Part 5: The Citadel of the WanderingI expect to avoid endgame grind the same way I avoided it last time via demonic wreckingball
Chapter 4: The Citadel of the Wandering
Arrows from the distant walls of Alexiri arced in the sky before raining down upon the marching Svarts. Honorable Warriors raised their shields in defense, but still there were some casualties.
Veremoud plucked out an arrow that had found a soft spot in his armor and broke it over his knee before throwing it away. He then fished a healing rune (burns to cauterize the wound, heals tissue damage, aids with hangovers) out of his bag and pressed it hard onto the wound.
How does it feel to bleed for your new Dead King? Carry on, you dogs, you haven't earned your keep yet!
First prospectors crossed over the bridge and huddled tightly in their coats. The shard was dead, dead, dead, with gray ground stretching in every direction and ghastly grey lights dancing wherever land gave way to whatever it is that Shards floated in. A Veteran prospector saw it prudent to rally his men before marching forward
Don't worry, lads, we have already crossed this way once, and now we're back for vengeance, and with the backing of a powerful wizard!
We will get through this like we got through this one our way to burn out. If nothing else, we Svarts endure!
"Planestriders are a most unusual race cocktail which could only happen in these worlds. Humans, monsters and the undead of Ardania from those who once joined the last crusade of the Great King, plus the Incorporeal, aborigines of Lunar worlds, magical ethereal creatures...
As often is the case, this alliance was concluded in the face of a universal threat when Dremers began to devour worlds. But when they suddenly disappeared, it turned out that Planestriders get along well with each other, and the alliance was sealed forever. The most recognisable warriors of this alliance are those who call themselves Grey Striders. Grey Striders are the vanguard of the army of Planestriders. They tirelessly travel between worlds and are not afraid of horrible monsters, hardships and privations of marches, or even impossible weather conditions.
Just like a cat that knows it can crawl anywhere its head fits, Planestriders know they can live where Striders have passed."
(from "Chronicles of New Worlds" written by Master Vardies Teleran)
Grey Striders. The Death That Comes At Night, some Svarts called them. The vanguard of Planestriders everywhere, they stalked the exiled caravan all the way through the dead lands. Always watching from an ashen hill or a dead forest in the horizon. Ever out of reach.
Except when they struck at night, to stab and slash with their daggers. Honorable Warriors would drive them off, probably even killing one or two in the process, but more Svarts, usually sentries and those not trained in the art of war, would be found dead.
If Veremoud thought he had an axe to grind against his new liege, Grey Striders were the ones he wanted to chop up with said axe.
Back for more, curs? Didn't get the message the last time?
Message of an idiot falls on deaf ears. We did kill a few of you even as a band of sorry wretches. Now, it's going to be different
The Strider motioned to the armored teal skull that sneered from the black banners of the Svarts.
Ah, yes, your dead master. He finally gave you a flag, did he? I don't know how that will make a difference from the last time. I know there are no skeletons to support you this time. Time to die, wart!
For the Stone King or the Dead King, Svarts, chaaarge!
So did the two companies clash. It didn't take long for a horrible tactical mistake to become apparent. Grey Striders were fast, armed and armored light, nible and really good in a forest. Unfortunately, they were fighting on a plain, head to head, against naturally sturdy Svarts, all clad well made armor and maneuvering in a well drilled close formation.
It was a massacre.
Loudoun managed to escape by hiding under the corpses of his comrades, sneaking away at night to join the defense of Alexiri.
Svarts were jubilant at having crushed their oppressors so decisively, thus paying back for old grudges (even though they weren't that prone to hold grudges). And then, even better news reached their ears: a pumpkin farm was built, which meant one thing pumpkinshine for everyone.
Thus, in high spirits over the future prospect of strong spirits, they marched on Alexiri.
King Lich, who only ever used pumpkinshine to polish his armor (he claimed it helped him maintain his attachment to the world, without which he might slip into lich madness of all life must end), was happy over other things. He had quite easily re-learned the spell which made weapons unnaturally cold.
Would you claim it as cold as the touch of death?
What? No, no. It's just freezing cold, much like the heart of your wife
That was uncalled for, m'lord. True, but uncalled for
Alexiri was undersiege. The city had been attacked before, something like that was inevitable in shard full of the dead and spiders. But never before had it experienced an assault by a real military force.
Veremoud's troops forded the unnamed river (skeleton fish were a little disturbing, but harmless if you didn't carry undead bread) and set themselves up on the west, right on the the former Strider camp.
Rurik and his soldiers made camp to the east, after having chased away the 'striders working a smithy. Normally, attacking a city over a river would be disasterous, but, to King Lich's surprise, Svarts had not difficulty with it, employing small metal boats with 'enjinns' to carry them over.
They were ready for the siege.
However, they were not ready for Immaterial fighters. Surging through the gates, they tore into Veremoud's company. Blueish shades in intricate leather armor, they were hard to hit and attacked with ferocity and magic. It was a crushing defeat.
Svarts barely managed to retreat, dragging their wounded including Veremioud with them as they went.
