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Shadowfaze

IC: The Dark Crusade

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Allastad nodded to Ratigan and made his way to the barracks, moving silently to avoid waking the captain. Ratigan had been correct, he could feel the evil presence and even while they were at the table with the captain he could see strange figures passing by the window and sinister people entering. As he approached the barracks he readied his bow, preparing for a fight. He opened the barrack door slowly and peered inside, the room was empty. He walked through the room slowly trying hard to make as little noise as possible. Weapons and supplies littered the floors and beds were left in disarray, the guards must have left in a hurry though for what he could not say. Allastad approached a door leading to the training area of the battlements, he opened the door slowly and peered outside. There were a few guards in the training area practicing their swordsmanship and archery.

 

"They seem to be focused on training i should be able to slip by them." He thought to himself. He opened the door more to get a better view of the courtyard, not seeing any other guards about he slowly walked out the door, quietly closing it behind him and walked across the courtyard towards the barracks on the opposite side when he heard a voice behind him.

"Are you lost, crusader?" Allastad turned around and saw two templars standing a little ways away from him. The templar continued in a mocking tone "Im sure there are no undead nor demons among our ranks. 

"So what brings you here?" Allastad remained silent and tightened his grip on his bow. The two templars began moving closer to him "Come now crusader, cat got your tongue? i believe my question was quite simple, i merely wonder what it is you hope to find in our barracks other than weapons and the like..but if you do not wish to tell me of your own free will then perhaps we will force it out of you.

"As he reached for his sword Allastad raised his bow and fired his readied arrow hitting the templar in the center of his chest, He began to ready another arrow when he was rushed by the second templar. He quickly rolled out of the way as the sword came down inches from him and drew his sword and stood up, preparing for a fight.

Edited by Shadowfaze

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With Allastad gone in another direction, to the battlements, Ratigan drew his axe (Better in a stealthy situation and smaller, easier to swing in confined spaces) and carefully opened the door to the cross-junction of rooms, hoping one would lead him to the kitchens. After he entered, the door slammed behind him of it's own accord, and the corridor he was in was cold enough to show his breath- Impossible in a blazingly hot city, and definitely the work of dark forces. 

As he progressed along, he heard the cries of the damned and saw the walls bleed in attempt to frighten him enough to flee. He shook it off and prayed under his breath, then held his iron cross out in front of him with his left hand, keeping his right ready with the deadly axe...

With a sudden scream, a man rushed out, but Ratigan saw he was not a foe but a victim of maleficant practices. The man muttered and died, and Ratigan closed the mans eyes and silently promised to bury him when possible. Only then did he open a door and witness the horrors there...

 

Guards were tied up in the center of the room, and a heretic was killing them and butchering them in turn whilst the remained watched, unable to even speak. Ratigan wasted no time and quietly got behind the man before burying the axe in the back of his head. He then untied the guards who ran from the awful place, without even thanks. With the room clear, he went back out and found another room, locked, and the doors to the kitchens, the place of agonising screams and sadistic heretics within it... 

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      The templar swung at Allastad, who managed to block the attack. He swung back at the templar who blocked his attack, the clinging of metal drew the attention of the nearby guards who had been training. They rose their swords and approached Allastad as the archers aimed their bows at him from afar. The templar laughed, "you are outnumbered crusader, are you really so stubborn that you would choose death rather than just tell us what we wish to know?" Allastad looked around trying to think of a way of escape, he looked over to the door that he had just entered through which was now blocked by guards. He then glanced over to the other door which remained unguarded at the moment. "I might be able to get through there if i can cause a distraction." He thought to himself. The templar walked up to Allastad, "come now crusader, even you must know that it is pointless to continue. You are outnumbered, if you attempt to escape we kill you, if you fight we kill you. Now lower your sword and tell us what we wish to know."

Edited by white_dragon43

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Ratigan could hear the commotion outside as well as the awful frenzied screams in the corridors before the kitchens. He could feel a distinctly demonic presence, and his sense of dread was making his hair on his neck stand on end. He breathed and could see his breath in little clouds. Staying here would be a mistake, so he finally pushed his frozen legs forward and slammed his hands into the doors, flinging them open wide...

