‘Holy Blessings Upon this Weapon, May it Serve Morr’s Purpose.’
The city of Remas, Summer 2402
As father Biagino and his military escort walked into the Piazza d’Agezlio the sky darkened momentarily. It was nothing more than the shifting of clouds, but made ominous by his thoughts and concerns. He was here to bless the newly forged Reman artillery, the one part of the Arch-Lector’s forces that had not taken part in the recent holy parade, and a part that most soldiers believed was in particular need of prayers if it was to function safely. Biagino himself knew the importance of guns, having witnessed at Pontremola how the foe would fall to blades only to rise again, knitted back together by wicked magics. Those blasted apart by iron shot, however, took considerably longer to re-animate – their splintered bones scattered widely, their shivered arms and armour beyond necromantic repair.
Most of Remas would agree with him. Much hope was pinned on the artillery in the coming battle, not just Da Leoni’s marvellously fashioned steam bastion, but also these brass-barrelled pieces. They promised a most modern form of warfare, of a kind that could bring down even massive and monstrous foes in the field of battle, and which could slay entire files of undead before their stench was even smelled by the soldiers of Remas.
There were three pieces in the square, each attended by veteran gunners and the newly raised matrosses busy learning their art. They had already fired this morning – Biagino had heard the latest blast from several streets away – using just powder and wadding, and although the smoke from the volley had been cleared away by the fresh breeze, the smell of brimstone was still evident. Soon the crews would no doubt reek of the stuff, as if their pockets were packed with rotten eggs, and their new, brightly coloured Reman liveries of orange, blue and red would be blackened and singed.
The drummer by Biagino’s side had announced their arrival in the square with a pretty peel and now the master gunner strode over to greet them. By the look of him – his heavy black beard, his stern expression – the fellow was a veteran. Of course, he had to be, as the arch-lector’s clerks would not have hired him if he had not presented adequate proof of his expertise. Considering the nature of mercenaries, Biagino wondered just what cruel acts this man might have perpetrated over the years, possibly a veritable torrent of murderous robberies and assaults. Let us hope, he thought, that this fellow can put all that behind him in his present service. Indeed, the arch-lector had promised each and every crusading soldier that Morr would forgive them all their sins and open the gates of his eternal garden to them if they served well. It was an absolution that could cleanse this man of a long litany of crimes.
“Good morrow, father,” said the gunner. “Come to chant a prayer or two over our new-born pieces? If you please, make them powerful prayers for I’ve seen what happens when a barrel bursts, and it ain’t a pretty sight.”
“You doubt our gunsmith’s skills then?” said Biagino, trying to match the man’s banter.
“No, good priest, I am sure the brass is flawless and pure, like the church itself …” (someone in the nearest crew supressed a snigger) … “but I intend to work them hard, to make these girls hotter than hot. Best mix in some cold charms too if you can.”
“I’m no hedge wizard dealing in petty cantrips, but a priest of Morr, channelling his divine will to those who deserve it.”
The master gunner grinned. “Then you’ve come to the right place, ‘cos we’re all deserving – arch-lector himself says so.”
Biagino had not expected such irreverence, though perhaps he should have. Suddenly the man looked sombre again, stepped a little closer and spoke a little quieter.
“No disrespect meant, father. Just soldier’s banter for the sake of the boys here. ‘Taint an easy thing to go up against what we face. There’ll be no surrenders when the slaughter gets too much, nor parleys to catch our breath. We’re to risk our lives facing death itself, not march about burning fields and robbing cattle. Best then to keep these lads occupied with postures, procedures and puns, takes their mind off tomorrow. A bit of bravado doesn’t go amiss either.”
Biagino understood. Fear was a soldier’s worst enemy when facing the undead. Religious conviction could remove it, and if not, then bluster and boasting might quash it almost as well.
“Well and good,” he told the gunner. “I have no doubt you know your business. In this war, however, it is Morr who will guide us to victory, whether we do so laughing or crying. Now, let us go about what must be done.”
The three of them walked over to the first piece, a mortar. Like the crews, it too sported the city’s livery, with colourful wheels pretty enough for a travelling players’ wagon. Its wide muzzle looked terrifying, but of course would not worry a foe who felt no fear. Although Biagino had never seen a mortar in action, he knew them by reputation. Sometimes called ‘murderers’ they were reckoned one of the most dangerous weapons to crew, as in order to fire them one had to tip a lighted grenado of massive size down a short barrel already stuffed with powder, with only a wooden bung to separate the burning fuse and the charge. It did not take the expertise of a gunner to recognise how the simplest error, or the tiniest flaw in either barrel, grenade, bung or fuse could tear weapon and crew to pieces. Maybe this was why the master gunner escorted Biagino here first?
Biagino spoke the blessing and sprinkled some holy water on the piece, while the crew listened intently as if to gauge the potency of his words. Once done, Biagino asked the gunner,
“Have you witnessed one of these at work?”
“Oh yes. A nasty beast should it land a grenade amongst a body of men. And it can work great terrors against a garrison, lobbing fiery death right over the walls to anywhere within. This one is a monster indeed. It’ll need a good 6 or 8 horses to shift it.”
The man seems to know his stuff, thought Biagino.
“I saw the brutes from Campogrotta carrying iron and brass barrels, yet hauling no carriage,” he said. “I scarce believed them to be real guns. Do they really intend to hold them as they fire?”
“They do, but they don’t load with round-shot, merely hail shot or sangrenel. That stuff doesn’t kick quite the same. Ogres might be strong, but not enough to take the kick of 6lb of iron ball. Reckon that’d take their arm right out of its socket.”
Biagino blessed both cannons too, and the crews manning them. Once he was done he began to bid the soldiers farewell, promising that he would be with the army to help ensure Morr watched over them in their holy work. But the master gunner interrupted him, gesturing at a man carrying a cask.
“What?” asked Biagino, somewhat confused.
“The powder,” explained the gunner. “You will bless that also? Ask Morr to keep it dry and healthy?”
“Yes, yes. Of course,” said Biagino, and for a fourth time began his prayers. Considering he had two other piazzas and a yard yet to visit, this was going to be a long day.
