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Thread: Finals: Les Miserables

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    Finals: Les Miserables

    The finals will begin Monday April 24, 2017 at 3 PM EST. They will last 2 weeks. You may post at any pace, including a last minute post dump.

    In Akashima, Fordstein’s ploy was successful. Corone’s united army overwhelmed Akashima’s inferior force, and the former Senator was named Baron. In Gisela, Gum and Phyr failed in their mission to deliver the artifact, colloquially known as the ‘Thunderbox’, to Terrence Edim. The Thunderbox was lost to an agent of Fordstein, the assassin Cherub, and Gum and Phyr were captured by Fordstein following the betrayal of Ceidon Lore’s former shipmate, Saieda. With knowledge of a new world teeming with magic courtesy of Saieda and the ‘Thunderbox’ in tow thanks to the Cherub, Baron Fordstein took command of Corone’s navy and sailed on the new world with an invading force.

    You must write a solo, concluding your character’s role in the epoch. Somewhere in the body of your quest, you must:

    1) Name the new land and its people. Additional descriptions, such as city names, flora and fauna will become canon should you win, but only the first two are required.
    2) Baron Fordstein must die. The method is up to you.
    3) Decide the fate of the Tribe and the resistance (both of which can be renamed).

    Keep in mind, as indicated in the opening narrative, magic does not work like normal in the new land. Your ability to reflect this creatively will impact your score. Any NPCs adopted into the story may be used in your threads. Please avoid using other PCs.
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  2. #2
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    “Brace for impact!” The strident voice of Captain Phyr Sa’resh rang out from the frigate’s quarterdeck. The old dark elf clutched the bulwark with his lone left arm, leaning heavily on the stout wooden railing as the Coronian military vessel cut through the waters of the cat folk main harbor. A half dozen ships sailed in formation behind his, like a flock of geese migrating to warmer climes. He had selected only the heaviest armored vessels for the brazen assault.

    The scream of splintering wood tore at the aurora-filled air as Coronian vessels rammed into docked cat folk ships. Phyr’s hip smashed painfully against the bulwark, but he gritted his teeth and sucked a salty breath.

    “Skirmish lines, forward! Sweep the streets!”

    Groups of Akashiman samurai in light leather armor leaped over the edge of the ship, unsheathing their deadly katanas as they raced to meet the cat folk who scrambled to defend. Warning bells rang out from tall wooden scout towers, but the assaulting force had already bypassed the deadly harbor batteries.

    Silver-furred musketeers formed firing blocks along the main cobblestone roads, but the chaos of the screeching common folk upset their aim. Mottle-furred cats fled the invaders in every direction, footpaws pounding up dust along the hardpack side streets.

    The chaos worked well for the swift-moving samurai. They fought in fists throughout the streets, using the wood and stone buildings of the main harbor as cover when the musketeers fired, and then charging recklessly to spill the blood of the silver furs.

    Before long they captured the first scout tower, and soon the peal of bells fell from stereo to singular. The uniformed cat folk rallied to the remaining tower and staged a brave final stand, but they broke beneath the ferocity of the samurai. The Akashiman warriors still bore the pain of the invasion of their own lands, and fought like men possessed. Their baron had made them promises of plunder and glory in these magical, unknown lands to the south.

    The newly branded Baron of Akashima waited offshore with his reserve forces, the Coronian soldiers who had won him his claim. Only Fordstein’s silver tongue and political savvy had netted him the support of the samurai he’d so recently defeated.

    The skeleton crew remaining on Phyr’s ship gave a rousing cry as their comrades took the second scout tower, and the bells stopped ringing across the harbor. The dark elf could hear pained mewling and groaning from the injured and dying on both sides. He could hear the sailors on deck, asking him for fresh orders. He could hear the crackle and pop of ethereal energies in the air. Only one sound truly registered.

    Overhead, Baron Fordstein’s banner snapped and rippled in the wind. The black snake surrounded the red eagle, but Phyr could feel its steely coils wrapped around his neck, strangling him ever so slowly.

  3. #3
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    Gisela, some weeks earlier.

