Chapter I. Gathering Information
The Legion leadership decided to send a scouting party to investigate the Itzapan capital, Tazumal, and determine the strength of Baron Warwick’s forces. Lieutenant Dmitry Vladimirovich transported the three rogues of the Special Missions Unit—Captains KinCade and Gilgareth and Lieutenant Sett—some 300 leagues north without incident, magically making them appear as Southron merchants. It was the first time the legionnaires had seen Tazumal since marching south to conquer Zlatan nearly a year and a half before. The life and vibrancy of the city was a welcome contrast to hardscrabble Huatepec and the ruins of mighty Zlatan. And everywhere there were outlanders from Arik—Southron soldiers, Iron Leaguer merchants, Taran travelers, elven rogues, halfling mercenaries—the city truly deserved its new moniker, the “Crossroad Between Worlds.” However, despite the vibrancy there were too many Aztalticans wearing the black feather armbands of mourning—the plague struck hard here, and in less than two years one in ten Itzapan have fallen prey.
The four were soon thronged in a crowd as Baron Warwick himself lazily passed by in a procession--Sett restrained the impulse to try to slay him. Caxal, once proud Revered Counselor of Tazumal, followed, reduced to a spokesman for Itzapan, his face lined and his hair silvered since last the legionnaires saw him. Dmitry later discovered someone had picked his pockets during the jumble of the procession and made off with his wand of magic missiles.
When the band entered the central plaza, they saw how much it had changed—the market had sprawled to double the old size, and there was a separate High Market with exclusively Arik stalls. Gil noticed his old friend Ralfeo, 2nd mate on the Endurance, the ship that had borne them all to Aztaltica. After revealing he was under magical disguise, Ralfeo soon promised to offer whatever aid he could, and said he knew Captain Garvyn would want to help as well, as long as it was in a surreptitious manner. Ralfeo reported that things were much changed back in Arik, price inflation was already high because of the ongoing war and the rise of the cities, but the flood of gold had boosted prices for most goods to around double what they were in 1508 when the Third Cortalish War began. He also noted the war dragged on with little progress into its seventh year, and a peace movement was growing, especially among the rich merchants and even some nobles.
Dmitry saw a fellow Sylvanian running a stall, Fyodor Armatov, and talked at length. He explained that the reason the King appointed Baron Warwick was his advisors claimed Cordell was stealing the King’s fifth, the 20% tax on everything shipped back from Aztaltica that must go to the crown, and was botching the counterinsurgency campaign against the Zlatan. Armatov conceded that “everyone here steals a bit of course,” but he doubted either charge had merit. Still, Cordell was too far away to argue his case. He guessed that Warwick overstepped his bounds somewhat though, and now struggled to keep the supply of gold streaming fast, and feared replacement himself. Dmitry took his countryman to dinner at Gaston’s, the only Taran restaurant on the continent, and with the lavish meal ordered an exquisite 250 noble bottle of vintage 1482 Devereux champagne. The by now quite amiable Armatov was one of many contacts the legionnaires spoke to who spoke of Cordell’s mythical hidden 3 million in gold. Unlike the rest, he knew that fifty dwarven miners were brought in just for that purpose digging under Fort Cordell, and he knew the dwarf Grotto who arranged that contract. He noted that Grotto could be found at the treacherous Shady Dragon Inn, but warned against staying there.
Meanwhile, Sett and KinCade visited a shady, native only part of town that evening, telling the others only that they were “scouting the area.” The pair didn’t discuss their business in depth, though did warn the rest of the band about the not trying “Devilweed,” some sort of Aztaltican drug which they believed might be addictive. A block away from the Coiled Serpant, a known Viperhand hangout, they were accosted by a gang of Itzapani rogues led by a certain Camargo. Sett cast a minor arcane spell to frighten them, but clearly the Itzapani were growing more used to these exotic magicks, for they pressed the attack and sorely wounded Sett before the pair fled.
Back at the Shady Dragon Inn, whose proprietor Nanson had opened this new Aztaltican branch modeled on his infamous Abberwyvern pub back in Balar, the band sent in the two demi-humans, KinCade and Sett, to talk with the demi-human thief band the Righteous. The band was led by the halfling Taron Leimmonkheir and members included the elf Ace and the elf Corsair known to be enroute from Arik. They tried to get the two demi-human legionnaires to join their endeavors (even inviting them on an upcoming plantation raid), and noting they hoped to set up a true thieves guild in Tazumal—one which did burglaries, robberies, crooked gaming, and such, but avoided violence wherever possible. The Slayers Brotherhood was already getting established in the assassination end of things, and other human thieves were vying to establish guilds as well. In their recruitment efforts, the rogues revealed much information. Grotto swiftly confirmed that his cousin Karuth and 50 dwarves were sequestered in Fort Warwick, digging for Cordell’s three million nobles. He also revealed that at low tide, a natural cave entrance (well trapped and guarded) led under the fort and connected with the dungeon. Sometimes the dwarves even heard screams, presumed to be those of Cordell and his imprisoned officers undergoing Thalargos’ “inquisiting.”
Taron also spoke about Warwick’s spymaster, Reinhart, noting he was excellent at infiltrating the rebel movement, and were he not gainfully employed, might be one of the top factions in the rush to establish a dominant Arik thieves guild in Tazumal. Alas neither he, nor any of the contacts queried, knew the location of Dmitry’s stolen wand of magic missiles, but they advised that he wear arcane robes, as the natives and Southrons alike tended to leave wizards alone. Meanwhile, Dmitry spoke with a limping Videssian wizard named Malron, in blue flowing robes. He purchased a spell from the wizard, but he did not appear interested or knowledgeable about local politics.
