Secrets of Mystara

Post 25 (The Battle of the Five Armies)
The Battle of the Five Armies

After their return from the War Council meeting, Morgan and the Great Mother get busy readying their respective people. Morgan tells Remmy to take a message to Odleif, still in the tower, about the upcoming battle. She tells FluffyKitten to take the other tower, and to tell Iris she will be there as well – Iris is currently resting or memorizing spells in her tent. Morgan tells Bhelgarn to show them all how to remove the latch mechanism. Morgan asks Bhelgarn how many vials of the thick, old oil he brought, then tells him to spread that on the stairs, up and down, of the rear tower.

Morgan speaks briefly with Ember, and agrees that she will be praying for a Blessing and a Wise Discernment. Morgan calls for Wolfbane, and the invisible mage eventually appears. Morgan says that Wolfbane should take to the wall of the Enclave for the battle, rather than following the rest of the party onto the field, and the mage readily agrees. However, Morgan also asks her to cast invisivibility on Ember, who will be going on to the field (thus removing Wolfbane’s spell on herself).

After a few more tactical commands, Morgan retires to her tent to attempt to prepare her own spells. In the meantime, the Maidens are deploying in four squadrons. The first two are of lightly-armored, rapidly-moving maidens. They are waiting in the Enclave proper. A third group is in the Mausoleum, with their leader watching out the window facing the Zargonite fortress. They are more heavily armored and have some of the strongest maidens. Finally, Pandora’s warriors, recently arrived from the pyramid, are stationed in the Mausoleum as well, near the window facing the enclave. The Great Mother is on the cavern floor between the walls of the Enclave and the Mausoleum, along with most of the maiden officers – some higher-level warriors and a few priestesses. The High Priestess is in the Enclave, and plans on remaining there for the duration of the battle, tending to the wounded and preparing for the maidens to fall back if necessary.

The Magi have split their forces between their four corner towers and the main building of their Complex. In addition, four of their mages have given themselves invisibility and are acting as scouts, one on each side of the building.

It is perhaps an hour after Morgan has entered her tent that the forward Magi scout sees something…odd. In the center of the road that runs between the two fortresses, Cyndicians are approaching. They appear to be normal cityfolk, in robes and not bearing weapons, but they are moving strangely. With halting steps, arms held in front of them and wrists together, they stumble and stagger across the road.

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Cyndicians (in tan) approach the Magi Complex, seen by a Magi scout

The mage takes a moment to confirm what he is seeing, then quickly retreats to the wall of the Complex. Placing his palm on the wall, he is taken inside the central building, where he informs the other mages of what is happening. He then dashes out to one of the towers facing the street.

An ancient enchantment is upon the complex, the secrets of its creation now lost to the knowledge of the current members. So long as the doors of the corner towers are kept open, those inside them can see out, as if the five feet of stone were naught more than thick glass. By the time the mage scout reaches the tower, those inside are beginning to see the approaching cityfolk, just at the range of their infravision. One mage starts a phantasmal force, creating a large red sphere in the “sky” above their complex, alerting the other factions to a possible attack. Another mage begins a light spell, as all present suspect there is more there than a few cityfolk who they cannot see.

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The Cyndicians are now seen by those in the mage towers (mages in yellow)

One of the magi casts light, centering it on the first row of pillars in front of the Complex. In the center of the spell the light is nearly equal to daylight, and is too intense for the Cyndicians to see into. However, the sphere also lights the nearby area more dimly, and thus nearly the whole road can now be seen. The cityfolk have their hands tied in front of them with thick cords. The other end of the cord is wrapped around the waist of a zombie, one per citizen. As the zombies shamble forward, the Cyndicians are pulled along in their wake. The presence of the light illuminates the scene not just for the Magi, but for anyone nearby. Odleif in his tower can see the zombies, as can the maidens along the walls of their Enclave. As to whether the Brotherhood can see…in a second, the mage concentrating on the phantasmal force changes the image from a red sphere to a glowing zombie approaching the wall. This image is twenty feet tall and hovers over the Complex, likely visible from anywhere in the Undercity.

At the sight of this, the maidens spring into action. Ember gathers the party together, at least those in the Enclave with her – Odleif is in his tower, and Bhelgarn has just emerged from one of the rear towers. With as many in the party near her as she can, Ember calls for the Blessing of Glöð to be upon them. At the same time, the High Priestess of Madarua is casting a spell upon Pooches! By the time she is finished, the dog stands twice as high as he did before, and is in fact the size of a large war horse!

The two squads of maidens in the Enclave begin filing out of the open portcullis as fast as they can. The two squads in the Mausoleum begin streaming out of the windows, vaulting through the open frames with practiced ease.

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View from the Mausoleum, with Pandora’s squad (maidens in green) exiting the window. In the Enclave, Pooches is now giant. Bhelgarn is moving forward.

In the light of the Magi’s spell, new foes appear. Advancing rapidly down the road are row after row of goblins. Even as the goblins run forward, the zombies continue their march on the walls of the Complex.

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The long line of zombies in front of the walls of the Magi Complex

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The goblins (in brown) appear on the road

The advance of the zombies wavers, then ceases. The magi observing had thought the cord at their waists was just for the Cyndicians, but no! After several loops around their waist, each zombie’s cord runs to loops around its arm, then ends in a metal grappling hook! With dull, lifeless motions, the zombies as one begin to swing the hooks in large underhanded circles, then let them go at their apogees. The hooks sail forward, trailing cord behind them. Most bounce harmlessly off of the Complex wall, but a few fly over. The zombies listlessly haul back their cords, and for a few the hooks catch firmly on the lip of the wall.

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The first grappling hooks from the zombies lodge on the wall and towers

Now the goblins, running pell-mell down the road, begin to peel off in squads of five, each group making for one of the established grappling hooks. While the Cyndicians struggle helplessly, the goblins prepare to mount the taut ropes.

