Episode Forty Five - Battle for Maricuälatán
Episode Forty Five – Battle for Maricuälatán (Level 16)
Episode Forty Five – Battle for Maricuälatán
*The heroes scout out the wilderness where the vampire army has its encampments, both from the invisible airship above and by dropping small ground teams to penetrate each camp , count numbers, and evaluate threat. They count 26,000 enemy soldiers, most moving from their encampments towards the road to Maricualatan. Another group of several thousand are setting up a trap, in the point along the road where Quotal had been trying to have Ichtaca and his Ixa’hal sent out as “forward scouts” to secure that strategic location. It would have been a deathtrap. The heroes eavesdrop on military leaders and intercept communications. They learn that although Lord Namuth Taimor is the scientific officer in command of the military experiment being run here, he will not lead the army into battle. That falls to another bloodline vampire under his command, a vicious and canny warlord, Lord Tarren.
*While Darius and Ichtaca are on the ground, scouting around and in Tarren’s encampment, Tobias and Vash are reasoning with a confused Kazhma. (See previous email.) She has assaulted Vash again with an unsolicited and violent makeout, and Tobias has called her off, explaining that Vash doesn’t want that right now. She then charges off. Tobias and Vash follow, and arrive on-deck just in time to see her vault over the railing. She plummets to earth right by the camp, like a meteor striking down in the underbrush and trees.
*Darius, meanwhile, has been eavesdropping on a tense meeting between Lord Tarren and some disgruntled disease vampire underlings. The diseased vampires are intelligent and powerful, but treated as a disgusting underclass by those of the bloodline. These officers are complaining of bad treatment and undesirable military assignments, including the “cannon fodder” positions. As they leave, Darius takes on the form of one of the most disgruntled, coming back into the tent and arguing with Lord Tarren to get close to him, then assaulting him with his ring of forgetful touch, and stealing the man’s teleportation ring and some sensitive military communiques, maps, and troop movement records. The memory loss will only last a few minutes, so Darius slits his throat, for good measure. Of course, Lord Tarren is a vampire lord, and will rise again with the dawn, hopefully thinking one of his subordinates has attacked him. Darius is now making his quick escape. As he reaches the edge of the camp, Kazhma crashes down into the trees. Vash warns Darius that it’s Kazhma, and he orders the vampire soldiers around him to form up, and go protect Lord Tarren, who is being attacked. He’ll go investigate the “meteor.” It works, and he slips into the trees, changing into his habitual Trentsmunder form so Kazhma won’t kill him, thinking he’s a vampire. It turns out; she’s come for him, not any vampire blood. She stands up from her small crater, and launches herself onto him with violent kisses and a painfully over-strong embrace that brings him to the ground, pinned and struggling helplessly to escape. She’s certain that he wants her attentions, if “the wielder” doesn’t.
*Ichtaca is running around the camp perimeter, appraised of the situation and hoping to get there in time to help before the Vampires reach Darius and his enthusiastic captor. Seeing Darius locked in Kazhma’s embrace, he simply scoops them both up, carrying the struggling couple in one arm and climbing up the ship’s rope ladder as Vash steers the ship away from danger. Kazhma’s strange gravity and immobility, along with the ongoing struggle between her and Darius, makes it difficult to carry them, but Ichtaca manages it with brute strength. When he has the other two on-board, Tobias convinces Kazhma to stop assaulting Darius. Lyda distracts Kazhma, asking her to read her aloud those “Cabin on the Hill” books, which the childish Kazhma happily agrees to. The rest fall to discussing battle plans, and where best to strike to make the biggest impact. They are debating striking one of the key encampments, perhaps this one.
*Carmenith is on deck with them, and although she’s too weak to stand, and her voice is hard to hear, she demonstrates a brilliance for military strategy that none of them realized she had. Her father was the spymaster of a great city, and she’s spent a long childhood playing war-games. The others quickly agree to her alternate strategy, combining it with Vash’s idea for how to involve Kazhma in the battle. Rather than engage any one vampire unit or camp with cannons, the heroes head back along the road, marking all troop movement. The invisible Harlequin takes up a point midway between the walls and trenches being constructed in key places around Maricualatan’s gates, and where the road enters the farmland-valley northeast of the city. Their plan is to wait for the bulk of the army to engage the Norlythin defenders along the three key barricades, then to open cannon fire from above when all their targets are clustered together and they can make the most impact. Vash will stay with Kazhma, attacking on the ground from the rear, Ichtaca will stand with the central barricade and keep the vampires coming at him, and Darius will stand with Lyda on the ship, ready to drop in from above and help shape the battle as needed.
