Hm… It would still be nice to know what was upgrading the holy water – but time was getting kind of tight after that little trip up the aqueduct turned into a 12-hour trip to Eden. They could send a Thrall down to track the holy water of course – it would be easy enough for one to go with the water flow in otter-form or fish-form – but it would probably be better to go themselves. Somehow it seemed likely to get complicated again.
They could check under the temple mount too – but, once again, they didn’t want to risk disrupting the city wards. Still, they could do some cautious poking around if there was time.
Of course, if Thawban and Richan stirred up the council, they might have to deal with a summons pretty quickly – and it was only about thirty hours until the scheduled attack.
Why did the knights want to launch a night attack on an army of the undead anyway? It really didn’t seem like the best of ideas.
They were still speculating on that – and getting minor arrangements sorted out – when a summons to another Round Table Conference arrived. Only a couple of hours after they’d got back… That was pretty fast even for Thawban. Did something else have them all stirred up?
The conference was showing definite signs of being hurried. Things still being set up, people not ready… Thawban was one of the first to arrive, and Hans and the Knight-Commander were some of the last instead of being among the first.
(Knight-Commander) “I apologize for summoning everyone on such short notice, but some urgent news has come to my attention and I believe we need to inform everyone here so that we might better prepare the populace.”
Kevin couldn’t resist speculating… Obviously Thawban or someone had sent out a minor emergency call – although it might have nothing to do with them directly. They might have spotted Death coming though; boosting the wards might easily have drawn his attention. Either way, something was definitely up.
(Knight-Commander) “First bit of news, and probably the most dire. We have reports coming in that a large concentration of unholy energies is heading our direction evan as we speak. As best as we can tell from this distance, whatever it is, it is very strong and it is leaving a track of death and decay in it’s path. Any attempts to gaze upon it directly have resulted in mishaps. We do know that it is coming from the direction of Constantinople.”
(Kevin) “Any estimates on when it is likely to arrive?”
(Arch-Mage) “At present speed, we estimate about 4 days at most. That is hoping that some of the bigger terrain issues will slow it down some.”
(Hans) “Four days? That isn’t a lot of time.”
(Kevin) “I would bet on two then: it probably wants to be here for the battle when the outworks are completed. It is, after all, likely to decide the fate of this realm.”
(Matthias) “Two days, and we’re up against the Death Knights, their undead ghouls, and this thing. (Looks up to the roof of the building) I don’t like how this is going. The Death Knights and the ghouls are one thing, if this is what we think it is, then a lot of our defenses will mean nothing.”
(Rathon) “Can we improve the odds by taking out as many of the ghouls and Death Knights as we can now and thereby better concentrate our forces on Death?”
Kevin, Marty, and A’ikana had their own little conference going on their private links. They could try and crack the barriers in conjunction with the Church’s Opener and bring in reinforcements – but that would give a lot away and it would probably warp the nature of the realm. Besides, they might be getting some angelic help anyway; if the presence of Death didn’t bring them out, there wasn’t much that would – and it definitely sounded like Death was well on his way.
Marty had to agree with Rathon; it might be best to destroy the minor troops while they could. For all they know, Death could draw upon them. Still – how many casualties would they take trying that?
(Almon) “Fight Death? How exactly do you propose we do that? That thing is a wandering blight upon the land and all life.”
(Kevin) “All things can be fought – and Death has been defeated before, in other realms.”
(Gilad perked up at that) “Defeated? How pray tell?”
(Kevin) “In at least one case, by brute physical force. Peter Matthington defeated Death during it’s attempt to destroy his world. He, of course, was a near-immortal – almost immune to natural death, decay, and the ravages of time. This almost certainly helped him withstand the Horseman’s attacks. He, however, lacked holy aid; his power was purely physical.”
Marty sighed internally… If that was the case, he might have to challenge Death to a personal duel. A Toonworlder wasn’t quite as tough as a Praetorian though, and had that same lack of holy backing. On the other hand, Kevin could throw up that sacred-energy construct armor stuff, and that was pretty damned tough. It might even come close to Praetorian physical abilities in a lot of ways. He couldn’t let it into the city. The locals would have no chance of coming back at all…
(Ghazi) “Pure brute strength? If that is the case, then that means we need to counter the aura of decay and death and hammer it until it breaks”.
Kevin, Marty, and A’ikana were still conferencing. Did they want to try and wipe out the undead first? It might turn Death away – and they really needed to defeat it here; that would banish it from the Crusader Kingdoms for quite awhile and drain it’s power reserves. They might miss out on that if it backed off.