 

Inside, he saw the source of the screaming, people in cages being poked at by a pair of heavily built Heretics in dark robes and with long knives on poles, after heating them from the brazier in the center of the room. But the brazier provided no heat and the flames were a light blue... Rushing forward with his sword, unsheathing while running, Ratigan slashed at the first Heretic he could see with a pole. His attack was easily dodged, and another heretic stabbed at him. He had to bend to miss it puncturing him, but in the chaos his first target had been grabbed by a pair of arms from the cages, trying to wrestle the weapon away. Taking his chance to get an enemy down, Ratigan slashed the Heretic across the neck, spraying his blood out across the other attacker. He panicked, allowing Ratigan to get the advantage, cripple him with a kick and decapitate him with a stroke. It took him three separate cuts to sever such a muscled neck, but the man was dead after the first so the rest was merely a precaution out of anger and adrenaline.

 

The men and the women in the cages were shouting for rescue, but the fire in the room suddenly went out, flooding the room with icy cold, and the Ratigan watched in frozen horror as the captives went grey and glassy-eyed, falling down dead in their respective cages. He could not save them, it seemed. A trap had been a laid, some nefarious thing designed to deny him any victory in the room of hellish torture, but in his anguish he missed the cages opening, silently on the rusty hinges, and the dead rising, hands outstretched.... He saw them when one picked up one the pole blades and jerkily stabbed it at him, piercing him in the upper arm, making him drop his blade, and on standing and trying to get out of the way, dropped his handaxe too. Now unarmed, he was faced with four freshly dead reanimated bodies lunging at him. He tried to punch at ones face, but it ignored it and hit him in the face with the wooden pole, dazing him... He knew he could not fight these dead men with any success, so he tried something drastic.

 

Kicking the brazier over broke the awful heretical spell bewitching the corpses, but the flame that had animated them made them glow in thier bellies. Knowing this sign as a warning of imminent demonic explosion, he limped to the door on the other side of the kitchen, almost slipping on congealing blood, and wrenching open the heavy wooden door on the other side. On the other side, the exploding fire-bellied stenches hissed and burst with such force and flame that the door was lifted off its hinges from the other side, launching Ratigan and the door across the next corridor into a group of guards who had rushed out when they heard the hissing...

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Allastad kneeled down, setting his sword on the ground before rising back up again. "Ah, smart man." Said the templar as he walked closer to Allastad. "Now to put some bindings on your hands, just in case you get any ideas of fighting back." The templar, now standing in front of allastad, called for the guards to bring some restraints. This was Allastads chance, "if i may have a request first sir," said Allastad. The templar turned to face him, "Very well, i am a fair man. What is your request?" "Rot in the depths of hell!" Allastad headbutted the templar, dazing him long enough for Allastad to grab him and use him as a shield to reach the barracks door. Allastad opened the door while doing his best to hold the struggling templar "Unhand me crusader! Guards get this man o-- --" his words were cut short by Allastad stabbing an arrow into his throat. Allastad dropped the templars body and ran through the door and through the barracks towards the tavern where he had started.

 

Allastad reached the tavern and looked around, "Where are you Ratigan." He thought to himself. There was only one other door other than the entrance, Allastad walked up to the door and opened it. It led to a cross-junction of rooms, he could hear a hissing in the distance and saw a fiery explosion. He ran down the corridor and into the kitchen which was covered in blood and had a terrible stench. On the other side of the kitchen he saw Ratigan on the ground next to the door which must have been blown off the hinges by the explosion. There were a group of guards in front of where Ratigan laid, Allastad lifted his bow and readied an arrow, firing it into the forhead of one of the guards killing him instantly. The other two guards looked up at him and drew their swords. Allastad looked around for a weapon, having left his sword behind, and saw Ratigans hatchet laying in a puddle of blood and gore not far from his sword. Allastad quickly picked up the hatchet in one hand and the sword in another, preparing to fight. He looked up at the guards rushing towards him and threw the hatchet, hitting one in the torso and raising his sword to parry the others attack. The guard continued swinging at Allastad, who managed to block each blow, before finally seeing an oppurtunity to counter-attack. Allastad blocked another of the guards attacks and lunged forward, embedding the sword into the guards chest.

