The Bright Raptor descends quickly to the sky beneath from its moorings, leaving behind those watching from the docks of the Isle, and it sets its course for the east and towards Heidelgard City. Conditions aboard can best be described as crowded, but all do their best to make do, with all aboard keen to aid the beleaguered Heidelens against the monstrous powers of Unlife and its nightmarish master The First Denied Soul.
On the 29th of the Aft of Spring, 520 AC
The days from the 26th until the 29th are spent by the heroes in planning, deciding where they plan to go first. It is decided that visiting the Cantabrian Relief Force first may be wise, better to get the lay of the land and make contact with an ally who knows what has happened thus far. Wren will be set down a few miles from the Cantabrians (who seem to be 15 miles north of the city) and make her way there to scout and make contact, for as one of The Avaristrato she knows the codes to give and that her word will be treated as truth by the Cantabrian commanders. From there the intent is to see what the great host of Paladins, Cavaliers and other soldiery known as The Sworn of the Goddess are doing, for they are 20 miles north east of the city, having fought and marched their way south from Treest in a bold and disciplined manner since the heroes witnessed their saving of that town before the Bright Raptor headed first to the Isle. After that, the city, but first things first.
They approach the coast of Heidelgard in the early morning with columns of smoke from current and past fires on the coast and on the horizon, with the column of darkness that they know comes from the Murk in the city. Even though it is daylight, it seems overcast to the point of Dusk at all times, something that the Former Society Captain Malvolio ventures to be the prelude to what is described as a “Necropolis Level Event”.Course is adjusted to take them towards the Cantabrians, and the scenes of devastation in the farms, villages and small towns this close to the capital is heartbreaking, with most in smoking or burnt out ruins. The airship comes in lower and lands discretely 3 miles from the Cantabrians, with Wren alighting in her cloaked costume and departing. They wait for about 40 minutes before a flare comes up from the Cantabrian position, the signal for it being safe to approach.
The airship comes in and lands, seeing the organised bustle of the red and green uniformed Cantabrius soldiers making ready to march. There are 4 of the 6 airships still functioning, the other 2 lost in action. A cluster of officers accompanied by Wren await them and a landing party alights, consisting of Calliszia Myinarra, Fullica Atra, Geesje Van Kuipers, Jorik, Skal Dreissel, Zeru Otxoa and Adjutant-Major Merten Sivennius. Calliszia has for now dispensed with the Hat of Disguise and her presence is met from the soldiery with awed and reverential chants of “Praise and Hail to the Seed” and other variants. It seems Cantabrian religious education was a little more heretical and well informed than the mainland.
As Calliszia moves amongst the soldiers, speaking with them and being seen, the officer commanding, General Rya Samarin greets them and in a tent advises them of the situation on the ground. They march by day, for the Undead as yet do not appear by day, and set a defended camp in the evening to defend at night from waves of Unlife. They hope to be at the city in 2 days or so. They have not been able to make any meaningful contact with the Host to their east, but are glad to hear it is the Paladins and their allies. The drone from Tisiphoni Bissara advises the General that help is on the way. The party are curious as to 3 unusual Staff Officers present in the tent, namely that 2 of them (a man and a woman) are Planetouched, with the man being a sword and armoured Tiefling with bestial legs and horns, and the woman with glowing topaz eyes and hair like spun gold. The third is a slight man who wears a uniform (like they all do) but carries a wand in one hand.
Their query is answered when the man uses Arcane Illusions to show images of the new Unlife threats, namely monstrous Undead now dubbed “Nightshades” who seem to appear when black lightning arcs out from the Murk and strikes an area. They come in many shapes, all are huge and extremely dangerous and the advice for the party is to steer clear if at all possible. Other threats are living people who have been encountered who seemingly serve the Great Evil, using deception, assassination and sabotage to commit acts of treachery; all encountered thus far have been fanatics, unafraid of death, and only given to say one thing, “Life is fleeting, Death is Forever”. The party gain some other useful information about proceedings, and are given the escort until evening of the Cantabrian Air-Frigate “Memory of Saints”. The party return to the ship, saying farewell to Wren who will stay with her own people to aid and advise; she hopes to see them on the other side of the struggle, and she is thanked for her assistance.
