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You are Uilleam Campbell, warrior, son, husband, (adoptive) father. On a mission to investigate the disruptions to the north of the Althimuran Empire you have found depravity beyond description. Towns and villages ravaged within the sight of the walls of the northern capitol, an uncaring and distracted populace, and a Duke who seems to not have an iota of concern for the people he is pledged to protect. Taking it upon yourself to end this state of affairs within your Imperial Office as Captain-General of The Beholder Order, you find yourself in great peril at the hands and influence of one of the Invaders whose insidious influence you have been tracking and attempting to curtail...

Archive: https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=IlluminatiQM
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Friedrich does not bother meeting the man's mace, instead taking advantage of his lighter than accustomed amount of armor and deftly side stepping the overhead blow. Careful to leave enough room in the dusty, cramped storeroom for his blade, he answers with a swift horizontal slice. The fine castle forged blade severs the ringlets of the man's mail beneath his guard tabard, and cuts deep. Entrails fall to the ground as the man sinks to his knees, and then falls face down and still. The others step back for a moment, and away from from the doorway. Which proves to be a move not of fear but of practicality. Two more figures fill that void, and their crossbows snap their attacks at Friedrich before he has the chance to respond. One enters his shoulder on his off side, an annoyance but not fatal. The other sinks into his side. No healer, Friedrich still can realize what likely constitutes a fatal blow. A lesser trained man would be on the ground in agony. The knight's own time in the field only telling him that the blow will almost certainly kill him, but there are moments left to fight. Unfortunately his moves are sluggish. A fatal slash to one foe is met by a blow to his knee. His enemy falls but the Imperial Knight is hobbled, his movement hindered. A subsequent hit to his head blurs all further action. The impalement of yet another opponent a small consolation. The rest is a blur. Friedrich leans into his training, his experience, his will to survive. His enemies face a snarling beast with nothing resembling humanity. Mere moments later only Friedrich remains, a gory revenant among five corpses.

What is left may barely be called human. Blood trails every step. But he drags the damnable portrait behind him. His broken face contorts into a smile. His broken bones drag him back to the hall of that damnable duke. And if he only carries on because his mind is filled with the smile of Lord Campbell's sister, then he takes comfort that he fully expects to die before ever having ever to answer for such impropriety. Servants gasp and move aside as he trails his lifeblood through the halls, his staggered, limping steps echoing. Some run to gather more guards, surely, and the knight hastens his approach. Black encroaches on the borders of his vision, his sight narrowing down towards a single point. The final door, where he left his sworn liege. He smiles bitterly before falling to the floor, the ensorcelled residents of the hall recoiling before him despite their master's glee. The blackness takes him, but not before he wonders if Eleyse might think of him as well, and his wish that she thinks on him with fondness. His sight fades, the last image the Lord Campbell looking at him in awe and surprise as the entire feast hall moves to address his arrival.
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There is a moment of abject silence. And then chaos ensues. Something about that portrait seems to set off the crowd. The mess hall is soon a war of all against all, seemingly close-nit groups attacking others as if there were no other option and with a fury only reserved for a hated enemy. Cries of “Impostor” and “Traitor!” rose through the air as the room filled with the song of steel. However the erstwhile “Duke” could read the room and sought to withdraw. He yells in a guttural language unknown to most listeners, and takes his leave, Uilleam Campbell following behind with several of the Duke's closest guards.

But Friedrich had done his duty. And let the dark take him at last.


At Beata's insistence, Bertrand and his closest guards flee the dining hall as it descends into chaos, the guards loyal to the false duke fighting against the many now awakened from their stupor by the bloody introduction of the portrait of the true Duke.

The dining room is soon locked off, whatever loyalists that remain left to die to the hordes apparently enraged by the portrait.

“Goddammit I knew I should have burned that piece of shit!” The Duke said in frustration.

“Why not then, boss?” Replied one of the clearly Ard Negh guards.

“Too much attention, for all it matters now. It's why I've been holding audience in the mess! Shit, those assholes have ruined it! Bring Campbell here.” The men comply, bringing Will before the Duke, yet unable to offer resistance.

“You tried so damn hard didn't you? My mother did too, before I made her kill Father and then herself. So did the precious Lady Bertrand, and all the other girls before her, but I had them in the end. You, though, oh no! THEY want you. I cannot wait to see what they will give in return!” He giggles like a girl. “Of course, I'll have my fun first. Nothing permanent. But I must be clean. SERVANT! LAUNDRY!”

A servant girl rolls the cart in, still loyal to her erstwhile master. Through fear or coin, it matters not, for there is a deadly cargo amongst the garments. Lady Bertrand motions for the cart to come closer. “The Duke requires new garments.” Bertrand himself snaps towards her as if to offer reproach, but simply nods. She reaches for a new shirt, only to be thrown back by the leap of a furious Alys, who lands surefooted before the Duke and sweeps her dagger. The attack was utterly blind, else it might be fatal, as Bertrand retreats behind his guards with but a deep and bleeding cut to his forearm. But it is all that is needed, as his concentration is irrecoverably broken. With a start, Will awakes.
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They never bothered removing it, so you unsheathe your arming sword that was paired with your uniform, and prepare to finish this. The sounds of combat still reverberate from the feast hall, but you have your own foes before you. The first two false guardsmen fall immediately, having written you off as a threat. You run one through from behind, before pirouetting to spit the second through his throat, dropping him to the floor in a heap.

“STOP THIS NOW, DROP YOUR WEAPONS!” Bertrand commands, but your eyes meet Alys', and with only a moment of hesitation, you both redouble your efforts despite his unnatural ability.

“Ah, they aren't listening! Guards, kill them!” The remaining Ard Negh impostors seem of a higher caliber, large and hard bitten men, bearing greataxes. With a nod you and your wife ready yourselves for yet another fight. Hopefully the last one today, your head is killing you.

>Let Alys lead. (personal risk lowered, Alys injury risk higher)

>Lead the effort.(Personal risk higher, greater control over combat, Alys risk lower,)
A salute to Freidrich that completed his task despite losing to the dice and being mortally wounded in the process. A fellow of excellent quality.
>Lead the effort.(Personal risk higher, greater control over combat, Alys risk lower)
We didn't pick the warrior background just so we could put our wife at undue risk.
Welcome back, Didn't think you would be.

>Lead the effort

Fuck sake Stoutwall. I hope you're not dead yet, we've got work to do.
>Lead the effort.(Personal risk higher, greater control over combat, Alys risk lower,)
Good to see you back!
He's back! :D
>lead the effort
>Lead the effort.(Personal risk higher, greater control over combat, Alys risk lower,)
RIP Friedrich, a real fucking MVP. God, if only we didn't have such shit rolls.

Also, welcome back QM.
>Lead the effort.(Personal risk higher, greater control over combat, Alys risk lower,)
>>Lead the effort

Poor freddy
No full update tonight but I need rolls regardless.

> Best of 3d100 for Uilleam

> Best of 3d100 for Alys

> Best of 3d100 for Friedrich's survival

All voters may vote once in each category.
Rolled 51, 76, 35 = 162 (3d100)

Lets see!
Rolled 7, 91, 45 = 143 (3d100)

Rolled 98, 95, 58 = 251 (3d100)

I don't like 58's odds of survival.

Good on the rest of us.
It's a roll-under system.
its the best we got

Oh. If that's true, then uhhh >>5556530 Sorry Alys.

Because only we got such wild swings as 6 from best but also 2 from best.

> Uilleam Pass at DC 30. Even recovering from mind fuckery the man just kills so good.

> Alys Fail at DC 60. At this rate you guys are going to need to retire the poor girl from combat. This is not professional advice.

> Friedrich pass at DC 40. I figured he was a goner, but there might not be a lot left when you get him...

Writing. Just so there is no confusion the rollers had once dice for each character's action. So everyone's first dice put together are Will's 3d100. I also had a stroke and forgot I meant to list the DC roll unders. Will remember in the future.

It might be late before I'm done, distractions are and will be common tonight.
very grim and dark.
We will certainly owe Friedrich a lifelong debt after this
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Three guards remain, Bertrand aside who has pulled his own arming sword. You scarcely consider him a threat, his arms visibly shaking with what might be fear or the effects of far too much drink for far too long. On your right Alys darts at the man among the false guards you most assume must be the leader, dodging the devastating blows he lays about with his greataxe but unable to find purchase on the weak points of his half plate armor. You don't have time to worry on that, as the remaining two guards move in on either side of you, and Bertrand holds back, waiting for his moment. As if you would ever let it come. The first guard attempts an unorthodox move, thrusting at you with the top of the greataxe, but you are ready for it.

Moving to the side the weapon slides past you, and your sword swings out like lighting, severing the man's right wrist and leaving him with only one arm to use the hefty two handed axe. You would not have cut so deep had his mail sleeve not moved somewhat back from his hand with the natural motion of his attack. A lucky stroke. With a wheeze of pain he tries to tackle you, abandoning his weapon, but you run him through with little effort after that foolhardy attempt. He topples to the floor just as the second man and the false Duke move on you. The Duke, surprisingly, swings first, clumsily. You effortlessly knock his weapon aside and kick him in the gut, sending him back out of the immediate fight. The remaining guard tries to take the opportunity, but you duck out of the way and deliver a deep cut to his side. He seethes, but to his credit as a warrior does not drop his stance, moving to the side in a strafe. A moment of inattention and you allow Bertrand to slip into a blind spot, which he squanders by screaming like a child on the practice field as he tried to hold you in place for the guard. You elbow him in the face, hearing him collapse, and then mange to sever the guard's knee joint from the back. In a smooth back swing you cut deep into the back of his neck as you step past, almost removing his head, and removing him from the fight. Bertrand seems to be writhing, his nose broken and the pain not allowing him to rise again.
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Alys has tried to find a place to cut into her opponent, but his armor has proven too much. It is scored in dozens of places now, and his face bears superficial cuts, but the experiences warrior was clearly only biding his own time. Before you can turn your full attention to aid your Wife, he manages to grab one of her hand as it moves into another probing stab. No weakling, she struggles, but the Ard Negh man is a giant with strength to match. He squeezes, and Alys cries out in pain, dropping her dominant hand's weapon. Ignoring her other weapon's futile stab into his side, which seems to find some purchase but not enough, his own off hand slams into her face in a vicious backhand swing. The plated gauntlet send her head against the nearby wall with an audible crack, blood flying from her newly split lip, and he limp form slumping to a sitting position against the cold stone.

Flying into a rage you rush the remaining man with little forethought, hoping to take him by surprise But he is not the men you just bested. With a shout you bring the sword about in a horizontal cut to his waist where the scored plate fades into a thinner mail shirt, but he simply spins his greataxe to a new position without worry and deflects you. The subsequent blow from the weapons haft to your gut is not unexpected but almost debilitating. Most foes would move into a finishing strike you could counter, but not content with manhandling Alys he drops his greataxe and seizes your sword arm. Such a maneuver would be the height of arrogance for most, but this one has the size to make it tactically sound. You find your primary weapon immobilized, and the bones of your arm creaking in protest as the giant attempts to squeeze them into dust as he bodily lifts up. No small man, you nonetheless find your feet leaving the ground, following your arm held above your head, screaming in wretched agony.

He breathes foul rot into your face as he smiles like a rabid hound. “Bethan of Stal Benar will send you to your wretched Father, whoreson Campbell.” His satisfaction is palpable. Right until your unpinned hand jams your boot knife inches into his jugular.
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Alys, Lady bless her, had been drilling you on always having another knife. Dropped to your knees, you take a moment to catch your breath as the big man staggers back, arterial spray coloring the hall red. Given his size, you imagine it may still take a while. The giant falls on his ass, hands still pressed futilely to his rent neck, and looks up as you rise and heft his greataxe. “You will NEVER take anyone else from me. Not you, nor any of your mongrel race.” With a scream of rage you swing the weapon down diagonally. From above his left eye, down through his mouth, and through his mortally wounded neck, you bisect the man's head. A spray of gore, teeth, fingers, and brain matter accompany the two halfs of the man's head to the bloody stone. It's job done, you numbly drop the greataxe to the floor.

To your left, Bertrand begins to rise to his knees, but seems to pose no threat. You are about to threaten him into submission when Beata, whom you had completely forgotten about, jumps him. She's gotten a knife somewhere, you cannot tell. But it's hard to care overmuch, let the bastard bleed. You have better things to worry about than intelligence resources right now.

Rushing to Alys' side you gently cradle her head. There is not blood on the back of her scalp, thank the Lady, but her eyes hold pupils grown so large they nearly overtake the entire eye. Blood streams from her limp lip, her mouth left open numbly. She moans incomprehensibly. You've seen men take hits to the head like that and die screaming days later, never leaving the hell within their own battered mind. This cannot be like that, can it? Your vision blurs, but you know there is nothing you can do. She can't hear you, there is no help you can give, but you have a job to finish. However there is one thing you have to say, even if no one but you knows. “I love you.” You turn to whatever is left of the false Duke after Beata is done with him.

There isnt much. She's busy cutting his tongue out. He has dozens of stab wounds, and blood pools to the point of even further turning the hall into a charnel house after your own butchery. What remains of his groin does not bear further inspection, even if you fail to be surprised having gathered what you can of what the bastard was like. There is still the sound of a fight in the mess hall, though lesser now. You need to deal with that, but you cannot leave Alys alone. This will be delicate.
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“My Lady Beata,” You say, wiping a small amount of blood from your own side where you were cut earlier. “I know you have been through a lot, but can you watch over my dear wife while I settle things in the feast hall?” She looks at you at first like a startled deer, than like a predator, and at last with some concern.

“I-” she coughs. “Yes, Lord Campbell, I can. Thank you.” Perhaps you misjudged her, the false Duke removed she seems to be coming to some sort of terms with the horrific events that have befallen her.

“Thank you.” You say, genuinely grateful. “Don't move her head, she took a bad hit.” She nods as you turn away to the entrance back to the dining hall. The fighting is mostly done as you enter, the vast majority of the occupants free of the late Duke's spell by the portrait. The last few, either Ard Negh infiltrators or pure sycophants and opportunists, are put to the sword before you can raise your own.

One of the knights who you noticed had sat apart from the enthralled and the sycophants approaches you. You note his tabard is that of an Imperial Knight and not a local or minor order. “Damn it all, I knew something was off, but every time he spoke it seemed a good idea to put it off.” He offers a clasp of hands and you take it, noting that Friedrich is nowhere to be seen. “I'm Sir Edmund, Imperial Knights. I don't know what went down here, but I heard rumors of unnatural things at the capitol, and this fits the bill.”

You nod. “The man who brought the portrait was mine, I believe he broke the illusion. Where is he?” You keep a level tone, surprised to find you are very concerned for the taciturn knight.

He grimaces. “Over by the east door. But take care, he's in bad shape. Worst I have ever seen.” A nod is given as you move to Friedrich.

There is, to be honest, too much to see. He's unconscious, blood is everywhere, and the chaos in the hall prevented him from receiving any attention. You genuinely wonder if he can be saved, but you recall the healer with whom you left Domlech. You should almost certainly bring Alys and Friedrich there. Just then the outer hall door bursts open.

A young sergeant storms through. “Sir Edmund! You are requested on the walls, now!” The young Imperial Knight catches your glance for a moment and then follows the sergeant. You have several things that need attention.

> Get Alys and Friedrich to the Surgeon, there is no time

> If the walls are overrun you are all dead, delegate the health of your wife and subordinate and see to it

>The city needs some semblance of legitimate leadership now, see if you can stabilize the Lady Beata
> Get Alys and Friedrich to the Surgeon, there is no time
The Imperial knight seems like a capable sort, he resisted the bastard duke's powers properly. And while the city needs leadership, I believe it's going to be chaos for a while. Perhaps order the knight to carry the portrait to have more people snap from their dream? Not sure if that would cause more chaos though.
If people like that suggestion about the portrait I am happy to add it in
>Get Alys and Friedrich to the Surgeon, there is no time
Yes to the portrait
I'll support.

There are others who can get to the walls and lead the charge or command. We need our companions to live.
Support. We can't risk losing Alys and we owe Friedrich much.
> Get Alys and Friedrich to the Surgeon, there is no time

Supporting this about the portrait.
>Get Alys and Friedrich to the Surgeon, there is no time
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Edmund looks at you, knelt over Friedrich's barely breathing form with some conflict in his youthful face. He nods to the sergeant then turns back. “Lord Campbell, I must attend to the situation. I'll make sure the keep's guards restore order while I am gone.”

Your heart is heavy. Whatever is happening out there you will have to deal with in time. But you have a duty to your wife and sworn man first. This is not your city, but they are your people. The young knight seems capable, and perhaps the men at the wall are not as incompetent as the false Duke's sorcery made them appear. “I will join you when I can, Sir, but I have to settle things for my own people. Good luck, and perhaps take the portrait with you? I know it seems odd, but I cannot be certain the false Duke's influence over others truly died with him. You may have use for it.”

He thinks for a moment, but you can tell he sees the value. “I'll have one of my men take it.” He looks down at Friedrich again. “I'll task one of the guards I trust to help you get him to a healer. See you soon, Lord.” Only stopping to task a man who was searching one of the false Duke's fallen sycophants to follow your lead, he leaves only moments behind the messenger.

