The Next Last Stand
The “Next Last Stand” is a campaign idea, which spawned a bit of fiction. Both are presented below.
Campaign Idea: “The Next Last Stand”
You build a character explicitly to begin with a scene where you died heroically, delaying enemy forces in a last stand that achieves greatness, even though your death is inevitable.
Encounter 2 is with the rogue Valkyrie who recruits you, in death, to join the Verloren, the “Lost Troops” who are the only hope for staving off a planar apocalypse.
Fiction: Last Stand of Knight’s Bridge
“Stay calm! If you can’t carry it, set it aside. Do not block the path! Move, quickly.”
Valaina’s voice was ragged, the warning harsher in her throat the fiftieth time than it had been when she first shouted it an hour ago. There were still refugees streaming past her, rushing out of Arches Square and the roads that ran into Oldstep and the Tanner’s Town. But the numbers were far fewer, and she realized with a shock most of those running toward the Knight’s Bridge now were truly carrying only small bundles, and several showed smoke stains on their clothes.
And a few had wounds.
She turned to her cohort and waved to indicate they should keep directing people to move over the bridge, toward the relative safety of Aldenear Citadel.
Her eyes scanned for, and quickly spotted, a lanky blue-skinned lad in a hauberk, carrying a massive plate of wood and steal over his shoulder and guarding the closest avenue from Oldstep.
“Sinjin!”He turned at the sound of her voice. “How close is the main force?”
The lean orc armiger set his bulwark shield against the corner of the lesser Knight Bridge tower, and nimbly climbed up its tightly-fit stone side as if it was a ladder, the weight of his armor and toolkits slowing him down not one bit. Once he reached the peaked roof he braced a leg and swing out like the lookout in a ship’s rigging, barely hanging on to the tower with one hand and using the other to shade his eyes from the flashing light of magebolts streaking back and forth across the skies.
His face looked paler than usual, but his voice was calm and strong.
“They’re marching through Oldstep now, lady. They could rush us in ten minutes, or a tad less, if they rushed us. But are clearing every arch and building.” He paused, then looked down at her. “There won’t be many more fleeing to use from there, m’lady.”
Valaina nodded and waved him down—his keen eyesight, and it’s ability to cut through smoke and haze, were worth the risk of running him up high once, but she’d not leave him there to be a target for mage or sling-stone.
Besides, she was going to need him soon.
She marched calmly to where the Tower Guard were holding the line onto the bridge proper, and maneuvered herself next to Guard Kinnon, the watch commander, and Elder Berett, though the “elder” was no more than twenty summers old, and the bands of mastery on his robe cuffs had been roughly stitched in place just hours earlier.
“Liegemen, it’s time to prepare the withdrawal. The enemy is nearly upon us. We’ll want to give people every change to make it to Aldenear, but once the enemy is here it’ll be too late to begin to fall back. We need ordered lines, and warn the yeomen some folk aren’t going to make it. We can’t let that break the formation.”
Kinnon nodded and turned to begin giving orders, but Berett put a hand on the guard’s shoulder.
“Can’t we redirect refugees to go around the moat and killing field? Rush through the city to the farther gates? The enemy is just coming up this one direction, so far, so surely some of them could enter Aldenear from the harbor-side? I know they won’t all make it, but…”
Before Valiana could speak, Kinnon shook his head and cut Berett off.
“Once the enemy forces take the Knight’s Bridge, the citadel will have to close the curtainwall gates. And the bridges—ALL the bridges—will be brought down by sappers. Those fleeing from the far side will be cut off as well, with little warning. Otherwise the moat and killing field won’t serve their purpose.” Kinnon waited a moment, staring into Berett’s eyes to see that the young Elder had understood, the turned and walked to his men, leaving Berett’s hand hovering mid-air.”
Berett turned to Valaina, his eyes wide.
