From the air, the main camp seemed to be centered on a series of seven tents – five arranged in a star pattern around a sixth larger one in the center and a seventh tent further back from the others.
Marty headed for the one furthest back. The High Command was usually in the back… It looked like that was where the planning and discussion was going on.
There were several Death Knights gathered around a table pointing to a map.
Marty – rather daringly – opted to land on the central support pole of the tent itself. It was the largest and sturdiest anyway. There were a couple of Death Knights standing sentry-duty – although most of them seemed to be gathered around the tents closer to the city.
Still, only two… It was worth the risk. He landed on the central pole as quietly and gently as he possibly could.
Now, if this had been Battling Business World, he’d know about what he’d hear… “Boss is coming! We’re all going to get fired! Bonuses are at stake! Productivity is down! Who organized this siege anyway!” Typical raidee executive suite stuff.
This was probably going to be different though.
(#1) “How long until the ritual is completed?”
(#2) “Should be ready the day after tomorrow. Just in time for our Lord’s arrival.”
(#3) “Good, we can’t afford to have any more screwups. He is already abandoning the siege of Constantinople to deal with problems we are facing here.”
(#2) “So the hotshot didn’t roll across the face of the Earth as easily as he expected then? Heh, serves the bastard right. If he had any sense he would have annihilated every city he came across instead of bypassing problem areas as he got bored.”
(#1) “Watch your tongue, our Lord does not tolerate insubordination. Know your place.”
(#2) “Even if he needs to help us speed this along because he squandered his resources and needs the 1 million bodies we have trapped here to continue on?”
(#3) “Well it is not like our assaults have been going well either. Now granted, we do still have attrition working in our favor. They should be running out of supplies soon if they haven’t already.”
(#4) “What of the outworks the defenders have been constructing?”
Hmm… War might not actually be that hot a general – who needed to be when your troops vastly outnumbered your opponents? – but it sounded like Death (the only likely “boss” for this bunch) was a really sloppy one. For all his vast cosmic power, he couldn’t even maintain the respect of many of his subordinates.
That also pretty well said that the Death Knights had no effective spies in the city, or they’d know that the supplies were doing just fine.
(#2) “We expect them to be completed the same day as the ritual. Looks like they are planning to use them to push us back from the walls and better launch a decisive attack and break us.”
“Ritual”? Perhaps to break the wards or cause an earthquake to break the walls or to destroy the Temple Mount or something. If they could just kill everyone by magic – or launch another strike on that scale – they wouldn’t need to keep hitting the walls.
(#2) “Given the estimated number of Knights we think they can spare, we should be able to handle them. Primary focus will be to keep them away from the ritual, but given the fact we expect them to try and make a break in the line where it is thinnest, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
(#4) “Sounds reasonable, on the other hand, we cannot let such things fall to chance. Beef up the guard of the ritual. Even if some of the peasants do get away, if we kill the Knights guarding them, then we can pick them off at our leisure.”
(#3) “Any sighting of the trickster? He may be following our Lord here too.”
Trickster? Vexkin? Nah… what would Vexkin be doing here? This wasn’t his sort of thing anyway. And “following”? Perhaps some of the Fey had been helping defend Constantinople? Puck would do it just for fun, and he had been on list of major local fey. Loki, Coyote… There were dozens of tricksters out there. Who knew? It could even be the local Satan; after all, he would want this world, and it’s souls, for himself – not plundered by some outside force.
(#4) “Even if he does come, we are not going to assign more than a symbolic force to chasing him. Our Lord has already wasted enough resources chasing him around the Straits. The fool should know that it is impossible to kill a soulless immortal.”
The Straits? The ones the British and French were fighting over or some local thing?
(#1) “Leave it to one of them to find the one thing that annoys our Lord so”.
(#3) “It was amusing to watch to say the least.”
(#4) “Alright, they try to break out, we slaughter as many of them as we can while protecting the ritual. The ritual goes off, inverts the power flow in the area, and that should slay a great number of the defenders and bring down the wards. We finish off the rest of the defenders and take the city. The peasants we can chase down at a leisure afterwards. With the temple in our hands, we should be able to cut them off from the majority of the divine energies that enable their defense around the world. Our Lord, having accomplished his goal can leave us to do things properly then.”
