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The Unholy Duchess Returns to Viadaza

Discussion in 'Tales from the Crypt' started by padrissimus, Aug 6, 2015.

  1. padrissimus

    padrissimus Grave Guard

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2007
    Messages:
    210
    (Forgot to post this piece here way back - another photo-story from my current campaign featuring my undead army.)

    She Returns

    Biagino found it difficult to keep up with Ugo. Not that Ugo, a coachman by profession, clad in a long, thick leather coat over a mail shirt and carrying the heaviest looking firearm Biagino had ever seen, was particularly fleet of foot, rather that he was less wary about making a noise. Biagino hated being so close to someone who seemed wholly intent on advertising their presence to all and sundry. This was most definitely neither the time nor the place to be so loud. Three times Biagino had pleaded with his companion to be quiet, only to be answered by an instruction to hurry up. While Ugo wanted speed, the priest wanted quiet. They were in agreement about one thing, however, neither wanted to be there at all.

    They had been sent to the woods north-east of Busalla, close to where the road branched to Viadaza, due to reports of enemy movement thereabouts. Up until now the Viadazan undead had stayed within the city bounds. If they were moving further a-field then it could prove a very dangerous hindrance to the activities of the last remnants of the Morrite crusader’s army. Right now, Biagino was acutely aware that the enemy could prove very dangerous to him personally any moment. While there was concealment for him and Ugo in the many shadows, there was also concealment for anyone or anything else. For all he knew these woods could be bursting with night terrors and grave-horrors, and a monstrous fiend waited behind the very next tree. Perhaps only dumb luck had kept them alive so far? It did not help that every second tree adopted the guise of some ghoulish creature, the branches so easily transforming into ragged limbs reaching out to claw at him.

    At long last and quite suddenly, Ugo began to move cautiously, bringing his boots down softly and carefully. Stifling the urge to vent his annoyance by pointing out that Ugo had obviously been capable of silent movement all along, Biagino instead chose to give thanks to Morr that his companion had finally seen sense. The feeling of satisfaction was short lived, however, as it now occurred to him that there must be some pressing reason for the coachman’s sudden caution. One look at Ugo’s wide eyed face confirmed this suspicion.

    “What is it?” Biagino whispered. Ugo put his finger to his lips. It was an action which in light of his previous carelessness would have much exasperated Biagino if it were not for the manifestation of a fear so strong as to override all other emotions. Ugo removed his finger, and very slowly – as if to move his arm suddenly would in itself be dangerous - reached out to point through the trees. Once Biagino turned to look, Ugo hefted his dwarf-made, iron and steel monstrosity of a blunderbuss, and peered, wide-eyed, through the trees himself.

    [​IMG]

    “There they are,” Ugo said, in words made of little more than a breath. “This is as close as we go, and we don’t stay long.”

    Biagino was not going to argue. One look and he could see they had almost stepped into a nightmare. He was no innocent. He had faced the undead in battle. But then he had an army about him, strong in their beliefs and firm in their ranks and files. Now there was only him and Ugo, alone in the woods, and mere yards from a veritable legion of undead. “Reports of enemy movement,” General D’Alessio had said. At any other time the pathetic insufficiency of that comment might have brought a wry smile to Biagino’s face, but here and now, faced with the truth, it was a sob he had to stifle.

    Skeletal warriors lined both sides of the road, two ranks deep, their bones clean and white –thoroughly washed by the rains of earlier that evening. They clutched spears, and but for an eerie twitch here and an uncanny twist there, they could have been mere statues. The only sound was a strange creaking and scraping, emanating from bones grinding in sockets and ossified spear-shafts rubbing against the rusted rims of ancient shields.

    Then there was another sound: the slow beat of drums, of the kind that might go before a convicted felon being led to the scaffold. Neither Ugo nor Biagino could bring themselves to move, such was the new layer of trepidation conjured by that sound. Biagino wondered if they were about to witness some poor souls being led to their doom, their blood to be drained by vampires or their bodies twisted and corrupted by necromantic magic. Yet he knew that was not likely. The undead were arrayed as if to welcome a prince, to show their strength and be inspected at one and the same time. This was more like a parade. Indeed, moments later, a pair of drummers marched by, then three torch bearers, followed by some nobly attired riders. The first of these was a lady riding side-saddle upon a mount barded in flowing, blood red silks. Her skin was deathly pale, and she wore a headdress and diadem of an archaic style. In her right hand she wielded a brazen staff topped by a silvered serpent’s head.

