The Errantry Crusade

THE GREAT CRUSADE AGAINST ARABY
The year IC 1448 of the Lord Sigmar’s Holy Empire;
With the onset of autumn came crows bearing the news. Even then, with the Empire in turmoil it was many days before it trickled down to the ears of the common folk. For the noble Elector houses were locked in open conflict, and the Empire teetered on civil war. The Ulricans of Great House Ottila had reigned over Talabecland from a rival throne for 90 years, with the Grand Duke of Reikland, Frederick III (already known as Frederick the Weak) unable to effectively stymie their power as Emperor. Sigmar worship was banned in several parts of the Empire by Duchess Ottila II, while other faiths were levied harshly at the command of the Grand Theoganist. Powerful Middenland and Stirland lent their aid to both sides unpredictably, leading to years of confusion, battle and chaos. Foreign sellswords infested the land. As summer waned in 1448, Frederick was besieged at Nuln by Ottilla II’s mercenary army. And so it was when word arrived.

The Estalian Kingdoms -a nation of independent principalities - had long been sheltered from the attentions of Chaos by it’s powerful northern cousins of Bretonnia and the Empire. To its east lay rival Tilea as a bulwark to the Orcs of the Darklands. West lay the naval superpower Ulthuan. Complacent in the security of its alliances, the rulers of Estalia had long ago turned to the decadent pursuits of art, music and politics to occupy themselves; warfare was a forgotten trade.

The invasion came without warning. A vicious, unfamiliar foe poured forth from the Great Ocean, whence only pirates and raiders had come before. Magritta, the nation’s mightiest city - and seat of the Church of Myrmidia - was swiftly besieged and sacked. It was the pleas of Magritta’s prince that finally reached the ears of the Emperor. He published the news immediately. Within a day, the siege around his city dissolved, sellswords abandoning their employers en masse as rumours of a lucrative Holy War swept the camps.

PROLOGUE

SESSION 1
Nursing bruises, cuts and throbbing headaches, the party set sail for Altdorf. Each bore the scar of Sir Walther’s brand, marking them as Crusaders sworn to task of defeating the infidel army. From the other pilgrims aboard, they hear the dreaded name “Jaffar” for the first time. The rumours say he commands a limitless army, that he tortures for sport and that a terrible desert-demon a ”Djeinie,” granted his wish for eternal life. Worse still, it is said that he is owed two more wishes. The price of river-passage had inflated greatly in just a few days, and by the time the Crusaders arrived in Altdorf, the fees have grown too great for their meagre purses to manage. Reiner points west, speaking of snow-blown Axe Bite Chasm whence he passed in earlier, mercenary days. Leaving an Altdorf choked with stranded pilgrims, the Crusaders saddle their horses and make for the distant peaks. By virtue of their brands, they were offered food and shelter by villagers and peasants long the heavily wooded road, asking only for blessings in exchange for their hospitality. On this charity they survived to reach shadowy Bogenhafen, last city on the road to the Grey Mountains. As the leaves turned to ashen-red, the companions reached the foothills, glad of their heavy winter-cloaks.

In the dead of night, from within the jagged, frosty escarpment came a host of gnashing night-goblins, hungry for the flesh of men. Drawn to the warmth of the pilgrim’s fire, the creatures burst from the darkness with wicked spears and vicious daggers. With a roar of warning, Reiner snapped to full wakefulness, charging into the foe. Arrows cracked and spun off his heavy chain. The others leapt from their bedrolls and gave battle in only their nightshirts, suffering bloody cuts. The creatures were starving, wiry and desperate, soon breaking and falling to slaughter. But several escaped, forcing the companions to break camp and march in the darkness, fearful of reinforcements. By morning they were exhausted, driven into a cave by an escalating storm. Within sight of the fort at Hochpoint, the party collapsed.