What would so annoy Death? The good old pie-in-the-face routine? Squirting holy water flower in the lapel? Something else trivial? They would just HAVE to find out somehow.
Marty started considering clearing out. That was quite a bit of information. Back home he wouldn’t have been too worried about dying with vital information a day before the fight; he could just call Mr Leland back at the raidee firm in the morning. If he died here though, he’d get transported home and wouldn’t be able to communicate with Kevin.
Wait, there were the Thralls in squirrel-form assigned to watch his wife and daughter. He could call back through them – but it would still be pretty awkward to explain to his wife.
Still, the Death Knights were trapping souls. He might not be able to come back if one of them killed him.
Best to clear out – and to make sure that they hit the camp before the unholy ritual was complete. Besides, with a warning about what was up, it seemed likely that the massed power of close to two thousand Thralls could trump almost any reality-warping ritual.
Marty lifted off as quietly as possible, much as he’d arrived. None of the Death Knights appeared to notice him going either, so he swiped another peak at layout of he main camp as he headed back towards Jerusalem. A grand total of thirty-nine Death Knights, many of them working around the main tents, and the rest standing guard over the area. Always in their usual groups of three. The ritual should be around the main camp somewhere.
Wait… It must be hanging around with Kevin. He was starting to see magical symbols everywhere. It looked like the ritual was being conducted in a huge magic circle and pentagram; the largest tent in the group was located at the center of the circle and another, smaller, tent was located at each of the points of the pentagram.
Good enough. Marty headed back to Jerusalem. One Death Knight seemed to notice him – and watched him go for a moment before returning to his routine – but, with any luck, the thing would just think he was a bird. They didn’t seem to have penetrated the disguise-spells on the Thralls in bird form. If he’d been spotted, well, hopefully their plans were too advanced to change much.
Back in Jerusalem, they felt constrained to consider the possibility that the Death Knights had known perfectly well that Marty was there, and had been feeding him baloney designed to manipulate them. On the other hand, since the information they’d gotten didn’t really change their plans any, and they had been concealing a lot of factors from the Death Knights, it might be genuine. That was the wonderful world of if-maybe-but.
Either way, it presumably provided some information on the Death Knight’s psychology.
Did the groups of three have any special powers? They certainly had one of each kind of specialist, but if they had major special powers, presumably they would have used them when they’d arrived at the city and fought a trio. Maybe they had used special group powers, and they were weaker than that when apart?
Oh well, no way to test that – or convenient way to take advantage of it – even if it was true. At least the fact that the ritual was in the main camp meant that hitting the camp would hit it anyway, which was convenient.
Get the city defenses ready, stock up the civilians with holy water, greek fire, and slings, stock up the siege engines with greek fire and rocks and man them, prepare a pretense of some of the peasantry getting ready to try and escape from the other side of Jerusalem.
Make sure that the Thralls were throughly cloaked and that they were stocked up with greek fire, medical supplies, holy water, and – especially – stored spells.
Have the Knights ride out, with the Thralls acting as squires and aides where there were enough horses and riding along in small-animal form where there wasn’t. Line up inside the Wards in position for a heroic charge on the main camp – and let the undead set up their own line while the Knightly line was getting organized.
As things were getting organized, open up with the fireball barrage against the undead lines while the siege engines threw over the front enemy line to hit the back with greek fire.
Either charge and massacre as appropriate or stick with a defensive line if the fireballs didn’t open a big enough opportunity for an attack.
Make sure that the Thralls had illusions going showing that their powers were almost exhausted and that they were likely to be useless for some days or even weeks. If possible, extend that a bit to show everyone worse off then they really were.
If/when the undead started to do any serious damage, fall back and let the siege engines and the ward hold them back from following.
Then pull the surprise night attack from the outworks.
When morning came, the army gathered to launch the attack – right after religious services and blessings. A good thing they had some locals along; they’d been so busy that they’d forgotten just how important that sort of thing was in the Crusader Kingdoms.
The populace was out in the streets watching the Knights go and giving them small gifts and tokens of luck.