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The goblins break into squads and head for the ropes

Her spell on Pooches cast, the High Priestess turns to the two squads of maidens moving through the portcullis. On each group as it passes she bestows the blessing of Madarua. Ember beseeches her goddess for Glöð’s Wise Discernment on herself. The party is ready to head to the field, but their way is blocked for the moment by the maidens streaming through the gate of the Enclave. Remmy shrugs and begins to climb the wall. Built to be perfectly smooth limestone, a thousand years have made easy nooks and crags and he scales it without difficulty, locks his own grappling hook into place, and belays himself down the other side.

Iris tells Pooches to “Lay down!” and she and Fluffykitten climb aboard his back. By the grace of Madarua, the hobgoblin armor that Fluffy fashioned into makeshift barding for the dog has grown proportionately along with him, and they grab on to the huge leather straps and metal rings. Iris spurs him up the stairs of the wall, astounded men of the maidens diving out of the way. He pauses for a second on the battlements, then at shouted word from Iris he leaps out into the air and comes crashing down on the cavern floor at the base of Odleif’s tower. No horse could survive a twenty-foot drop onto stone, but horse-sized Pooches merely crashes to his belly and a second later is on his feet again. Iris and FluffyKitten dangle from their holdfasts, but maintain their grip as the massive dog starts off again.

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As maidens leave the Mausoleum, Pooches jumps from the Enclave wall…

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…and Pooches sticks the landing!

Ember turns and gestures towards where she hopes Wolfbane is on the wall, silently mouthing a prayer that she was not knocked to the ground by Pooches! A second later the mage appears, just as Ember disappears.

The two “fast” units of Madaruans move forward, intent on helping the Magi repulse the zombies and goblins. Thrud, Remmy, Ember, Morgan, and Bhelgarn move alongside them, when Bhelgarn is blinded by a Zargonite priest. Meanwhile, Iris and FluffyKitten cross from one tower to the other on Pooches’ back. Madaruan priestesses in special support squads bless the slow-moving squad and that of Pandora.

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The maiden squads advance

Although the maidens and party members are advancing with all haste, the goblins are already scampering nimbly up the ropes, and are beginning to fan out across the wall and tower ceilings of the Complex.

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The goblins breach the complex

The goblins are bare seconds away from dropping to the courtyard below and rushing at the open tower doors. Inside the towers, a fierce internal debate rages among each mage, whether or not they should immediately use massive-damage area of effect spells (fireball, lightning bolt, cone of cold). Using them would kill the bound Cyndicians. This was likely the reason the Zargonites sent the prisoners with the zombies in the first place, to restrict the mages’ options for defending themselves. On the southwest tower, a mage opts to delay the attackers with sleep. All of the goblins on the roof are put to sleep; several more on the ropes fall and are injured on the ground, even a few bound Cyndicians collapse.

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The maidens advance on the Complex. Many of the goblins have been put to sleep.

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Iris and Fluffykitten at the top of their tower

In the northwest tower, the mages watch as a wave of goblins clambers up the ropes. A fateful decision is made – a mage points his finger and a huge ball of fire erupts at the base of the wall, engulfing zombie, goblin, and Cyndician alike. The flash temporarily blinds everyone on the battlefield, and the sound of the explosion rolls in echoes throughout the whole cavern of the undercity. Those nearby but out of the blast feel the searing heat and are knocked over by the concussive force.

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Fireball!

There is a moment of silence after. On the ground in front of the wall, a full score of bodies lie burning – six zombies, eleven goblins, three Cyndicians.

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The aftermath

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Bodies burning or sleeping

Into the stunned silence dash a number of mages. They sprint up stairs and throw open trapdoors on the roofs of the two towers. Some stay on the tower roofs, some venture out to the top of the wall. They slit the throats of the living and throw the dead down. They are no warriors (or even thieves) used to killing and more than one goblin wakes up during the struggle. Some of the mages are wounded.

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Mages move out along the top of the wall

The maidens halt their advance briefly, in shock at seeing the fireball, but their squad leaders order them to continue. While the north tower is now mostly clear, there are still zombies and goblins swarming the south tower. The team of maiden priestesses gets close enough to start destroying the undead. Through the power of Madarua, the flesh and muscles of the zombies rot at incredible speed, slough off, and leave only a wavering skeleton before it, too, crumbles to the ground.

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The maidens continue their advance on the Magi Complex

Now free of the tower, Ember looks out over the battlefield as she advances. A few seconds ago, a handful of zombies and goblins could be seen in the light. Now, all the zombies and goblins on the field light up – the zombies with an intense blue light, the goblins less brightly but still easily visible. More importantly, a blue glow from across the street indicates that troops are forming lines in front of the Zargonite complex – two rows of human fighters in bronze plate armor can be seen, as well as two priests behind them.

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Wise discernment reveals Zargonite fighters

The maiden squad leaders shout rapid orders. Pandora’s squad and the heavy squad turn and advance on the Zargonites, while the two light squads and the priestesses continue to bear down on the zombies. With the new visibility, the mages suddenly are able to target across the battlefield, not just in front of their walls. Seeing the maidens advance on the Zargonites, a mage quickly sends over a sleep spell that incapacitates one of the squads and both priests.

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Maidens advance on the sleeping Zargonites

Ember sees the Zombies being felled at a distance by the Madaruan priestesses and two squads of fighters still on their way. She turns to the Zargonites herself, in the process revealing a third squad and Zargonite squad leaders. The closest squad of maidens charges the Zargonite lines and begins to engage in melee.

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Maidens and Zargonites in melee; a third Zargonite squad

As more and more priests appear behind the Zargonite battle lines, a mage on the ramparts of the Complex takes careful aim and looses a lightning bolt that decimates the back ranks.

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Lightning bolt!

Pandora’s squad, divided into two battle lines, surges forward and rushes the Zargonites.

The first of the maidens arrive at the corner of the Complex and begin to engage the zombies, most of the goblins being either asleep or already on the towers and wall.