*Tobias plans to enter Kazhma’s mind as she falls into a state of primal bloodlust. This is at the core of her “programming”, and in that state, he and Vash think she will be most vulnerable to a “re-write.” Carmenith is terribly weak, but has insisted that he should use her power to do this. She wants to help Kazhma become someone capable of a happy, normal life. Vash, her “wielder,” will stay with her, directing the carnage and making sure she follows the rules as set for her by himself and Tobias.
*Ichtaca is in surgery with Lyda for an hour, doped up on opiates and psionic magic while she reattaches his arm and heals it magically. Then Chamanaltia helps him remove the remaining drugs from his system, and he goes to interrupt a council of war, where Ichtaca is not only giving out self-serving mis-information, but that he has talked the council into sending another unit ahead along the road into the trap meant for Ichtaca and his Ixa’hal. The men, political adversaries of Quotal, are already well on their way, and will be surely slaughtered. Ichtaca is setting up the units in readiness for an army of 5,000, and thinks there will be perhaps 8,000, a contrived “emergency” that will result in heavy casualties among the units supporting his political enemies, and will make him and his loyal men the heroes of the day. Of course, Quotal has no idea that there are actually 26,000 vampires. They will not be stopping to wipe out and feast on villages along the way, the ones Quotal has given them as “acceptable losses.” The heroes’ ground-scouting has revealed this; that the vampires know there is a cure for the Nemelethe being circulated in Maricualatan. A viable cure could ruin their experiment. Destroying it entirely is their new priority. They will march deadly and fast, taking those villages but holding them with only token forces, and then arriving hard on the city with the intent to destroy it utterly, leaving only a charred shell behind. Ichtaca tries to convince the Tlacats that Quotal’s plan is suicide, that Quotal’s intelligence is faulty, but Quotal has too much sway. He was even “attacked in the night by vampire assassins”, obviously desperate to keep him from leading the defense. (These were the changelings Tobias killed.)
*Ichtaca, frustrated, takes his brother Prince-Tlacat Imba aside, explains that he has new intelligence, and that these men are headed into a trap. Imba is convinced, and gives Ichtaca a group of his finest quick-riding scouts, both to warn the endangered unit, and to get some eye witness accounts that Ichtaca’s outrageous numbers are correct. Ichtaca sends them with Catzin, riding hard to catch the troop of men and save them, and tasked with bringing back confirmation of Ichtaca’s controversial intelligence. He has some time to spend with Lali, and he does so, then catches some much-needed sleep. Many hours later, those scouts return alive and well, and terribly impressed with Catzin’s combat prowess. They met several vampire scouts and forward groups on the road, and she dispatched them all. They rescued the unit about to walk into a trap. The scouts confirm Ichtaca’s report of the true size of the vampire’s army, and the actual speed of their approach. They will be here in barely hours, not a full two days from now. Ichtaca speaks boldly and has his friends with him to testify to his plan. He prevents panic, and is able to take over the war council. With barely hours before the vampire forces arrive, Ichtaca is able to rearrange the battlefield as he sees fit.
*Maricualatan’s army is only 8,000, but the three barricades and the fortified trenches are still good strategy. The vampire army will be slowed while being barraged by heavy fire from the barricades and the city, and forced into narrow, uphill channels, where ground troops can engage them with the advantage of higher ground and maneuverability. Ichtaca sends his brother Imba back to defend the gate, a fallback position of less glory, but also less danger. Emperor Icarasl is likely to show up there, sword in hand, looking for an honorable death instead of one in bed. Ichtaca places himself at the central barricade, where the fighting will be heaviest. He places Tlacat Halítzl and her maneuverable bow-cavalry at his side, where he can send her to where the battle needs her most. Quotal he sends to the northern barricade, and Im’Tlacat Coszcatl to the southern. He pulls back all men from the field in front of the trenches, and has every unit instructed to fall back at his command, behind the barricade. Concerned that the traitorous Quotal will leak intelligence, he does not reveal the presence of the airship overhead, a serious advantage. Instead, he speaks rousingly of the spirits, and how they will stand with him and all of the sons and daughters of the Norlythin Empire.
*Darius goes to Professor Jennish for an examination of the ring he stole from the vampire general. It’s a teleportation device. It can open a portal to Morvugol, or carry the wearer to a follower wearing a similar ring, or serve as the anchor for that follower to teleport to the wearer. It is designed specifically for the man Darius stole it from, however, and Professor Jennish thinks one use by someone else will burn it out.