(Almon rolled his eyes) “Oh is that all we have to do? And here I thought this would be hard. How do you propose we counter the aura? About the only place we could concentrate that kind of power is on the Temple Mount itself. And I am not keen on letting Death into the City.”
(Hans) “Well I am curious to see how you would prevent him from entering the city then.”
Almon appeared taken aback by that, and went quiet.
(Kevin) “If it comes to that, Marty and I shall meet it beyond the gates.”
(Marty) “Yeah, I’m ready to sacrifice myself if everyone else makes it.”
(Kevin) “We came to assist you. We shall do so.”
Thawban gave them a very difficult-to-read look
“Most brave of you.”
(Knight-Commander) “It has also come to my attention (he nodded at Thawban) that it appears that the Pact has been declared void.”
(Hans) “Void? What do you mean void?”
Kevin and Marty focused on that: they had some general ideas about the nature of the Pact, but no details. They knew that it banned direct spiritual intervention – but who made it, why, and the specifics had escaped them – and Kevin hadn’t yet had time to have the local Thralls try to put the story together for him.
(Thawban) “It appears that the Pact which has stood for centuries has been declared invalid given the current circumstances. We can expect to see a lot more supernatural presences on Earth in the new future. While we can expect Angels and their servants to intervene on our behalf, we can also expect to see more Fey and supernatural horrors come as well.”
(Ghazi) “Wait, I thought that the Pact could only be undone by the Emperor. Have the Holy Roman Empire and The Roman Empire made nice when we weren’t looking?”
(Archmage) “It appears that the situation has been interpreted to preclude the rise of a new Emperor. As such, if there is no Emperor or potential for a new Emperor in the future, the Pact is null and void.”
(Gilad) “Well, intervention of the Angels can’t hurt right now. The Fey have been notoriously unreliable, but they also have proven they won’t stand for wholesale genocide. It is some of the other things out there that I am concerned about. We all have heard the stories of the things the Romans fought in the far reaches of the World.”
(Hans) “Any idea on when we might expect some help then? Within two days would be real nice right about now.”
It was Kevin’s turn to sigh internally. No one ever appreciated him, just because he was a junior Lord of Darkness and Knight of the Unseelie Fey.
Marty shared the feeling; just because he got tanked every night and drank enough booze to supply an entire bar!
(Thawban) “At this point it is hard to tell when they might intervene and how. I get the sense they perceive time a bit differently from how we do.”
(Kevin) “I would suggest not relying on direct divine intervention: After all, `Thou shalt not put your god to the test’; he may intervene, but he will surely expect us to do our best as well.”
(Ghazi) “A point I suppose. Well we already have volunteers to assault Death directly. Any proposals on what the rest of us should do as they bravely meet their doom?”
(Kevin) “Hold off the rest of the undead. Even if we destroy some before Death arrives, there will surely be some left – and I suspect that Death will overwhelm the wards.”
Besides, if Death was coming, it seemed likely that the Undead would line up to meet them; they’d probably believe that they were assembling for a final stand, knowing that their doom was arriving”.
(Hans) “I agree, we can’t expect the wards to hold against that kind of power. We need to prepare for a full scale assault. I think, given the present circumstances, we would do well to launch a large assault on the main camp at that time.”
Marty had to smile a bit. Kevin had managed to miss out on the Gandalf-role’s opportunity for a great scene, and he might have the chance for a good “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” moment after all.
(Thawban) “What with all our forces? The main thing that helped us hold all this time was us playing defense behind the walls. I don’t see how our situation has changed to allow us to hope of breaking the enemy army, as you have been so fond of pointing out up until recently.
(Hans) “Well, you may not have noticed, but the supply situation and the disease issues we were facing not too long ago have all but vanished. That means we can turn all the Knights and Priests that were working at maintaining the situation inside the city towards the offense. This improves the odds considerably.”
(Kevin) “To be blunt, if we can get them to line up not too far outside the wards, we can see how many we can destroy from inside the wards. Most of the undead have no ranged abilities. It may only work once, but it’s worth doing. They will have to mass if we do; otherwise you could charge through them and return with very little risk.”
(Matthias) “He is right, we are not going to have another chance at this, we need to disrupt them as much as we can before their master arrives and marches for the Temple Mount.”
(Hans) “A assault tonight then?”
Jamie advised them to try and make it look like the magical barrage was a REALLY limited thing. They had more than enough illusion to make it look like it was burning out the users for weeks or months to both magical and visual senses.
Marty rather liked that idea; for all his violence, he’d always favored subtle openings before the mayhem.
Kevin had to agree as well; it would help them avoid scaring off Death – not that that was really likely anyway. If they destroyed it in this world, that really wouldn’t be much more of a setback for it than accepting being driven off. If it’s report said the power had been used up, and the mages were crippled, it might not take too many extra precautions.