    [​IMG]

    She was a vampire. Her appearance was proof enough, but the potent aura she exuded confirmed washed away all hopes that she might be anything else. Biagino had felt the same deathly chill before, on the field of battle at Pontremola, where no less than two such fiends had commanded the enemy host. At that moment, the vampiress turned her head slightly, in Biagino’s direction. His insides churned as dizzy fear washed through him. Then he saw that she was not looking at him, rather at something that had caught her eye amongst the skeletal warriors lining her route. She turned back.

    [​IMG]

    Just as it seemed impossible to be more afraid, he was: he realised he knew her face. He had seen it before in his nightmares. More than that, he had met her in waking life. Since then her flesh had blanched, her mouth become distorted by the fangs curling from her upper lip, and her cheeks had sunken so that bony ridges now framed her huge, dark eyes. But her expression was one he had witnessed before, for she had used it upon him. She wore only a hint of it in life, but in his dreams she had given that same scornful, wicked and proud look full vent. It was the Duchess Maria!

    His knees weakened, threatening to bring him down. He stumbled backwards a little way. Luckily, the rustling sound thus made was hidden by the sound of drums, hooves and clattering armour from the road. Even Ugo failed to notice.

    The Duchess Maria had been corrupted. She had turned, then returned. And here she was being welcomed by an army of undead into Viadaza.

    [​IMG]

    Unexpectedly, he knew immediately it all made sense: the Duchess’s miraculous escape from Ebino; her lack of effort in convincing Lord Adolfo to support the crusade; Lord Adolfo’s uncharacteristic, dreamy fascination in her, and the way Viadaza fell to the undead almost immediately the Morrite clergy had left. All these things fitted together. The duchess never did escape, but had become a secret servant of evil, no doubt sent to sew the seeds of Viadaza’s destruction. She beguiled Lord Adolfo to fatally weaken the crusade, whilst simultaneously ensuring the priests of Morr still left the city. The fall of Viadaza was her doing.

    His nightmares had been a sign all along. Morr himself had no doubt sent them to reveal the truth, yet Biagino in his ignorance – so many times - had woken, drenched in sweat, simply to dismiss the lingering images from his mind as quickly as possible. He thought them a weakness arising from his own self-doubts, when they had been no less than an inspired vision of the truth, presented starkly and boldly. Here was the duchess exactly as she had been in his dreams, the true self she hid behind her sorcerous disguise.

    The Vampire Duke Allessandro Sforta was no more. Now there was the Vampire Duchess Maria Colleoni.

    [​IMG]

    The curse upon Tilea had not been diminished at all. If anything, it was waxing stronger, threatening to conquer more cities and towns and to swallow ever more souls.
     
  2. MasterSpark

    MasterSpark Nostalgian Staff Member True Blood

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2008
    Messages:
    4,669
    Nicely written! And I can't believe I've not thought of using pictures with miniatures to portray the happenings in the text, that's a really effectful technique!
     
  3. padrissimus

    padrissimus Grave Guard

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2007
    Messages:
    210
    I try to do just that - pictures of miniatures to portray story events - throughout my campaigns. The above piece was taken from my current campaign. Please see http://warhammer-empire.com/theforum/index.php/topic,46787.0.html

    Here's another example ...

    The Viadazan Terror

    Biagino was met by the Lector’s secretary as soon as he returned to the camp, to be told he was summoned to an audience with the Lector. He had been out with a small company of militia scouring the land for supplies, there encountering two Viadazans so terrified that they could barely explain themselves. They spoke, incoherently, of the fall of Viadaza, and of the dead rising to kill the living. In truth, their vocabulary was inadequate to describe the horrors they had witnessed. At the time Biagino had prayed that they were simply fooled by circumstances, and were describing events in a village, a nightmarish encounter with a scouting company from the vampire duke’s army, or maybe just repeating what some mad prophet had dreamt. Yet as soon as Biagino saw the secretary’s face he knew that the two peasants had, in their own broken way, told the truth.

