|Bill Baldwin Venture-Agent, Florida—Melbourne aka trollbill|
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Venture Captain Marcos Farabellus thumbed his frozen fingers again through the stack of dossiers and notes spread out before him, as if doing so would somehow reveal better results than the last dozen times he’d done so. He shivered. The tent flaps did little to keep out the wind from the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. For the first time in its history, the Pathfinder Society had raised an army, and he had been unanimously chosen to be its commander. He mused as to what it was he must have done wrong to have received such an honor. The Decemvirate wanted the Sky Citadel of Jormurdun and the only thing standing between them and their goal was the mass of demons and other foul creatures that dwelled within the cursed lands around the World Wound, an opening in Golarian that lead straight to the Abyss. As if he wouldn’t have had enough to do simply clearing a path through that mess, it seemed some of the Society’s old foes, the traitorous Venture-Captain Thurl and the Chelish criminal Tancred Desimire had raised their own armies to oppose them. This job was putting a dent in his usual cheerful disposition.
The Army of the Open Road, as his rag-tag force had been dubbed, looked impressive enough on paper. But it was a mishmash of troops from all over Golarian that the Society had cobbled together. They lacked unified leadership and there was no time to accomplish that unity. Worse, the Pathfinder Society was never meant to be a military organization and lacked any true military commanders. And, on top of that, many of the Society’s most seasoned members were off on special assignments. So Farabellus was left with few worthy candidates for command. He thumbed through the stack one final time and looked up at the six Pathfinders he had found most worthy. He had already gone over with them in detail why they were here and what the overall strategy was. Now it was time for specific assignments.
“Atka,” Marcos said, “You are the easy one. Normally I would be worried about giving command to one so inexperienced, but Lady Gloriana Morilla has made a specific request. It seems you may just get a chance to sound the Horn of Aroden you recovered in Brevoy. Lady Morilla sent a message requesting that you lead Taldor’s Army of Exploration.” Farabellus motioned for his young aide de camp to give the message to the young fur-clad Erutaki woman that seemed more at home on these steppes than the cities of Taldor. She took the missive and simply stated, “I am honored.”
“Aden,” continued the Master of Swords, “As the most experience warrior here, you are also a fairly easy assignment. You shall be leading our contingent of Mendavian Cavalry. I am sure you will do them honor.” The muscular tiefling male bowed, accepting his position and stepped from the ranks immediately to inspect his troops.
“Jaerin, I can think of no one better to lead our dwarven contingent than a dwarven cleric of Torag. You will be leading the Five King’s Pike Infantry.” The dwarf priest gave a big, toothy grin of pride at his assignment and snapped the commander a formal salute before being dismissed.
“Uziel, as an expert in infiltration I am giving you command of the Society Enforcers. I personally put this group together myself and so your work is cut out for you. Don’t disappoint!” The tiefling rogue seemed mixed with elation at the assignment and dread of the consequences of failure, but he quickly composed himself and dutifully accepted the command.
“Xylia, I am giving you command of the Society Field Agents. They are a very flexible unit and work best when teamed up with other units. Use them wisely.” The elf druid bowed deeply as she saluted the Society’s first ever Warmaster. “I will lead them to glory, sir,” she stated, then left to see to her troops.
Marcos Farabellus paused as he studied the last remaining would-be commander. To look at, Ameretat was anything but an imposing commander. He had a limp that required him to use a cane, and he wore excessive clothing to cover a body the Venture Captain knew to be heavily burn scarred. Worst of all, he appeared to be little more than a very pretty young boy. Though Farabellus knew that aasimar tended to be a lot older than they appeared. “Ameretat,” Farabellus continued, “You are no more experienced than Atka and are well known for preferring to solve disputes with words rather than the sword. Between that and your infirmities many would question your worthiness to lead a military command.
“Sir,” interrupted the oracle, “If I may speak freely.”
“No,” snapped Farabellus, “You may not!” The Master of Swords paused for a moment before continuing. “But I know your mother was a valiant paladin. I know she died giving birth to you on the battlefields of Hell. And I know of your deep hatred of demons and devils. So I am entrusting you with the command of our finest spell casting unit, the Rift Wardens. I think you are well suited to each other. Now get to your troop, boy.”
Farabellus inwardly snickered at the irony of the last statement, as the aasimar was probably older than he was.
