The inside of this small building that was long ago converted to a church for the outpost residents is rather worn and dingy; soot from the myriad of candles coats the upper walls and ceiling. In the center of the back wall is an ornately carved symbol of a Gear. Rows of makeshift pews constructed from crates and rough-hewn timbers line a center isle that leads up to a podium from which the clerics perform services for those who have passed on.
After a bit of discussion with the Captain, the outpost church was decided on as the ideal point from which to begin the ritual. The pews have been cleared away, leaving the center of the room free. The cleric has been summoned, but the mages have a few minutes to discuss any further particulars pertaining to the ritual before he arrives. Olivia and Amelia sit to one side right; a bit winded from having to help quickly clear the room.
The Rokuga has already begun creating his circles, but they're distinctly different this time around. Cogs take shape on the floor, intricate teeth interlocking, the names of soldiers being written on each, read from a roster held in one of the mage's hands while the others scribble away.
While Qing works on drawing out the names of the outpost guards, both living and dead, Natasha has begun work on th binding glyphs that surround the circle of gears. She works quietly and quickly as each intricate glyph is marked out with incredible precision. "What are your plans for aiding the defense of the walls while we are busy?" she absently asks the quiet Kadie and Skeek.
"There are only the two of us, and we're close-support fighters," Amelia notes. "Until the attack, we should probably work on morale," she suggests, looking to Olivia.
Olivia looks back at Amelia as she says, "That sounds good. I'm also figuring at this point, anything we can lay our hands on that might help repel the enemy would be good, as funny as it might seem. I was considering having a look at the kitchens here, to see if we can work up a way to get boiling water and hot stones to throw down on them from the towers. We might be able to use 'vinegar bombs,' too something I learned from Gunther," she goes on, looking a little embarrassed that she's admitting to this. "If we can get those in their faces, it might slow the monsters down some."
"Hmmm," Amelia goes, thinking of these tactics. "Think it would be possible to… well… confuse the enemy?" she directs to Qing. "They're chaotic beasts, would it even be possible to befuddle or distract them?"
Natasha has to pause at her work and glance towards Olivia. "You do tend to be attracted to danger, Miss Weaver," she notes with a tone of moderate amusement, "Vinegar bombs, indeed." With a shake of her head, get gets back to her work on the glyphs. She pauses on one, considering it … then wipes it away and begins again with a different glyph, muttering, "This should be more effective with the type of energies present."
Qing pauses in his work, surveying it and dusting some chalk off his hands. "Judging from the battle on our way in, it is eminently possible. It appears to be a natural state for some of them, the multi-headed one for example. Bear in mind your most important task, however. Captain Bannan appears to be a man of action and conscience… I am afraid he will wish to join battle at the sides of his men. He must survive, at all costs."
"We'll stay with him," Amelia promises, then looks to Olivia. "Shall we go get started?"
Olivia nods. "If we have what we need here to set up some of the defenses I mentioned, then I'll just instruct the soldiers about the bombs and they can carry on from there. We'll stick to Bannan, we promise." Then she gets up to join the Kadie.
Amy heads out to the main yard, and looks around for the Captain. "He's probably up on the wall. Do you know where the kitchen supplies would be kept?"
As if reminded, the mage returns to his work and inscribes two more of the gear's teeth. "Olivia Weaver." "Amelia Blacktail."
Olivia shakes her head. "No idea, but I'm about to find out. One moment… " She steps away to catch up to a passing guard and taps him on the shoulder, then speaks to him. He turns and points to the left, then seems to be giving her a few instructions. The Skeek nods and appears to thank him, then goes back to Amy. "All right, I've got directions. You want to come with me, or do you want to start working on morale?"
"I'll go check the troops on the wall and try to find the Captain first," Amy notes, still thinking of just how to improve morale.
The captain is up on the wall. He's looking out over the battered fields with a cold and impassive expression. An old human walks by Amelia and Olivia. He's adorned in shimmering robes inscribed with intricate symbols and carries a worn book beneath his arm. He nods quietly to the two, then enters the chapel. "You summoned this humble servant of the gear?" he asks in a raspy and worn voice.
"Okay, I'll come and find you when I'm finished in the kitchens. I'll be back as soon as I can!" With a whirl of skirts, Olivia trots off in the direction the soldier indicated and disappears.
Finishing up a glyph, Natasha sets aside a chalk and stands. "Yes," she answers him, "My associate and I will be performing a ritual to invoke the strength of those who live, and those who have fallen, in defense of your lands. We would be honored if you would help lead the beginning ceremony so that the thoughts and beliefs of your men are focused."