    The secretary was mounted, and Biagino was forced to walk quickly to keep up with him and so hear his words. “They say the enemy are everywhere – I mean all over the city. There’s no safe place left. Some of the palazzos may have kept them out, but who knows? The undead cannot get in, and those inside can’t come out. There may be one palazzo still held by the living, perhaps more. As for the rest of the city, it seems every ward and quarter has been taken, with the undead roaming in large companies, killing everyone they can find.”

    Biagino could barely take it in. The crusaders had killed the vampire duke, at great cost to themselves. They had served Morr bravely in the face of a truly nightmarish foe. They had watched the remaining undead scuttling back northwards. And still Viadaza had fallen. “What of Lord Adolfo’s men?” he asked. “Did they not attempt to defend the city?”

    The secretary waved his hand dismissively. “Lord Adolfo’s men where nowhere to be seen, not alive anyway. If they did make a stand, no-one witnessed it. There was no battle like that we fought, apparently not even any defence of the walls and gates. Some amongst the walking dead looked like his marines; there were even some brutes who might once have been his ogres. But as to where Adolfo’s living men are, no-one can say.”

    “How can an entire army disappear? How?” Demanded Biagino. “Did they leave the city? Did Adolfo flee south and take them with him? But no - I can’t see how he could possibly do that yet not be seen. What reports of Lord Adolfo? Is he still alive?”

    “I reckon there has been some great act of treachery,” said the secretary. “Several people reported Lord Adolfo’s assassination; one told of a monstrous fiend roaming the corridors of the grand palazzo. Maybe the soldiers were lured away, or poisoned, or otherwise duped into their own destruction? The fleet has certainly fled – the hurried departure of nearly every ship in the harbour seems to have been one of the first signs that something was amiss. Maybe the threat came from the sea, and so the sailors saw it for what it was first? One old fellow described a cabal of necromancers leading the uprising, both the raising of the dead and their capture of the city. Another told us that saboteurs led the dead in, and dug the dead up. The Lector has insisted on hearing each and every account. I believe it to be an act of penance for leaving the city.”

    “No-one could fault him for leading our crusade. He did what he must do.” Biagino had been wearing a frown throughout the conversation, and now his furrowed brow felt locked in place, his head aching as a consequence. “Maybe what had happened was meant to coincide with the vampire duke’s advance on the city? And it would have done, more or less, if we hadn’t stopped him crossing the river.”

    The secretary pondered a while, then spoke. “Whatever the original intention, the living dead have succeeded in taking the city, even without the duke.”

    They had arrived at the Lector’s tent, where their spiritual leader was still questioning a series of witnesses who had fled the city. Before him was a bedraggled fellow, who at first sight might be taken for a country vagabond, but his rags were the remnants of city fashions and his beard had recently been trimmed in the style of the swaggering city watch. The Lector was standing, which was unusual for such a situation as this. One would expect him to be seated upon a throne, while those being examined or bringing petitions humbly stood before him. It was immediately obvious, however, that the Lector was simply too agitated to sit. He was pacing back and forth, and at this moment asking a question.

    “Where did they come from?”

    The raggedy man’s head twitched and Biagino caught sight of his eyes – wide and staring, as if he was still witnessing some horror right now. “Some came from the sea, my lord.”

    “In boats? Ships?”

    “Some, yes. I saw one rise up from the water itself, to drag itself up onto the wharf. The rope he’d been hanged with still around his neck, his belly bloated.”

    “But the rest, the ones from the ships?”

    “They did not sail into the harbour, but came from ships that had been docked a while. There was fighting aboard – I heard the shots, the shouting. Then a while later, they came. More came from the Sea Garden, and those hanging at the shore line were cut loose by the others.”

    “Surely the guards and marines were ordered against them?”

    “I don’t know. There was fighting aplenty, but I don’t know anything about orders. The dead seemed to know what they were doing. They looked to arm themselves, each and every one, and they gathered in strength by the Sea gate. Then they swarmed through into the city itself.”

    [​IMG]

    “And then?” asked the Lector.

    “I know not, my lord. That’s when I left.”

