Chapter I. Convoy Duty
The defeat of Garkuna at Huana Pichu, coming a mere week after the Legion’s crushing battlefield victory over the Zlatan at Gemnia Pass, quieted down the insurgency for weeks, buying the Legion critical time to stabilize its position. However, in the three months since that victory, the insurgency escalated. Viperhand cultist attacks became better coordinated, occurring simultaneously in different neighborhoods, requiring the formation of additional rapid response forces. Whereas before, the Legion was intercepting secret letters with some frequency, now they were protected by layers of unbreakable code and native magic.
General Cordell called a council of war to deal with the increasing insurgent threat. The strategic goal was the capture or death of General Tacuba, the Zlatan general who had been raised after the Battle of Gemnia Pass and who was now the military leader of the insurgency, just as Garkuna was its spiritual leader. Cordell assigned counterinsurgency missions and teams to Captains Winkwillow and Fisk. He tasked Kincade with using his intelligence connections to help Captain Guererro’s Nuadan Irregulars maintain control over the city of Azatl to the north, the region’s main market for jewels, fine stones, and feathers. He also assigned Lieutenant Arkane and Specialists Kyte and So to the mission, which would begin in several hours when So returned from curing some of the Zlatan who had contracted the diseases which now seemed to run rampant through the occupied peasantry.
Cordell also tasked Gelben to lead a team immediately to guard Paymaster Hieronymous’ convoy (carrying half a million nobles’ worth of Zlatan loot) to a rendezvous with an Itzapan escort force north of Azatl, which would take the wagons all the way to Port Nuada. Gelben was accompanied by Sergeant Vogon, Lieutenant Sett, Specialist Ontor (a Southron druid of Silvanus seconded to the Special Missions unit for the first time), ten Silver Phalanx soldiers led by Sergeant Penrith, and the Paymaster-Captain himself. Gelben’s band swiftly left with the wagons, crossing a causeway over Lake Zlatan, and soon approached the city of Azatl. Corpses impaled on poles at the edge of the city stood as rotting testament to the active insurgency and Captain Guerrero’s ruthless tactics in suppressing it.
On the way through the crowded city streets, a group of insurgents took advantage of a diversion to launch a well-planned ambush. Nets of tangled webs sealed the road ahead and behind of the convoy, archers on rooftops rained arrows down on the guards, while insurgents disguised as shoppers engaged the legionnaires in close combat. The insurgents had woefully underestimated the strength of the convoy guard, however, and were beaten back with little difficulty. The convoy moved on quickly, taking only a few moments to loot the dead, but not deigning to interrogate any of their attackers. The convoy left Azatl and entered the oppressive heat of the jungle. By early afternoon they approached the jungle village of Qecholi, where they were to meet a company of Itzapan allies. The Itzapan Lieutenant Tangaxoan noted his troops were ambushed by Zlatan rebels, and his company was now pursuing them into the jungle. The legionnaires would have to wait until the Itzapan escort force returned.
Although Lieutenant Tangaxoan had the stocky, shorter build of the Itzapan, his men looked more like Zlatan, with lean and angular faces. Also, the village women were clearly spooked. Sensing something amiss, Specialist Ontor sent his monkey to talk with the chickens in the village. (The party would later learn that the monkey was in reality a shy and reclusive druid named Ria, who seemed to prefer the company of animals to that of humans.) The chickens indicated they hadn’t been fed at all that day, which Ontor found odd. The rest of the party, deeply suspicious, made camp in the largest village building with the wagons parked outside and guards posted.
Sett sneaked through the town around after dark to investigate. He overheard some of the villagers talking about General Tacuba's imminent arrival. However, he misheard the name as "Jim or Tucker Bob.” When he went back to the party to report, Captain Gelben correctly interpreted the name as "General Tacuba" and wondered aloud whether Sett had bothered reading any of the intelligence reports on the insurgent leader.
Lieutenant Tangaxoan, realizing the deception was blown, called for the attack at that moment. The native Lieutenant and his squad revealed themselves to be insurgents and attacked, assisted by other cultists who had concealed themselves amongst the village population. Simultaneously, a large force of attackers emerged from the jungle on three sides of the village and began charging through the mayz fields.