As the last Pathfinder left to see to his unit, the Venture Captain turned to his young aide de camp. “Jaffe,” he stated. “I am going to need out best messengers and diviners tomorrow to keep track of our forces. See to it that all dispatches are brought to me without delay.”
“Jaffe,” bellowed Venture Captain Farabellus, “Where are those dispatches!”
“Right here,” replied the meek young man carrying an armload of scrolls. “I was just looking them over.”
“Well, then,” Farabellus replied. “What do they say?”
Jaffe suddenly realized he was violating decorum and immediately dropped all of the reports on the floor in order to salute his superior. “Sir, I have reports from the front, sir.”
The Master of Swords rubbed his hand over his bald pate in frustration. “Jaffe,” he growled. “How many times do I have to tell you that you aren’t in the Cheliax army anymore? Just give me the report.”
“Sir, Yes, sir! Sorry, si…,” Jaffe trailed off seeing the Venture Captain’s glare.
“Sir,” Jaffe re-started in his best professional tone. “So far everything is going to plan. Commanders Xylia and Atka are moving towards Tancred Desimire’s cultist forces around Silvershore. The Mendavian Cavalry under Commander Aden has moved south to intercept an outlier force and secure the right flank. Commanders Ameretat and Uziel are moving in on the left flank. All forces report they are or soon will be engaging the enemy.”
“What of the dwarves from Five King’s Mountain,” Farabellus queried. “Where is Commander Jaerin’s force?”
“Well, sir, “ Jaffe stammered weakly. “It would seem that in their enthusiasm to engage the enemy that the Army of the Open Road has outpaced the Five King’s Pike Infantry and left them behind.”
The Warmaster chuckled, “Ah, well. Every army needs a good rear guard. But what of Thurl’s demon army? What do the scouts say? I am more concerned with armies of demons than Desimire’s motley assortment of demented fanatics.”
“I am afraid we have no news yet on Thurl’s forces. We believe his forces have amassed in the north near Jormurdun but the Wound is a difficult place for scouts.”
Farabellus rubbed his dark black beard in concern. “Let us hope no news is good news, then.”
Jaffe rushed in to the command tent beaming with excitement.
“Sir, reports from the front!” he chirped.
“I would say good news from that smile on your face, soldier,” replied the Warmaster. “Go ahead. Report.”
“Sir,” continued Jaffe. “All forces save the Five King’s Pike Infantry have successfully engaged and defeated the forward forces of the enemy with minimal casualties. The Society Field Agents and Taldor’s Army of Exploration should be engaging the remaining enemy field armies between them and Silvershore while Commander Aden’s cavalry continue to secure the southern flank. The Rift Wardens and Society Enforcers have moved to intercept a large force of reinforcements coming from the north. The Five King’s Pike Infantry, “ Jaffe coughed for emphasis,“ continue to secure the rear, sir.”
Marcos Farabellus smiled. “Excellent. I knew Desimire’s rabble outnumbered us. But, as I suspected, they just weren’t organized enough to stand up to our forces in battle. Any news on Thurl’s forces?”
“No, sir,” reported the aid de camp, his smile diminishing. “We have no new reports on their size or disposition. The Wolf Crags just have too many places to hide troops and the lands of the World Wound can frequently foil our best divination attempts.”
“Well, then, “ sighed the commander. “Let’s hope our luck holds tomorrow.”
“Victory, sir!” gushed Jaffe while hugging the day’s report in his arms. “It’s a victory!”
The Venture Captain grinned while otherwise keeping his professional demeanor. “I will be the judge of that. Report!”
“Yes, sir!” stammered the young aide, having been reminded of his unprofessional report. “Sorry, sir.”
“No need to be so apologetic, Jaffe,” said Farabellus in a more fatherly tone. “I understand your enthusiasm. Just remember what your job is.”
“Thank you, sir.” Replied Jaffe, relieved that he had not just been seriously reprimanded. “Commander Aden’s cavalry has successfully destroyed all remaining enemy forces south of Silvershore. Commanders Ameretat and Uziel engaged a large force in the north before it could join up with the forces in Silvershore. But one unit of troops was able to move past and threaten our rear. However, these were intercepted by Commander Jaerin’s dwarf contingent and destroyed.”