There weren’t enough horses to go around, but the clank of thousands of Knights marching in full plate was deafening. The Knight Commander himself was at the center of the line, and the air was filled with the crackle of holy energies flowing through the knights and into their Auras as they advanced and lined up.
Marty was practicing his oratory, so he joined a lot of the others in making a bit of a speech:
“This is our city and our world! There’s no way we’re going to let them take it, even if Death himself comes! Let’s show these heathens what the servants of God can do!”
The Knight-Commander made a brief speech as well. It looked like he did have the power to inspire masses – but he wasn’t that good at it. He had some skill, but he was clearly not a public speaker by background, although it appeared that at least some of the other Knight Lords were trying to boost his ability.
Kevin threw in his speech; he had the oratorical skills – and enough raw power to back them to inspire a horde.
“We are beginning a battle that may determine the future of this world. Know this: All men are made in the image of god. To every man is given eternity, the power to create, and the power to destroy. This world is yours, and your children’s heritage – and while you refuse to surrender it, it shall not be taken from you. You have not abandoned your faith, and neither shall you be abandoned. The powers of death cannot pass here, and cannot stand.”
(Gamespeak: unfortunately, while the character may have a +36 base in Oratory, the player doesn’t).
Marty sighed. Well, it had been better than the Knight-Commanders attempt. But really. That was straight Corespeak. Logical, direct, factual, and only incidentally inspiring unless you happened to be a robot or (presumably) another product of the Core educational programs. Oh well, it wasn’t like the boy didn’t have power to spare to channel into his listeners. He could feel the energy blazing into him even now…
(Gamespeak: Heroism/+2 positive levels for up to 10,000 men via Dominion. The 12 CP went to buying Immunity/Negative Energy or Undead Powers (Common, Major, Major, 9 CP) and +2 universal Damage Reduction (3 CP)).
Some of the Knight-Lords looked on approvingly, although a few of the others seemed rather disapproving… Thawban seemed to be especially annoyed.
Kevin shot him a thought:
“We want to win. Does it matter who makes better speeches as long as they work?”
Thawban sighed… “Right then; shall we start?”
By the time all that was done, they’d gotten lined up – and the undead were forming up to meet them, pretty much as they’d planned. Of course, that put some eight thousand knights, sixteen hundred Thralls, and a few hundred mercenary and lesser warrior types against better than thirty thousand assorted ghouls, horrors, and some one hundred and fifty Death Knights who were reinforcing the lesser undead with their own unholy powers and auras. Even that was only about half the Death Knights and a third of the besieging forces… Kevin and company had been hoping for more; even if they eliminated all of the undead who were facing them by some miracle, they’d be nowhere near able to deal with the rest of the horde – and it wasn’t likely that they’d be able to get them to bunch up again. Still, if they could crush this bunch, they might be able to ride around the city destroying the remainder of the undead troops while they were still in small bunches. They might get quite a few more before being forced to retreat back inside the wards.
(Knight Commander) “Commence the bombardment!”
Kevin passed his own telepathic signal. In the Crusader Kingdoms arcane magic was usually reserved for the Fey – and they generally didn’t come out to play in large groups. This would be the first major display of offensive arcane magic that this world had ever seen. With sixteen hundred Thralls, each stocked up with 6-8 major offensive spells from Kevin – stored in Power Words, so that they could be released twice as fast as usual and had Kevin’s power to back them instead of just the Thralls – this was going to be a shock.
The barrage opened with 3200 Fireballs, than 3200 mixed Fireball, Lightning Bolt, or Sonic Blast attacks, and then the last series of 1600 or so randomly-mixed blasts before the Thralls fell back on their personal resources.
He held the forty-odd they’d arrived with as a reserve – either to bombard the central camp or to help cover the retreat or hit any undead reserves that popped up.
Besides, it seemed appropriate to let the local youngsters have the first crack at defending their world.
Kevin had been hoping to dispose of a lot of the lesser undead and maybe even hurt the Death Knights a bit (even if they were likely to be massively resistant). Hopefully that would take the battle down to where the Knights could handle their end and the group could deal with any major horrors.
The wave of arcane destruction sent flaming chunks of dead bodies and masses of earth flying as smoke and dust filled the air – annihilating large chunks of the enemy line. The Knights were stunned, and the Death Knights were hurriedly trying to regroup.