*Tobias and Vash tell Kazhma that she is going to help with the battle. They explain again when it is right and wrong to take lives, and that these vampires are evil men who plan to murder innocents. They are defending the city, saving families like “little Mavi’s”. Once the moral implications are as clear as they ever can be with Kazhma, the two men couch the rules of combat the terms of a game. She can only kill vampires, any vampire except Catzin is a target. She is not to kill any of the defending forces, they are on her “team.” She has to stop the moment Tobias or Vash tell her to stop. They name key strategic targets and persons who need to be protected and kept alive. Tobias tells her that he will be in her mind during the fight, helping her. Vash will be at her side, guiding and protecting her. She starts to run off the ship, ready to begin, but they add on a final rule just in time to keep her from leaping off the ship. She can’t start until they say “go.” She comes down off the railing, and a disaster is narrowly averted. If she’d started the slaughter now, it would have been up in the long bottleneck of the road. The vampire army could have moved through the trees around her, the city’s forces would be unable to help, the ship would have no concentrated targets, and the coordinated attack plan would have been ruined.
*The battle begins, and it goes mostly according to plan. Ichtaca heroically engages the enemy on the front line, making good use of spirit-magic and his axe, with a deadly snow leopard at his flanks. Catzin carves a line through the vampire troops, moving lithely across the field of battle. As soon as the vampire army is fully engaged along the front, Lyda takes the wheel of the Harlequin, and the ship unveils its-self, causing panic among the enemy troops and blasting into their units with devastating volleys of cannon fire. Darius leads the crew, picking out targets and directing the fire to great effect. Then Vash unleashes Kazhma from behind. She is a lethal weapon, moving through the enemies and running her hand through chests, throats, and heads, or simply draining life away completely, with one touch. Vash fights with her, keeping her focused on the enemy and somewhat rational. After the first few dozen kills, she begins to grow, ripping out of her clothing, and the dexterous fey-kin leaps to her shoulder. Soon, he’s riding along on a fifty-foot-tall black onyx woman, naked and wildly beautiful, but dripping with blood and disturbing in her “uncanny valley” realism. She’s a brutal killing machine who grabs handfuls of men and slams them together, stomps and kicks her way through entire units, or rolls over them like a child down a hill, absorbing life energy and leaving only broken corpses behind. All of this; impervious to all but the most deadly blows, which only leave glancing scratches, and cause her no pain. She’s laughing gleefully the whole time, drinking in a piece of every soul she slays. Vash clings onto her hair and tries to keep the bloodlust under control with constant commands and pleading in her ear. Tobias enters her mind and begins his work there.
*The battle draws to a stunning climax. Darius sights the vampire master-general, Lord Tarren, and reduces him to shreds of flesh with a brutal concentration of cannon and rifle-fire. He’s forced to bring the ship in and out of her invisibility as they begin to draw the fire of vampire siege engines. Darius takes an arrow through the throat, nearly falling from the ship’s rigging, but Lyda is there in his mind, healing him enough so he can fight on. He tears the arrow from his throat, knowing she can stop the bleeding and mend the torn flesh. Ichtaca’s arm is sliced off, and he keeps on fighting for some time before it sinks in. He binds it to him with his spirit-vines. Ichtaca is then forced to make a hard choice, sending his sister Halitzl to reinforce either the right or left flank, both of which are faltering. Feeling Tlacat Coszcatl is more likely to hold his line unaided, he sends reinforcements to Quotal, on the northern flank. Coszcatl holds his line, protecting the city and keeping his barricade from falling, but he falls in battle doing so. Quotal’s life is saved, and the northern barricade holds as well, due entirely to the timely arrival of his canny warrior-sister Halitzl. The tide begins to turn, with Ichtaca carving a path of carnage through the vampire ranks, and shaking off bites as if nothing. Darius takes the ship back into full invisibility and then swings down from a rope to cut key rigging on siege engines as Lyda steers the ship along the line of machines. Vash keeps bare control on Kazhma, who is gleefully chasing fleeing ground troops as elite blood-line vampire commanders blink away to safety, abandoning their diseased men.