The man he tasked, thin and well into his middle years in the livery of the keep's guardsmen, approaches. “Sir Edmund told me to help you, milord. We all owe you, you and your man. I'll have someone fetch him a stretcher, and ready a cart in the stables. It will be ready when we get to it.”

You look the older man over. “Thank you. There is another I need to aid.” You rise and head back towards the back passageway you had left Alys in, leaving the man to task some of his juniors to acquire transport and fetch something to move. Little has changed when you return, Alys remains slumped against the wall, Beata kneeling at her side staring worriedly.

“No change?” You say softly, not wanted to startle the young woman as you approach. You kneel opposite the Duchess and take Alys' hand, which is shaking slightly and damp with sweat.

She shakes her head. “No, nothing. I think she's partially awake, but she won't respond to me. I tried to get one of the servants to send for the healers, but I was told they're all busy. Apparently there were casualties elsewhere when the guards fought off the impostors...” She wipes a tear from her eyes. “I'm, sorry, Lord Campbell. I should have done more.”
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You look over at the pretty young noble, even younger than Alys. She can't meet your eyes, out of misplaced shame or understandable trauma you cannot say for sure. “It's alright. You did enough by staying by her side. I hate to do this, but I'm going to have to move her. I have a cart waiting to take us to a healer in town.”

Her eyes go wide. “I-is that a good idea? Are you sure?”

A sigh leaves your lips. “I'm sure, I let anyone else do this I'd probably end up killing them.” You gently attempt to maneuver Alys's limp body to a position where you can lift her. Her pained moans and whimpers grow louder as you do, despite your best efforts to avoid moving her head and neck to the best of your ability. With a grunt you manage to get her in your arms, and rise, being sure to keep her head stable. Behind the loose strands of her red hair her eyes are partially open, focusing on nothing. You decide not to look at that again. “Lady Beata, you should see yourself to the guards in the feast hall, I think you will be safe with them.”

She rises with a sob. “Right. I hope she gets better, Lord Campbell.”
“I as well, my Lady.” You begin the long walk down the passageways to where you remember the stables are. Alys stirs slightly, her head pressing into your shoulder as you descend a flight of stairs. Not knowing if she can hear you at all, you make a poor attempt at humor. “You know, if you were to carry me like this two times in recent memory, you would never let me hear the end of it.” The moan that follows could be interpreted to be annoyed, if one cared to be optimistic.
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Arriving some minutes later, your pace slower to accommodate your precious cargo, you find that the senior guard Edmund had lent you was true to his word. He stands next a cart, bridling one of the draft beasts, Friedrich already loaded in the uncovered trailer behind the two drab colored horses. “Does he live?” You ask, getting his attention as he at last secures the animal to the cart.

“Aye milord, but I wouldn't tarry. He's in a bad way and I don't think travel will do him any favors.” The man makes no effort to move away from the cart.

“I can take the reigns, good man.” You say, assuming he is reticent to leave without orders.

“All due respect milord, I was ordered to aid you and your charges, I don't think you're where you need to be yet. I'll drive the cart, look after your friends in the back.”

You won't pass that up, you wondered how you would keep an eye on them otherwise. “You have my gratitude. What is your name, so I might remember it?”

“Name's Arik, milord, friends call me Bones.”

You climb into the back and sit down, re-positioning Alys to sit in between your legs where you can more easily restrict her movement during the journey. There is a snap from the reigns as Arik begins to leave the stables. “Why Bones?”

“Long story, from back when I was in the Levy. Maybe I'll tell ya over a drink sometime milord. Where are we headed anyway?”

You've just finished relating the location of the surgeon Domlech was brought to as you remember Friedrich telling you the day before when Alys stirs. You double down on preventing her from moving too much. “W-will...” Her eyes flutter open, still glassy and unfocused. “... where...”

You suppress the desire to shout your happiness at this turn of events, you doubt her head would appreciate loud noises just now. Instead you lean in close to her ear from behind and speak softly. “On the way to a healer, Alys. You and Friedrich both need help. Don't speak more than you have to. Try to stay awake.” She refrains from speaking further, but you can tell she is making an effort to remain conscious. Alys awkwardly reaches her arm up to where you hold her around the waist, and you allow her to intertwine her fingers with yours. Her grip is weak, but a reminder she is still with you.
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The ride passes in companionable silence, the surgeon's practice deeper into the city than even the Inn from which you departed in the morning. There is a sense of confusion on the streets, guards run about to and fro, and mounted men, likely messengers send pedestrians hurrying off the road as they fly past. You do your best to ignore it all, knowing that you will know what the fuss is all about soon enough. Allowing your mind to wander you are brought back to attention by Arik. “Eyes up, milord, looks there's been trouble.” You shift to look ahead without jostling Alys overmuch, and see something that forces a curse from your mouth. The door to the surgeon's practice has been kicked in, and there is blood visible in the doorway. The pandemonium throughout the city is the only reason something like this could be ignored by the guards.

“Arik, how's your sword arm?”

He guffaws. “No spring chicken, me, but I can hold my own. Betting you don't have time to find help?”

You really don't. Alys may seem better but head wounds are deceptive. Friedrich is on the verge of death. Depths know who or what waits you in there but you don't have time to waste. Oh, Domlech too, you guess, the Ard Negh bastard. You almost curse yourself for not stopping by the Inn first to collect your armor and your Father's sword, but the blade you've been carrying has done you well so far. “Aye, man, let's get in there.” You speak more quietly to Alys after. “You'll be fine, right? We won't be long.”

She gives an uneven smile as you disentangle from her and draw your sword as you stand. “Come back to me, Will.” It's but a whisper, but she already sounds stronger and the stutter has left her.

“Always.” You hop down from the cart, and join Arik as he approaches the doorway, his own short sword held in a low grip good for stabbing. His weapon may be better than yours in what look to be the tight quarters of the practice. You both cautiously step inside, taking care not to slip on the pools of fresh blood. The first body is an unfamiliar man with an unkempt beard in an ill-fitting Caertheon guard tabard. His eyes stare blankly at nothing, and intestines are spilled out onto the smooth wood floor of the interior. Articles of furniture and cabinets clearly once holding medicine are strewn about the room. Slumped against a wall next to another door left ajar is a more familiar figure.
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Arik points at the body with his sword. “One of yours?” It is. You never got his name but it's one of Friedrich's chosen men. They must have come to keep on eye on Domlech and met their end for the trouble.

“Yes, unfortunately. Let's carry on.” You slowly open the door to the next room and find it in similar disarray, this time a number of beds are arrayed as a makeshift barricade. Another four corpses litter the room, the low light not allowing you to identify them. A sudden shift in the air makes you duck instinctively and a throwing axe lodges into the door where your head was a moment ago, Arik letting out a yelp and staggering back into the first room and relative safety.

“I'll kill ye like I killt the rest of ye friends, you halfwit piles of shite!” A loud voice comes from behind the wall of upturned beds.

“Domlech! It's me.” You speak authoritatively.

“Chief? Gods above, I thought ye had befallen some foulness at that eyesore of a castle when these cowards showed up here.” The big man all but steps over the barricade in a single bound, his injured leg in some sort of brace that seems to limit his movement, but also prevent his pain from being debilitating. “You southerners and your concoctions are strange and ungodly, but what the cut-man back there gave me has me feeling ready to wrestle a bear, ha!” Great, now he's drugged and full of himself. Behind the giant you see a reedy stack of a man replacing a bandage on the side of another of Friedrich's men you remember leaving at the Inn. It looks deep but likely not fatal.

“Surgeon, are you ready for more patients?” You call out, somewhat impatiently. The man looks up as he finishes his ministrations on the wincing knight.

“I think I have enough beds and supplies, given it's only a handful. Bring them in, I'll set up.” The man begins taking inventory of the various supplies he has in a nearby cabinet, after looking over the four remaining beds not currently forming a wall.
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“Domlech, with me, I have something you can help carry since you are feeling so spry.” You begin to leave, passing Arik in the door way who follows.

“Aye Chief, count on me.” He excitedly limps after the two of you. Returning to the cart you find Alys standing on the street, using the edge of the trailer for balance.

“Alys, what are you doing?” You try and fail to leave the frustration out of your tone.

The woman smiles weakly. “You took a while, thought you might need help.” She takes a tentative step away from the cart but staggers, forcing you to catch her.

You shake your head more than a little angry. “Alys you are in no state! Depths, you are the one supposed to scold me for this kind of thing.” She does not deign to respond, and allows you to repostion her so you can support her walk into the practice. You pass Arik, who is already climbing aboard to get one end of Friedrich's stretcher. “Other end's yours, savage.” Politeness to his kind is not high on your priorities today. He doesn't rise to it, only smothering a string of curses when he climbs on and sees the state of your sworn man. The two men follow you and Alys in, Friedrich motionless between them.

Moments later you help the surgeon and Arik move Friedrich to an open bed. The surgeon had expressed doubt the man still lived, but was assuaged after observing his shallow breathing. “Blood loss is the main issue here, I can already tell. I will do what I can, but the sheer volume of wounds will be hard to overcome. I am sorry, but I prefer to be honest when it comes to these things. I will see to your woman after, not much I can do for a head wound other than observe. At least until the severity reveals itself. My lady, do remain awake. You fall into a slumber you may well not wake from it.” She gives her assent as she slowly climbs into a bed, remaining sitting propped up against the backboard.

“Will, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking straight.” She says sadly. It's rare for the woman to apologize for anything, and you are taken aback.

“It's fine. I have to go to the wall now, something is happening. I'll see you soon.”

She smiles. “Of course you will, my love.”
As for your journey to the wall, you have a decision to make. Arik knows the lay of the city and is uninjured, but Domlech seems to be itching for another fight and would likely grow bored if left with the wounded. You could take them both with you, but that would leave only the wounded knight to defend Alys and Friedrich if more infiltrators are within the city.

> Take Arik

> Take Domlech

> Take Both

> Ask both to remain here and find your way alone. If you observe troop movements it shouldn't prove hard.
>Take Domlech
>Ask both to remain here and find your way alone. If you observe troop movements it shouldn't prove hard
I want Arik within Alys Grabbing and Running distance as the situation continues to worsen, and Dom'll be worth all of fuckall when the drugs or his bravado runs out with that leg.
> Take Arik
I put faith in Domlech that he will protect Alys. He and the wounded knight combined should be good enough, I hope. Now, let us rush to the city and have Arik show us the way so we can end this with one fell swoop.
>Take Arik

It would look rather pitiful if we got lost
>Take Arik
>Ask both to remain here and find your way alone. If you observe troop movements it shouldn't prove hard.
Better leave someone healthy to defend the wounded.
> Ask both to remain here and find your way alone. If you observe troop movements it shouldn't prove hard.
If anyone is lurking, that is currently a two way tie. If it doesn't resolve by this evening I'll throw a d2.
Switch to ask both to remain to break the tie
Id changed but it's me.
Locked in, writing.
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Turning to your bondsman and Arik, you make the state of things clear. “Keep them safe, both of you. This is the greatest trust I can give anyone.” Domlech grimaces, insulted, but Arik lights up like a man half his years. “You can count on me, milord, no harm will come to the woman.” You had been more general in your demand but it was not exactly a secret what you were truly asking, “Fare well then, I will return.” And with that you leave the practice for the wall.

It's no trouble at all commandeering one of the pack horses as a mount. Hardly swift, it is still far better than making the journey on foot. Your sense of direction, however, leaves much to be desired. Your two trips through the city to singular destinations had left you with little in the way of an idea of the streets of Caertheon. You attempt to follow groups of guards heading to the walls but the masses are so chaotic it is hard for you to make much headway. Turned away from multiple avenues you know would have led you to Edmund's likely position, you are accosted halfway.

“Captain-General!” It is the two remaining knights from Friedrich's detachment, fresh from the Inn. They ride to your side. “The city is in chaos my lord, but I am glad we found you. We expected Petyr and Brothan back from the surgeon already.” You shake your head knowing the bad news. Now you regret not knowing their names.

“One is dead, the other wounded. The Lady Alys and Sir Friedrich are in the care of the surgeon we sent Domlech to.”

One of the knights has a clear view of his desires, and little in the way of shyness. “May we join you then, Lord? Having at least some escort cannot be an issue for you.”

In the absence of the men you left behind you allow it. At least you will not seem a beggar at the wall. After all, this does fall within the man's duty. It is not long before you arrive at the city wall. The guard, almost certainly briefed by Edmund, let's you in without a word. The rest of the soldiery seem unsettled, and you cannot but help wonder why. This reveals itself immediately upon your entrance to the wood bastion tower where Edmund has made his headquarters. The knight welcomes you with a curt nod before returning his gaze to the expanse of white beyond. And what lay on the horizon.
Thousands of Ard Negh stand on the ridgeline surrounding Caertheon, They encircle the city. The sheer numbers are astounding. These are not the raiders you spent most your life fighting. This is an army bent on conquest. Many mounted on the mongrel steppe halfbreeds you recall from before, the clansman's disdain for mounted warfare seemingly abandoned. And a party rides to the very bastion you stand within, a dozen heavily armored warriors flanking their charge, a man in traditional Ard Negh garb but decorated in gold and silver. You assume, likely pilfered from the unfortunates the barbarian horde had despoiled before laying this siege. They ride right up to the wall, a mere thirty yards away.

“I would see the duke, my friends.” The leader shouts. “I was under the impression the man would meet me himself!” Edmund looks at you with uncertainty, it is clear this is up to you.

> Display the corpse, hang him from the wall

> Dump him over the parapet

> Equivocate on the man's status

> Give him honor he ill deserves, A procession to the Ard Negh camp.

> Fuck this savage and fuck honor. Riddle him with arrows and see if his horde can keep together a single night.
How many soldiers do we have immediately available? If we can take his dozen heavily armored bodyguards and capture him alive then
>Invite him, pretend that the Duke will see him, ambush him, kill his guards and capture him.
If not
>Fuck this savage and fuck honor. Riddle him with arrows and see if his horde can keep together a single night.
I do not like our chances against a siege of if they decide to immediately storm the city, and that's exactly what's going to happen if we tell them the Duke is dead without taking out the leader.
> Dump him over the parapet
>Equivovcate on the man's status
>Dump him over the Parapet.

These are Ard Negh men. A demand for ritual combat will not go unanswered and removing the armies head is liable to collapse the army.
Shooting them full of arrows, on the other hand, is going to give an immediate target in bumrushing our position.
Hmmm, this leader could very well be the brother of the False Duke. The way these raiders have been turned into a proper army with a taste of mounted combat? And the infiltration of the False Duke into the city? It can only be the work of the Otherworlders and their strange magic and knowledge. I would advise leading him on or just stalling him as we give the guards enough time to muster more of the city garrison and shore up some defense. I'm afraid whatever action we take will end with an army attacking this city.

>Equivocate on the man's status
>Ask from what clan or tribe he is (We're well aware of who he is)
>Confront him on the matter of his lecherous rapist Brother whatever he answers and toss the corpse from the Parapet.
Also, it's good to note that the False Duke mentioned his brother having a "stick up his ass". This could mean he's less sloven and deranged than he was, perhaps even honourable to a degree. But then again, blood runs thick...
>removing the armies head is liable to collapse the army.
Yes, exactly. We need to either fill him with arrows or ambush him. Dumping the dead "duke's" body from the parapet will just cause him to order an immediate attack, especially if it's his brother as anon said.
>> Equivocate on the man's status
>> Fuck this savage and fuck honor. Riddle him with arrows and see if his horde can keep together a single night.

Honor went out the window on account of the actions of the false duke and the raids committed by the savages.
No, you didn't listen to the rest of it.

We need him dead, but not in a manner of dishonour. Because that's gonna set his dogs on us, even if they disintergrate afterward of our butchering. Facing their leader properly, maybe after a day to rest and prepare, we can claim right to tell them all to fuck off. Or make that conditional on our victory.

So I'll change my vote here >>5565566 to >>5565615 and make demand he face us for his kin's misdeeds.

I also refuse the notion that Honour when out the window. If it was never used because the other side was a bastard then the concept would never have taken off.
I'll also have it noted, we are meant to be the Honorable Lord Campbell, even if we hate the Ard Negh viciously.
To be honest, honourable combat might be the foolish choice here. If he really is an Otherwordler, he definitely has powers. Reiji broke our hand with his strength and I wouldn't be suprised if this man united the tribes by duelling many ferocious Ard Negh chiefs. Perhaps, we should hear him out on what he wants but I highly doubt we'll agree to his terms.

I fear we're facing a siege here.
That's. . also true. Reiji however is physical strength and this guys brother was a voice. So it could be something different, like reflexes or a very durable nature augmented by his armour.

Still, it's not the worst trade. But I'm staunchly opposed to riddling them with arrows in full view, it removes any and all means of fair play and turns things into a straight battle of eradication. Which is a fools gambit with THIS MANY tribes.
But I'm a bit torn on doing honorable combat though.
I'm going to be mad if this guy has a revival skill or something.
Aaaand we could actually hide the death of his Brother. Use him as a bargaining chip. No reason to show our hand, altough I fear he might not really care for his brother. Seemed like a prick. With all this new knowledge, I formulate this decision.