There were piles of burning no-longer-undead corpses everywhere – but the Death Knights had managed to keep quite a lot of their troops functioning with their own Unholy Auras, even if close to half of them had gone down doing it. Drat it; did everything in this world have to stack so well?
The siege engines had begun their attack, lobbing great volleys of flaming death into the rear of the enemy line – and the Undead had begun their charge.
Fortunately, the massed auras of the Knights were pretty formidable in themselves – although he’d had the Thralls inform the Knights that they wouldn’t be able to mount another attack like the last one for quite some time.
(Gamespeak Interlude: Currently everyone on the Knights side was getting a +6 shield bonus to armor class, a +6 armor bonus to armor class if that exceeded what they were wearing, a +2 weapon enhancement bonus, a +2 morale bonus to saves, attacks, checks, and damage, immunity to fear and despair, 10 energy resistance to all types, a +2 luck bonus to saves, attacks, checks, and damage, DR 10/magic, haste, and freedom of movement. The party was impressed. That was a LOT of bonuses – the benefit of having a lot of Knights radiating Auras. They scaled well as a group, and it was no wonder the people of the Crusader Kingdoms left the fighting to the professionals).
Kevin grinned… With that much power being pumped into helpful auras, anything the Thralls summoned would be pumped up as well – and slightly more than six hundred of them could keep summoning celestial bears over and over and over again. OK, so no individual bear would last for long – but they could keep several thousand around at a time. Enough totally expendable troops that they might be able to swamp the Death Knights if they could deal with the lesser undead.
The first wave of undead reached the outworks like a wave cresting on a beach – going for a swarming tactic. Of course, many or most of them were mindless.
It looked like that the arcane assault had left them with about 80 Death Knights and 18,000 lesser undead. Worse than they’d hoped on the lesser undead, but better than they’d expected on the Death Knights. Still, quite a lot of the undead that were left were pretty badly damaged already.
Marty and Jamie were in their element, hacking their way through swarms of lesser undead. Marty sent three down in a pile of body parts as he slashed upwards, sideways and then finished with a downward slash going from shoulder to knee. Guts and rotting innards spilled everywhere – and he’d thought that they smelled bad on the outside. Fortunately, he was from New York, and was simply a but nauseated, rather than vomiting uncontrollably.
A’ikana was holding back and channeling the local powers to aid any group that looked hard-pressed. Her healing aura was quite impressive – and struck down undead as well as it healed the Knights near her.
Kevin settled for setting up a flame-aura to keep the minor things off his back while he focused on keeping large groups from forming up on the Knights and Thralls.
Wait. He could do the focusing-spell again – like he’d done when they’d arrived – and dump a wave of holy energy into expanding the ward for a bit. If he could push it a hundred feet for even a few moments it might help a good deal.
He had a couple of the Thralls with divinatory powers pull back to try and find out if that would be a good idea. He didn’t want to collapse the ward.
The divinations showed a favorable outcome – so Kevin started to look for a good moment to give it a shot. He wasn’t normally that good a tactician, but he had magic to help with that too. It looked like it would be best to let the undead bunch up a bit against the line of Knights first.
Between the auras of the Knights and his own defenses, the minor undead clawing at him really weren’t too effective – certainly not effective enough to turn his attention away from the larger battle.
Marty and Jamie were taking some injuries as well, but it was nothing they couldn’t handle thanks to the Knightly Auras. The pile of bodies around them was beginning to get awkward though.
The knights were doing pretty well too. Even without the raw power of Kevin’s stored spells, the Thralls had more than enough power to heal where needed, help break up groups of minor undead, and to help out with individual undead – and the knights had already been pretty good at this sort of thing even without backup. Otherwise they could never have held them off the walls before the group had arrived.
For more good luck, some of the burning undead were setting others on fire. Quite a lot of them were pretty well dried up given the arid climate.
Several of the Knights switched to an Aura that damaged the undead – and the undead began to crumble into ash as a wave of light washed over the nearby area.
The Death Knights threw their reserves against the line, and pulled a few more troops from the rest of the ring around Jerusalem.