    The Lector waved the man away without even looking at him, and another witness was brought before him, this time a young woman. Her skirts were so filthy she looked to have waded through a mire. Of course she had, thought Biagino. What would one not be willing to suffer to escape the clutches of an army of walking corpses?

    “My lord, this girl is from the eastern quarter,” said the priest who had ushered her forward, “She saw a pack of ghouls.”

    “Ghouls,” repeated the Lector, spitting the word out. “Where exactly did you see them?”

    The girl did not hesitate. “I saw them first in the graveyard on the Colle Orientale, my lord. I can see it from my chamber window. Later, when I ran away, they were everywhere. Everyone was screaming, men and boys were fighting, dying, then … then fighting again. If everyone hadn’t been fighting, the creatures would have seen me.”

    She spoke quickly, almost keenly, perhaps needing hoping to expunge some of the horror by reporting what she had seen. It was obvious to Biagino that the Lector had not heard her last words, but was instead mulling his next questions. “What exactly did you see? Who commanded them?”

    “The ones I saw in the Garden of Morr were half naked, horrible. They had pale flesh, black lips, sharp teeth, and were dressed only in rags. No-one commanded them, my lord. Like a pack of savage dogs they were, not soldiers, not men. When they came to the garden there was no one to stop them. More and more came, clambering over the walls …

    [​IMG]

    … until the garden swarmed with them. They tore at the gates, at the doors of the crypts. They wanted the corpses. I watched them.” Here she hesitated for a moment. “Just watched - too afraid to leave my house. It wasn’t only me. I think everyone was, at first anyway. When they’d dragged out all the bones they could find in the crypts, they set about the graves. I swear I saw a hand reach up out of the soil, and one of them fiends ran over to it to tug at it.”

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    “Others scratched at the soil, digging with their hands until they could pull the coffins up and out. Bent and twisted they might have been, but either they were awful strong or some enchantment lay on the ground. It seemed to part for them, as if it wanted to yield its crop of bones. Then … it was hard to look but I could not turn away … they chewed on the bones. I could hear them sucking out the rotten marrow. Other corpses came out of the ground moving of their own accord, the worms still feasting on their corrupted flesh, and these they allowed to walk away.”

    [​IMG]

    “Still other grisly remains they piled up in one corner, snarling and snatching at each other as they did so.”

    [​IMG]

    “The stench was horrid, my lord. The whole city smells like that now. You’ll know it if the wind changes.”

    The Lector’s face registered disgust. Perhaps, thought Biagino, he remembers the foul miasma we all breathed in the battle? The girl was led away to be replaced by yet another refugee, an old, bent, grey-bearded man, who must surely have been helped to leave the city for it was plain he could not have run away himself.

    “This man saw that which came from the crypts,” the priest by his side announced.

    “Which crypts?” asked the Lector. He looked doubtful and Biagino knew why. The city’s ancient crypts were protected by powerful wards - locked by decades of prayer so that Morr’s hand alone held the key.

    The old man coughed to clear his throat – a rather long business that might have annoyed or bemused those present were they not so concerned to hear what he had to say. Finally he spoke. “’Twas the old crypt by Le Panche, my lord. My companions left me near there while they searched to find a safe passage for us all.”

    “Le Panche?” said the Lector. “So, not within the city bounds. Go on.”

    The old man coughed again, not taking so long this time. “I heard a clattering from inside and thought to look through the bars. My eyes are not what they used to be, though, my lord, so I couldn’t see much. Then there it was, in the deepest of shadows - a face.”

    [​IMG]

    “It seemed like a statue, except that it was looking at me. Well, the bars were iron – good and strong – so I was not afraid, and I wanted a better look. My companions had left a lantern hanging from the branch of a tree so that they could more easily find me again. So I took it and shined the light down the steps.”

    He stopped, as if he were merely telling a bed time story to a child, and intending to create suspense. Once again, no-one complained, they merely wanted to know what he saw and cared not a jot how he told them.

    “Then I saw them. Three there were and not statues but bones. The foremost wore a helm and held a shield before him, his lower jaw gone, his upper resting on the rim of his shield. The one behind carried a staff and made as if to shout at me. Of course, there was no sound. The third I couldn’t really see that well, and nor did I want to. I left them there, behind the bars, and I pray to Morr, my lord, that they are still there.”

