Pathfinder Kingmaker

The Ruins of Varnhold
there was hope there, and a future, once

According to the records maintained by the realm, Varnhold had a population of 2325 as of 4720, along with a few hundred others living in the nearby mountains and some uncounted number on the plains to the west. Those plains were officially part of the Kingdom of the Mistmarches to a distance of about 25 miles west of the foothills, but in reality no forces of the kingdom had asserted control down there, ever. It was a frontier, for the most part empty due to the rocky terrain and deep gorges cut by spring run-off from the peaks. It formed a natural and convenient buffer of 20 or more miles between what the Mistmarches knew it could easily control and the edge of what the Nomen people actually inhabited. Both claimed the overlap; neither contested it to a level worth worrying about.

After the brief war with one branch of the Nomen a decade before, and the secret quarantine of the horrible tomb up in the mountains above the ancient town, Varnhold had been established as a small, defensible outpost that ended up growing quickly beyond what was originally planned by the kings. As of the last census, most of the population was involved directly in farming or mining, and life was stable, if austere. So long as people didn’t range to far east they were left alone by the barbarians; and the barbarians with any sense didn’t come west.

Thus, when two groups of Nomen appeared before dawn, the town was completely surprised. One had made its way through the rough terrain to the east, taking no-one-knows what precautions to stay unseen, while the other came in on the northern pike, appearing somewhere from out of the hill country, also unseen. The northern, and larger, Mosh was heavy with cavalry and took advantage of the fine road to make close the distance to the town quickly once they were spotted, while those coming in from the east rose out of the rough brush and rocks to surround the town from the east and south. The only means of escape was through Varnhold Pass, and the road there, but so quick was the attack that the defenders – virtually everyone able – were unable to disengage from the assault in order to manage an orderly or protected retreat.

The weak and old were unable to do anything but stay in locked rooms and hope. Those who saw the way things were going and fled – either initially as cowards or later when the general retreat was called – didn’t make it far before being run down by barbarian horsemen. Once the walls of the town were breached it was only an hour before much of it was in flames, laid waste by the frenzy of violence. The Nomen, nomads to their core, had no use for so many permanent structures and, in fact, saw them as a blight on their land. Few things heavier than could be carried by one man on a horse were left intact, and fire was a fine way to clear the land.

By mid-day there were few left alive other than the attackers. Prisoners were rounded up and abused. Some few would be left alive as slaves, while most would be raped, beaten, raped again, and killed in ritual games that would take place that night. The bodies of those killed in the attack were dropped off the cliffs south of town, while those that were unlucky enough to survive the assault would, after their murders, be eaten by the Nomen.

The Nomen weren’t cannibals aside from rituals of victory – and the defeat and destruction of a settlement was among the greatest victories that could be had, and any of those in the attacking Mosh could remember. The Prophet had restored their sense of identity, sense of purpose, and direction. They would spend the night in celebration, and then next day strike out to the west, in search of more victory.

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Meta Post: The Geography of War

The Kingdom of the Mistmarches is about 300 miles wide and some 120 miles high. Here’s a map that marks the major cities, roads, and terrain. The area east of Varnhold – the lowlands to the east of the Tors of Levenies (light yellow with three bushes in each hex) was the frontier between the realm’s holdings and the lands of the Nomen barbarians. The mountains were the firm eastern border, and the town of Varnhold, reinforced with a wall and sitting in the hills above the plains, was the only sanctioned settlement on the east side of the mountains.

Remember that each hex is 12 miles across. The red roads enable quick, efficient travel. A road does connect Pitax to Freeton – I have not updated the map itself in many years.

Enemy forces are currently known to be in the following hexes:

  • Immediately to the SE (lower right) of Silverstep, north of the river there
  • Along the road from Varnhold through the mountains and between the two rivers just west of Varnhold Pass (not marked on the map, but obviously immediately west of the town itself). The western of those two rivers (the form an inverted ‘V’ just north of the road) has a very nice bridge over it, and the horde is within reach of it, it seems.
  • Finally, the enemy holds the hexes east of their routes of march, and no contact has been had from Varnhold itself. In fact, no contact was every had from it at all – it just dropped off the radar…no sending stone messages; nothing.
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Zion Steps In...It
A king of the Mistmarches tries to set the tone

After resting, being briefed on what was known by nightfall and then what happened overnight while he slept – he had no choice, if he were to be any use with his sorcery – Zion pondered the situation, alone in his suite. His personal living quarters was made up of several rooms, one of which was what he called the “Overlook.” It was warded against scrying, had no windows, and itself had maps and an intricate diorama of the eastern portion of the kingdom built on a large table along one wall. It was here that he met with his top aides and considered issues of great import, although usually he retired to the room alone, the better to focus his thoughts.