The party had little difficulty in stopping the attackers inside the wall, and prepared for those attacking from outside. Gelben and Vogon began exchanging missile fire with the invaders, which included the military leader of the insurgency, General Tacuba, riding on his enormous lizard. Lucky long-range shots from Vogon and Gelben hit home on Tacuba and his mount, provoking an angry but ineffectual flurry of arrow fire in response. As the range narrowed, however, Specialist Ontor’s “monkey pet” (the druid Ria) cast a Plant Growth spell near Tacuba and the eastern group of attackers, turning the mayz fields into an impenetrable thicket.
Meanwhile, the attackers from the north and south began swarming over the walls. Ontor, by this time shapechanged into a large ape, engaged the northern attackers aided by Sett and his illusions. Ria, now shapechanged into a large bear and assisted by the tiger, defended against the attackers from the south, while Gelben and Vogon, assisted by the squad of Silver Phalanx, fought off a group of attackers in the center who were trying to roll the treasure wagons away. Hieronymous initially cowered inside the building, but later emerged to take part in the defense, magical shortsword in hand.
As more assailants swarmed over the village palisade, the defensive perimeter shrank inward. A pair of Viperhand creatures smashed down the eastern gate, opening a new flank, and providing distraction for two Viperhand assassin cultists to launch deadly sneak attacks. A timely Obscuring Mist from Sett saved Ontor as he teetered from his wounds, giving him cover to disengage and heal. Vogon hacked his way through the masses of foes, while Gelben and his spearmen held the center.
Finally emerging from the dense Plant Growth, General Tacuba cackled with glee at what appeared to be certain victory, and commanded his giant lizard pet forward while drawing his fearsome bow. He was immediately blasted by powerful magical energies, however, as Ria unleashed a Flamestrike and Gelben cast a pair of Hammer of Righteousness spells. Ontor, meanwhile, cast Animal Friendship, causing Tacuba’s lizard pet to temporarily break free of his control. The tide of battle turned in the legionnaires’ favor as the sorely wounded Tacuba fled.
Ontor, showing foolish courage, leapt over the palisade in ape form and nearly slew the fleeing Tacuba with a fierce flurry of blows. However, the General managed to dodge out of reach of the ape’s attacks, and pinned him to the ground with arrows from his powerful hishna bow. Tacuba made his escape, though the party managed to reach Ontor in time to save him from the wounding magic of the arrows. However, Hieronymous had become separated and the insurgents had hauled him away as a prisoner.
The next morning, Atahuelpa himself arrived at the head of a powerful force of (genuine) Itzapan allies. The real escort force had been ambushed and delayed while enroute to the rendezvous, and the men of the village taken away for sacrifice and replaced with disguised Viperhand cultists. Clearly this was a concerted and determined effort to capture both prisoners and the Silver Legion’s looted treasure!
Looting the cultist corpses, the party found the usual personal jewelry, which was divided amongst the party (with a share going to Sergeant Penrith and a quarter share to each surviving Silver Phalanx soldier), several minor feathertokens, a magical mask made of human skin which enabled the wearer to assume another human form for a day at a time, and a magical cloak that enabled the wearer to blend nearly perfectly into natural terrain.
Atahuelpa dispatched a reinforced company of 100 warriors to guard the treasure convoy the rest of the way to Port Nuada, while the legionnaires returned to Zlatan to report the attack, and the capture of Hieronymous, to an angry General Cordell.
Chapter II. Clearing Azatl
Captain Winkwillow's mission also met with difficulties, but was ultimately successful. Kincade, Arkane, Arkane, Latna-So, and Terwyn had been tasked with using intelligence connections to help Captain Guererro's Nuadan Irregulars maintain control over the city of Azatl. The group's investigations proved fruitful, uncovering the insurgent cell in the city and routing it.
However, at some point during the mission, the legionnaires suspected they had been poisoned with some sort of amnesia agent, for they could not remember the details of their mission when they returned to report to General Cordell. However, the abrasive Captain Guerrero begrudingly gave a report in their favor, noting the the insurgent cell had been wiped out, and thanking the detachment of the Special Missions Unit for their aid.