Climbing quickly up the ladders, Amy heads over to the Captain. She stands on her tip-toes to look over a battlement, then asks, "Any change in the enemy, sir?"
The captain reaches over and grips the back of Amelia's shirt. Hefting her up, he then sets her so she's standing on one of the guardstones of the parapet. In the distance and circling the outpost is a squirming mass of darkness. Red eyes glint and flash in the gathering. Now and then screeches and howls tear through the air. And on the breeze a putrid stench of decay lingers. "This is the largest gathering I have ever seen," Captain Bannan notes quietly. He then raises a hand and points out to a particularly large creature. As it moves, the masses of degenerates part for it. It's body … it's a mesh of dozens of different creatures. The lower half is spiderlike; long spindly legs arching and cracking on the rocks beneath it. It's upper is a mass of shells and spikes. It seems to call out in hisses and growls to those around it and they scurry off. "And there is their leader."
"It would be my honor," the old man tells Natasha and then bows to both her and Mage Qing. He walks quietly up to the podium and sets his book atop it. "Gather the men when you are ready and I will call upon the Great Gear to protect us."
Amelia frowns at the sight of the enemy general. "It looks well-armored," she comments, trying to get a good look at the beast's face. "It might be vulnerable to certain attacks though."
As Amelia stares at the creature, its head perks up. Swaying like a serpent, its head twists around and looks towards the Kadie. Most of what Amelia can see are red eyes and she can almost feel the absolute hatred radiating from it.
Locking gazes, Amelia begins to chitter. Where she grips her weapon, the fur of her fingertips begins to turn red.
"Blacktail," Captain Bannan states, turning to look at the oddly chittering Kadie. His brow furrows and then he yanks her off the wall, shaking her. "Clear your mind! Do not let them in it," he shouts at her.
Amy shakes and shudders, and tries not to look at Bannan. Kill him kill him kill him! "No!" she squeals, and finally lets go of her weapon. "Those eyes… we have to take out that monster!" she finally says, once she calms down a little.
Bannan releases the Kadie. "You heard it, didn't you?" he asks.
"That voice, yes," Amy says, sitting with her back against the wall. "It wants us all insane, doesn't it?"
"From what we have learned, perhaps. That is what is directing them. Somehow, it is using its will to control the chaos for whatever ends it seeks," Bannan says grimly. "You have to block it out. Focus on things you hold dear."
"Tell me about their tactics," Amelia asks, looking for something to focus on. "Do they rush the walls en masse? Kick up a lot of dust?"
"What wants us all insane?" At the top of the ladder, Olivia's head appears and she looks quizzically between the Jupani and the Kadie. Apparently, she only caught the last part of their conversation while climbing. "And I would appreciate a little help getting up here… ?"
Amy gets up and goes to the ladder. "How did your search for supplies go, Olivia?" she asks.
"It varies. They have been probing our defenses as of late. Sometimes they strike quickly at any perceived weak points. When they do rush, it is with no concern for their lives. They use the bodies of their fallen as a way to climb further up the wall," Bannan answers.
Olivia reaches for and grasps Amy's outstretched hand. "Pretty well, actually. I met the outpost's cook, Klaus. Quite the old rogue of a Rhian. He liked my defense ideas and added one of his own. Said that he's been waiting for a long time to do stuff like this, but his superiors always told him they weren't, er, honorable tactics." She grins wickedly.
"That's good!" Amelia says. "Did you also happen to notice if they have lots of flour available?"
Bannan snorts at the comment. "At this point I'm willing to use any tactic that keeps my men alive," he admits. Turning back to look out over the walls, the Jupani withdraws back into his thoughts.
Olivia is pulled onto the parapet and thanks her friend. "Er, yes, actually. They have lots of flour for baking bread. Why do you want flour?"
"We're too close to the Forbidden Zone for explosive powder to be stable," Amelia says. "Back in Stonebarrow, we use flour as filler for our artillery charges and… for other effects." She turns back to Bannan, and asks, "What's the range of your archers?"
"Our best crossbows can reach about one hundred yards and still be effective. As you can see, though, they know this and are outside that range," Captain Bannan answers.
Amelia peeks over the battlement again and looks at the ground about eighty yards out, to see if it's dry and dusty.
The ground is cracked and broken. It hasn't rained here in a long time.
"Good, good," Amelia says, grinning. "I'll need all of your flour, and someone to open and close the gate for me," she tells the captain.
Olivia quirks an eyebrow at her friend, wondering what devious thing she's planning now.
