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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 …
… 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.
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.
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.
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.)
A Fair Share
The City of Campogrotta, Autumn 2403
It was the middle of the morning when Glammerscale encountered the damsel Perrette. As before, her face immediately lit up with a smile and she invited him to walk together a while, which suited him well for it had been his intention to talk with her. His servant, Thaldrin, a short, round fellow with a neatly trimmed beard, fell in behind the two of them as they made progressed along the way behind the ruined walls of Campogrotta.
Along almost the entire, ragged stretch of tumbled-stones there were scattered labourers and masons, both dwarfs and men, as well as ladders, piles of wooden planks, and other necessaries for the fashioning of scaffolding needed to begin the repairs. Campogrotta had suffered greatly from the attentions of the dwarfen artillery, especially the ancient ‘cannon-imperial’, Granite Breaker.
“You were hoping to meet with me, master Glammerscale?” suggested Perrette.
“Aye, my lady, I was. There’s much afoot and I would know your opinions concerning it all.”
“I think, in truth, it is my intentions that most concern you,” said the damsel with a grin. “And I suspect it is Thane Narhak who wants to know. I doubt he was keen to speak to such as I and so sent you as a suitable emmissary?”
“It is no burden for me, my lady,” said Glammerscale. “But aye, the thane is most keen to learn of your plans.”
“Master Glammerscale, you are a very poor spy,” Perrette said, chuckling.
“So poor,” he agreed, “that I had not even realised I was one.”
“Or, perhaps, you are so good a spy that you can conjure an illusion of honesty and lure me into a false sense of security?”
“I always strive for honesty, my lady,” said Glammerscale. “And so, with that in mind, I am told you have considerable influence now, like unto a captain.”
“The Brabanzon behave as if I were a queen,” she said, fixing her eyes upon him, channeling a most regal stare.
Glammerscale had witnessed her in action before the walls of Campogrotta, watching the fire she conjured broiling the brutes’ slaughtermaster. He had heard also heard how she had tumbled several lead-belchers from the wall during the first assault, causing them to explode as they fell!
“I think, my lady, they have every reason to show you due respect.”
Perette laughed at this. “If that were the case, then why do they not bow before the mighty empress Granite Breaker? I may have singed the ogres’ flesh a little but look here, look at what her massive majesty did.”
She gestured to the huge fissure in the wall they were passing, as if Glammerscale needed it pointing out.
It was his turn to laugh. “Ah, but my lady, Granitebreaker, despite her enormous size, is a dwarf, and the Brabanzon would surely never kneel to a dwarf.”
“Their days of kneeling for anything other than money are long gone,” said Perette. “What respect they have for me is born of fear.”
“Is that not the case in many a kingdom?” asked Glammerscale.
Perette did not answer immediately but came to a halt. She watched a pair of Brabanzon soldiers walk by, acknowledging their bows by gesturing with her fan, then seemed caught in a moment’s reverie.
“Now that both the Wolf and Jean dead,” she said, “as well as their closest companions, the survivors have elected me captain. If you and Thane Narhak are surprised to hear this, then I assure you that I am more so. I knew they had shaken off the yoke of vassalage to the nobility, but in choosing me it appears they care for very few of any of our homeland’s traditions.”
“Are you not honoured by this turn of events?”
“I suppose, in some ways. They no longer … pester me like they used to! Yet, I cannot say I am pleased by this turn of events. Responsibility does not sit comfortably on my shoulders.”
“I am glad to say I never had much responsibility, beyond a few servants to command and apprentices to instruct,” admitted Glammerscale. “If it means anything to you, my lady, I think the Brabanzon have chosen wisely.”
Perrette gave a little curtsey, saying, “I thank thee, good master dwarf.”
“So, captain of the Brabanzon, now that you have been paid what was promised, and your soldiers have had their desire for plunder sated, I must ask, will you go to Ravola with the wounded baron?”
“He has asked, and I have promised to put it to the men. We are a very democracy, you see, when it comes to such decisions.”
“You spoke with Baron Garoy, then?” asked Glammerscale.
“No, he sent one of his cavaliers. I asked the man if the baron was recovering well, but he simply said he had yet to get over the worst of it. Do you know if he is likely to live?”
“He is being tended day and night by the Sisters of Shallya and is under the care of the best doctor remaining in the city.”
Glammerscale hesitated a moment, then admitted. “In truth, I suspect the man is probably the only doctor in the city! Still, the baron is young, and the doctor assured me the break was simple. He still has the leg. He might walk forevermore with a limp, but what Bretonnian knight chooses to walk anyway?”
“Well, his messenger had little to say and could not answer at all when I asked about the terms of the proposed employment.”
“I doubt the baron himself has considered such details yet. Do not concern yourself, he’ll be fit to talk long before he’s fit to travel and so there will be plenty of time for such discussions.”
Perrette fanned herself a moment, then with a wry smile asked, “I wonder if he’ll receive me in his chambers for our negotiations?”
Glammerscale knew there was a joke in there somewhere but could not for the life of him work out how to ask without risking great offence. Had she been intimate with the young baron on their journey here? Was she suggesting she might become so? Or was it some reference to his arrogant nobility and her dubious past? He decided to play it safe and talk about chamber instead.
“The baron is comfortably lodged in what they say was wizard Lord Niccolo’s chamber. He has the largest bed in the city.”
“I wonder if the brute Boulderguts used the same the bed.”
“I doubt even that bed would have been of sufficient capacity for the likes of him!”
“This wizard-lord, Niccolo,” asked Perrette. “Has he been found?”
