The Scepters

The Bluetspur Massacre (Part I)
This may or may not have happened...

From The Black Logs, Sixth Electoral Wars vol. 1, of The Iron Lightnings

It is surprising to me to have started the Black Log for this war so early. Yet when the Old Man came out of the tent when he debriefed the team that he sent to Bluetspur, he immediately sent me in and told me to start the Black Log, and it wasn’t anything so informal as a request. I’ve run with the Old Man for a long time, and I cannot easily recall seeing him so deeply troubled as I did that day.

We were moving towards Amarnaia, intending to reinforce Viscount Casatade at the fortress city of Caspietir against a possible invasion out of Panorcum. We had established a supply depot in Bluetspur months earlier, a barter arrangement which was mutually beneficial. The town gained a very motivated and well trained guard force while the company gained a safe place to store enough arms and supplies to keep the entire outfit fed for weeks and armed a couple of times over. It would have been safely in the rear and would have made a perfect location to recruit, train, and build up from. Kelemvor had hired Rincmar ha’Cavrm, an old friend of his from the Deep Kingdoms, to serve as head engineer to harden the depot and lay the groundwork for a training barracks. He sent Salty, Quicksilver, Rumpot, Rache, and Vermin (now called Ghoul) to accompany Rincmar and maybe get a little experience on detached duty.

I know there has been speculation, and likely will be speculation for as long as the principals involved are alive, about what happened to knock out that bridge. As near as anybody can tell, it was an act of the Divines, or just dumb luck. Whatever the circumstances, the band needed to detour through a copse held by wildren. It was probably the roughest five miles they ever had to ride, and from what they told me, it was hardest on Rumpot, being dragged almost half a mile while Quicksilver hauled him up without getting him trampled by his horse or hers. The way they told it to me, they seemed to cross some boundary that the wildren had established as a point of no return for them. Whether the spot was simply taboo or if there was a genuine reason they avoided the area, none but the wildren can say. Whatever the reason, it likely saved the lives of the band in more ways than one.

As I write this, a platoon of troops is already at the site of the mound, making a detailed copy of the fresco that sat along the south wall, as well as sketches of the mound’s interior, rubbings of the ins. A temporary bridge was erected to expedite movement without risking fresh exposure to the wildren, and once they return, the temporary bridge and the old bridge will be torn down. There’s nothing left to go to that can’t be reached by other directions if so desired. Here at camp, the company antiquarians are working to translate the scroll recovered from the mound and making detailed sketches of the bow, on the premise that Quicksilver will retain possession of the weapon. Divines know she’s earned it.

I know as I’m avoiding the recording of the events in Bluetspur, based upon my notes from the debriefings and my own journey to the site, if only because the horror is still enough to shake my composure. Seeing that doomed town, hearing the stories, it’s enough to give even the strongest of souls nightmares.

Once the band had recovered the black bow, they resumed their journey to Bluetspur, the detour delaying them a few hours. As they rode towards the town, they saw smoke rising up. The smoke was months of logistical preparation set aflame, the entire depot put to the torch. I distinctly recall Ghoul telling me how unnerving it was coming into town, how disturbingly quiet. They walked into the aftermath of a slaughter. None of them were strangers to blood or bodies, but it was the totality of it, the unchecked carnage that spoke not to the crush of battle but the deliberate mass murder of civilian and soldier alike, that was what disturbed them so deeply. More worryingly was the fact that there seemed to be no sign of the attackers, no bodies bearing any strange uniforms, no obvious tracks, not even arrows to go with the bodies of those who’d clearly been shot through. Though the number of troops involved was pitifully small, even compared to battles such as Skadoline Bridge, it appeared to be the single bloodiest defeat the Iron Lightnings had ever suffered. There apparently wasn’t a single living creature to be found in the entire town.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. As it turned out, somebody had sent out a patrol some days earlier, a patrol who’d already been on their way back when they saw the smoke rising into the sky. Quicksilver met them outside the livery at the southern edge of town and verified their bona fides, then escorted them back into town, letting them see the carnage they had blessedly avoided. Meanwhile, Rache and Rincmar discovered the only two survivors, a teenaged girl and her grandfather, hiding in a simple temple dedicated to The Moon. Salty and Rumpot, meanwhile, had been examining the town hall, seeing if perhaps the invaders had managed to enter the town through tunnels or burrows. While they found the town’s records stored in a natural cavern under the hall, they found no evidence of subterranean attack routes.

