The Hunter Hunted

North of Viadaza, Autumn IC 2403

Two weeks out from the city of Viadaza, the army of the Disciplinati di Morr ground to a halt. The Praepositus Generalis, Father Carradalio, had decided enough was enough. Every night more men had died, despite the army’s precautions: the guards and watches set, the prayers spoken, hymns sung and devotions chanted. Every day they would march on, tired from their sparse and fitful sleep, exhausting themselves further, only to suffer once more at the hands of the deadly, nocturnal hunter the next night. If this was allowed to continue, their holy war would be lost before they even reached the vampire duchess and what remained of her army.

So, when morning came, the army did not recommence its march, but instead slept through the daylight hours. Their camp was to the east of the ridge of rocky hills running north from Rapallo to the bridge at Pontremola, separating the ancient road from the sea. On the road’s other side was a wide stretch of flat, open land, all the way to the River Tarano. While almost everyone slept, a handful of dedicants, chosen by lot, guarded, using every trick they could think of to keep themselves awake. What with their penchant for self-flagellation and whipping themselves into a religious frenzy, many employed methods both painful and bloody!

When darkness fell, however, and the bruised and battered guards crawled into their tents and huts, the rest of the army awoke and organised for the night ahead. Father Carradalio had ordered a hunt to be mounted for the slippery fiend, involving every part of the army (bar those few who were dead on their legs from their daylight watch). Carradalio himself, his Admonitor Vincenzo and his bodyguard of blessed torch-bearing dedicants, would stand ready near the camp’s centre, while the larger bodies of dedicants formed a surrounding ring of companies at a distance of about a hundred yards. The lighter troops, including the dedicant crossbowmen, the Urbiman horse and mercenary crossbowmen, would circumnavigate the entire camp even further out. All were to keep their eyes peeled for signs of the fiend, and if they spotted him, were to raise a loud alarm (by various means) to call everyone else to their proximity. Having the general and his elite bodyguard centrally placed ensured they would be among the first to reinforce whichever company had discovered the enemy.

This proved more difficult than Father Carradalio had hoped, for the foe was either slippery, cautious, or both. A trail was discovered, along with two corpses and three dead mules (apparently from fright!). The dedicants moved promptly, exactly as planned, but the fiend escaped. There was great frustration and disappointment, but Carradalio felt in his gut that the fiend could not elude him much longer, and both Admonitor Vincenzo and his dreams the next day confirmed his belief. As it grew dark on the evening of the army’s second day of camping, he knew the enemy would be found that night. He did not know whether the monster could be defeated, for his dreams had been cut short by his awakening just as the fiend came close, only that it would certainly be discovered.

In the second hour after midnight, with both white and green moons high in the sky, Carradalio’s prophecy proved true. He himself spotted the vampire, Lord Adolfo, lurking by a hut only two dozen yards away.

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Adolfo’s once-living body had been bent and bloated into a horribly bestial form, and a ridge of horny protuberances had burst through the flesh of his back. His skin seemed blue in the moons’ light; his eyes, made small by the bony excesses of his face, were wholly bloodshot; his teeth and nails had become fangs and talons. He had long since given up wearing clothes, for there were none made that would fit such a frame as his, and he had given no thought to having any made. Such niceties were forgotten, to be replaced by a passionate rage, a vicious hunger and a loyalty to his mistress that had long since strayed far from the wrong side of madness.

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Carradalio sensed the vampire had not yet noticed him, and so before raising the ‘all-arm’, before even signalling to his bodyguards, he whispered a prayer to channel Morr’s will and send harm upon the foe. He could feel his words made real. For a moment his own eyes became those of holy Morr himself and power flowed through them to lash out. But the vampire merely flinched, as if the curse were nothing more than a nip to gain his attention. He turned to look upon the priest, slowly lifting a huge scimitar aloft as if about to hurl it.

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“He is here!” cried Carradalio, his voice revealing only angry determination.

The vampire took no more than three leaping strides before his way to Carradalio was blocked by the priest-general’s dedicant bodyguards, with many more arriving behind. Each was robed in the grey and red favoured by Morrite clergy, their flowing garments concealing the scabs and scars of many months of flagellation. They wielded either axes or blades, with most carrying a burning torch in their other hand.

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These were not ordinary torches – the flames not merely fire. Each one had been blessed by holy ritual, making them both mundane and magical, to burn with a heat both real and ethereal. The flickering tongues were otherworldly, as if holes had been torn in the air itself to allow the light and heat of another realm to curl through. Were they to singe Adolfo’s flesh, his enchantments would not have healed him, for these torches burnt away the stuff of magic as well as that of the material world.

But so swift was his stab and slash that not one flame did touch him, and the dedicants began to fall, lifeless, all around him. Leaping over their corpses came Vincenzo, bearing his staff with its amulet of holy water, shouting his own prayers to join with Carradalio’s chanting. Yet nothing that Morr had to offer could pierce the evil magics shielding the vampire, and before Vincenzo had even swung his own blade, Adolfo cut him in two at the belly, spattering gobbets of blood to fizzle in the flames born by the few dedicants still on their feet.

In barely a blink there was only one bodyguard remaining …

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… and in half a breath he too was dispatched with ease. Father Carradalio had time to say only Morr’s name, before the vampire’s huge blade plunged through his chest. Adolfo grunted with glee, then hefted the blade upwards, so hurling the lifeless priest-general nearly a dozen yards to smash into a wagon.

The vampire froze, his giant blade clutched in both hands and dripping with blood. For the briefest moment he allowed himself to revel in his slaughterous butchery, to inhale the delicious, sanguine stench surrounding him. Then he caught sight of the mob. Swinging his head quickly about he discovered they were all around, and in some deep recess of what was left of his mind he knew that his end had come. It was a mere fragment of consciousness, buried in a mire of brutal cunning, bestial anger and ravenous hunger, and was quickly forgotten.