The Day Before We Met Our Dead
Prequel to The Assault on Viadaza
Summer 2403, a few miles from Viadaza
As he approached the spot where the arch lector was about to receive the army’s scouts, Father Biagino attempted to look inconspicuous, as if merely passing by upon some errand. Being a priest of Morr, one of the Viadazan crusaders no less, no guards thought to stop him. Almost anyone else would have been suspected as a spy, and certainly not allowed so close without an adequate excuse.
The first thing that caught his eye was the formed company of soldiers standing guard, clothed in the blue and red of Remas, with a fluttering standard bearing the arch-lector’s crossed keys – the keys to Morr’s heavenly garden – before them. Despite the livery and the ensign, however, they were not Remans, nor Tileans, nor even worshippers of Morr. They were from the far, distant and mysterious realm of Cathay, being one of several such mercenary companies in Reman employ for many years now.
He was not alone in thinking Cathayans were somewhat unexpected and unusual components of a holy Morrite crusade. Their role in the state army of Remas was widely understood: ever since the disgrace of the corrupt arch-lector Frederigo Ordini during the time of the Tilean Terror, when the secular overlord of Remas took command of the city’s forces to prevent any further folly, the army had been almost wholly composed of foreign mercenaries. This was hardly a novelty in Tilea, as many an Estalian caballero, ultramontane halberdier or Border Princes brigand archer were hired by many a city state. All these accepted holy Morr as the god of death, part of the pantheon of lawful gods, and even if their first prayers in battle might be to Myrmidia, Sigmar or even Ulric, it was the blessing of a Morrite priest they sought when mortally wounded. These Cathayans, however, served none of the gods known in Tilea, instead worshipping alien gods whose very names were unpronounceable. Back during Frederigo Ordini’s fall and the distrust of the church it caused, such foreigners were actively sought, all the better to ensure that a corrupted priest might no more bend them to his will, regardless of whether that will be loyal only to Morr or driven by worldly greed and a lust for power. And so the quiet Cathayans’ reassuring, and continued, presence in the Reman standing army had begun.
Here and now, however, amongst a blessed army commanded by priests and half composed of willing volunteers and soldiers sent by the powers of Tilea, the Cathayans seemed out of place. And merely a year ago no-one thought an arch-lector could command any army.
Once Biagino had found somewhere he might watch and listen without being too noticeable, he spotted the dwarfen scouts already making their way through the camp. While they approached, he looked over at the Arch-Lector Calictus II. Wearing his simple red cloak, and unadorned hat, with only a little gold-work upon his brown-belted cassock, it was the arch-lector’s face that drew people’s attention, then held it. Strikingly gaunt, his stern expression reflected both what he expected of himself and of others, while being visibly illuminated by Morr’s holy blessing (at least to those who had eyes to see such things).
It dawned on Biagino that here was the answer: Calictus was the reason why Cathayans, ogres, dwarfs and all the rest were marching northwards together. Not his office and the authority granted by it, nor his robes and all the outward dignity of religious nobility, but the man himself. All who looked upon him saw a man they could trust to do Morr’s will. This arch-lector seemed as far from the cunning and conniving character of Ordini as one could get. It was Calictus the man who could command the secular state of Remas and all its forces, then lead them to fight a holy war, despite the disastrous false crusade of only 60 years previously. The passage of time had no doubt played a part in assuaging Reman doubts, and the undead nature of the foe proved the need for decisive action, but it was the man himself, devout and determined, who had finally tipped the balance.
So it was that several forces were welded into one, men and brutes, foreign mercenaries and city militia, Remans and Pavonans. From the most able of genius artificiers, Angelo Da Leoni, who had brought his marvellous steam engine, to the most crazed of gibbering, flagellating fanatics, raised from the city’s poorest quarters by the raving priest Father Antonello. From the proud nobility of Remas bedecked in gorgeously fluted, laminated armour from knight’s head to horse’s hoof, to the outcast peasant archers of Campogrotta in their mud-flecked, linen rags. All marching side by side beneath the banners of the Reman Church of Morr.
And the dwarfs, of course, who had just that moment arrived before the arch-lector.
They had been sent out along with a company of Bravi to learn what they could of the now nightmarish city of Viadaza. The bravi had returned with little to report, their faces ashen and limbs trembling, their words a confused tumble of prayers, warnings and whimpers. Biagino had learned at the Battle of Pontremola that men could face the walking dead and fight well, while priests sang litanies to heap blessings upon them, and holy paraphernalia invoked an aura of Morr’s protection. But if such things were absent, he knew from his own experience, then the fear engendered by both the sight and stench of the undead could sap all courage leaving an empty, choking pit where one’s guts were supposed to be. Biagino hoped the Dwarfs had not been so affected.
The dwarfs were not alone, having more easterners with them: masked, bare-footed men with fine blades ridiculously rumoured to be sharp enough to slice paper in two (not in the normal way, but separating front from back to form two equally sized, impossibly thin, sheets). In any other army, the sight of two such dissimilar warrior species working together as one would be the talk of the camp, but in this army it was par for the course. Biagino noticed that one of the dwarfs also wore a scarf to hide his face. Odd, he thought. Maybe the fellow’s beard was too bright a shade of ginger and he didn’t want to reveal the scouts’ position by it? But then why was the white bearded dwarf not similarly wrapped? Perhaps the dwarf was so impressed by his eastern companions he had taken to dressing like them, an action that seemed more gnomish in character than dwarfen. Or did the fellow have some mutilation to hide, which in the case of a dwarf might be nothing more than an ill-clipped beard? He shook his head to clear it of such nonsense, knowing it was lack of sleep that made his thoughts stray so wildly and easily.
The dwarf at the front did the talking. He was clothed in chainmail, wore his beard in neat braids, and carried an iron hammer as big as a two-pint pot upon his shoulder. Having bowed to the arch-lector in the quick and slight dwarfen manner, he began his report.
“Your Holiness. We have done as you commanded and looked upon the foe. We counted those on the roads and byways, and approached to within half a long-bow’s shot of the walls. The enemy is not as strong as us, but is in no ways weak or ill-prepared.”
Calictus flexed his fingers. “Do you mean they have intelligence of our approach or that they are diligent in their continuing watch?”
“I cannot say for certain. They’re not the sort of enemy we can capture and interrogate, but it seems to me they know we are close. The city walls are manned in strength both day and night, and they have strong patrols covering a distance of four miles from the gates.”
Biagino wondered whether the limit of the enemy patrols was due to how far their vampiric master’s will could reach.
