The Battle of Diocleta, continued
Spring, IC 2403
At almost the same moment, all the ogres who had turned to run now came to a halt, re-ordered themselves and re-joined the line. Those lead-belchers on the right who had not run away now charged the huntsmen …
… while in the centre of the field a veritable avalanche of charges were made. Even the gnoblars joined in!
As the gnob-mob hurled themselves, over-ambitiously, at the dwarfs, Mangler led his ironguts with rather more assurance of success into the Astianan swordsmen.
The fury of the fight was a horror to behold as a dozen men were fatally crushed or torn apart while themselves barely drawing blood from the ogres. Those that survived fled away, pell-mell: so panicked that it took them some considerable time to notice that they were not pursued; so completely broken that they never reformed. Thus, the last Astianan soldiers of any kind, those serving their conqueror, Duke Guidobaldo, were broken. Their town lay in lamentable ruins, its people decimated and thrown across Tilea, and now its only remaining soldiers were also scattered and lost.
The Butcher Scabgash and Mangler’s army standard bearer led a dozen bulls into Captain Augusto’s swordsmen …
… killing nine men with the sheer impact of their charge alone! Although Augusto managed to gouge the flesh of the enemy’s standard bearer …
… another half a dozen swordsmen were hacked in twain by the ogres’ massive blades. Like their Astianan comrades, they too fled, but unluckily for them the brute foe chose to run them down. Within moments there was not one of them left alive and the bulls found themselves stalled before the tiny obstacle of a lone Pavonan engineer, caught as he attempted to make his way from the smoking ruins of one gun to another.
Razger led his own bulls into the flank of the halberdiers who had somehow halted the maneaters.
Although another maneater was slain by halberd blades, within moments all but three of the Pavonans lay dead and dying. As these three fled, the maneaters halted to allow their leader the privilege of pursuit. Not that Razger went very far. Nevertheless, another Pavonan regiment had been entirely wiped out.
The last two ironguts on the ogres far left watched in confusion as the hunter stumbled and his beasts halted, thus failing to reach the foe.
Perhaps this was due to the hail of scrap that landed on top of them? (The gnoblars on the scraplauncher had aimed rather badly. They were entirely ignorant concerning what they had done, for none paid any attention to where their shots were falling. Instead, they busied themselves with unusual efficiency in preparation for their next shot.)
Ahead of the scraplauncher, the ironblaster had turned to present its muzzle at the mounted nobility on the Pavonan’s far right. The subsequent, monstrous blast carried two knights – and their horses – away with it!
As the Pavonan knights struggled to comprehend events, another of them fell mortally injured from the lead-belchers’ hail that moments later clattered through them. Visconte Carjaval cursed loudly. Yet although his men were dismayed, they were not yet broken, and so simply awaited his next command.
Killing only one dwarf, but losing five of their own number, the gnoblars nevertheless stood their ground, pinning the dwarfs and preventing their chance to flank any ogres.
Young lord Silvano and his elven riders, whose own momentum had carried them into the mournfangs, now struggled to master their mounts’ fear at both the foul stench and size of their massive foe (Game Note: Failed fear test, so only WS1) …
… and as a consequence not one solid blow could be laid upon the enemy. When all four elves then perished in a most bloody and horrible manner, Silvano (despite having faced far more terrible foes at Ebino) recognised his situation was impossible, and so yanked at his reins in an attempt to escape. His horse turned, even managing a few steps, but was then gorged from behind by the mournfang’s huge tusks and hurled into the air. Silvano hit the ground hard, his own horse landing upon him. Barely noticing, the mournfang riders simply urged their beasts onwards, over the mangled mess of mounts, elves and nobleman.
There were now a lot of Ogres massed on the left of their line, in a somewhat higgledy-piggledy fashion. Facing them were a much greater number of Pavonan soldiers, mostly handgunners, but each ogre counted for a lot more than one man.
While the handgunners readied their pieces for a volley at close range, the surviving regiment of Pavonan halberdiers charged at Habbdok the Hunter and his hounds, and Visconte Carjaval and his mounted nobility attempted to reach the brace of lead-belchers upon the slope of the hill. The foot-soldiers successfully closed with their chosen enemy, but the knights failed due to the lead-belchers choosing, quite sensibly, to flee.