Marty cheerily cleaved a few more; it was a bit like stomping cockroaches, once you started, it was kind of hard to stop. He sliced off one’s head, pulverized another’s rotting chest, and severed the spinal column on another – causing it to fold over backwards and flop around ineffectually.
He couldn’t help but point and laugh.
Undead were burning, the flames were spreading, the searing light from the knights was doing it’s job, and celestial bears were running rampant through the ranks of the lesser undead and swarming the Death Knights. Some of the Knights were taking advantage of the mayhem to launch minor counterattacks into the enemy ranks following the bears. The noxious smell of burning dead flesh was filling the air as clouds of smoke and ash boiled up and made it difficult to see.
The Death Knights moved in (despite the mobbing by bears), along with a few more Undead from the nearby lines, to either break the line or to start pulling the ghouls back. Either way, it was time to try to push the wards.
Kevin drew deeply on the energies of the Silmarils as he held up his hands to heaven, intoned his focusing spell – and unleashed energies at an intensity normally impossible and in quantities that would normally have taken several attempts to call forth.
“Radiance beyond the Vault of Heaven, Focus of Supernal Light! Channel of the Infinite, Fiat Lux!”
With a explosion of fiery incandesence, a pillar of light shone forth from the ground he was standing on. From the clouds above, another pillar of light shone down from the sky to the heart of Jerusalem behind them… Both beams pulsed faster and brighter with every passing moment. The action on the field stopped for a moment as the combatants turned to gape at the spectacle.
Hopefully it wouldn’t scare off Death – although, if he lost in the Crusader Kingdoms he’d just move on to another realm like he had when he was defeated in Singular, so there was no real reason why it should scare him away. It wasn’t like he could really be destroyed by any power bound to a single realm.
The pillars of light suddenly erupted into an explosion of light which spread out across the city and the surrounding terrain, cleansing the area of smoke, of ash – and of a tremendous number of undead.
There were less than 5000 undead left on the field now – along with about fifty Death Knights. It looked like the blast had spread out all around the city as well, hitting a lot of the undead in the main ring.
Kevin was pretty surprised at that… It could just be the Silmarils of course, but that second pillar of light had come down into the city. Local reinforcement? Perhaps the effects of having asked the Unified Church back on Core Earth to say a prayer for them? The Unified Church had quite a lot of power if it wanted to use it – and that power was even stronger in the Manifold than in Core.
He wasn’t too surprised to feel the power burning through him again. He had some resistance effects ready to go this time. It probably still wouldn’t work, but it was annoying not to know what it was doing, and it would at least demonstrate that he was annoyed about it – presuming that it had an intelligent force behind it to begin with.
His entire body went hot for a moment as he felt the power build. It kept building, like it was pushing against something inside him, until there was a crack of thunder and he found himself left smoking and covered with minor burns. The power buildup was gone – but some of the dark power he’d grown accustomed to inside him had been replaced with a quiet warm pulsing in tune with the pulsing of the Silmarils.
Ouch, Dammit! Every time he went around being helpful, something kept smacking him! Stupid powers of light! That was no way to encourage good behavior! That did it, he was going to learn to channel the powers of light naturally – and keep it from being painful – if it took months. If Vekxin could do it, so could he! Pesky officious nice-goody lightness! He was a Dark Lord, and that was all there was to it!
At least his pocket-companions could heal the damage.
On the opposing side, the commanding Death Knight looked to either side for a moment – and then at the line of Knights pressing forward. It snapped it’s fingers and turned around… The remaining undead launched themselves at the knights while the Death Knights fell back.
Blast it, the death knights were the biggest problem… They were the biggest menace around short of Death itself, and they weren’t going to have a bigger advantage any time soon.
Kevin sent some of the conjurer-Thralls in flying forms to start dropping bears behind them. The Death Knights would just cleave through the bears without the Knightly Auras boosting them, but it would at least hold them up a bit – and the Knights were likely to pursue them as soon as they could cleave through the remnants of the horde anyway. The Death Knights weren’t mounted, and were already pretty damaged.
Kevin was sorry that he hadn’t been able to see what Thawban’s face had looked like after that one. Maybe one of the Thralls with Divination could divine it for him after the battle.