“The patrols – they are undead?” asked the arch-lector, which Biagino took to mean that he too was weighing the same possibility.
“Yes, your holiness. Long dead horsemen; bleached bones devoid of all flesh; hooves a-clattering just like living horses. You can hear them coming some way off – what with so much rocky ground on or off the paths all around the city. They rode in companies, column of twos, banners at their fore, like soldiers. One lot even had a drummer beating silently at the shredded remnants of mouldy leather atop his copper kettles.”
“Did they see you?” asked the arch-lector.
The dwarf pondered a moment, then turned to look at his company. Some shook their heads a little, others shrugged. “I think not, your holiness. They gave no sign of doing so. They didn’t pursue us. They didn’t even turn to look our way.”
The officer by arch-lector’s side, a mercenary captain from Astiano whose name escaped Biagino, suddenly perked up. “Ah, but do the dead need to look in order to see? They don’t require eyeballs, which should surely prove a much more troublesome deficiency compared to failing to turn one’s head.”
Biagino wondered if the captain was related to the noble Duccio family, long famed for their philosophical bent. Perhaps he had come along with the Pavonans, Astiano’s new rulers? Perhaps the man had chosen to be just as philosophical about being conquered?
“The undead are not bound by natural laws, but by unnatural ones,” answered the arch-lector, in a matter of fact tone that very much surprised Biagino. It was as if he were lecturing a pupil on a spring morning. “Only in a vampire’s face can one see expression, and even then it is never to be trusted for their very existence is a lie, and what they choose to show the world is rarely the truth. Still … it matters not whether the riders saw these scouts, if Lord Adolfo already knew of our approach.”
The Astianan frowned. “So we cannot surprise them?”
“I doubt it,” said the arch-lector. “But we can attack before Lord Adolfo has any more time to prepare. Before any relief can be sent to him.” He turned back to the dwarf, “You said you looked upon the walls, that they were manned in strength. Tell me exactly what you saw.”
“There’s not a wall unguarded, your holiness. I checked each one with my spy glass. A dozen guards at least upon every stretch. Some were skeletons armed with long spears, many of ‘em armoured too.
“And on the other walls there were still rotting un-corpses, more of them than the skeletons I reckon, as well as fly-blown brutes guarding the gate …”
That’s the same as ever, thought Biagino. When Lord Adolfo was still mortal both the seaward and landward entrances to his city had always been guarded by Ogres. Now he was a vampire, why wouldn’t his brutes be zombies? Biagino already knew to expect undead ogres at the city, for the fisherman had reported their presence to him. In truth, there was nothing described so far he had not told the arch-lector himself. He had written lengthy reports concerning what he himself witnessed at Viadaza and all that the witnesses he had questioned had told him. Except, of course, and somewhat crucial to the true picture, he could not say that all these things were still there. Until the scouts looked with their own eyes it was entirely possible that Adolfo’s main strength might already have moved elsewhere.
This thought made Biagino think of his recent nightmares: Catching his breath after the victory at Pontremola, the cheers of his battered regiment as the enemy falls back. No-one has the strength to pursue them, but it is not necessary. The enemy is beaten. The vampire Duke is dead. The tide is turned. But then the dream changes and he is hiding with Ugo in the trees east of Viadaza, watching as the Vampire Duchess is welcomed into the city by Adolfo’s hellish army. Panic wells inside him. There has been no victory. Pontremola was a trick, an illusion. Even as the Viadazan crusaders cheer at the sight of the enemy falling away, in truth the enemy has already passed them by, and the city has fallen. Then the dream changes again, and now he is with the Reman holy army, the soldiers shouting their own cheers, for once again the enemy has begun to retreat. His legs grow weak, his sword slips from his grip, for he knows their retreat is no different from that of Pontremola, yielding a hollow victory. The real enemy has already passed by and is even now swarming through yet another town, their rot spreading through more and more of Tilea. For this enemy, to die is to be undead, to be defeated is to be undefeated. His head swims as the macabre dance unwinds about him – feint, attack – fall, rise – lose, win – while his dancing Duchess partner manoeuvres him, step by lurching step, ever closer to … to … ?
He jolted from his terrible reverie, as if waking from the dream itself. The dwarf was still speaking.
“… without need of a gate, for they were weaving freely through the very walls, outside, then inside, now outside again, as if the grey stone were merely mist. Their horses’ hooves barely touched the ground, if at all, and they were lit by green flames as if they had been doused in oil and set ablaze.”
“Enough, master dwarf,” snapped Calictus. “Let’s not wax so lyrical about such horrors in the camp, shall we? We will face them soon enough, but when we do, it will be with Morr’s blessing as our armour, and Morr’s will as our nerve. It will help if the soldiers have had a good night’s sleep tonight, so, as I said, no mention of this again until the battle is won.”
“’A good night’s sleep is the whetstone of success’,” said the Viadazan captain, quoting some ancient scholar on the art of war.
A good night’s sleep! thought Biagino. If only.
Note: Click on Skeletons! to see an article on the painting of some of the figures featured in this part.
Death Becomes Them
The Assault on Viadaza
Summer 2402, a few miles from Viadaza
The ground beyond Viadaza’s grey walls, out to the ancient ruins of a Morrite church by the rocky outcrops three hundred yards away, was empty of all buildings, trees, walls and hedges. It had all been cleared to ensure that approaching army would find no concealment. It was a common tactic, allowing the defenders plenty of time to rain bolts and bullets upon the foe. Viadaza, however, was garrisoned by the undead, who rarely attempted to employ missiles of any kind, and so either the clearing had been done before the city turned, or perhaps the intention was to force any attackers to look long and fearful upon the foul garrison as they drew closer.
Both round and square towers studded the walls, and a large, earthen bastion stuck with storm poles had been thrown up before the gate. Even unmanned, the earthwork would make any approach towards the gate considerably more difficult. The Morrite Crusaders, however, had brought artillery, and intended to break down more than the gate – both the Pavonan and Reman master gunners had promised their heavy shot could, given sufficient time, bring down the walls and towers themselves.