"You are not going out there," Captain Bannan remarks firmly.
The Kadie looks to Olivia and smiles. Amelia understands the basics of psychological warfare, but knows them under a different term. "Witchcraft," she says. "If I can spread enough flour to circle the castle, it will give us an edge. The enemy won't know what to make of my actions, and when the time comes you'll be able to strike them a heavy blow," she tells the captain.
"With flour? That's absurd; your plan is foolish," Captain Bannan notes. "If you step outside these walls you will be vulnerable."
"We're vulnerable anyway," Amy points out. "This is as much for your men's morale as it is a military tactic, sir. If those monsters charge, they'll kick up a cloud of flour dust. Fire a flaming arrow into that cloud and it will explode."
Olivia hmms at this. "Or toss a flaming bottle laced with alcohol into it." At everyone's questioning stares, she remarks, "That was Klaus' idea."
"We'll need those for wall defense," Amelia says. "They'll cause panic among the enemy, and we can sow chaos both behind and in front of the first wave then."
Olivia nods. "All right. I'll tell Klaus to keep the bottles in reserve."
Bannan's eyes lock on the Kadie. After an uncomfortable moment of silence, he says, "You are not a soldier under my command, so do as you wish." He walks over to the edge of the parapet and calls down, "Man the gates. The Blacktail is going into the field and you are to provide her assistance. Bowmen to the walls, you will provide her cover."
"Thank you sir!" Amelia says, and heads for the ladder. "Let's go Olivia! I hope the flour is in sacks and not barrels… "
Olivia is right behind her. "You're in luck, because they are in sacks," she says, her whiskers twitching mischievously.
At the bottom of the ladder, Amelia asks, "Do you know how many? The fewer there are, the closer I'll have to stay to the outer wall."
There's a rush of feet and the outpost archers ascend the walls, taking up positions at every ten feet. They crouch down and ready their crossbows, bolts aimed out into the wasteland. There they wait as if motionless statues.
Back home, Amelia never became a full witch she didn't have the needed magical talent. But she still learned everything else, and a lot of witchcraft is about convincing people you're doing magic, because they'll believe that sooner than accept the mundane explanation. So, Amy spends a few moments dancing around the piled up sacks of flour at the gate, and 'blessing' them. All just to impress the guards and any other onlooking soldiers that something powerful is going on.
Olivia watches as the last sack is dumped by the gate. "All right, so how do you propose we do this? You pour the circle and I follow you around with another bag? I don't know how fast I can run with a heavy bag of flour, but I can try!"
"Did she eat some of the pickled prunes?" one of the guards whispers to another, "Because it looks like she's having stomach problems… " The other guard shrugs, commending, "That's a Kadie. They're all insane. She's probably trying to put her craziness in the flour."
Amy hands her weapon to one of the guards, and then starts to strip out of her clothes. "Stay near the gate, and just run a new sack out to me when I've used one up," she tells Olivia, and picks up one of the sacks. "Okay, open the gate please!"
The gate guards look at each other. After a moment, they shrug in unison at the crazy naked Kadie. They move to the large wheels that operate the gate. With a complaining creak, the doors open.
Olivia clears her throat a bit when she sees Amelia strip down, but she doesn't say anything other than, "I'll do my best!" Then she picks up another sack in preparation.
Once the gate is open enough, Amy dashes outside until she's about fifty yards out close enough for Olivia to reach her without too much effort. She tears an opening in the sack of flour, and reaches in to grab a handful, which she then pats herself with. In full view of the monsters (and soldiers) she does this until her fur and tail are pretty much saturated.
Not for the first time, Olivia is struck by the realization that Amelia and Zahn are a perfectly matched couple. She shakes her head in wonder.
The monsters, which are several hundred yards away, watch the odd display. They murmur and hiss amongst themselves. One could perhaps imagine that they are discussing, perhaps in awe, that their meal is marinating itself for them.
If the Kadie's antics seem crazy so far, her next actions remove all doubt. Holding the sack of flour in one hand she begins a sort of war-dance. This involves the usual gymnastics hopping, flipping, cartwheels and so forth matched with shouted insults, rude gestures and even mooning the monsters (and Kadies know how to really moon, with those big tails). After covering maybe fifty yards, Amy's sack runs dry, and she waves it like a flag to Olivia.
As grim as the situation is, this does actually elicit some laughter from the guards manning the towers. This must be one of the strangest things they've ever seen.