After booking rooms at Gaston’s, the four travelled to the Temple of Nuada—formerly that of Sotek, the bloody chacmool at the ziggurat’s summit replaced with a great gleaming fist. The guards noted they were in mourning, for Marshal Caernarvon had been slain and Marshal Thalargos had apparently failed in his attempt to raise him. The suspicious legionaries asked to speak with the second in command, Sir Feldernak, leader of the 60-strong Knights of the Silver Hand, the most powerful cavalry unit for thousands of miles. Feldernak was saddened, noting the Marshal had been slain alone at prayer, and shards of maca had been found, pointing to native rebels. He resented being placed in this position of command, and had sent a request to Grand Marshal Anaximines at the seat of the faith back in Bywater for a swift replacement. Dmitry, sensing Feldernak was not happy with the new regime but had not the initiative to oppose it, postulated that Gelben might serve as temporary Marshal, which Feldernak thought was promising.
The scouts decided to case Fort Warwick itself, and walked the several mile road to the Nuada’s Port lagoon. Along the way they saw mile after mile of plantations awarded mainly to Southron officers and lackeys of Warwick (Cordell had promised them to legionnaires before his incarceration.) Each plantation consisted of roughly 200 acres of land. Most was used for grazing horses and the newly-arrived sheep, but a few had planted pipeweed, maize, and other special crops to send back to Southold at a high price. Most of the plantations had a main house, which varied from a temporary shack or a large, ornate residence. The most ornate was that of Don Carlos, of the Mirada merchant house which Warwick favored, but it was at the nearby and similarly grand house of Caramon Dieg, of House Sashenstar, that the band stopped. Dieg was a smooth political operator, and soon they were discussing ways he could help the Legion unseat Warwick.
At their suggestion, he would try to buy off The Flaming Fist and halfling mercenaries (who were already annoyed at Warwick’s “nationalization” and coup of Silver Legion leadership). This would be an astronomical figure, and he would also arrange a diversion in the city as the Legion approached, to slow reaction. In return, House Sashenstar would regain its exclusive rights to manage New Southold official shipping (assuming all shipping, costs and risks of breaching the Hellstorm, pirates, Cortal privateers, etc.), in return for a 20% cut (up from the 14% KinCade had negotiated years ago) on everything the Viceroy’s government shipped back. Dieg also gave them a rough order of battle for the Army of New Southold, which consisted mainly of Southron Royal and Kenilworth Baronial troops as well as some mercenaries like the Flaming Fist, as well as the elite Nuadan cavalry, the Knights of the Silver Hand, which were under ecclesiastical command but would help their fellow Southrons. In total there were 500 foot and 100 cavalry permanently garrisoned at the Fort to keep lines of communication and the seat of Southron power intact, while the field army based in Tazumal consisted of perhaps 1,200 infantry and some 260 horsemen, excluding the Nuadans.
The band carried on to Port Nuada, and saw that a small Southron town had emerged by the quayside, complete with makeshift wattle and daub houses like home. The port was always busy unloading the three ships which could dock at any one time. Massive warehouses had been built, and carts were rushing their cargos down the road to Tazumal as fast as the horses would take them. A pall of smoke hung over the fort from the new smithy, while the earthen walls were in the process of swiftly being converted to stone walls worthy of a Southron castle. The central stone keep with mounted ballista battery was well guarded. The band posed as Southron merchants and managed to get inside the courtyard, but decided not to press their luck further. In a makeshift Sylvanian pub called Yegor’s, they spoke to a Southron Captain Aethelred of the 24th Royal Southold Archers, who confirmed he was unhappy with the new leadership and had heard rumours of Cordell’s torture, but order were orders.
After such a productive and lengthy scouting mission, the four decided not to risk infiltrating the caves below Fort Warwick, and travelled back to the Legion, justifiably proud of their achievements.
Chapter II. On the March
Meanwhile, back at the Legion at Gemnia Pass, two weeks had passed since the liberation from General Alfred. The men were sore but whipped back into shape after Sergeant-Major Garrant’s incessant drilling (they’d forgotten how hard the legendary martinet would regularly push them) and the units were reacquainted with their long lost officers. They disbanded the problematic Nuadan Irregulars native unit, and sent some of the less extremist warriors to join Gil’s Tazumal Recruits. At the Council of War, the leadership heard from Hesoctl, head of the human Zlatan resistance movement, the man who had helped the legionnaires infiltrate the Pyramid of Sotek to retrieve their magic items:
Patrols have been stepped up since your raid on the Temple of Sotek, we rarely can get anyone on the island of Zlatan itself anymore, but we are very active in Aztal, mounting many attacks on the Viperhand monsters. I believe High Priest Garkuna would have sent many more creatures on his latest campaign south into Axocpan under General Amaxi, but he knows you are back, and for your many run-ins with him, he fears you I think. So many times have you fought, and so many times has he fled. Again, we don’t launch raids on Zlatan island itself, so the many patrols there are I think to ward against another stealth mission by you. This helps my men, as the supply centers have fewer guards.