There were three large guns in the army of the living. Two were Reman, placed amongst their own battalion upon the right and centre of the line. Father Biagino, who had once stood in the front rank of the Viadazan pikemen as they faced the undead in battle at Pontremola, was alone this time, close to the artillery, very happy not to be in the vanguard this time. To the right of the guns rode the hero of Pontremola, General d’Alessio, leading the brightly armoured and prettily plumed nobility of Remas. Beyond them, upon the flank of the line, jogged a band of skirmishing bravi.
The main marching strength of Remas was to the left of the guns, where the large mob of flagellants could barely be kept in line as they marched beside the column of pike and halberdiers. Behind them the carroccio trundled, from which jutted a huge banner bearing the arms of the Morrite church of Remas, while in pride of place at the very centre of the line of battle jolted Angelo da Leoni’s massive war contraption, its upper deck doors already pulled open to reveal the multiple muzzles of the helblaster within. Black and sooty steam belched from its long, central funnel as its gears ground and frame rattled.
The left of the crusader’s line was composed of the other two battalions in the allied force: the blue and white liveried Pavonans, and the archers and grey-skinned brutes sent by Lord Nicolo from Campogrotta. Here, as well as another gun tended by its own engineer, there were handguns, bows, longbows and leadbelchers, all massed together and ordered to clear the walls before them of anything that moved.
The young lord Silvano Gondi, the only horseman in the Pavonan battalion, had chosen not to ride with the Reman nobility and General d’Alessio, for it seemed to him only proper that he should personally command the army he had brought. So it was he rode among his own troops.
His armour was practically identical to that which his brother had been entombed in, for it had been fashioned in the same workshop at the same time. And like his brother, he sported a tall feathered plume so that all could spot him and recognise him instantly. He carried his lance couched beneath his arm, giving the impression not of a commander ready to issue orders to this company and that, but of a young knight about to charge headlong into combat. In truth, given even the slightest opportunity, that was exactly what he intended to do, and in so doing hoped to wash away any doubts his somewhat tender age elicited in his men.
Behind the Cathayan crossbowmen, between an abandoned smithy and the blue and red barded draught horses hauling the carroccio, stood the arch-lector of Morr, Calictus II himself. The only guard he had was his personal standard bearer, present more to mark him out for his soldiers to see than to defend his person. He had declared that morning to his officers that the army was his shield and Morr his armour, thus it was a waste of sword-arms to oblige any warriors to linger with him when there was Morr’s holy work to be done. In return, General d’Alessio suggested, therefore, that the arch-lector should stay at the rear, all the better to incant his magical prayers to embolden and protect the soldiers, without risking injury to himself. Calictus, wholly aware that his priestly life had in no way equipped him for the bloody press of a melee, did not argue.
Father Antonello had a rather different take on things, however. All thought of prayer and priestly duty had gone from his head as he gave himself up to the same frenzied fury his fanatics were in gripped with. Leading them, standing at their front and right, he thus found himself furthest forward in the entire battle line. Not that he noticed, nor that he would he care if he had.
(Game Note: We knew characters are not technically allowed to join flagellants, but decided as he had personally raised these men from the streets of Remas, as seen in previous stories, then he [/i]should[i] lead them. I ruled, however, that he could cast no prayers while in the grip of his religious frenzy.)
The putrid, mindless servants of the vampire Lord Adolfo swarmed upon the city walls, peering and leering through the crenelated parapets. Gathered on the southern stretches of the wall, where Adolfo also lurked, were undead brutes, slavering ghouls and the animated bones of warriors who had fought and died at this very site many hundreds of years ago.
Along the northern reaches stood even more skeletons, hiding a necromancer amongst their number, while outside the walls stood a shambling horde of zombies – the recently living denizens of Viadaza who had failed to flee when ancient dead arose.
The crusaders could not know where the enemy’s horse soldiers were, for the walls hid them from sight, however those who had heard what the dwarfen scouts had to say, and those officers who had subsequently been warned what to expect, knew that the undead riders might well emerge from the walls – literally bursting through them – at any moment.
(Game Note: I have photo-edited out the 6 dice placed inside the walls, numbered 1 to 6. In the game they represented the possible positions of the hexwraiths and black knights, which the controlling player had secretly written down. It seemed only fair that if they were both ethereal and hidden behind thick stone walls, the opposing player shouldn’t know where they were!)
Although the height of the walls and the parapets upon them concealed much of the smaller undead warriors (only their spears and helmets, or bald, bony heads, could be seen clearly) none of the living soldiers could fail to see the brutes guarding the gate and the walls about it. Their once grey flesh had mouldered into a bruised mess of blue, and was pierced through with snapped shards of bone. One had a huge cleaver dug deep into his skull, while the one upon the highest part of the gate bore a makeshift flail fashioned from chains and threshing heads made of … heads!
In the main street behind the gate a ghastly chariot rolled along, pulled by two long dead beasts. It carried a standard fashioned from what could only be a giant’s hand, and was not only piled high with skulls, but had skulls decorating every possible place they could be affixed.
The charioteer was the part fossilised corpse of a warrior so ancient it had been the fashion in his day to share one’s grave with a chariot. He had been a head-collector in life, and those heads still housed faint, whispering slivers of the souls they once belonged to, conjoined in their ages-old misery to conjure up a palpable aura of foul magic which cursed the very ground along which the chariot passed.
(Game Note: You have probably already guessed, but this is my ‘counts as’ corpse cart.)
As was both proper and expected, it was Generalissimo Urbano d’Alessio who gave the command for the assault to begin, drawing his sword and sweeping it over his head to point at the walls.
Drums and cornets sounded the preparative, growing more numerous and thus louder as new musicians joined in across the line of battle. The mules and nags in the baggage train reared and jolted in fear, not because they were unused to the beating of drums and blaring of horns, but because the field had been so quiet only moments before. When the first blast of the artillery added to the noise – for it had been agreed that before anyone moved the artillery would begin its bombardment – it was all the handlers and wagoneers could do to stop the horses breaking their collars and snapping the yokes.
It was intended that the steam tank and the ogre lead-belchers would move as soon as the first signal was given, closing near enough to the walls to add their firepower to that of the big guns. Accordingly, in the very centre of the line, Master Leoni’s iron and timber behemoth juddered and lurched, but then (although the sound of it was unheard by most of the army due to the thundering of the guns) it began to groan dangerously loud. Desperate to avoid calamity, Leoni was forced to vent the steam. As clouds of boiling vapour burst from the funnels, he knew his pride and joy would not be moving just yet. It was a rather inauspicious start to his engines’ military career.