>Equivocate on the man's status
>Ask from what clan or tribe he is (We're well aware of who he is)
>Confront him on the matter of his lecherous rapist Brother. Use him as a barganing chip, we will return his brother if he leaves the town alone. If he doesnt buy it or simply doesnt care, toss the corpse.
Of course, my suggestion of mustering the forces still stands.
Got more or less forced into a Superb Owl party. I'll try to update when I get home. Luckily, I don't drink any more so at least that's no issue.
Also love the discussion this update, always good to see when you guys are really reasoning out your actions.
I'll once more move this to support >>5565804
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With the chaotic nature of the city at the moment, playing for time seems the prudent choice. However you do genuinely hold curiosity over just who this man is and how you might interact with him. The false Duke was an absolute reprobate, and you suspect this man was his brother. But there is no need to reveal “Bertrand's” fate just yet. The Ard Negh force is significant enough that immediate hostilities do not appeal, with only partial mobilization within the walls you doubt you could hold against an organized assault. Far better to draw things out as long as possible.

“You are the leader of this host, then?” You ask, tasking the initiative. Edmund and the others make no move to countermand you.

The man crosses his arms atop his mount. “Clearly. I am Allkhan by acclimation. I will assume you, sir, are in charge of the walls for now. But I will reiterate, the Duke and I must speak.”

You rub your bearded chin. “The Duke isn't here, and we are not foolish enough to bring him to the wall where you could kill him at will. What clan do you hail from?”

The man laughs. It sounds almost genuine. “You wouldn't believe me if I told the whole truth, but I grew up in a village outside the larger clans. This host I have brought to you was the result of much hard work. I am afraid I must cut you somewhat short however, friend. Produce the Duke by tomorrow morning or we will next meet when my army overruns your walls and puts Caertheon to the sword. I don't want this outcome any more than you do, but I have obligations.”

He has almost turned to ride back to the siege camp before you make the decision to go all in. “You think we didn't figure it out?”

He halts his mount halfway into a turn. “Figure what out, friend?”

Your disgust is palpable and you feel no reason to hide it. “The Duke. Your brother, yes? Are you aware of the debauched brothel he turned this place into? The unnatural suffering? The absolute stupidity. I will not lie 'Allkhan', you seem intelligent enough, but this man we called Duke is a degenerate fool. You want us to produce him? You have my word you will see him tomorrow morning as you stated. But we will not be caught back footed. Move on Caertheon and pay in blood.”
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To his credit and your surprise, there is a moment where the man at the foot of the walls looks troubled. But he remains adamant. “My friend, I do not know you from Adam but I implore you, there will be no mercy for the city if I am forced to take it by force of arms. If you care for the people here, open the gates. I will be merciful.” You fail to recall who in the Lady's name Adam might be.

“There is no surrender. We will not bow to savages. Go back to your camp, consult with what passes for your generals. We will be ready. And you will have the Duke tomorrow.” Your hatred of his very race is hard to suppress, but there is an odd reasonableness to the man. The day or so he has offered is likely sincere. Time has been bought. And it's not as if you have lied. You will produce the Duke. No claim was made as to his ability to draw breath.

“Very well. I take it you are the Lord Campbell? Don't be surprised, I have excellent sources and you have not been low profile as of late. We will speak again on the morrow, hopefully with better results.” At last, he and his escort about face and ride for the safety of their camp.

Edmund turns to you after a decent amount of distance is made. “Forgive me, Lord, but I hope you know what you are doing”

You nod solemnly. “I think I do. We have a night now to get the city in order and every man we can muster on the walls.”
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Edmund sighs. “I suppose I cannot hope for more. I will get the militia in order, I know their leader well. They know me here. You should spend time with your people.” He looks away for a moment. “Considering I doubt their leader will appreciate being presented with a corpse on the morrow, this may well be our last night on this earth.”

You clasp the young knight's shoulder. “You have wisdom, Sir Edmund. I will do just that. When I return to the capitol I will be sure that the Emperor hears of your loyal service.”

The lad reddens. “That is not necessary, my Lord.”

You shake your head. “Necessary? No. But it is right. If we make it out of here, seek me out at Barathon, the Beholders need men like you.”

His eyes widen. “Of course my Lord, I would be honored.”

With a polite smile, you leave the walls. As you walk away you can hear Edmund corralling men to get order restored within the wall. Leaving with your two knights you already see militia and guardsmen gathering into cohesive groups and going about manning the walls and securing the gates. It is with no small amount of relief you return to the surgeon's practice and find it unbothered by interlopers. The two knights watching the door you enter and proceed to the back.

Domlech and Arik both stand guard near the entrance to the back room holding Alys and Friedrich. The wounded knight from Friedrich's detachment also sitting in a chair nearby. “Hail Chief” Domlech says in greeting, Arik simply smiles politely.

“She's been asking about you. Good woman you have there.” Arik says, waving lazily in Alys' direction. Your wife appears to be fast asleep, and you choose not to wake her just yet. Something else demands your attention.

You look at Friedrich's form, covered mostly in sheets on his hospital bed. Arik clears his throat. “Doc had to amputate. He lost too much blood, there wasn't enough to go around. The savage at least remembered which of your man's limbs was dominant.”
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Some care had been taken. Friedrich is pale as death, and his left arm now stops at the elbow joint, but he breathes steadily and his other wounds have been professionally treated. The room lacks the smell of rot you know to associate with the imminent death of a wounded comrade. Considering his state, it seems almost a miracle. “Where is the surgeon?” You ask.

“Rupert is out getting more supplies, a lot got messed up when the infiltrators attacked.” Arik responds.

“Fair enough. Nothing should happen until tomorrow if I'm right. I think I will sit with Alys for a bit.” Arik smiles at the suggestion.

“I'm sure she would appreciate that, milord. Domlech here is getting antsy, I figure I'll show him a pub around the corner. Keep him out of trouble.”

Domlech perks up. “I hope yer paying old man!”

Arik laughs softly. “Just this once, sure, why not. We wont be too long milord, and you can count on us in the morning. My belly doesn't handle the drink like it used to anyway.” The two men leave the room, talking to each other with an odd familiarity. It's odd they seem to have bonded to quickly but Domlech's eccentric affability seems to have gelled with the older man's world-worn outlook rather well.

You sit with her for more than an hour before she wakes. Rupert is yet to return. Her hand grasps yours and she smiles that smile you have grown to love over the last several years. “Hey” She says, warmth on her face and exuding through her into you.

“Hey you.” You respond, rubbing her hand with yours and watching as her smile grows larger in response.

“How is it looking, Will?” She asks. You look away for a moment.

“We have until tomorrow morning. I have to produce that shit of a Duke.” You grimace. “After that, I imagine they will attempt to breach the walls. It's messy.”

She looks sad. “You shouldn't have to take this all on yourself. I will be ready tomorrow.”

Immediately your mind screams to disallow this. “No! Your head...”

She grips your hand roughly. “I will NOT lie here and leave my fate to others. I am thinking clearly, a good night's sleep and I'll be nearly good as new. Do you think they will be kind to me if they take the city? You saw what the Duke did to poor Beata. Think I will be treated better? Let me help. Please let me help.”

Your mind is torn. She is not entirely wrong. If the Ard Negh storm the city successfully, there is no good outcome for her or anyone else within the walls. But the idea of seeing her die in combat might be more than you can take. With what you plan to do tomorrow, a battle is inevitable. Do you want her there? Is this even your call to make? Alys is no damsel. She may well resent you for trying to protect her at the expense of practical interest.
> Allow Alys to accompany you, trusting that she knows herself well enough and will be an asset in the likely upcoming battle.

> Forbid her, possibly damaging your relationship permanently

> Give no answer. Frustrating to her, this will let you make the decision later and see if the danger really is real

> Write in
> Allow Alys to accompany you, trusting that she knows herself well enough and will be an asset in the likely upcoming battle.
We need all the help we can get. And I bet she'll have a trick up her sleeve.
>Give no answer. Frustrating to her, this will let you make the decision later and see if the danger really is real
She suffered a severe concussion, she may not be able to walk properly for some time, much less fight. We'll talk to the doctor, see how she is in the morning, and allow her to accompany us if her health is good enough.
> Allow Alys to accompany you, trusting that she knows herself well enough and will be an asset in the likely upcoming battle.
We knew who we married. And she's not a woman who needs to kept safe. If she believes in herself, then we do so too. But I'm still not sure how to handle this Allkhan. Would be extremely useful if we could contact the spy embedded in their army as a slave. We could order him to atleast burn their supplies or something along those lines.

We'll also need to prepare for when we toss his brother over the wall. Be frank with him, we didn't kill him to spite him. The women he tortured butchered him when they were released from his charm, a punishment for his sins. The reason I say women, instead of Beata, is to keep her safe from some kind of vendetta.
>Allow her if she is able to walk

This isn't a good situation. But oh well.
>We'll also need to prepare for when we toss his brother over the wall. Be frank with him, we didn't kill him to spite him. The women he tortured butchered him when they were released from his charm, a punishment for his sins.
I'd support it when the time comes.
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You need sleep, and Alys is obstinate. Having been left alone by Arik and Domlech, you see a solution. Her hand refusing to leave yours and her desire to accompany you tomorrow unshakable, you suppose you can do no better than making sure she is ready for the coming battle. You will keep a close eye on her. So you climb into the bed.

“Will, w-what are you doing?” She stammers out.

“Keeping you company. You want to be at my side tomorrow? You'll be at my side tonight.” You speak softly, as you climb into the bed and embrace her.

She nestles against you. “So, I can stand with you tomorrow?” The question seems all but answered but she wants to hear it from you.

“Of course.” You whisper into the back of her head, smelling the scent of her. “You've convinced me. But we need rest. I doubt tomorrow will be easy.” She doesn't speak after, but no words are needed. You hold your wife, her softly sleeping body fitting yours like a puzzle piece. Sleep comes more easy than you can remember, Alys flush against you. You dream of nothing but a future you will likely never meet, children abundant and a loving woman at your side.

The morning wakes you, the sun burning its way though the infirmary wall. The surgeon seeing no reason to wake either of you but Friedrich remains unconscious as the man sees to him. Knowing there is little time left, you wake Alys. “Hmm, already?' She hums as you help her half clothed form out of the sheets.

“Yes, its time, Alys” You speak with patience and care, but she seems to not be suffering from any after effects of her injury. In fact she springs up, and kisses you with a passion that cannot be denied.
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“Okay, Will. But we should wash first, no?” She asks, with no small hint of suggestion. Needing to clean yourself in any case, and not exactly against sharing a shower with her, you agree. You explore each other, hardly unknown territory at this point, and end up back in bed but much more active. After its all done, the both of you ride to the wall for the meeting with the Allkhan. Alys is a comfort, providing you support and and a layer of confidence despite your trepidation. You arrive at the wall and see that Edmund has managed to bring the false Bertrand's body to the wall should you need it. You do note that Arik and Domlech have joined the troops, but there is no time to chastise them. A task for another time.

It is several hours before the Allkhan rides out again. But he does, around noon. The same half dozen guards follow him, but you note the man wears no noticeable armor. “Lord Campbell! Good to see you once again. I hope you can produce our dear Duke. I am so eager to see him!”

You scoff and signal to the guards atop the wall. A post is erected atop the parapet. In moments, the false Duke is tied to a firm rope and readied atop the wall. At your command he is thrown over the parapet and hung before the host. “Here is your “Duke”, a bastard pretender. A rapist, a tyrant, a liar. We will resist you. Your mongrel race has despoiled our lands too long. Send your army, it will break on our walls, and you will see the same ditch as your monster of a brother.

The man once again looks troubled. “There was a better way to do this Lord Campbell. But there is no choice now. I am sorry for your city.”

Having decided not to ambush the party, you have no response to the man except your lack of action as you allowed him to ride back to his army.

Alys shows her faith in your actions with a desperate hug and a whisper. “Whatever they plan to do, I know you'll outplay them. You are the smartest man I know”

You could have stayed there forever, but Edmund walks through the crowd and approaches. “My lord, will you remain on the walls with me? Many of the men have great respect for you. It would help morale.” You find little reason to refuse the man, and you and Alys end up spending the next twelve hours watching the enemy atop the walls. And that makes all the difference. Expecting an immediate assault you are surprised by the Ard Negh horde instead constructing engines. Engines you have never seen before, Some sort of monolithic counterweight system. The first projectile to hit the wall is like an earthquake, the whole wall shakes, even the bastion tower.
"Oh Depths, how are they so accurate?" Alys askes, mirroring your own problem with this new development.

"He has knowledge he should not have, Depths, I think he even tried to tell me. We have to destroy those engines."

Alys blanches, as does Edmund, further away. "How?" They ask almost simultaneously.

"There is one option." You say, gravity deepening your voice. "A small party, led by myself" We set fire to the engines and return under cover of dark"

Alys gasps. "Will that's suicide. Send me instead, this is what my training was for."

Edmund interrupts. "if I may, there are just enough knights left in the city to sortie to destroy the engines, Neither of your need risk yourselves, this is out duty as sworn Althimuran knights." A lesser man would not have offered this, but a lesser man than you would not have noticed the mild twitches in his demeanor. This man does not want to die.
> Send the Imperial Knight detachment

> Send Alys and her own chosen group

> Go with Alys and raise hell
>You dream of nothing but a future you will likely never meet, children abundant and a loving woman at your side.
A nice dream. We WILL make it happen.

>Go with Alys and raise hell
She wanted to fight with us, and so do we. We are not leaving her side. It'll be just like the old times.

And damned isekai fucker knew how to build trebuchets. We're lucky it's not gunpowder.
> Go with Alys and raise hell
Lets go
>Send alys and her group

Let the spymaster spy. It's her sorte.
>Go with Alys and raise hell
> Go with Alys and raise hell
I hope I don't regret voting for this.
Can we get Domlech to join us? I feel like having him with us could break their morale.
I didn't want to confirm this but both Arik and Domlech will be accompanying you if you proceed with joining Alys in the attack. Arik feels duty bound and Domlech is bored and wants to kill something.
Makes me feel better about my vote, thanks mate.
>Go with Alys and raise hell
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Another projectile lands, this time overshooting the wall. A simple timber structure, a bowyer if you recall, is smashed to bits. Splinters of timber fly into the nearby streets, cutting down gawking citizens where they stand. By your eye dozens have been felled by a single impact.

“Damn it all!” You cry. “Edmund, Arik, evacuate the outer districts. Try to get those people to safety!”

“My lord!' Edmund gives a knightly salute, and Arik nods and follows as he leaves the bastion tower and starts down the narrow stairs with several city guardsmen to corral the civilians.

“Alys, Domlech, with me. Let's take those damned things out.” Your seething rage turns your voice into a growl.

“Aye Chief, should be a good fight.” Domlech says with a predatory grin.

“Will, wait!” Alys says as another impact rocks the wall, this one sending an archer to your left tumbling from the parapet to his death. There is a discomforting groan from that section. You all shake, barely keeping your feet, Alys falling to her knees and grasping her head in clear pain. You reach down to help her up, but she waves you off. One hand pressed to her head she hisses. “We go now we all die. The sun remains high in the sky. No detachment will make it close enough. Trust in the walls, wait for nightfall.” You are immediately castigated by the obvious foolishness of your suggestion. Had you not yourself suggested working under cover of dark moments ago? It has proven very easy to lose your fine tactical sense when faced with the deaths of the innocence. Another rock is flung well over the walls, hitting the stone steeple of the Church of the Lady, and bouncing from there into a cluster of humble houses. You can only hope that no one was inside, but there was no time for Arik and Edmund to have progressed that far in their efforts to evacuate.

“... you're right, forgive me.” You say, dejectedly, the walls shaking again, but this time from a near miss that smashed into the grounds just before the gates. Harmless, perhaps except the now shaken morale of the near panicked green city guard.

She shakily returns to her feet. “Think on it, it also gives us time to gather a raid party. The three of us won't be enough. “Let's learn what we can from here and then retreat to prepare. We do no good begging fate to smash us with rocks. How many are there, can you tell?”

You are confused for a moment. Alys had always been more perceptive than you. But then you notice the glassy, unfocused look she is giving you. “Alys, are you sure you are alright?”

“No one else, Will! No one can do this right! I love you dearly but you can approach battle with the subtlety of a rock. Trust me as I have trusted you until now.” She snaps at you, her hand clenching your wrist in a vice. Hardly reassured, you still decide not to go back on your previous decision.
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You sigh. “Alright.” You peer over the walls, instinctively ducking as yet another shot flies over head. The impact brings more screams into the air but you do not turn back to look. It takes you a moment, but you make a good count. “I make it eight. That's manageable if we have enough men.”

Her grimace contorts into a sort of smile. “Yes, now we need to find out who.”

“I can help with that, milord.” A now familiar voice calls up from the stairs behind you. Arik produces himself from the city below. “Sir Edmund had it in hand, folks listen more to gentry types than old codgers like me, I be afraid.”