We remain in regular contact with the eagle knight Tezzozomac, who flies to us with news of the Zlatan Exodus. They have passed the worst of the desert and are heading for the southern sea. The House of Tezca is littered with Saurian dead from thirst, perhaps a quarter of their force, yet they march relentlessly on. So our joint efforts to his end, and of the Desert Dwarves and Little People, have borne fruit, yet I still know not how the Exodus can survive, for even General Tacuba’s reduced force can sweep them aside. The great statue of Sotek, recently awakened but lacking its gemstone eyes, lumbers still in pursuit, and that is something they cannot hope to defeat. We have done all we can from here I think, may Qotal save the Zlatan Exodus, for we cannot. But let us now talk of our joint strike against the Viperhand.
An embarrassed silence fell, as the officers explained that they would not be marching against the Viperhand yet—they must put their own house in order by marching against the usurper Baron Warwick, 300 leagues north in Tazumal. Hesoctl was not pleased, but said he understood, noting that in nearby Atlan, Revered Counselor Cuithahuoc was also engaged in civil war, and it appeared he might prevail against the usurper General Tizoc’s forces. After that, perhaps the Atlan would help against the Viperhand. Likewise, by attacking Axocpan, the Viperhand Saurians had brought another neutral force into the war. So, the Zlatan resistance would bide their time for now.
After Hesoctl left, Lieutenant Dmitry outlined the strategic situation on the briefing room’s chalkboard and discussed the situation in Tazumal. General Romnor was pleased, as the intelligence report was very thorough, and several unexpected avenues of action were discussed. Some legionnaires voiced concern about the need to kill fellow Southrons, at which point Garrant, normally content to watch such planning silently and focus on implementation, interjected.
“As the representative of the rank and file, let me say this. I would go to the Nine Hells and back to rescue General Cordell, and so would the men, but if we fail in this insurrection, we’ll all be guilty of treason. The enlisted men will get off lightly for following orders, probably imprisoned for a time, goods confiscated. But you officers will be hunted down by the power and majesty of the Southron government to the ends of this continent or our own and your heads lopped off, your goods and lands forfeit to the crown. I know there’s been a lot of talk of minimizing casualties, and I agree, I don’t want to kill fellow Southrons, but I just want to remind you that if we fail, all is lost for the Legion, and in particular your good selves.”
After the report, Romnor mused that the enemy center of gravity appeared to be Warwick and Thalargos—enthusiasm for the pair seemed thin, particularly among the powerful King’s man General Aramis Darkhelm, who was to be avoided if possible, and raised if slain. Still, the Southron troops would not disobey lawful orders, so these two leaders needed to be removed. The legionnaires reluctantly agreed that the Special Missions Unit was simply not powerful enough to fight the senior enemy leaders all in one stand, so the Legion would need to threaten Tazumal and lure some of them out. Discussion moved to Fort Tetzcoco, a small earthen fort controlling a ford six miles south of Tazumal. If the Legion mounted a forced march the night before and if enemy response was slowed by Caramon Dieg’s disturbances in Tazumal, they could seize it in a dawn raid. Then Warwick’s troops would have to respond and the Legion could stand on favorable ground. Meanwhile, the Special Missions Unit would ride forward under cover of illusion to Fort Warwick to rescue Cordell, hopefully also finding evidence of treason by Thalargos and Warwick. That was the plan anyway.
With that agreed, the officers proceeded to the parade ground for a change of command ceremony. It looked so beautiful, the Legion ranks, all perfectly dressed, equipment all polished and clean, all regulation size with full turnout. The Legion leadership and General Amazco, commander of the 5,000 Huatepec forces also at the pass, stood at attention. Romnor reveled in the attention, and addressed the Legion:
“Men, there have been many changes in the last two weeks, we have regained our legion, and soon we will regain our general, Morgan Cordell, from his illegal imprisonment by the usurper regime of Baron Warwick Kenilworth and his minions. And then we will regain our rightful control of New Southold. But first, we have two promotions to celebrate.
Colonel Gelben’s old unit of heavily armored spearmen, the Silver Phalanx, wheeled around to the reviewing stand. Gelben held the unit’s battle standard, blowing proudly in the wind, its motto read In Periculum Audax, “In Danger, Boldness.” At the appointed time, he solemnly handed it to former Lieutenant Ariansus, a fierce fighter and now the first Videssian Captain in Legion history.
Next the Dunthrane Halberdiers wheeled front and center—in the absence of their former commander, the half ogre Captain Menigan, who valiantly fell at the causeway on the Night of Tears, Sergeant-Major Garrant handed over the company battle standard. The second new captain this day was Lieutenant Aramil, a Southron warrior priest of Nuada, and beloved of the men.
Colonel-Chaplain Gelben addressed the assembled Legion on the morality of the insurrection, noting that it was the legionnaires’ duty to fight General Cordell’s wrongful imprisonment, and asserting that Nuada was behind this righteous effort. Great cheers went up, cries of “Saint Gelben, Free Cordell, On to Tazumal.” And with that the Legion broke camp and started the long, 300 league march north, from the center of the beleaguered continent to its periphery, Tazumal, the gateway to the Arik presence in the New World.
By the 16th day on the march, the monotony of life on the road was taking its toll. The troops marched in a non-tactical column formation as always, past Kuklan. But today, KinCade, at the head of the Silver Raiders vanguard, caught sight of the glint of obsidian macas in the jungles. As he called a retreat to warn the Legion, three native units were forced to spring their ambush early. The Legion had time to deploy, and soon swept the 450 or so natives from the field with minimal casualties.