    [​IMG]

    Biagino had heard enough. Ghouls, zombies, skeletons: it was the Battle of Pontremola all over again, but this time engulfing Viadaza, and the undead had won. He felt sick. It was not fear that made him so, however, but frustration and doubt. Had he not done all he could to serve both Morr and Tilea? He had raised an army and fought a mighty foe. Yet all for nothing, for now the undead were both north and south of them, and the army was broken and dispersed. He had lost his home, the Ebinans had lost theirs, and now the Viadazans too. Would the whole of Tilea succumb to this wickedness? Had Morr given them victory, hard won as it was, only to abandon them now?
     
  4. Count Vashra

    Count Vashra Lord of Shadows True Blood

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2013
    Messages:
    1,536
    Very good campaign and writing.
     
  5. padrissimus

    padrissimus Grave Guard

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2007
    Messages:
    210
    I ought to say, the two stories above were posted here the wrong way around. I am picking only those stories with undead in them (a very small portion of my campaign).

    Here's the latest, which features undead ...

    The Day Before We Met Our Dead

    Prequel to the Assault on Viadaza


    Father Biagino, trying to look inconspicuous as if merely passing by upon some errand, approached the spot where the arch lector was about to receive the army’s scouts. Being a priest of Morr, one of the Viadazan crusaders no less, no guards thought to stop him. Anyone else would have been suspected of being a spy and certainly not allowed so close without an adequate excuse. The first thing that caught his eye was the formed company of soldiers standing guard, clothed in the blue and red of Remas, with a fluttering standard bearing the arch-lector’s crossed keys – the keys to Morr’s heavenly garden – before them. Despite the livery and the ensign, however, they were not Remans, nor Tileans, nor even worshippers of Morr. They were from the far, distant and mysterious realm of Cathay, being one of several such mercenary companies in Reman employ for many years now.

    [​IMG]


    He was not alone in thinking Cathayans were somewhat unexpected and unusual components of a holy Morrite crusade. Their role in the state army of Remas was widely understood: ever since the disgrace of the corrupt arch-lector Frederigo Ordini during the time of the Tilean Terror, when the secular overlord of Remas took command of the city’s forces to prevent any further folly, the army had been almost wholly composed of foreign mercenaries. This was hardly a novelty in Tilea, as many an Estalian caballero, ultramontane halberdier or Border Princes brigand archer were hired by many a city state. All these accepted holy Morr as the god of death, part of the pantheon of lawful gods, and even if their first prayers in battle might be to Myrmidia, Sigmar or even Ulric, it was the blessing of a Morrite priest they sought when mortally wounded. These Cathayans, however, recognised none of the gods known in Tilea, instead worshipping alien gods whose very names were unpronounceable. Back during Frederigo Ordini’s fall and the distrust of the church it caused, such foreigners were actively sought, all the better to ensure that a corrupted priest might no more bend them to his will, regardless of whether that will be loyal only to Morr or driven by worldly greed and a lust for power. And so the quiet Cathayans’ reassuring, and continued, presence in the Reman standing army had begun. But here, now, amongst a blessed army commanded by priests and half composed of willing volunteers and soldiers sent by the powers of Tilea, the Cathayans seemed out of place. But then, even a year ago no-one thought an arch-lector could command any army.


    Once Biagino had found a spot where he might watch and listen without being too noticeable, he spotted the dwarfen scouts already making their way through the camp. While they approached, he looked over at the Arch-Lector Calictus II. Wearing his simple red cloak, and unadorned hat, with only a little gold-work upon his brown-belted cassock, it was the arch-lector’s face that drew people’s attention, then held it. Strikingly gaunt, his stern expression reflected both what he expected of himself and of others, while being visibly illuminated by Morr’s holy blessing (at least to those who had eyes to see such things).


    [​IMG]


    It dawned on Biagino that here was the answer. Calictus was the reason why Cathayans, ogres, dwarfs and all the rest were marching northwards together. Not his office and the authority granted by it, nor his robes and all the outward dignity of religious nobility, but the man himself. All who looked upon him saw a man they could trust to do Morr’s will. This arch-lector seemed as far from the cunning and conniving character of Ordini as one could get. It was the man Calictus who could command the secular state of Remas and all its forces, then lead them to fight a holy war, despite the disastrous false crusade of only 60 years previously. The passage of time had no doubt played a part in assuaging Reman doubts, and the undead nature of the foe proved the need for decisive action, but it was the man himself, devout and determined, who had finally tipped the balance.