“Hah,” barked Farabellus, “Just like I said. Every army needs a good rear guard. But what of Silvershore itself?”
“Sir,” continued the aide de camp. “Commander Atka and Xylia’s force engaged a large force of tieflings defending Silvershore and were able to overcome them with minimal casualties. Overall, reported casualties are light. The enemy has been driven from the field and all allied forces are converging on Silvershore to secure it and resupply.”
“Excellent!” shouted the Master of Swords. “Inform the Quartermaster it is now safe to begin delivering supplies to Silvershore.” The commander’s face then took on a darker caste. “But still nothing on Thurl’s forces?”
Jaffe shook his head, “Nothing, sir.”
“Dammit,” barked the Warmaster, slamming his hand on the planning table, scattering wooden markers representing known army positions on the map of the area. “I know they’re out there. What are they up to?”
Jaffe marched into the command tent. His attitude not nearly as exuberant as it had been the day before.
“Report,” stated Farabellus rather matter-of-factly.
“Sir,” started the aide, “the Army of the Open Road has gathered at Silvershore and is in the process of resupplying. But we are starting to get reports from the north. The traitor Thurl is definitely on the move. There are preliminary reports of troops of dretch and schir demons but also something the scouts have never encountered in the Wound before.”
“Go on,” said the Venture Captain, a scowl slowly forming across his face.
“Sir, the scouts are reporting they have seen horrible monstrosities stitched together from various demon parts.
“That would be Thurl’s handiwork,” growled Marcos. “He always was far too fascinated with dissecting demons. I doubt our push towards Jormurdun will be as easy as was the battle for Silvershore.”
Jaffe rushed into the command tent with a large bundle of dispatches.
“Sir!” cried the young aide. “The enemy has made its move and all hell has broken loose!”
“Don’t your mean, all of the Abyss, Jaffe?” replied the Master of Swords.
Jaffe paused, not sure how to respond to his commander’s attempt at humor.
“Go ahead, report, son,” stated Farabellus as he returned to his more professional tone.
“Yes, sir,” continued Jaffe, feeling more comfortable with his commander’s more professional tone. “The enemy has used the cover of night to move more quickly than we had predicted. Troops of dretch and schir anchored around a unit of those demonic constructs have moved out from the Wolf Crags and are converging on Silvershore. Commander’s Jaerin, Ameretat, Uziel and Xylia have moved out of Silvershore to engage them before they can endanger our supply lines. Commander Aden’s cavalry has moved to secure the western flank and prevent our forces from being flanked. Commander Atka’s forces have remained behind to secure Silvershore. We also have reports of Tancred Desimire’s few remaining cultists gathering near Sabertooth Vale to the northeast, along with several other units of demons. They appear to be forming a reserve force.”
“And so it begins,” muttered the Venture Captain. “So far, no ugly surprises, though. I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing. Thurl isn’t a complete fool.”
Jaffe’s panicked expression was hard to miss as he hurled himself through the tent flap. He stood before the Society’s only Warmaster ever trying to stammer out a report.
“Take a deep breath, son,” the Master of Swords said in his most fatherly of tones. “Then report. I take it you don’t bear good news.”
“Sir,” stammered Jaffe between breaths. “Initial reports are good. The enemy forces moving towards Silvershore from the north have been engaged and have suffered heavy casualties, though our own casualties were heavier than had been suffered previously.”
“Go on,” said Farabellus, knowing the bad news was yet to come.
“Well, sir,” continued the aide de camp. “It appears the assault from the north was a diversion. A force of tiefling cavalry mounted on howlers has been spotted south of Silvershore and is rapidly moving towards our encampment there.”
Farabellus nodded. “Well, at least Taldor’s Army of Exploration is still in Silvershore. Send orders immediately to have them dig in and protect the baggage train.”
“Sir,” said Jaffe, nervousness creeping into his voice. “I am afraid Taldor’s Army of Exploration is no longer in Silvershore. It seems that many of the young nobles in that force were impatient for battle and convinced commander Atka to advance towards the tiefling force and engage them in open battle.”
“Fools!” shouted Farabellus, slamming his hand down on the command table. “They gave up their tactical advantage for a chance at glory. Infantry against cavalry in the open is never a good thing. And if the enemy manages to out maneuver Atka’s force and get behind our lines there will be Hell to pay.”