On the 20th day, the Legion encountered a lone Yazakh rider, who asked to speak to the Legion leadership. He called himself Yuruk, and was riding to Gemnia Pass to ask for the remains of her countryman, Specialist Latna So. Unaware of previous requests for the repatriation of her corpse, Moe and Dmitry flew back to the Legion cemetary at Gemnia Pass, shrinking and collecting her coffin. Moe felt some responsibility to see this matter through, as it was he who recovered her body from the lake on the Night of Tears. He swam miles to shore with the body, and ever since suffered an intolerable pain in his leg as a result which no cleric could cure. To make matters worse, the raise dead spell on Latna So had failed.
Moe and Dmitry travelled to the Yazakh colony 20 miles east of Tazumal, a collection of a few dozen yurts, many horses, and various herd animals. They met with Gaetmo So, Latna So’s sister, who now was in charge of this refugee colony which she had pioneered. The legionnaires learned that Latna So had been tasked with scouting Aztaltica as a possible colony location by High Priestess Arel-Lhasso of Dunthrane, and would have been leader of the colony had she not fallen. The tragedy was that the first Yazakh ship had arrived in Aztaltica even before the Night of Tears, but word had not reached her that it was time to resign and join her people. But in a few months, this colony had become a haven for the landless Yazakhs, whose lands were covered by the deluge of Lake Retribution when the gods punished them for supporting Vecna’s failed bid at godhood.
Moe was informed that the previous Legion leadership had refused to ship Latna’s body back from Gemnia Pass for Sky Burial, a ritual whereby the body is left in the wilderness for a week, and if the beasts devour it, the spirit joins the ancestors of the clan. When Moe explained that they bore her body with them, the legionnaires were treated as honored guests and invited for lunch. It was a tasty affair of skewered, marinated meat served on flatbreads along with less tasty fermented goat’s milk and later yak’s butter tea. Gaetmo So also produced Latna’s will, which decreed that the lesser Yazakh artefact she had found at Gemnia Pass, the Rainbow, be passed on to the colony. Under the holy full moon of Selune, Latna’s patron deity, the legionnaires took part in the procession to leave her body in the wilderness, and then departed, promising to return in a few weeks with the Rainbow.
On the 32nd day of the 45 day march north, the Legion was again ambushed, and this time the enemy escaped unnoticed by the scouts, and waited until the bulk of the Legion had marched past. Then they let loose with arrows at the lightly armoured baggage train, swiftly inflicting 50 casualties, and then another 30 on the ballista battery, essentially wiping out most of the Southron siege engineers. Luckily Dmitry had taken the unorthodox step of training native replacements, and they would fight through the rest of the campaign, though not yet very skilled.
At this point the Dunthrane Halberdiers were charged from the flank, and broke. Colonel Gelben soon rallied them, and they regained their honor (and their fallen battle standard) by charging through the native irregulars, while on the other side of the field, Romnor gleefully rode down the other native archers. A wounded enemy soldier revealed that native troops have orders to harass the Legion but not become decisively engaged, but the orders were unpopular, and very few units had responded to the call. Most Itzapani regarded this as a Southron civil war (it would have been different if the Huatepec had come, that would have been an invasion), so they were content to stand on the sidelines.
A few days’ march outside Tazumal, Moe flew forward to present the Rainbow to the Yazakh colony. This was the cause of great joy, and Moe intimated that if the Yazakhs fought on the Legion side in the insurrection, they would gain an ironclad colonial charter. Gaetmo So was resistant, for the last time her own Rivtoff Clan had sided with the Southrons against Vecna, they had lost so much. She drove a hard bargain, musing:
“perhaps if your General Cordell would grant us an ironclad charter granting us the rights to roam and pasture on a 100 by 100 mile stretch of uninhabited land in the southern savannah. And we want no Southron tax collectors here. We do not ask immunity from your laws, but within these lands we will administer the law. Finally we ask no charity, but the exorbitant price of passage is stopping our people from migrating, so we would want use of a cargo vessel, say every three months for the next three years. If I had all your words that this was the case, then we will help.”
Though they had dubious authority, the legionnaires signed a paper with their intention to do so, trusting Cordell would honor it. In return, the Yazakhs rode to war.
Meanwhile, the other legionnaires flew to Tazumal and conferred with Sashenstar merchant house head Caramon Dieg. He had succeeded in buying off the Flaming Fist and halfling mercenaries, who would be away on “maneuvers” when the Legion approached. Likewise, he agreed to have his loyalists create diversions and block roads through the city to prevent reinforcement
The band briefly stopped at Liet’s incongruous three story stone tower. The sign read “Abode of Archmage Liet Shai Hulud, Gold Dragonmaster. All visitors without a personal invitation will be polymorphed into ants.” There was an anteater tied on a leash near the door, and on the other side, a huge humanoid figure which resembled a steel statue of an armored warrior. Gelben called to no avail, and the band decided to respect the Archmage’s privacy lest they face his wrath.
Gelben travelled to the Temple of Nuada and met with Sir Feldernak. The aging warrior, veteran of so many campaigns, had little stomach for politics, and agreed to step down and appoint Gelben as interim Marshal of Itzapan. Feldernak agreed to march with the Knights of the Silver Hand, and Gelben at their head, out of the city to meet the Legion, and fight on their side. This was quite a coup, and sowed discord in Baron Warwick’s camp, yet still it appeared there would be battle.
But five days march from Tazumal, the Legion encountered a herald with a flag of truce, who offered a one-hour cease-fire and parlay with Baron Warwick. After much discussion whether to accept (for many believed it was a trap), Colonel Gelben decided the issue by asserting that if no one else would go to the parlay, he would—even if it meant being betrayed and being taken captive. The officers reluctantly agreed, and went to the appointed spot.