The Pavonan gunners manning the piece on the left of their own line, frantically dragged their charge backwards, so that the Cathayan halberdiers could close upon Mangler and his Ironguts, aiming thus to prevent the ogres attacking the dwarfs’ flank. Captain General Duke Scaringella joined them, steeling himself for the fight of his life, indeed a fight for his life.
The Morrite priests’ prayers failed to cause any real harm, but the allies had several many mundane means of doing so which they now brought them to bear. The dismounted pistoliers strode boldly forwards, weapons cocked in each hand, to fire their pistols at Razger Boulderguts and his bulls …
… killing two ogres. Both nearby regiments of handgunners joined the effort, but their powder was apparently inferior, for they could not fell even one ogre, instead merely scratching the foe’s flesh. At the same moment, however, an iron round-shot slammed messily through three ogres in the rear of Razger’s other unit of bulls, killing them all, and a lucky shot from the Pavonan engineer’s Hochland rifle also brought down one of the fleeing lead-belchers.
As the smoke cleared, the Pavonans were nevertheless dismayed, recognising that although they had hurt the foe, there were still too many remaining. The halberdiers fighting Habbdok did manage to kill one of his beasts, but at such a heavy cost to themselves – half a dozen dead – that they lost heart, broke and ran. The roar of the last sabretusk, conjoined with smell of spattered blood, spooked the knights’ horses so much that the visconte and his guard were forced to yield and allow them to bolt, otherwise they would have been thrown.
Thus they found themselves, at the very moment they had hoped to deliver a coup de grace to one of the battered bodies of bulls before them, instead fleeing from the fight! Habbdok and his last beast pursued the running halberdiers, thus hurtling into the dismounted pistoliers.
On the far side of the field, however, the tide was turning in the Tilean allies’ favour. Scaringella’s Reman cannon felled a Mournfang and sent the last lumbering from the field, which made that flank look a lot less threatening. Apart from one or two lead-belchers staggering about under the weight of their over-sized burdens, there was little left of the foe. The Remans drew hope from the sight. Better yet, the dwarfs finally saw the gnoblars off, then, coolly and with great discipline, reformed to face Mangler and his Ironguts.
For the first time that day, the allies were squaring up for a fight that they looked like they might win!
Like any ogre, Mangler did not wait for the enemy to charge. He led his warriors headlong into the Cathayan halberdiers beside the dwarfs, knowing in his gut they were the softer of the two possibilities – their relatively thin and less well-armoured bodies promised a speedy destruction, which should mean that he and his lads could smash right through them before the dwarfs could counter-attack his flank. Besides, he had spotted the enemy’s baggage in the rear and greed always had a habit of getting the better of him.
Behind Mangler, his bulls crashed into the last of the Pavonan swordsmen, right beside their lord Duke Guidobaldo. (Game note: The Pavonan player, Matt, whose campaign PC is Duke Guidobaldo, had agonised over whether it was best to join the unit or not. I thought it was crazy not to, but he decided it was for the best to ‘remain single’.)
On the other side of the field, amidst a confusion of blue and white, with Pavonans running hither and thither, even through their comrades’ ranks and files, Razger tore into and right through the handgunners closest to him before they could even bring their muzzles to bear.
This was the beginning of the end for the Pavonans. The handgunners – what few were not only left standing but also retained wits enough to do so – fled away, as did the other handgunners at their side, thus joining the halberdiers’ frantic flight to form a turbulent river of broken men. The dismounted pistoliers would soon be swept up too.
Visconte Carjaval, having successfully halted and reformed his noble men-at-arms, witnessed this sudden collapse. In that moment, his breath ragged with exhaustion, he chose not to sacrifice himself and the proud chivalry of Pavona in an almost certainly futile gesture of defiance. Instead, he gave the order to ride, and ride fast. He intended to find Duke Guidobaldo. He shouted to his men,
“We shall look to our lord’s safety.”
What the visconte didn’t know was that Mangler’s large regiment of bulls had made very short work of the last Pavonan swordsmen, stepping forwards to find themselves in combat with the duke himself!
Having not fought personally in combat for nigh upon a dozen years, the duke now found that his old abilities had not entirely abandoned him. Thankfully he had continued to ride frequently, and wear armour regularly, both practices which now stood him in good stead, despite his advancing years!
Another boom advertised the ironblaster’s next shot, its massive ball killing five of the Reman dwarfs.
The Scrap-launcher’s effort was badly directed, for the burden beast carrying the contraption had been startled by the ironblaster’s report, and its heavy hail of sharpened iron poured upon the mules, oxen and wagons of the baggage train rather than the enemy’s soldiers.