    “Remove Captain Sa’resh’s manacle please, he is my guest.” The sly voice of Baron Fordstein rang with charm as much as command. The liveried guard did as bidden, removing the shackle that had chafed Phyr’s wrist raw over the past several days. The dark elf did not know exactly how long he had been prisoner in the manor house’s dark, cold basement. Brilliant spots still danced before his eyes as they adjusted to the oil lanterns that illuminated the dining hall.

    “Have a seat,” Fordstein gestured to the long teak table and sanded mahogany chairs. “Eat, you must be famished.”

    Phyr tried to ignore the savoury smells of roasted chicken and freshly baked bread that wafted from the generous spread. Fordstein’s men had fed him nothing but hardtack and plain water during his imprisonment. His stomach rumbled, and his eyes lit on a flagon of deep red wine. He had not consumed alcohol in more than two years, yet the bottle called to him like a siren song. Sa’resh sat, but made no move toward the food or drink.

    “Good,” Fordstein said with a nod. He pointed with a half-eaten leg of chicken as grease dripped down his whiskered chin. “I confess I did not enjoy shuttering you away, but it did seem necessary. You caused quite a bit of trouble, throwing in your lot with old Gum.”

    Phyr bit his tongue to stifle any response. The baron smiled and wiped his mouth with a silken handkerchief.

    “Of course, you must be concerned for your compatriot. Like any good captain should be. Do not fret; no harm will come to dear Gum. Or rather, nothing more than he can handle.” The wizened baron gave a wink and then sipped wine from his goblet. “I’m not a complete monster, after all.”

    “You murdered Edim,” Sa’resh spat, losing his silence to emotion, “he was as good and true a man as ever I knew. And you killed a child before my very eyes. I have met monsters before in my travels… but never one so ravenous for carnage as you.”

    “Technically, the Cherub killed both of them.” Fordstein chortled, referring to his pet assassin. “But I thought that might loosen your tongue. Very well, you caught me; I am a monster indeed.” He reached both hands across the table, wrists pressed together. “Clap me in irons, captain!” Another chortle shook his soft belly and rounded shoulders, and he smoothed his sleek moustache. “Strange the way the world works, isn’t it? For all your honor and goodness, for all my misdeeds, it is you who sits in my captivity. You were advisor to the Baron of Serenti, captain. Surely by now you’ve learned that virtue bears no value in the Republic of Corone.”

    “I’m no captain,” Phyr tried to growl, but it came out a whisper.

    “No?” Fordstein waved a hand as if shooing a pesky fly. “Let us examine your recent history.” He held up the thumb of his right hand. “You turned a humanitarian mission to a refugee camp into a military effort that nearly stopped the cat folk in their tracks.” His index finger joined the thumb. “You ventured into the Jagged Mountains and found an artifact that might turn the tide of any war,” his middle finger extended, counting three. “You scraped together a fighting force at the last minute in Underwood, where the Watch still calls you captain, and struck down what remained of the invading musketeers.” A fourth finger joined the others. Fordstein had immaculately manicured nails. “And finally, you brought the artifact safely to Gisela, for which I owe you my thanks.”

    The baron clapped his hands, and the liveried guard entered through an open doorway at the end of the hall. He carried the artifact Phyr had found in the Jagged Mountains… the Thunderbox. It glistened in the lantern light, its many runes seeming to shimmer, and it gave a heavy thunk as the guard set it on the table at Fordstein’s elbow and then whisked away.

    “You are well informed,” Phyr admitted grudgingly. His mind raced like a clock set to double time. How many of the folk he’d encountered on his journey were secretly in Fordstein’s employ? A wave of nausea wracked his body as he questioned the motives of each individual he’d trusted along the way. The guard returned with Phyr’s flintlock cutlass and set it on the table close to hand. The gunblade’s firing mechanism looked freshly oiled, the scabbard recently polished, but it was not loaded.

    “There’s little on Corone one can’t learn, if one spreads gold to the right purses.” The baron picked up his goblet and swirled the wine pensively. A long silence pressed Phyr’s slender shoulders against the high back of his chair. Fordstein chewed and sipped patiently until the dark elf spoke.

    “Why am I alive? What do you want with me?”

    “My dear captain, I should think that would be obvious.” Fordstein wiped his mouth again and steepled his fingers. “Not everything Saieda told you was a lie. Her expedition did indeed discover the lands of the cat folk to the south, and it is a land rich with magic, and ripe for the taking. I am planning a military incursion to avenge their attacks on Corone, and I should like you to lead my troops into battle.”