Soon they teleported in--Baron Warwick Kenilworth, Viceroy of New Southold, General Aramis Darkhelm, Inquisitor Thalargos, Nuadan Marshal of Zlatan, the wizard Toril Greymantle and his apprentice Nicolas de la Vallee Poussin, and finally Spymaster Reinhart. They were a formidable sight, armed with the best Southron magic items, nearly all more powerful than any of the legionnaire officers. Had it come to a fight, the Special Missions Unit would not have lasted long. Yet Warwick dare not violate the truce, certainly not in the presence of the general. In fact, the officers tried to reason with Darkhelm, but he noted this was the wrong way to pursue their claim of injustice, and he vowed to oppose any armed insurrection. Warwick was blunt, asserting that the legionnaires were committing treason.
Following up on a typically dry comment from Moe, Gilgareth, the lifelong soldier, strenuously argued that the usurpation of a private mercenary company was illegal, and this soon became the argument the others rallied upon. Warwick dismissed this, saying as the royally appointed Viceroy of New Southold, he had broad powers of martial law, and the Silver Legion in any case had been operating under royal charter to carry out its conquests in Southold’s name. The Southron courts may well have agreed with him, but they were far away, and the legionnaires believed in their cause. They thought that if they won, the legal arguments would be moot.
Warwick gave them until morning to discuss their answer. KinCade picked the pocket of the herald who remained in camp, stealing his communications magic item—which caused some ruckus the next day when he discovered it missing, but no real harm after it was given back. Moe thought a single word reply--“Nuts”--would do, but Dmitry argued that they should codify their legal justifications in a letter, to be delivered to General Darkhelm in hopes of swaying him.
Alas, it did not, so the attack plan went forward. A few days later, the Silver Legion did a forced march through much on the night, and at dawn on 30 Alturiak, 1514, they attacked Fort Tetzcoco. The small earthen redoubt controlled a river ford, five miles across the savannah from Tazumal. The banner of Southold flew overhead, and the fort was defended by a unit of Royal Housecarles, the first Southron troops the Legion had seen, as well as three native units, though these were equipped with longbows and better trained than those seen previously. On the low ramparts, sat astride a magnificent warhorse was a paladin of Tyr, Lady Araselle of Hador, noted hero of the Miscreants and part of the band who slew Lolth, spider demigoddess. This complicated matters, as the legionnaires did not want to spill Southron blood if they could avoid it, let alone that of a peer of the realm and holy paladin of the god of justice.
Colonel Gelben rode for one last parlay to try to avoid bloodshed, arguing persuasively that two such followers of good deities should not oppose each other. Yet it was to no avail. Lady Araselle replied,
We will not surrender. I am a paladin of Tyr, of the noble line of Hador, I have fought and defeated creatures of the underworld you know not of, and I will fight even against such odds as this. I have been tasked with defending this pile of bare earth they call a fort. I say again to you, we do not wish to spill Southron blood, put down your arms and turn aside.
But the Silver Legion could not, and so battle was joined. Unlike the previous skirmishes, this time the enemy inflicted moderate damage on the legionnaires as they advanced, and this time the natives did not break easily, clearly having been well trained by Southron officers. Even as three Legion infantry units bypassed the stakes and low walls, the natives fought well, in some cases not breaking until more than half their number fell. Unfortunately, the walls and intact gate meant that Romnor’s Wildcats could not engage, so Lieutenant Sett broke off from the Silver Raiders and threw an enchanted fire at the gates. As they burned, the Silver Phalanx marched headlong at the Housecarles, and rather than let the brave, but still green Captain Ariansus engage Lady Araselle—more than a match for any single warrior in the Legion—Sergeant Major Garrant challenger her to single combat. As the battle waged around them, these two full plate armoured warriors traded many blows, a scene of Southron chivalry in this dark continent, but neither could gain the advantage.
Finally, the Fort gate burned sufficiently to collapse, and the heavy cavalry charged, with General Romnor, ever the cavalier, insisting he have the honor of duelling Lady Araselle. Yet with that, the battle was essentially over, as all three native units were in flight, and the paladin and Housecarles were surrounded. To prevent a massacre, Lady Araselle, tears in her eyes, ordered a surrender, lowering the standard of Southold from the fort, and sought Colonel Gelben out to hand over her sword. The fighting ceased almost immediately, as the legionnaires were anxious to stop pressing this distasteful attack against their countrymen. Gelben graciously gave her enchanted sword back, and said Lady Araselle and her troops could go free if they swore not to take arms against the Legion. He asked that she search her conscience and investigate the injustices perpetrated by Warwick and Thalargos, and she graciously accepted and left.
Chapter III. Attacking Fort Warwick
As the sun began to rise, the Legion dug in at Fort Tetzcoco, positioning the ballistae, measuring out fields of fire, and keeping the Legion and Nuadan cavalry concealed behind a hill until they could engage. They were joined by the Yazakh cavalry led by Gaetmo So, who were positioned forward to harass the enemy with arrow fire. Then according to plan, the Special Missions Unit prepared to ride the 9 or so miles overland to Fort Warwick, under cover of one of Dmitry’s illusions. They saw the Army of New Southold, delayed by Caramon Dieg’s diversions in Tazumal, finally assemble and march toward Fort Tetzcoco. In their ranks they saw General Darkhelm, Baron Warwick, and Inquisitor Thalargos, but not the wizard Toril Greymantle or Spymaster Reinhart.