Olivia hefts her own sack and runs it out to Amelia. Before jogging back, she mutters to her, "I think you need to have a long talk with the witches after this little display. Maybe they can give you something for your crazies… "
The dance goes on, until Amelia has raged her way around the keep like some demented ghost, leaving a hazy wall of settling dust in her wake. Once the circle is completed, she shakes herself violently to get rid of the rest of the flour in her fur before heading back to the gate.
One of the guards asks Amelia when she returns, "Do you do birthday parties?"
"Only if there is one of those paper animals full of candy to whack," Amelia says as she gets dressed again.
Olivia shakes her head again. "You're nothing if not original, Amy," she tells the Kadie. "Let's just hope this little stunt of yours works!"
The doors creak and shudder. They come together with a thunderous boom behind the two. For the moment, there's silence … then an outpouring of catcalls and whistles greet the returning Kadie. It takes a good couple of minutes for Captain Bannan to restore a bit of order amongst his soldiers and even then there is laughter breaking out here and there.
Olivia nudges her friend with one elbow and grins. "I think you have a fan club," she remarks, pointing at all the smiling soldiers. "But if this was part of your plan to raise morale, it was a great one!"
"Well, if I'd just gone out and spread flour around, they'd be suspicious," Amy notes. "I don't think they noticed the flour so much now."
The Kadie pauses in the middle of the yard to take a bow towards each of the walls.
"Woo woo!" comes the reply from each of the walls.
Meanwhile, in the chapel, Qing hisses, "We should nearly be ready." Indeed, the mage has worked quickly, three large gears having spread across the floor, one each for himself and Natasha and one surrounding the podium before the standing icon of the Great Gear itself. Smaller cogs interlock and connect the three larger ones, each varying in size and number of teeth. Instead of the customary ritual candles, each has on its center an oil lamp, the occasional sputter shaking its flame. The mage drops his chalks into his satchel, and folds his arms. "We should begin calling soldiers in groups to the service. I'm sure the defenses are well in hand… I had my reservations about those two, but they seem more or less sensible."
"One thing I have learned about the people in Sylvania over the years is that they may be unorthodox and a bit strange, but they carry the same heart and will as any other. In some cases, perhaps more so because they fight now for their very survival against a world which abandoned them," Natasha notes quietly. The feline then exits the chapel to collect the first group. All through this, the old priest waits silently for them to being in the soldiers. He takes a drink from a dusty glass of water, then flips a page in his book.
Natasha returns through the doorway and steps silently to the side. She sweeps her arm out in a fluid movement, indicating to those behind her to please enter. And enter they do. The soldiers take up position around the intricate patterns of gears drawn upon the floor and stand at attention, facing the priest. Once the last one falls into place, the priest clears his throat.
The priest places his hands on the book before him and says in a raspy, but still full of life, tone, "Servants of the Great Gear, we stand here today faced with a great challenge. At our gates are the hordes of Chaos, their claws sharp and their jaws waiting to rend our flesh and make us part of their insanity. But, this will not come to pass. This is merely but another test of the Gear, a chance to show them that we will not allow Chaos to rule our lives: that Order is the proper way of things. Stand with honor, my brethren. Today will be a day long remembered, for it will be the day we drive chaos back to the lands which spawned it. Remember those that have fallen in this great war. Remember the sacrifices they made to those they cherished so that they may live. Feel their strength as part of you; feel them now as they have always done; fighting by your side. If you truly believe in them; if you truly believe in the Great Gear; then they will be with us today on this field of war. Even in their death; they will stand proudly at our sides. Now, please, bow your heads and pray to those who have gone before us. Find peace in them and their hearts."
As the soldiers in the room bow their heads in remembrance, Natasha bows her head and starts to recite quietly. To those sensitive to magic, the power of belief grows within the old walls. To those that can see the echoes that are left in the spirit, the air shimmers around the men. Now is the time for the mages to direct and guide this belief into the ritual.
Qing, his body spiraled in the center of his gear-circle, begins reciting as well, his hands folded in front of himself. They turn curiously, fingers interlocking like the teeth of the cogs, a new hand filling in when the one before it runs out of fingers. He seems to enter an almost meditative state, head dipping down to stare at the circles stretching across the stone floor.
Captain Bannan himself takes up the charge of escorting in the next group of soldiers once the prayer is complete. For each group, the priest recites the same speech, encouraging them to think of, and believe in, those that have fallen. The power of so much focused belief is directed by Mage Qing and guided by Natasha into the runes on the floor. For those who can sense or see magic, the floor comes to life. The energy pulsates and stirs as if it were a life-form unto itself. With each group, the power of the ritual grows stronger. Outside, though, the sky starts to darken. The monsters, once satisfied to simply wait, not hiss and stir restlessly. Shrieks tear through the air. Claws rip and gouge at the ground. And their leader, it steps forward, its malevolent gaze locked onto the battered outpost. It cranes its head to the sky, it's mouth splitting apart as it screams; the sound as if thousands of souls were being tortured to madness all at once. The sound is piercing, it reaches every corner of the outpost. To some, it can even be felt in their very bones.