From what scouts – both arcane and mundane – had reported, there were at least two columns of invaders. The first was to the south, and had already passed through Levenie Pass – this one was the one that he’d bloodied the day before. That group had continued its march into the lowlands and was now only a few miles south of Silverstep, arraying itself on the plains there, and ruining the fields cultivated by numerous farmers. They seemed poised to attack the city this day.

The other force had battered its way through Varnhold Pass, to the north, early the night before, sweeping aside a blocking force similar to what Captain Cross had commanded. A few troops from that force, unlike those in the south, had escaped, telling a story of a massed horde preceded by arcane assault, this time by both fire and lightning. In both cases it seemed that the defenders were hammered with magical attacks and then overrun by massed infantry and some cavalry. Based on what he’d seen in the rear of the southern force, there was more cavalry – they just couldn’t operate well in the confines of the passes.

That northern force had also made it through the pass and was moving westward, or perhaps southwestward toward Silverstep – it wasn’t know by day break.

There were also unconfirmed rumors of other attacks north of the mountains, and even one of some threat to the west, between Silverstep and Misthaven. As with any chaotic situation, it would take time to straighten out was was true and what was rumor – but time was exactly what Zion knew he lacked.

Regardless, Zion had decided what he was going to do: focus first on that greater immediate threat to populated areas, namely Silverstep. After leaving the Overlook he addressed his aides, briefing them on what he was going to do and what they were to do. Not long after sunrise, armored and armed, he disappeared in a flash of arcane energy, leaving only his aides’ ears popping and the faint smell of charcoal behind him.

An instant later he appeared in the air above the invaders, invisible, and looking for a good place to land. Within moments he’d found what looked like a command tent, and nearby he timed his landing to coincide with a blast of air, throwing up a huge cloud of dirt and dust, knocking over a number of people, horses, and small, portable structures, and a second or two later himself dropping his invisibility, appearing as a shadowy form within the cloud.

With his voice enhanced with his magic, and every defensive spell he could cast together active on him, he called out to the attackers.

“I am Zion, a king of the Mistmarches. Your invasion of our lands will not stand. You will be crushed, defeated, and sent fleeing from the Kingdom of the Mistmarches and, if needs be, harried along the way to your holes where you will meet your end – all of you!” his voice boomed, causing some nearby to cover their ears for the volume. Before continuing he blasted a group of warriors nearby with a massive fireball, but left the command tent alone.

“Your one chance to surrender is now. Give up this foolish attempt and…” he boomed, but before he could finish his sentence he felt the ground shake beneath him and, a split second later, was thrown into the air by a massive shockwave. Landing as well as he could, he ended up on one knee, still holding onto his spear. The ground beneath him was suddenly soft – no, not just soft, but wet, and sticky, and out of it sprouted vines that grabbed at him like so many tentacles.

Taking an instant to try and escape, he felt stinging pain in his legs as the thorny vines wrapped quickly around him and squeezed. Despite his defenses he was quickly becoming ensnared. Making a split-second decision to hit them again he blasted the command tent with another fireball, then fell through the dimension door he’d readied in the event of something…unexpected…happening. Reappearing an instant later in the great hall of his keep, he fell to the floor, partially wrapped in still-writhing vines, each oozing glistening liquid from their many thorns. Without thinking he grabbed at one to pull it off his leg and felt a burning pain in his palm as his flesh was pierced multiple times. Shaking his hand to get the thing off, he found that it was stuck. The writhing had stopped, but the several vines were attached to him, biting into his flesh.