The Army of New Southold deployed on a broad front and advanced in unison at the speed of its slowest, heavily armoured Housecarles. The Yazakhs peppered them with arrow fire and then retreated, but it was clear the archers were out of practice, as it took several volleys for them to find the mark.
Meanwhile, the Special Missions Unit left their horses tied at Yegor’s pub, and clambered down the mudflats to the cave entrance. A stone shape and dispel magic bypassed the iron grate and dispel magic trap. Sett swiftly detected a spear gauntlet trap, and Gil disarmed it. As they pressed in, Gelben cast another stone shape to make a bridge over a stream. Here Vogon charged at two salt mummies, who broke free from a vein of salt to attack. Gil though they were weak salt zombies, a creature he’d heard of before, but it turned out each could take as much punishment as General Cordell, and they regenerated as well. Even Gelben could not channel sufficienct holy power to drive them away, trying to turn them three times. Vogon took quite a beating, but eventually wore them down.
Meanwhile, a feral yowler, like a jaguar or displacer beast which had been subject to necromantic experiments, attacked the rear, but was also soon slain. Further in, Gil found and disarmed a flame jet trap, and quietly ascended the stairs up. Down below the band heard dwarven mining songs, but decided to leave them alone. Above, cave walls gave way to freshly cut dwarven dungeon walls, and the group saw two guards standing in a corridor intersection. Sett crept forward invisibly and slew them silently. The legionnaires then freed Pelfry and Hieronymous. The imprisoned legionnaires revealed that Cordell was somewhere in the dungeon and Thalargos’ torture chamber—for that is all they would call it, not a room suitable for a Nuadan—was around the corner. The pair were given the guards’ weapons and armor, and went back to guard the rear.
As Vogon marched down the corridor toward the torture chamber, he suddenly heard barking from up ahead, and then was struck by an invisible beast guarding a well-built stone door—a Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound. With surprise gone, the band decided to move quickly as the alarm was sounding. Moe impulsively went up to the stone door and opened it—first he was hit by the Greater Glyph of Harm which nearly slew him, then narrowly dodged a Burnt Othur Fumes trap, which would have finished the job.
Meanwhile, having gone down the other passage, Sett saw a guard room behind a portcullis, and beyond that, saw an iron golem standing guard by another great stone door—he yelled “Cordell must be in here.” At that point, an Acid Fog descended on the corridor, slowing movement to a crawl. KinCade, thinking he might not survive the long slog back, crept silently up the hall toward the stairs up into the keep. Unbeknownst to them, Toril Greymantle had his room just up the stairs, and had leapt down and started casting, accompanied by his apprentice Nicholas, who hasted and cast protectives on him, as well as Spymaster Reinhart, who started creeping forward right toward KinCade. Toril swiftly summoned a Mummy which started ambling down the corridor.
The situation was looking grim at this point—powerful enemies advancing on three fronts, the alarm signaled, and Cordell still imprisoned. It looked like the mission might end in failure. Yet the legionnaires rallied and tried to make the best of the dire circumstances.
An invisible drow closed the door to the Inquisitor’s sanctum, but Gil threw it back open and fled, surviving a series of attacks as he did so. Luckily, the drow did not pursue, and closed the door behind him. At this point, Moe cast a Wall of Force blocking the corridor to the Sanctum and up to the keep—sealing out the drow as well as Greymantle and company. This brought them some time to focus on the iron golem—luckily, Vogon had a scarab of golembane, else the creature, immune to most magic as well as weak magic blades, would have been nigh unstoppable. Even so, Vogon took some prodigious blows and nearly died in its poisonous breath before felling the construct. The remaining guard, a Kenilworth baronial lieutenant surrendered, and when queried said he knew nothing about drow or a heretical shrine to Tempus in the dungeon.
Meanwhile, after Gil’s swift disarming of more difficult traps, the band released Cordell. The general was in good health, but without his items. “Rescue at last. I knew you’d make it in the end, but my gods it was hard. The pain is more than you can imagine. But I kept sending them on wild goose chases as I know my legionnaires would return. Now, I want some payback, Thalargos dies today. Warwick dies today, and damn the consequences. They’d cure me every day so the torture could start afresh, so I don’t need healing. But I need my items, I need Nuada’s Wrath, it should be up the stairs in the tower armory —I should know, I designed the place before Warwick stole it.”
Alas, the wall of force blocked the way up, so the legionnaires decided on a swift escape. Unfortunately, in the intervening time, events were conspiring against them. Toril Greymantle felt the wall of force, and knew he’d have to bypass it, but he could not teleport in the dungeon as it was warded, so his trio, all hidden with dust of disappearance, climbed upstairs into the Fort courtyard, and then teleported to the unwarded caves below the dungeon. Reinhart invisibly stabbed at Pelfrey, who stood guard at the stairs, but amazingly he failed to slay him before he called the alarm. The band advanced, and Toril summoned a fiendish dire ape and fiendish dire tiger to fight them, proceeding with Ice Storms and many other spells.
Reinhart fell to Vogon’s blows, and a glitterdust spell blinded and nearly slew Toril, but he used his enchanted cloak to turn into a bat, and thus unblinded, he flew to the cave entrance. While the others slew Nicholas and looted the bodies, Toril cast a summon fiendish dire ape, web, wall of iron, solid fog, and cloudkill to slow the band’s escape from the caves. He used a communications item—the same the herald had used--to call Warwick on the battlefield at Fort Tetzcoco. The Baron, knowing he was finished if any of the legionnaires got away with their information, rode to Thalargos, and the pair Word of Recalled back to the Inquisitor’s sanctum. The Baron ordered Darkhelm to press the attack on the fort, but the general, who had long had doubts about Warwick, enhanced by the Legion’s claims, instead ordered a halt. So the two armies stood facing each other, waiting for the result of the clash at Port Nuada.