He then walked over to Ratigan and held out his hand. "You alright?"

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"Brother, am I glad to see you. These heretics... They were experimenting with the living dead, it seems" said Ratigan, taking the offered hand and letting Allastad take his weight and help him up. Since he happened to wearing his slightly charred chainmail, this was no easy task. Once risen, he looked over the carnage caused by both the explosive dead and the sudden appearance of his comrade-in-arms, he just smiled.

"Looks like you dropped your blade, Brother. We better get it back, a blade of our order will burn the hands of heretics, and reveal without doubt who we are to our foes. I have left Gromley with instructions on how to find the source, whatever devil or demon they are doing the bidding of. I'd say we have only hours left until they start raising more of these rotten men, and tear Acre apart. By the way, the signal for us is a fire lit with saint's ashes, making it burn with a mighty blue flame." Ratigan gave the room a good look around, glaring at the corpses, his face a deadly serious mask.

 

"We have no time to bury the fallen. Their funereal rites should be given still, as is our holy custom. Then, we must venture out onto the battlements and try to spot that blue flame." Ratigan got his cross out of chainmail shirt and took his bible from the chain on his hip and read to the dead.

"We honour the fallen, friend or foe, for all men are equal in death, and in the eyes of our almighty lord, amen" he said, putting his hands together as he heard Allastad reply with his own Amen.

"To the battlements. Since you left your blade, I suggest you cover me with your bow while I rush the edge. There will be resistance, this demon is throwing everything it can at us while it has these heretics under its control. Lets go."

 

Ratigan took his sword from Allastad and pulled his sword out of the guard it had struck, and went out towards the battlements gates, and was immediately met with an arrow that was hissing with black energy, and although he dodged it, it rotted the wooden gates when it hit them. "Archers above us, cover me!" cried Ratigan.

 

**

 

Gromley and Richard had left the home of the Hashhashim when they heard the explosion from the guardhouse. It had certainly stirred up the beehive, and lots of people were scurrying about in a panic.

"Right, where can we set up a fire big enough to see from the guardhouse, Ser Blacksting?" Said Gromley to the hashhashim. Gromley kept his hand on his side where he'd been cut by the spikes on Lord Selby's morningstar, it was still bleeding a little but it wasn't a deep cut.

"The center square has gardens we could light up. Follow me." said the man...

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Allastad raised his bow and fired up at the archers above, he took cover behind a nearby wall and continued to fire up at them while keeping an eye on Ratigan. A few minutes had passed and he had managed to take out a few of the archers. He looked over towards Ratigan who was behind a wall furthur up, "Ratigan, my sword should be on the ground near your position. I'll keep these archers off of you while you get it!" He yelled, hoping that Ratigan would hear him over the screams of the guards and the sound of the arrows flying by overhead.

 

**

 

Richard followed behind Gromley and Ser Blacksting towards the center square, clutching a bag of saint's ashes that they would need to make the flame burn blue. They arrived at the center square without any resistance and Richard began spreading the ashes in the  garden when a voice came from behind, "You there! What are you doing?" Richard turned around and saw a guard walking towards him, he remained silent and continued spreading the ashes. "I said what are you do---" His words were cut off as a knife entered the side of his head, killing him. "Keep on going Richard, we must get this fire lit." said Blacksting. Richard finished spreading the ashes and turned to Gromley, giving him the signal to light it.

