Although the priest fled before them, they do not find him in the rest of their more-than-two-hour-journey to the undercity. There were certainly enough side-branches he could have hidden in, and they did not want to lose any time searching for him. The Maidens are likely close behind them, perhaps they will be able to deal with him.
They can smell the rich moistness of the undercity before they leave the tunnels, and then hear it. The city is abuzz in activity, with shouts, screams, and cries. At first Morgan thinks the attack has started already, but once they enter the cavern proper they can tell the noises come from civilian quarters, not any of the faction-strongholds, and there is no sound of steel-on-steel, or in this case, bronze on bronze.
The magi thank the party and head for their Complex. They party travels first to the Brotherhood’s Redoubt, and are soon let inside. They lay the bodies at the feet of Azerius with as much dignity as they can muster after hours of carrying the stinking, rotten sacks of meat. They hand over the remaining gold masks and, finally, the helmet. Azerius takes off his helm to pay his respects to their fallen comrades, and immediately all the brothers assembled do so as well. After saying a few words to his people, Azerius addresses the party, telling them that they have earned the trust and support of the Brotherhood in the upcoming war.
“That is better for us all,” agrees Morgan. “Can you tell us what is happening in the city?”
“Priests swept through some time ago. They are angry that none of the cityfolk have turned you over yet. They captured many citizens and dragged them back to the temple.”
“That can’t be good. Will they make zombies from them?”
“In all likelihood. Their attack is imminent.”
“Than we need to hold a War Council as soon as possible. Would you be willing to come to the Madaruan Enclave?”
Azerius shakes his head. “Let us meet on neutral ground. Your group has proved its merit, but the other factions have far to go to earn our trust.”
Morgan bites her tongue to keep from saying something about how the Brotherhood’s pride will be the downfall of all three factions. Instead, she says, “How about that place that guards the catacombs? That is neutral, yes?”
“The Mausoleum? Yes, I would agree to hold a war council there.”
“Fantastic. Meet me there in two…no, in one hour.”
“I do not know this term hour – is it close to a short sleep?”
Morgan sighs, hands over a torch to Azerius. “Burn this. When it completely out, meet us at the Mausoleum.”
The party leaves the Redoubt and crosses the narrow stretch of cavern floor to the Complex of the Magi. Morgan sends the rest of the party ahead to the Enclave, while she and Remmy remain behind to summon the Magi to the meeting. They speak with Alyria, return the glowing crystal under the table (since the room is now crowded with people greeting the magi recently returned from the pyramid), and ask Alyria to send a representative to the meeting in just under an hour. Alyria takes an hourglass down from a shelf on the wall and sets it running on a table.
Meanwhile, the party has walked behind the Complex and is heading for the Enclave. There is a crowd gathered around the gate, shouting and waving their fists. Bhelgarn and Iris approach close enough to see with their own infravision, but trusting that the crowd cannot see them. It appears to be normal citizens, with no Zargonite priests about. Still, the crowd is very agitated. Bhelgarn picks up words like “death”, “traitors,” “strangers”, and “release.” They don’t want to have to go through that mob.
When they explain to the party what they see, FluffyKitten and Odleif slip off, while the rest of them move around to the back of the Enclave. Odleif stays at the periphery of the crowd – he can’t see anything, but he is enough of a woodsman to be able to navigate simply from the noise they are making. He finds the base of the closest tower, finds the door unsecured, and ascends to the top of the tower. Sitting on the trapdoor, his head is below the battlements and he should remain unseen.
Fluffykitten puts her blank mask into place, pulls her robes about her, and makes directly for the crowd. She eases past the people and makes her way to the portcullis. People cluck their tongues as if to say “who let a child come?” but they continue their protest. FluffyKitten peers through the portcullis, tries to catch the shape of a maiden silhouetted by the light of the campfires inside the Enclave.
Bhelgarn leads the party to the rear wall of the Enclave. It is still patrolled by maidens, though fewer than the front, and there are no protesters present. He calls up to a maiden and is able to request in Cyndician that she lower a rope down. The party climbs up. Bhelgarn leaves Iris on the wall to watch for others, while he takes the rest of the party to their campsite. Ember immediately asks him for an update when he arrives, and Bhelgarn tells her that they were successful in the pyramid, but that they need to scare these protesters off as Morgan, Remmy, FluffyKitten, and Odleif are all still outside the Enclave.