Chapter III. Portents and Promotions
Cordell called another council of war to discuss Hieronymous’ rescue for that afternoon, but first all legionnaires were to gather for a promotion and award ceremony. With an hour to kill before the ceremony, the members of the Special Missions wandered the plaza. The officers were soon accosted by a wizened Zlatan seer, Aruna, who offered to tell their fortunes. Though skeptical, the band listened to her prophecies with interest:
Gelben: Templar, all is not well in your temple. Kahabros is not the only torturer and tempter, you must try to walk in Uther’s footsteps, even if it means falling into death and flames.
Kincade: Your future is bright despite your travails—death, deaths even I see—yes, be proud, for your actions have wiped the stain of scandal away. There is some honor among thieves it seems, little man, but big in courage.
Dimitry: You will see your forested homeland again, foreigner twice removed among these outlanders, and don’t worry, your brother lives still in a mountain of granite. But do not tarry too many years on foreign shores ‘ere you return, lest you lose that which is good while the darkness of your line flourishes.
Arkane: Your father is well and getting stronger all the time, fear not for him, fear for yourself woodsman. But beware the company you keep, it may be your downfall.
Latna-So: A refugee since youth, and now even your home is gone under the waters, do not forget the quest for your people young woman—it and your service to the soldiers will not always be one and the same. Yet be not hasty to judge, for all is not black and white.
Sett: What a secretive fellow, but good at your trade I see. You shall have cause to use it, but to what end I wonder—do you yet know yourself?
Gilgareth: Ah, finally left your dirty past behind and won respect I see; greater glory may yet be yours if you keep a true and honest heart—your leadership must be by example, all the harder for your youth.
Kyte: Archer of the Beastalker, you are far from home and your plans across the seas go awry. But focus yet on the here and now and you may yet win respect and return in triumph.
Ontor: New among their ranks I see, beware, all are not as they seem, untimely death may be your penalty for failure, so turn aside if you are not ready.
Vogon: The woman had no fortune for the half-orc, perhaps because of his strange racial background, unknown in Aztaltica.
Finally, she turned to the group and announced “I see it now that I have touched you all—sliver of fate I saw in each, but all common, all fit together. Yes, a horrible night, so many tears, so much blood, so much wailing! Beware it my friends, beware it when the caged bird dies—the Old Ones return. Not all snakes are deceitful, remember that at the last.”
They returned for the Legion ceremony, opened by General Cordell adding a new battle honor to the Legion standard—“Zlatan Empire, 1512-13.” Several promotions and awards were announced, but all were surprised when Sergeant-Major Garrant called Vogon “front and center,” and announcing:
To all, the Silver Legion presents greetings. On the 4th day of Tarsakh in the One-thousand five hundred and thirteenth year after the Cataclysm, we gather here to recognize Sergeant Vogon with the Silver Fist.
(reading from the citation)“Sergeant Vogon, 1st Squad, Dunthrane Halberdiers distinguished himself by exceptionally courageous service leading the vanguard of an aerial assault on the Sotek stronghold of Huana Pichu on or about 29 Uktar, 1512. During this period, Sergeant Vogon acted without regard to his personal safety by continuing an attack on multiple Viperhand cultists and transformed beasts. Vogon fought alongside Captain Winkwillow and Lieutenant Kane until he was slain, just moments before the relief force led by Captain Gelben arrived. Vogon’s unflinching attacks contributed directly to the success of the operation to seize Huana Pichu, almost certainly saving the lives of his two fellow legionnaires. The valour and distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Vogon reflect credit upon himself, the Dunthrane Halberdiers, and the Silver Legion.
The half-orc grinned and clutched his precious medal, worth perhaps 1,000 nobles in materials and workmanship, but far more valuable among soldiers for the honor it represented. With the ceremony complete, General Cordell gathered his Special Missions Unit together to discuss a rescue mission for Hieronymous.
Chapter IV. Assault on the Temple of Gual'batal
General Cordell convened a meeting with the party members to review what had occurred and what had been learned. He tasked the party with rescuing Paymaster Hieronymous, now a prisoner of the cultists. The map retrieved from the cultists showed a temple located over a day's travel from the city; Arkane recognized the name of the place as a temple described in an account of his ancestor Kahn's experiences, and gave some information about its layout.