Up on the wall, Amy covers her ears. "Oh Dagh, I hope he doesn't scream like that again when I gouge his eyes out," she mutters.
Olivia tilts her head up to the sky, as if sniffing the air. At the creatures' screaming, she closes her eyes against it for a moment before saying quietly to Amelia, "The ritual must be working now. We'd better get ready."
"You've passed out the chef's alcohol bombs?" Amelia asks.
Olivia nods. "And the vinegar bombs we were able to make. Klaus and his subordinate cooks will carry up the boiling water and hot stones as needed."
"The magic is getting them agitated out there, too," Amelia notes, watching the monsters once more. "Hopefully it'll weaken the big one's control. We want them too angry and irritated to think."
"As long as we can think well enough ourselves, that should help a great deal," Olivia agrees.
All around the outpost, the mass of chaos moves inward now. The hisses and growls grow louder. The soldiers move quickly to their positions on the walls and parapets, dropping low and cocking their crossbows. Captain Bannan takes up his position on the central tower. With an expression of stone, he watches the monsters move in for the kill. "And thus, it begins," he murmurs to himself. The Jupani's arm raises to the heavens. In unison, all the bowmen load bolts into their crossbows. And that's just about when the creatures charge the fortress in a berserker fury.
Rushing over to the Captain, Amelia tells him, "Flaming arrows into the dust cloud when the enemy kicks up the flour!"
The monsters surge in, a sea of chaos and death towards the outpost. Once they are in range of the archers, Bannan drops his arm and the first wave of bolts go arcing into the air. Many find their mark and creatures go down into the dust, rolling and screaming. Those that are directly behind them trip over the fallen. The army doesn't care, though, and merely trample those who go down in their fury to reach those inside the walls. The second array of archers ready themselves. This time with bolts that have a rag tied and burning on the tip. Again, Bannan raises his hand.
As the creatures cross over the circle of flour that Amelia left, it bursts into the air. However, Captain Bannan doesn't order the archers to fire, not yet. He allows a fragment of their army to get through the cloud before dropping his arm. The flaming bolts launch out, arcing like shooting stars through the air. When it hits the cloud of flour and dust, there is a massive fireball that explodes outward all around the outpost. Bits of creature fly in every direction. The group that had made it past are blown forward and now are well within the range of the outpost defenders. Those which had not crossed the circle stop and scatter in confusion from the massive, burning, carnage before them. "I wanted to split up their force," Captain Bannan says quietly to Amelia.
"The vinegar and alcohol bombs should work well on the ones that made it past," Amy says. She's got her halberd in hand, and her fur is turning red… but she stays at the Captain's side for now, not wanting to lose track of him.
Olivia, who is a little to one side of Amelia and Bannan on the parapet, looks over her shoulder to see two human soldiers approaching her with large pots in their thickly gloved hands. They approach the Skeek and she nods, pointing to a few of the creatures below who are close. They nod back to her, and in unison, they dump the steaming contents of their pots over the side of the wall. Sharp screams come from below as the boiling water hits its marks. She grins to the soldiers and they hurry off to get more.
"Hey, I think you washed away some of the stench," Amy says to Olivia. "Think it would be too cruel to add soap to the mix?"
Surprising herself somewhat, Olivia throws back her head and laughs. "Soap might be too good for them. I say we stick to the water!"
And thus the battle rages. The controlled and structured defense of the outpost proves to be quite the match to the chaos and rage which faces them. Hours pass in what seems like minutes. But, as good as the defenders are, there are few of them and many of the enemy. Supplies of bolts begin to run low. The fires which boil the water begin to run short of fuel. And the people … exhaustion starts to set in. They continue to fight, determined and spirits high … but even with all that, fatigue wears them down. Slowly, the creatures do press closer. Their leader stands in front, shouting orders and trying to direct them. Any bolt that is fired towards it bounces off ineffectively. Whatever it has for armor seems to be quite strong, indeed.