The legionnaires ran as fast as they could through the caves, and swiftly bypassed Toril’s defences, burning the web, battering the wall of iron, and Dmitry used his obscure wind fan for the first time to blow away the cloud spells. The legionnaires ignored Toril, raining spells upon them (by now lower level as his powerful ones were gone), and ran into Port Nuada to their horses. Meanwhile, the Baron and the Inquisitor ran up the stairs from the sanctum into the keep, and, seeing KinCade, who had disguised himself to look like a soldier, ordered him and all the other soldiers nearby to fall in with them. The Baron, Inquisitor, ten guards, and KinCade all mounted horses and raced out the Fort's gate. Throughout all this, Toril was using the talking stone to detail the legionnaires’ every step in the village below. Just as the fugitives prepared to ride away, the conjurer had a lucky stroke when he cast glitterdust and managed to blind Vogon.
Seeing his hated enemy riding from Fort Warwick, Cordell wanted to fight, but left the decision with his officers who better knew the tactical situation and their capabilities. As it happened, they were nearly tapped out, spells low and many wounds, so they decided to try to outride the pursuers, as they had swifter light warhorses. However, Thalargos started raining long distance spells, and after a blade barrier felled Vogon’s horse and slew Hieronymous outright, Cordell said “Enough, we’ll not be picked off one by one and leave our men behind, Legion, form up and attack!” He told Moe to ride off and get help, but the plucky wizard said he had one spell left, so he wheeled around with the rest.
The battle did not go well initially. The ten riders with the Baron charged and did great damage to Gil, and Warwick lay into Cordell, who had only minor protection from a swift armor in a bottle potion. Vogon was blind and not very effective, ultimately guided by Dmitry to charge into combat. Moe rode up and cast his last zero level ray of frost at Warwick, but then Thalargos saw this made an attractive target of four legionnaires in a tight group, and ice stormed them, leaving the wizard at death’s door for the second time that day. Then a greater command, “die!” rendered several combatants helpless, Gil among them. Toril and his fiendish dire ape caught up, and the beast swiftly slew Gil. Warwick sought to finish off the teetering Moe, but struck mirror images instead, and the mage got away, thinking for certain none of his comrades would get out alive.
But then, the tide began to turn. Cordell revealed himself to the soldiers, and called on them to join him. It turned out four of the ten were Legion replacements who Warwick had reassigned to his own units, and they gladly turned on Warwick and joined their legendary leader. They had just seen KinCade, who’d tricked the Baron into believing he was with him, also turn on Thalargos, twice trying to net him, but failing as the horsemen kept cutting him loose. Thalargos let his guard down to this little halfling who kept ineffectually hurling nets at him, but then KinCade turned deadly, striking with a sneak attack and using his spell stored magic missile. The Inquisitor fell, and suddenly Warwick was on the run, riding off and drinking potion after potion of cure critical wounds. He had only to hang on until the unit of 100 cavalry riding from the fort arrived. When the invisible Toril gave Thalargos a healing potion, things again looked grim for the Legion. Yet Gelben charged and smote the heretic into the underworld, and KinCade leapt on a horse and charged at Warwick. Just as the cavalry were levelling their lances to charge, he used his other stored spell to slay the Baron.
The legionnaires readied to flee, but General Cordell stopped, drew himself up, and yelled at the horsemen to halt, saying the treasonous usurper was dead. Dmitry added that the evidence of their treason was in Thalargos’ sanctum. Captain Aethelred recognized the voices of the legionnaires he’d spoken to on heir earlier scouting mission, and agreed to take them prisoner, but swiftly investigate their claims. When he saw the shrine to Tempus, he was convinced, and gave command of the fort back to the rightful Viceroy, Morgan Cordell.
The situation quickly deescalated, as messengers were dispatched to Fort Tetzcoco for both sides to stand down. The legionnaires swiftly searched the fort for more evidence. In Toril Greymantle’s room (the wizard had snuck away invisibly), they found only an elaborately trapped chest, with a note inside, “To the thieves who have tried to steal my equipment, do you really think I would be so stupid? Once, many years ago I let a certain Dragonmage get the drop on me, ransack my home, and pilfer my belongings, but never again. Even if you have managed to vanquish my magnificent Conjuration magic and looted my body, you will never have the rest of my valuables or my precious spellbook.”
In the Baron’s room, they found a larger sum of treasure than they’d ever seen in one place, 50,000 nobles, and within his desk, an unsent letter to his father.
“Dear Duke Warwick of Balar, Master of Harbury,
My liege and father, the plan goes well. Our base of operations is finally secure with the completion of Fort Warwick. The gold continues to flow, and the forges are melting down Aztaltican statuettes and works of art as quickly as we can. Caxal is not a problem, I have made clear that he will be removed should be prove problematic. Cordell had too much of a soft touch with the natives, like a good hound, they need to be shown who is in charge.
The plague spread like wildfire, and we do not even have to do a thing, it weakens the natives and keeps them more manageable. I even understand it has spread to neighboring countries, which should be useful as we expand beyond Itzapan. The Saurians are a real problem, however. For now they are engaged in the south finishing off the Zlatan refugees, which will be a good riddance, but I ask for another 1,000 troops in the next four months so I can bolster our forces for when they turn to us. One Southron is worth twenty natives on the battlefield, and I’m sure we can also see off the Saurian foe.