Two of his aides, one of them a mage of no small ability, tried to help, using his spear and some of their own equipment to pull the dead vines from him. Within moments of the king reappearing he was dizzy and feeling weak, but the vines had been pulled off him. The many small thorns, however, were a different issue, with some stuck in a palm and others embedded in his shins. He slumped to the floor, overwhelmed by whatever poison had entered his system.

“My lord…how do you feel? My lord…?” asked Cyrus Vary, to which the king could only respond with wide eyes and a choking sound.

“Get Father Thromby , NOW!” shouted Vary, while the other man dashed for a nearby cabinet in which powerful healing potions were locked.

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"I need information - now!"
Pik's frustration boils over

Pikandrozonomere stalked back and forth in his diplomatic office, fuming with anger. He’d barked at just about every one of his ambassadors, using up almost all the Sending Stones they had. He’d yelled at several of his undercover agents, too, and sent his chief of staff, telling the man to not return until he had “answers worth hearing.” Rarely had anyone seen the gnome lose his temper to this extent, but lost it he had and now he was fighting with himself to regain control of his emotions, which had grown in intensity as the years had passed. Most knew gnomes as generally cheerful creatures, but they tended to become more emotionally volatile in middle age, especially if they lived more sedentary lives. In a small place in him mind he knew he’d gone over the line with many people since the invasion, but he was having a tough time reeling himself in.

The door opened and he jerked his head toward it, ready to start yelling again, but caught himself before any words passed his lips. Gurple, his wife walked in and shut the door behind her.

“I’m busy – I’m sorry but whatever it is i don’t have time right now,” he said curtly, hoping that she’d accept his words and leave. Instead she approached him, staring him directly in the eyes. His jaw, shoulders, and back tightened.

“I’m not going anywhere until you get yourself under control,” she said in a cool, firm tone. She rarely dropped her pleasant demeano, but when she did it was best to listen. He force himself to keep his mouth shut and she prepared to continue.

“You have a job to do and we are all depending on you to do it with a clear head. Those people working for you are doing their best, and will continue to do it – but if you keep raging like this their best won’t be good enough. You know better,” she said, arms crossed.

Pik felt her words, thought about her words, and considered his response.

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War Room, Tuskwater Castle
can't move too quickly; can't over-analyze

The King’s Own, some cavalry, and what reserves could be mustered had left the city on a hard march a few hours before, and now it was the kings’ job to decide what else to do, and figure out how. Reg had made a point, over the years, of developing an efficient staff system within the government, relying on competent officials to handle the execution of orders and handling of situations across the wide kingdom once leadership had made the bigger decisions. The Kingdom of the Mistmarches was unique in this respect, with a great many of the realm’s governmental and defense operations run by, essentially, commoners – albeit ones who’d risen through the ranks of their area of expertise and could be trusted in both character and judgment.

And so orders had already been issued across the land, putting the small regular military on alert, with most units already in the process of moving, and calling into service the reserves and any volunteers. This would take time – days, actually – but the forced wait would also provide them with time to determine exactly what was happening, where, by whom, and hopefully how to deal with it without giving into fear or being fooled any more by what was a skilled and gutsy enemy.

Anton, Pik, Reg, and Akiros, along with a few of their personal assistants, stood around the map and thought. Over the years Anton’s role as the face of the kingdom had led to him being increasingly recognized as the leader, too. The other kings, by their own agreement, were co-equal, but all of them knew that Anton was the one king of the Mistmarches, and that it would be one of his children that would ascend to the single throne, one day.

“Once we have an idea where the real threat lies, I need to be with that army,” Anton stated, saying what everyone else in the room knew. The figurehead of the realm needed to be with the main army to show the people that their leaders were taking the fight back to the enemy. And Anton was not just a figurehead, having demonstrated his skill as both a battlefield commander and strategic thinking years before.

“Agreed, m’lord,” answered Sir Akiros, who would be responsible for the civil defense forces of Misthaven, and would thus form the last line of defense for the city, and Tuskwater Castle.

Pik fidgeted a bit and cleared his throat, as was his wont when he was about to embark on serious discussion.