The Bright Raptor and its escort head across the wartorn countryside towards the long snaking line of cavalry, wagons and infantry that comprise the Sworn of the Goddess. As they approach it becomes clear that this great host sings as it marches, hymns adapted to praise the Goddess they now serve. As the airships come lower, it is seen that the host stops in good order, with swivel guns and wagon mounted cannon brought to bear in readiness against trouble. This wariness abruptly vanishes when Calliszia jumps off the prow of the Bright Raptor and as the falls, unfurls her wings and flies towards the vanguard of the army, followed by the Raptor (their escort starts a circular patrol about 500 feet up about them).
The scenes from the Sworn are of great awe, religious fervour and passionate cries of “Goddess!” and “Praise to Her!” amongst other things. The airship lands about 100 feet from the Vanguard as Calliszia circles the van once and lands amidst the massed soldiery there. The landing party from the Raptor is met by a band of Paladins, amongst them Jorik is delighted to see his old friend Vulkir Haaskirden, a little more grizzled than last time but still a cheery and happy man. They chat as the party is led to where a great circle of the Sworn are gathered around Calliszia, who is in conversation with the 3 leaders of the Sworn, all the while songs and cries are heard from the masses around. Geesje asks Vulkir after her own Paladin friend Ardia ven Tuyko, and is happy to hear that Ardia lives and is the Senior Adjutant in the Baggage train, also commanding the Rearguard. Ardia shell be sent for, Geesje is happy to hear.
Meanwhile, the party make the acquaintance of the formidable Lady Ysbet Koryull, commanding the Infantry and Artillery Corps; the dashing and exceptionally gallant Chevalier Alain de Vassi-Darra commanding the Cavalry, and finally the legendary Arnaud de Valuac, regarded by almost everyone who knows such things as the “Greatest of the Great Captains”, who is Commander in Chief of the Sworn. Illustrious company, but all showing reverence and devotion to Calliszia, and no little respect to what the party now hear amongst the masses as “The Five Pillars”.
As Calliszia walks amongst the gathered soldiers and Geesje catches up with the newly arrived Ardia, the party and the clockwork drone retreat to a hastily thrown up tent to talk, and there are briefed on the Sworn and also able to coordinate with De Valuac and his staff over the coming liberation of Heidelgard. Tisi’s voice is heard through the drone, and between her and De Valuac determine a sound enough strategy for when she arrives, but it is made clear that any of Tisi’s fallen are NOT to be looted, as any who try to steal from her and hers WILL be slain. De Valuac understands this and this quietly spoken man impresses all with his commanding way, different to most officers they have encountered thus far.
With the day wearing on past midday, the party must make haste to do what they can in the city, for like the Cantabrians (who will stay in touch with the Sworn to coordinate) they advise that to be airborne alone at night is extremely dangerous and to be landed amongst allies by evening is most advisable. The party take their leave of the Sworn, as Jorik and Geesje take their leave of their friends and as the massed Sworn resume their march, they send the Bright Raptor off with Hymns and cheers and many a helm and soldiers hat brandished and thrown in the air.
The Raptor heads directly towards the city, and the sight of its once proud walls breached in several places and the rise of smoke is bad enough, but this close, the sight of the Murk and the colossal towering darkness that completely surrounds it is enough to inspire awe at what Evil has wrought. The city north of the river is in disarray, with dead strewn in the streets, smoking ruins and occasional figures moving, possibly survivors but also possibly “otherwise”. Heading straight towards the DeiHuus Cathedral in the Raalskheer district, they see it still holds out, with musket armed troops in the windows and towers, pike and polearm troops at the great barricades and other signs of a vigorous defence. The main bell tower has its roof fortified and is the obvious point to use as a landing tower, and coming in the see by spyglass that none other than Peter Sondus is using one to look back at them. Coming in to land and having a broad gangplank placed, the landing party are gladly met by a worn faced but otherwise Sondus.