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He saw the arrow coming from above, but Ratigan tried his best to dodge and weave. He got clipped on the hand by a wide headed arrow but his gauntlet took the blow well. It was only chainmail however and some of the links broke away. It would certainly leave a bruise but he tried to keep his mind in the right place. A few more arrows slammed into the bridge where he'd been standing seconds before, forcing him to jump for the blade on the griund when Allastad shouted out where it was, killing an archer and making the body drop off the edge and into the keep below.

 

Finally reaching the blade, He was too happy to realise the fallen archers where reanimating below and climbing, bloody and very much dead up the side toward his feet. He turned to see Allastad running and shooting simultaneously, and threw the blade to him pommel first so the weight of it would launch it through the air but not sever the hand of those catching it. As the blade soared through the air however, it was hit squarely with an arrow and its trajectory was changed so Allastad would need to drop down and grab or lose a foot to his own sword! A rotten hand reached up to the unwary Ratigan and grabbed his ankle, trying to drag him down off the battlements. He panicked and scrambled for his axe, hacking off the offending hand, but was still dangling precariously over the edge and it mortal danger from both the dead and the remaining archers.

 

On the other side, Allastad's sword didn't make it to his hand but to the hand of another, a dead man with one of Allastads arrows sticking out of his left eye. He had falen more than fifty feet but had grabbed the battlements on the way down, caught on the stone parapet, died and then reanimated while Allastad was running towards him without knowing his target wasn't dead. The dead man grabbed the sword with his broken hand and turned to fight with it. He knew nothing of Ebony Sun swords, and burst into a mass of screaming flames, and launched the blade at Allastad before being reduced to ashes. Ratigan saw this happening from his hanging place and hoped Allastad could catch it blade first and get to him before whatever was below tried to drag him down again...

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Allastad ran out from behind the wall, shooting up at the archers simultaneously, towards Ratigan. He saw Ratigan toss him his sword which he prepared to catch when an arrow suddenly hit it, changing its trajectory. Allastad dropped down to catch it when an undead guard climbed up the side and onto the battlements, the guard grabbed the sword and turned to Allastad preparing to fight. "Foolish undead, you will burn." He thought to himself as the guard burst into flames. The undead threw the sword at allastad before turning to ash. Allastad  grabbed the swords blade, protected by his gauntlets, and turned it around to grab the hilt. He sheathed the sword and ran across the barracks to Ratigan.

 

Allastad finally reached Ratigan and dropped to the ground, grabbing Ratigans arm with both hands and pulling him up onto the battlements as the dead reached for him. "Seems i was just in time." Said Allastad as he helped Ratigan to his feet. Arrows continued to fly by overhead,   "Where is that blue flame?"

Edited by white_dragon43

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"Thank you, Brother. I have confidence in the Squires, they are capable enough. We have more pressing matters to concern us. What's this now? More of the living dead?" said Ratigan as Allastad helped him up from the edge. At the other end of the bridge there were aeveral figures rushing out towards them. It turned out they were not guards or more heretics, but a commoner and a young boy, both wielding a pair of knives. They initially seemed hostile but they smiled when they saw Ratigan and Allastad atill being shot at by archers. The elder man raised a hand and several more people in common clothing caught an archer each and stabbed them.

 

"You must be the troublemakers I keep hearing about. I am Archen, and these are my men, we are the Long Knives, the anti-saladin resistance. Don't worry, we know of your mission, and are here to help. Come, there are secret exits from the guardhouse, the closest is just back there, a hidden wall" said Archen. He had a mouth of gold teeth and his clothes were ripped and torn.

 

**

 

Gromley scattered ashes on everything he could find that would burn. He saw Richard doing the same, and watched as Blacksting and a few other Hashhashim were fighting a mixture of guards and heretics trying to stop them. The guards appeared be under some control, they had grey unfocused eyes and made jerky movements.

"That's all of it! Lets light it up!" shouted Gromley to Richard, shoving over a torch lighting the gardens, and the ground caught light in a blaze of brilliant blue. The heat was extremely intense and Gromley had to both run and shield his eyes. He ran to Richard, still keeping himself covered.

 

**

 

They followed the Long Knives down a secret passage to the town, and it gave them a clear view of the gardens as they lit up blue.