You consider him, slightly out of breath from running up to meet you. “What do you suggest?”

“Some of the lads in the watch are fine trackers, good shots with a bow. We like to catch a drink now and then after duty. May just be who you're looking for to fill out your numbers.”

Looking towards Alys you see her nod. “Can they still shoot in the dark?” She asks.

“Well enough, milady. Especially if they're going to have torches going in the siege camp.” The old guardsman replies.

“Find them then. How many?” The woman asks.

“A handful, four I think. Much more and I think we miss the point of sneaking around, eh?” He scratches his thinning scalp as the wall is impacted much further down the wall. Screams and commands hang faintly in the air.

“Four plus the three of us is perfect Will.” Alys notes.

“Five, milady. This is my city. I got one good night of fighting left in me at least.”

You can understand that. “We'd be glad to have you Arik. Take us to these men of yours, no cause to be giving those engines good targets up here anymore.”
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The barrage continues unabated as he leads you to the inner city. The men he seeks out are all helping with evacuating the population to the center, hopefully out of engine range. At least it seems none have yet landed past the outer districts closer to the wall. While the city is loosely encircled according to reports, the engines are concentrated in front of the gates. That is where you are headed come nightfall. Arik's men are a hardy lot, clearly experienced outdoorsmen. They all carry bows and long dirks, their armor lighter than you've seen on other guardsmen. The older man commands them follow you, and you proceed to lay out the plan for the evening. Unsurprisingly Alys does most of the talking.

“Dull your blades and armor with dust and soot, wear no tabards. Dark clothing only. If you have any rings or jewelry that might take a shine, leave them. We do this right or not at all.” She lays out her standard operating procedure. “You lot will be covering us from afar and removing sentries as we move on the engines. If you miss your first arrow, make sure of the second. There will be little room for error here.” Ariks men nod and listen attentively, as do you. Domlech is half listening, you can only hope he isn't a liability for this otherwise subtle action.

The bombardment abates at sundown, the last few projectiles missing their marks as the Ard Negh engineers lose easy sight of their ranging. A last few lit ablaze light up the night, but fail to illuminate the walls for further attack. Engines done for the night, the time for your attempt to make them silent forevermore has come.

Some hours later, the night is at it's darkest and your party makes it's move. Domlech has at least made to dull his armor and axes, so perhaps he was more perceptive than you expected. The engines are lit up by torches, the silhouettes of several guards languidly standing around them or lazily walking in patrol. Behind the engines lie the hide and leather camp dwellings of the horde. Men are visible entering and exiting tents, some clearly drunk or well on their way.

Alys whispers to the group. “A few ways to this.” She produces on of the volatile vials you remember from the battle at the mountain pass. “And an ace up the sleeve. What do you think, Will?”

> Lightning strike. Drop the sentries from range and move on the engines before the camp can react.

>Methodically. Sentry removal done slowly and with care for stealth. If it goes well more engines will likely be destroyed.

>All in. Fortune favors the bold. Have Domlech create a distraction in the camp proper, killing soldiers and burning tents. Then move on the engines. A wild card option that leans on your personal wildcard.
>Lightning strike. Drop the sentries from range and move on the engines before the camp can react.
>Methodically. Sentry removal done slowly and with care for stealth. If it goes well more engines will likely be destroyed.
Considering our makeup, this should be the best choice. We also need to make sure to get as many engines down as possible. It won't stop the siege, but it may just give us enough time to gather the local Northern lords into a sizeable force and get help from the Emperor.
>>Methodically. Sentry removal done slowly and with care for stealth. If it goes well more engines will likely be destroyed.
Rolled 57 (1d100)

Acuity roll for guards.
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“We take it slow, like you always tell me to.” You whisper.

Alys' sidelong glance and smirk are just barely visible to you in the dim night. “He can be trained...”

“Archers, pick them off. Try for isolated targets.” You hold your arm up for the command, they take aim and wait for your signal. Wordlessly, your arm drops. Two of the out most guards, foolishly peering at the torch lights on the parapets of Caertheon, are struck first. The first takes an immaculate shot through the eye and drops in a heap. The second is skewered through the throat and staggers further into the dark before collapsing. Another, closer to the main camp is hit in the upper chest, almost certainly a lung shot, and doubles over. The last is gut shot, and gets a gasp out, making you wince.

This gasp is noticed by a nearby guard, who turns with a query in guttural Ard Negh before a knife appears in his breast right where his heart should be. His words turn to a soft cough of blood and he falls on his face. You quickly note Alys had wasted no time in approaching the engines through the field, and you curse yourself for your lethargy. Signaling Domlech and Arik you follow. Another five remain with the engines. Remaining low you manage a heavy swing at a particularly inattentive and likely drunk guard, his head flying into the darkness and his corpse falling silently. Alys grabs and drags another into a patch of brush. He doesn't make noise but you would not want to be on the other end of your love's knife work. Even Domlech manages to land an expertly thrown axe into the head of a fourth, leaving only one. However Arik has lagged behind, too slow in his age to get there in time, and he cries out what probably passes for alarm in Ard Negh before three arrows sprout from his chest as if he was a pincushion, silencing him.

But it was certainly loud enough. You see stirring in the main camp. Time is now short. “Alys, use every thing you have!” You hiss. She moves from engine to engine, spreading the three remaining vials between them, skipping one engine every time she traps another.

“Stay back!” She shouts, stealth by the wayside in the face of the urgent warning. Producing her brace of knives, she throws sequentially at where the torch lit vials shine softly, are placed on the structures.
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The first is half turned to splinters, the solid remains of it's throwing arm sent into the next one over, snapping the supports and tilting it over with a grown. The third in the row is a similar effect, it's debris irrecoverably damaging the fourth engine. The last vial was another thing entirely. The unpredictability of the substance shines through, as the sheer blast is powerful enough to pulverize both it and the adjacent engine. The arm of the first is sent a ludicrous height into the air and back, lazily turning end on end, before crushing one of the larger enemy troop tents. Cries of terror and pain are accompanied by anger, and the waking of the camp is further accelerated with two engines still standing. A fire starts in the camp, the tightly spaced tents catching quickly from whatever the impact of the arm had caused to ignite. Nonetheless organized groups of Ard Negh begin to form and angrily yell as they move towards you. They might not see your party itself, but they know where to look.

“Gods and Depths.” You swear. “No time for the last two, this has to be enough. Back to the wall!” Alys, Arik and his men follow your orders, but Domlech cries out in a rage and charges one of the engines. With a feral scream he begins severing ropes, loosing the arm with no projectile, and then astonishing cleaves a support in half with only two swings. Horribly off balance with the arm extended high, the weapon begins to tip over on it's side, a maniacally laughing Domlech running under and past it as it falls with a groan. The closest Ard Negh pursuers scores of paces behind him as he begins to sprint with a speed belying his giant frame. The rest of you continue running despite the spectacle, soon entering the relative safety of the dark, Domlech surprisingly not too far behind. It will be far harder to find you as you return to the hidden postern gate you had used to leave the walls

The enemy camp being far out of arrow range you run for your lives, the chaos of the camp behind you coalescing more and more into rage filled war cries and the unmistakable sounds of men readying for battle. And then above them all, unfamiliar, sharp twang. Louder than the familiar crossbow, higher in pitch than the strange new engines you just all but annihilated. Above your head you see some kind of shooting star, too bright for a fire arrow, too small for one of the large burning projectiles. Then, to the astonishment of all watching, it hangs in the air all but stationary. With an audible hiss, it bursts into a nighttime sun, temporary giving you night blindness and to your horror illuminating the entire field right up to the wall. There is no hiding in the shadows anymore.
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It looks bad, but you can still make it. At least to the main gate. Alys, ahead of even the swift outdoorsmen in your flight, throws a worried glance backwards. You see her eyes widen, and you don't have to look yourself as you soon hear the telltale thunder of many hoof beats. “Berin, give me yer bow son!” You hear Arik cry, clearly out of breath. The older man has lagged behind even Domlech. One of the other guardsmen turns back and tosses his bow and quiver, Arik deftly catching both as the younger man takes up the retreat again. You stop and look back at him in confusion. “It was a pleasure meeting you and the lady, milord!” With not a further look he turns back towards the approaching Ard Negh light cavalry, drawing an arrow and loosing, one of the nearly a dozen mounts tumbling end over end and crushing it's rider as it's chest is pierced.

“Arik!” You shout.

“Will, in the name of the Lady, get running or I will kill you myself!” Alys screams, furious. With a heavy heart you begin running once again. You hear men and horses cry out in pain, knowing Arik is costing the lead riders, but the main body of them will surely overwhelm the brave veteran guardsman. He cries out in pain, and you look back one last time while still moving your legs as fast as you can. An Ard Neg javelin has spitted the man, and he spins in your direction, and holds his bow in the air in salute. “Milord wasn't listening! I said, one good nigh-” He never gets to finish, as a Ard Negh falchion sends his head spinning into the brush. Suppressing the now familiar rage, you keep heading to the wall. But while you have made it a remarkable distance, you can see it is futile. The old man died in vain. Just over halfway to the wall, the cavalry will surely overtake you all, even Alys who has pulled even further ahead. You instinctively and uselessly duck as hear a familiar whistle, and grimace as one of the woodsmen, the one who had given Arik his weapon, falls with an arrow in his back. This seems to be only the beginning, as the ground all around you begins to be filled with more than a dozen arrows. You marvel that someone managed to teach the stubborn Ard Negh not only horsemanship but horse archery as well. Just as the thought passes your mind, you note the gate creaking open, but far too early to matter. Another guardsman falls, a javelin spearing his leg at the knee. No one stops. Then you see the glinting lances in the moon light.

“Spread out, now!” You shout, as the entire Imperial Knight contingent of Caertheon charges right at you, lances dropping into couch, a war cry raised.
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“Althimur! Althimur and the Lady!”
The group of knights quickly ride between you and your remaining companions. Its not a moment before you can hear the screams of horses and men as the lances come home, the heavy armored cavalry surely decimating the light Ard Negh cavalry. Edmund manages to pull up you as you catch your breath, a longsword in his hand. A lone enemy breaks through and charges him with a falchion, which the leader of the knights handily parries and follows with a kill stroke that bites deep into the clansman's shoulder.

“Are you alright Lord Campbell? We'll hold them until you get in and follow before they send more!”

You have to ask. “How did you know to be ready?”

He looks solemn under the raised visor of his sallet helm. “Arik. I don't think he ever thought he'd be coming back tonight”

You nod and continue towards the gate as he slams his visor down and rejoins the fight. It feels like hours before what is left of your raid party is safe within the walls, all of you out of breath. Even Alys collapses against a stable wall panting as Domlech nearby begins drinking from a trough like a draft horse. All but collapsing yourself you let out a cracking laugh that sounds more than half mad. “Damn that old man.” You mutter.

Domlech rises from the trough. “It was a good death, he will be welcomed by the Gods.”

Alys scoffs. “Domlech, the more we see, the more I am absolutely sure there is no good death. Dead is dead.”

“Bah, woman, you would never understand with all your sneaking and witchcraft. At least the chief kills with an Honest blade.” Domlech complains.

Catching your breath, you scowl. “I would thank you not to imply my wife is a witch, savage.”

The two archers have regained themselves, and one approaches. “If you all don't mind, we have some drinking to do. Toasts need to had for those who didn't make it.” His lack of formality does not seem calculated to insult. He just sounds exhausted and despondent.

“Aye,” you say. “Have them on me.” You toss an excessive amount of coin in a pouch to the two. “You more than earned it.” The men all but bow and head off into the city.

“I'm going up the wall.” You say, wanting to be sure no one else dies for you tonight.

“Are you sure, Will? You need rest.” Alys asks, rising, clearly concerned.

“I can sleep up there if I have to. Domlech, get some rest, and see the surgeon. There is no way you didn't just injure yourself again with all that running.”

“Hardly feel it, Chief, but as you say.” He shuffles of, trying to hide him favoring one leg to little avail.
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You climb up to the bastion tower once again, alone this time. The archers are alert, watching the cavalry engagement below. It seems Edmund's men have all but wrapped it up, the last few of the advance Ard Negh horsemen rapidly retreating back to their camp in dissaray. You see no casualties among the knights, and nod in satisfaction. You walk out into the open air of the parapet and observe the enemy camp. They seem to have contained the fires, but the engines are all but neutralized. The sole remaining unlikely to tumble Caertheon's sturdy walls by itself. You walk to the back wall of the parapet and take a seat, producing a whetstone to sharpen your father's blade. It's a calming activity for you, and you soon all but nod off.

Only to be woken by something clambering over the parapet beside you. Half jumping to your feet sword in hand, you only relax at the oh so familiar flash of red hair beneath a hood. “Miss me?” Alys says.

“Stairs too good for you now?” You retort.

She snorts. “I just wanted to see how hard these walls are to scale. I was wondering when we were running earlier.” She plops down next you, and rests her head on your shoulder.

“Your verdict then?” You ask.

“Doable, but very hard. I did it, but it was slow. I wouldn't worry about them doing it with weapons and armor.” She whispers. And then begins humming a tune you can't quite place.

It's still the middle of the night and it begins to lull you once again, but you become curious. “What is that, I don't think I know it.” You murmur.

She smiles. “Did you know brother used to sing? I think he wanted to be a bard when we were younger. He wrote this one, or so he told me.”

“Alkaign, a bard? That's a funny image.”

She shoulders you slightly. “Shush. It was sweet. He's play it for me when I got sick. I got sick a lot when were children.”

“That's not funny, it's just hard to imagine.”

“Is it?” She laughs softly. “It might not be a wasting sickness but I seem to end up seeing a healer often enough.”

“Don't you dare even joke about that.” You say seriously.

“Alright, I won't.” She begins humming again, and sleep finds you even more quickly this time.
You are awoken with someone shaking your shoulders. It is almost sunup, as the horizon to the east is an orangish red. The men on the wall are staring intently at the field, and Alys is stooped over you with a worried expression. "Get up, they're doing something.” You move to the front of the parapet and gaze out. Three riders move to last nights battlefield, much to your confusion. Stopping out of arrow range, they dismount.

“This cannot be another parley?” You muse out loud. None of the men appear to be the Allkhan. Instead of approaching, they gather something from their saddle bags, and then your vision begins to narrow in rage. Your fists clench on the wooden crenellation until you feel pain. Slowly, one by one, the riders secure the bodies of Arik and the two fallen guardsmen to their mounts, and start dragging them back to their camp.

Alys grasps your forearm. “You don't have to watch this. Please.”

You shake your head. “No. I owe it to Arik and the others.” Their sinister purpose is clear when they arrive at their destination. The final engine. “Those fucking bastards” You growl. The bodies of your fallen are loaded onto the weapon, and released at once. The shot is spot on, and you turn away in disgust as the corpses shatter against the wall to your right. Above the impact one of the archers vomits uncontrollably as other cry out in horror. As this happens, the enemy host emerges from their camp. They number in the thousands. On command the bells of the city begin sounding men to deploy to their posts.

Alys shakes her head. “They mean to force it. They don't have the patience to wait us out and they can't break the walls now.”

You scowl. “There are enough of them they just might do it. We need a plan”

>A flanking force. The postern was not exposed last night, a crack force could flank the enemy as they are occupied attacking the walls, and do heavy damage before retreating. The postern, once exposed, will have to be sealed.

>Defense in depth. The outer districts have been heavily damaged and are now evacuated. Conscript citizens to create layers of barricades from the remains of their homes to bleed them for every inch beyond the walls.

>Cavalry sortie. The knight contingent can ride out before battle is joined. They will be able to harass enemy skirmishers, raid the camp, or even attempt to break through and find reinforcements if the walls appear to have fallen.

>You can hold. Holding nothing in reserve fully man the walls and fight on pure attrition. Likely to cause the most enemy casualties, there is no fallback from this plan but a desperate flight from a fallen city.
>Cavalry sortie
The Ard Negh cavalry was neutralized last night, our knights have the field unopposed. They can eliminate enemy skirmishers while preserving our numbers and charge the enemy back once the barbarians begin scaling the walls and are fully exposed.
>Defense in depth
The bulk of our forces will make them pay in blood for every inch they take.
>A flanking force
A small elite to help the cavalry hit the enemy back while they're exposed. If the allkhan hangs in the back and they tind the opportunity they should capture or kill him, but their main objective is to be the hammer to our anvil.
We need to play all our cards now if we want to win and these are not mutually exclusive.
It would be an exaggeration to say their cavalry are neutralized. The pursuers were decimated but there may well be more who never left camp.
Good to know, but it doesn't really change the plan. Our cavalry will still be more useful out there instead of in here.
Supporting this, but with more of an emphasis on flanking and switching on the defense in dept if/when they breach the walls (not to say the forces will be put to actually hold the wall).
I support.
>>Defense in depth. The outer districts have been heavily damaged and are now evacuated. Conscript citizens to create layers of barricades from the remains of their homes to bleed them for every inch beyond the walls.

>>Cavalry sortie. The knight contingent can ride out before battle is joined. They will be able to harass enemy skirmishers, raid the camp, or even attempt to break through and find reinforcements if the walls appear to have fallen.