But no matter how dangerous the Immaterial warriors were, they were inexperienced in the field of battle.They had barely started tending to their own dead and wounded (forgetting to retreat back into the city) when an intense barrage of bolts beset them.
And under such cover, vegenful Svarts with Rurik at their head took their flank after crossing the river.
For the Exiled King and our people! Charge!
Before the day was done, the only ones left in the field were Svarts, and only tatters of empty leather armor fluttered in the wind...
But the troubles of Veremoud's company weren't over. Suffering from curse laid by the magic warriors, Svarts had to tend to their wounded while magical flames slowly roast them from inside. Soon enough, the only thing left of the company would be a camp full of slumped suits of armor filled with burnt husks.
However, Svarts had the support of King Lich, and King Lich still had a healing spell etched in his mind. It wasn't the most powerful one, but it had to be enough.
Thus King went into the tower where he would remain for the rest of the siege, tirelessly and continiously casting spells of healing, helping wounded warriors rise to their feet even as they were about to collapse from injury.
This was of great help when spiders attacked the caravan ferrying the wounded. With help of the prospectors, Honorable Warriors beat them back, but it was obvious that someone else would have to take care of arachnids.
And the healing continued.
Svarts only had to endure the continuous searing pain in their. But Svarts, like they say, endure.
Where there's a smith, there's a way.
Where there's a smith, there's a way.
Where there's a smith...
We just wanna to go to war today
But the Lord of the Skull says: "nay, nay, nay!"
We're gonna smith all day, all day, all day!
Where there's a smith there's a way!
Where there's a smith, there's a way!
The lads in the shards are gonna fight
We're gonna smith all day and night and more
For we are Volundr's men of war.
Where there's a smith, there's a way!
We just wanna go to war today...
A most wondrous thing appeared out of the shimmering portal. A long caravan of sprocket donkeys laden with the finest armors straight out of forges of Lichgrad. These were used to replace old and broken pieces, as well as reinforce the paltry protections that Prospectors had.
The sprocket donkeys turned back, their bags and chests filled with bent and broken steel that would be melted down and used to forge new weapons and armor.
As Veremoud's men nursed their wounds and waited for reinforcements in a strangely passive spider next (filled with tasty spider eggs seasoned with irony), Rurik turned back to continue the siege of Alexiri.
Meanwhile, a batch of fresh recruits appeared and were already tasked with hunting down a pack of skeleton archers that were harrasing the siege camps. Prospectors couldn't deal with them themselves since shooting arrows at what amounted to a walking cage was counter-productive (some argued that bolts would get stuck in ribcages and actually make the skeletons sturdier).
King Lich had to take a break. All the healing was having a detrimental effect on his mind: thoughts about peace and coexistance were getting annyoingly persistent and he had to do something about it.
Luckily, researching a spell that increased protection in brawls was just the thing he needed.
The new recruits were having a good time. Skeletons crumpled easily under the blows of their axes and the crypt that was churning them out wasn't that hard to destroy either.
Among the ruins they also found the Crossbow of 500 seas, which bore the teethmarks of goblin shaman, suggesting that the artefact had something to do with Grum-gog.
They didn't want to linger on the land for too long since it sapped the strength of the living. And the continuous ghastly whispering offering to tell them various secrets of the universe was starting to grate.
Instead, they repositioned to the hills, where they planned to descend on the last company of wandering skeletons.
Dauheimur (Fotress Dauheimur) was established as the first planned fortress city in King Lich's domain. It was to stand guard over the entry to Burnout, guarding supply lines and anyone traveling to and fro. Everything that the city produced went to fortifying the walls and stockpiling weapons, and intelligent Svart planning meant it was fully self sufficient, asking nothing of Lichgrad and giving back only security.
Among the facilities in the fortress was healer who treated any exiles wanting to join the people on Burnout as well as quarantine cells.
The only problem was that there was no way to establish undead fish-fishing.
And while Dauheimur was built, Veremoud's men destroyed the magic smithy where they built their new camp.
Following their example, Rurik's men tore down the Strider camp, piling the tents and poles into huge pires. Before setting them alight, they threw the armor of the magic warriors on top. Such fires burned all night bringing despair to the defenders of Alexiri.
These Svarts will pay for their impudence, I swear this as first ranger
But he didn't. The siege was long and hard, but it came to an end. With catapults of dead wood and bones flinging flaming chunks of spider nests, the walls eventually started to crumble. And try as they might, the striders stood very little chance of holding breaches against sturdy and determined Svarts.
In the end, it was Rurik's company that broke into the city, burning and pillaging along their way of advance. A switf blow of the axe separated the strider castelan's head from his body and the city was declared taken.
M'lord, Rurik said you might want to see this.
King Lich and a procession of Svarts led by some Planestriders (who seemed to bear marks of imprisonment) desecnded into the vaults under the castle.
And there it was. A room full of shelves, each filled with row upon row of skulls.
Armored skulls with glowing eyes.
Sergeant of the assault vanguard?
That...explains why you can talk. I think. What happened here?
I see. Rurik?
Get the men to collect the skulls. Carefully. These striders will help you. Transport them to Lichgrad. And then...
...burn the city to the ground