Calictus II had already spotted the large mass of zombies milling outside the city’s northern walls. Reluctant to allow the entire right wing of the army to be distracted and weakened by the need to hack through such a stinking horde of walking corpses, he conjured his Circlet of Burning Gold to make them stumble and struggle even more than usual, satisfactorily thwarting their advance.
Meanwhile, the artillery’s iron round-shots had thumped into the walls to cause very little discernible damage (Game Note: 3 x ‘No Effects’ rolled. Damian had said his bad dice rolling was legendary, and already we were beginning to wonder.) When the Campogrottan leadbelchers also hefted their barrels …
… and loosed a barrage of lead and iron, they too were surprised to see only one ghoul tumble back from the parapet. Most of their shot merely chipped tiny shards of stone from the walls.
The sound of the blasts now dissipated, the echoes rapidly diminishing, to be replaced by a booming, staccato laughter emanating from the wall by the gate. It was one of the undead brutes, renowned for his bellowing voice in life, and now proving that death had not stripped him of his capability.
When the horde of zombies failed to appear around the north-eastern tower as intended, Lord Adolfo’s lieutenant, a necromancer of considerable skill, realised some curse must have been employed against them. Undismayed, he simply decided he would raise some more. So it was that a newly animated company of corpses lurched to their feet and began their own stumbling advance right before the enemy.
Not willing to allow his men to dwell upon the ineffectiveness of the artillery, and so become disheartened, d’Alessio ordered the general advance. Praying to Morr, Master Leoni shouted instructions down to the engineers below – open that, release this, pull the other – and now his engine of war did move, clattering along beside the huge regiment of Estalian pikemen as they marched on apace.
Although Calictus’ next use of the circlet was successful, an eddy in the winds of magic disturbed his concentration, and all enchantment was subsequently sapped from it. He knew it would be useless for the rest of the fight. The very same eddy proved too slippery for the lesser priest, Father Frederico, too. His Ruby Ring of Ruin sent a fireball to fell two zombies, but then suddenly grew mundanely cold as it too failed to preserve its magical aura. Both priests soon forgot these particular frustrations as they watched two round-shots once again fail even to shake the walls. A third shot, sent from the Pavonan piece, did at least splinter the gate’s timber. Those who noticed (which was not many) decided this might mean the guns could yet contribute to the struggle. Cathayan crossbow bolts felled three of the newly raised zombies, while the cloud of missiles spat out by the leadbelchers and longbows threw only two more ghouls from the parapet. The other ghouls, leering intently over the walls, their horribly bent forms twitching as their black-clawed fingers scratched at the stone, seemed not to have even noticed the deaths.
Inside the city, a large company of undead horse formed up behind the southern wall, and readied themselves to ride right through the very stone itself. (Game note: Darren revealed them then changed his mind about actually moving them through the wall, thus an unnecessarily early manifestation!)
On the northern side of the city a hideous band of hexwraiths burst from the walls to begin riding up behind the magically slowed zombies.
Both the vampire Lord Adolfo and his necromantic second in command cursed as they could find insufficient winds of magic to unleash any effective spells, perhaps the result of the same eddy that had so unbalanced the enemy’s priestly prayers? All they could do was watch as the enemy came on, the massed foot regiments at their centre taking the lead.
Adolfo could not know, but the appearance of the hexwraiths did at least have an immediate effect on the foe, for Generalissimo d’Alessio and the nobility of Remas forming his guard thought better of riding any closer to a deadly foe they could not possibly harm. So it was they slowed their already slow pace, awaiting events to see if there was anything of use they could contribute to the assault.
Three more blasts came from the cannons, and this time one of the brace of Reman guns blew itself apart in the process. For the sixth time a ball of iron bounced from the northern stretch of the wall, making several of those who witnessed wonder whether there might be some enchantment upon the walls. Perhaps they had been bathed in a necromantic concoction of sacrificial blood lending them some new magical of strength beyond that gifted by mere stone and mortar? Or perhaps great, thick piles of earth had been thrown up behind the walls, giving them a very mundane sort of strength? A good many among the living soldiers now began to wonder if they were marching headlong to their doom – the thought of having to climb ladders to face such a terrifying foe filled them with dread. Just then, however, another ball hit the gate, and this time huge shivers of timber were seen to break away as the shot tore right through. Maybe the gate would be broken? Maybe they would walk in fully armed rather than be forced to clamber up ladders with only swords and knives as weapons?
Even as Master Leoni was leafing through his leather-bound notes and calculations concerning the technical intricacies of his ingenious invention, once again the awful groan issued from its workings, this time sending a measuring rod to full extension. So once again he was forced to haul upon both venting levers, whilst shouting as best he could over the noise to instruct the engineers to open the fueling hatch and loosen the pressure grate. The machine slowed to a halt, and Leoni, in truth more baffled than embarrassed, now took a moment to ponder, his book opened in his palm, hoping that inspiration would strike and he could think of some way to make the machine behave.
Again, the hail of missiles hurled at the walls felled only a handful of the foe, while the contrary winds of magic ruined yet more magical artefacts. The priests knew that they would have to put their faith (rather appropriately) in prayers, rather than rely on enchanted trinkets and baubles.
Now more undead riders appeared, trotting out of the southern walls as if it were no more difficult to do than leaping over a ditch. Once they were the disciplined bodyguard of an ancient warlord, and their training seemed somehow remembered as they wheeled neatly, maintaining almost (or entirely?) unnaturally good order, and began their own leisurely canter towards the foe.
Adolfo found magic enough to restock his slightly damaged company of ghouls, while his necromancer glanced over to see that at last the huge mob of zombies had broken free of whatever it was had been slowing them down. They shambled forwards, hefting rusted swords and empty blunderbusses, bent pitchforks and damp pistols, chipped spears and maces.
Upon the other side of the field of battle, the soldiers of Lord Silvano’s Pavonan battalion were keen on showing the Remans that they would not be laggardly in this fight. They too approached the walls, their swordsmen aiming towards the gate while the halberdiers marched straight towards the walls.
Beside them the Campogrottan Ogres continued forwards, the leadbelchers leading the way, hastily loading their pieces in the hope of delivering a hellish blast at the undead riders.
