Chapter I. The Lost City of Quetza
See Book I Chapter IV.
Chapter II. Command and Control
In the days after their initial debriefing after the first Aztaltica voyage, the legionnaires took several days to drill with their units, becoming reacquainted with their comrades after so many months of being away. It was a relief to get back to the normalcy of barracks life, if only for awhile. Soon General Cordell took aside the two new Captains, Gelben Fisk and Kincade Winkwillow, and introduced them to their commands:
“Gelben, you’ll have the Silver Phalanx, a fine unit of 160 spearmen, happy to serve under you given you previous successes. The more pious Southrons gravitate to this unit--the Halberdiers of Dunthrane by contrast have always been a bit of trouble, even under Captain Menigan's excellent tutelage, so count yourself lucky. They're a solid block of men, which I often used to anchor the most important part of my line, such is their defensive power with spears set for charge.
Kincade, you will find command different than your normal diplomacy and special missions. However, the 80 Silver Raiders are a light cavalry unit well-suited to covert scouting, hit-and-run missions and such, so those tactics at least should be familiar. You may find the most difficulty in operating on the battlefield, where I rely on your cavalry as a mobile harassing force, outflanking the enemy and peppering him with arrow fire while avoiding melee until the decisive moment."
And so, at noon on 20 Kythorn, Cordell gathered all the Legion officers on Winterhaven’s wooden parade platform, while the rest of the Legion stood at attention. The troops looked beautiful; their ranks, all perfectly dressed, equipment all polished and clean, all regulation size with full turnout. After they were handed their company battle standards, Captains Gelben and Kincade gave stirring speeches, prompting cheers from the ranks. They wasted no time in putting the men through their paces. Gelben spoke with his second, another Nuadan named Lieutenant Tirol, and his First Sergeant, Talbot, who explained the Silver Phalanx derived its name from the use of Minoan 12 footer pikes years ago, introduced by their former Minoan Captain, Gryzyz. After the disastrous night action in Pelos when the Legion was outflanked by the drow and such weapons were useless, they’d reverted to Southron longspears, but kept the Phalanx name and their disciplined tactics. Likewise, Captain Kincade spoke to his Silver Raiders, hearing of the death of their former Captain Brecht, just months earlier. As his second, Lieutenant Kane, was away on a mission to Arden, he spoke to First Sergeant Grimsby, who explained the unit’s elite status, made up of rangers and rogues who fought in a decentralized, skirmish order.
In addition, Lieutenant Dmitry was given command of a new, small unit, an artillery battery of 30 men, using the three Cortalish ballista which had been captured at the Battle of Radzetsky Pass. Such artillery weapons were not the Southron way of war, so foreigners such as he, and his Videssian second, a support mage named Lieutenant Poncet, were put in charge. Engineers had spent the winter making the devices mobile, though they still required oxen to move and took twenty minutes to unlimber and get into firing position. Dmitry used a considerable amount of his own funds to smuggle high-quality Videssian masterwork ballista bolts for the unit, forced to pay such a high premium as Videssos was the only country other than the Cortalish Empire itself which used such weapons.
Finally, General Cordell took Captain Kincade Winkwillow aside, giving him a diplomatic mission in Bywater. He was to obtain an audience with the patriarch of the richest merchant house in town--Aldeth Sashenstar--who most Southrons know for their fine Sashenstar beer. He would negotiate a contract for the use of a dozen sturdy cogs to sail the Legion to Aztaltica, under the expedition’s flagship, the Endurance. Cordell explained that the cogs had to come as far away from Dunthrane as possible to help preserve the secrecy of the mission; the flotilla would only arrive three days before departure. Kincade was to use the utmost discretion, but could drop the King’s name and that of Archmage Zenjik Demonslayer, both of who backed the mission. Arriving in town, Kincade went to the famous Blade and Stars Inn mercenary hangout, just across from the Flaming Fist Barracks. He spoke with one of Aldeth’s nephews, explorer Dabron Sashenstar, and was soon able to arrange a meeting with the old merchant. It didn’t take much to win him over, showing examples of the Aztaltican gold and featherweaving—then the haggling began. Kincade did well, agreeing to award the Sashenstars with a five year exclusive contract to carry back trade goods from Aztaltica in return for a 14% share of their value—a full percentage point less than what Cordell had authorized.
Meanwhile, Gilgareth took delivery of an exquisite magic hand-axe, from the forge of famed ex-adventurer Gunter of Bywater, and enchanted by Dunthrane hedge wizard Algareth. He later took his friend, Endurance Second Mate Ralfeo, to Algareth’s Emporium to commission an enchanted cutlass. Ralfeo had been teaching Gilgareth elementary seamanship on the Endurance, and the soldier could now climb the rigging and tie a sea knot as well as any sailor.
Gelben departed to spend a month in meditation and prayer at the Temple of Saint Uther, the seat of his order, carrying a great tapestry he had commissioned of the Nuadan hero Saint Uther standing over the defeated demon Kahabros, who was trying to tempt the great leader. When he returned to Winterhaven, he wore a fined crafted new suit of enchanted full plate armor to replace the suit he’d lost to the black pudding’s acid in Balul.
Chapter III. Recovering Orphans' Toys
On 30 Kythorn, General Cordell assembled the available officers not on missions--very few given the state of preparation for the invasion--Captain Winkwillow, Lieutenant Gilgareth, Lieutenant Dmitry, and Sergeant-Major Garrant. He had a volunteer mission to put to them, not official Legion business, but a chance to help some Legion allies. They were to take the three weeks’ passage by ship to Bywater, on the northern frontier of Southold, and go to the orphanage called Nuada’s Discarded Hands, funded by well-known ex-Bywater Six adventurer Baronet Elsinor. The orphanage had contributed many new recruits to the Legion, and had recently been robbed of a shipment of elven-crafted toy soldiers. The soldiers had minor enchantments to make them more entertaining, and further encourage the boys toward a military career. A ransom of 2,000 nobles was to be paid to the unknown thieves, to be deposited at the base of Doolan’s Hill in three weeks’ time. Cordell noted there was little prospect for profit, but it would be a good work for the Legion’s future recruiting.