Quicksilver described the bulk of what happened next. There was screaming from the temple, sounds of terror, sounds of men dying. She was the first to reach the temple. The patrol leader, Tambalyn, was crumpled in the corner, bleeding badly. The girl, Sahren, was shrieking as one of the riders was being crushed in the grip of . . .

How to describe the enemy? It wasn’t human, clearly, and likely wasn’t anything born of nature in this world. From head to toe, it stood about eight feet in height. It had two legs, but four arms, and in each one it carried some sort of weapon, though as Quicksilver described it, one of those hands was busy crushing a man’s neck to the point where the head popped off. The creature seemed reptilian in some regards, insect-like in others. The head, particularly, held lower mandibles that seemed to split and spread out, chitinous but connected with some sort of scaly skin. The body seemed to covered in plates of chitin growing out of skin, knobbed and spiky, a living breastplate almost. The hands were clearly clawed, much like a reptile, but the feet seemed to be that strange combination of insect and reptile, shell and scale.

Quicksilver proved just how much of a credit to the Lightnings she is when she took the black bow and opened fire with it. With a normal arrow or quarrel, I would have expected only expertly placed shots to penetrate the creature’s hide, but the black bow was clearly made to combat this monstrosity. Salty had been hot on Quicksilver’s heels running to the temple, but his usual skill with the polearm seemed to have deserted him for the moment. Quicksilver managed to get another shot off, but it was Rache that landed the killing blow.

The elation of defeating the abomination was short lived. Whatever it was, it had clearly brought friends . . .

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Battle of Skadoline Bridge
The Sixth Electoral Wars start here, for the Lightnings at any rate...

From The Annals of the Iron Lightnings, vol. 4

It was supposed to be a simple prospect, and taken as a whole, it really did turn out that way. Count Curr Lehfevrehz, a minor noble under Duke Lalim Chrelrum, who in turn was under King Cyr Damtas (a Great Lord and Imperial Elector), had it in his small little head that he’d take advantage of the chaos arising from the dissolution of the Imperial Deliberative and carve out a bigger chunk of territory for himself. Unfortunately for Lehfevrehz, he suffered from the all too common condition among minor nobles that more land automatically confers more political power. They’re appetites in fancy clothes, and if they have any redeeming features, it’s that they’re ridiculously predictable.

Lehfevrehz’ big mistake was trying to use a slaving band as muscle against mercenaries. To their credit, they probably had some military training before they started their second careers, but they were noticeably out of practice. If they had been up to snuff, it’s likely that there wouldn’t have been any survivors from the contingent originally set to guard the supply cache. As we found out later, part of the cache was rumored to contain intelligence gathered from agents in Skad. A complete fabrication, of course, but it was necessary to identify certain personages in Skad we’d suspected of feeding information to the enemy. I’ve been friends with “Plague” Nelvorl since we were both pissing ourselves in the front rank against a cavalry charge for the first time. I knew he’d be all right, but it didn’t stop me from worrying a little bit for him. When the messengers stopped coming, we knew there was trouble.

I don’t know what made the Old Man grab the new recruits and send them on down the road in company, but Taram’s always had an eye for talent. Salt, Quicksilver, Rumpot, Rache, and Vermin. An unlikely little squad, but remarkably well balanced, I’d say. From the reports they made later, they encountered a small knot of slavers running an illegal checkpoint on an Imperial road. Brazen little turds, to be sure, but not terribly bright. The ensuing fight was short and violent and overwhelmingly against the slavers. The reports were quite clear that the penalties for slaving were fully enforced, and head money would be paid out. I’m not sure whose idea it was to use Leician slave manacles on them, but the poetry was almost too rich.

After clearing the checkpoint, the band met one of Plague’s sentry pickets. The picket riders led them back to an old hill fort where Plague was laid up, figuratively and literally. His people had carried as much as they could, burned the rest, and found the fort. They set about rehabilitating it as best they could, and the extra hands presented made what might have been a valiant but doomed defense into something approximating a real fight. Healed up thanks to Rumpot, the defenders were in considerably better shape to hold off the slavers, who had apparently been gathering their forces in anticipation of finishing off our boys. What they got was a rude surprise in the form of a decently refurbished fortification, a rested and healthy set of defenders, two of the best long distance archers in the Lightnings, and by the end of it all, a second hostile force in the form of the lead element of the 2nd Cavalry Company, lead by “Cannibal” Arveson. Sandwiched between the fort and fast moving cavalry, the surviving slavers wisely surrendered.

