A Keep On The Borderlands: Arrival

Dr Simon

Community Supporter
By current reckoning it must be the Day of the Hornbeam, in the spring month Germinal, the third day since leaving Last Ferry following the faded road towards the border stockade known as Fort Key-11 (or K-11).

To the left of the road is a broad sward of grassland leading to broadleaf forest where the horse chestnuts are putting forth white candles of blossom amidst yellow-green spring growth. The forests rise on rolling hills, becoming a blur of green that laps against the feet of snow-capped peaks showing blue in the far north. To the right, a shallow stream flows back towards Last Ferry, with grass-covered moraine rising on the far bank.

The Dulat party moves slowly to allow the foot soldiers and pack mules to keep up. The land is empty except for long-abandoned evidence of orc activity, a few fragments of elven ruins and the more recent spoor of beastmen.

Rounding a bend in the river, suddenly they come upon another, smaller, group of men. Although ragged and weather-beaten, these are plainly soldiers of some kind.

[sblock=OOC]
In the Dulat party are Arcata, Bastion, Sh'aah and Cormoray as well as 20 1st level foot-soldiers, four pack mules and any riding animals/companions associated with the PCs.

The other group is Greggory and 4 soldiers, ex of Fort Key-11
[/sblock]
 

ahayford

Villager
Greggory and his men take defensive positions across the road. They wear the garb of the Empire's Army, but also bear the marks of the penal legion branded on their foreheads. The black cloaks which allow the normal rank and file to identify them as penal soldiers on the field have become tattered and worn, much like the soldiers themselves. It is obvious they have been living in the brush for a while. One of the men who appears to be the leader steps forward. He obviously doesn't mind that he is clearly outnumbered....or perhaps he is just desperate.

Halt in the name of the Empire! I'm afraid that this road no longer receives the funding it once did and now carries a toll by order of the master of Fort Key 11. If you would be so kind as to leave your supplies by the side of the road, my men and I would be happy to let you pass.
 
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Kaodi

Adventurer
Brother Comoray's eyes narrow. The priest of Velshionne glances and takes note of the position of the Dulat soldiers, his flock, however small, and then positions himself for administering the blessing of the Lady Magnificient. It is not his place to speak for the company of Lady Dulat.
 

Shayuri

Villager
Arcata gives Bastion a quick look, then nudges her horse ahead of his to take the lead of her contingent. She trusted he'd be ready to charge out at a moment's notice, and she didn't move forward far enough that he'd have trouble getting out in front of her.

Even after a long day of riding, she was something to behold; with long, slightly wavy golden hair falling around her head like sunlight, and clear, fair skin that made her sapphire eyes stand out all the more.

"It is in the name of the Empire that we have come," she said. Her voice was clear in the still air, carrying to every ear present. "By order of the High Throne, we are sent to the Keep, bearing no distraction or delay, and stand before its master, if he be loyal to the Throne still."

She surveyed the rabble before her, and with a softer edge in her voice said, "The current master does not seem to take good care of his men, if I may say so. I hope I offer some comfort when I say that things are about to change. Until then, you may join our camp; eat and drink with us, share our fire and share what news you have of the Keep." With that, Arcata smiled. "Does that not sound better than a hopeless squabble at the roadside over scraps?"
 

ahayford

Villager
The leader of the prison legion glances back to his men.

You hear that men? She wants to talk to the master of the keep.

The rough looking men laugh among themselves, a rather unpleasant noise that promised more sinister thoughts then mirth.

Well, "milady". You stand before him now. As far as I know, my men and I are all that's left of the garrison force that was once stationed at Fort Key 11. The last remaining officer left promising to bring reinforcements months ago.

The soldier looks at the young girl and her small retinue.

If all he could find was a girl barely old enough to marry and her nurse maids....maybe my men and I are better off joining the wardens...

The soldier's face tightens into a grimace as his empty stomache rumbles.

But......It would be rude for my men and I to turn down such a courtly invitation. My name is Greggory, Sergeant of his Imperial Majesty's Penal legion. The four bastards behind me are Janson, Dack, Cassie, and Tye.

Each of the men nod in turn.

Speak for yourself Greg

For the first time you realize that one of the soldiers is a woman. Her blonde pixie cut frames what would otherwise be a beautiful face. Her loose fitting armor and cloak hide any signs of femininity. She holds a crossbow which is still currently trained on Arcata.

Sorry, 3 bastards and one whore.

That's more like it.

Now why don't you but that thing away before it "accidently" goes off again.

The woman lowers her weapon, but the way she glares at Greggory and Arcata would certainly slay a lesser man.

I can tell you what has happened here in the last few months, if you could give us word of the Imperium....its been a long time since any news reached out this far.
 

Shayuri

Villager
Arcata wrestles for a moment with her instinctive revulsion at the realization of what had been going on. The Keep had been crewed by criminals and captained by a coward. No wonder it had sunk! It was becoming abundantly clear that this assignment was tailor made to break and destroy those the Throne felt were inconveniences. Bitterly, she thought that the ragtag remains of broken Houses probably fit under that description. Even so, there might be opportunity here too. If she DID succeed, against all odds, then it would seem all the more noteworthy. And what, really, did she have to lose?