The party traveled to the edge of the jungle a day's walk from Azatl. With the assistance of Terwyn Kite and his miraculous Easy Trails they easily entered the jungle at a point off the main trail. They struck a rude path and passed a small native farmhold without incident, noting, however, that there had been non-native traffic on the path and that it had been recently cleared back of brush. Kite studied the path carefully and announced with confidence a precise number of men and horses that had traveled there recently; he further observed that some of the men were wearing Legion-issue boots, and were probably the prisoners.
The group returned to the jungle rather than keeping to the path. Soon they came upon a clearing with another apparent native farmhold. To the amazement of the legionnaires as they approached the clearing any blood on their uniforms began to glow with a red light. Mistrusting the evidence of their eyes, the legionnaires were able to avoid an ambush and found themselves in fierce combat with a group of disguised Sotek cultists. Initially the groups sniped at each other across an open field but finally the party charged, led by Vogon and Arkane. Vogon and Ria's pet tiger made short work of the visible knights. A pool of blood rose as a vaguely humanoid horror and attacked but was quickly dispatched. Latna So set flame to the flimsy huts which concealed some of the cultists; a few natives were burned or killed as well, with at least one falling to So's arrows. Confusion marked the end of the battle as the cultists had forced some of the natives to wear jaguar armor, while themselves taking on the guise of civilians, but the party sorted the situation out and slew the cultists. One, however, fled into the jungle in the direction the party was traveling.
After administering what healing they could spare to the natives, the legionnaires moved on up the path. The two druids observed a display of rare wildflowers nearby and despite the protests of the legionnaires decided to set out to explore the jungle. In time the path rose up a hill that ended as a cliff and they guessed they were close to their destination: the Temple of Gual'batal, an ancient ruin clothed by jungle which was said to stand at the very brink of a cliff. The legionnaires again cut off the path and made their way to the cliff's edge. There most of the party waited while KinCade and Sett climbed down to the base of the cliff and searched for a stair. They found it in short order and mounted the stair to a narrow, trap-laden tunnel which, according to Arkane's information, would lead right up into the lowest level of the Temple. KinCade and Sett bypassed or disabled several traps, but sprung others and had to stop once for healing. About halfway up they were confronted with a large disk blocking the tunnel; the disk bore various carvings in relief which might be pressed in. Between magic and skillful examination KinCade and Sett eliminated the carvings that were trapped and determined which were affected by some enchantment. They chose one carving which bore a different magical signature than the rest; Sett pressed it. Beyond the disk in the tunnel there was a bright glow which faded to a dark figure. It stood up to its full six inches' height, revealing a tiny, perfect copy of Sett himself. The figure glared at Sett with open hatred, shook its fist at him, and disappeared further up the tunnel. KinCade and Sett looked at each other in resignation, shook their heads, and returned to working on the disk. They shortly found the right combination of carvings to press to move the disk out of the way, and continued up the tunnel. They came out unseen in the lower level of the Temple, a single great bowl-like room where several cultists (including a Viperhand monstrosity like a troll) were guarding Hieronymous, a few other legionnaires, and a couple of horses. KinCade had Kiya, his familiar, give the signal for the others to commence the frontal assault on the Temple.
As the party received the signal from Kiya they began the long run across the open plain toward the ruined temple. A few visible jaguar knights peppered the approaching legionnaires with arrows to little effect but the spellcasting of the forces of Zlatan was much more effective. Dmitry noted Garkuna standing some ways back from the entrance with his bodyguards and quickly dropped an Ice Storm and Fireball on the group. Garkuna retaliated by filling Dimitry's lungs with swamp water on 3 occasions and blinding him while Tacuba unleashed a storm of arrows that took several party members close to death. Meanwhile Vogon did what he does best and charged the center of enemy line. He was immediately surrounded by jaguar knights and enormous Viperhand cultists as large as giants. In his usual inimitable style he quickly slaughtered several of them before he was Scalesnared. Dmitry Magic Missiled the Scalesnare while Latna So used Fly to swoop in and heal Vogon. On another part of the battlefield Arkane Entangled Tacuba twice, though it was immediately Dispelled in each case. After the Scalesnare was removed Vogon again began to mow through the cultists but was eventually brought low by a massive strike from a greatclub. Latna So again healed him, taking substantial damage herself and Dmitry evened the odds by Hasting him and Slowing his foes. Garkuna saw the that the tide of battle was turning and started to run away, but Vogon and Arkane caught up to him and damaged him heavily. He immediately used Deeper Darkness and transformed into a snake, and then started to crawl down a tunnel. Terwyn used a Seeker Arrow to kill him, returning him to human form in the 2” tunnel, killing him with complete finality. Tacuba, completely unwounded, calmly strolled out the front entrance, while Gilgareth slowly killed his giant beaded lizard, Xiuhatec. Hualapec, the deacon of Sotek, having seen Garkuna slain, declared he was now the high priest of Sotek and left to join Tacuba.