We're kind of short on elite forces except for our knights, but if the knights could perhaps flank from the postern gate that would be ideal.
The postern is not large enough for mounted forces. They could use it dismounted, but this would preclude a cavalry sortie.

Three at once, huh? Honestly I like it, riskier but also better rewards.

> Please roll 3 d100s. One per poster.

>First for Flanking(Domlech)

>Second for Defense in Depth(Uilleam + Alys)

>Third for Cavalry(Edmund)

If he wasn't in a medically induced coma Friedrich would be leading the knights. Edmund has lesser stats but is also not missing an arm and conscious.

I thought Id be busy tonight but Ill be here for another eight hours or so. Soon as the rolls are in I will start the write up.
Rolled 18, 44, 68 = 130 (3d100)

No risk, no reward. Poor Friedrich. He'll have to adjust to retirement from combat.
Rolled 3, 97, 46 = 146 (3d100)

Lets have a go at this...
Rolled 78, 11, 75 = 164 (3d100)

Are lower rolls better or worse?
It's roll low. So, Domlech slays, we and Alys do a great job, Edmund is adequate, probably.
Rolls locked. Writing after dinner.
He will make for a superb teacher at least
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Alys looks at you expectantly. You think for several moments, then nod. Weighing a few options in your head, you note the enemy is in no hurry. Contrary to everything you know about the clansmen, they march forward at a steady but controlled pace in something like good order, spreading out to limit their vulnerability to your ranged fire. Whoever this Allkhan is, he was managed to at least get some fundamentals through their thick heads, on top of the strange weaponry you saw last night. Your suspicions seem all but confirmed, the Allkhan must be from the Better World, just as his “brother” was. Two in one place, this is different from the situation with Reiji. Are these things multiplying?

Putting that aside, you return your mind to strategy. It's clear that holding the perimeter wall is not guaranteed. There is no natural fallback position either, save for the keep itself. And if you get pushed back there things will be truly desperate, the city all but lost. So, if you need fallbacks, why not make them. You get the attention of one of the archers manning the parapet next to you, a sergeant. “Soldier!”

He jumps and turns. “Yes, my lord?”

“Gather a group of men and head into the city. Find people to make barricades down the main thoroughfare from this section of the wall with the rubble, furniture, anything you can find. Should be plenty of idle refugees who haven't made it to the keep. Three should do, space them well.” You command.

For a moment you wonder if your authority will be recognized. It's hardly like you have formally been put in charge of anything, if anything Sir Edmund has a better claim to command due to his assignment here. But acting like you are in charge is half of being in charge. The sergeant gives a smart salute. “Right away, my Lord!” He takes off down the walls, gathering men as he goes, careful not to thin the growing number of men filling the walls too much in any one area.

Alys tilts her head. “Far be it from me to second guess you in such things, husband, but will they have time for that?” She asks, a hint of doubt audible.

You nod confidently. “Giving them enough time is our job. You and I are staying right here.”

She sighs theatrically. “Well, I best make myself useful then. These poisons can be a pain to carry around, I'll see if I can get rid of some of them for the arrowheads.”

“Good idea. I'll be here when you're done.”
She saunters away. “You're sweet Will, but you don't have to watch me all the time. Just when I want you to.” She shakes her hips as she approaches a group of guardsmen setting up a barrel of spare arrows further down the wall. You suppress a chuckle and think on what else you can do with what limited resources are at your disposal. The single most powerful assets you have are Edmund and the knights, but they are few in number and wasted fighting in mass in the city. So you resolve to get them where they can do the most good. Quickly picking out his tabard further down the wall, you wave him over.

“Lord Campbell?” He asks.

“Sir Edmund, well done last night.”

“Only my duty, My Lord.” He says humbly, averting his eyes.
“Humility is a virtue, Sir Edmund, but a duty well fulfilled is something worthy of pride. I have more to ask of you and your knights. You all are wasted within the walls. Gather them, mount up, and get out the main gate before their infantry close. Go now. Pick your target as you see fit.”

He salutes and moves to follow your command, not contesting control of the walls and trusting you implicitly. Not a word is said, nor a moment wasted. As he leaves you hear something heavy stomp up the stairs behind you.

Domlech looks like he only spent half his night drinking, which is progress, and seems to be doing a better if not perfect job of hiding his injury. He stops at the top, overlooking the slowly approaching enemy force. A curse follows in Ard Negh. “Gods there are a lot of them.” For once, you are glad to see him, because he fits perfectly into the last gambit you want to set up before battle is joined in earnest.

“Domlech, just the savage I wanted to see.”

The hulking man looks at you dubiously. “Chief?”

You nod. “I have something you're suited for. You know that postern we used last night? Get thirty or so fighters ready and waiting at it. I'll send word when I want you to hit them from the side. Be as loud as you want, but pull out and seal the door if you are about to be overwhelmed. Those are not your men to get killed so you can meet your Gods. Understood?”
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He spits on the battlements. “Aye, Chief. Outhta be a good fight nae matter what.”

You wave him off, noticing Alys approaching once again. “I did what I could, maybe one arrow in five on this part of the wall. It's better than nothing, no? Did you come up with something else?”

A smile forms. “Of course. In fact, I think the first should be obvious soon.” The wall under you rumbles slightly as the heavy doors are opened, and Edmund's cavalry ride out.

She rests her chin on her fist. “A sortie? The last engine?”

“I gave Edmund leeway to pick and choose. After last night I trust his discretion. I'm no expert in cavalry in any case.”

You fill her in on Domlech's role as well, she seems to approve. Having been in general more fond of the brute than you can bring yourself to be, she notes that sounds like exactly where he would like to be.

You watch Edmund ride with his knights to the far flank of the field, waiting outside of any danger for their moment. As of yet, the Ard Negh do not deploy whatever is left of their own cavalry. You imagine the uneven engagement of the battle in front of the gate may have dissuaded them despite whatever their numbers may truly be. They have proven adept at hiding their true numbers in their large camp. The army now approaching the range of your archers is larger than your view of their encampment last night had made you think they could muster. Oddly, the engine has yet to fire. Did your sabotage destroy their stockpile of projectiles?

“It's almost time.” You say, as the host stops just outside range. Looking around the walls are about as manned as you could hope, sergeants sending troops to fill the few remaining gaps. Looking back, one fallback is all but completed. To get the three you desire will take some time. The wall must hold. You quickly task a nearby runner to inform the sergeants up and down the wall that there will be three horn blasts for the signal to abandon the wall for the first barricade. You keep a signaler near you and to the back of the men around you. Nearly as soon as this is done, a deafening roar is let out by the enemy host. Abandoning their loose sense of discipline, they begin sprinting into the killing fields with abandon. You draw your sword, Alys her daggers, and dozens of bows thrum like the cacophony of a hive of bees across the walls. Close enough now, you note that they carry ladder teams, another innovation new to your old foe. Despite this they fall by the dozens in the first few volleys, and with some satisfaction you spy the occasional foe taking only a light graze and yet falling to the ground spasming violently only to be trampled by his comrades. You smile at Alys, who also noticed, and gives you a wink.
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Say what you will for the Ard Negh, but they do not lack bravery or sheer bloody-mindedness. They take losses so unspeakably horrific on that long run there is nary a fighting force in your memory that could do the same without faltering or even falling into a route. Instead they simply crush their own wounded and dead beneath their boots and continue on, screaming exhortations to their bloody Gods and promises of the horrors they will unleash once the city is there. It is all too soon before ladders are within reach of the walls, and the sword armed guardsmen take their places at the fore to protect the archers who still shoot down into the now clustered mass of Ard Negh. The casualties remain immense, but now there are fallen on both sides, javelins and arrows flying upward to meet the defenders. A man to your right is speared by a javelin before he can loose, his arrow flying harmlessly over the enemy as he is tossed into two of his fellows. The angle makes it an uneven exchange, but there are far more of them than there are of you. Across the wall it is much the same, the first ladders clamping down as you watch. A yard or so away one latches on to the parapet before you, two men trying to dislodge it, but the sheer press of the enemy below makes it a futile gesture. They continue trying however, and are caught by another innovation you did not expect. Thrown you assume by one of foremost men on the ladder a glass bottle, likely pilfered from one of the raided villages, breaks between the two men. It coats the ground in flame, engulfing their legs, and sending them staggering back in a screaming panic.

“Ware the bottles!” You yell, and step towards the now cleared ladder as the first clansman leaps over the top of the wall and swipes down one of the archers with a swing of his hand axe. You reward his swiftness with a downward strike that nearly bisects him from shoulder to waist, you have to kick his corpse of your blade to free it. This same action is repeated all over the wall, the fiery devices clearing room for the first climbers to make the wall, and before long despite the piling dead the entire battlement has become a massive, claustrophobic melee. You cut down what must be your fifth man of the brief battle, noting as Alys stabs a man who is readying an overhead mace swing on your left, turning his side into a mass of rapidly bleeding wounds and him a limp corpse.

Attrition is mounting. The enemy had likely lost a third of their force, but your archers are almost unable to affect the battle anymore with the growing melee all around them. You briefly consider sending for Domlech, but you hold. There is something else you can do first. Behind you stands the signal man where you left him, neither foolhardiness or fear having moved the young man from where you left him. You order the retreat to the first barricade with a hand signal you had agreed on. The lad nods and lets out three horn blasts.
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The remaining archers are the first to flee, the more heavily armored and armed guards holding the growing horde of Ard Negh atop the walls. You are one of the last off the wall, as is Alys, which proves an issue as you find yourselves cut off from the stairs with a dwindling number of troops. You turn to her as she reaches for one of her throwing knives. “Alys!”
With a wild look she meets eyes with you.

“Follow a moment after me!” Without giving the woman a chance to respond you toss yourself from the wall, aiming for an abandoned cart that was used to bring ammunition supplies to the wall that morning. You smash it to bits with your armored bulk, but it breaks your fall admirably. Bruised ribs at best, by your best reckoning. Alys follows a moment later, and you deftly catch her, falling to one knee with the onset of pressure. It would be romantic if it were not for the dozens of screaming savages now descending the stairs to tear you limb from limb, so you set her down and the two of you run for the barricade. As the first of the enemy file into the plaza before the gate, you see the great doors slowly opening. The enemy holds the gatehouse. The archers, having made it to the barricade earlier, are ready as soon as the gates show the horde waiting behind them. Loosing in one volley it is impossible to miss. Your planning comes in handy as ammunition reserves were either moved back or new ones placed on the makeshift barricade of ruined wood and broken furniture. The volleys keep up constantly, only letting up to allow you, Alys, and the very last of the surviving defenders over and behind the barricade. The sheer volume of arrows actually keeps the advance at a standstill for a time, so many falling it's as if they were a wave breaking against a rocky shore. But soon the the volleys lessen, as ammunition begins to thin. The enemy as of yet shows no sign of faltering. Behind you the second fallback is complete, you can only hope more arrows were brought. Finding the same lad from before, miraculously, you call another retreat before all the men's quivers are empty. You lose some of them to enemy ranged weapons as they retreat, and you and the rest prepare for a fighting withdrawal.
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You take another two men down as they climb the barricade, Alys one of her own, and then you are backpedaling, fighting more to stall than kill, as you and the rest move back to the next fallback. Your intuition about more ammo being stocked at the next point must have been correct as the volleys return to their previous frequency. The efficacy is lessened when the Ard Negh show another unexpected adaptation, there is a disturbance in the mass of men as to your astonishment a comparatively small but tightly grouped of shield wielding, heavily armored men move to the fore, protecting many of those behind them. Your archers adjust, shooting in arcs, but this is not the withering barrage of before and you fear for how the now tired guardsmen will fare against these new foes with their superior arms and equipment. You call for a runner.

“To the postern, boy, tell Domlech it's time!”

“Yes, Lord!” He runs to the rear, watching him you can see that the third fallback is not even close to being ready. For now, your stand is here. The armored line of Ard Negh reaches the barricade all but unscathed, their longswords probing at defenders and forcing the archers from shooting positions. Suddenly you are on the back foot. You hope your other gambits have the intended effect.


Domlech knew today was going to be a bloody day. And that meant that feast halls of the Gods would be livelier than ever. He had little complaints about his recent lot in life. The fights had been good, the drinks plentiful, and clearly the Chief was warming to him. With the hardiest of the city guard he could find, not that they met his standards, he sat having a drink from the flask he was fairly sure the Chief and his witch woman had not noticed. The guards looked at him with disdain but he was in charge here, not them. It wasn't long anyway before a runner arrived with the signal he's been waiting for.

“Get up ye lasses, it's time we get yer blades nice and bloody.”

At his mark, two of the guards open the postern, and the flanking force funnel out onto the right flank of the wall, hidden from the view of the clustered enemy still funneling through the too narrow gate. Methodically he and the guards move forward. He would brook no cowardly notions of “stealth” like the witch woman, but he was no fool to give away an ambush carelessly. As soon as he crested the side of the wall and looked upon the area in front of the gates, he saw that no one was looking this way. With a yell that was louder even than the din of battle within the walls, Domlech charged forth, his two handed axe burying itself into the unshaven bow holding up the rear of the enemy cluster, splitting his skull in half. Removing it, he managed a second swing into a chainmail wearing axeman who did not even notice his comrade's gruesome death. Seconds after him the chosen guardsmen slammed into the flank all around and a second front was opened.

From a nearby rise Edmund watches the flanking force bring the Ard Negh into disarray. Taking the wall so quickly had proven a detriment more than advantage, their force too large to enter the city efficiently and too hungry for pillage to not try to force themselves through anyway. The remaining engine bothered him, but the most enticing target was obvious. “Form wedge! Canter to Gallop, then charge! Lances ready!” The Imperial Knight detachment of Caertheon formed up to his orders, and then began riding downhill apace, gaining speed steadily. Busy with the flank attack the Ard Negh notice them too late, a scant few raising weapons against the charge. It is not perfect, maneuvers against a force with large never are, with nearly a have dozen knights falling as a lucky spear or greataxe makes it's presence known, but the overall effect on the enemy is cataclysmic. Edmund's lance takes one man in looted half plate, the end bursting from his back like a thorn. His warhorse, Thunderer, claims as least three more with sheer momentum. His fellows score similar tallies. Many Ard Negh, even if not wounded, are knocked to the ground from the sheer force hitting their overly congested non-formation. Pulling their swords, the knights get stuck in.


At last managing to land a throwing knife into an eye slit, Alys fights both exhaustion and glee. Will was leading from the front as always, and as usual had neglected a flank. What the man would do without her is a mystery, that last one had been about to take his left leg at the knee. She would not spend the rest of their lives carrying him to and from bed. That said, the situation was growing dire. For every armored foe brought down they lost four or more guardsmen, who simply lacked the training or equipment for this kind of fight. The Ard Negh had brought the closes thing they had to armored knights and it just might carry them the day. Flanking them would be best, but not even she could slip by with the hordes of warriors covering the flanks of the shield bearers. It is just then, that beyond even the first barricade, a shift begins. There seems to be a moment of indecision, but men begin streaming out the gate they had just entered. Not a rout, but a response. However, in the chaos, this seems to have been misinterpreted, as many of the men watching the backs of their armored companions also turn back. One loses his attention for a moment and Alys puts her dagger through the back of his neck as reward. There is but a moment, and the damn breaks, the vast majority of the Ard Negh all but running the way they came, as if they expect far more enemies to face them outside the walls than in. She smiles warmly, Will's gambit had succeeded.
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As the tenth man falls beneath his axe Domlech looks around. The enemy were chaotic, but they were beginning to surround his raiding party. By his count he'd lost ten or so of the southerners, acceptable. More and the Chief might be mad again. He raises his axe up in the air and yells as loud he can, which is rather loud.

“Back to the gate!”

The withdrawal begins, and before long he and around twenty of the men arrive at the postern and close it before their pursuers can follow. With that, they seal it with a large piece of rubble from the damaged Church in town, one of the few stone buildings in the city.


The flanks of the enemy shield bearers open, and the guardsmen, tired of being over matched, take advantage. Finding Alys, you and your wife cut through three of them, your large sword and imposing bearing drawing their attention while she swiftly gets around their shields, cutting ligaments and throats, stabbing eyes. You really need to figure out whether you are more horrified or aroused by the clinical brutality of the woman's knife work. Maybe it's better not to know. The elite force is butchered in moments, its advantages eroded and the weight of numbers now on your side. The butchers bill for your men will be significant, but you can worry about that later. What was not previously a rout quickly becomes one as your archers regain their positions and the barrage resumes, now largely into men's backs. At last, the savage valor of the Ard Negh breaks, and you see them crush their own in a frenzy for the gates. Some, clearly thinking themselves clever, try to scale the walls once again and take the ladders down. Too many, it turns out. You don't have the view whatever men outside the walls still must have, but you can see men in their dozens tumbling from the suddenly packed battlements. The plan has worked as well as you could have hoped, in the end.