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The aftermath of the lightning bolt; the maidens engage Zargonites and Zombies

On the maiden’s left flank, Pandora’s squad is holding their own against the Zargonite fighters, despite the fact that the Zargonites are larger and more heavily armored, and that one of the maidens has been blinded by a Zargonite priest. On the maiden’s right flank, however, the Zargonites are advancing, led by a huge squad leader with a vicious sword. The maiden squad leader steps in to check him, but then she is blinded as well! The maiden’s right flank is rapidly giving way.

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The maiden’s right flank about to collapse under the Zargonite assault

Odleif, Iris, and FluffyKitten shoot down into the melee, attempting to eliminate the Zargonite priests before they can incapacitate any more of the maidens. Remmy arrives at the scene and attempts to flank the vicious Zargonite squad leader.

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Remmy arrives at the melee

Meanwhile, as Ember advances further onto the field, her wise discernment reveals more foes. Now there is a fourth squad of Zargonite fighters, this one positioned between the Zargonite temple and storeroom wings of their fortress. A magi sees Bhelgarn stumbling about, and counters the Zargonite darkness with his light.

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View from behind the fourth Zargonite squad

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Ember advances with the Great Mother and maiden command unit

With a hue and cry, the Brotherhood sweeps onto the field, down the road that only moments before the goblins had used. As the Brotherhood charges forward, Pandora’s second rank moves forward into melee. Things are looking dire for the maidens. Their squad three leader has been knocked to the ground by the Zargonite squad leader, four other maidens are unconscious, and one is blinded. Bhelgarn and Thrud have rushed to the scene, and along with Remmy are attempting to stop the advance of the huge Zargonite squad leader.

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As the Brotherhood takes the field, the party attempts to prevent the collapse of the maiden’s right flank.

As they continue down the road, the Brotherhood forces begin to split. Some charge the waiting fourth Zargonite squad, while others continue on in an attempt to reach the ongoing melee with the maidens.

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Half the Brotherhood (in blue) begins their charge of the Zargonites…

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…while the other half continue down the road toward the maidens

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The Brotherhood engages the Zargonites outside the temple

As the melee rages in three separate areas now, Iris and Fluffykitten are the first to spot a new arrival to the battlefield. A large number of bugbears is approaching, followed closely by a group of ogres. They are working their way over the cavern floor, along the south side of the Zargonite complex so as to shield themselves from those in the general battle. While Iris continues shooting, FluffyKitten descends the stairs of the tower to bring Pooches inside. He barely fits through the tower door, but she manages it.

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Side view of the arriving humanoids (in brown)

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Overall aerial view of the battlefield

A maiden rapid squad works its way along the base of the walls of the Magi Complex, severing the ropes of the grappling hooks and releasing the bound Cyndicians. Two priestesses destroy the few remaining zombies on the ground, while mages with daggers and magic missiles kill the remaining goblins on the walls and roof. Two mages are slain, but fighting for the complex is now over.

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The goblins and zombies are dead, but so are two mages

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The maiden command advancing; in the distance, a maiden rapid squad clears the base of the Complex walls

Working together, Remmy, Thrud, and Bhelgarn slay the Zargonite squad leader. They manage to hold the maiden’s right flank while Pandora’s squad on the left finishes off the Zargonites there. The maiden-Zargonite melee is all but finished, with the maidens victorious, and the few remaining Zargonite priests and squad leaders pulling back to the barracks door. The maidens can now see the advancing bugbears, who are being pestered by missile fire from Iris, FluffyKitten, and Odleif. Pandora calls for the maidens to take their wounded and retreat, rather than face the bugbears. When the maidens reach their squad leader, they find her dead, but take her body with them. Ember works rapidly, doing what battlefield first aid she can among the wounded maidens without losing her invisibility. As one of the maiden rapid squads works its way along the wall, getting closer to the center of the light, the other one withdraws around the side of the Complex, hoping to remain unseen by the advancing bugbears.

The Brotherhood forces continue to advance on the Zargonite squad by the temple, but the Zargonites are pulling back, drawing the brothers into the space between the temple and storeroom. Zargonite priests continue to be picked off by magic missiles from the Complex.

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Bugbears advancing, maidens retreating, brothers advancing, Zargonites retreating

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As the brothers advance, the Zargonites withdraw before them

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Maidens withdrawing with the wounded; a priest and Zargonite squad leader withdraw to the barracks

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Bugbears (far left) advance through a hail of missile fire

As more bugbears are wounded from above, their advance slows, and they begin looking up. Iris falls prone, behind the battlements of the tower, while FluffyKitten crouches. The bugbears resume their advance.

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Iris hides from the bugbears

With the bugbears mostly past the tower, the ogres come into view, moving to both sides of the tower. The magi are safe now, but have been watching the battlefield. This large force of ogres could rip through the wavering maiden lines before the brotherhood would arrive. A mage decides to send over their last remaining fireball, detonating it in the center of the ogre mass. FluffyKitten and Iris, on the top of the tower, are caught at the edge of the blast and damaged; Iris briefly passes out. By the time she comes to her senses, the ogres are continuing forward. None of them were killed by the blast, but all of then bear horrible burns and scorch marks.

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Fireball!

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Burned ogres move forward; Zargonites retreating into the barracks

While the bugbears advance on the retreating maidens, the ogres take the field, but the battle has reached its tipping point. When Iris sees the ogres making for the barracks door rather than the maidens, she tells FluffyKitten to release Pooches. Iris herself begins shooting at the ogres, starting with those who appear most wounded, but then she is paralyzed by a hold person spell from a Zargonite priest, who is then killed by an arrow from Odleif. FluffyKitten bounds down the stairs, inserts the latch in the door, and opens it. “Poochy! Door! Guard!” she commands, pointing at the nearby barracks door. The giant dog squeezes through the tower door and bounds out into the melee. The ogres have a head on him in height, but he is unwounded and has a vicious set of giant teeth. Fluffly closes the door and removes the latch, and returns to the top of the tower.