Duke Scaringella, for more than a decade Captain General of the Reman army, as was his father before him, and in all that time having not fought a single battle that was not already a forgone conclusion, now found himself in the deadliest of combats. He knew this was the moment his life had always been shaping him for, and that the rest of his life would be shaped by, which is why he chose to challenge the brute tyrant Mangler himself. His lance found its mark and grey flesh was pierced, but then Manglers’ riposte almost broke the duke’s shield arm, threatening to tear him from his saddle.
Somehow, he held tight. Dropping his shattered lance, he tore his sword from its scabbard and screamed: “Fight, boys. Fight!”
Crossbow bolts were loosed by the dozen, and a cannon boomed, killing two more of the lead-belchers on the ogres’ right, and scaring the rest away. Then another cannon shot brought down the monstrous beast carrying the ironblaster, the ball almost taking its head from its shoulders.
The dwarfs now charged into Mangler’s flank, and their butchery was astounding. As Mangler finally bashed Duke Scaringella off his horse, then broke the horse’s neck with his elbow, the ironguts beside him were all but annihilated.
Suddenly the mighty Mangler found himself surrounded by a dizzying crowd of assailants. Their jabs, thrusts and slashes came from all quarters, while the weight of their numbers made it hard to discern one from another.
Stumbling backwards, blood pouring from half a dozen gaps between his iron scales, he realised his huge bardiche was no longer in his hands. For the first time ever, his urge to fight was supplanted by something different. Before he could fully comprehend that it was fear, he was unconscious, falling beside the battered body of Duke Scaringella. One of the dwarfs scrambled over the brute tyrant’s body, shouting, “The duke!” and began to drag the armoured noble away.
Duke Guidobaldo, having exchanged several blows with the enemy before him – enough, he hoped, to distract them sufficiently – now gambled his life on the obedience and strength of his mount. Yanking on the reins as he swung his hammer at the lead ogres’ face, he turned about and urged his horse on. He had to outpace the brutes behind him, despite their size and despite the armour enclosing both him and his horse. His mount, reputed the finest in central Tilea, proved sufficient to the task and the duke escaped the ogres’ further harmful intentions, galloping as he had not done since his youth.
The field had become divided from left to right. On one side of the field the Remans were reforming their line to face the foe, while on the other almost every alliance soldier had fled leaving only Razger and his surviving warriors, as well as quite a number of Mangler’s ogres, albeit in a rather less neat formation than the Remans. In between the two, the ground was strewn with ragged heaps of men and brutes, dead or wounded, as well as the smoking remains of several guns.
The Remans still had two Pavonan cannons with them, as well as their own piece …
… and at such a distance they presented a sight which none of the ogres were glad to see. Those were the guns that had not yet failed. They had cut down mournfangs, rhinoxes and many an ogre, and there was no reason to suppose they would not continue to do so. Advancing upon the last surviving Reman regiments would prove costly to the remnant of Razger’s army, perhaps even fatal? As his brutes began to reform their ranks and files, Razger took a breather and gave the situation some thought.
He could see the loot was still safe – not a man had got close to the heavily burdened wagons.
Scrutinizing the field ahead, he guessed Mangler must surely have fallen in battle, simply by the fact that neither he nor any one of his irongut bodyguard could be seen. Razger decided this suited him just fine. Almost all the loot in the baggage train had been Mangler’s – payment and bribes for his continued mercenary service. If Mangler was dead, then the loot was for the taking. As was command of Mangler’s warriors! If Razger left now, with all the loot and whichever lads could still march, that wouldn’t be so bad. Indeed, it was probably better than things had been before the battle, when virtually none of the loot was his and only half of his army could be trusted. Razger’s mouth twisted into a grin, as wicked as it was fierce, and he shouted to two of his lads to listen up.
The dwarfs dragged Duke Scaringella away from the heap of dead and dying Cathayans, then turned him over to look at him properly. There was no sign of life in his eyes, and his chest plate was caved in so deep his ribs must all have broken and his lungs burst beneath. They laid him down gently, then all but one returned to their places in the regiment, while one of them ran towards the arch-lector to deliver the bad news.
To the south of the battlefield, Duke Guidobaldo Gondi had rendezvoused with Visconte Carjaval, and was now riding, somewhat faster than the scattered clumps of footsoldiers around him, in a wide arc to avoid the foe and get to the Reman lines. There he hoped to find his son, and whatever remained of his army.