He leads them through the Cathedral, talking about what has happened since, as soldiers keep crowds back from gawping at the newcomers; many civilians, foreigners and others who lived north of the river, watch and others took refuge in the cathedral Sondus explains, and to indicate this, Musketeers of the Order of the Lion are seen, part of the Serroyan Embassy. When asked, the party are told that Ruprecht Schalko is still alive and leading the fight here, though missing an eye and being disfigured one one side of his face in his victory over the Undead Whale that had been a big part of the waterborne threat. They are led to main office area of Bishop Hieronus Adelmar who is currently planning defence and strategy in a roomful of other senior defenders. The Bishop is girt for war in his armoured robes, a sword at his waist. He is glad to see them, but when Calliszia removes her Hat of Disguise, his example sends all the others present to take a knee and give praise.
The Bishop advises that the only known holdout points north of the river are here at the cathedral and also stiff resistance seems to be happening at The Kaastig University. Most of the survivors in the city have retreated back to the GaartenKwarteer, which has become as like a fortress as they can make it. Carnage north of the river began on the lead up to the departure of the Bright Raptor with a lone gunman attacking the Glass Parliament whilst it was in session, swearing in new members of parliament. The KIng was present, but some brave souls managed to spirit him and some of the cabinet who survived, though casualties of the Parliament were over 50% by the time of the mysterious and unstoppable gunslingers departure (Xeru winces at this, for he knows who this can only be). The gunslinger was last seen heading in to the Murk.
There was an attack of some kind at the Palace as well later that evening, but the Bishop has been able to glean little from that. His warnings of traitors is also made, but here, with Inquisitors like Schalko and surprisingly the Serroyan Aveline de Criede and her Acquitants, they have managed to root out all who had tried to work their mischief in the Cathedral. The presence of their Goddess (the Bishop has been publicly preaching the new Goddess to all present since the start of the troubles) is also a great boon and blessing to morale. Captain Malvolio will remain here with half his Marines to aid in the defence, something that is very well received by the Bishop.
The party get more information, but they have only a few hours of daylight left (such as it is) and must soon make for the University before they can make for their last stop at the BegeerStraat Church. With this in mind, they pay a visit to Schalko, currently training recruits and militia in the central quad areas. Seeing him up close is shocking and heartbreaking, for his disfigured face, empty eyesocket and half his hair missing is bad enough, it is the look in his one remaining eye of a man who has been through so much in his time, and still accepts and is prepared to give all that remains of himself to his race and his goddess in the faint hopes it is enough. The look on Sondus’ face about his friends condition is hidden well, but the perceptive see his sorrow for Schalkos suffering is almost too much to bear.
Schalko wishes them well and if he does not see them again in this life, he hopes they meet again in the next. He has a few private words with Calliszia before the party leave, and she touches his scarred countenance lightly before joining the party. Guards help clear a way to the airship, for Calliszia appears to have caused an upsurge in devotion and morale by her appearance, but soon they are aloft again and heading towards the University as the day draws on.
They alight at the highest tower of the University, which seems to have deployed its defences against attackers and the signs of a resilient and ingenious defence by students and faculty (along with what seems a great many refugees) are in evidence. A day for off reunions continues as none other than Hieronius Bleek greets them in his calm and slightly distant manner, leading them to their leader. It turns out an attack occurred at a faculty meeting on the same day as the attacks on the Parliament and the Palace, and amongst the survivors was the strong willed if waspish Dahila Huytens who has been placed in nominal charge of the University until proper procedures can be commenced.
She is pleased (if that is the word) that Fullica has returned and with good news. For her part, she explains to Fullicas obvious displeasure that the attack on the University was by Brandt and a host of shadowy undead he commanded. It also appears that the return to a stricken Heidelgard by the notoriously self serving Bleek may have been something to do with Dahila, judging by the back and forth between the pair (spite social cutting with a touch of affection). Dahila is advised of the likely existence of Laeo Tannhauser, his arrival on The Isle of Kellestine and what it is he exactly wishes on his return, namely the body of the Elven Woman preserved in the Proscribed Materials Wing. Some more information is passed, and Dahila is probably happy that the remaining former Society marines are alighting here to aid in the defence. With daylight fast departing and just over an hour left to go before nightfall, the party say their goodbyes and alight for the last stop and ending point of their return to Heidelgard; next stop, The BegeerStraat Church…