Pandora, seeing that the ogres are not engaging, calls for all maidens, her own squad and that of the fallen leader. With Thrud and Bhelgarn anchoring the lines, the maidens fall together and then charge forward at the bugbears, engaging the larger humanoids two-to-one.

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Pooches emerges from the tower

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Pooches heads for the barracks door while the ogres attempt to flee inside

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The maidens reform and charge the bugbears

By the temple door, the brothers have finally fallen upon the lone Zargonite squad. They look to be making short work of the fighters, but then spells begin to rain down on them. The reason the Zargonites pulled them into the space between their building’s wings is now apparent. At windows and arrow slits above and to both sides, Zargonite priests from within their fortress are attacking the brothers. Most of the spells are failing as the powerful brotherhood fighters resist their effects, but then the second-in-command of the brothers is blinded. Seizing the chance, a Zargonite priest animates the corpses of three fallen Zargonites. The resultant zombies surround the blinded brother and fall upon him.

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The brotherhood at last engages the Zargonites in melee, but Zargonite priests are casting from the fortress

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The brother’s second-in-command is blinded and surrounded by zombies

There are a tense few moments, but then brotherhood priests arrive and turn the undead. A maiden rapid squad arrives and together with the brothers finishes off the last of the Zargonites outside. The door to the temple is found to be locked.

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Brothers and maidens hold the field outside the temple

While Pooches guards the door to the barracks, the combined forces of Pandora’s maidens, Thrud, Bhelgarn, and the just-now-arriving brothers finish off the bugbears.

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Pooches guards the door, cutting off any retreat for the Zargonites

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The combined maidens, brothers, and party finish the bugbears

The forces of the alliance hold the field. Not even three minutes since the fighting started, it is over, for the moment.

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The Alliance holds the field

Cyndician Civilians:
3 killed (fireball)
7 freed

Party:
Fluffy and Iris wounded (fireball)
Iris held
Bhelgarn blinded but cured

Magi of Usamigares:
2 wounded
2 killed

Brotherhood of Gorm:
1 wounded
1 blinded and wounded
1 unconscious

Warrior Maidens of Madarua:
6 wounded
4 unconscious
1 blinded
1killed

Zargonites
Priests and Fighters: 32 killed, four escaped to fortress
Zombies: 17 destroyed, 3 fled to city
Goblins: 25 killed
Bugbears: 10 killed
Ogres: 5 killed, 5 escaped to fortress
Hobgoblins: 1 killed, 1 escaped to fortress

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Post 24 (A Council of War)
A Council of War

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.

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Post 23 (War Clouds Gather)
War Clouds Gather

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The compound is filled with Maidens, their men, and their children – more of them together than anyone has seen up to this point. There are gasps as Morgan enters with the maiden, and then she is surrounded by a throng. The High Priestess herself pushes through the knot of women, puts her arm around the maiden, and guides her gently to the tower.

The gormites are met by guards – allowed through the gate with the party, but then their way immediately blocked. The crowd below is torn – affronted by the unthinkable insult of having men of the Brotherhood in their Enclave, but not immune to the sympathy elicited from the obvious bruises and broken leg of one of them. Murmurs and protests sweep through the crowd, accompanied by shouts from along the wall. Voices are raised – it is getting heated and unruly. Invisible, Ember and Wolfbane are being pushed from all sides.

ASKITAH!” bellows the Great Mother from atop the wall, where she has been watching the Zargonites without pause. Immediately the courtyard falls silent. Just a few children, too small to know any better, continue to whine or babble, and these are rapidly removed by their fathers and taken into their tents.

“Maidens,” begins the Great Mother in a voice loud and practiced from years of command. Iris, still holding the disk, translates for the party. “Mark these events well, for someday you will tell your daughters of them, and their daughters!”

“Already you have seen things undreamt of – strangers from the light void. A delegation of Magi, requesting admittance to our Enclave. Men from the Brotherhood, here to ask for our help.” Her arm gestures toward the two men below. Morgan and Ember note how skillfully, with a single phrase, she has neutralized the threat of these two men, subverted their power, and calmed the crowd.

“But stranger things are ahead! Look there! Even now, the Temple of Zargon is burning! Who did this? FOUR WOMEN AND A CHILD. How did they do it? With our help, and with the help of the Magi, working together. Our Mother teaches us to hold strong and secure in our beliefs, to stay true to the roots of our faith, but also to be open to change as we grow. Relationships are living things, and they grow and change as all living things.”

“And now it is time. It is time for us to join together the factions, to unite the Three True Gods. These strangers are here, sent by the Mother, to show us the way. Already they have vanquished a Patriarch of Zargon and his hobgoblin guards. Already they have journeyed to the Underworld and returned to us the cure for vision mushroom addiction. Already they have entered the very fortress of Zargon and returned our precious Nehelli to us, she who many of you had lost hope of ever seeing again. But now, it is our turn. The Maiden calls to you, calls to each of you, to rise up against the Zargonites. This is the time of War. Remember your faith! Remember your vows! Each one of you have pledged to defend the honor of the Maiden, with your own blood.”

“Blood of the Maiden!” she cries.

All those assembled shout back, “BLADES OF THE MAIDENS!”

“The Mother protects!” she cries.

THE SISTERS DEFEND!” they answer.

“Let them hear you!” she shouts, gesturing over the wall.

The crowd takes up the chant, “BLADES OF THE MAIDENS! BLADES OF THE MAIDENS!”, repeating it louder each time, until the whole undercity echoes with their cry.

The Great Mother descends the staircase along the wall, gesturing to Morgan as she goes. Morgan gathers the party, including the gormites. The maiden guards are busy chanting, and offer no resistance to the men’s departure. The Great Mother leads them away from the wall, up to the very base of the tower, and halfway around, so that they can hear one another over the roar of the crowd. Seeing the disk in Iris’ hand, she holds out her own until the elf passes it to her.