Back at the ogres’ wagons, gnoblars, draft-slaves and bulls alike, watched with suspicion as two ogres, Razger’s lads, raced towards them.
As they drew close, the nearest shouted.
“Hitch ‘em up and get ready to shift. We’re moving off now.”
One of the bulls by the wagons, called Gordok, strode forwards, a great long whip in hand. “On whose say so?” he demanded.
“Razger’s orders,” came the answer.
“I take orders from Mangler, like most of us here. Razger can ask him if he wants some shiftin’ done.”
“You’ll not be getting orders from Mangler n’more,” said the new arrival, laughing. “So if ya know what’s good for yer, you’ll shut it, an’ do as yer told.”
The battle was effectively over by the end of turn 3! Which was helpful as our time was up too. 10.00 – 5.00 had seemed like plenty of time, but the armies were so big, and the conversation flowed fully. Luckily, this did not in any way hinder the game-world outcome or story, because the table top was indeed divided. From here on in it would be like starting another battle, this time fighting from east to west rather than from north to south. None of the players would have wanted that even if there was time. Matt (Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona) had little left of his forces, and his only hops was to regain some sort of a force from casualty recovery and retreating what he had from the field. He was also hoping his son Silvano’s ‘Character Recovery Roll’ (a campaign rules chart) might bring the lad back. This is indeed possible as he wasn’t over-killed, although it is only a 5+ chance after a draw. He has have yet to make that roll.
Jamie, aka Razger Boulderguts, had begun the battle with renewed confidence. Earlier in the week he had worried about the enemy having 1500 more points, and whether he could trust Mangler, wondering whether Razger should simply flee away, perhaps attempting to employ Mangler’s slow-moving force (due to the baggage train) as a stall. But as the armies were being deployed for the game, and he considered the two opposing players difficulties in coordination on the field, as well as his own obvious strength (despite the points on paper disparity), I could see he was much more confident. In truth, he went away happy, because he now has a chance of re-possessing all the loot, possibly gaining control of Mangler’s ogres to replace the losses in his own ranks, and even perhaps getting back ‘home’ to Campogrotta in the north. (All that, I presume, will be in the campaign thread later.)
You probably noticed that the NPC Duke Scaringella of Remas failed the character recovery roll, scoring a measly 2, thus the dwarfs finding him dead. The player playing him, and commanding all the Reman forces, was Damo (who actually plays Lord Alessio Falconi of Portomaggiore in the campaign) had been given a character guide of two full pages of background, motivations and political goals, as well as the full army list etc. I have to say he played the part very well. If you want to know his motivations in a nutshell, then see the end of the prequel story, which was fashioned out of the information I gave to Damo. Excerpt …
“[Scaringella] must defend Remas, of course, either by destroying the ogres or chasing them away. His victory must be glorious, so he can return to Remas as a hero, winning the citizens’ favour. He must earn a good portion of the loot so that he can feed and pay the army; and he must prove to be so effective on the field of battle that the Pavonan duke is grateful, becoming an important ally during the struggle ahead. Yet he must do all these things without suffering crippling losses, for he will need the army to put the Disciplinati di Morr back in their place upon [the arch-lector’s] return to Remas.”
Admittedly, his death does not sound too successful, and the Remans never got the ogres’ loot, but I am saying he played the role amazingly well, not that the character was happy about the result! All the way through Damo was happy to give advice to his ally, and did so in such a way that it took until turn 2 before the rest of us realised that the Pavonans had been tricked into doing nearly all the hard fighting! The result was quite a good one for Remas: the arch-lector lives, having much of the Reman army left (1/3 casualties on the field are also be recovered after a draw). They have chased the ogres away, thus gaining a victory (another one) to win support for the arch-lector back home. And the Pavonans might be very loyal allies, especially if they desperately need help! That isn’t bad compared to defeat and annihilation!
I would love to go into all the political repercussions and other potential consequences of the battle, as well as what the various parties involved might do as a result of it, but I can’t. For a start, I can’t discuss players’ plans and thoughts for gameplay reasons. (That’s why I do so many stories from NPC perspectives.) And secondly it would take so long that it would fill several pages with a tortuous explanation of ifs and buts, whys and hows, etc. Let’s just say it’s complicated! Very complicated. And changing all the time. It’ll all most likely come out in subsequent stories!