"There's the signal. Our squires have found the contact, who will lead us on the assault on wherever the demon is hiding. The order and the Hashhashim will make sure this is neither remembered tomorrow or recorded in the history books. Lets go" said Ratigan to everybody present...

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Richard grabbed the torch and helped Gromley light the gardens. Richard stepped back away from the flames as the heat grew, Gromley following behind him. "Hope Allastad and Ratigan are alright." Said Richard as Gromley approached."There are others in this town that know of your mission here and will lend their aid, it is possible that they have already found your friends and are assissting them as we speak." said Blacksting. "Lets just hope they can see the flames from where they are."

 

***

 

Allastad nodded in agreement as Ratigan finished his statement. "Best get to the gardens and meet up with Richard and Gromley." Seeing Ratigan nod in agreement they walked through town and to the gardens where Richard and Gromley greeted them. "Thank the heavens you two are alright, this here is Blacksting the Hashhashim contact. He helped us out of a close call with a templar, Gromley was wounded in the encounter." Allastad turned to Ratigan who was attending to Gromleys wound. He turned back to Blacksting "I thank you for helping our squires sir. Do you know of where we can find the demon responsible for what has been happening in this town?" Blacksting nodded "I have a good idea of where to find the one you seek, though you may want to get a few things in town first. We have no idea of what we will be up against, and it never hurts to be prepared."

Edited by white_dragon43

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"Understood. What will we need?" Asked Ratigan to the contact. He looked like a dangerous man, the kind of man who stabs with a smile.

"We will need a bribe- something to get into the heretic's headquarters. They are in the Acre keep. The demon is masquerading as Lord Alsad, it is manipulating the cities forces to free it from it's body prison. Unleashed, it will reek havok with its influence. I expect some gems, or expensive stones will get us in the gate, but we will also need disguises. Guards, or even heretic robes if we can find some to fit. Once everything is acquired, we shall meet at the gates of Keep of Brass. You can't miss it."

 

The blue flames had certainly done their job. As a distraction, nothing could have been more effective. With the panic and crowds of the escaping citizens and the flustered guards, as well as the Hashhashim and the Long Knives combined, chaos spread throughout central Acre, leaving the path to the Keep of Brass open. Only with Ser Blacksting's explanation did all the puzzle pieces fit, at least to Ratigan and probably Allastad as well. The lord had likely come into contact with a demon, and it had taken his body and used it to complete it's nefarious plans. Now, it would certainly know they were coming for it. Every demon Ratigan had ever encountered ( which were simply a minor demon seducing a group to suicide and a demonically possessed woman who slew her children) had never been les than a step ahead of its enemies. It was likely waiting, slumped on the keep's throne, surrounded by the dead soldiers it planned to have attack them...

 

**

 

At the gates of Acre, an enigmatic gentleman in a long and ornate cloak enetered on a horse. The horse was black and smooth haired, and wore barding of blackened steel with red linen lining, and the man, once uncloaked, showed himself to be wearing a frightful helmet- one depicting him as a man with an eagle's head, but as black as night with ruby eyes... A guardsman tried to stop him but the man slammed a gauntletted fist into his head, and let the screaming crowd trample him.

 

He saw the glow of the blue fires, and knew immediately of the situation, impossibly so. Certainly a member of no known order as he wore no coat-of-arms or any sigil, and also no mercenary could be so very flamboyant in armour. His horse neighed, and reared. Citizens parted from him, and for no reason they could discern, they knew instinctively that being in this knights path meant death...

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As Blacksting finished his explaination of where they could find the demon responsible, Allastad turned to Ratigan and could tell he was thinking the same thing. "Its possible he is waiting for us to arrive." He said to Ratigan, who nodded in agreement. "I suppose the first step should be disguises." As Allastad finished his sentence he heard a commotion at the gate and looked over as a guard fell to the ground. He saw a mysterious stranger ride in on his horse and turn towards them, he seemed to understand what the situation was just by looking upon the flames. Allastad turned to Ratigan and whispered "He is not one of ours yet he seemes to be a crusader all the same. Do you think he comes seeking the demon as well?" The man stared at them both before riding furthur into town. Allastad turned to Blacksting who was speaking with another of the Hashhashims, "One of my scouts tell me that there is a group of guards returning from a scouting mission not far from here. We should be able to ambush them and take their gear to use as a disguise." said Blacksting.