I agree that Cordell is the one troublesome matter. As per my last missive, I cannot get Cordell to make any useful confession regarding the theft of the King’s Fifth we alleged. As this was the very reason for getting Edmund to hand over the Viceroyalty to us, I certainly understand the need for progress. As for the King’s continued questions on the matter at court, I have no ready answer yet. If they are sending Lofalkin to check on Thalargos’ interrogations, then he will of course see through this, so we have little time. I have instructed the good Inquisitor to step up questioning, but I hold out little hope. We may need to arrange an accident, a forged confession would, I think, be too dangerous if it were found out. Your next letter will probably not arrive before the new inquisitor does, so I shall arrange for the accident and another “failed” resurrection. However we will need to try something new in future, as that line may stretch credulity if it happens to often—I just had to use it with that meddlesome Caernarvon as well.
I am having some minor problems with Cordell’s men, but by the time this letter reaches you the Silver Legion should not be a problem.
Baron Warwick Kenilworth, Viceroy of New Southold”
As it does for most senior officers slain on official missions, the Legion footed the bill for the 5,000 nobles in diamonds required as the material component for Gilgareth’s Raising, and Sir Feldernak charged nothing for the actual spellcasting. Membership certainly has its privileges.
In the Inquisitor’s sanctum, the band found a second letter, undoubtedly dropped by accident by the drow during the brief fight with Gil, written in archaic elvish script.
Take Firebringer Glannath and some raiders and travel to the Inquisitor’s quarters in the usual manner. The artificers have manufactured the crystals he asked for on the Great Forge, so he may have them. We are disturbed to hear that a faction of his troops are in rebellion and marching away from the Saurians. Emphasize that our support is contingent on these Southrons keeping the Saurian threat at bay as well as the other arrangements, and they should not squander their power squabbling amongst themselves. They are as children who need elder guidance. If only our numbers were greater and we could take a more open role as in the days of old!
We hear rumors that one of the ancient foes, a dwarf—not a newcomer from Arik but from Aztaltica—has been seen in Huatepec. None of our many expeditions in the surviving ways of the Underdark have uncovered such an enclave, so they must be well hidden. We desire more news of this, and wish him captured for interrogation. But first we need to know how many dwarves survived these fifteen centuries. If our enclave was not aware of them, it is likely any surviving dwarves are also few and are not aware of us. If so their destruction takes precedence even over preventing Saurian hegemony. Ensure that Thalargos provides the information and we can handle the capture.
Only use the Mirror of Transportation well away from the forward encampment. Its uses are limited before it becomes inert, so even if the primitives learn its use, only a handful of the outlanders could come through. If this Southron rebellion turns out to be a problem for the Tempurian, then you may need to destroy the portal, but it is an item not easily crafted, so be certain.
Blessings of the Scorpion be upon you,
Aquasa Nalfein Mizzrymof”
On reading this, the legionnaires found the mirror, which apparently had only 10 charges remaining—enough for five legionnaires to go through, and come back again. So they placed a heavy guard on it lest the drow come back through, and hoped the dark elves would not hear of Warwick’s defeat before morning, when they’d have time to relearn spells, heal, and then send a party through to investigate the drow lands.
That evening, the Legion billeted in Fort Cordell (no longer Fort Warwick), and a makeshift feast was organized. Cordell swiftly pardoned all Southron forces, as they were simply obeying orders. He gave General Darkhelm command of the Fort Cordell garrison as well as retaining titular command of the entire Army of New Southold. However, he made it clear that if the army marched, Cordell would actually be at its head.
The general eagerly took in stories of the Legion’s travails and the long odyssey of the Special Missions Unit from the Saurian city of Maxal on the other side of Aztaltica, all the way back to Tazumal. He wanted time to assimilate it all, and when the expedition to the drow returned, planned to have a final discussion on courses of action. Still, he expressed his appreciation to his officers, and promised that they would all receive plantations—those of Baron Warwick’s baronial troops were being stripped of their titles (for the land itself had all originally been allocated to the Legion by Royal charter) and would be awarded, complete with native slave workers, within days. He walked the band to an obscure bit of land a few hundred yards away from the fort, and dug a mere six feet down—there, magically shrunk by Lady Ailea before her death—was the 3 million nobles he had sequestered so long ago. The general reluctantly disbursed it to the men, knowing that discipline would be lax for weeks as they spent it on wine, women, and song, and that despite the Legion’s legendary esprit de corps, many would resign or desert with the money. However, he knew that the prospect of marching south to recover the additional three million nobles worth of Zlatan treasure which fell to the bottom of the lake on the Night of Tears would be a good incentive to keep the legionnaires in line, and he instructed his sergeants to subtly pass that message around.
Cordell wanted the Special Missions unit to then book passage in several days on the swiftest ship to Southold, to explain the circumstances of the insurrection and bring the evidence of Warwick’s treason and Thalargos’ heresy direct to the King. The legionnaires would need to return swiftly, ideally staying in Southold for only 18 days, in order to leave by 1 Mirtul 1515 and meet the window of the monthly ebb of the Hellstorm. This would allow them to be back by 12 Kythorn, just in time for the summer campaign season. As soon as was practical, the Army of New Southold would march south back to Gemnia Pass, and from there lay siege to Zlatan City.
This time, Morgan Cordell hoped to eradicate the Viperhand cultists of Sotek once and for all.