FluffyKitten manages to catch the eye of a maiden on the other side of the portcullis, and tries to mime her throwing down a rope, but she either refuses or does not understand. Someone in the crowd spots her trying to talk to the maiden. Fluffy’s shoulders are grabbed roughly, and she is pushed and pulled to the back of the mob.
By the light of Ember’s campfire, Bhelgarn opens his bag and takes out all of the candles that were recovered from the base. He carefully sorts through them setting aside the relatively few he deems intact – after a thousand years or more most of them have dried wax, split paper, and spilled powder. He decides to keep 7 short candles, 3 long candles, 3 bags of powder, and 6 grape clusters. He lights the wick of a short candle, then dashes up the stairs to the top of the wall, ignoring the miffed expressions of the maidens. When the crowd sees him, one of the strangers from the light void, above them, the cries redouble and a few begin throwing stones.
Bhelgarn tosses the lit candle into the center of the crowd. The wick burns down to the end and goes out – and then, a second later, blue and orange flames erupt from both ends of the candle. The candle begins to spin wildly on the cavern floor, emitting sparks and a shrill whistle. The crowd falls back immediately, and when the maidens on the wall take up a chant, the crowd scatters. One woman tries to grab FluffyKitten’s hand and help her run, but when the “child” twists out of her grasp, the woman, wearing a cat mask, decides to run on and save herself from the maiden’s fire magic.
Odleif hears the crowd scatter, and looks over the edge of the tower to see the candle still flaming and spinning wildly on the cavern floor. In a few moments the portcullis is raised and FluffyKitten enters, just as Morgan and Remmy are climbing a rope into the Enclave from the rear.
Missing only Odleif, Morgan lays out the situation to the party quickly, and then asks to meet with the Maiden leadership. When the Great Mother arrives, Morgan tells her about the war council meeting, and asks her to deploy two maidens to each tower and one more on the stairs of the Mausoleum to guard the meeting area. The Great Mother agrees.
Morgan, Ember, and Remmy make preparations to attend the meeting, with Wolfbane nearby and listening. Iris returns to her tent to reunite with Pooches and Blackcloak, rest, and hopefully recover spells. Bhelgarn, Thrud, and FluffyKitten feel uncharacteristically tired and turn in to rest, themselves. Odleif props himself up on the tower wall and dozes.
Ember tells Morgan that she saw the priests and fighters leave the Zargonite fortress because some of them were carrying strange lanterns. They moved through the stalls and apartments of the city, rounding people up. In the end, they marched about three dozen cityfolk into the temple, shoving and whipping them. She fears for them and hopes that this war will be over quickly. She says that a few cyndicians came for the cure, and the maidens were administering it to them, but then the mob came.
Morgan checks with some of the maidens on the wall, who say that many priests have been coming and going from the fortress in ones and twos – likely scouts and messengers, but that there have been no troop movements since the cityfolk entered.
Soon Morgan, Ember, and Remmy are joined by the Great Mother and five maidens, prepared to go to the war council. Morgan asks the Great Mother whether she is concerned about another mob approaching, but the older woman laughs. “No, all that chanting was just posturing. They want to be seen by the Zargonites opposing us because they are afraid they will be taken by them next, but really they hate them. Many of the people in that group were known sympathizers or agents of ours. As soon as we strike a decisive blow against the Zargonites, the cityfolk will rise up, you will see. The only weapons they had to control the people were fear and addiction. You solved the second and we are about to get rid of the first.”
The Great Mother sends maidens ahead to stand look-out at the towers, warning them about Odleif. The rest of them continue through the Mausoleum and up to the second floor. Azerius is there already, and the maiden they left guarding the stairs soon calls to them that a magi is on her way up. It is Alyria. The Great Mother and Azerius apparently already know one another but neither of them recognize Alyria. She explains that she is the gatekeeper of the Magi. Azerius says that he would have hoped for someone a bit higher-ranking, to show that the Magi were really serious about the alliance.
“Yes, that,” mumbles Alyria and sighs. “I have been helping the strangers since they arrived, and sometimes taking a few liberties with my official role. The Council decided that if I was so committed to them, I was the best one to attend this meeting.” Azerius smirks but says nothing.