When they did shoot, however, only one foe went down, the noise drawing the undead riders’ attention. Their empty eye sockets turned to look upon the brutes, then they pulled at their reins to turn the mounts too.
In the centre of the Morrite army’s line the pike picked up the pace, skirting the empty earthwork and very definitely making for the gate. If (when?) it did finally break, they wanted to be ready to attack immediately.
And they were in luck, for just then another Pavonan roundshot smashed into the timber, this time tearing it down and felling the portcullis behind too. The way into Viadaza was now open, and apart from the destruction of a cannon and its crew, the Morrite forces had not yet lost a man.
Upon the walls, Lord Adolfo wove adroitly through the fidgeting ghouls to find a better spot to sight the foe, and one from which he could cast magic to aid his horse soldiers as well as the defenders upon the walls. As the gate splintered and fell, he glared over the parapet, his red eyes exuding hatred, fangs bared, and he began to ponder whether he could hold this city, or whether it might be best to leave and return to his mistress. It seemed to him that a fight to the death meant that she would lose both Viadaza [i]and[/i] this army, whereas if he could escape with some his force, then only the city was lost. His loyalty to her was paramount, and ultimately informed his every decision. For now, however, he put any thoughts of flight from his mind, for his blood was up, and a fury knotted every muscle in his body. This city had been his in life, and was still now his in death. He would try this fight a little longer, for his army was still almost wholly intact, and he would have it tear deep into the foe before he chose to yield his city. If he was to leave and flee to his mistress, he intended to tell her he had left the enemy wounded, reeling and afraid.
A hail of missiles poured against the upper reaches of the southernmost walls, bringing down three ghouls, but the volley gun on the upper deck of the steam engine fired low and so merely left a ragged patch of indentations in the stone. Immersed in calculations regarding the workings of his machine, Master Leoni was entirely ignorant of how badly its opening shot had fared.
Now came the first charges, not delivered by the crusaders but against them. The last two surviving zombies of the newly raised pack ran into the flagellants.
One reached for Father Antonello, only to lose its outstretched arm when the priest’s sword came down with furious strength. Of course, the maniacal Morrites made short work of the last zombie, and with such ease that those in and behind the third rank had no idea any sort of fight had even occurred.
The undead horse came thundering into the leadbelchers …
… their spear tips and ancient blades finding their marks with uncanny accuracy, so that one ogre fell and the rest were bloodied. In return, only one rider was dispatched, and the surviving ogres, confused by the unexpected brutality of the onslaught, turned to flee. Finding the ogre bulls immediately behind them they faltered, a momentary lapse that allowed the riders to cut down the last of them. The riders then leaped over the twitching corpses and slammed into the bulls.
Although surprised to discover the foe suddenly so near, young Lord Silvano of was determined to prove to his veteran soldiers he was worthy of not only their obedience but also their respect. He lowered his lance, gripped tight upon his shield, and spurred his mount to charge into the skeleton riders who had just engaged the ogres.
Silvano’s halberdiers, still marching towards the city and wondering how in any god’s name they were supposed to assault a wall defended by a foe as vicious as ghouls, now had something else to worry them. They had been present when Lord Polcario, Silvano’s older brother, had perished upon the walls of Trantio in the doubly fatal duel against the tyrant prince Girenzo. Now here they were as the Duke of Pavona’s last surviving son, a stripling who had yet to fight any foe at all, never mind face horrors from beyond the grave, had entered deadly combat. None of them wanted to be upon the receiving end of Duke Guidobaldo’s angry grief if the lad died. Their sergeant, ashen faced, screamed at them to wheel left. The assault would have to wait. One or two amongst the body, although they would never admit it, were actually glad of the distraction, for it may well mean they would no longer have to climb the walls to their almost certain deaths.
In the centre of the field, the Estalian pikemen were closing upon the gate, and their captain was considering how exactly he could form the body so as to get through. In the front rank was the Morrite lector of Viadaza, Bernado Ugolini. How strange, he thought, to be approaching the gates of his own city as an attacker. When the city’s new stench came wafting through the open port, however, it very horribly reminded him of what exactly Viadaza had become, and why such destructive a cure was necessary. Glancing up he saw an undead brute glaring down at from the parapet, and so he quickly channelled Morr’s Stare with a holy prayer and sent the foul creature toppling from the wall.
Aware of just how close the Father Antonello’s flagellants were getting to the huge mob of zombies, the arch lector Calictus II began chanting the words to the prayer Morr’s Caress
(Game Note: The Morrite priests are modified versions of 8th ed. Priests of Sigmar, but with home-rules prayers.)
He felt the power of Morr flow through him, and knew that the Zombies would now be weakened. Faced with the flagellants’ fury and flails, that weakness would surely mean their imminent demise.
Once again, a vast volley from the left wing of the Morrite army resulted in the deaths of a mere handful of the foe, the sturdy stone walls proving a considerable hindrance. Not that those doing the shooting were keen to try some other form of attack – prolonged shooting and aching arms was much preferable to close-proximity to a foe at one undead and deadly. This time the steam engine’s volley gun did fell a ghoul. And this time Master da Leoni noticed. His brow furrowed as he recalled the promises he had made concerning how well his costly machine of war would function in battle –he had boasted of much more than the equivalent of a lone hand-gunner’s lucky shot. Putting his book down, he strode over to the volley gun and took closer command of the crew.
Lord Silvano’s lance lifted the skeleton horse champion right out of his saddle and sent both his and his mount’s shattered and parted bones tumbling. When the ogres felled two more, the shock was sufficiently strong to un-weave some of the magical threads animating the ancient warriors and cause two more riders to collapse. Over on the far side of the field, the flagellants had worked themselves into such a furious fervour that two of their own number perished in the mayhem. They cared not, and as they smashed into the horde of undead before them they released a truly terrible torrent of iron-bound blows.
Although two more flagellants were to die at the hands of the zombies, thirteen zombies were (re)fatally crushed and torn in return. When Father Antonello himself beheaded two more, so disruptive was their joint assault that fourteen zombies tumbled undeathless to the ground.
(Game Note: We now wondered what the flagellants could have done if they had been in horde formation – it seemed more than likely that they would easily then have finished off all 40 zombies in one turn!)