    “I’m certain you could find someone more suitable than a feeble, one-armed old elf.”

    “Perhaps I could,” Fordstein smiled, “but no one else is known across Corone as the Scourge of the Silver Furs. Your presence will be good for politics, and good for soldier morale. And I must admit, your knowledge of gunpowder weapons does seem to lend you an advantage against the cat folk.”

    “So you’ve reason for wanting me,” Phyr spoke defiantly, wise eyes as hard as two sapphires. “But I have no reason to help you.”

    Fordstein waved a dismissive hand. “Motivation can be easily supplied. I know you are fond of Mayor Aldebrand of Underwood, and have several other close friends in that town. If you refuse the mantle of captain of my forces, I fear they may all disappear overnight.”

    A bead of icy sweat trickled down Phyr’s spine. Fordstein had found a crack in his steely resolve, and packed it with black powder and lit the fuse. Sa’resh’s gaze fell and his shoulders slumped. His eyes lit on the flintlock cutlass within easy reach, its edge keen, its point deadly.

    Perhaps if I cut the head off this snake, the body will die as well. Phyr reached out his lone hand and picked up… a leg of chicken. He bit hungrily into the spiced meat, chewing rapidly before swallowing and tearing off another mouthful. The food fueled his body, but the flavor could not lift his flattened spirits.

    “Good,” Fordstein’s smarmy smile widened. “Good.”

  4. #4
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    The wind carried the scent of cat blood and burning flesh. It fanned the flames of the corpse fires which crackled along the outskirts of the harbor, and sidled between the soldiers and sailors dragging the bodies of the dead to be burned. It swirled dust along the dirt roads and eddied against the wood and stone buildings bordering the cobbled streets.

    Phyr Sa’resh inhaled deeply, and by Am’aleh’s eyes, he could taste the arcane energies in the air. The Alerian elf stood atop the first belltower the samurai had conquered. It provided a full panoramic view of the harbor, the surrounding slums, and the hilly forest beyond. The cobbled streets of the harbor proper extended only a few blocks in every direction; beyond that the roads became dirt, and the dwellings simple mud brick.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a disparity of wealth. The part of the harbor surrounding the watchtower somewhat resembled an Alerian port; structures of stone and wood rose two and three stories high, blocky yet well masoned and smoothly sanded. Beyond those buildings, however, the area looked more like a Dheathic slum. The mud brick homes and dirt roads showed not an inkling of the high technology commanded by the cat folk.

    “Captain Sa’resh,” a voice came from behind the dark elf. He squared his shoulders and turned, putting on an air of command and gazing imperiously down his long, crooked nose.

    The speaker was Phyr’s first mate from the frigate, a short and stocky sailor named Palmer who wore a red bandana angled to hide his missing ear. Sa’resh had gained respect for the man during the crossing, having relied entirely on the human’s nautical knowledge to complete the journey.

    “Sir,” the sailor said, touching his forehead in a brief salute, “we’ve routed the cat folk, and set guards and patrols as you commanded. Scouts are being sent out as I speak. Only problem is, the spell we prepared to summon the baron isn’t working. The first caster who tried it got zapped by one of these strange clouds.”

    “Auroras,” Phyr corrected. He rubbed his thumb and index finger together pensively.

    If I leave Fordstein offshore awhile, perhaps I can gain enough influence to sway the men away from him. “What was the signal to be?”

    “Blue fire in the sky.”

    Best not to try anything. There are watchers everywhere. This man is likely one. “Pack one of the harbor cannons with extra powder and load it with any copper goblets you can find. Aim seaward and ignite; it will not be in the sky, but Fordstein’s men will see blue fire.”

    “Aye, captain.” The man knuckled his forehead again. “Lastly… we caught one of the silver furs skulking around the outskirts of the harbor proper. A female. She speaks the common tongue, and wishes to offer you her services as an interpreter and guide. She’s under guard,” he added as an afterthought.

    “I should like to speak with her,” Phyr said, “please send her to me.” The most communication the elf had managed with the cat folk was some broken dialogue through a Coronian linguist. He would have many questions for this catwoman.