"Sergeant Greggory," she greeted crisply, ignoring the comment about her youth for the nonce. Pick your battles... "I am Lady Arcata Dulat, of the House Dulat, here on Imperial order to take control of Keep Key Eleven and use it to establish the Emperor's peace over the surrounding lands and make them suitable for colonization. You and those under your command will join our forces. We'll find proper equipment for you when we pitch camp. Also, you are invited to my fire tonight so we can exchange our stories. First of all, I need to know if there are any more of your men, either in hiding or waiting elsewhere. Secondly, will we reach the Keep by nightfall, or should we watch for a roadside camping spot?"
 

jkason

Villager
Bastian Sangue, human cavalier

Bastian laid his gauntleted hand on Stalwart's neck, calming the horse even as it fidgeted in the presence of threat. He tensed himself, though, as Arcata moved ahead of him, and when he saw the woman with the crossbow, he nudged Stalwart to canter forward a few steps, hand falling to where he could take up his lance quickly.

Thankfully, the leader of the ruffians seems willing to listen to reason. Still, Bastian kept close to the Lady. She had presence and training. She was meant to lead. But he was meant to keep her alive to do so. It was an almost familiar dance at this point: Leadership meant taking risks. Guardianship meant trying to avoid them. He knew better than to question her choices in public, but he did raise one of his thick eyebrows when next she deigned look in his direction.

As you will, milady, but I don't like it.

Then he spared a glance back to the men. It was still a bit unnerving, commanding soldiers who were almost all his seniors, but The Order of The Lion gave him rank if not experience, and he was gaining the latter far more quickly than he cared to. He nodded to the the closest guardsman, gestured subtly with two fingers apart then brought together, signaling that he didn't want any of these newcomers left without an escort to match them. The guard nodded and shifted to send the word through the group as Bastian quickly returned his attention to Arcata, staying quiet but alert as negotiations continued.
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
Brother Comoray relaxes his stance a bit, but he grimaces. A fort manned by criminals, lost to enemies; an inglorious posting if there ever was one. But lurking beneath the surface also lies a kernel of opportunity: if they can take the fort decisively and rehabilitate this area, it may yet serve as a suitable base for his order.

Looking over the ragged group of soldiers, he begins going over various strategies and sermons for winning them over in his mind. Maybe he can appeal to their sense of pride, or whatever is left of it.
 

ahayford

Villager
Greggory's demeanor changes slightly when Arcata flexes her authority.

I see...well if that's the way the wind blows, I suppose my men and I shall join your ret-tin-ue. Pack it up boys. The new nobility here has commissioned us into her army.

Greggory and his men gather their meager belongings and fall in next to the horses.

I suggest we stop for the night up the road a few hours. The journey to the keep is about 1 days march, but the state the keep is in...I don't think its wise we approach at night. I'm not saying I'm superstitious, but only the dead live there now. Not very polite to go interrupting their sleep. Anything else you want to know about the keep will have to wait until my men and I have food in our bellies.
 

Axel

Villager
Sh'aah

Sh'aah was always amazed at how quickly humans changed sides in a fight. Only sometimes did they actually come to blows. That was probably what the Marshall was worried about, really. New humans in the area. Mostly young. One seems to have some sort of authority. Thinking back on his instructions, the half-orc was satisfied. Keep an eye on them, Sh'aah. Just watch and learn what you can about these new humans. There may be dangerous ones amongst them that would upset the balance.

Smiling hugely (which really came across as a savage gape) as the bandit and his men dropped into line Sh'aah managed to grunt out a guttural laugh. "You seem foolish, man. Did you really think your few can beat our many? But you might still be wise, and also hungry. We will stop tonight at an old watchtower. Then come to the keep in the daytime."

Without waiting for any response Sh'aah spurred his suffering horse forward and up the next hill. The Ranger wanted to be away from the distractions of human company while he thought more about how to approach the keep. Only the dead live there... Not good... Didn't know that... How to kill the dead when they are already dead? Break their bodies like fairies and beastmen! But what if they don't have bodies? Although he wouldn't admit it to anyone, Sh'aah was deeply troubled. He reached for his chewing tobacco pouch. The flavours always helped him to think.
 

Shayuri

Villager
Arcata nods. "And food you will have, when we reach this watchtower and make camp. I'll look forward to hearing more."

She paused, then added, "And that officer who fled the Keep...I don't know if you'll find it disquieting or simple justice, but as far as I know, he never reached the borders of the Empire. This expedition was arranged with the assumption the Keep had been lost, when the Court hadn't heard from anyone there in months. Welcome to our company, sergeant."

With a glance over her shoulder, Arcata gave Bastian a nod to let him know to give the order to get the men moving again. She trusted that he had made arrangements to keep these newcomers under discrete watch while the parley had been going. She waited for the line to catch up to her, then prodded her mount to fall into step and proceed along with the others.
 

jkason

Villager
Bastian Sangue, human cavalier

Bastian returns the nod. His own nerves were heightened at what might or might not be a reference to undeath, but they could get that sorted once they made camp. With one assault so far on the road, aborted or no, he wanted to get off the road sooner rather than later.