“Our ambassadors and operatives abroad have nothing on this – there are no declarations of war, nor cold shoulders. This does not appear to have originated in the River Kingdoms, nor from the north. Even Galt is quiet right now, for once. I believe that whoever is behind this must have been working among the tribes of the Dunsward, quietly organizing them.” He left the unspoken admission of this coming as a complete surprise unsaid. Peace had its price, and part of it came in the form of complacency. The barbarians of the Dunsward had been a pain the neck on the frontiers, but always in small groups. They stuck to their own lands and rarely were a problem. The untamed lands to the realm’s distant east were not a concern, and since there were no nations to which ambassadors could be sent, nor even much for operatives and spies to look after, the region had been ignored. It saved money. It saved effort and time. The border – the Tors of Levenies – would keep them at bay, and after all, they’d always kept to themselves. Pik had already gone through all this, and knew it was all rational – but his people were now dying, and his most important duty to the realm was to keep it informed of threats from abroad. He knew, at least in some way, that he’d failed.

Reg had already provided his report on the status of the government’s response, the status of food and water storage here and there, and the overall state of the realm in regards to an invasion they neither wanted nor had expected. It was Anton’s turn to provide some clarity.

“When the rest of the Tuskwater Dragoons and the garrison from Myralanna arrive, I will lead them wherever the fight is,” Anton began. “Reg, you will run affairs of state in my absence with Pik’s assistance and, Pik,” he said, turning to the gnome, “we need our allies and enemies to know that we are on top of this problem and will solve it. I do not want any opportunists joining the fray.” To this Pik and Reg nodded.

His jaw tight and muscles tense, Anton worked hard to keep the rage out of his voice.

“To say that I am angry is an understatement. We have been good neighbors for a long time, even to our bad neighbors. We have treated those goat-humping savages with decency and have left them alone. I don’t care what or who has got them worked up in this lather. We are going to crush them and take their land, even if we don’t want it when we’re done with them. I’ll take it as a buffer to whatever else is out there, and a message to everyone else.”

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"All as I have foreseen..."
Behind the lines

‘I like what I see,’ the Prophet thought while listening to the Mosh leaders discuss their operations of the last few days and their plans for the next.

“You have all done well,” the Prophet said quietly, immediately drawing the attention of the large men sitting around the fire. The flames cast shadows wildly about the inside of the tent, and even though they were a loud bunch, the voice of their inspiration and motivating force behind the war somehow stood above the din.

“Tomorrow will be even greater. You will move on Silverstep and through Varnhold Pass and I will move before you and they will suffer and you will regain your lands and I will ensure that they will no longer threaten what is to be so and all will be well in my eyes and…” the Prophet continued like this for some time, speaking in a near-monotone with no break in what seemed like one impossibly long breath. This was how it usually went, with the leaders listening, in wrapt attention at the truths spoken to them. They would be reminded of what had been, have what was going on explained to them, and would be promised what was to come. And the Prophet was always right. Sometimes their conclusions or estimates did not match perfectly with what came to pass, but in retrospect everything happened as the Prophet foretold. And days hence, they would hear the truths again, each time moving forward into the future.

They were about to experience a great victory, and the balance their ancestors had once enjoyed and promoted would be restored, with the Nomen sovereign again, in service of the great Ones From Behind the Veil, who had brought life to these once-barren lands before the days were counted.

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"We'll eat on the march, sir..."
An old soldier sallies forth once again

Jaeris Alcorn felt a little odd wearing the rank of an officer, to say nothing of that rank itself – general. He’d spent his previous life as a soldier, a sergeant – a warrior and then trainer of men, and leader of them in and from the trenches. His rank in the mercenary company, that of the unit’s Sergeant Major and therefore senior non-commissioned officer, suited his personality and self-image well.

In reality he’d led the company as would an officer, and beyond that the unit was more the size of an understaffed battalion than a company. But Jaerus had always felt comfortable thinking of himself as a senior among the men – and not senior above them. He shook off the thoughts as he listened to his chief-of-staff’s report on the units that had been assembled that day and were ready to move eastward. They represented one active company of infantry, a cavalry scout troop – from the Tuskwater Dragoons, no less – and about a company’s worth of reserves and volunteers, plus maybe a platoon’s worth of Wands. It was far less than he’d wanted, and probably less than they would need, but it would have to do for now.

Reserves and units from the west were being assembled and moved, but distance and time would hamper their assistance. Those, and the fact that this attack was as of yet unknown in size and true goal – if the foe was skilled, this could easily be a feint intended to set the realm off reacting stupidly while the killing blow fell elsewhere.