Alys is breathing heavily and holding the side of her head. You begin to say something but she shuts you up with a tight hug. “Will, please, just shut up about it.” Embracing her back, it doesn't seem worth arguing. “Are you going to pursue them?” You suppose you could. On foot you wont catch them, but manning the walls again is practical and archers can pick at them for some time. Alternatively you could get in contact with Edmund, have his mobile cavalry pursue. But if they enemy has a significant reserve that could prove a problem for the knights. As a third option, you could resecure the walls, close the gates, and simply consolidate this victory.

>Move archers ahead to fire on the rout

>Consolidate the walls, allowing most survivors to escape

>Send in the Cavalry, at risk of triggering unknown reserves
>Move archers ahead to fire on the rout
We might give them more casualties this way while simultaneously time helping our men regroup.
My hope is that a stray arrow hits the brother.
>Move archers ahead to fire on the rout.
>Prioritise closing the gates with our none archers.

Once we have the gates closed again, we can go through picking the ladders up and putting them on our side of the wall.

Let the cavalry have their butchers delight but draw them back before they get in range of the camp.
>Consolidate the walls, allowing most survivors to escape
We already risked enough. It's time to confirm our victory and show that Otherworlder what he's dealing with.
>Move archers ahead to fire on the rout
Should be safe enough and the more we bleed them the less likely they are to come back. It's worrying that the brother did not appear or display his isekai power, whatever it is.

That was pretty great. And the answer is definitely aroused.
>>Move archers ahead to fire on the rout
It could simply be Information as a power. All these new inventions and strategies being used.
Kicked my powerstrip, killed the PC and lost the mostly done update. I'll write it up again tomorrow, going to sleep. Man this is a new one. Sorry guys.
That sucks, I know that feeling since I've lost work from corrupted files and blackouts.
Don't apologize, stuff like this happens.
Rolled 89 (1d100)

Ard Negh Morale Check
Sucks to be them.
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You order the archers ahead to reclaim the walls, knowing they will easily outstrip their protectors, but trusting the Ard Negh are truly broken after their disastrous assault. Your intuition proves true. Not a single savage turns back, or fights a desperate rearguard action, or attempts a single thing other than a mad and frenzied rout back to their own camp. Your archers, free to loose at will and not held down by the formations of the infantry, reach the walls in short order. The results are devastating. Unable to leave the range of the walls in time the Ard Negh warriors face another several volleys of arrows before reaching relative safety, nearly two hundred falling before the officers call off the volley as they out run effective range. Their morale shattered, the once bloodthirsty and irrepressible marauders blaze a trail back to their camp trailing blood from the wounded and the occasional body left where it fell as the most grievously injured among them fall on the long trek back to safety. A cheer rises from the walls. The day is unequivocally won. Soon, the gates are closed, the walls re manned, and the tally tolled. Hours later, you call for a meeting.

Alys, Edmund, several of the guard officers, and yourself make up the war council. Domlech stands guard outside, no strategist, and more happy to glower at passerby than stare at maps in any case. You sigh. “We've driven them off. Once. Now what? What do we even have left? I played every card we had there and it barely held.”

Edmund thinks for a moment. “The knights stand ready, we lost about a third of our number, but the rest can still fight. It is not a lot, but it is something.” He looks unsteady himself.

You shake your head. “Twenty knights? What will you do other than be buried in billhooks and polearms? These are not the mindless fools of my youth, someone has taught the bastards tactics. You got one on them yesterday, do not think the same strategy will suffice twice.”

Chastised, the young knight looks hurt. “Lord.” he says, bowing his head in deference.

You call to your bondsman and indicate he should report next. He enters the half ruined tavern serving as a meeting place. “Half the men I went with can still fight. Another half dozen live, but won't be holding a sword unless you make this last a few months. I hope that outcome is to your liking, Chief? Unfortunately, you could hardly hope for better, especially as you already have a picture of the losses in the main body of your forces.
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“Alys...” You barely seem to whisper. The horrible answer to this question is known to you.

She looks at the ground. “Of the archers, we have around three fourths ready to fight, and the bowyers and fletchers are working overtime to get them supplied. Of the armsmen...” She looks you in the eye. “I am sorry Will. There are only fifty left. If it comes to melee, there is no way to hold even the keep, much less the wall.” You swallow heavily, you knew the brave armsmen had fallen in droves against the armored enemy at the second barricade, but to hear that only a half hundred remain is a blow. Any serious attempt to scale the walls will be almost impossible to repulse. Even a full retreat to the keep would be almost hopeless. Attrition, ever the enemy of a defender in a siege, has come to call on the butcher's bill.

“Very well. We man the walls as usual.” There are gasps from some, arguments from others, before you slam your gauntleted fist on the table. “ENOUGH.” Silence falls. “They will only fear a strength they see. We fall back, they will follow. We stand our ground, perhaps an opening will show itself. This is the only move. Believe in me.” The assorted men mumble, but assent. You soon call an end to the meeting. The fragile command you have over these men is fragmenting. It will be alive tomorrow, you doubt it will survive another day beyond. Exhausted, you head back to what passes for your quarters in an undamaged inn, a different one from before your ill fated trip to the keep. Alys follows.

“So, what are our chances?” She asks, sounding casual.

“If what we chased away is the bulk of their force, maybe even.” You respond.

She nods. “Even's not so bad, we've got through worse.”

You sigh. “It won't be even. They have reserves.”
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She stops in her tracks, and you also turn to face her. “How do you know?”

“The way they fought. He must have taught them that. I would bet much that the disorganized charge they fell into was unplanned. It's like their leader knows how to do things the right way, but doesn't understand who he is leading.”

She crooks her head. “Will, what do you mean?”

You smile slightly. “He's not one of them, at least, not really. And that's why he will lose. Alys, do you know what happens when an Ard Negh clan chief is shamed in battle?”

She shakes her head.

Your smile widens. “They are challenged until they are dead or all their rivals are. We will not face attack tonight, But I think there will be something worth seeing. Will you stay with me on the wall again?”

“Sure, Will, but let's get what sleep we can first, no?” The both of you retire for a decent four hours before you are woken by an alarmed guardsman.

“Lord, Lady, Sir Edmund requests you upon the walls.” The both of you reluctantly rise, Alys not even bothering to braid her hair as usual, before heading up the stairs to where Edmund and a number of the remaining senior city guards await.

“Beautiful, in a way, is it not?” Edmund says, softly, pointing across the field. Fully a third of the Ard Negh camp is afire. Screams and the sounds of battle carry softly over the wind.

“Did someone order a raid without telling me?” You say in confusion.

One of the older guard captains guffaws. “No, milord, this is all them. Oh, Arik would have loved this, the old bastard.”

Alys clings to you and whispers. “It's still not enough, Will. It's still not enough...”

Caertheon and it's defenders, on their last legs, watched the horde of their besiegers tear themselves apart, and spent the whole night wondering why, and if in the morning they would not all be dead anyway.
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Of course, no attack came on the next day, but another parley. The fires were dead, the enemy camp calm. The Allkhan in his distinctive dress, this time with six escorts. Message unclear. Just out of what was clearly arrow range by the mass of corpses before him. You meet him. Six of your own. Alys, Domlech, Edmund, and three of the remaining knights. All mounted.

The Allkhan, in his gaudy dress, bows his head in a measure of respect. “Lord Campbell. You have acquitted yourself well, better than most could have hoped to.”

You do not return the respect. “Leave our lands, go back to your wastes, and never return. My blade still thirsts for the blood of your clansmen and I find less and less reason to restrain it as time goes on.”

He smiles. “So hostile! But I suppose your reputation is not for nothing, my Lord Campbell. I am no monster. I wish for less bloodshed, not more. I will strike a tent just beyond your arrow line, and beyond the reach of my own troops. Meet me there, tonight. We have much to discuss, I think!”

Alys whispers to you. “Agree, Will, you don't have to follow through, Lady's sake, I could kill the bastard tonight before he arrives if you want.”

You nod, to him and your wife both. “Very well! Tonight then!” Both parties ride behind their respective lines but it is not long before your men observe construction of the aforementioned tent.

Back at the command building you find the others returning along with a new guest, the Lady Beata. You quickly fill them in on what was discussed. There is a flurry of argument and disagreement. Edmund silences it with a stomp heard throughout the room. “Stop! Lord Campbell has given your city a day to live, for that he deserves to speak.” You nod your thanks.

“I want you all to have a say, this is your city, not mine. But I was tasked with ending the disorder here by the Emperor. If that means killing this Allkhan, then I will do that. If there is a better way, I will consider it. Lady Beata, my apologies, I can see you wish to speak, please share.”

The woman twitches nervously at the attention, but gathers herself admirably quickly. “I only want my husband back. The men found no body. My, my, my memory, it is- fragmented, but I think those bastards took him. If they have him, please bring back my Bertrand. Please.” Tears run down the young woman's face. Knowing the abuse she suffered at the hands of the false duke, your inner soul burns.
“I will. If he lives, my Lady, you will see him again.” You grimace. “If not, I will see him avenged alongside so many others that these savages have taken.” The familiar red begins to take the periphery of your vision before you feel Alys' comforting hand on yours, and it ebbs like the low tide. “I suppose it's time to make a decision”

> Meet the Enemy on neutral ground as agreed (name two characters to accompany)

> Prepare an ambush using Alys and archers

> Ready the cavalry for a surprise attack.

> Ignore the summons, wait them out
I'm a bit conflicted in what to do. This guy clearly has some sort of power and intelligence, since he was able to unite the clans and protect his position as chief.
But then again I don't know if it would be wise to fight him, ambush him, or even just meet him in neutral ground. He might have something prepared for us in either option.
I know that if we let him go he'll probably just regroup, though. But if we meet him in neutral ground there's a bigger chance that we could free Beata's husband (if we do meet in neutral ground we should probably bring Domlech and Alys with us).
If it helps, while I never write it out, write ins are always welcome.
>write ins are always welcome
I'll have to think about it some. It's late where I'm at and I don't really have a good plan.
>> Meet the Enemy on neutral ground as agreed (name two characters to accompany)
Alys and Domlech, as anon said. Have our remaining archers and knights stand ready, but not with us, in case this turns ugly and we need a rescue.

The only reason I'm agreeing to the parley is Lady Beata's husband. It will be too much if the poor woman is left alone and grieving after everything the mind-controller did to her, and if we have Alys kill the isekai bastard then we lose any hope of rescuing him.
>I support

There should be a signal for a calvary charge, and archer support. But beyond that? Lets meet in "Good faith"
This just seems like a ploy for him to maintain control, if we give him nothing he still has to maintain his powerbase, whereas if we meet him he could tell them any line of shit he feels like.
>Take Edmund and Domlech to meet on neutral grounds, yet coordinate to have Alys and the archers make a surprise ambush on them after giving a certain signal or at a certain time. Try to make it so that at least the Allkhan is stalled without yourself, Edmund and Domlech remaining.
This is the best I've got.
I'm working on it but can't promise an update tonight. Had to check my uncle's stills in the morning and it has been a mine numbing work shift after. I'll get one up tomorrow if I don't manage.
Don't worry about it man, take your time.
You sigh. “Obviously unconditional trust in such a man as would bring such suffering to our people and such violence to this very city would be folly. But I will meet with him.”
There is an uproar. Even Alys looks at you with naked uncertainty before you raise a hand to once again restore order to the proceedings. “Heed me. Sir Edmund, have your knights ready to sally beyond the gate. If I signal it so, prepare to ride out and punish any treachery.” He nods. You turn to an older man, one of the few remaining sergeants of the city guard, and the de facto leader of the archer contingent now manning the wall. “Same for you, sergeant. If this goes foul, I would have your men ready to create a perimeter outside the walls for my party and I to return to. I do not mean to hand myself over easily no matter what this Allkhan has planned.” The man silently salutes and makes his leave of the command post. “Other than that, standard patrols. They might try anything if this is simply meant to be a distraction. I know you are all tired, but hopefully we can bring all of this to an end, and soon. Alys, Domlech, with me please.”
The group of you make your farewells and leave the post, conferring more privately. “How many men is he likely to bring?” Alys asks the big man.
“Would shame him to bring more than a handful to such a thing, says he cannae fight his own battles. You should do the same, at least openly. I don’t approve of all your sneaking about and trickery, but then I’m not the Chief.”
“You and Alys then, or should I bring more?” You ask.
“Nah, no. If you bring even less than he does it’s a show of confidence. Means you think we can fight outnumbered.” He looks at the smoke rising to the skies from the piles of Ard Negh dead still burning throughout the city. “I’d say you might have a point on that.” The surviving citizenry had been conscripted to clear the body strewn streets and burn the remains of the foe. The Imperial fallen were instead sequestered in some abandoned homes and warehouses, awaiting a time where they could be properly buried with honor. A hopeful gesture, at best, at best, you think. There is little certainty as to what exactly tomorrow will bring Caertheon.
There is little to do from there but ready for the parlay. The archers have their orders and you spy Edmund readying his own men as you and Alys prepare mounts for the three of you to ride out later in the evening. Domlech professes a desire to find his own meal for the evening, as is his practice. You can only hope his recent trend of at least partial sobriety continues. You imagine having a clansman of your own will pay dividends in any negotiation with the Allkhan, if he can keep his composure. If you can.
Alys and you manage to scrounge up a decent meal of beef stew and hard bread trenchers from a cook station serving some of the guardsmen who have pulled to night shift. Looking for a private place for the two of you to eat, you have a sudden thought. “We should check in on Friedrich. Who knows when we’ll get another chance.”

Alys smiles. “He’d be glad to know you care, Will. Though I don’t think he’d ever say it” The way to the surgeon is not hard after you finish your meals, most citizens laboring in the outer area where most of the fighting occurred and the remaining garrison either manning the walls or seeking well earned rest. You are not surprised that the building has suffered no further damage, and it is clear someone was conscripted to fix the door, likely by the knight you left behind, as it has been replaced by a study piece of untreated wood likely salvaged from a collapsed structure itself.
The inside has been cleaned up quite a bit, what furniture and other assorted tools not broken set back to their rightful places. The bodies are gone, likely on the same pyres you saw before with the exception of your fallen knight. The one with the injured arm sits by the door as if a guard, which you suppose he must be, His bandaged arm is in a type of sling, but he seems wholly alert and guides you to the same back room where the beds were. You find Friedrich where you left him, though you note some color has returned to his flesh and the bandage on the severed stump is clearly fresh. Likely replaced several times since you were last here. Though you had expected more patients to have ended up here after the assault, there are none. The mass of beds used as a makeshift barricade earlier had precluded many more patients and besides it seemed Friedrich was severe enough to require much attention. The surgeon is boiling what appears to be some form of tea in a nearby kettle over a wood stove, the smell pungent enough to convince you it’s medicinal rather than simply a refreshment. He looks up as you enter.
“Ah, I was wondering when you would return. Your man is conscious, after a fashion. I would avoid agitating him or asking anything requiring strain, he is just barely within the waking world. My Lady, how is your head?”
Alys takes a seat on one of the few remaining beds. The same one she once lay in, if you were to guess. “It bothers me, but I can bear it, sometimes I lose focus.”

The surgeon tuts. “Yes, to be expected. Here.” He pours a measure of the foul smelling team into a nearby cup and hands it to her. “There is precious little I can do to help but remind you not to exacerbate the condition with further trauma, but this should numb the pressure without unduly sacrificing your wits.” She gratefully takes the cup and sips, suppressing her distaste for the medicinal brew as you sit next to Friedrich. You had mistaken his eyes for being closed shut but it becomes clear in proximity that they are, just so very little, held open under great force of will.

“Captain-General.” His voice is a hoarse whisper, but you detect his determination in the precise way he manages to enunciate your formal title, no informality from this Knight even at the edge of mortality.

“Sir Friedrich. You know, after this, I’m going to have to start thinking up accolades or positions to award you.” You joke deadpan.

“Only my duty, Captain-General. Think- “ He winces at a sudden pain before recovering. “Think nothing of it. I take it you were successful?”

Your wife smiles over at you as you nod. “You did your part admirably. The portrait seemed to break the spell he had over them, and Alys and I slew the bastard. But the city is besieged. Looks like every tribe we’ve ever fought all at once. An assault has already been repelled at great cost.” You relate.

Friedrich looks troubled. “I should be there, but I am not so blind to think I am in any state. You came to inform me and I am grateful, but my peace of mind will hold as long as the walls do. You two should get to it. I expect I won’t start rotting just yet.” He makes a bit of a production of sniffing the bandage on his stump. “At least, I don’t think so.”

There is a professionally offended scoff from the surgeon, but he thinks better than adding his opinion on the matter. Her tea finished, you and Alys make to leave and head for the parley. The both of you are stopped just by the doorway as Friedrich croaks out once more. “Captain-General, I would have one boon, if you so offer.”

“Name it, Sir Friedrich.”

“Do not release me. My duty, and my usefulness, are not at an end.”
Facing away from him, you and Alys smile knowingly at each other. “Was never on the table.” You both leave and head for the stables. Night is falling as you return to the front gates and the stables just within the walls. Domlech is waiting, standing beside what you are almost sure is the very same surly mule he rode into Caertheon atop. He looks at it with distaste, and it looks at him like it’s expecting more food than whatever it is the beast is currently chewing on.

“Chief!” He calls out as the two of you approach. “I don’t think the beast likes me all that much.”