Away from the crowd, the face and tone of the Great Mother change dramatically. “I don’t know whether you are the biggest fools I’ve ever met or too clever by half. You could have slipped in, grabbed a prisoner, and come out. Killed a few guards, sure, but nothing they couldn’t hide from the people. But you had to set fire to their temple?”

“Yeah, and that’s not all we set fire to!” says Remmy snidely. “We burned their torture room and their mushroom stores, too!”

“Fire pretty!” says FluffyKitten brightly.

“Indeed,” says the Great Mother. “Regardless, they cannot deny your assault – the whole city has seen it. You have forced them into responding. They will attack us, in force, and soon.” She turns to Morgan. “You said you wanted to see us save ourselves. Well, you have done a masterful job of ensuring that we have no choice other than to do that. I can only hope your negotiations with the Magi were as skilled. If you still plan on getting the Brotherhood into this alliance, I suggest you get these men back to their redoubt before the Zargonites attack.”

Her voice softens somewhat. “Some of you are wounded. I will ask the High Priestess to visit you as you prepare to leave, but don’t ask for more, or wait around. And if your own priestess ever shows up, have her reset that man’s leg – it’s poorly done and won’t heal well, but I doubt he wants one of us to do it.”

The Great Mother returns the disk and takes her leave, and she is not out of earshot before she begins shouting orders to the maidens in preparation for the attack.

“That went well,” says Morgan sarcastically. “If the Great Mother had been invisible, would that have counted as an aggressive act?” She takes the disk and moves over to where the two gormite men are on the ground, one sitting, one lying. “How much of that did you get?” she asks the one who wielded the scourge. The other looks to be delirious from the pain of being transported with his broken leg.

“It is all very confusing,” begins the gormite. “I understand that you rescued us. I believe you are not of this world. The Maiden general thinks the Zargonites will attack soon. You would like the help of the Brotherhood?”

“That’s pretty much it. Who’s higher rank, you or him?”

“He is – I am but a Brother, he is an officer.”

Morgan looks around for Ember out of reflex, but she is still invisible. Morgan says loudly, “You have healing left?” Ember answers in the affirmative, from right next to Morgan, making her start. “Can you get him lucid?”

Ember runs her hand over the man’s leg, checks his forehead, listens to his heart. She stabilizers his knee and has Thrud pull on his ankle with all his might. There is a squishy crack, as his poorly-healed shin separates into two pieces. He doesn’t even have time to scream before he passes out from the pain. Ember is now visible. Thrud moves to his shoulders, holds him down in case he regains consciousness before Ember is done. She carefully but firmly guides his lower leg back together at the correct angle, uses two torches as splints and wraps the leg tightly with cloth. Then she passes her hand over the leg, murmuring “Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei, Hjerte bedringens vei”.

The man’s eyes flutter and he gasps, then he looks about and tries to get up, but Thrud continues to hold him down. He was a strong man once, but Thrud has no difficulty in keeping him still. “Fill him in,” says Morgan to the other man. Several minutes of conversation follow.

At the end, the gormite officer looks at Morgan expectantly. “You are returning us to our Redoubt?” The other man’s cheeks are moist with tears.

“Yes,” Morgan answers, “and in return, we would like you to get us to speak with the highest officer you can.”

“Fair enough. I would suggest you leave us just outside the entrance, and then retire. I will do what I can.”

The party moves back to their tents. Wolfbane decides that she will begin her rest now, in order to more rapidly recover spells. The rest of them take off their zargonite disguises. The High Priestess emerges from the tower and joins them. “The blessings of the Mother be upon you. When I learned you were planning to rescue the magi, I did not mention our Nehelli out of fear of endangering your mission on a false hope. But you returning her to us has done more for the morale of the Maidens than you can know. We are ready for this war.”

The Priestess examines Iris, finds the bruises from when she fell down the stairs. She casts a cure light wounds and brings her to full. She looks at FluffyKitten, covered in more bruises, and uses a cure moderate wounds to restore her to full health. She finds Bhelgarn to be a mass of scratches, cuts, welts, and bite marks from the zombies, and uses a cure serious wounds on him, restoring all but a jagged cut across the back of his neck. Morgan is unwounded.

The Priestess inclines her head respectfully at Remmy and Odleif. “I honor your bravery, good men,” she says, “but I may use the power of the Goddess only on those who are members of the Maidens. I hope you understand.” She turns to Morgan, offers two small skins of liquid. “Here are two potions of healing. I trust your judgement in their use.”

Finally, she addresses the two gormite men. “We have our differences. But it is time to unite the Three True Gods. Commend me to Azerius. Tell him the Maidens are ready to fight alongside the Brotherhood.” Without waiting for a reply, she retreats in their stunned silence.

Morgan examines the “potions” – they look like small waterskins, with bone necks and wax seals. Not exactly a leaded glass potion bottle, and delicate to transport.

“How you both doing?” she asks Remmy and Odleif.

“Okay for now,” says Remmy. Nicks and cuts cover his forearms, but nothing too serious.

Odleif lifts his chain shirt, shows her the nasty stab wound in his abdomen. “I kin use some ’freshment.” Morgan looks around to be sure the High Priestess is out of sight, then lets Odleif drain one of the skins. The other she saves for later.

Leaving Wolfbane behind, the rest of the group takes to the rear wall of the cavern. The undercity is noisy, but it is a restless, tense noise, with none of the singing they heard when they first arrived. As they near the Magi Complex, they hear shouts ringing out along the road in front. Those with infravision can see a zargonite, most likely a priest, flanked by guards. Around them are a ring of cityfolk, following them and listening as he makes an announcement.

“People of Cyndicia! Strangers walk among you! They are not like us! They are here to destroy our world!

They have set fire to our stores of food, and of release! They want to rob you of your right to eat, and to dream!