So with both sides unwilling to fight on, and both Remans and Razger finding something good about their situation (although not Duke Guidobaldo!), they agreed a draw. Both sides would now back away from each other, recovering what they could in the process without risking being drawn back into a fight.
Many thanks to Mark of M&L Models in Pontefract for hosting the game. It’s a great venue, welcoming and with good facilities (tables, scenery, etc). I heartily recommend it to any ‘local’ gamers, and I hope to use it again.
The Church of Nagash
Near Viadaza, northern Tilea, Spring 2403
The graveyards were empty, the tombs bereft of bones. Viadaza had been harvested of all that could be made undead many months before, upon Lord Adolfo’s command. Yet once again the city swarmed with the vampires’ servants, an army of animated warriors with or without rotting flesh, having this time marched upon the city rather than arisen within it. There had been no shortage of corpses after the battle of Ebino to swell the shambling horde, which meant Biagino, craving a flock for his new Church of Nagash, had been generously provided for. He arrived at the city with quite a congregation – not only the select few servants of his La Fraternita di Morti Irrequieti, but also the large and wild mob of his Disciplinati di Nagash. He had also been gifted the famous Cattedrale di Morr Re, which sat in its extensive grounds a little way north-east of the city walls. All this he received with a degree of satisfaction, but he knew it was not enough. If his church was to thrive, if Nagash was to be fed by its prayers and so return his blessings, then there was one more, vital thing he needed. Hopefully, Viadaza would provide.
As he waited before the castle-like front of the Cattedrale, he was attended by a cluster of servants.
Several zombies staggered hither and thither about their labours, lifting or dragging the last pieces of debris away so that the grassy space was almost pristine. Biagino’s guards and other servants, however, were silent and, for the most part, motionless. Three red-robed brothers stood in prayerful contemplation. They possessed a serenity which usually concealed their deep wickedness, yet at other times could lend it a sharper edge. For now, they merely waited.
The first of Biagino’s Disciplinati was also present, his head a battered mess of misshapen bone and torn flesh, his hands disfigured by their size, somehow both swollen and emaciated at one and the same time, the splayed fingers elongated beyond their natural length. He still wore the dedicant’s robes he had been captured in, bar the gloves (of course).
Biagino had intended to turn this man into one of his Irrequieti thralls, as he had done with several of those who had been captured alive, but in a fitful moment of uncontrolled bloodlust during the enspelling, he had gone a tad too far and accidentally killed the man. Unwilling to waste a corpse, he chose instead to re-animate it. Upon observing the result, he decided, there and then, to form his Disciplinati di Nagash – a huge mob of crazed un-corpses who would serve, as they had in life, as bloodthirsty dedicants, but this time as foot-soldiers for his new church’s unholy army. They would be the rank and file, while La Fraternita di Morti Irrequieti would be the clergy, clerks and commanders.
Apart from the rustling of leaves in the breeze and the faint sound of grunting and groaning from the foul mob contained within the cattedrali’s cloistered quadrangle, all was quiet on the tree-lined green.
Biagino had been waiting for another of his servants, a captain of his skeletal body-guard, to arrive. While he did so, he gave his mind up to the powerful swirl of gleeful desires born of his vampiric lusts, suffusing him thoroughly, and conjoining with the winds of magic animating his frame. He felt a surge building within him, and allowed it to pour outwards, feeding all those around him and amplifying the eerie sound issuing from within the walls behind him.
Then something bright caught his eye – sunlight reflecting from the curved blade of an ancient war scythe. The captain was already present!
“What news, captain?” Biagino demanded. “How many? And are they coming?”
The captain responded immediately, yet neither by movement nor sound. His answer was without words, for he knew not the modern tongue and had no tongue to speak it. It was contained in a thought, or rather the echo of a thought, which washed through Biagino’s mind with cruel clarity.
They are coming, but it will be some time yet. There are not many, less than a hundred.
The city is almost empty. All the rest have fled.
“Which means all I get are the slow, the foolish and the unlucky?”
“Yes,” said Biagino. “At least they are alive. And they must stay that way until they have yielded unto Nagash all that they can – every anguished prayer and fearful misery. I will turn their screams into hymns, their cries into plainsong. Their torment will be delicious as their suffering sates our lord’s hunger.”
He thought of the blood he would take from them in their last moments. It would be a meagre nourishment, like thin gruel, but in great quantity. This in turn stirred in him the ancient hunger, a distraction he refused to yield to.