“You should be pleased to be given such a wise mount then, savage.” You retort. He snorts in derision, or maybe amusement. Snorts seem Domlech’s preferred expression of both sentiments.

Alys checks the light tack and saddle on her own mount, a mare as black as the figure she cuts in the dark cloak over her leathers. Your own is a brown roan, serviceable but then you have never been an expert in horseflesh. Her own business settled your wife sees fit to throw her own barb. “If you want a better tempered mount, Domlech, you need only truly learn to ride one. Else you will be stuck on that unhappy creature, both of you sharing in misery. Maybe next time Eleyse visits Barathon she can teach you something, the girl seems a natural and Im sure she and my husband will enjoy watching you fall into the muck time and time again.”

He grumbles as he awkwardly climbs atop the mount, which bleats unhappily but cannot be bothered to attempt to buck the giant. “Chief, you raise your women wrong. Either witches or half horse, it’s no way to live. No man should be tortured so by womenfolk”

Mounting your roan you shrug. “I don’t feel particularly tortured.”

“Bah, that’s just because she has you trained! I know what I’ve seen.”

You ignore the rest of his prattle and give Edmund a silent nod, as per your order he has the remaining knights ready to go at your signal, a man atop the walls with the archers prepared to relay your attack order if needed. In moments a report you were expecting arrived. By the count of the watch the Allkhan has hewed close to Domlech’s prediction, a mere five or so retainers joining him in the meeting tent between your forces. It seems the time has come to put your foe’s sincerity to the test.
There is no stirring in the greater enemy camp, just the dim lights of campfires and the occasional distant movement of a sentry on their rounds, a far cry from the furious conflagration of the previous night. No visible note is made of the slow opening of the gates or your small parties ride out into the darkening night. The Allkhan has had two bright torches placed outside the city-facing entrance to the somewhat ostentatious tent, done more in the style of the royal processions of the central provinces rather than the rough and more practical dwellings of his own people. The three of you slow as you approach. The Allkhan and his men seem to be waiting patiently inside, no guard waits to confirm your identities or secure your mounts to the provided stake, so you do so yourselves.

“Eerie.” Alys notes. “He’s either very trusting or does not view us as a threat.”

“No, I think something else is going on. Why bother with all of this? Is his position worse than they have let on?” You wonder.

Her voice drops even lower. “Whatever it may be, our own cannot truly be said to be much better. Be careful, Will. Antagonizing him now would not be wise.”

You nod, burying your frustration at the admonishment mostly because you do realize you have come close to losing control of yourself more than once these past days. This all has hit too close to home for you, and not simply in the most direct sense of basic geography.

Domlech cares not to speculate, his only utterance a belch a turns your mouth in annoyance and sets his mule to a brief bray he proceeds to silence with a carrot you would not have thought the man capable of the forethought to produce.

A mental sigh is given. “Too late for hesitation then.” You say to the others, and stride confidently within the spacious tent. The interior is accoutered somewhat richly, rugs of a design you recognize from your time in the City States of the southern desert mixing with seats of the saddle-like leather design favored among the clansmen. There is a table between the seats clearly looted from a nearby inn or village, from it’s distinctive craftsmanship telling of the talented woodworkers of the Duchies. In fact, with a start, you recognize it. You had stayed at the Old Ducksman’s in your youth on the way north with your father. You hope the kindly old man who ran the place made it out with his life, if not his property.
You sit in the chair clearly meant for you; the room lit with a scant few braziers that nonetheless provide adequate lighting for the meeting. The Allkhan is already seated, likely waiting for some time, his own retinue arrayed before him in their Ard Negh furs and armor. Surprisingly, the one immediately behind his right shoulder, and closer by a few strides than any other, appears to be a woman. Unlike the other four, she wears the heavier armor of the elite shield bearers you remember facing at the second barricade.

Your opposite nods his head after you have taken your seat, leaning forwards towards you with the regard a chief customarily only spares for a perceived equal. As close to a diplomatic compliment as the Ard Negh have known to be capable of. “Welcome, Lord Campbell! I am glad you graciously accepted my invitation. There is much to discuss.” His Althimuran is completely devoid of any northern accent, even your own brogue bears more of a regional flavor. You would wonder if the man were truly of the clans at all if not for his clear ancestry and the favor the insular clans have placed upon him.

You grunt. “Aye, I have come. Against my better judgement I have trusted in your words, despite the blood soaking your hands. So I will grant you the faith that you have more to open with than a polite greeting.”

He claps in seeming delight, a mannerism you can not recall from any other of his kind. “Of course, I do, my Lord. But first we must have clear air, no?” His jovial expression disappears, and his voice enters a serious monotone. “The Duke, or I should say my brother, is dead?” You know it to be a question, but it was intoned as all but a statement.

You look aside at Alys for a moment, who nods ever so slightly. It was not such a hard thing to deduce when he wasn’t produced at the wall. “Your brother is slain, yes.”

If this bothers him in any way it does not show on his now stern countenance. “By whom? You? The lady and her knives? Your pet giant?”

You think back to Beata’s horrific mutilation of the man and the terror and agony that must have made up his last moments. You chose to temper reality somewhat. “Someone he wronged found their justice. With enthusiasm.”
The Allkhan regards you with the same unreadable expression for a moment, before his mouth bursts into a mad grin. “Ah, alas poor Thorsen, finally met the one who found the right moment?” He sounds wistful, and most of all amused. As if the event of his brother’s doom was an inevitability he had been looking forward to celebrating for quite some time. “It’s only fair then! A Duke for a Duke.” He utters some Ard Negh to one of the guards nearest the tent’s boundary. The younger man gives a shallow bow and leaves before returning with a roughly man-sized bundle your scouts must not have thought much of when observing the enemy retinue approach. Up close, you can see it squirming. "One Duke Bertrand, the real one, slightly worse for wear.” He snaps his fingers and the bundle is unraveled, depositing a filthy young man on the ground. His hair and beard are overgrown, he sports numerous bruises, but this is absolutely the man from the portrait within the keep and the true Duke. He would tell you himself, you imagine, but he remains bound and gagged, if now freed from his cloth prison. “Consider this the first of my gifts in good faith. The second is information. In return I will ask you a favor. I expect you may not wish to offer it, yet I will ask anyway.”

“What favor?” You ask, perplexed.

He leans conspiratorially, and speaks so softly you are certain none but the shield maiden could possibly hear him from his retinue. You mirror the motion to add to the privacy.

“It’s quite simple, Lord Campbell. I am afraid I need you to kill me.”

You cannot help your look of abject confusion as the man leans back and calls out to his retinue, he barks out some orders and all but the woman and one other leave the tent. Horses are heard in short order riding away towards the Ard Negh encampment.

He sighs in relief. “Now we can speak more freely. Arda, dear, please get us some of that wine I had brought.” The woman wordlessly retrieves a bottle and several goblets from a nearby chest. No one makes a move to free Bertrand, who has stopped struggling and now seems to simply observe. You cautiously accept the wine given you, but only sip after the Allkhan takes a swig of his own. Alys accepts but does not drink, Domlech is not offered a drink surely to his chagrin. The woman herself sips conservatively, with a grace of movement unusual among the clans.
“How is killing you a favor?” You ask.

“Ah, you see, if you don’t, I am afraid I will be dead.” He smirks.

Alys scoffs. “Enough riddles, Allkhan, we’ve seen too much blood and buried too many friends to play games with you tonight.” Hardly diplomatic you suppose years of court training even have their limits. You were about to draw your blade in frustration.

He puts his hands up in mollification. “Apologies, apologies, I was enjoying myself too much. Friend, if I were to tell you I am a man of no particular charisma, middling at best martial ability, and not even a claim to the legitimate chiefdom of a single clan, would you believe that?”

You scratch your beard. “I’d say you would make an unlikely Allkhan, a position whose existence was already unlikely.”

He claps again. “Exactly! But then, you and I know there are people who can make the unlikely inevitable and the impossible possible. People like my brother. People like that young man I am told slew the old Emperor. To a certain extent, people like myself.”

Alys laughs in disbelief. “If you know so much then you know how completely unwise it is to tell us of all people in this world of your true nature, whoever you are.”

The Allkhan shrugs. “It is no matter to me, my doors are closing. You hold the last one I believe to be open. I knew my brother was dead when I was questioned at the Allclan meeting for the first time since I claimed my title. His influence did not die out all at once, I am still here after all, but it is fading. You saw the fires. The chiefs hunger for this title, and what Thorsen made them believe of me is fading fast. And they will have it from me, I cannot defeat any one of them in single combat, I am afraid. They know this. So instead of someone earning my title, we kill it before all of them. At least for a while.”
“Unless you are crazier than you come off, which would be a feat, you want me to fake your death in a show duel? Here? Now?”

He drinks the rest of his wine in a single gulp. “Yes! You shame the name Allkhan for all time. No one will claim it again for at least a century thinking my hubris brought the wrath of the gods down on all our heads. Considering the amount of dead you piled at the walls and beyond I think it is all the further convincing they will need.”

You suppress a sudden headache from this nonsense.

“So I help you fake the shameful and tragic end of the man who would be Allhkan. Then what? You disappear? You do know letting you go is unacceptable to the Empire.” You should at least be clear what your line is.

“Oh, I assumed as much. Fake my death, and take myself, Arda, and my bondsman Derlaith into your service. We have assumed names ready, and I assure you of their loyalty. I will also reveal exactly what it is I bring to the table. My, shall we say, gift, is not as direct as that of my dearly departed brother or that boy you killed, but I believe you will find it’s use. You will understand if that at least is the collateral I hold in hopes it will have you see this through.”

Alys is looking at you by the time you look at her. All she can offer is a shrug. Seems she knows as little about how this should proceed as you do. You decide not to bother with any council Domlech might impart.

>Accept his terms and fight the fake duel
>Ask further questions(what)
>Make a counter offer(what)
>Reject the deal honestly, and part peaceably
>Spring your planned ambush, hoping the Allkhan’s death by treachery would be just as disruptive
>Ask further questions(what)
>"How can we be certain you won't run or betray us when you feel the time is right?"
>"Can you give us a good reason we shouldn't expect you to pull any 'surprises' in the duel?"
>"Does Betrand live?"
>"I'm asking this legitimately and not as an insult, are you in your right mind?"
>"...have the gods given you their blessing?"
I think I'm starting to piece together what happened. One brother has the power to influence minds, and used it to make the Ard Negh unite under the other brother. Then he took over this place and declared himself Duke, eventually leading to the events we see here.
Also does the 'spring the ambush' mean we leave and actually ambush him or that we'll tell him about it?

As insane as it might sound, I'm a bit more inclined to want to accept. If for no other reason than to see what will happen.
These could either be extremely good potential allies or massive headaches, and yet even just allowing them to live could make us get more info about the 'Better World'
Bertrand lives, he's tied up next to us, but I support the gist of the rest of the questions. And I am also inclined to accept. His brother's gift was mind control, his is knowledge. Even just the siege engines we saw will make things much easier in the other fronts. He seems like a much better person than his brother. And, a much lesser motive, hus shieldmaiden (wife?) will probably get along well with Alys.
I support most of this, Ignoring the Betrand option.

But I feel like we should make it clear that he's going to spend his time with us under lock and key and observation. A royal ward, if you will.

Because we can't trust him, not at all. But I don't want to deny him.
And of course
>What is your 'gift'

Generally support. It's quite an odd turn, should we manage to keep them under our control it would be a massive boon. Either way, the Ard Neigh host dissolves, I say we go for it.
and as a final pondery
>Why not turn to your friends in Adam.
“Even if I take you at your word, how can I trust you going forward? How can I even know there is not some sorcerous trick you plan to spring on me in this duel? You led an army of conquest to the lands of my countrymen, it hardly endears me to you.” You counter.

He shrugs helplessly. “I can earn your trust over time, for now, you may place me and mine under guard or any other measure you see fit. I find this preferable to death, and despite my best efforts neither Arda nor the good man Derlaith were willing to listen to my pleas that they leave my side. So I suppose they will have to suffer whatever you deign appropriate for me. As to the second, as I said I will reveal what I possess to you, but I cannot prove to you that I am not simply saving it to best you in battle. For myself, I can only ask whether such subterfuge would be necessary were I truly hiding such a power?”

You look at him sternly, if he means to deceive it is at the very least not so clearly written upon his face as to be obvious to one such as you. “You are sure this is no illness of the mind? Some blessing of your gods, even?”

He laughs. “Apologies, Lord Campbell, but I am sure of my sanity. If this were purely something happening to I alone perhaps I would wonder. But my brother and I discovered each other’s nature at a young age, the world we both remember is the same. And we were both given our own gifts. As for the gods, I have never believed in them,” You note Arda stiffens at this, but says nothing. “- and no pantheon that would bring my brother into this world and trust him with the power he so gleefully abused is one I would feel any obeisance towards in any case.” He looks over his shoulder apologetically at the shield maiden. “I am sorry, Arda, but you and I have had this discussion many times already. I know my lack of faith irks you.” She looks away with a grunt.

“One last question then, Allkhan. What should I call you?”

“My parents in this world named me Lughten. It’s a good name, and it has carried me far. But Lughten Allkhan dies outside this tent. You may call me Francisco. It’s a name I bore for far longer, and other than Arda here no one else in this world knew of it up until this moment.”

“Francisco, then. I take it the woman will be your second? We shall do this in the formal manner.”
He smiles sadly. “I would like nothing better. Unfortunately, her elevation, however earned, was controversial among the chiefs. This shaming must be, how do you say, by the book, no? Your bondsman should be yours for much the same reason as mine. It will sound better when the skalds decry my name across the wastes for the next several decades.”

“Very well, Domlech will be my second.” You hear a frustrated grunt from the Duke’s prone form and are immediately somewhat embarrassed. “Alys, if you would?”

“Of course, Will.” She steps over to the man and, producing one of her many blades, severs his restraints and the gag preventing him from speaking. He immediately springs up before his legs, atrophied from his time in captivity fail him and he collapses, only Alys preventing him from hitting the ground harshly.

“Beata!” The Duke cries, his voice a coarse wheeze that he has yet managed to infuse with some measure of will.

“She lives, Duke, fear not. We will have you back together before the night is through.” You hear Alys whisper reassuringly. Knowing what horrors he will learn his wife was subjected to in his absence, you find yourself unable to offer your own comfort or meet the man’s now hopeful expression.

“Best get on with it then. I take it you have the means to make this performance memorable? Or at least visible?”

“As debut and finale of my acting career, I have spared no effort. Derlaith, good man, the torches if you will.” At Fransisco’s direction the bondsman takes a number of large torches from where they leaned unlit against the canvas of the meeting tent and proceeded back out the entrance facing the enemy camp proper. “The men I sent away moments ago had orders to inform them that there would be something worth watching. I’m sure half of the fools yet expect me to ride back with your head and your woman in chains.” The way his eyes flicker from you go Alys and back tells you that your stare is not the only one implying a degree of restrained violence at the thought. “Peace, peace. A man is not always his reputation. I find many of those practices distasteful, but you try stopping them.”
“Francisco, I spent most of my life doing just that. It usually called for the use of a blade.” You add irritably.

“I meant nothing of it. My situation is different, and as you are about to find out, I am no master of any weapon. Let us be off.”

The strange man who calls himself Allkhan for one last night leaves with his followers, and you rise to follow. Alys holds you back a moment and whispers so even Domlech cannot hear. “He’s enjoying this far too much for my liking. I think he wants this to be a show, some egotistical addition to his legend even as it ends. I say you put him in the dirt. Make it so he cannot even look at that steel giant of a woman he has straight in the eye ever again. The Ard Negh already hate you, after tonight they should feel fear.”

Despite yourself a vicious grin forms on your face, the same one you recall wearing atop the walls and in the desperate melees at the barricades. You wheel around and pull Alys’ head to yours by the back of her neck, leaning down to meet her forhead. “You really shouldn’t get my blood up like that before a fight, Alys. It might be bad for your health later tonight.” You drawl. She reddens only slightly before breaking contact and failing to hide her laughter. The four of you exit into the cold night together, Bertrand still silent and seemingly somewhat confused at events.

Francisco’s man has placed his torches well, illuminating and defining the borders of a roughly oval shaped arena. He is now busy helping the Allkhan out of his ceremonial armor, leaving only his furs and leathers beneath.

“The old way, then?” You ask. The man nods.

“Like I said, Lord Campbell, the skalds love these details.”

“Doesn’t bother me. Domlech?” Your bondsman helps remove your chain hauberk and half plate bracers without a word. He seems solemn, the duel perhaps holding some significance to the giant despite it’s farcical nature. He the meets with your opponent’s second and they discuss quietly who gets to begin the fight. Domlech seems to have made the better case as it is he who strides to the center of the oval, and gestures for both combatants to draw their weapons. The Allkhan produces an exquisite straight sword of classic Ard Negh design, but accoutered in fine inlay and gemstones the likes of which would beggar most wealthy Imperial merchants. Despite it’s relative gaudiness you know a good, well maintained blade when you see it. Warrior of note he may not be but Francisco at the least does not neglect his weapon. To your surprise his man then hands him a shield, in the same style of those you faced during the assault. This does make some sense, you suppose. Someone had to teach them such a novel way to wage war.
There is no ceremony needed as you draw your father’s sword from it’s scabbard, it’s contours and weight as familiar to you as Alys’ touch or your mother’s love. It is but a moment before Domlech chops his two handed axe into the ground and the fight is begun.