“Right, well, you’re all here and that is what important. You are coming together to get rid of the Zargonites, and we all have a common goal. So let’s get started,” says Morgan. “Before we make a plan, help me understand how the Zargonites fight, what we can expect from them.”
The three faction leaders (or council member, in the case of Alyria), take turns speaking. None of them are sure how the Zargonites will fight, because they have never fought them in a pitched battle in front of their own fortress before. Within their lifetime, actions against the Zargonites have always been ambushes, hit-and-run, guerrilla tactics. Occasionally the factions have taken opportunities to eliminate isolated Zargonite troops, but most of the encounters have occurred doing food raids. However, they all agree that the Zargonite’s general strategy is to counter the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents.
The Maidens have more people than the other factions – they tend to focus on caring for every member of the group and have good access to healing magic, so weaker maidens can survive. They favor light armor like scale, which allows them to move much faster than the plate-armored Zargonite priests and fighters. They are the most adept at striking with surprise and then retreating before the Zargonites can bring their forces to bear. Against them, the Zargonites usually employ humanoids. They can field large numbers of goblins and hobgoblins, which cancels out the advantages the maidens have with both speed and numbers.
The Magi are individually very weak in combat, but have great access to spells. Just a few sleep spells can overcome even large groups of hobgoblins, priests, or fighters. Against the Magi, the Zargonites field zombies. The undead are immune to almost every low-level spell the Magi have – charm, sleep, phantasmal force, invisibility. They are affected by magic missile, but Alyria reports that it takes on average four missiles to drop a zombie. While the Magi do have priests, their priests do not have the power to turn undead, unlike those of the Maidens and the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood already had fewer members than the Maidens. Since the party killed 22 Brothers, they are now the smallest faction. However, they rely on individual strength and prowess. Because they believe in emulating the Might of Gorm, they do not worry about helping their weaker members survive. The few Brothers that remain are personally very powerful and skilled fighters. Against the Brothers, the Zargonites rely on their incapacitation spells. The greatest fighter among the Brothers can be rendered ineffective by a simple darkness spell cast by the least Zargonite priest.
Besides these three specific strategies, the Zargonites are the best supplied and equipped of the factions, since they are in control of the city. Although they wear chain to travel in (such as up to the pyramid), this close to their stronghold they will likely all be wearing bronze plate armor. Most of them have iron swords as well, and relatively few of the Maidens or Brothers do. They are also better equipped with magical weapons and armor.
Morgan reflects on this a bit, and then speaks. “This attack was precipitated by our raid on their stronghold, correct?” They answer in the affirmative. “And yet within your memory, none of the factions have ever taken so bold a move?” They all agree that they have not.
“Listening to you, allow me to guess why not – the Maidens and the Brotherhood have no means to enter the fortress by stealth – it would have to be a direct assault. It was the Magi who provided us with both invisibility and knock. The Magi could have entered any time they wanted, but lacked the strength to do anything once there.” Alyria nods. “Whereas the Maidens or Brotherhood would have had to try a direct assault. In order to bring enough force to bear, the Maidens would have had to commit most of their troops, which they never would, because an unsuccessful strike would cripple them.” The Great Mother smiles ruefully but nods. “The Brotherhood could send a small but powerful force. However, once there, that force could be easily overcome by Zargonite priests because their small numbers would leave them vulnerable to disabling spells.” Azerius nods curtly.
“So,” says Morgan, drawing out her point as the elven teachers did when she was small, “our raid was so successful because we were able to combine the strengths of each of you – the numbers and healing ability of the Maidens, the strength of the Brothers, and the magic of the Magi…”
If she is waiting for them to be impressed by her revelation, she is disappointed. Azerius looks down at her sourly. “Please don’t believe that this observation is new to us. Before the fall, the Three True Gods worked in harmony to guide Cyndicia. We know that we are more powerful together. Our reluctance to cooperate is not for practical reasons, but rather out of fundamental disagreements about philosophy and approach.”
The Great Mother nods, and adds “…and mutual suspicion about motives.”
Alyria shrugs, “…and internal disagreements within our respective factions.”