  5. #5
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    The breeze played with Phyr’s long gray ponytail as two sailors escorted the silver furred female to the top of the tower. She did not so closely resemble the silver furs Sa’resh had battled on Corone. Her whiskers drooped where theirs were waxed, and her coat did not appear closely groomed beneath the soft blue dress she wore. Other than her coloring, she looked more like one of the mottle-furred cat folk who had helped Phyr find the Thunderbox, or the commoners who had fled the combat when the samurai stormed the streets.

    The sailors left the catwoman alone and moved back a few paces, but showed no sign of leaving. Watchers everywhere. The female smoothed her dress and then cocked her head to one side.

    “It is good to meet you in the flesh, captain Phyr Sa’resh.” she rubbed a paw through her whiskers and leaned forward, inhaling as if gathering his scent.

    Phyr glanced at the guards, who shook their heads, eyes wide. They had not told her his name.

    “Where have you seen me before?” Phyr asked, not knowing if he wanted an answer.

    “In dreams,” she said, “I have seen many paths for you, to great glory or defeat. Your choices shall determine which trail you follow.”

    The elf ignored the icy hand of doubt caressing his spine. “Nevermind your dreams,” he said, “what is your name? And the name of this land?”

    “I am A’lia of Oria,” she answered both questions simply.

    “Oria,” Phyr repeated the name of the nation, gazing off at the road that rose among the forested hills. “Why would you offer assistance to those invading your homeland?”

    “It is us who incited this conflict with you,” A’lia said, “for our own reasons, we invaded Corone. If the only end to this war is with a victory for one side, then you deserve that victory.”

    Phyr raised an eyebrow. “What were your reasons for the invasion?”

    A thunderous blast echoed from the harbor. Tendrils of blue flame shot out over the water in a conical blast, easily visible to the vessels floating in the distance. The signal had worked; soon Fordstein and the rest of the army would sail into port.

    The catwoman waved a paw at a purple-pink aurora crackling yards above their heads. “Our lands have become dangerously saturated with power from the eternal tap. I believe your men have noticed that magic does not behave the same here as it does in your land. On Corone, you may command powers and spells. On Oria, you must learn to surrender to the magic, and in doing so, shape its will.”

    “I’d rather stay away from magic entirely,” Phyr said, casting an apprehensive glance up at the pulsating aurora.

    “That may be wisest for you,” A’lia smiled, an odd expression on her sleek face. “You are not habituated to surrender.”

    Phyr blinked and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. Her familiarity made him somewhat uncomfortable.

    “There is a division amongst your people,” he said, “I see signs of it everywhere. Tell me of this.”

    “Orians have always been a people divided,” A’lia explained, crossing to the short wall that bordered the tower’s roof and pressing a padded palm against the smooth stone. “Years ago that rift grew until we clashed in a civil war, between the Purebred Tribe - the silver furs, as you call them - and the Mixed Fur Resistance. It was a war with no winner, and eventually the two sides fell to hating one another, but coexisting.

    “Although the fighting stopped, the Tribe kept looking for ways to rid themselves of the mixed furs. They experimented heavily with magic, searching for powerful spells that could target folk with specific genetics. They sought a way to kill all of the mixed furs, and nearly found it before power saturated the land and their experiments failed.”

    “I notice you do not include yourself among them, although you are silver of fur.”

    “My family is of purebred lineage,” she admitted, soft nose wrinkling as if catching a sour smell. “But I had a half brother who was mixed. The Tribe took him prisoner and experimented on him until he died.” Claws sprouted from the paw she leaned against the stone wall, gouging its smooth surface. “I swore then to oppose the purebreds with each breath until my last. Our land is doomed, for we have drawn too much on the tap over many years. I do not wish for our fate to extend to you and your people.”

    “Is there no hope for Oria?” Phyr asked. Suddenly the task of invading the nation felt akin to digging a hole in quicksand.

    “There was,” A’lia said, turning to face him, “the resistance sent an expedition to your Jagged Mountains to retrieve an artifact that might fix all of this… but they shall never return.”

    Phyr felt his mouth drop open, and turned away from the catwoman to hide his surprise. In the distance, he could see the sails of Fordstein’s ships gliding into the harbor. He took a deep breath and composed himself.

    “That artifact,” he said softly, “may be closer than you could imagine.”