*While the battle rages, Tobias is in the simple landscape of Kazhma’s young mind, seeing again the metaphoric living page floating over a dense, vast library of spirit-fragments and memories. The shards of spirit, soul, and memory are like knots along threads, densely coiled and massed together, and representing millions upon millions of lives; all the lives the drinking blade has ever claimed, from Sowm and other gods, to betrayed vassals like the great daemon rulers Ambha, Hasubet, and Ezhemba, down to the countless Jharethil, Jharric worshipers slaughtered in their cities or on the battlefield, or sacrificed on altars over the millennia. The overwhelming majority of these lives were good people, and many of them were particularly pure and innocent. For now, the fragments are lifeless things, sources of energy and logical references full of random knowledge. Kazhma uses them as one would an encyclopedia, without feeling the pain of those lost victims, or the myriad emotions associated with the fragmented memories she’s randomly stripped from each of them. Tobias hopes that he can change that. First, he looks at her living page.
*Written in tiny script all over the background of Kazhma’s page, like a watermark, is “Obedience to the maker’s will”. On the page are written two directives: First, “Drink all the Jharethil and enemies of the maker.” Secondly, “ Serve whomever the maker has set as your master, Help them to do the maker’s will.” The word “the maker” is an old Zoroch name for Daemoth. Tobias can tell that the god didn’t write these directives by hand verbatim, rather he forged the sword with his will and cooled it in Sowm’s blood and soul, and the directives formed from the semi-sentient sword’s first understanding of that will, at its birth. The sword’s first, primitive life force was stolen in that moment from Sowm, then grew with every victim after.
*Below these two ancient directives, is a third, faintly written, in fresh, smudged ink, and in a different handwriting. It says “I love”, and energy is forming into a new word, that very faintly says “Tobias”. It seems to be changing, to read “my family.” Tobias realizes that in Kazhma’s formative and vulnerable state as a newly sentient and embodied being with a living soul and spririt, she has been influenced by Tobias, Vash and the others. She’s subconsciously writing her own, new directive. She was made to be a thing of evil, and a tool of chaos. She is changing. All the words on her page are afire with energy, as the bloodlust of battle and the energy of new souls are lighting up one of her most innate drives; to drink life.
*Seeing that he can write on this page, Tobias taps into Carmenith’s offered power, trying hard not to take too much, to kill his friend in that taking. He is limited in what he can change, but he changes all instances of “the maker” to “Tobias.” He strikes out the second directive entirely, and makes it “Drink only whom you must, and remember them.” He shapes that forming word into “my family,” and reinforces it with the meaning of those names he listed, including Carmenith, and the concept that a family can grow, that more names may be added in the future. That last change takes firmly, though the other two create dissonance, flashing in between the old and new versions. The landscape of Kazhma’s mind begins to shake and writhe. Tobias knows he has to escape, but first he draws deeply on Carmenith’s tree, and floods the inert library with the pure psionic magic stored there, kindling all those stored fragments of life energy with their associated memories, binding them to Kazhma’s infant soul as a living extension of her mind and spirit. It’s easier than he thought it would be; Kazhma’s soul was drawn from all these fragments to begin with. The memories will now be things she can feel, not simply recordings she can pull data from. It’s also more catastrophically draining on Carmenith than he planned. As he exits Kazhma’s mind and returns to his own body, he sees a radiant pillar of light blazing up from the invisible ship, marking her location clearly to enemy fire. A ring of radiant fire erupts from the Harlequin, rolling out over the battlefield and dropping nearly every enemy left standing. Catzin is caught in the tide of searing magic, a vampire of sorts herself, and she falls among the dead and dying.
*The battle is won. Kazhma shrinks back to her normal size and stands motionless, her eyes glazed over, her face confused, as if gears are clicking back and forth in her mind. Vash efficiently moves through the field, dispatching survivors. Darius, who felt Catzin fall, leaves the ship and searches frantically for her. (Resolved in the email, see farther down for link.) Tobias strikes down the farthest groups of fleeing vampires with psionic magic, then rushes to Carmenith, finding her body ablaze with searing radiance, and her spirit on fire as well, helpless in the roots of the great tree in her soul. He plunges into her mind, finding her and ending the agony he inadvertently caused her. She is very near death, but Lyda is able to bring her back from the brink. They cannot wake her. The heroes return to the main city gate, and find a sorrowful Prince Imba standing over the body of his father, Emperor Icarasl. The old man has gotten his wish; to die honorably with a sword in hand instead of sick in bed. Even dying of the Nemelethe, he took down a few vampires before he fell, testament to the potency of the cure that came too late to save him, perhaps, but not too late to save his people. Quotal, furious and resentful, interrupts what should be a respectful moment, and finally forces a long-brewing confrontation with his brother Ichtaca.