No sooner had they settled and began to build a fire that Vlademar returned from scouting at a sprint. Roaring it’s outrage, he was followed by a monstrous cave bear! The companions fled out into the snow, trying to drag their panicking horses. The creature lashed out, savaging Albrecht’s mount before they could respond. Reiner was hurled from the saddle, crashing unconscious to the rocky ground. With a shout, the party turned to face the monster on an open field, slashing and spearing and driving at it’s flanks. Shouting oaths to their gods, the warriors cut down the creature, Maximo delivering the fatal strike. At the end of their endurance, they collapsed into dreamless sleep.

The next morning they tended to their wounds, and Vlad began skinning the bear for it’s pelt. They feasted on it’s meat and salted the flesh of poor fallen Hablethrad for their supplies. The cave was deeper than they first expected, and with the snow still falling, Albrecht and Reiner decided to explore. The cave turned quickly into a tunnel, ragged rock giving way to smooth, polished tiles. They soon saw evidence of dwarfish work, from graven bas-reliefs to the piles of ancient goblin bones. The echoing corridors opened to a vast vault of columned chambers, long deserted by the deep-folk. Upon a single misstep, Albrecht narrowly avoided the venomous stinger of a Cave-Spider, several of the creatures scuttling from the broken ceiling on strings of viscous, entangling web. The pair desperately clove about to free their blades, bashing aside the monsters with elbows and fists. Finally, Reiner’s mighty axe-blows sent an arc of purplish bile across the narrow walls. Retreating to the cave-mouth, the knights summoned the rest of the party and prepared for a full-scale delve.

Before long the party came upon the denizens of the under-dark; savage orcs marching in a shabby column. At Maximo’s order, the party spread out for an ambush, leaping onto the greenskin’s backs without warning. The battle was furious, as the two forces broke into duelling pairs. Battered and bleeding in many places, the crusaders each felled their opponents. But just as Vlad slew one with a bolt from his weapon, another stepped forward and speared him violently in the stomach. Vomiting blood, he was struck again in the face and neck. With a roar of anguish, Maximo leapt to his defence, hamstringing and beheading the beast. As the last of the orcs died, the party rushed to aid Vlad. They pulled free the impaling spear and raced to control the bleeding. Albrecht, murmuring a melodic, continuous prayer to Myrmida, performed a desperate battlefield surgery. Reiner stilled the screaming boy’s struggles through the work, as Arthus and Maximo kept pressure on his shredded face and ruined torso. After a torturous hour, Vlademar had collapsed into shock and the party sat stunned at Albrecht’s miraculous work.

SESSION 2
The men fashioned a litter from broken spears and Orc-clothes, bearing Vlademar back to the mouth of the cavern. There they set him by a fire, sheltered by the horses, trusting the storm to keep enemies from wandering in from outside. Nursing hopes of ancient treasure to fund their campaign, they steadied their nerves and prepared to return to the depths. For a full day they journeyed into the earth. Cobwebbed chambers yawned to the distant ceiling as winding stairs gave way to dizzying sky-bridges. The primordial earthworks of the dwarves overawed the crusaders, as staggering monuments to the ancestor gods guarded a cavernous, spiralling city that reached to the depths of the earth. “Has anyone ever heard of this place?” Arthus asked the empty chamber. None had, though it was surely a greater city than ever was built by men.

Finally the chasm was bisected by a slender, impossible rampart. Across it’s length lay an immense golden arch and an echoing throne room let by a dusty column of reflected sunlight. As the crusaders crept forward, they spotted the Orcish sentries; there was no hope of surprise. A black-hafted arrow shrieked out of the dark and struck Arthus in the leg, punching through muscle and grating against the bone. He staggered on through the pain, as his comrades crashed into the greenskins ranks. These were bigger and darker beasts than they had fought before, wielding massive cleavers with blinding strength. The clash of metal echoed into the abyss below them, and with each blow they risked a fall into the endless black. Arthus blocked a staggering slash, his blade struck free of his gauntleted grip. His sword drifted, spinning off into oblivion. As the Orc raised it's weapon for a killing blow, Reiner stepped past his brother and buried his axe his attacker’s head. He kicked hard into it’s chest, launching it off after the sword. It’s seemingly endless screams followed the party as the pressed on through the archway.

