed that this attack from outside was a good opportunity to seize control of the gate and eradicate the baron's men. Threatened from within and attacked from without, and already taking casualties, the rest surrendered and allowed themselves to be trussed and told to sit down along the inside of the town wall.
Seeing the way clear, Xoniuqé used his magic to assume a grand appearance and commanding voice. As an armor-clad savior, worthy of sainthood by all that he presented to be seen and heard, he rode up to the encampment and called out to the throng of women, children and oldsters: "Good people! Follow me. Klyph has opened her gates to you (or at least this one). Make haste. Flee! Before it is too late. Your menfolk have nearly perished trying to save your lives. Allow them to flee to safety also, because you have taken refuge inside."
The way was indeed clear. And in a body the refugees moved out of their miserable encampment and flowed through the gate and inside the town. "And there was much rejoicing".
Soon the camp was empty of the homeless ones, all except the few men still standing, and Auhxalys. And of course the many fallen, both quick and dead. As the two bands of rallied thugs arrived and attacked the last defenders, the few mounted men rode around the right flank of the nearest band and fell on their rear.
And then the leader of those rallied bands, on a great black horse, tried to ride the "moving mountain" down. She stepped nimbly aside and a powerful swipe to the nearest foreleg of the thug commander's mount brought it down. He lay stunned as she moved in and finished him off with repeated blows of her cudgel. Very soon after that, the fight went out of the MQ scum and they started to flee for the last time.
As for the rest of the field: The Sire Ohblohd and his cavalry broke the Urtukim at last and pursued the routing mass from the field for a league and more.
It was the fate of Ohblohd to perish in that fight. An Urtuk suddenly turned on him and swept the veteran Imperial Knight from his horse with a terrific blow. The Urtuk was almost instantly ridden down himself by pursuing cavalry.
Up in his citadel, Baron Nhyrblas held out yet. With the Sire of Rhodwyn dead, Fulkh Marshal was the eminent local authority for the uprising against the baron. But he lacked sufficient strength to assail the keep. Nhyrblas made it known that he was in fact forced by Antania's agents into betraying the city. In fact, he had decided that a bad plan was no plan at all and reversed himself, putting full blame on his deputy, a minion of Antania, who now absconded with those troops too fully committed to her cause to remain behind, along with a sizeable portion of the baronial treasury.
Nhyrblas is left alone with a few loyal vassals to face the music. Will his sly, treacherous nature concoct a sufficiently plausible tale to exonerate himself in the eyes of Fulkh and later the regent Randahl?
With Klyph reopened the city's markets revive and the border people resume their somewhat hectic if normal lives. Even some of the Ekbashim from the hinterland are seen in the streets and doing business, as is typical among the eclectic Klyphites.
Xoniuqé goes to his bankers and withdraws what he needs to supply and equip the party. Some of the materials that he purchases are mysterious and he keeps quiet about the contents of the sealed jars and sacks. When Myrdagyn asks about them the wizard only replies, "We'll see, if necessary. But hopefully not."
The party of adventurers is in the city for less than a fortnight. During this time a quick journey to the Vale of the Drulath by Ahnxst and his companions acquires information and more aid. The party of Drulathim is enlarged by more volunteers. There is still no news from the Vale about his uncle Lorinkh. Neither the famous Drulath military counselor nor his employer, the emeritus emperor Blun X, are in residence at Etrykh (the ancestral earldom of the erstwhile Blun dynasty). The pair of them had left the city of Etrykh sometime before, and were last seen journeying southeastward into the "Sea of Grass" (the poetic or popular name for the Nomad Plains) where the Kavarim nomads dwell. The messengers sent from the Vale were still seeking after them there.
Xoniuqé and Myrdagyn weigh this disappointing news with the further risk of waiting any longer. Lorinkh's famous blade "Lich Bane" had severed Ghrusoq's physical body from his spirit over forty years ago. The Drulath hero would be very concerned to learn that their old enemy is now rapidly acquiring power at Melinarth as the "god Qurosh'g". Lich Bane would surely be a potent, even an essential weapon in the coming confrontation. But it can't be helped that the party is deprived of Lorinkh's presence. The wizard and Myrdagyn agree that waiting is more hazardous than pressing on without the aid of the Drulath hero and his fabulous sword.
Myrdagyn informs the members of the party to be ready for a rapid march the next day, in fact before sunup. The party is not as strong as hoped, because Fulkh Marshal has vied for the recruitment of soldiers to increase his strength against the still defiant baron, Nhyrblas. The siege of the baron's keep continues in deadlock.
The party of adventurers is nonetheless larger than when they entered Klyph nearly two weeks before. They leave the city before dawn and quickly make their way across the ravaged farmlands and into the mountains to the north, hoping to skirt the Masterless Quarter by as much distance as possible, and come down upon Melinarth from the Tarn Chasm side.
Normally this quarter is considered impassable. The waters are poisonous, and fumes rolling down from the volcano are always a hazardous possibility. So it is assumed that Ghrusoq will not even bother keeping a watch, much less a guard, on that approach to his domain. But Xoniuqé has prepared the party to endure the quick march through the bad lands. One of the pack animals bears his jars and sacks of mysterious "stuff". Extra water bags have been included. According to plan, these are filled at fresh streams in the "Valley of the Hunt", at the extreme northern limits of the barony.
Having prepared for the journey into the Chasm, the party settles down for the night, much wearied by the exertions of their rapid, all-day march....