Upon the wall, the beast that Lord Adolfo had become, his vampiric from made bestial by the taint of orcen blood in his veins, invoked dark magic to heal his riders, re-knitting the mounted champion’s bones back together so that in a moment he was back, sword in hand, facing the more than a little surprised Lord Silvano. This confusion threw the young lord, and as he now set about attacking the champion for the second time, all his blows failed to land. Nor was he the only one struggling, as by his side another ogre was cut down. Although some riders were felled by the remaining bulls, several for the second time, it was clear that the fight remained in the balance. The watching Pavonan halberdiers now knew with sickening clarity that their young general was caught in a fight which, if the vampire Lord Adolfo employed sufficient magic, could through longevity alone prove deadly. So, without pausing, they charged into the skeleton riders’ flank.
Three more flagellants perished as a consequence of their own carelessly spiralling frenzy, while the rest hewed through the last dozen zombies, and then without even a moment’s consideration, they hurled themselves at the wall, throwing up their ladders with abandon to begin the ascent. Their only thought was to fight some more.
No matter how he tried, Silvano could not hurt the re-raised champion. It did not matter, though, because with the halberdiers and ogres attacking all around them, the last vestiges of the magical force holding the skeletal riders in this began to weaken, and several riders crumbled to the ground. Surely the stubborn champion would also succumb soon?
The two remaining crusader cannons had begun to concentrate their fire upon the tower between the gate and the southernmost stretch of the eastern wall. Ball after ball plunged into the stone, each one visibly weakening the structure, until it leaned precariously backwards, looking like a stiff wind could knock it down. The Pavonan swordsmen near it slowed their pace almost to a halt, each man amongst them praying that it would fall soon and so grant them a way into the city less deadly than climbing the walls. Meanwhile the Estalian pike regiment had formed into a column of three and began emerging into the city proper, their battle cries echoing off the grey stone.
(Game Note: As GM I allowed the pike to swift-reform into a 3 file-wide column, then wheel to advance through the gate. I also ruled that in this situation I would allow rank bonuses to apply. Thinking on it, I may have been a tad too generous here, and tbh I had given no thought to the fact that the gate might have defences to allow the undead ogres on the walls and tower above to attack down, but … the modified 7th ed. siege rules we were using said that the gate was smashed and: “The way to the fortress is free. However, some pieces of the gate remain so troops can only move through at half speed” This seemed pretty clear, so we went with what that statement seemed to be saying. Having re-enacted pike IRL, I knew that it is possible to steadily step with pikes ‘charged’ if you are going straight forwards through a stone gate way, or that instead one can trail a pike to get through the gate, then haul it up to ‘charge your pike’ as you emerge (provided the enemy doesn’t get in the way too soon). But now I have thought about it more, the pike still went in too quick, for I think I missed the half rate movement comment, and I should not have allowed the pike to use their pike, in light of the text re: bits of the gate being in the way. The subsequent fights would have been harder with hand weapons instead of 3 extra ranks fight ([/i]Treachery & Greed[i] campaign pike rules.) To add to my regrets, I noticed afterwards that the ‘pike-phalanx’ rules do not apply to difficult terrain, and this really should have been counted as difficult terrain. I vowed to try to get it right next time, if that’s any consolation to my players.)
Directed by Master Leoni, the volley gun crew loaded, cranked, levered and then triggered the firelock ignition to blast once more, this time blowing apart one of the undead brutes on the parapet above the gate. The other brutes failed even to flinch at their comrade’s violent demise, merely watching as more and more of the pikemen streamed through the gates below them.
The Pavonan lord Silvano Gondi was struggling to best the bony champion, distracted as he was by the need to regain control of his terrified mount (what with ogres to one side and walking dead to the fore), and breathed a sigh of relief when the champion and the last remaining riders finally fell. Lord Adolfo’s sustaining magic had withered away completely, for the simple reason he was not even looking their way anymore. Instead his attention was turned to within the city, where both his and his servant’s necromantic magic was pouring forth to animate and re-animate zombies, skeletons and even the undead brutes.
Itself awash with the flow of dark magic, the ancient chariot clattered along the lane behind the walls to crash into the flank of the pikemen …
… but it had scraped against the wall along the route, slowing it and lessening the impact. It did no harm to the pike. When the Estalian champion then hacked a head off one of the horses pulling it, the whole thing crumbled to the ground.
(Game Note: I am embarrassed to admit we probably got this wrong too. Even though I had (however dubiously) allowed the pike to have ranks, the rules say the rank bonus is gained from ranks behind the fighting rank. And even if we still counted the ranks, the corpse cart should still have been around because: Cart = +1 for charging, + 1 flank cf. pike = +1 wound, +1 standard, +3 ranks. Thus the W4 corpse cart should only have lost 3 wounds at the most, and none if we had not counted ranks. I think this was down to both me and the players not looking too closely at the stats involved. We’ll get it right next time.)
The earthwork before the gate was now revealed to be a grave-pit as well as a defensive feature, for zombies clawed their way out of the soil to face the flank of the pikemen attempting to negotiate the gate.
Very soon the flagellants, again at the cost of several of their own number (sacrificed to their spiralling frenzy) had cleared the wall of skeletons and moved to occupy the north-eastern tower, allowing the Cathayan halberdiers to clamber up onto the wall behind them. This meant that already three living regiments had penetrated the defences.
When the first Cathayans to arrive on the parapet looked down into the city, they saw that the ethereal riders had passed back through the wall into the city, to face towards the pikemen.
It was obvious that the hellish warriors intended to charge the pikemen, a move which could overwhelm them, especially as the pike were now engaged to their front with the growing swarm of zombies Lord Adolfo was summoning.
Fully aware of just how hard pressed the pikemen might find themselves, assaulting through the main entrance to the city, the Lector of Viadaza blessed them with both Morr’s Holy Protection (5+ ward) and Harmonic Convergence. Then, as Calictus II himself once again cast Morr’s murderous Caress upon the brute horrors, two more cannon balls slammed into the tower to the south of the gate and finally brought it toppling down.
Outside the gate the zombies upon the earthwork were blasted from all sides – dwarfen pistols joined with the carroccio’s handguns, the steam engine’s swivels, as well as the volley gun. What twitching, broken, muddy remnants were left on the earthwork no longer presented any sort of threat. Three did stagger uncertainly towards the dwarfs but were cut down laughably easily, although no-one was laughing.