    So it was that several forces were welded into one, men and brutes, foreign mercenaries and city militia, Remans and Pavonans. From the most able of genius artificiers, Angelo Da Leoni, who had brought his marvellous steam engine, to the most crazed of gibbering, flagellating fanatics, raised from the city’s poorest quarters by the raving priest Father Antonello. From the proud nobility of Remas bedecked in fluted and laminated armour from knight’s head to horse’s hoof, to the outcast peasant archers of Campogrotta in their mud-flecked, linen rags. All marching side by side beneath the banners of the Reman Church of Morr.


    And the dwarfs, of course, who had just that moment arrived before the arch-lector.


    [​IMG]


    They had been sent out along with a company of Bravi to learn what they could of the now nightmarish city of Viadaza. The bravi had returned with little to report, their faces ashen and limbs trembling, their words a confused tumble of prayers, warnings and whimpers. Biagino had learned at the Battle of Pontremola that men could face the walking dead and fight well, while priests sang litanies to heap blessings upon them, and holy paraphernalia invoked an aura of Morr’s protection. But if such things were absent, he knew from his own experience, then the fear engendered by both the sight and stench of the undead could sap all courage leaving an empty, choking pit where one’s guts were supposed to be. Biagino hoped the Dwarfs had not been so affected.


    The dwarfs were not alone, having more easterners with them: masked, bare-footed men with fine blades ridiculously rumoured to be sharp enough to slice paper in two (not in the normal way but by separating front from back to form two equally sized, impossibly thin, sheets). In any other army the sight of two such dissimilar warrior species working together as one would be the talk of the camp, but here in this crusade it was par for the course. Biagino noticed that one of the dwarfs also wore a scarf to hide his face. Odd, he thought. Maybe the fellow’s beard was too bright a shade of ginger and he didn’t want to reveal the scouts’ position by it? But then why was the white bearded dwarf not similarly wrapped? Perhaps the dwarf was so impressed by his eastern companions he had taken to dressing like them, an action that seemed more gnomish in character than dwarfen. Or did the fellow have some mutilation to hide, which in the case of a dwarf might be nothing more than an ill-clipped beard? He shook his head – it was lack of sleep that made his thoughts stray so wildly and easily.


    The dwarf at the front did the talking. He was clothed in chainmail, wore his beard in neat braids, and carried an iron hammer as big as a two pint pot upon his shoulder. Having bowed to the arch-lector in the quick and slight dwarfen manner, he began his report.


    [​IMG]


    “Your Holiness. We have done as you commanded and looked upon the foe. We counted those on the roads and byways, and approached to within a long-bow’s shot of the walls . The enemy is not as strong as us, but is in no ways weak or ill-prepared.”


    Calictus flexed his fingers. “Do you mean they have intelligence of our approach or that they are diligent in their continuing watch?”


    “I cannot say for certain. They’re not the sort of enemy we can capture and interrogate, but it seems to me they know we are close. The city walls are manned in strength both day and night, and they have strong patrols covering a distance of four miles from the gates.”


    Biagino wondered whether the limit of the enemy patrols was due to how far their vampiric master’s will could reach.


    “The patrols – they are undead?” asked the arch-lector, which Biagino took to mean that he too was weighing the same possibility.


    “Yes, your holiness. Long dead horsemen; bleached bones devoid off all signs of flesh; hooves a-clattering just like living horses. You can hear them coming some way off – what with so much rocky ground on or off the paths all around the city. They rode in companies, column of twos, banners at their fore, like soldiers. One lot even had a drummer beating silently at the shredded remnants of mouldy leather atop his copper kettles.”


    [​IMG]


    “Did they see you?” asked the arch-lector.


    The dwarf pondered a moment, then turned to look at his company. Some shook their heads a little, others shrugged. “I think not, your holiness. They gave no sign of doing so. They didn’t pursue us. They didn’t even turn to look our way.”