“It seems we have time on our hands,” he said, wholly aware that he was making conversation for himself. “We shall put it to good use and further prepare this temple for its unholy purpose. I will have it made ready before the congregation arrive.”
Biagino turned to the first of his Disciplinati.
“I believe it is time for your brothers to begin their vapouring,” he declared. Then he looked upon the three Fraternita.
“Bring the tome,” he ordered. One of the red-robed thralls stepped forwards to proffer said book.
Biagino made a sign over the book and gave a short prayer in the classical Reman tongue:
“In virtute Nagash, non somnus, non requiem.”
The thrall then opened the book to a page marked by a finger bone and turned it around to allow Biagino to read its ancient text. He did so, aloud, intoning the words with exaggerated expression, an almost mocking tone. Allowing the etheric breeze to penetrate him deeply, to coalesce and swirl through and about his mind, he summoned his Disciplinati.
For a few moments only his shrill voice could be heard, but then another sound joined it, not one but many voices. They were wordless, first groans and moans, then guttural cries and growls. Biagino turned to look at the trees to his left. The others did the same …
… and he cried out,
“There! My bambini. See how they run!”
They poured from the catedrale, their pace frantic, their arms outstretched, still part-clothed in the ragged remains of their Morrite robes.
“Ha!” laughed Biagino. “Look at them! They have not forgotten, but now they dance for Nagash!”
The Disciplinati cavorted onwards, forming a long column. Some carried the weapons they had died with …
… while others ran empty handed.
Wild, they ran, barely balanced, as if they were falling ever forwards, each step made just in time to prevent a tumble.
Some wore the red or grey hoods of Morrite flagellants, others were topped with matted, ragged hair, while many were bald and bloody.
As they emerged from behind the trees onto the open space, their course altered.
The crazed column began to curve across the front of the catedrale, to commence a circumnavigation of the grounds.
Just as they had done at Ebino, when hurtling pell-mell around the holy carroccio, here and now they did the same, this time so that their clamourous cavorting might sanctify the catedrale. Now, however, they served a new god.
The newly fashioned Church of Nagash truly was a sight to behold!
The end of Spring, IC2403
Part One: (Excerpt from) ‘A New Scripture for the Enlightened. Chapter 14, The Devoted of Palomtrina’
It came to pass in the Spring of that year that the righteous of Palomtrina arose, after the last of the desert men had departed, and this multitude did cry out and promise themselves to Morr, desiring to be holy in his eyes, for they feared the imminent arrival of the undead and the brutes. Vallerius is the name of he who led them, their shepherd. And they did name themselves Morr’s Devoted. And their shepherd commanded them that they offer a sacrifice to the Lord Morr, which they did, putting off all their ornaments, burning and destroying utterly all the dainty works they had amassed, yielding their worldly wealth, offering up every gold and silver bauble they possessed unto the holy church. After which, the people lifted up their voices and wept with joy.
But they knew not that the chief among them, Shepherd Vallerius, was false, and through greed sinned against the Lord Morr, taking what he pleased from that which the Devoted had offered, diminishing its value greatly and concealing that which he had taken.
And still his greed was not sated, so he spake unto them and bore false witness, revealing that the Lord Morr had visited his dreams. And he beguiled them with his words. And he revelled in their admiration. And his pride swelled unbounded.
He commanded that they slay all those who had tended to the desert men before they departed, be they the innkeepers who had fed them …
… or merely their servants, even the children.
And he commanded them to show no mercy to those men who had traded goods with them …
… and to slay all the women who had known the desert men, then to plunder all that these people possessed, gifting the spoil to the leaders of the Devoted, that they might use it to procure arms and armour for the holy war. In their fury and fervour, the Devoted did shed the blood of the innocent: stoning them with stones and burning them with fire, utterly destroying them, man and woman, child and infant, not knowing that those things the shepherd had accused the people of were not sins in the eyes of Morr. And their hands were filled with blood. Yet they showed no mercy, despite the pleading of those they slew. And when the righteous priests tried to teach them the error of their ways, and were wroth with them, they did even slay them.
And they did spoil and plunder even as their prey lay dying, taking ox and sheep and ass, and all the goods they had stored, and all that was good in their eyes.
And when they gave thanks their prayers were in earnest, and they cried out for guidance that they might know what they should now do.