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Even as his blade recommenced its bloody work, the mob closed in on him, relentless. They were driven by a shared frenzy, cultivated through cruel exercises, perfected by hard practice, which despite being a temporary phenomenon, was in that moment not one jot less furious than Adolfo’s own.

From all sides came spear, axe, flail and blade.

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Each and every one was thrust or swung with no care for the wielders’ own safety, nor that of their comrades, so that umpteen of their own succumbed to the torrent of blows. And at the epicentre of the swirling rage, his foul blood gushing from umpteen wounds, Adolfo was hewn to pieces.

When the crazed combat finally subsided, the dedicants reeled away. Some sobbed into their hands, others cried out with faces raised to the sky, and yet more stumbled silently in shock, weapons held slack in their hands.

Father Carradalio was dead. Brother Vincenzo too. They were leaderless, the best of them butchered, with their work still yet to be done. They had not even crossed the bridge into the Vampire Duchess’s realm, and already they suffered a potentially fatal wound.

Was Morr testing them? Or did he already consider them unworthy of his blessing? Either way, the self-scourging was soon to begin, more bloody than ever.

………………………………….

‘Game’ Notes:

In order to resolve this encounter, as part of an ongoing wargames campaign, I had to play it out. Considering how short-lived a conflict it could prove to be, with one side having only one model, I did not think it worthy of inviting any player(s) to a table-top battle, so I played it out myself. One side was now an NPC faction, and the other side is commanded by a player 300 miles away, who thus doesn’t command on the tabletop. No fudging or ignoring rolls which appeared to lessen the story – instead I accepted whatever results came up.

It may interest the wargamers among you to read the gaming notes of the fight described in the above story, and so here they are:

Having created charts to roll on concerning whether Adolpho or the cultists had surprise, who exactly saw who first, and whether or not the cultists involved in the initial encounter were alone, it was Caradallio who first spotted Lord Adolfo the vampire. Attempting to capitalise on the surprise, he conjured the prayer ‘Morr’s Glare’ to curse the vampire. This was cast successfully, but Carradalio only rolled 1 wound, which the vampire then regenerated!

Adolfo now charged Carradalio but the general’s bodyguard (10 strong, with blessed torches that do away with regeneration saves and can harm ethereal creatures) got in the way. Adolfo could not challenge Carradalio as the bodyguard’s sole goal was to protect their ‘praepositus generalis’, and so I decided they were firmly in the way.

The 415 pts vampire was a killing machine – he had ‘beguile’ to ensure the enemy struggled to hit him; a ‘Sword of Bloodshed’ giving +3 attacks (8 in total); he was very strong, very tough, and regenerated his wounds. On top of all of this he had ‘red fury’ which meant all his successful wounds become an extra attack – e.g. 8 attacks, 6 kills, 6 wounds, then he gets 6 more attacks (but no more after that!) So I knew this was going to get messy.

Adolfo killed 7 of the 10 bodyguard. The surviving three failed to scratch him, even with 2 re-rollable attacks each.

Vincenzo now appeared and charged into combat. He attempted the prayer ‘Morr’s touch’ to reduce Adolfo’s Ld stat (aiding later spells). Dispelled. Carradalio tried to cast Morr’s Curse to wound the vampire. Dispelled. Carradalio successfully cast Morr’s Glare, but the vampire and him equalled their Ld +D6 scores, and so there was no effect. Carradalio attempted the prayer ‘Holiest Protection’ to give the dedicants a ward save. Dispelled.

The dice rolling for the Disciplinati di Morr has so far been truly AWFUL. I was so tempted to cheat, but I stuck to my guns and went with whatever, according to the rules and the dice, was actually unfolding. I have always done this with the campaign, that way even I don’t know what the future holds. I am thus a participant and a recorder of events, rather than the author of them.

Adolfo slaughtered Vincenzo, overkilling him. (Vincenzo had ‘challenged’ the vampire, now that there weren’t too many dedicant bodyguards to get in the way and they weren’t frenzied anymore, to buy Carradalio and the surviving bodyguard some time.)

In Adolfo’s round, I didn’t allow Adolfo to issue vs Carradalio as the 3 crazed bodyguards were still fighting to keep him from their commander. (Although they had lost their frenzy now.) Adolfo killed all three of them, then killed Carradalio, his ‘red fury’ allowing him to ‘overkill’ several times. (I know it wasn’t technically a challenge, but extra successful attacks informed the story I was to write – thus Carradalio’s dramatic demise).

The Disciplinati had lost their Praepositus Generalis, holy Fr. Carradalio, and their Admonitor brave Vincenzo, and their most blessed cultists, the general’s bodyguard.

Now one of the two big surviving flagellant units showed up, being the smaller of the two, with 32 cultists, armed with nasty flails, (+2 str in the first round) and frenzied.

Adolfo issues a challenge, but I reckoned that they all just piled in furious – how would such crazed loons stop to watch a challenge fought? Two cultists died whipping themselves into a fury (The End is Nigh!), so that they were now frenzied (extra attacks), and re-rolled failed to hits and to wounds! The vampire effectively had a horde against him, fighting three deep – that’s an extra 3 attacks for a total of 13 attacks at 5 Str in the 1st round.

Adolfo beguiled the unit leader (making it harder for him to attack) then killed 6 cultists. (His rolls were on the wrong side of average this time) The cultists then laid into him, flailing him so bloodily that he became a (dead) lump of battered flesh. (With re-rolls to hit and wound, 5 got through, of which not one was regenerated.)

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