“Don’t you mean the Abyss to pay, sir?” blurted out the young aide. Jaffe immediately regretted his attempt at humor when he saw his commanders burning glare.
“Only I get to make the jokes here, Jaffe.” Farabellus chided, but his annoyance quickly dissipated and was replaced with concern. “But that’s not all that’s happening, is it?”
“No, Sir, “continued the commander’s aide. “It seems that our initial reports that the force gathering near Sabertooth Vale was a reserve force were inaccurate. It seems Tancred Desimire’s remaining cultist forces are in the process of performing a massive summoning ritual. One can only imagine what they hope to summon.”
“Aroden’s Ghost!” cried the commander. “We need to stop that before it can finish. Send a dispatch to Commander Aden, his cavalry is likely the only ones that can get there in time.”
“Sir,” replied Jaffe, “The Mendavian Cavalry were protecting the western flank of the Army of the Open Road. They are out of position. The closest unit is Ameretat’s Rift Wardens, just north of the House of Reflections. Ameretat is marching his force as quickly as possible to engage the cultists, but there are a large number of enemy forces in his way. Commander’s Uziel and Xylia have moved to guard his flanks and Aden’s Cavalry are attempting to join up but the terrain in that area is not conducive to cavalry. Commander Jaerin’s pikemen are withdrawing to Silvershore to secure supply lines.”
“Very well, then,” stated Farabellus, biting his lower lip. “We shall see what tomorrow brings.”
Master of Swords, Marcos Farabellus stared at his young aide, trying to guess what news he was bringing to him. Jaffe’s attitude was fairly professional, so the grizzled old Pathfinder guessed it was a mix of good and bad. “Report,” he stated.
“Sir, Taldor’s Army of Exploration was able to engage the howler cavalry south of the old lake bed and defeat them.”
“And the Rift Wardens?” queried the Venture Captain. “How does their push towards Sabertooth Vale go?”
Jaffe puffed up his chest proudly. “Sir, with the assistance of the Society Field Agents and Society Enforcers, Commander Ameretat’s forces were able to evade the enemy forces between them and the cultists. But the terrain in the Wolf Crags is making troop movement difficult. Commander Ameretat estimates it will still be two more days before they reach the cultists.”
“Let’s hope they get there in time, then,” stated Marcos
“Sir,” said Jaffe, timidly.
Farabellus looked at him expectantly.
“Sir,” stammered the young aide. “I regret to inform…ah…the force of stitched monstrosities had moved north to block the Rift Wardens but Commander Xylia’s Society Field Agents were able to intercept them before they could do this. I regret to inform the commander that the creatures were just too much our forces. The Society Field Agents have been destroyed. Only a few of their number, including Commander Xylia, escaped alive. The stitched horrors are now marching on Silvershore.”
The Venture Captain nodded solemnly. “I suppose it was too much to ask for no major casualties. Still, they died valiantly, preventing those monsters from intercepting Ameretat’s troops. Their valor will not be forgotten. Let’s hope Jaerin’s dwarves are up to the task.”
“Sir,” started Jaffe. Farabellus noticed his mood was decidedly happier than the day before; a good sign. “The Five King’s Pike were able to repulse Thurl’s stitched horrors and have successfully defended Silvershore. Commander Uziel’s troops have finished mopping up forces north of Ameretat’s position and the Mendavian Cavalry, after a pitched battle, routed all remaining forces south of that position. Taldor’s Army of Exploration is moving to join them and should be there in another day. There are no remaining enemy forces between the Rift Wardens and Desimire’s remaining cultists. Ameretat reports they should engage the enemy before noon tomorrow.”
“Excellent,” beamed the Warmaster. “It looks like my confidence in my commander’s was well placed.”
“Yes, sir…” began Jaffe, but cries of “Make way! Make way” and the thundering of approaching hoof beats interrupted him. Jaffe and Farabellus looked at the open tent flap wondering what news could be so urgent this late in the day. A young Taldan woman, her cloths filthy from hard riding rushed through the flap. With barely concealed panic in her voice she reported.
“Warmaster, our scouts at Sabertooth Vale have reported that Tancred Desimire’s cultist have completed their ritual.” The Venture Captain and his aide’s joy quickly turned to concern. “They have summoned forth an army of rift drakes. The drakes immediately descended upon the cultists and devoured them, but this likely did little to slate their appetite.”