After hours of digging the party found Garkuna's crushed corpse and Vogon was granted his prized Ring of Freedom of Movement. His amulet of Sotek was destroyed. Gilgareth looted the Amulet of the Scaled Lizard which toughed his skin. Kincade received an Earring of the Quetzal in the shape of a feathered serpent allowing him to sprout wings for a short time. Latna So found an Anklet of the Chameleon which aided in hiding in natural surroundings. Terwyn found an odd clump of magical bloodied earth, a Seed of Sotek which exploded with acid when thrown. A magical Maca of warpwood was traded to the Itzapan for healing feather tokens, in addition to many such tokens found on the bodies of the slain.
Meanwhile, below, KinCade and Sett had been forced to act to prevent the cultists from killing Hieronymous and the other prisoners. Although badly outnumbered and outmatched, the two legionnaires did an outstanding job of holding off the attackers; Sett's Obscuring Mists and Darkness spells caused a stalemate of sorts, and KinCade's lightning-fast attacks caused his every opponent to regret having engaged in combat with the untouchable halfling. However, a Sotek priest caused the legionnaires great misery, and KinCade in particular struggled with the effects of a spell that filled his lungs with swampwater for endless minutes that took up most of the battle; he was also blinded. Sett's darkness failed at the last to preserve him from enemy attacks and he was brought to unconsciousness by a furious rain of blows from a Viperhand abomination. Latna So flew in to assist but was quickly blinded herself for her troubles. One of the prisoners valiantly came from hiding to direct the sightless Latna So to relative safety, and he was attacked by the largest Viperhand monstrosity and slain. Arkane entered and slew some of the enemy, but beset by three Viperhand monsters, a Sotek captain, the priest, and a rogue, he too was driven back and sorely wounded. The battle moved up a set of stairs to the upper level, where the party managed to slay the rogue, the captain, and the less powerful of the Viperhand monsters. The priest fled; Kite's archery brought the remaining Viperhand monstrosity near to collapse, and Arkane finished it off. It was then discovered that Sett had not bled to death under the cover of his darkness, as parties unknown had bound Sett's wounds with tiny, tiny bandages.
The legionnaires collected aboveground and spent the night healing and resting in the Temple of Gual'batal. The next day they returned to Azatl with the rescued prisoners (both the living and the dead).
On their return to the Legion's laager in Zlatan City, the wounded were swiftly cured, as General Cordell beamed with pride. The vengeful mood that he had exhibited since Lady Ailea's death appeared to be put aside, and he grew thoughtful. Of course, he noted there would be many further such battles to stop the cultists of Sotek, but this was a great victory, even greater than that at Huana Pichu. Though General Tacuba had not been slain as he had hoped, Garkuna, High Priest of Sotek, had fallen, his remains burned to hopefully prevent him from being Raised. The general waxed philosophical about how he aimed for more than just riches for the Legion, how the legionnaires must offer the light of civilization, of justice, and of conversion--voluntary or otherwise--to these human-sacrificing primitives.
As he finished, Cordell's steely gaze swept the room. “Someone is missing. Where is Lieutenant Kane?” Arkane had been with the legionnaires when Cordell entered the council room, but he was, indeed, gone. Where Arkane had stood there lay a Silver Legion badge, cast aside. The mailed gauntlet symbol, long stained with the blood of many enemies, was now also brown with the dust of Aztaltica.
Go to next section of the Log, Book IV: The Night of Tears