*Ichtaca and Quotál face off near the body of their fallen father, and nobles and warriors gather to watch their epic showdown. Quotal brandishes his favored weapon, an obsidian-studded club, but Ichtaca fights him bare-handed. Both are reeling from each other’s blows, blood and spit fly, and it is a very close contest, in which Quotal accuses his brother of stealing his stories, spreading lies, consorting with vampires and cheating his bastard way into their father’s affection. Ichtaca decries his brother for a liar and a traitor. Quotal cheats, using the magic of an arcane ring to bolster his defenses and hit with stunning force. Ichtaca is barely on his feet at the end, but he prevails. Not only has he beaten his brother thoroughly, but he did it fairly, without the use of magic. He does not kill Quotal, but banishes him and his Ixa’hal, save those who will swear to him. Some fifteen men take oath on the spot, leaving Quotal’s service for Ichtaca’s.
*The work of cleaning up the battlefield is still ongoing, but the customs of the people demand that with the emperor dead, an election must be held at once. Under the advice of Spirit-Elder Mahua, Ichtaca acts fast to occupy worried minds and derail any followers of Quotal or local starborn from making a violent coup attempt. He uses tradition as his weapon, giving the people two grand and sacred spectacles to keep them busy while the soldiers do the grim work of burning vampire corpses and identifying the fallen, while other men secure the city and scout the perimeter, and while the tally-counters seek out every eligible voter and take down their choices. First, a grand funeral for the emperor takes place. The body is placed on a boat-pyre, and sent into the lake with the rising sun, blazing with fire and followed by the chants of the spirit-elders. Ichtaca then invites the city to a grand double-wedding, where he takes Princess Izel Nimitznoma as his wife, and the Lady Lali as his concubine. Lali and Izel have agreed to this, quite comfortable with each other as sister-wives. Both feel that this public spectacle, along with the free food and the chance to further spread both the stories of Ichtaca’s glory and the events of the previous evening’s battle, will cement the public’s growing good-will for Ichtaca. Princess Izel happily ramps up the occasion to an affair of state that no noble can refuse to attend, keeping any political dissidents busy and in the public eye while the soldiers finish their grim work and the votes roll in. Not only food and drink, but the cure for the Nemelethe is being distributed at the wedding, as gifts to the people. Prince Imba uses the time to find his followers. He has no desire to rule, now that another suitable candidate is available to relieve him of that duty. He asks all those who support him to vote for Ichtaca. At noon, the wedding ends, and the surviving candidates for the throne arrive on a public ziggurat near the Callixoco. It’s time to coronate a new ruler for the Norlythin Empire.
*Prince Imba steps forward and formally renounces his candidacy, causing a stir with his proclaimed support of his brother Ichtaca. Princess Zurin makes a spectacle of herself as usual, a celebrity who loves the attention. The spirit elders come forward and announce that by an overwhelming majority, Ichtaca is the new Emperor. The coronation begins. As the pomp and ceremony rolls on, Ichtaca feels a growing disquiet. He interrupts his own ceremony as soon as the basic coronation of himself and Izel is done, but before it been fully formalized in all the traditional ways, and before he has received the blessings of the spirit elders or the assembled representatives of other faiths. As he does this, Vash feels a magical tingle coming from the communications pouch he shares with Ambassador Losoran Anelathem. There’s a note inside, saying only “Urgently ask immediate evacuation of large group from an unknown site near the Nahuallecheotl bluffs.” Vash shows the note to the others, and whispers to Ichtaca. Ichtaca stands and announces that the spirits are calling him to resolve some unfinished business before he sits the throne. Spirit-Elder Mahua declares a week of mourning and celebration, and a time of meditation for all, with the coronation to be resumed at Emperor Ichtaca’s doubtlessly glorious return. Aided by a little more of Vash’s illusion magic, Ichtaca, Snowball, and the emperor’s Ixa’hal stride off and vanish into the invisibility field of the waiting Harlequin, leaving an impressive shower of blue-green sparkles and “spirit-magic” air distortions behind them.
*The heroes split ways just outside the city. Ichtaca and Snowball are headed for the tomb of Emperor Icarasla, to deal with the duke, along with a large team, including King Halden Thandemar, The Bastard King Tolebesh Buthe, and his son Prince Choler. Darius tags along, intent on dealing with the starborn there, and their ritual involving Anducaid. Vash, Tobias and Lyda take the Harlequin to the Nahuallecheotl bluffs, where Ambassador Losoran is no longer replying to magically sent notes, and is presumably in danger, along with all those in his charge.
*Darius stole a custom teleportation ring from a Vampire General.
*Ichtaca took an arcane ring from his brother Quotal, which was being used to cheat in combat. Custom item, oakskin ring.