Morgan is infuriated – they have had the answer in front of them all along and still refused to co-operate? Why…Never mind. Not important now. What is important is that they accept the need to work together in the battle at hand.
“Ok, ok, regardless…you all agree that in this battle you will need to combine your strengths? So how about getting some mage support for a Brotherhood unit, with Maidens in reserve to…”
“Not going to happen,” says Azerius sternly. “There is no way we will fight in mixed units.”
“Not at the moment,” corrects the Great Mother hopefully.
“Trade builds trust,” says Alyria. “Let us win this battle separately, and then we can discuss more intimate relations.”
“You cannot win this battle separately!” blasts Morgan. Her shout echoes off the stone walls of the Mausoleum. There follows a long moment of silence. “At least you must agree to come to one another’s aid when needed.”
“Of course,” says Azerius.
“It is only logical,” adds Alyria.
“From the propaganda the priests were spewing in the city, it appears that the Zargonites do not yet know the Brotherhood is part of the alliance,” offers the Great Mother.
“And this is our great advantage,” responds Azerius. “We can assume that they will begin by assaulting either the Maidens or Magi, or less likely, both. But they will not provoke us. The Brothers will amass a force, wait until enough of the Zargonites are committed to the field, and then move in to strike them down.”
“How many is enough? Who will signal the attack?”
“I will decide,” says Azerius, as if that were obvious. “We will not strike until the Zargonites have the bulk of their forces out – the other factions can deal with a small assault – we will not waste our advantage of surprise on that. But as soon as the Zargonites have enough troops in the field to be a credible threat, we will strike at them.” All of this has been a matter-of-fact statement. Now a softer tone enters his voice, almost as if he is asking. “Of course, for our strike to be effective, we will need the Magi to be neutralizing the Zargonite spellcasters.”
“The Magi can be in charge of taking out spellcasters,” says Alyria. “So long as someone is protecting us from their zombies.”
“We can have priestesses and maidens eliminating zombies,” says the Great Mother. “So long as we don’t have the whole Zargonite force threatening our flanks or rear.”
“Well then, are you saying this might actually work?” asks Morgan, with less than her average level of sarcasm, and the other three grin. “Okay, it seems then that the challenge is to get the Zargonites to commit. We may have to have a false retreat – flee before them to draw them forward.”
“Not to worry,” says the Great Mother. “We practice that all the time.”
“Good,” says Morgan. “Okay, you won’t mix units but we have the Maidens on the field to draw them out and then the Brothers come in. So where are the Magi?”
“Why, in our Complex,” says Alyria incredulously. “Too dangerous for a mage outside.” Azerius snorts derisively. Alyria continues proudly. “Any spell that is relevant, we can cast from behind our walls. They all have range – so long as we can see the target.”
Morgan is stunned. “See the target? You do realize none of you can see beyond 10 paces, don’t you?”
“In the dark,” admits Alyria. “But you light up the battlefield, and we can hit anything in the light. As I understand it, your group has a number of light sources – both normal and magical…?”
“We do…” says Morgan hesitantly.
“Well, there is your role,” says Alyria brightly. “Take your lights around wherever there are threats, and we will cast on them.”
“Which means you would have us always in the most dangerous part of the battle?”
“Well, you don’t have to stay there – just identify it for us and we can light them up. It is just that our lights don’t move once cast, and we won’t have people in the field to assess threats. But if you can point them out, we can take care of them.”
Morgan is not sure how that sits with her, but to be honest, they would likely have to be doing the same thing for Iris and Odleif in their archery towers.
“Fine. What about signaling, how do you communicate?”
The Brotherhood and Maidens report that they are used to sending officers to run small squads independently, and they communicate as necessary by sound – but that will not be possible above the din of a real battle. The Great Mother says that they plan to have signal fires from their tower. Azerius says that no signaling will be necessary – once the Brotherhood commits to the attack, they will drive forward until the battle is over. Alyria says that the Magi will be running a phantasmal force above their complex that should be visible to everyone.
There are some further small discussions on minor points, but not much. Given that each of the factions is committed to operating independently, Morgan will have to be satisfied with the broad strokes of their agreement to cooperate strategically. She proposes that they leave now so as to prepare. She herself would like to have a chance to recover spells, as she has not truly rested since before the assault on the Zargonites.