Olivia doesn't see it … but Amelia does. A flier has gotten past the archers and is bearing down on Captain Bannan on the parapet. She moves to intercept it and does so quite well, in fact. Her halberd sinks deep into its chest and it lets out a horrific screech and it goes down. But at the last moment, its claw whips around and grabs Bannan's leg. It jerks Bannan off his feet and he goes sliding towards the edge of the parapet. At the last moment, he grabs onto one of the stones and holds on tightly. Beneath him, still gripping his leg, is the flier. The Jupani growls, trying to hang on … but his hands start to slip.
Olivia gasps in horror and runs toward Bannan, grabbing a nearby soldier on the way. "C'mon, your commander is in danger!" she yelps to him. She grabs the Captain's wrist and pulls with all her might, while the Cervani soldier with her throws his arms around her waist and pulls her back towards the parapet.
Amy is caught off guard by the monster's tenacity, and so loses a few precious seconds before she can react. The Kadie rushes forward to the edge of the tower, and tries to slice through the creature's limb at its base, using the longer reach of the halberd.
The flier is still very much alive. Instead of slicing its limb, the creature jerks itself upward and grabs its jaw onto the pole of the halberd. It yanks hard and Amelia finds herself going up and over the edge of the parapet. She swings wildly beneath it and the creature about ten feet from the ground. It then lets go and drops Amelia. The Kadie is now outside the gates and staring directly at an oncoming group of monsters.
Captain Bannan is trying to pull himself up with all his might when Amelia goes over the edge. His eyes go wide when he sees the Kadie go flying. And then … his expression goes calm and he says to Olivia, "Hold the defenses." His hands pull together and he then just pries the Skeeks hands free. And down Bannan goes. The flier lands a few feet away from Amelia and Bannan lands on top of it with the sound of crunching bones. Fortunately, none of them appear to have been the Captain's as he stands up and draws his sword. Taking up a fighting stance, point aimed towards the creatures, he says, "It was an honor to have fought beside you, Blacktail."
"You aren't supposed to be here!" Amy shouts at the Captain, followed with, "Stay behind me!" Then the Kadie launches into a reprise of her flour spreading performance, hoping the monsters will link it to the ring of exploding flame and panic.
"No! Amelia! Captain!" Olivia screams, watching helplessly as her friend and Bannan go over the wall. She nearly spills onto the floor of the parapet, as hard as the Cervani soldier was pulling her. Righting herself again, she calls over to the soldiers on the nearby towers, "If any of you have bottles of alcohol left, use them now! Provide cover to Amelia and the Captain! They have to get back inside!"
"No, you aren't supposed to be here," The Captain says firmly, "This is not your battle." Amelia's antics certainly get a reaction out of the creatures … but they don't run. Instead, they just watch the Kadie, chittering and hissing maniacally. And that's right when Amelia sees it coming … the leader. It must be at least ten feet tall. It slams through the crowds of its minions. With sweeping waves of its chitinous arms, it throws its own comrades for dozens of feet in all directions. Its head snakes about and then it smiles, maw splitting into multiple parts. Inside are rows of razor sharp teeth which all hook backwards. But before it can attack either of them, bottles rain down on it, shattering and spreading fire all across its body. It screams … no, shrieks, to the sky. And then … everything seems to stop; pressure builds in the air. The ritual of Mage Qing and Natasha completes.
This is not the first time Qing has been called upon to participate in a ritual of such scale, but even the jaded witchdoctor can't help a feeling of wonderment each time. This one is no exception, the power cresting in the circles washing through himself and his fellow mage, his arms and voice lifting up to the ceiling almost of their own volition. "Warriors of Chronotopia, guardians of Order. Hear our voices from beyond the mortal veil. Rise again, redeem the souls of both the living and dead… " Thunder seems to rumble in the distance despite no storm in sight, and Qing has to raise his voice above it. "Return to us, and crush the foes of the Gear!" The oil lamps gutter out and their flames spring up again in blue, streaks of light running along the names written around the cogs.
Natasha's own words echo the feeling and power that resonates behind the incantation Qing spoke. Her focus then locks onto managing and directing flow of the power within the circle. The names flare upwards and seem to hover in the air; burning in spectral flame. Out on the battlefield, the army of chaos chitter as their heads jerk and sway, trying to find the source of what they feel rippling through the very essence of the land. Flowing outward from the outpost, brilliant blue 'streams' of energy snake and twist across the barren landscape. Whenever it touches a point where someone had fallen in the past, the air ripples and the faint echo of the fallen soul bursts into existence on the battlefield. Ulbrecht and his fallen soldiers appear first, for they were the most recent fallen. But in rapid succession other knights some wearing current armor, some in armor of ages past begin to appear. Within the first minute of the ritual's completion, the battlefield is now dotted with hundreds of blue spectral warriors. They all salute towards the outpoost … then launch into a furious assault against the agents of chaos like the world hasn't seen for an age.