“M’Lady, most of the city will be fleeing through the far gates. There are far more neighborhoods with access to the Queen’s Gate and Harbor Gate. If those are closed and their bridges destroyed as the enemy takes Knight’s Tower…”
Valaina nodded, grimly.
“You’re right Elder, but there’s nothing to be done for it. It’d take hours to evacuate the city, and it’s not time we have. Once the bridges come down, any remaining cityfolk will have to flee into the fields. They’ll have no walls, but the invaders can’t sweep the surrounding lands thoroughly until the citadel is taken.”
A hint of desperation came into Berett’s voice.
“My lady, they have necrothurges! Every death will swell their ranks. Which means every minute we buy here not only saves our own, it robs them of more troops. If we hold the Knight’s Bridge Towers, even briefly, we buy the city more time to flee through the far gates.”
Valaina shook her head. She nodded to the assembled guard, who were nearly in formation preparing to move slowly back from the two Knight’s Gate Towers. Only a trickle of refugees fled past them now.
“If we hold, all who stay here are lost. There will be no relief for us, and the oncoming forced will overwhelm us. I cannot ask the yeoman guard to die here, they will be needed on the citadel’s walls soon. And my cohort alone cannot stave off this advance As you note, they have necrothurges. Without a warder…”
“I’m a warder.” Berett voice was calm, for this first time since he had arrived at the towers.”
“Elder…” Valaina began gently.
Berett shook his head. “I don’t mean I am a warder because I am an Elder. I know these” he waved vaguely at the bands on the end of robe’s sleeves, “are a measure of desperation. But I am a trained warder, lady. I came up through the Siege and Fortifications college of the House of Abjuration. Put me in a tower,” he nodded at the greater Knight’s Bridge Tower, “and I can screen a unit of two score or more against all hexes and maledictions. I swear it.”
Valaina looked at her cohort. Nine squires, each lacking only patrons and experience from being full knights. Ten armigers, each with a massive bulwark shield. They could span the gap between towers, but…
“We haven’t the support, Berett. We’d need lancers, crossbows in the towers…”
Berett, very much looking an Elder for the first time, turned to the assembled guard formation.
“Who among you yeoman have family on the far side of the city?”
Half the assembled guards raised their weapons, spears and crossbows held high.
“How many will give their lives to buy those families more time to flee to Aldenear?”
Not a single weapon lowered.
Berett turned back to Valaina. “Thirty, maybe forty defenders lost here. To prevent hundreds or thousands from becoming soldiers for the Adversary. Tactically, a good trade.”
Sinjin had come up beside Valaina, and when she glanced at him, he nodded, almost imperceptibly.
A distant scream echoed up from the streets of Oldstep, but was cut short.
“We are guided by your wisdom Elder. Kinnon!” The guard commander turned from his formation. “Ten lancers, ten crossbowyers, volunteers only. Those without families and older than thirty take precedence. Then get across that bridge immediately, and beyond the curtainwall. No lingering, not for anything!”
Kinnon began selecting men and women with their weapons raised, and dressing the line to fill the gaps.
“Sinjin, set the armigers. Bulwarks down, one swordsman behind each, one lancer behind that. Also one at each tower door. Elder?”
Sinjin rushed off, and Berett looked at her.
“Take the crossbowyers. Six to your tower, and they guard you above all else. Four to the other tower. As long as you ward us, we’ll hold.”
Eyes wet, Elder Berett nodded, and hurried over the the gathered crossbow-armed guards. Kinnon’s remaining unit was already falling back, and a single old man with a ragged bundle–fat cat sitting atop it–was scurrying up to rush with them across the bridge.
Valaina marched over to her position, the center of the line of defenders, behind Sinjin.
From the streets into Oldstep, a shambling figure staggered forth. It was dirty, and hunched, missing most of its face and part of its left arm.
Behind it, were many more.
Sinjin’s strong voice bellowed, and he drew a hatchet and braced his massive bulwark.
“ALL TOGETHER, IN THIS LIFE AND THE NEXT!”
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