Edited by white_dragon43

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"I doubt it. Such armor indicates great status, it is unlikely he is here on any business to do with us" said Ratigan, looking at the stranger before Blacksting spoke. All around them he could see fighting, as the cities factions fought with each other to gain the upper hand in the chaos. "That is a sound plan. Allastad, you go with the Hashhashim here, take Richard with you, and get the disguises. I will take Gromley and go with Archen to acquire the necessary bribe, I'm sure someone is carrying gems in this madness... lets go" said Ratigan. He knew that splitting up would be a better way and more effective way to gather what was needed.

Acre was a mess of fire and blood, with the arrival of the Long knives and the demon's guard, lesser demon s inhabiting the bodies of likely men, using up their bodies, greatly increasing their aggression until the hell fire burned them inside out. Ratigan dodged and weaved through the crowd, looking for a likely target carrying what was needed- many passed by, merchants, rich men, and important officials bedecked in finery, but the one that caught his eye eventually was a rather fat merchant desperately trying not to look too inconspicuous. This was suspicious enough, but his little game was scuppered when Archen pointed out that his robe was on wrong. Certainly a thief, robbing from the dead and pretending to be a merchant to escape with the less than honest goods...

**

The man in the black armor opened his bird beak visor on his helmet and got down from his horse. He was immediately attacked by muggers, who demanded he five them everything he had. He responded in kind by grabbing one mugger by the head, and swung the body at the others as if he we using him as a mace of flesh. Once they had run, he dropped the corpse he was holding and saw what he wanted to see. It was a black cross, with sharpened edges, atop the brass keep. It wasn't glowing to any eyes but his, but his job was to retrieve objects from beyond the veil that did not belong in the mortal world, the work of the Shadowed riders, a group of elites specially chosen by the Vatican in Rome to be a mixture of warrior, treasure hunter and exorcist... and the black cross was a thing of terrible power indeed...

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Allastad nodded and motioned for Richard to follow him as he followed the Hashhashims to the ambush location. "The guards will be coming from the east, lets set up a welcoming party, eh?" said Blacksting as he turned to Allastad who was now smiling "A welcome to the fires below for sure." he chuckled to himself, eager to get the disguises and rid acre of its demon. Allastad readied an arrow and turned to the Hashhashims. I'll fire an arrow at the leader, once he's dead the others will panic, ill need you all to finish them off. Lets make this as quick and silent as possible, if any get through they're going to report to the demon and ruin our plan." The Hashhashims nodded and hid in the treeline.

 

****

A few minutes passed, Blacksting turned to Allastad "There, up the path. Our guests of honor." Allastad turned and could see the guards coming down the path, he motioned to the Hashhashims waiting in the trees. He waited for the guards to get closer before raising his bow and firing his arrow, hitting the leader in the chest. The guards looked around and began running in different directions, trying to find cover anywhere they could. Allastad whistled loudly signaling the Hashhashims to attack. They ran out of the treeline, cutting down the guards as they approached. After a few moments of slaughter the final guard fell, Allastad approached the bodies and took their gear and any orders that he could find.

"Best make sure they believe we are the scouting party. Check every pocket and get everything you can, any coin you find you can keep. Doesn't do them any good." Allastad turned and headed back into the town to get Ratigan.

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"Drop it, turn around you fat thief" said Archen, poking his long blade into the back of the 'merchant'. Dropping the goods, the unfortunate thief then wet himself, leaving a puddle.