The commander nodded. His top aide was very good at the details and at making sure to ask the questions others either forgot or avoided. He probably wouldn’t make a great battlefield commander on his own, but he was good at the right hand.

“Very well. We are in the best shape we can be. Issue the orders to move in 20 minutes, with the Dragoons in the lead, deployed as scouts, the King’s Own at the head of the main column, and the Wands and Reserves in the place of 3rd Battalion,” he said in reply to the man’s report. Those smaller, irregular forces would take up a position in the march within the one regular unit, enclosed while on the move by soldiers who could be relied on to keep order and pace.

The orders were issued and soon the few hundred troops were on their way, marching out of the city under the eyes of the many Marchers who lined the streets and gazed, fearfully, proudly, from windows and rooftops. Before moving out of the stable yard, Alcorn turned to Tuskwater Castle and gazed at the flag fluttering immediately under that of the realm: a long, red pennant bearing only the image of a downward-pointing sword: the war flag of the Mistmarches. A few floors below the top of the highest tower, kings Anton, Reg, and now Pik stood, watching the troops move out.

Alcorn sat straight in his saddle by reflex and saluted before turning to the east.

“Army of the Mistmarches! Foward, MARCH!”

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Zion's Arrival in Silverstep

The silver dragon circled Silverstep a few times for dramatic effect then flew to the south and east, over the foothills and then first range of the Tors of Levenies, in search of the invaders.

The barbarian troops were not hard to find, in the mid-day clear and moving swiftly toward the lowlands. At their current pace they’d break out onto the plains south of the city and lake by nightfall – much faster than originally anticipated, and from what Zion had been told. He knew they must be well-led, disciplined, and perhaps aided by some arcane or divine powers – or all three. The Nomen were tough and savage, but never on a large scale. This tugged at Zion’s thoughts as he flew beyond them, giving him something rational to consider, helping him to focus rather than giving in to the anger that had been growing since he left Mishaven.
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Perhaps, he thought, this was a good opportunity to push back a little and see how they’d respond to positive force.

Swooping down from above the clouds, where his dull white underbelly had made him almost invisible to those on the ground, he dove hard for the rear of the long column, still in the pass. The screams of surprise and too-late orders barked in response had not yet reached the draconic ears before he was within range and unleashed a long cone of freezing air, which froze the ambient water between his mouth and the wagons and supply litters and blasted the men and horses below.

He did another few passes, with the same attack, trying to also swat at the enemy with his tail as he turned to make each new pass. Arrows bounced off his armored hide and some spears made deep scratches. It was not until a blast of flame hit his right side, scorching his wing, that he pulled skyward and moved swiftly for the front of the invading force.

Reflexively he barked expletives in draconic, the natural tongue to this form, putting words to the pain he felt. They had an arcane caster down there, or some wants or scrolls. Moments later he saw the lead of the van, and perhaps a mile ahead of them a scouting force…he’d hit that.

And hit it he did, with the fury caused by this invasion inflamed by the throbbing, burning pain he now felt. The scout force was not, it seemed equipped with magic, and gave back as best as it could with spear, bow, and javelin, and given how close Zion got to them, using claw and tail, he took more damage. But a group of scouts was not equal to the dragon, which killed many and dispersed a few, and grabbed one – maybe the leader. This one he flew back over the main force and dropped from a few hundred feet before winging his way back to Silverstep, making sure to circle the city a few times to make sure he was seen by the invaders – seen as being the protector of their target.

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In Silverstep
it's coming

A plume of black smoke rose above the Tors in the area of Levenie Pass. Devon T’Shea, the Lord-Mayor, and a small group of top advisors and aids looked out the window of the keep’s tower for a moment, then returned to their planning. It was mid-morning, and what was left of the garrison in the city was equipping the reserves and any volunteers who looked steady enough to wield a club. The armory was nearly empty of weapons, armor, and other supplies. The academy, attached to King Zion’s residence, was also buzzing with activity as the handful of students and faculty readied themselves.