They have desecrated the temple of Zargon the Great! Our Master stirs and is wroth! Soon he will prowl the streets of the city, and no one will be safe!

We urge you, for your own safety, to turn these people over to us! Anyone who has information that leads to their capture will be rewarded with a lifetime exemption from work duties! Anyone who captures and turns them in will receive a lifetime of release!

But until these people are found, we can give you NO release, and NO food. We must guard what supplies remain for the safety of the city. Stay away from the docks, stay away from the fields – anyone found there will be detained. Anyone found helping the strangers will be punished as a traitor to the city. Be alert! Protect yourselves from these murderous strangers and their traitorous accomplices!"

The longer he speaks, the more agitated the crowd becomes. Remmy takes out his blowgun, while Morgan helps him estimate the distance and direction. He is just about to dip a needle in poison when Ember places her hand on top of the tube. “Listen!” she whispers. “There are messengers all over the city, probably with the same speech. At best this is a distraction and we don’t have time. At worst, that crowd could turn on us, and then we would have to fight cityfolk. Focus on the mission – there will be time for fighting later.”

Remmy reluctantly puts away his weapon. “Morgan, you and Iris talk to the Magi,” says Ember. “We will drop off the gormites. Meet us outside their fortress.”

Morgan and Iris approach the Magi Complex. They knock, and Alyria bids them put their palms on the circle. They appear in the same room as before with the tables and lights. There are fewer people this time, and their conversations are more earnest. Alyria greets them.

“Thank you both. The Master is weak but recovering – mostly he was starved but not beaten. You can count on the Magi as allies. Have you heard what the zargonites are announcing in the streets?”

“Yes,” says Morgan, “we just came from that.”

“They will attack soon.”

“How soon?”

Alyria looks over her shoulder, leans her head in, and whispers. “Although we are not as strong, we believe our intelligence gathering is superior to that of the other two factions. By our estimation, the zargonite high priest is eighth level, and therefore capable of casting fourth level spells. If he had already prayed for spells before your raid, and then needs to change them for an attack, he would need to rest at least six hours and then pray for maybe another hour or more. We estimate the attack will come any time after the next six hours, most likely between eight and twelve.”

When Morgan translates for Iris, the elf exclaims, “Wait, you know about hours?”

Alyria points to a wall-mounted sand hourglass. “We Magi have retained more abstract knowledge than the other two factions.”

Morgan wonders what else they know about that will be useful. “Those crystals – do you have a magic light source we can use?”

Alyria frowns. “Those are permanent magic items, and we have just a few. Everyone is preoccupied with the coming attack, and is unlikely to notice one is missing.” She looks about carefully, then slides the one on the table between them into Morgan’s waiting bag. “Make sure we get it back after the fight – along with the disk,” she says pointedly, then returns the two women to outside the Complex.

When the women rejoin the party, they are told that the gormites have already taken the two men inside, and now they are waiting for a response. Perhaps ten minutes later the gates open – massive twin interlocking iron-bound gates that are set into grooves in the ground and slide laterally. A single man comes forward. He is tall, nearly as tall as Thrud, powerfully built, and clad head to foot in plate armor. His sword is long, as long as Bhelgarn’s bastard sword. When he takes off his helm, he reveals two things – first, a long scar that crosses his forehead, the bridge of his nose, and and his opposite cheek, and second, that his left hand is limp and withered – it can barely hold his helm and certainly wielding a weapon would be impossible.

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“I am Azerius, Commander of the Brotherhood of Gorm,” he announces. “I understand we have you to thank for the return of our two brothers.”

Bhelgarn steps forward. The party agreed that as a male, he should represent them to the gormites. “That is correct. We have come to ask you to join an alliance against the zargonites.”

“That is of potential interest to us. Please enter our Redoubt.”

The party enters through the narrow gate in the thick stone walls. Their way is flanked on each side by Brotherhood warriors standing at attention. More than one of them feels uneasy about seeing the familiar blue robes and gold masks.

The courtyard has numerous small stone buildings, but they are dwarfed by two massive stone towers. “That is the Tower of Might,” says Azerius, indicating the one on the left. “And this, the Tower of Justice. Gorm teaches us that both of these things are equally important.” Unlike the courtyard of the maidens, there is no one but soldiers about – no women, no children, and no tents. It seems very sparse and utilitarian.

Azerius continues, “If you are willing, I would like to invite your leader to a ceremony…” Bhelgarn steps forward. “…we call the Rite of Truth. For there can be no Justice without Truth.” Bhelgharn hesitates, looks over his shoulder at Morgan. She has no idea what is transpiring, but moves next to Bhelgarn, receives the disk from him, along with a quick summary.

“Meaning no disrespect, Commander,” she begins. “I am what we consider our leader, at least in situations of combat. If you will accept a woman, I will undergo your Rite of Truth.”

Azerius looks at her, then pointedly at the symbol of the Maiden on her wrist. “We recognize that our way is not for everyone. For your sake as leader, you may enter the Tower of Justice – but I would ask that the other females of your group remain outside, as well as any who are not warriors.”

While Iris and Fluffykitten loiter outside, Odleif, Thrud, Remmy, and Bhelgarn follow Morgan and Azerius into the tower. A number of guards bring up the rear. The entrance feels like a tunnel, due to the massive ten foot thick walls.

The entire first floor of the tower is an open temple – there does not appear to be a staircase, ladder, or any other way to proceed to the higher floors. It is lit with a dim light of no obvious source. The space resembles greatly the temple in the pyramid above – the walls have been painted a sky blue, the ceiling is blue but also has grey and white clouds. In the exact center of the room is a gleaming gold statue of a man with a bronze balance and a silver lightning bolt – the statue is larger than an actual person and is mounted on a base of marble so that the arms of the lowered balance are just within reach of a tall man but the raised bolt is above everyone’s head. Near the statue are two pillars of marble, with a crossbeam of bronze running between them. The tops of the pillars are chest high and they look like they might serve as some sort of altar. Crossed weapons are hung on the walls, but there are no chairs, pews, or benches in sight.