All members present immediately volunteered. Along the way, the small boat they were in was attacked by a band of amphibian kuo-toa monsters, whose shields were applied with some sort of glue-like substance which captured weapons which hit them. The fight reached comic proportions at one point, with most the band’s weapons attached to enemy shields, but the creatures themselves did not have great prowess in battle, and were vanquished. The legionnaires eventually arrived and traveled to the orphanage outside town, in an old converted warehouse. The establishment was filled to the gills, swelled with new orphans from the war. The weary half-elven ranger hero, Baronet Elsinor of Arden,received the band, telling them the circumstances of the theft and the location for the ransom to be paid.
The band briefly spoke with the children, letting them handle their weapons and saying they too could join the Legion when they grew up. They then discussed strategy; deciding to send an invisible scout ahead, then to send a wagon by with the gold, with the invisible legionnaires secretly jumping out under the hill. The band took an older elven orphan, Sett, to pay the ransom; though the bags were actually filled with rocks. As the party waited invisible, an invisible enemy told Sett to put the ransom down, and the band leapt into action. Immediately, a pair of massive dire wolves came bounding down the hill at them. They were soon vanquished, but the enemy ran away invisibly. On the other side of the hill, the band saw an old, ruined chapel, and ran toward it. They cautiously explored the ruined complex, which once was a walled monastery to Mishakal, Mistress of Healing, but now had few walls intact.
As the band searched for secret doors, Gilgareth located an illusionary floor and jumped down amid several dire rats, easily dispatching them with his swift rapier. Despite the three rogues present, all failed to discover the crossbow trap which struck as Garrant opened the door. He asked them to be more careful next time, and at the end of the corridor they discovered and disarmed another such trap. Round a corner, the legionnaires stepped into a wide room filled with dire rats, as well as larger dire creatures, and a spellcaster and a pair of archers crouching behind a low wall of debris. Fearing encirclement, the band first held the corridor. Garrant and Gilgareth were the only two warriors, fighting in tandem to prevent each other from being flanked. Then Garrant stepped in, and swung the mighty two-hander, cleaving through four of the rats in a single motion, as the band poured in. As spells continued to rain on them, they all approached the low wall, crouching behind it just as a fireball exploded around them.
With a moment’s pause, the band went over the top, the two warriors exhorting the rest to follow, as they drew heavy attacks. In addition to the wizard, there were two enemy human rogues, whose sneak attacks wreaked havoc with Garrant and Gilgareth. Dmitry cast a stream of support spells, while Kincade circled around for sneak attacks, and Sett cast the occasional illusion, though the orphan spent much time hiding in the shadows. Often this was for naught, as the enemy had a necklace of lighting bolts, and threw several of the beads into their midst. The fight was fierce—against a group of three adventurers nearly as powerful as the legionnaires themselves. The fighting took its toll, as Garrant fell to the ground at death’s door, feigning death until he could drink a healing potion and get back into the fight. After victory, the band drank all their potions, dearly wishing their stalwart cleric Gelben was here rather than the seat of his order, at the Temple of Saint Uther.
The band cautiously advanced into the final room, lit by the eerie glow of a great green crystal, sacrilegiously embedded in an ornate white altar. A hulking warrior in full plate, clearly of human and demonic blood from his horns, stood by the stone, amid many dire creatures. He would grab another rat, wolf, badger, or weasel from the many cages, and one-by-one, impale them on the stone, watching as they mystically grew into dire creatures. “You dare trespass on the ritual of the Direstone…You shall dieeeeeeeeeeeeee!” As the group fought, they realized the demonic warrior continued to swell the enemy ranks with new dire creatures. Garrant and Gilgareth charged the warrior, but he clearly had tough armor and spell defenses and was difficult to strike, while his battle-axe nearly laid them both low. Dmitry, by then out of spells, bravely engaged the mighty warrior in melee, though his friends told him to stay back and heal. He was struck down and slain. Only when Kincade and Sett joined in did they fell the demonic warrior and eventually, the rest of the dire creatures.
The band investigated the rest of the underground chapel, eventually finding a diary from a thousand years ago describing the tragedy that beheld Karstack Abbey, holy of Mishakal. The priests were ambushed by various dire creatures, who finally cornered them in the altar room, which somehow became cursed and the great direstone grew through its ornate foundations. The band did not loot any of the graves, but returned to Bywater, where a small shrine to the Mistress of Healing stood, and the cleric there told them they had cleansed an ancient monastery of the faith, for which the clergy in Dunthrane would cure Dmitry for free. On their return to the ancient abbey, they discovered the direstone was practically impervious to blows, but a flask of holy water finally sent it shattering. Those present were healed amid visions of Mishakal. The party returned the magic toys to Elsinor’s Orphanage and the grateful children, then headed back for Dunthrane and Winterhaven.
Chapter IV. Final Plans
When the legionnaires returned from their mission of mercy week later, on 27 Kythorn, General Cordell tasked Captain Kincade Winkwillow with creating a deception plan to mask the Legion’s invasion of Aztaltica, and Captain Gelben Fisk with drafting different invasion plan options. General Cordell was beaming with enthusiasm, as the men had undertaken only limited defensive missions during this campaigning season in order to conserve their strength, and were ready for action
Go to next section of the Log, Book II: Conquest!