And as if the Great Gear has even answered their call, in the far ridge another army surges over the top and races down the fields of battle. These warriors are quite living and all bear the sigils of Chronotopia. At their head, another large male Jupani … this one clad in shining metal armor. He moves with uncanny speed, shearing through any of the degenerates which attempt to attack him.
"Okay, I have to admit, that is way cooler than exploding flour!" Amy shouts, then looks back quickly to make sure Bannan is still there.
From the tower, Olivia's eyes dance over the forms of the hundreds of spectral warriors, and she gasps in wonder. "Amazing… " Then she squints off into the distance at the living army approaching them. Is that… Could it be Bravil? she thinks, and her heart leaps in her chest.
Bannan is simply watching in awe as the fields of battle explode to life. "My father came… " he murmurs softly when the second army has crested the hill. But the moment of happiness is short lived as the leader of the armies of chaos strikes out, taking advantage of their distraction. It's chitinous arms slam into both Amelia and Bannan, sending then crashing back against the walls of the outpost.
"OoOof!" goes the Kadie, although she's glad that they weren't struck by any flaming parts of the creature yet.
Bannan grunts as he slams into the wall, the Jupani thankful for his armor and padding taking the brunt of the blow. Quickly, he returns to his feet and his attention locks on the creature before them. "Not today, monster. You've lost," he growls … then attacks with a flashing blade.
Olivia doesn't know if any of the spectral warriors will heed her call, but she figures she has to try… they are much closer to Bannan and Amelia than she is for the moment. "Soldiers, protect the commander and the warrior that fights with him! They are being attacked by the enemy leader!" she cries. Then she launches down the ladder, trying to get to the gates.
Hard to say if the ghosts do hear the call or not, but some do surge towards the gates, cutting down the chaos-demons as they move.
Amelia also gets back to her feet, and runs after the Captain keeping her eyes out for any attacks aimed at the man.
Once on the ground, the Skeek races for the gate guards. She sees that one of them has one bottle of alcohol left and she takes it, saying, "I'm going to need this. Will you open one door just enough so I can get out? I want to try to provide some cover to the Captain and Amelia!"
Bannan's blows land, but the creatures armor proves to to be too much. Sparks fly as the plates merely deflect the sword attacks. The monster chuckles darkly (or may be preparing to throw up; it sounds about the same). It strikes out, once again throwing Bannan back against the outpost wall. "Fool," it rasps, "I have what I want. You." Bannan is down. So, this leaves Amelia staring at a really huge and nasty monster, who seems to be ignoring her.
The gate guards look at Olivia like she's completely insane. "We cannot open the gates with that thing out there. We have to hold the defenses. Captain or not, he is one man. We cannot endanger all for him. Those were his exact orders," they tell the Skeek.
"Hey, I'm down here!" Amy shouts at the monster, and tries bashing on it with the cudgel end of her weapon, since blades don't seem to affect it.
The cudgel slams home with a resounding crack. The creatures armored hide fracture and buckle around the point of impact. Its head swings around, red eyes locking on the diminutive Kadie. "You … are a nuisance`," it hisses at her.
"Yeah, well you're a jerk!" Amy snaps back, and keeps whacking the same spot to try and open up the armor.
Olivia turns on her heel and walks away from the guard, figuring that she can't waste time arguing with him. She does take the bottle, though, and feels at her belt. To her relief, she finds she has one vinegar bomb hanging there, as well. She hurries back up the tower she came from and looks down. She sees the creature round on Amelia and calls, "Closer to the wall!" Then she readies her vinegar bomb, wanting to use it first.
The cudgel slams into the point again and the armor splinters further. Maddened, the creature swings wildly at Amelia … and misses by a mile. To make matters worse for it, the force at which it swung causes the creature to stumble forward and one of its spidery legs collapses under it. It lands in a heap with a resounding thud near the tower base. Captain Bannan is now pushing himself back up to his feet and readying his sword.
"Try for the eyes!" Amy calls up to Olivia, and flips her weapon to try and spear through the cracked armor.
Olivia loosens the strings tying the top of the oilskin bag together and leans over the edge of the parapet as far as she safely can. "That's the idea!" she shouts. Taking careful aim at the creature's face, she throws the bomb at its eyes!
All around the outpost, the spectral warriors are making short work of the degenerates; their weapons cutting through them like a hot knife through butter. But the degenerates attacks on the spectral warriors just pass through harmlessly. Combining the spectral army with the main forces from the barony seat … the army of chaos is finding itself being rapidly reduced to nothing.