A robed man stands near the marble pillars. He bows his head at Azerius’ approach. Azerius reaches up to the statue, takes down the bronze balance, hangs it on the crossbeam. The robed man produces two handfuls of stones and gives one to Morgan and one to Azerius, who addresses her.

“Each of us may ask questions, in turn. This is our temple, so I will begin, but for every question you answer me, you have the right to ask a question of your own. When we have stated our answers, we will each place a stone on the balance, and the Sky Father will judge our words. Truth has weight; lies dissipate like air. If our replies are equally truthful, their weights will balance. If one of us lies, it will be shown as the more truthful words outweighing the lies.” Morgan nods her understanding and acceptance.

“Six long-sleeps ago, we sent a squadron of Brothers to the upper pyramid. They were supposed to relieve the squadron we had on duty. Neither group has returned to us – they are long overdue. Do you know what has happened to them?”

Morgan composes herself. Time for truth. “Many long-sleeps ago, we arrived from the light-void. We were starving and dying of thirst. When we entered the pyramid, my only thought was of survival. When we found your first squadron, I ordered my people to engage them in combat. We killed them all. Later, we were set upon by others I presume to be your second squadron, most likely in retaliation. We killed them as well. Do I regret the killings, now that I know what your people are like? Yes. Would I change it if I could? Yes. But we did what we did.”

Azerius’ face is somber, but he accepts her words without anger. “You may ask your question.”

Morgan says simply, “Are you interested in the overthrow and destruction of the Zargonites?”

Azerius smiles grimly. “That is something the Brotherhood has worked for since before the fall. It is always our goal and has been for generations immemorial.”

Azerius places a stone on the balance, and his end sinks down. Morgan places hers in the opposite pan and the two sides move up and down, coming to rest at the same level.

He leads again. “What have you done to oppose the Zargonites?”

“We have slain a priest and his guards – the Maidens say he was a Patriarch, but I do not know what that means. We have returned a flower from your underword that has the potential to cure anyone of their mushroom addiction. We have attacked the Zargonite fortress and rescued the two prisoners we returned to you just now. We seek the destruction of the zargonites as much as you do.”

Azerius nods with satisfaction. Morgan asks, “Are you sincerely interested in an alliance with the other two factions, to work together to overthrow the Zargonites?”

“If they are willing to respect our ways, to treat us as equals in the alliance and not pawns, we are prepared to join. If they show themselves worthy of our aid, we would help them. If YOU show yourselves worthy of our aid, we would join with you and them.”

Again stones are placed and found to be in balance. Azerius continues.

“You bear the mark of the Maidens, although you say you are from the light-void. Will you favor the Maidens? If we manage to overcome the Zargonites at last, will you take the side of their faction in any disputes which follow?”

“It is our only interest to help you defeat the zargonites, and restore the rule of the Three True Gods. We have no interest in one faction prevailing over another. If the zargonites are gone but you three continue to fight one another, than anything we have done here has been wasted. We wish that you can come to settle your differences peacefully, without our involvement.”

Morgan reflects for a moment. She has the right to a matching question, but has resolved what she had come to ask already. Then she hits upon something. “Do you have a prophecy regarding us, regarding the coming conflict?”

“A prophecy, no. The Brotherhood does not produce prophets. But we have carefully preserved all of the religious texts that we could recover after the fall. There are some that speak of such a time a this, of the time when strangers would arrive during the rule of the zargonites. The texts say that “the strangers from another world will lead us in victory over the forces of the false god.” There are many among us who believe that they refer to you."

Again the stones balance. Azerius looks at the robed man. “I have no further questions. The Rite of Truth is ended.” The man collects the stones, and Azerius re-hangs the great balance on the golden statue.

“The truth of your words pleases me, as I hope my words have done for you.” Morgan nods. “But there is still the matter of Justice. You have, by your own admission, proclaimed your guilt in the slaying of a score of Brothers. Do you accept my Judgement?”

Morgan swallows. “If it will allow you to enter into an alliance with the other two factions, I will accept your judgement. I ask only that your judgement fall on me, and no others. As their commander, I accept complete responsibility for their actions.”

Azerius squares his shoulders. “The men you killed were guarding the entrance to the light-void to fulfill what is written in the texts. They were all volunteers. Every one of them had pledged their lives to help you get here to the city. Their food and water sustained you. Their armor protected you. Their honey cured you. You would have died without their gifts to you, although neither you nor they knew it. They fulfilled their responsibilities honorably, and fulfilled the word of the texts.”

“Justice cannot ask the impossible. I cannot ask you to bring those brave men back. Justice can only demand that you do what you can. Return their masks to us, so that their spirits may aid the next generation of warriors. Return the helmet of their leader to us, for it is a powerful item, and will be important in our struggle. Return their bodies to us, any that are left, so that we may honor them with our rites. If you do that, you will have proven yourselves worthy and we will join your alliance against the Zargonites. If you do not, we will watch you and them destroy each other, and we will rebuild the city ourselves.”

“I accept your judgement.” Morgan bows, collects the men of the party, and leaves the tower.

“Well?” says Iris upon their exit.

“Do you remember the last time we went up to the pyramid?” says Morgan, then thinks to slip the disk into her belt so that her words will not be understood by any Brothers. “When I said we needed to get anything important so that the NEXT faction wouldn’t give us a quest to go up again?” She lets her tone serve as an answer to Iris’ question as she gathers the others.

Once they are out of the Redoubt, she whispers to the others. “We need to get to the pyramid and back BEFORE this war starts. Go to the Maidens, drop anything you can, take the bare minimum. No food, no gear, just water. This is a forced march – you carry your armor, not wear it. I know that stinks – but if you can’t keep up, don’t go. Who has gorm masks here, and who left them topside? Okay, gather the ones you have here and be prepared to move out. Iris and I need to see the Magi again.”