Glammerscale frowned. “No, nor is there any clue he ever was here in Campogrotta. A very mysterious sort of man, I have to say, for the supposed ruler of a city realm. The chamber in question contained no personal possessions and was buried beneath so much dust and cobwebs it cannot have been used in some considerable time. And he apparently had neither courtiers nor servants to tend to his needs.”
“I asked some citizens,” said Perrette. “They talked of him – his tyranny and cruel proclamations. One of them told me he treated them no better than the ogres’ goblin-runt servants. But they never saw him Not once! There was a friend of a friend, who saw him, or a neighbour’s nephew, and so on, but no-one I could speak to.”
Glammerscale had heard much the same. Only the previous day, Thane Narhak suggested Niccolo must have been as old as it was possible for a man to be, and maybe a little older than that, and as such would hardly have been able to address the crowds, never mind inspire fear in them. Besides, the thane had added, Niccolo had the ogres to do the frightening, and everything else too. The man did not have to leave his rooms.
But none of that rang true for Glammerscale. Although he had said nothing at the time, he was beginning to think there was something everyone was missing concerning the wizard lord, and not just the unused chamber. There had long been rumours that Lord Niccolo was a vampire, thus his unnatural age. This was why several Tileans had suggested there must be an alliance between the vampire duchess and Niccolo, such that while the brutes tore their way through the heart of Tilea, the vampires had conquered the north – and although neighbours, they conveniently stayed out of each other’s way. Niccolo had sent a company of brutes and the last of Campogrotta’s human soldiers to join Arch-Lector Calictus II’s holy war against the vampire duchess, but he had also dispatched Razger Boulderguts to ravage the homes of the soldiers in that same army! Hardly the actions of a true ally in the fight against the vampires.
Glammerscale was not at all convinced. Vampires might shun the daylight, but not the night-time too. They needed blood and when they ruled a realm they were not shy in the drinking of it, and when made mighty by their sanguine sustenance, they need not hide every moment in the shadows. Nor did they surround themselves with brute ogres, instead siring other vampires for their courts and resurrecting the dead for their armies.
There was definitely something more to the wizard lord; something Glammerscale could not put his finger on.
He noticed the two Brabanzon who had passed them by had come to halt by a doorway, far enough away that they could not hear what he said.
“My advice, should you wish to take it my lady, is to get more than gold from the baron for your continued service. Without the Brabanzon, he could do nothing now. What few ogres are said to remain in Ravola could easily defend the city against what few knights the baron commands. If your assistance is all that makes his conquest possible, then you and the men of the Brabanzon should expect to receive land too. You deserve a means to live and thrive, if you wish it.”
“It seems to me that you dwarfs think of us as seeds to be planted, so that come harvest time there will be good trade to be had.”
Glammerscale chuckled at this. “Trade is good, I cannot deny it. And yes, it is better to have strong neighbours as future allies, rather than rat-infested ruins. But many Brabanzon fell before the walls of Campogrotta, and those who survived deserve more than mere gold. There is good soil and sturdy homes to be had in Ravola. A chance for old soldiers to live well.”
“Then there is more for us to vote upon. If the men want it, then I shall demand it.” Fixing eyes upon him once again, she asked, “You speak of prosperous neighbours, master dwarf. What of Campogrotta itself? Now that his army has taken the city, is King Jaldeog not to rule here?”
“Oh, our king has no desire whatsoever to possess this city.” …
… “But like I said, and the king agrees, trade is good. Ravola is a Bretonian realm in Tilea, but Campogrotta is thoroughly Tilean. Its future has already been decided upon. The Compagnia del Sole, being nearly all Tileans, are to govern here, as part and parcel of their payment.”
Perrette snorted. “I suppose it costs a lot to replace their shoes.”
Glammerscale need not ask to what she was referring. The Compagnia had arrived too late to join in the assault upon Campogrotta, and now that it was becoming clear that Razger Boulderguts was unlikely to return to reclaim the city, their service was turning out to be all marching and no fighting!
“They fulfilled their contract,” he said. “And we have paid them, part in gold and part with the rule of Campogrotta. They might have accepted Campogrotta alone if your Brabanzon had not already removed so much of worth.”
“As we were promised, Master Glammerscale.”
“Aye, my lady. Well and good. I am not suggesting any wrong-doing on your behalf. Not at all. Both your company and the Compagnia del Sole have received proper recompense.”
Perrette looked around, shrugged, then asked, “Where are the new rulers, then?”
“They’ll be here tomorrow. Right now, Captain Bruno Mazallini is to swear an oath before the statue of the goddess Myrmidia in Buldio, where the Battle of the Fog was fought centuries ago.”
“All the Compagnia’s officers and chancellors are to swear too. It is to be quite the ceremony …”
“… drums, colours, and all the military rigmarole that suits such a solemn and binding oath before the goddess.”
“Thane Narhak himself will witness it.”
“Swear what exactly?” asked Perrette.
“That Captain Mazallini and his officers shall govern Campogrotta as agents of King Jaldeog’s will, heeding his majesty’s advice and instructions, doing all they can to make the city realm prosper, for three years, after which the city will become theirs entirely, in permanent friendship with Karak Borgo.”
“Not the king’s vassals?”
“No, as allies and trading partners. You see, who better than an army of veteran soldiers to defend this city at such a time of troubles? My advice to them was the same I gave to you.”
“So you are planting more seeds, master dwarf? Let’s hope the crop does not turn out to be weeds!”
“I like to think that whatever grows here and in Ravola, it has to be far more fruitful and pleasant than the brutes we have driven out!”
Next Installment: Part 23