  6. #6
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    The dark elf and the catwoman continued their dialogue for some time; Phyr had many questions, and A’lia had many answers. Before long the rippling banners of Baron Fordstein glided to a stop at the harbor’s docks. A large, almost royal procession proceeded along the cobbled main streets, and then heavy footfalls resounded up the stairs of the tower.

    First came a half dozen guards in platemail; some carried repeating crossbows while others kept hands on sword hilts. They conferred in whispers with the two sailors who’d been watching Phyr and A’lia, and then spread across the rooftop, covering all directions. Next came a man wearing hood and veil. He carried a sheathed katana, and moved like a panther prowling after its prey. The Cherub gave Phyr a long look before taking up a post beside the entrance.

    Leather wingtip shoes slapped up the steps as Fordstein arrived. The graying man’s usual knowing smile stretched his features. Behind him ambled the shaven headed sailor Saieda, a cutlass strapped to her broad belt and a heavy haversack on her back. Another six guards lingered on the level below.

    “Well,” Fordstein said to the suddenly crowded rooftop, “quite a vantage point you’ve chosen here, captain. Is this land not beautiful? I can always trust Saieda to bring me something tasty… be it information or an entire continent.”

    Phyr tucked his hand behind his back to hide the fist it formed. “This place may be less appetizing than it seems on the surface, my lord.” The title corroded his tongue. “This Orian,” he indicated A’lia with his long nose, “has informed me their land is dying. That is why the Orians attacked; they had hoped to colonize Corone. We would be wisest to leave now, and sabotage their ships so they cannot follow.”

    “Would we?” Fordstein snorted, “these cat folk attacked because they wanted the Thunderbox. Now I have it, and I shall take their land, and their ships too for that matter. Why would I destroy what is mine?”

    “Just look around,” Phyr insisted, forcibly unclenching his fist so he could gesture at the multi-hued auroras. “Magic is killing this land.”

    “And before, you thought weather was killing this land.” Fordstein chuckled heartily and exchanged a knowing look with Saieda. “Really captain, you may have a mind for military endeavours, but it seems you’ll believe anything a cat person tells you.”

    “He speaks the truth,” A’lia said finally, turning from where she’d been gazing inland. “If the artifact you call the Thunderbox is in your possession, you must give it to me. With it I might reverse the effects of the arcane saturation… or at least slow them. Please, you must do this.”

    “I really don’t agree,” Fordstein said, and Saieda guffawed heartily. “The Thunderbox controls electricity; I have that on excellent authority. It may have other powers, but I shouldn’t need to find out any time soon; it’s a final option in case Captain Sa’resh here can’t win this war the old fashioned way. Of course, I doubt we’ll have any problems there. He took this harbor faster than I took Akashima.”

    “Please,” A’lia padded over to Fordstein and fell on her knees, paws pressed together in prayer. “There can be peace between our people. No more death is necessary. If only I could see the artifact for a few minutes…”

    “Captain, you haven’t introduced me to your guest,” the baron said with a raised eyebrow, “it’s not like you to be so impolite.”

    Phyr made the proper introductions, and then Fordstein called for food and they all supped on dried meats and hard cheeses and breads. The food felt like ash in Phyr’s mouth, for his thoughts remained tied to his own lack of power. He commanded a great many soldiers, and yet he could feel Fordstein’s strings tied to his arms and legs. The elf ate like an automaton and continued questioning A’lia, seeking all of her most valuable knowledge.

  7. #7
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    The road to the Orian capital of Meno was long and straight, composed of hardpack dirt and bordered by a sparse, dying forest. It rose steeply at odd intervals like a giant staircase, making the march especially tiresome. Phyr walked in the middle of the army with A’lia at his side. The catwoman had provided him with ample information on the silver furs and their military tactics. She insisted that all the Orian soldiers who escaped the harbor massacre would have drawn back to Meno, forming a strong last stand in the walled fortress of a city. So far, time had proven her correct; they encountered no resistance along the road as the day progressed.

    “This does not mean we are without danger,” A’lia cautioned as they moved along a flat section of road, keeping pace with the quick-marching army. “The auroras can be unpredictable.”