“Rift drakes!” cried Farabellus. “This is dire news indeed. With our forces spread out as they are it will be easy for the drakes to pick them off one by one. Ameretat’s Rift Wardens are closest and likely their first target. Jaffe, get me some wizards. I need to communicate immediately with the field commanders. We must move as quickly as possible to combine forces and set a trap.”
The Master of Blades had barely finished his order before Jaffe had left the tent in search of the requested spellcasters.
Warmaster Farabellus sat thumping his fingers on the planning table hard enough to draw blood. He had given strict orders that there were to be no delays in reports from his field commanders. That had been last night and now he anxiously waited for the morning’s first report. Jaffe entered the command tent bringing that report.
“Sir,” reported Farabellus’s aide. “The rift drakes are on the move.”
“Are Ameretat’s men ready for the assault?” asked the Master of Swords.
“Sir,” continued Jaffe. “That’s just it. Initial reports had the rift drakes headed straight towards Ameretat’s Rift Wardens, but then they veered south. By all accounts they are in route to intercept Uziel and his Society Enforcers who were on the march to join the Rift Wardens.”
“Damn,” snarled the Warmaster. “They must have sensed we were trying to set up a trap. Send word to all forces in the area to join up with the Society Enforcers immediately!”
Jaffe entered the command tent, his mood more demure that previously.
“Sir,” he reported. “Scouts have confirmed that Society Enforcers are indeed the rift drake’s target. They have already engaged Commander Uziel’s forward elements.”
“And the other units,” asked Farabellus, taking a sip of red wine he had been drinking to calm his nerves. “Will they make it in time?”
“Sir,” said the aide de camp in a disheartened manner. “Commander Aden’s Mendavian Cavalry suffered heavy casualties in their last battle and much of his force was scattered. He is still regrouping. Commander Atka’s forces are moving to join him should the rift drakes break through the Society Enforcers.”
“If?” shouted the commander. “These are dragons we are talking about. There is no ‘if’. What of Ameretat and the Rift Wardens?”
“There is no report on their current position, sir. We don’t know where they are.”
The Master of Swords’ meaty hand squeezed hard on the wooden tankard he held. With a crack, the tankard shattered sending its remaining contents splattering across the table. A large drop struck the map location where the Society Enforcers stood against the rift drakes. The red wine spread out across the map like a giant pool of blood.
Warmaster Farabellus could tell Jaffe was doing his best to hold it together, but the tears welling up in his eyes already told the commander what he needed to know.
“Sir,” reported the young aide. “The Society Enforcers have been defeated. Commander Uziel’s fate is currently unknown but few survived the massacre. Those who didn’t die from the drakes’ corrosive breath have been torn apart and eaten.”
“Where is Ameretat?” ask Farabellus rhetorically. “Where is that damned aasimar? He had better have a good…”
Just then a courier entered the tent and quickly handed Jaffe a dispatch. Farabellus’s aide looked at the dispatch through blurry eyes. At first he wasn’t sure what he was ready, but then it became clear.
“Sir,” cried the aide de camp. “The Rift Wardens have arrived at the battlefield. They were too late to save the Society Enforcers, but the distraction caused by the battle allowed them to take an advantageous position on a nearby hillock!”
Jaffe excitedly wiped the remaining tears from his eyes and continued to read. “Sir, the position allowed them to catch the rift drakes off guard and rain a heavy barrage of spells upon them.”
With each word he read, Jaffe’s excitement grew. “Sir! They’ve won, sir. The Rift Wardens have destroyed the army of rift drakes! All enemy forces south of the Wolf Crags have been defeated!”
Tears now began to well up in Marcos Farabellus’s eyes. But unlike Jaffe’s earlier tears, these were not the tears of tragedy. He exhaled as if he had been holding his breath since the day had begun.
“Excellent,” was all the Master of Swords could say.
Farabellus stood up and looked at the strategic map of the western World Wound. It had been his entire world for the past nine days. And he knew what his next move needed to be.
“The bravery of the Society Enforcers and Field Agents will not be forgotten. But our work here is not yet done. Jaffe, send word to all of the commanders to return here at once. I have another job for them.”