(A’ikana) “I have been wondering… Why at night? Many undead are stronger then according to my information.”
(Archmage) “We believe we can focus the energies of the ward into a temporary burst of radiance. It would make night appear as day for about 30 minutes. During that time, the undead, surprised and weakened at a time when they least expect it, would be easier to assault.”
(Thawban) “What if we hit them before dark, to disrupt them as much as we can. Then hit them in the middle of the night as they expect to have the entire night to reorganize?”
Several of the party had been thinking the same thing. Either it was just a practical notion, or their tactical skills were improving a bit.
(Gilad) “Possible…. a lot of it depends on us being able to regroup faster than they can.”
(Matthias) “Well I think the guerilla war proved we can regroup faster than they can. It seems to be a limitation of their control of the ghouls.”
(Kevin) “My agents can make sure that we will appear much more weakened then we actually are after the initial engagement. Small illusions can be very useful tactically.”
(Gilad) “Even better then. I am not a fan of illusions normally, but I think I can put aside my pride in defense of the Temple Mount.”
(Knight-Commander) “Any other proposals with regards to an assault?”
(Kevin) “Equip as many of the reliable non-combatants as possible with stocks of holy water, greek fire, and slings; those of my agents who are specializing in supplies and support can help them stand ready to deal with anything that tries getting in while the main forces are engaged. Have the engineers man the siege engines. We don’t want anything breaking in while we’re busy on the other side of the city.”
Marty volunteered to help out with the scouting if they needed it; his girls – given the local power boost – ought to be able to shapeshift him for a time.
(Hans) “Agreed, I think at this point we can no longer keep the people of the city safe from the fighting. We are going to have to make preparations for the populace to defend itself.”
A’ikana was pleased; she wasn’t much for war, but it looked like it was going to be a good thing that she’d been training people in the martial arts. Every bit helped.
Kevin wasn’t sure how much use the noncombatants would be – but they’d have several hundred thralls to help spot things and deal with them. Between the Wards, the Thralls, the physical walls, the people, and the noncombatant priests and such, it ought to be enough.
(Matthias) “Then I propose we make an attack tomorrow, followed by another larger assault tomorrow night. In the meantime we make preparations as discussed for the defense of the city when Death arrives.”
(Almon rather sullenly) “Seconded”.
(Knight-Commander) “All in favor of the plan? All against? Motion passes 10 to 1 with 2 abstain.”
With the confrontation coming up, Kevin had the existing Thralls start really pushing recruitment to help cover the city. It might make trouble later, but – at this point – “later” could take care of itself.
They contacted the Unified Church since Kevin had left a Thrall there (the boy was having fun as well as being responsible) , passed on a report, and got their advice (not much, since the group was on the spot and they weren’t) – but, given the power of the Church over belief and the nature of the local realm, saying a prayer on everyone’s behalf would probably be helpful.
They made sure that the siege engines were well stocked with greek fire, and briefed Thralls (on private links) on the illusions to use (mostly that they’d be “too burned out” to throw any more major spells for days or weeks after the one engagement). .
The recruiting push brought out nearly 500 more youngsters that night. Partly pushing things, and partly the sense of urgency most likely. They wouldn’t have time to develop their powers, so they’d stay on city duty and prepare to try and get as many people out as possible if the defense collapsed.
If there was a tomorrow for the city, they’d deal with any consequences then.
Kevin made sure that all the Thralls were stocked with spells, weapons, instructions, and supplies.
Jamie stocked up with weapons and a fresh survey of the terrain.
A’ikana meditated, prayed, and taught the martial arts.
Marty actually came up with a precaution – which wasn’t at all typical for a Toonworlder. He assigned a Thrall to make sure that little Limey was safe and secure and spent some time playing with him – just in case Death COULD kill a Toonworlder (no matter how weird that was to think about).
The next day was tense, the air was filled with anticipation of the coming battles, and the weather had turned sour and gloomy.
Marty headed out with the scouts – well, OK, he went out to supplement the Thrall scouting reports. The city wasn’t too big on them – but HE’D like to know what preparations the undead were making for this assault. It would probably be hard to get too much information, but every bit helped.
Well, there was a thin ring of undead around the city with an especially thick section near the main camp. Quite a few Death Knights were pooling there, but others were spaced out evenly in groups of three around the ring.
Marty had the girls shapeshift him and put up the usual cloaking and anti-detection shields to make him seem like a normal bird and headed out. The Death Knights hadn’t intercepted any of the Thralls Kevin had sent to other cities, or caught any of the ones going in and out of Jerusalem, so it should be safe enough. It was aerial observation time…