    “We issued a standing order against use of magic,” Phyr reminded her, “hopefully there will be no problems.” They came to a thick stand of broad blue-trunked trees with purple foliage. The leaves laughed in the light breeze, rubbing together vocally. The unsettling sound made Sa’resh brush the hilt of his flintlock cutlass. “Call a halt,” Phyr said to his seconds, and they echoed his words out until the entire force stopped and rested. “What are these trees, that grow so strongly where all others perish?”

    “These are known as arquinta trees,” she said, leading him through the paused mass of men to the base of a great blue trunk. “They used to be as ordinary as any other, not dissimilar to your walnut trees. But when the very ground and air became oversaturated with magic, they evolved and adapted while others died. Their colors changed, as did the creatures that call them home… look there!”

    High above, a small furred figure whizzed from one treetop to the next, cutting through a bright yellow aurora.

    “What was that?” Phyr asked, “It looked like a… winged rodent.”

    “The flying squirrel has been a preferred delicacy among Orians since the beginning of our time. We now refer to them as the aurorikka, for they too have thrived despite the arcane concentration. Once red, their coats turned blue like the nuts they consume. Passing through the auroras seems to feed them some sort of power, but our studies have proven little. The aurorikka are no longer a delicacy, but a main foodsource for many Orians, especially the mixed furs.”

    “You know much of the Tribe, for a member of the resistance.” Phyr said with a raised eyebrow.

    “Cultivating sources among the purebreds was part of my work,” A’lia said, “my coat made me an ideal candidate for the job.”

    Someone shoved several soldiers out of the way, and Saieda ambled out of the crowd, shrugging against the weight of her haversack. Her shaven pate shone in the late afternoon sunlight, and her squashed brawler’s face leered at Phyr and A’lia.

    “Pretty fuckin’ couple you two make. Fordstein would like to ask, with all his usual politeness, why the fuck we’ve stopped.” Saieda snorted and then spat in the brown grass.

    “A’lia was just educating me on details of the land which may prove pertinent,” Phyr said. “We are ready to move again.”

    “Well hippity-fuckin’-huzzah. I guess I trekked up here for no good reason. You,” she jutted her chin at the catwoman, “how far are we from-”

    A man’s scream tore through the air.

  8. #8
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    “He was just trying to light his pipe,” stammered the victim’s compatriot, “his flint striker failed, so he tried a sparking spell his mother taught him. That… thing came down and wrapped ‘round his head like magefire.”

    An angry red aurora pulsated above the dead man’s body. The top half of his face and head were burned black, bits of char flecking off onto the hardpack road.

    “I warned you we were not without danger,” A’lia said in a faraway voice. “We should move on before the situation worsens.” Her tilted green eyes gazed up at the lethal red aurora.

    “Well at least we can fuckin’ agree on that, Thaynes be damned,” Saieda swore, “Sa’resh, get this lot movin’. Out of my way…” she stiff-armed a path through the soldiers back to where Fordstein waited at the army’s rear.

    Before long Phyr had the forces moving again, and they marched until the sun kissed the western horizon. As golden rays turned to pink and red A’lia gestured at a distant bend in the road, where it curved around a massive rock outcropping.

    “Meno will be visible once we round that bend,” she said. “You may wish to hold the main force back and send scouts after dark. Elsewise you will make a fine large target for their wall batteries.”

    “We will make camp beneath the tall rocks,” Phyr told his seconds, and again they passed his orders along the line in both directions. “After dark… we will send a scout,” he decided.

    “Just one?” A’lia asked, ears folded down in surprise.

    “Me.”

    Darkness lay gracefully over the lands of Oria. As twilight turned to night the soldiers set up tents and supped on dried meats and bread, grumbling about Phyr’s rule barring fires. He did not wish to give away their arrival. Fordstein grumbled loudest of all, but in a mocking manner that showed he really found the whole thing to be a grand adventure. The baron pretended to protest Phyr’s plan to scout the city on his own, but relented easily.

    As the shadows blended and became a swaddling blanket, Phyr donned a dark cloak and crept through the trees toward the city of Meno.

    He approached from the south, and saw a great gate closed for the night. It stood in a tall archway within a massive stone wall that surrounded the city. Finally Phyr saw some of the more intricate masonry he expected of the Orians. Their level of technology practically demanded that they know how to work well with stone. Even in darkness Phyr’s azure eyes saw much, and he had the light of a crescent moon to aid him.