  • * * *

The common room of the Magi is eerily empty. Just Alyria and the two women. “Everyone else is resting or preparing spells,” she explains.

Morgan gets right to the point. “There was a magic helmet. It was with the gormites in the pyramid, but we gave it to the magi. We need to get it back – it is the only way the Brotherhood will join the alliance. Can you help us?”

Alyria looks concerned, checks to make sure that indeed they are alone. “That will be difficult. Auriga is very interested in personal power. The other two factions rotate their watches in the pyramid – but Auriga has been up there since before I was the gatekeeper. If he thinks it helps him keep power, he won’t let it go.”

“So what do we do?”

Alyria sighs, then a hard edge comes in to her voice. “We will need every mage we have in this war. We were about to send a paper tablet up recalling them to us, and Auriga, too. I had been tasked with organizing that detail. Will you deliver the tablet for us?” When Morgan agrees, Alyria adds “Then I will add to the writing, tell him to turn the helmet over to you.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Auriga would be good to have here when the war comes. But if we have to choose between him and all the Brotherhood, it would be better to have the Brotherhood and not him. Do what you have to do to get the helmet back, just try not to hurt anyone you don’t have to.”

Morgan says she understands. Alyria produces a scroll, and Morgan recalls that Wolfbane told her the magi did not have a word for “scroll”. Just now she called it a “paper tablet”. By the light of an enchanted crystal, she adds a few lines at the end in the indecipherable Cyndician script.

“Good luck” she says, after handing it over to Morgan.

Back at the Enclave, the party readies their gear. After much reflection, Ember decides that she is not going. She has no healing spells at the moment, and would need to rest to have some. But resting defeats the purpose – she does not want the whole party to wait for her, leave late, and be away when the attack starts. Morgan accepts her decision.

“We know the way, with luck we won’t have to fight anything, it is better that you stay here and prepare for an attack,” Morgan says.

“You should take the potion at least,” says Ember.

“We will, and maybe another…” Morgan sees the Great Mother directing preparation for an assault and speaks with her. She requests another potion of healing, in return for delivering a message to the maidens in the pyramid about the impending attack. The Great Mother had not planned on alerting the maidens above, because she did not think she could spare messengers who likely would not be back in time anyway. She is very willing to trade a single potion for the chance that the entire squad could be recalled in time.

With Wolfbane, Ember, and Pooches staying behind, the seven remaining members of the party set out. There is a momentary stop at the Redoubt, as they leave off the few gold masks they had carried with them. Then they leave the cavern. Traveling light, it is a quick two hours up the tunnels. They don’t rest, and arrive at the pyramid winded, but in good shape. There were a few wrong turns in the tunnels, but between Bhelgarn and Odleif they quickly got back on track. They fill their skins in the Great Temple and catch their breath.

The stone statues and iron statues are easily passed, traveling as quickly as they are and with only seven in their group. None of them like the sensation of moving about with their armor in their packs, but it is quicker. They climb the ramp from the Tombs to the third level, and use the spinning room to arrive at the maidens. Morgan delivers the message – the war is coming, and all of the maidens are recalled to the undercity. Pandora says that it will take them a while to pack up and secure their base, and after that they will be traveling slowly in armor, so most likely the party will return before they do. But regardless, they will see them in the city before a long sleep. Pandora leans in close to Morgan and whispers, “I knew you were the ones we were sent to find. Thank you for making this happen.” They leave the wide-eyed maidens securing gear; preparing everything they will take for travel, and everything they will not to be moved to their locked temple – they will leave the dormitory room empty except for the table and chairs.

The party approaches the electrified entrance to the gorm temple, and Bhelgarn secures the key to his pole with practiced ease. Morgan realizes that Hazrad has the other key, and curses under her breath. As soon as they open the door to the temple, they smell the bodies. It is overwhelming, and they have to work to avoid retching. The sheets are stained and discolored.

Iris, looking green in the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, can barely speak. “I don’t think…(she gags, then controls herself)…I don’t think I can carry those…not without being sick…”

Odleif lights a torch, which he says will burn off some of the smell. He looks at Iris sympathetically. “‘Twill get better in t’a halls. It’s jess built up in t’is room, is all. Once we’re movin’ it’ll air out a fair bit.” Then he looks at Morgan. “‘Course, we’ll be smelt fer two levels away by any monsters hereabouts.”

Morgan grimaces. “Then let’s start airing them out. Me, Odleif, and Iris will move these into the hall – Bhelgarn, leave the pole and key please. You, Thrud, Remmy, and Fluffy use the ladder to check on our base. Bring all the gorm masks, plus as many of the candles as you can carry without slowing yourself down.”

After the others depart, the three remaining begin moving the sheet-wrapped corpses to the door. Even Odleif has to work to keep his stomach down as he lifts and drags the limp bundle.

“Ugh, shouldn’t these be stiff or something?” Morgan asks.

“Nae, t’at be only t’a seconn anna t’ird day dead,” responds Odleif. “T’ese ones been dead morrin a week, I reckon.”

The others find their base above undisturbed. They take the masks, and Bhelgarn distributes the “candles” from the box they are in to different sacks, breaking up the load between each of them. There are 19 small sacks full of powder, 23 “candles” of powder wrapped in waxed paper (like the ones taken previously), 16 candles that are longer, slimmer, and have a wooden holder or support stuck in them, and 45 strings set with little clusters of cylinders, somewhat like bunches of grapes. Many of these strange items are leaking powder, have their paper rotted through, are cracked, etc., but some are intact. Bhelgarn believes that he could sort through them and separate out the good from the bad, but he would need time to do so.

The party reunites in the spinning room, and Odleif selects the button for the magi’s corridor. At the statue in front of the false wall, Remmy struggles to remember which way he pulled the wand. He finally guesses more than remembers and tries to the left – the wall slides away and the party proceeds. They knock on the temple door and receive no answer. They k