The skin splatters vinegar all across the creatures face. It howls with rage and staggers backwards, shaking its head wildly.
The armor may be fractured, but it is still quite strong. All the motion of stabbing does it crack it a bit further.
"Not quite… there yet," Amy huffs, and swings her halberd around again to use the cudgel. There has to be soft bits somewhere under this chitin…
Behind the creature, a voice growls, "Get away from my son!" And then behind them, that armor clad Jupani from earlier leaps into view. He brings his sword down hard onto the demon and sparks fly. The Jupani then lands on his feet near Amelia and readies his sword as he crouches down for another attack. Up this close, Amelia immediately knows who it is from her brief visit in the spirit world. The angled muzzle, the black mane of hair that's intermixed with gray … the Jupani that Amelia knows as Bravil. He doesn't say anything to the Kadie, instead he launches into another assault against the faltering creature.
Both the Bravil and Amelia attack in force, driving the creature back. Even Captain Bannan joins in the assault on the armored nightmare. The array of sparks that fly is astounding. The chitin fracturing and splintering all over its body. Its own clawed hands swing wildly, trying to find a mark … but missing.
"Strike here!" Amelia says to the armored knight, moving aside to expose the dented and cracked area she's been working.
From above, Olivia almost cries in relief, now that the Baron has moved to the side of Amelia and Bannan. She puts the bottle of alcohol down for now and readies two of her heavier blades for throwing. She tries to focus in on the two of the most cracked places on the nightmare's armor and waits for an opening.
And strike there they all do. Chunks of its shell start to snap and fall away, revealing a squirming bass of black intestines inside. The creature howls with rage and this time lands one of its clawed fists squarely into Bannan's chest. The wolf goes down hard onto the soil. The creature's arm goes up claws spread to strike down and end Bannan's life. There's then a blur of metal as Bravil launches himself squarely between Bannan and the creature. Time seems to slow down as the claws of the monster come down. Bravil plants his feet and thrusts his blade forward hard. There's the sound of claws on metal, and metal on chitin, as Bravil's blade sinks through the broken armor of the monster. Then everything seems to stop. For what seems like an eternity, the two stand there; Bravil's sword buried into the chest of the monster and the monster's claws against Bravil's chest. Then … both fall. The monster topples backwards, its claws pulling away from the Jupani; the tips soaked in blood. Bravil lies motionless on the ground; save for the shallow movement of his chest as he struggles to breathe.
Amelia goes to check on Bannan first, to see if the first swipe did any damage.
Olivia sheathes her weapons once she determines that the enemy leader is not going to get up again. Then she calls to Amelia, "Do you need me to come down? How hurt are they?"
"I think Bravil got the leader's blood in his wounds," Amy calls as she kneels over Bannan.
With their leader down, all semblance of order amongst the Boschian degenerates fades away. They're not in a free-for-all run away from the attacking warriors. Bannan groans and gets up. He seems mostly unharmed other than some minor damage to his chest plate. Seeing the Baron down, he pushes Amelia away and pulls himself to the fallen soldiers side. Carefully, he lifts Bravil's bead into his lap, his expression growing darker by the moment. "Father," he whispers as he tries to stop the flow of blood that seeps through the numerous punctures in the breastplate, "Why did you come? You should not have left the center. We were a just a few … we were … "
"You are my future," Bravil coughs, the older Jupani's expression faltering and looking tired. "As a Baron, yes, I should have stayed. But … as a father, I could not. I am … just sorry I will not be able to see the Baron that you must now become."
Olivia steels herself to say her next words but takes herself in hand and calls down, "Captain, please listen to me. Are your father's wounds mortal? If not, do you think he will be treated by the outpost rather than just killed?"
"No, you will see," Bannan Von Ril says adamantly, "You will" But Bravil cuts him short, rasping, "I will go the way all that fall under a Boschian's claws must, Bannan. Such are the laws, and I accept my fate."
"Let the mages have a look at him, Bannan," Amelia urges. "It may not be too late."
And with that, the older Jupani's eyes close; his breathing slowing. Captain Bannan looks upward now, towards Olivia. He doesn't have to answer the question with words; his expression answers it.
Olivia nods curtly and locks eyes with Bannan. "Do not give up hope yet, not until your father's last breath is gone. I will get the mages and bring them out here to you, since the soldiers may not allow the Baron inside. I do not feel bound to Chronotopian law in this case. Not yet." With that, her head disappears from over the edge of the tower.