Ooryss Van Thelten, one of Zion’s top assistants, had used arcane means to get an eye on what had happened in the pass: total destruction of the advance force. The pass had been partially blocked, she could see, and it would slow down the horsemen and barbarian foot soldiers some – but it would not stop them. If any of Cross’ company had survived they were either captives or had fled into the rough mountains. The next stop of that horde was Silverstep, and at the rate one could expect such a force to move, they could reach the town by daybreak, next day. Perhaps 20 hours on the outside; maybe less time if they marched hard. And there were no natural defensive chokepoints between where the invaders had reached in the pass and the gentle foothills that hugged the western slopes of the Tors. The battle for Silverstep would take place on the plains to its south and east, and probably shortly thereafter in its streets.

King Zion had been reached by remote means and he was expected to return any minute. The monthly meeting of the kings had concluded a few days before, and Zion and his family had taken some time to travel, far away. He would expend no small amount of his magic to simply return to Silverstep.

The kings, in Misthaven, were no doubt calling forth the reserves, dispatching troops, and trying to get a handle on the highly fluid situation. Years ago, when PItax had suddenly and ferociously attacked within the realm’s borders, the grit and skill of the kings and their forces were able to recover from what could have been a terrible defeat.

Hopefully, after so many years of peace, they could accomplish the same.

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In Defense of Levenie Pass
Rangers, volunteers, and what soldiers were avaiable

Michael Cross had served full time in the small garrison of Silverstep, working his way from enlisted to non-com to officer since the war with Pitax. Everyone had to go that route, regardless of birth, wealth, or connections. The system was good at sorting people to where their talents were best used – either as a soldier, trainer, specialist, or leader. Cross was an excellent soldier, a forgettable trainer, and an inspiring leader. His company had, with the assistance of a team of Mistborn Rangers, moved swiftly to the southernmost pass that led from the eastern Tors directly to Silverstep. It, along with Varnhold Pass some 50 miles to the north, were the two largest and more strategically important routes across the spine of the Tors. Whatever invasion was coming would come through both or one of those passes.
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Cross had only had a few hours after a tiring day-long march into the mountains, but he and his men made the best of what they had in time and materials. They’d collapsed part of the narrowest stretch of the pass they could reach, just west of the high point, relying on strength, shovels, and two casters who’d rode with them. Their work would not stop an army, but it would slow it down. Cross could see that his troops – not quite 100 of them – were arrayed in the best positions they could create and find. And his troops were the best he could find on short notice: five Mistborn Rangers, about 50 actual soldiers from the garrison, and the rest were auxiliaries or volunteers. They’d have to do. Reinforcements could not arrive until later in the day – and that’s if the dynamic of the developing situation allowed it. Cross was feeling unusually grim about the day, and being very bad at concealing his mood, he pulled his visor down so that others could not see just how dark his expression had become.

The eastern sky grew lighter; the stars near the horizon had disappeared. The moon had long ago set in the west. There was sound to their front – scrapes, scurries, movement. Cross and his senior non-com, an elf, laid in their position and scanned the pass in front of them, trying to see through the early buds and leaves sprouting on so many trees.

Theren nudged his commander and pointed to a cluster of rocks and brush at the edge of his vision and on the right side of the pass. Cross strained his eyes through the looking glass, and saw movement.
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Through the cross hairs of the looking glass Cross could just see an old, seemingly frail woman walk slowly, tentatively, onto the path. She looked a little confused, unsteady, and definitely not threatening. Was she a refugee, driven forward by the attackers? He watched as she moved forward some, weaving a bit like a…drunk? Very strange this was. Cross nodded to a nearby archer to be ready, in case this was some kind of trick.

When she was still over 100 feet away from their position – which itself was slightly to the rear of the forward-most troops, arrayed behind a breastwork and behind boulders on the sides of the pass – she stopped, looked around at nothing in particular, spit on the ground, and clapped her hands in front of her chest suddenly. A tiny, glowing mote sprung forth when her palms met, flying so fast as to be almost impossible to follow. Before anyone had a chance to speak, move, or otherwise respond, it had flown over Cross, where it exploded into a massive, roiling ball of fire that spread across the center of the line, sucking out lungs, charring skin, and blasting aside hastily-built defenses. Before the screams of the dying and injured began, the war cries of the Mosh broke what was left of the morning calm.

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