The city within had been pillaged and desecrated, crude idols to foul gods built of filth, graffitied obelisks and cracked, plundered vaults. They travelled for hours more, finally coming down a corridor to a den of carousing goblins. Caught unaware, the drowsing monsters were butchered quickly, save for a runt that skittered free unnoticed. At the last moment, Albrecht tried to give chase, but burst into a chamber of a dozen sleeping Orcs! Freezing in the doorway, he watched as the goblin battered at a true giant of an Orc, a slumbering mountain of steaming muscle and iron. Irritated by the noise, the warboss blearily snatched up the goblin and ate it, but as it roused it caught sight of the old knight backing gingerly out of the room. It gave an ear-shattering bark, snorting and banging it's massive hammer on the table. It's roars woke one of it's lieutenants, who eagerly snatched up a weapon turned to advance on the door.

Glancing backwards, Albrecht saw that the party had caught up with him. He quickly signaled for them to hide around the doorframe, setting himself in clear view of the warboss. Stunning his comrades with his language, he unleashed a torrent of horrific insults at the chieftain, boasting, taunting and generally seeking to provoke it into the trap. The beast merely looked at him quizzically, then motioned the lieutenant forward.

An epic duel ensued, in which the old warriors skillful strikes scored deep wounds again and again. He deftly parried, swiftly struck and answered every return blow with a riposte, but the monstrous constitution of the Orcish warrior saw it shrug off truly awful damage. It fought on for several minutes with a punctured lung, before breathlessness seized and it fell from it's feet deceased.

Gladly, the roars of the warboss failed to rouse the other Orcs from their stupor. It bellowed it's outrage and barreled through the doorway, brutally stampeding Albrecht off of his feet. As it raised it's hammer to crack his skull, Arthus struck from behind. He buried his borrowed bastard-sword deep into it's torso, the tip of the blade protruding from it's opposite armpit. It spun, searching for a foe, the motion ripping the weapon free from his grip. For a moment it glared at him with beady, baleful eyes, before stomping him in the face with the butt of its weapon. The blow split open the young knight's face and he collapsed with blood pumping from a broken nose. Maximo deftly sidestepped the creature, bringing his hammer down on it's kneecap; he was rewarded with a meaty crunch. The Orc grunted and grabbed him by the throat. He wheezed, sawing frantically at it's fingers with his falchion. It easily lifted him from the ground, crushing the air and blood from his head. Albrecht tried to heave to his feet, battering his sword against it's greaves, but it brought a booted heel down on his chest and his weapon clattered uselessly from nerveless fingers. With a mighty two-handed woodsman's swing, Reiner chopped deeply into the chieftain's shoulder. The blade stuck fast, and the beast responded with a tree-trunk fist to his stomach. Reiner doubled over winded, then was hurled across the room as Maximo was flung at him. They hit the wall hard, barely hanging on to consciousness. Head ringing, blood leaking from his ears and lips, Reiner picked up the lieutenant's fallen choppa. The warboss, bleeding rivulets, began trying to rip free the many weapons that impaled it. As it looked up it received a final, cleaving blow to the brainpan. It's thick, unnatural skull split and black, soupy liquid leaked down to fill it's lungs. With a gurgle, it expired in a pool of the party's blood.

Battered, aching and holding their wounds, the party frantically picked the monster's pockets. Though finding no great bounty of treasure, there were a few jewels, baubles and potentially valuable odds and ends. Reiner fumed, swearing that he didn't come so far to leave without a prize. Laboriously, he stripped the great monster of it's patchwork armor and claimed it for himself. Finally, dragged away by his comrades, he lumbered after them back to the stairs, leaving the still slumbering Orc horde oblivious in their beds.

SESSION 3

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