Eight days later, the Lightnings advanced on Skadoline Bridge. As a structure, it was ancient beyond reckoning, yet still managed to resist the ravages of time better than more contemporary engineering projects. Lehfevrehz, having thrown his lot in with slavers, hadn’t really trained his house forces terribly well. While we suffered light casualties making our way over the bridge, the center of the defenders’ line was wiped out almost to a man. Their archers, unwilling to fire on their own troops or risk hitting their fellows on the other side of our column, surrendered shortly thereafter. The Battle of Skadoline Bridge was a rout of Lehfevrehz’ forces and killed his dreams of forging his own personal Empire. Within twelve days, the 1st Cavalry Battalion had descended on Skad itself and quickly obtained the surrender of the mercenary forces hired to defend it. They’d never had much affinity for their employer (never a good sign) and since they’d been stiffed on their pay for three months running (always a bad sign), they were more than happy to sign Terms of Surrender & Incorporation. Nine days after Skad fell to the Lightnings, the slave depot which Quicksilver and her comrades had learned about was captured. Over sixty slaves were liberated and a dozen slavers, the only remaining members after the losses inflicted to that point, were captured and subsequently executed.

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With The Lightnings
See The Continent! Meet Interesting People! Face Them In Battle and Kill Them!

From The Annals Of The Iron Lightnings, vol. 4

The rules are pretty simple when you ride with the Lightnings. Who you were doesn’t matter. Why you joined up is unimportant. All that has ever mattered is your willingness to fight. Sure, disputes and rivalries and even feuds can erupt even in the most disciplined of companies. But two or three battles will knock the animosity out of most squabbles.

The Garoshi, Warlord’s piss but he was so obnoxious when he signed up. Tried to bluff Tawse about his name and didn’t even come close. Tawse put his name down as “Brine,” though he did pick up the nom de guerre of “Salty” on account of his attitude. Although, come to think of it, he wasn’t nearly as bad as Vermin. One of the points of etiquette about taking a name in the company is that you don’t use a title of nobility. It’s less about offending the precious sensibilities of our employers and more about cutting down on confusion. Vermin, unfortunately for him, had the poor fortune to be in front of Battleaxe when he had to sign the papers. Battleaxe is a perfectly lovely woman when you talk straight with her. Very uncomplicated lass, which explains why she bestowed Vermin’s name on him. It was early days, then, when redemption was possible for most any sin provided that one could be sufficiently contrite. Vermin was great with explosives, which explains why Hartmeister put him in with the 5th Infantry, but he needed some seasoning.

Another uncomplicated lass joined about the same time, Quicksilver. Lovely Gray Elvish lass, and one who strangely didn’t have a lot of the baggage that most Gray Elves seem to haul around with them. I was near the archery range when she stepped up to the line. Most of our archers are decent but by no means exceptional shots, and the company average is about 90 paces for maximum effective accuracy. She went the 150 paces that we set as a maximum for testing, and I’m pretty sure she could have gone to 200 if she had a mind to try for it.

There are some folks whose name is made just by looking at them. Rumpot was one of those. You wouldn’t think he was a holy man to look at him, and as ham fisted as he was with needle and thread, you wouldn’t think he was much of a healer either. But he was put in the 5th Infantry because they needed healers, even if they were soused. I remember Cautery telling me that afternoon that he would sooner have Rumpot shot than let him into the surgery ever again, but something told me that Cautery wasn’t completely serious.

If there was one addition to our little band that I had the damnedest time understanding, it was Rache. There was no gainsaying his skill with a blade, and he went toe to toe with Brine in the sparring circle, only missing by the barest margin on that last exchange. Moreover, he had some skill with spellcraft, a point which he seemed determined to make to Brine rather than outright threaten him. Garoshi aren’t necessarily stupid, but somehow I don’t think Brine took the hint. It was also puzzling that Rache was assigned to the 2nd Scouts rather than with the Infantry. When I asked Taram about it, he said he didn’t know why Rache was with the Scouts, but he wasn’t going to overrule the decision without a good reason. The opportunity to succeed, he reasoned, was equally an opportunity to fail.

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