Holy Morr looked upon them and knew them to be his Devoted, despite that they were lied to by their false Shepherd. He knew that they had not forsaken him, though they were a trouble unto him. They were made unclean not of themselves, but by he who misled them, yet they could be made clean, ceasing to do all evil. And so Morr visited the shepherd in dreams, and troubled his spirit, and there showed unto him the place he must journey to, as well as he to whom the shepherd must answer.
And when the sleep broke from him the shepherd knew what must come to pass thereafter, and he was astonished, and at first knew not what to do, for the dream did make him afraid. So Morr took his hand to conduct him whither he was bound, and in turn the shepherd led his congregation to Remas, both he and they in dazed obedience.
Upon the journey the Devoted murmured among themselves, for they could see the consternation of their shepherd, and they were troubled by their thoughts. And Morr visited their dreams too, that they might grow to suspect their shepherd and know him for what he was. And when they came to Remas, they had come to know that Vallerius was a false prophet. So they bound him in fetters and delivered him into the hands of the Admonitor, that he might be judged according to the multitude of his sins, and that they too, in all humility, might be punished for the abominations they had done, for they knew they could not enter Morr’s garden carrying the burden of their sinfulness.
So they did scourge their flesh with flails and whips …
… the better to tear away their sins through painful subjection to Morr’s will. And for every blow they had struck against the innocent they administered a dozen blows unto their own bodies, in penance, and through this mortification they did purify themselves, and wash away all pride and arrogance, and all sinful thoughts.
And Morr revealed his wrath against the ungodly and unrighteous shepherd to the Admonitor, being the right-hand man of Father Carradalio, and made it known that Shepherd Vallerius must be punished for his iniquities. And the shepherd was taken to the field by the ruins of the Ludus Carracallus, in the company of several brothers of the Disciplinati di Morr, whom the Admonitor had declared to be blessed revengers fit to execute wrath upon him that hath done such evil.
In that place the shepherd knelt, for he could not stand before Morr’s indignation, and he knew full well what he had done and desired that he might be saved by Morr’s mercy. And he was pitiful in the brothers’ eyes. Prayers were said over him as he knelt, that his body might rest peacefully and that such a sinful soul as he would not rise from the grave to commit further wickedness.
While the brothers watched and waited for the appointed time, the shepherd’s vileness did reveal itself for he began to curse them, that they be punished for what they were doing, but they did not revile him in return for they knew from his words that he had been judged righteously, and so took comfort that it was indeed Morr’s will that was to be done.
And when the time came they smote him through his neck, and the blade went out at his throat.
And after an hour had passed, the Devoted were brought to the place of execution. There the Admonitor delivered his admonishment, saying:
“Hear my speech, and hearken to all my words. Your deeds may well have been inspired by Morr, howsoever misinterpreted by Shepherd Vallerius, who in his arrogance feigned an intimacy with Morr he did not possess ….
“I have no doubt that you were driven by an earnest desire to serve Morr Most High, to cleanse both yourselves and the world of all that offends him, and so you sinned in ignorance. It was Vallerius who caused thee to err, but err you did, and you will be judged. What you did was evil in the eyes of Morr and you must pray for forgiveness as you have never prayed before, and you must learn humility in the face of Morr, and bow to the wisdom of those who are closest to him, and who hear his words most clearly.
“Holy Morr does not whisper to our Holy Father Carradalio, but speaks loud and clear. You must not presume to know, from your own imaginings and convictions, what is right, nor what must be done, but rather must become fully obedient to the true church and its saints. You must prostrate yourselves before Morr’s altars, humble yourselves before his shrines, and offer yourselves body and soul into his service.
“I shall hereby make atonement for your sins, and I will ask that Holy Morr forgive you, that you may make afresh your covenant with him.”
And the holiest of books was brought to him that he might read from it and so bless them.
And a priest did intone the necessary prayers before the reading.
Beside him was the Blessed Ravern Standard that the Devoted were to pledge themselves to, as well as several of the most humble and holy priests of Remas …
And the throng of the Devoted did listen unto the words and their hearts were lifted as they knew that they were cleansed of their sins in the eyes of the Lord Morr, and that their hearts were delivered of all tribulations, so that they might now go forth and fight against the vampires and their foul servants until they had gotten the victory over them.
They were given a new Shepherd Marshall to govern them, and to lead them in battle. And the spirit of Morr filled them, until they cried as one,
“Thanks be to Morr!”
Next Installment: Part 17