As the pike began a somewhat messy fight with the zombies inside the gate, the large body of skeletons manning the currently unthreatened southern wall now trooped down into the city, heading towards the fallen tower’s rubble remains. Lord Adolfo intended them to prevent anyone else entering that side of the city, hoping that thus the pikemen could be dealt with before anyone could come to their aid.
The hexwraiths galloped silently down the length of the lane behind the northern wall to hurtle into the flank of the pikemen, immediately killing three with their cursed scythes.
But the pike were still hacking at the zombies in front of them, hewing umpteen apart, and in so doing they shattered the magical forces holding both the last zombies and the hexwraiths. In a moment, they suddenly found themselves facing nothing but heaped corpses, and with only two hexwraiths left to their side. The other ghostly riders had dissipated into faint wisps of etheric vapours. To the south of them there was a clattering sound as the Pavonan swordsmen came scrabbling over the ruins of the tower to join the Estalians inside the city proper.
There they immediately saw the skeletons pouring up the street towards them …
… and moments later the two bodies were locked in combat.
The sheer weight of numbers of pikemen meant the hexwraiths failed to inflict any significant damage at all, and when the last two also vanished from this world, the pike reformed to face the walls so that the surviving brutes still occupying them could not surprise them from behind.
(Game Note: You might suppose that the zombie ogres (counts as crypt horrors) should have come down from the walls of the gate section to attack the pike much earlier, but in doing so they would thus have yielded a section. You see, victory in this siege-assault game hinged on how many sections (GM designated walls, towers, and three chunks of city within) were controlled at the end of the game. If the undead ogres had left the wall, then the attackers outside would have immediately occupied it, so that the undead player lost a victory point while the attackers gained one. That would make two points difference to the end result, a difference sufficient to grant a major victory to the attackers. So the undead player decided rather than add another unit to a section of the city which was already contested and probably would remain so (denying points to either player for that section), he would keep the undead ogres on the wall. He didn’t know the pikemen would win their combat. Leaving the wall to charge the swordsmen with his skeletons, however, didn’t give either side a bonus, rather it meant the tower – well, now rubble – they occupied, was contested, and so failed to grant victory point to the crusaders, whilst simultaneously not allowing them to get any further and claim any more sections.)
With little left to shoot at upon the walls it did not seem important that the crusaders’ next bout of missile fire, everything from cannon balls to arrows, inflicted no harm at all. The Pavonan gun, fouled by the rapid firing, its crew exhausted, failed to fire, even with a skilled engineer tending it. The crew now took the opportunity to stop for a moment and study the walls. Their engineer peered through his Hochland Long Rifle sights, sweeping along the parapets to examine each one. As he did so he could see that the foe was now leaving the walls!
True enough, Lord Adolfo, realising that it would mean certain destruction to attempt to fight on, now decided it was time to leave. And quickly.
(Game Note: The undead player, in this 8th and final turn of the extended siege scenario, had managed to ensure that the attackers were up by only one city section. Lord Adolfo passed a Strength test to leap across from the wall with the ghouls to the wall vacated by the skeletons, thus gaining the point for that section. This meant a ‘minor victory’ for the attackers, not a ‘major victory’, and the campaign casualty recovery rules thus allowed any units the defender still had on the field to retreat intact to the next campaign map hex. According to the rules, Adolfo and all the troops still standing now would survive this battle, even if the city was lost.)
The vampire lord let loose a terrible wail, so signalling it was now time to flee. He himself had already leapt across to the southern wall, while behind him the ghouls began leaping down to scamper through the streets towards the docks.
Lord Adolfo leapt down to join them, quickly outpacing all the rest as he led them away.
The Cathayans upon the wall sounded their horns …
… and the crew of the surviving Reman gun joined in prayers with the priest nearby …
… while Father Biagino and the Cathayan crossbowmen glanced over to Generalissimo d’Alessio to see if he was going to signal victory.
He did, and the cheers spread from field to wall to inside the city.
Viadaza was retaken. The Holy Crusading Army of Morr had its first victory.
Appendix (Various Game Notes)
The Church of Morr carroccio is a form of armed and armoured war wagon/war altar, just like the one the peasant crusaders of Viadaza had employed at Pontremola. It acts as both a battle standard bearer with 18” effect, but also quells the effects of fear caused by undead to that range too. But the anti-fear ability only works on southern Estalians and Tileans, i.e. those who worship Morr as an important, if not the most important, deity in the pantheon. Ogres, dwarfs and Cathayans, all present in the Crusading army, do not gain this benefit. Of course, Ogres cause fear, so wouldn’t suffer it anyway. Just thought I’d mention this so that you would know why no-one had their WS reduced to 1 in this game.)
Composition of the Crusade Marching Force
Our own Tilean campaign list, modified from the T&G campaign list:
Arch- Lector of Morr Calictus II @ 201 Tilean Noble
Priests of Morr: Fr. Federico Tinti @ 55
Pepe Lito, Condotta Captain @ 65 pts Artillerist
40 Condotta Pike (Estalian Mercenaries) @ 435
25 Cathayan Halberdiers @ 150
16 Cathayan Crossbowmen @ 149
11 Bravi Skirmishers @ 99
8 Dwarf Sea Ranger Skirmishers @ 112
2 Great Cannons @ 230
Carroccio @ 265 (Counts as Army Standard) Maestro Angelo da Leoni’s Steam-Tank @ 250
30 Flagellants with leader @ 370
7 Knights with full command @ 186
3 baggage wagons
Ogre list & Tilean list
4 Ogre Leadbelchers (Thunderfist & Bellower) & 6 Ogre Bulls (full command) @ 402
Priest of Morr, 15 Brigand archers, 16 Longbowmen (condottiere full command) @ 394
& baggage wagon
Our own Tilean campaign list, modified from the T&G campaign list:
Morrite Lector of Viadaza, Bernado Ugolini @ 196
Prophetic Book, Robe of Cathayan Silk, Sword of Might
Urbano D’Alessio, Condottiere General @ 172
Sword of anti-heroes, Charmed Shield, Talisman of Endurance. Merc’ skill: Hopelessly stubborn
Priests of Morr: Father Biagino @ 85 & Father Antonello @ 80
Biagino = Circlet of Burning Gold // Antonello = Ruby Ring of Ruin
Mounted Captain (Lord Silvano)
Next: See Tilea Campaign, Part 10