"I assume you remember how to fall into a proper rank and file?" he says to the newcomers, jerking his head to the foot soldiers. He smiles slightly as he notices his lieutenant had been quietly and quickly effective: there were no places in the formation where the newcomers might march adjacent to each other. They could be close enough to speak to each other--best not to make them feel too isolated--but not without being overheard.

He doesn't wait for the erstwhile bandits to fall in, but rather raises his arm. With a quick gesture, the unit starts up again. Bastian trots Stalwart a bit more quickly to take his regular place as forward guard, bowing his head as is expected as he passes the Lady of his house. Then he turns his attention forward again, watching Sh'aah for guidance to this watchtower.
 

ahayford

Villager
Greggory makes a few subtle hand signs to his men and they silently fall in to formation with military precision. Greggory's men are skirmishers, warriors that live and die by their ability to sneak up on enemy formations, strike, and then fade back into the shadows before the rank-and-file soldiers know what hit them. Everything in their demeanor reflects this training. After a few hand signals are traded between the 5, Greggory knows the armament of each soldier in the Dulat retinue. Good intelligence never hurt anyone...

Greggory bristled at the idea of a noble coming out here. The fort had officers and a magistrate....but they had mostly been old military men....too honored to drum out of the legion, but too infirm to be put on any post of importance. It did bring a smile to Greggory's face that the one surviving officer was probably lying face down in a ditch somewhere. Damn coward.

Still....this one promised to retake the keep, the one place he had been able to find some measure of peace. Even if it was for her own selfish gains, for now their goals aligned.
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
Once the small group of soldiers have fallen into formation, Comoray clears his throat. " While it is no doubt unfortunate to have lost a bastion of the Empire, that alone is not enough to extinguish the fire in each man's, or woman's, heart, " he begins, glancing at Cassie. " Each must choose for themselves whether failure will be earth or water to extinguish the dying flame of glory, or air to fuel its burning brighter and hotter than before. Such is the wisdom of the Lady Magnificient. "
 
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Axel

Villager
Out in front, Sh'aah continued his slow thought process as the tobacco juices stimulated his brain.

Have to break their bodies. Everyone has a body, like faries and beastmen. Beastmen...there were turds back there with the new humans! Fresh turds! Stay awake, stupid!

Jerking his eyes up towards the horizon, and the approaching hill crest, Sh'aah tried to put the muttering of people behind him out of his head. The priest with the shiny shield and banded armour was droning on again. Who can understand this man? He speaks many words, but says nothing... No! No distractions! Keep looking.
 

Dr Simon

Community Supporter
On the broad, flat shoulder of a low hill stand a clump of elven ruins. All that is left, mostly, is an arc of stonework that must once have formed part of a circular wall, now crumbled away to less than man-height in most places, except for a slender arch [like Gothic style] with weather-faded elf runes written over the top. There is also a small statue, about the size of a halfling, of a robed elf with arms outstretched. The face has been vandalised.

Hawthorn and clumps of tough rushes now grow amidst the ruins, the only sign of life.
 

Kaodi

Adventurer
Brother Comoray frowns. Though it is permissable to shelter in a ruin in almost all sects dedicated to the Lady Magnificient, it is something to be avoided when possible. It is seen as inviting bad luck to hide behind the ruins of the past...

" We should have this rebuilt and refurbished whe resourcs allow, " he says, the distaste clear in his voice.
 

Shayuri

Villager
Arcata didn't reply to the cleric, though she felt differently. The ruins of the elf watchpost belonged to history, and the elves. Rebuilding them would wipe out this reminder of the past and whatever might be gleaned from it.

But it might also be that a watchpost here would benefit the Keep. She'd have to bear that in mind. For now, something else nagged her.

"Sergeant Greggory?" she asked, "The statue there. Did your men do that to its face?"
 

ahayford

Villager
Greggory frowns and shakes his head.

No. We mostly avoid these old places. Patrols sent to the ruins tend to show up back at the keep with arrows sticking in them. The local elves mostly keep to themselves, but they get real prickly about humans poking their noses where they don't belong. Some of the officers talked about launching a campaign to push the elves out of the forests, but like most things they did, all it amounted to was a few after dinner farts.
 

jkason

Villager
Bastian Sangue, human cavalier

Bastian raises an eyebrow to the priest's suggestion. "From the sound of things, I think we'll be taxing our resources pretty well just trying to rebuild the fort," he offers.

The cavalier doesn't miss the implication from Aracata's question and Greggory's answer. He looks to his lieutenant, who is at his side on the moment.

"Perimeter sweep," Bastian says quietly, and the lieutenant moves back to the men with merely a nod.

"If the locals aren't inclined to brook our camp this close to their ... property," Bastian says, "We should find a different clearing before we set up, or at least camp as far from the ruins as we can to show a level of deference. I don't suppose we know anything about what kinds of offerings they give to their particular divine patrons?"
 

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