Monday, March 4, 2024

The Battle For Vulture Point Act I Scene I

On a dark afternoon, with just a sliver of sun waxing in the sky, the Eastern Road to Emirikol is lashed with rain - the perpetual winter rain had grown over the last four or five hours into an outright tempest that even a skilled coachman of Imperial Service would have problems navigating. Indeed, did have problems, as the coachman was forced to slow the horses and, with much professional chagrin, inform his four noble passengers that they would not be making the Bluestone Inn as scheduled, but he would continue to drive through the night if need be to reach their destination. That stalwart worthy then indicated to is charges that beneath the left rear seat were provisions laid in against such an eventuality so that their lordships might not miss dinner.

With a gesture of apology to the one lady in the coach - the fair Cybele Floriane, whose rough clothing was outshined by her gracious manner and gave evidence that to be noble means more than simply being with funds - Melas Belisca shifted his overlong arms and hunched back with unexpected dexterity to extricate the provender, and then turned his eye to the contents: cold chicken and wine. His epicurean experience was most immediately evident with the speed and grace of the corks' extraction and the pouring of the contents to his road company of the last several days - the lady first, of course, and then to Hiram Desaud - a man of few years but many an anecdote - then Dietrich von Eisenwald, whose dancing smile and eyes display a wit as dry as any wine - before pouring for himself. "I've drunk from this vineyard before; the Bordeaux is pleasing, but don't expect too much."

Before the elixir can be sampled, however, there is a horrendous lurch and crash that Dietrich correctly surmises is the axel, (Tom: The finest in German Wine and French Engineering) and Cybele is just able to discern their left rear wheel bounding off into the darkness. "Well, that's spilled the wine then," bemoans a now doused Hiram - a statement made without reckoning on Dietrich's unparalleled reflexes and balance that kept both his and the lady's glasses upright (with just a hint of their hands touching), nor on the vast experience Melas has on protecting his spirits. With a quirk of a smile at his ill luck Hiram is doused again as the now-angled widow cover gives way, exposing all in the carriage to the elements. The door opens an instant later as their coachman bows to them in the darkness.

"My lordships and lady, I regret to inform you that we shall make no further distance this evening. Yonder hill his Hightower Tor, and with your permission I shall scout about it to locate a space in the lee where you might seek more effective shelter." Permission is of course given, and Cybele took the opportunity to show her athletic nature by exiting the coach unattended to search, fruitlessly, for the missing wheel. (For the reader's knowledge, the wheel rolled some twenty yards away before come to a halt in a deep puddle, so her inability to locate it should not be seen as a failing in the keenness of Lady Floriane's vision, which was quite keen indeed.)

Inside the carriage Hiram produced yet another anecdote to enlighten and edify his friends: "Hightower Tor is one of the main road marks to Emirikol; we are but a few days away. The tower and crypts itself predates the Chaos invasion, but it was defiled by those forces upon their arrival and ultimately became their site of their last stand against the forces of the Empire. Indeed, in act five, scene three of the Marquis of Order the Imperial General ordered a boulder rolled into place before the entrance, preferring to seal in the chaos beasts rather than lose more men fighting them. The author took some liberties with the final scenes of the chaos beats slaughtering each other, locked in the dark. According to that work there is also a headless demon locked within."

Melas took this information into careful consideration with a sip of wine. "So our plan is to shelter in the ruins of a haunted tower in the middle of winter storm miles from civilization? Capital!"

With that their coachman returned, and that worthy informed them that he had found a cave that would do for a shelter, and he would get their luggage. Dietrich and Melas both, with the air of true gentleman and pragmatists, said that the luggage could wait, and the coachman should instead bring along the carriages tarp that he might secure it across the cave to produce a more secure shelter. Melas also collected his heavy crossbow, leaving his greatsword secured to the carriage. After all, what could happen?

Our four stalwart (and now rather damp and cold) nobles worked their way up the hill to the cave located by their coachman; when they arrived both Dietrich and Melas noticed the rubble strewn around the entrance, as if a large boulder had just recently been sundered by lightning. The coachman had raced ahead of them and thus the tarp was already in place, allowing them to step into the relative comfort of the 'cave' - in fact a rectangular room with a finished floor and doors on all walls. Dietrich eyed the coachman as that worthy added wood to the fire and inquired "City boy, are you?"

Intrigued, Cybele took a brand from the fire and circumnavigated the room. Hiram took a different route, drawing upon the secret arts of draumaturgy to make himself 'aware of the stage'. He was able to confirm the lady Floriane's assessment that the doors were stout and locked but not warped by the elements, but he kept to himself the absence of any concealed passages, trap doors or other obscurements. (Brian: we are giving Detect Secret Doors a formidable power boost). Comfortable in their security they rejoined Melas, who was securing his comfort with the wine and the fire. Being a gentleman, he had saved enough for the others, and the bottle was passed around as assessments of their situation were made. The storm grew more insistent outside, with flashes visible around the edge of the tarp followed by blasts of thunder that loosed dust from the ceiling. Finally, the flash and the sound struck simultaneously followed by the crash of wood on stone as all three doorways fell in! Worse still, from the north came a gush of water and a flood of small, wet vermin - Rats!

"Well, I certainly shan't be tipping our coachman if he lacks the sense to clear the cave of vermin beforehand," muttered Melas as the panicked creatures advanced. Not wanting contact with the plague bearing and generally foul beasts the nobles moved clear of the rodents rush; the creatures broke for the outside, and when faced with the storm ran back into the room and through the door to south. Once the excitement had died down - and once Dietrich, ever the pragmatist, had confirmed that the water flow would not endanger their fire - the quartet examined the passage to the east, which had at least the advantage of not previously or currently containing vermin. Dietrich's sharp ears caught the sound of movement some distance down the long passage.

"Who's there? Announce Yourselves!" he yelled, knowing that with the passages width, length and their torch taking the individuals by surprise would be nigh impossible as well as ill mannered. In the echo of his cry, the aforementioned keen ears picked up another sound he was well familiar with... that of a sword being drawn from its scabbard.

He communicated this to his comrades, and Melas readied his heavy crossbow before he and Dietrich started down the passage, Hiram and Cybele directly behind.

"Why did you think to pack a crossbow?" Hiram asked as he prepared and concealed his own weapon.

"It's a family heirloom. My Aunt Matilda committed suicide with it." Melas responded with hushed tones as they neared the end of the passage and the torch lit room beyond...

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