>Complete Humiliation. As Alys said, this is your chance to become not only a hated foe but to forge your own legend as the man to end the first Allkhan in decades. Francisco likely will be hoping for something flashier, but his opinion doesn’t matter all that much to you right now.

>Make a show of it. It is not exactly uncommon for you to hold back in the practice yard, few have your experience or skill so you allow them to fight you on somewhat even terms before turning up the heat. This can be applied here, to really sell that a fateful battle is taking place.

>Only a flesh wound. You’ve agreed not to kill the man, and even to save him after a fashion. But getting off freely for what he’s done sits wrong. You’ll fight less efficiently in the hope of wounding him non-fatally, but with enough force to be convincing as a killing blow. You did not discuss this previously, but beggars cannot be choosers, and maybe you want to define the dynamic of your relationship early on.
>Only a flesh wound. You’ve agreed not to kill the man, and even to save him after a fashion. But getting off freely for what he’s done sits wrong. You’ll fight less efficiently in the hope of wounding him non-fatally, but with enough force to be convincing as a killing blow. You did not discuss this previously, but beggars cannot be choosers, and maybe you want to define the dynamic of your relationship early on.
First and second options will only make life harder from those who wish to avenge lost honor and such. Third will piss him off and injure him, but he and his friends belong on a short leash until we know we can trust them.
>Complete Humiliation. As Alys said, this is your chance to become not only a hated foe but to forge your own legend as the man to end the first Allkhan in decades. Francisco likely will be hoping for something flashier, but his opinion doesn’t matter all that much to you right now.
I'm a bit torn on the options, but this seems like the opportunity of a lifetime.
Although, if we do put on a show then the Ard Negh might respect us as mighty warriors (hopefully that could make them steer away from us for a while).

I feel like there will be people that want to avenge lost honor no matter what we choose, though it's fair enough that you want to put him on a short leash (my only concern is that one of his buds will overreact to any actual wound he gets, or at the very least start planning for revenge in some way).
>Complete Humiliation. As Alys said, this is your chance to become not only a hated foe but to forge your own legend as the man to end the first Allkhan in decades. Francisco likely will be hoping for something flashier, but his opinion doesn’t matter all that much to you right now.
>Complete Humiliation.

You're damn right Fransico, We're going to make it look like your heathen gods have UTTERLY cast you away.
>>Make a show of it. It is not exactly uncommon for you to hold back in the practice yard, few have your experience or skill so you allow them to fight you on somewhat even terms before turning up the heat. This can be applied here, to really sell that a fateful battle is taking place.
Aggression is often your friend against an opponent with superior armor, or as in this case, bearing a shield. Your style of fighting trades defense for versatility of attack, your weapon’s superior reach and ability to be used with both or only a single hand lending your attacks unpredictability on the offensive. Surely, if you were approaching the Allkhan in the chaos of the battlefield or even the tense uncertainty of the traditional duel, your speed and the strength of your attacks would be utilized in order to seize the initiative and never allow it out of your hands.

Of course, that is not your purpose here. Nor is it simply to carry out the deal you made with the man efficiently. The burned villages, the horrors within Caertheon, the hundreds of dead laid out in the makeshift morgues throughout the city, they fill the borders of your vision with the increasingly familiar pulsing red. You have agreed to save this man from the monster of his own creation, but he seems to think he has bought his way out of his grave cheaply. You will disabuse him of the notion that he is the master of his fate. Permanently.

You circle the man slowly like one of the big cats of the eastern plains stalking it’s prey. He keeps his shield up almost to his eyes, proper form clear. But form Isn't everything, and you can see his eyes narrow, doubt filling him as he must wonder why you have not begun what he surely expects to be a brief but flashy charade of arms. And so you allow this to continue for some time, his nerves fraying as your stern gaze never leaves his eyes. As you expected, he breaks first.

It's a standard attack, competently executed. Stepping forward quickly and never dropping the coverage of his shield over his torso, Francisco moves forward and at the last moment moves his defense aside slightly to attempt a stabbing thrust targeted at your lower midsection. It’s a popular choice for a reason. A reliable opener, it can do great harm to a foe without exposing your own vitals. Two things make it less than ideal. One, it is at it’s best in a formation fight with other similarly equipped allies. Two, you decided that this would be his choice the second you saw him strap on the shield.
You sidestep the thrust and, moving your sword from a two handed grip to your stronger right hand, bring down the pommel on the man’s wrist like an executioners axe. You don’t need to hear the snap of bones, the agonized cry, or Domlech’s appreciative wince followed by amused laughter to know that you have effectively disabled the Allkhan’s weapon hand. Your grin grows even wider as you feel the resistance your sword’s pommel meets disintegrate into nothing. The bejeweled sword falls to the ground and is forgotten as you unleash the aggression you had been holding in until now fully, taking your sword in both hands once again you swing an overhead slash down onto the shield Francisco only barely manages to raise high enough to prevent you carving a divot into his skull. Forgoing your usual technique for raw power and an outlet for your growing frustration of the last few days, you hammer his defense again and again, denting the stout shield and forcing him back towards the edge of the make shift arena with every strike. The woman, Arda, bears a nervous disposition as you continue the assault, her hand hovering near her own weapon. You ignore it as the red encroaches, your vision tunneling to a narrow view of the object of your fury.

His shield all but ruined, Francisco attempts a desperate counter, swinging the battered disc at your face with all the speed his rapidly fatiguing arms can muster. You duck under his attack, shift your grip, and slam the flat of your blade into his ribs with full force. There is an audible snap and he falls back, wheezing hoarsely, and drops to one knee, the shield clattering to the ground as he scrambles to return to his feet. You discard your own weapon, throwing the blade into the ground point first where it sinks some inches into the snowy muck of the ground. As he rises he meets nothing but your first, a harsh jab sending him reeling back, a following upper cut all but taking his feet from him once again. Stunned, he attempts a lethargic facsimile of a grapple only to take your knee to his gut as you easily avoid him. The breath taken from his lungs, Francisco falls to his knees, heaving. Retrieving your sword once again you approach his kneeling form. Focused on your task you do not hear the commotion from behind you until the telltale slide of a sword from it’s scabbard is followed by the point of a blade entering your peripheral vision, inches from the side of your head. Not moving your neck your eyes dart to the left. Arda holds her blade at extension, a cold fury on her face. However, much as you did not notice her, she also has failed to remain vigilant.

“We still have a deal, woman. He will not be slain by my hand today. He seemed to desire your company going forward so do not make me have to explain why I left you dead in the middle of a field” You say, eyes calmly appraising her blade and the likely path she might take were she to decide to end you right here.
“Sure of yourself at my blade’s end, south lander.” She growls, her accent thick but her Althimuran polished enough to be understandable.

You smile almost pityingly. “I wouldn’t be so confident either. Whatever you are to him, I doubt he would enjoy what’s about to happen if you do not sheathe that blade.”

She scoffs, and makes to move forward, just as her head is harshly pulled back by her hair and her neck bared, a knife glinting in the torchlight at is pressed to her neck. Alys moves just as you had expected her to, giving no indication of her approach, or her time waiting for the proper moment. She whispers to Arda, but it’s easy enough to hear. “Will wouldn’t know this but I thought there might be some trouble from someone like you tonight. This knife is coated in a blend I rarely get to use. I find it uncouth, really. But I’ve seen what it can do, so I shall educate you. I won’t kill you. Not with the knife. I will cut you, just a nick on one of those lovely veins of yours. In ten seconds you won’t be able to stand. In twenty the convulsions start. Most of them start shitting and pissing themselves by then. A minute in and most beg for death, some even manage to claim it. Eventually you will ravage yourself against the ground to the point that something will break that just cannot be fixed. One I saw lasted almost ten minutes, but I always suspected they altered the dosage on that occasion. It’s unpleasant, and I have had a long few days. Save us the trouble and move your blade away from my husband so we can finish out this farce to our mutual benefit. Or else…” She moves closer to Arda’s ear, almost intimately, and whispers so quietly that even you cannot make out the sounds. But you can read her lips, and you suspect you need not have to.

The words play out in your mind as good as if they were whispered in your own ear. “Or else when you’re on the ground covered in your own filth and begging for death, I’ll make him watch. And then I will make him do it.” To the woman’s credit, there is little hesitation. The point has been made. Her blade clatters to the ground. “Always nice to have an understanding!” Alys says, all too cheerily. You suppress a shiver. She probably wouldn’t have done that. You think.
Sparing the instrument of terror you call wife a mere nod, you turn to Francisco. He hasn’t moved, though his breathing has steadied. It seems he wants to bring this display to an end, and you can at last agree. You got what you needed out of your laden mind. One last bit before you finish this up. Your boot connects with the side of his head with an audible smack, sending him rolling over to his back as what you suspect is a tooth flies out into the darkness never to be found again. You raise your blade point down as he, stunned, attempts regain his senses. Thrusting down, you meet resistance, and put weight behind the weapon until its has sunk deep into your target, and Francisco goes limp.

You have to give him credit, he did catch on with alacrity. From the angle you chose, it will appear to the assembled clansmen that you have just plunged your sword through their Allkhan’s throat after a decidedly one sided duel. Whatever supporters he had remaining will now be scrambling to recover some power of their own among the other chiefs and explain away how they could have followed such a clearly godsforsaken weakling. You pull the end of the blade from the frozen ground next to the fallen man’s neck and wipe down the weapon with your sleeve just as you would have had you just sullied it with a man’s lifeblood. Francisco looks up at you through his bruised and swollen face and waits for what comes next. “Domlech, get that horse blanket they had the duke in. I think I have a better use for it.” There is a frustrated growl emanating from Francisco’s woman, but you deem it fair to ignore it considering Alys has not moved an inch from before. Domlech returns inside the tent and produces the blanket, to Bertrand’s visible displeasure. How long did they have him in that ragged thing? The former Allkhan’s bondsman, for surely you have killed that title if not the man, has not moved or altered his mostly blank, bored expression this entire time. To your surprise, he aids Domlech in rolling up his Chief like a freshly killed buck. For his part Francisco maintains the illusion well. He is either a gifted physical actor, or perhaps simply unconscious. The latter would not surprise you.

“What horse, Chief?” Domlech asks as he and Derlaith hoist their burden between them. You are about to respond when Alys coughs to gain your attention.

Sheathing her knife, she nods towards Arda. “She won’t cause trouble if she’s busy keeping our new friend from breaking his neck. Put him on one of their horses. She can choose.”

Domlech looks at you with a questioning expression.

“You heard her.”
Your bondsman rolls his eyes as if he is disappointed in himself for expecting you to say anything different. He and the other man carry the bundle off and place it upon one of the hybrid steppe horses as Arda impatiently walks over and indicates the largest of the three still tied up near the meeting tent. Meanwhile the commotion in the enemy camp has been rising, the cries of anger and shouts of challenge reaching a volume that can carry clear across the field. It is clearly time to move on before anger overcomes sense and someone comes riding over to see if they can take down the man who slew the Allkhan.

“Time to leave. Duke Bertrand, can you ride?” The man nods. “Excellent, take the last of their mounts.” In moments all of you are mounted and on the way back to the city, the gates already beginning to creak open to welcome you. Edmund rides his knights, still waiting behind the gates until now, out to take control of your ‘guests’. No longer needing to flank Arda lest she run off with your prize, your curiosity brings you alongside Alys as she rides at a level pace into the city. “What you said to her, would you have done it?”
She moves her braid back to it’s customary place over her shoulder, and draws the same knife from before. In a flash she leaves a shallow cut on the back of her other hand. “There is no such poison, Will. But I read people, as you know. That woman is infatuated with that man you just beat to a pulp. So as far as she should know going forward, I can do that to her and worse to him.” She smiles warmly. “I did almost cut her throat though, stopped myself at the last moment. I find self-control difficult when people pull blades on you lately. I think maybe I am beginning to imitate your less desirable qualities.”

“Do you not think we can trust her to keep to Francisco’s agreement?”

“Trust is more your department. Other than you I don’t think I trust anyone anymore. Some people are predictable, sure, but that’s hardly the same. She is going to try to kill you again and I will be ready for it.”

“You are so certain.”

“If someone did to me what you did to that man what would you do to them?”

“Kill them.”

“Exactly. I think she is a lot like you, actually, if you were a freakishly large savage woman with questionable at best taste in men. It would be endearing, in different circumstances.”

“Alys, sometimes I wonder if I should fear you more than anything else that gets thrown at us.”

She laughs. “Good! It’s working.”
Now inside the walls, you dismount, tasking Domlech to take Francisco and his party to the Phantom Thread and the care of your operatives, else the dungeons if something has befallen the front in your absence during the siege. Shouts from the walls tell you that the first fires of the night are already lit in the Ard Negh camp. The disintegration Francisco predicted, and you were counting on, seems to have begun. It’s not long before Edmund returns with his men and notes that he has some trusted men on rotation for the night’s watch. You tell him of the Inn where you and Alys had been staying before but are interrupted by Bertrand. The man had been so silent for so long you had nearly forgotten him.

“No, my Lord, we go to the Keep. I need to see Beata and putting you up for the night is the least I can do.”

You look at Alys and you both shrug. The keep probably has the best amenities in the city in any case, so long as the previous inhabitant hasn’t ruined them with his wanton excess. “Of course, Duke. Lead the way. I am sure you are more than ready to be home.”

Perhaps remembering he is at last back in his own city, the Duke manages to arrange a small honor guard to escort you, and before long you are climbing the now familiar incline to the keep. Whatever the outcome of the turmoil in the siege camp, you imagine tomorrow will be more tiring than today, and leave Bertrand to reunite with his wife in relative privacy as a guard is detailed to show you and Alys to an unoccupied room. It’s simple, but large, a bed the equal of your own back in Barathon and a full carafe of wine waiting on a nearby table the first things you notice. The next thing being Alys already beginning to disrobe.

“In a hurry?”

“What was it you said earlier? I shouldn’t get your blood up or it might be bad for my health? I must admit, Will, I am curious to find out what you meant…”

You sigh and begin unclasping your own leathers. What’s one less hour of sleep? Or two?

You are woken the next morning by fervent knocking. Your head is hammering like a ram assaults a wall, and the carafe of wine is both empty and far from the table where you last remember seeing it. If you slept two hours you would be shocked, and it seems some kind of feral animal attacked you from behind in the night judging from the claw marks burned into your upper back. Alys, on the floor, looks little better than you. Covered only by the remnants of the sheets pulled over her like the cloak over a corpse. She also stirs at the rude awakening.
“Who is it?”

“Me, Chief.” Domlech’s brogue is clear even through the heavy door. “Your new buddies are all taken care of, locked in the back of that tailor shop your people have running. You need to get to the walls. Something new out there.”

You groan almost involuntarily. “Be out in five minutes, I’ll meet you there. Does the Duke know?”

“Aye, passed him on the way with some of your fancy knight boys. Even had the woman with him.”

“Duchess. She’s a duchess.”

“Call her what ye want Chief. Woman has a spine, I’ll give her that.”

You and Alys mostly avoid embarrassing yourselves attempting to find where exactly the night has deposited your clothing, and are soon on your way to the wall. The smoke from the camp is now highly visible as your approach the edge of the city interior, many fires burned through the night. It does not take long to find Bertrand, Beata, and Edmund atop the battlements, surrounded by many of the remaining guards. The Ard Negh camp is severely reduced but remains. No new fires are visible, and you spy a picket line being maintained. Someone won the power struggle, at least for now. That is not what draws your attention, however. To the northeast, some distance away from the enemy, is a mixed cavalry and infantry force of perhaps five hundred. Sure to have been overwhelmed a mere few days earlier, it now would likely run roughshod through what remains of the Ard Negh and their exhausted, depleted host. It could not have come from the passes you did without running into the enemy, and spying some of the banners you come to know why. The disparate lords of the north, fractitious at the best of times, have at last come together. Bitterly, you note, too late for it to have mattered in the slightest. The banner in the lead position, indicating command, is familiar to you.

Alys grabs your arm. “Will, is that…”

It’s all you can do to suppress a frustrated scream at the sheer cosmic injustice. You grit your teeth so hard you fear they might crack. Of course he would be here to wrap himself in unearned accolade.

“Hello, cousin.”


Thanks for reading guys! No vote this time as I cut this update in half and put the other bit in the thread 4 OP due to the thread's imminent death. Expect that in the next few days. Posting has been intermittent this week due to a number of issues including water damage and the perfidy of Holiday Inn, all resolved now. We have been archived and I will see you all soon.
Thank you for running! I'm going to look forward to the next thread.
Can't wait for the new thread

Probably tomorrow. Wanted to take a few days to recharge and revise my notes. Also fiddling with a map generator. Im hoping to get a map of the Empire and therefore a better OP image out of.

I am shocked this thread has been last in the catalog for two days.

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