    The officer by arch-lector’s side, a mercenary captain from Astiano whose name escaped Biagino, suddenly perked up. “Ah, but do the dead need to look in order to see? They don’t require eyeballs, which should surely prove a much more troublesome deficiency compared to failing to turn one’s head.”


    Biagino wondered if the captain was related to the noble Duccio family, long famed for their philosophical bent. Perhaps he had come along with the Pavonans, Astiano’s new rulers? Perhaps the man had chosen to be just as philosophical about being conquered?


    “The undead are not bound by natural laws, but by unnatural ones,” answered the arch-lector, in a matter of fact tone that very much surprised Biagino. It was as if he were lecturing a pupil on a spring morning. “Only in a vampire’s face can one see expression, and even then it is never to be trusted for their very existence is a lie, and what they choose to show the world is rarely the truth. Still … it matters not whether the riders saw these scouts, if Lord Adolfo already knew of our approach.”


    The Astianan frowned. “So we cannot surprise them?”


    “I doubt it,” said the arch-lector. “But we can attack before Lord Adolfo has any more time to prepare. Before any relief can be sent to him.” He turned back to the dwarf, “You said you looked upon the walls, that they were manned in strength. Tell me exactly what you saw.”


    “There’s not a wall unguarded, your holiness. I checked every one with my spy glass. A dozen at least upon each. Some were skeletons armed with long spears, many armoured too.


    [​IMG]


    “And there were still rotting corpses upon other walls, more of them than the skeletons I reckon, as well as brutes guarding the gate …”


    That’s the same as ever, thought Biagino. When Lord Adolfo was still mortal both the seaward and landward entrances to his city had always been guarded by Ogres. Now he was a vampire, why wouldn’t his brutes be zombies? Biagino already knew to expect undead ogres at the city, for the fisherman had reported their presence to him. In truth, there was nothing described so far he had not told the arch-lector himself. He had written lengthy reports concerning what he himself witnessed at Viadaza and all that the witnessed he had questioned had told him. Except, of course, and somewhat crucial to the true picture, he could not say that all these things were still there. Until the scouts looked with their own eyes it was entirely possible that Adolfo’s main strength might already have moved elsewhere.


    This thought made Biagino think of his recent nightmares: Catching his breath after the victory at Pontremola, the cheers of his battered regiment as the enemy falls back. No-one has the strength to pursue them, but it is not necessary. The enemy is beaten. The vampire Duke is dead. The tide is turned. But then the dream changes and he is hiding with Ugo in the trees east of Viadaza, watching as the Vampire Duchess is welcomed into the city by Adolfo’s hellish army. Panic wells inside him. There has been no victory. Pontremola was a trick, an illusion. Even as the Viadazan crusaders cheer at the sight of the enemy falling away, in truth the enemy has already passed them by, and the city has fallen. Then the dream changes again, back to the army, except these are the Reman crusaders, and they too are ready to cheer, any moment. The enemy is about to retreat. His legs grow weak, his sword slips from his grip, for he knows if they do retreat, then it is the same as Pontremola - a hollow victory. The real enemy has already passed them by and is even now swarming through yet another town. For them, to die is to be undead, to be defeated is to be undefeated. His head swims as the macabre dance unwinds about him - feint, attack; fall, rise; lose, win - while his dancing Duchess partner manoeuvres him, step by lurching step, ever closer to the water.


    He jolted awake. The dwarf was still speaking.


    “… without need of a gate, for they were weaving freely through the very walls, outside, then inside, now outside again, as if the grey stone were merely mist. Their horses’ hooves barely touched the ground, if at all, and they were lit by green flames as if they had been doused in oil and set ablaze.”


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    “Enough, master dwarf,” snapped Calictus. “Let’s not wax so lyrical about such horrors in the camp, shall we? We will face them soon enough, but when we do, it will be with Morr’s blessing as our armour, and Morr’s will as our nerve. It will help if the soldiers have had a good night’s sleep tonight, so, as I said, no mention of this again until the battle is won.”


    “'A good night’s sleep is the whetstone of success',” said the Viadazan captain, quoting some ancient scholar on the art of war.


    A good night’s sleep! thought Biagino. If only.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2015

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