    The one-armed captain trekked a long, slow circle around the city. It took several hours, but fortunately it was fairly small by Coronian standards. He saw guards peering out over the parapets, but ensured that they did not see him. Eventually Sa’resh completed his loop and returned to the dark, quiet encampment where Fordstein waited. As usual, Saieda and the Cherub flanked the baron. Phyr’s hand twitched toward his sword hilt. Seeing the masked assassin reminded him of Edim’s death, and what he wouldn’t do for a little revenge.

    “Well captain,” Fordstein yawned, seated on one of the few folding chairs the army had carried, “I do hope you’ve crafted a brilliant plan. I grow bored, and your men are tired.”

    “With any luck,” Phyr said, “the Orians will be even more tired. They’ll be all wound up from this morning’s assault. We’ll wait until the youngest hours of the morning, and attack before the sun peeks over the treetops to the east. We’ll take the city by the time dawn is upon us… or my name isn’t Phyr Sa’resh.”

  9. #9
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    Name
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    After a careful explanation of Phyr’s plan, Fordstein agreed it was a good one, and they sent soldiers off to make preparations by the light of the moon. Sa’resh stood next to A’lia a short distance from where Fordstein sat between Saieda and the Cherub. The dark elf pressed the catwoman for details regarding Meno’s defenses, and although she was no strategist, she did pass along several key pieces of information. While the moon crossed the aurora-filled sky soldiers toiled away, sweat beading on their brows in the hot Orian night. A soft mist rose, shrouding the ground with translucent wisps. The extra cover could only help them.

    As the moon passed behind a cloud Phyr gave the order, and his army deployed.

    The first company of repeating crossbows and the Akashiman samurai departed first. They took a long loop through the woods, aiming to harass the northern gate. Next went the sailors, split into two equally sized groups. They circled to the east and west, hiding on the forest’s fringe until signaled. The main force, along with the second company of repeaters and the reserves, remained with Phyr and Fordstein.

    They marched straight up the road to Meno. The soldiers at the front of the force carried a freshly cut arquinta trunk between them. They had spent the better part of the night carving it to serve as a battering ram. Phyr intended to walk right up and knock on the mighty gates.

    “I do hope you know what you’re about, captain.” Fordstein murmured from behind the elf, “this city does not look so easily taken.”

    Meno loomed in the darkness, a great lump of stone walls and guarded parapets.

    “I’ll remind you that you said that,” Phyr replied with a confident chuckle, “when we’re breaking fast in her keep.”

    “It is not too late to recall the men and rethink this strategy,” Fordstein said, “and I’ve half a mind to do just that-”

    “Halt!” Phyr growled, and the full force ground to a stop. The dark elf rounded on Fordstein, cloak swishing, lone hand raising an accusatory finger.

    “What did you bring me here to do?”

    “You know very well,” Fordstein replied, “a multitude of reasons…”

    “But mostly, to win you a war. Well, don’t stop me doing that just because you finally have to get your feet a little wet. This is how great battles are won… my lord. With an exhausted final press to overtake the enemy. If we wait until morning, they will wake rested and with fresh plans to rout us. Their armies from other cities will have had time to progress toward us, and we will be sitting here in the open. But if we take Meno, my lord… if we take her tonight, I tell you I can hold the capital for as long as it takes to claim dominion over this land. You can rename Oria at your leisure, and choose your own title.”

    Baron does seem like a passing fancy,” Fordstein admitted, his eyes glowing with greed, “very well captain. Proceed.”

    “March!” They moved forth once more, until Phyr again called a halt inside the forest’s fringe. Despite the unnatural decay tainting the trees and other plant life, they still found ample cover and protection among the hillocks and fallen logs. The reserves remained there with the commanders and their companions, while a host of brave volunteers bore the battering ram further on toward the city.

    To the north, the samurai and crossbowmen waited with bated breath.

    To the east and west, sailors clutching hooked grapnels and ropes crouched among dying shrubberies.

    To the south, the ram crew ran down the road, boots drumming the hardpack, hands clutching the blue hardwood trunk. They gained speed with every step, gathering momentum like a runaway locomotive.

    Thud!

    The ram’s head struck the gates.

  10. #10
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    The gates groaned and sagged but did not break. Chaos exploded within the city, and all around it.