"We require something shiny, a bribe. What is there?" Said Gromley, who then went over to the wagon and started looking through it. In the wagon however, he found a strange book wrapped in skin. It seemed... intoxicating. Like it was begging him and his weak, young will to take it, keep it, care for it... he inevitably took it and shoved it deep down into his bag...

 

"Is there anything? Time is of the essence!" Said Ratigan, who was only half watching the thiefs being held by Archen. He wasn't looking when Archen killed him, spilling his throat upon the ground.

"He didn't need to die!" Shouted Gromley, who hadn't expected to see such brutality to any but a combatant.

"Thieves cannot be tolerated. This is our way." Said Archen.

"I found a bag of jewels, it should suffice" said Gromley, completely failing to mask his outrage.

"Good. Lets head to the gates of the Brass Keep. The others should be there. Lets get this done before the sun rises" said Ratigan.

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Allastad walked through the streets of Acre, looking for Ratigan. After wandering for a few moments he found Ratigan and Archen walking towards the Brass Keep, "Ratigan!" shouted Allastad, trying to get his attention. Ratigan turned around to face him as he walked towards them, "The Hashhashims are waiting at the east gate with the disguises, we will suit up there and head to the gates after. Did you find a bribe?"

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"I have. Lets head to the keep, make haste, everyone!" said Ratigan, brandishing the bag of gems so Allastad could clearly see them. They all followed each other into an abandoned kasbah, where Allastad handed out disguises. It was a tight fit, with chainmail benath, but after some adjustments Ratigan reckoned he could probably pass for a guard. The others however looked like a mixture of ridiculously to frankly comical, but they would have to do. He also noticed that Allastad had done a far better job of concealing his chain mail than he had.

 

"Single file to the gates. We'll need to act as guards to not get peppered with arrows before we even reach the gates so try to act as best you can" said Ratigan, hoping that it pay off. Everyone made their way out of the kasbah to the streets of brass, leading to the keep, among the hordes of panicking pedestrians. Within seconds, The black armoured Rider rode into them on his rush to the keep, knocking Gromley down. He was lucky enough to not be trampled as Archen grabbed him by the hand and pulled him back up.

 

The Rider had the cross in sight. It glowed brighter than the sun to him, easily seen by those looking and especially those worthy to look upon it. He struck down a crusader who tried to stand in his way, his steeds massive iron-shod hooves making short work of badly forged chainmail armour. Upon reaching the gate, he pulled the reins making tge horse rear up, and leap over the ornate brass gates, ignoring the guards shouting at him ad he sped towards his prize...

 

Ratigan and his band were stopped at the gates, but as the guard saw jewels rolling put into his hand, his sense of duty was surpassed greatly by his greed, and let the party pass without alarm. The shouting and panicking was dying down now, as the people were extinguishing the fires at last. When faced with the unknown, the simple masses panic easily- and none of them had ever seen blue flames before.

 

The keep of brass was as impressive as any keep Ratigan had laid eyes upon before. It was named more for it's colour than it's material, it was a deep brassy ochre that caught the lightw, and at the right angle, made the keep seem as it were made entirely of brass, the work only god could achieve. Inside was a beautiful panapoly of velvets and polished wood- Irritating to Ratigan as the city itself was so poor and hungry. It smelled of spices and censers hung, wafting scent into the noses of any and all who entered via the front gates...

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Allastad followed behind Ratigan as they made their way through the keep. He had done a better job at concealing his ebony chainmail than Ratigan, though Ratigan was able to make some adjustments, concealing the symbol and most of the chainmail, making him a passable guard. He looked around the keep which was mostly empty besides the few guards here and there. The black armored rider who had nearly trampled Gromley was nowhere in sight.

 

"What a mysterious character, running down all in his way. What is he after anyways? If not the demon then what prize has he come to claim?" Allastad hadn't noticed the cross atop the brass keep, Ratigan turned to face him, "There is a cross atop this keep which i believe is an object from beyond the veil." It was then Allastad understood.

"So he is one of the Shadowed riders then?" "I believe so, yes." replied Ratigan as they neared the door leading to where they believe the demon to be. "So brother...are you prepared?"