    Alarm bells tolled and silver-furred musketeers appeared on the walls, firing through the aurora-filled air at the ram crew below. From the north, a neverending hail of crossbow bolts arced over the wall, causing devastation among both guards and common folk. From the east and west companies of sailors stormed the walls. Habituated to climbing rigging and masts on storm-tossed ships, they whirled their grapnels and launched them over the parapets, scaling the walls using a combination of the sturdy ropes and natural handholds worn into the rock over time.

    Thud, thud, thud, thud.

    The battering ram beat the gates with the regularity of an Alerian clock. Phyr watched from the safety of the woods, surrounding by his reserves as well as the second company of crossbows.

    It won’t work, he realized suddenly, mind performing calculations like a roomful of abacus experts, if we breach the gates now, we will be too many.

    “Crossbows, split in two and support the sailors to the east and west!” Phyr called. Caught up in the thrill of battle, Fordstein did not think to countermand the order. The crossbowmen divided themselves and circled away in opposite directions.

    Phyr allowed a ghost of a smile to haunt his lips. He could see further than most in the dark, and hear more than any human. Some of the sailors had crested the city’s side walls, but they died swiftly on the ramparts, where guards rallied to pour heated oil down on those still climbing. Sa’resh could hear their harrowing screams. He would have wagered that the cat folk had only detailed small contingents to defend the sides and rear of the city… based on his discussions with A’lia, the Orians did not respond well to being cornered.

    “Reserves, forward!” Phyr commanded, “reinforce the ram crew. We must break the gates before they bring the oil up front!”

    Half of the reserve forces raced to join the rammers. With twice as many men managing the great tree trunk, they backed up and took a final run at the gate.

    Whump!

    Rather than shatter, the great gate collapsed inward out of its frame. Momentum carried the ramming crew forward, the reserves packed behind them.

    BOOM!

    Cannon fire roared from within the breach, and Coronians died in a single well timed salvo of grapeshot. The small metal balls burst through their bodies, killing many and maiming more.

    “No!” Fordstein screamed as Orian musketeers poured out of the breach. Their long bayonets gleamed in the moonlight as they raced towards Phyr’s remaining forces.

    “Reserves, forward.” Phyr said lazily. His azure eyes never stopped supping the sweetness of Fordstein’s anguished expression.

    The reserves drew weapons and threw themselves at the enemy with bloodthirsty cries. Forstein had kept his most loyal and experienced soldiers by his side until the end. They fought like demons, and yet the masses of cat folk overmatched them.

    “Cherub!” Fordstein babbled, eyes wide with panic, “Saieda! Go and help them, they’re losing!”

    The masked assassin leaped forward. The shaven sailor gave Fordstein a long look, and then shrugged off her haversack and handed it to him. The Cherub unsheathed his wicked weapon, wielding both scabbard and blade to carve a figure of eight through the pressing enemy. Saieda used her burly body like a battering ram, the cutlass clutched in her hand an afterthought. Almost as one, they fell to bayonet thrusts, overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

    The lone hand of Phyr Sa’resh dropped to his broad belt and grasped the hilt of his flintlock cutlass. The plynt blade did not glitter in the moonlight, but its edge was sharp and its point deadly.

    “You cannot defeat me!” Fordstein screamed at the oncoming cat folk. “I have the Thunderbox!” He fumbled in the haversack Saieda had given him.

    Phyr stepped up behind the baron and stabbed him in the back, as casually as sheathing his sword.

    “For Terrence Edim,” the dark elf whispered.

    A long, surprised sigh escaped Fordstein’s lips, and a bubble of blood formed between them. He sank to his knees as Phyr pulled his blade free, and then fell on his face in the dirt.

    The silver furs closed in on Phyr, bayonets dripping blood.

    Sa’resh dropped his sword and dove for the haversack. “A’lia!” He shouted, “The artifact!”

    “No!” The catwoman screeched, leaping out of her hiding place nearby. She pounced on Phyr’s back, driving him flat, and raised both paws placatingly to the soldiers. “Do not kill this one! He may seem an enemy, but he is our savior… look, see what he brings.”

    Gasping for breath, Phyr rolled over beneath the catwoman. He watched helplessly as the musketeers formed a ring around him, and A’lia pulled the Thunderbox from the confines of Saieda’s haversack.

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