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"Yes. We must not interfere with his mission, doing so would be to court death. That noise though, it worries me..." said Ratigan. The halls were filled with a dreadful, unearthly sound, like the agonized howls of the damned reaching up from the underworld... The halls were dark, but as the party of crusaders took each step, they became more and more horrific. The walls bled thickly with gore and the sounds became almost unbearable on the ear as the shadows around them gathered, soon the only light was illuminating the path ahead, and only that path, as the shadows were twisting and warping with evil spirits attracted by the presence of the demon...

 

...And, there it sat, lounged on the throne. As a being of flesh, it was that of a man, a thin but lithe man, with a well kept beard and oiled moustache, but with eyes of the brightest, most demonic green- little lamps in the darkness, whose light was not welcome as it should be in such a place.

"Little men... So... Fragile... Oh, have you come to play? Who are you, to think you can play with me?" said the demon, it's voice worse than nails on a chalkboard, and both deafening and a whisper, filling the world with nothing but cold, unrelenting despair. As it stood, it seemed to Gromley that it was only just in our world at all- It flickered back and forth in it's forms, from man to indescribable beast, something his mind could only just comprehend, even teetering on the edge of madness. Gromley dribbled and burbled a little.

"DON'T LOOK AT IT!" Shouted Ratigan, slamming his hand over his face and running forward, his other hand flinging his axe at it, and then drawing his sword as he charged. He saw Gromley snap out of his delirium and do the same, but the demon laughed.

 

His sword did nothing to it. It just laughed more and more, until it's laughed turned into the frenzied giggles of cruel childen pulling the legs off spiders, making everyones ears bleed and soon, there was only tinnitus ringing in Ratigan and Gromleys ears, and as the demon made it's awful attack, Ratigan could only watch as Gromley's body was split in half by what looked like a half lobster claw, half tentacle, with barbs in the shapes of faces in pain... he had to admire the irony as he was so numb in the wake of his squires death that surrender almost seemed viable...

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As Ratigan rushed the demon Allastad notched an arrow and fired it hitting the demon between the eyes. The demon laughed and broke off the arrow, discarding it as he ripped Gromley in half with its arm. The demon turned its gaze upon Richard-

"Richard look out!" yelled Allastad as the demon rushed towards them, running swiftly by Ratigan who seemed to be numb. Richard rolled out of the way just as the demons arm came crashing down beside him, and Allastad quickly drew his sword and stabbed the arm.

 

The demon laughed and lifted its arm, immediately using to to knock Allastad off his feet and into a nearby wall. "Do you really think you have a chance of defeating me crusader, With your weak arrows and men made of steel?" laughed the demon. Allastad rose to his feet slowly, The pain from the collision with the wall was great but he had to keep the demon distracted to keep him away from Richard. "You still wish to fight me? Very well, prepare yourself crusader!" The demon approached Allastad, raising its arm as it approached. "Ratigan!" yelled Allastad, "snap out of it man!"

Edited by Shadowfaze

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Ratigan was experiencing lights dancing in his eyes and a general feeling of delirium as he swayed back and forth, wildly swinging his sword. By some miracle the demon had decided to ignore his flailing and attack a target more threatening. As he heard Allastad's words, he snapped out of it and stabbed at the demon. His blow struck true, but remained stuck in it's back, which distended and stretched into an armoured spine. He held on for his life as it shook him, trying to loose him, and Richard landed several hits while it was distracted, peppering it with broken bits of shattered arrow.

 

The shadowed rider rode fiercely for the brass gates, striking down the servants of darkness before him. His charger was stronger than any gate, powered supernaturally by great and holy weapons and barding, it did not slow as the gates smashed off when it rammed them. Dismounting, the rider dropped to his knees to pray for power, holding up an an ancient bone and shouting an incantation. With a bright light, the saint's bone became a mighty greatspear, with thirty barbs and a bladed end as long as most swords, attached to his gauntlet by a chain. Now armed, he ran eagerly into the purple smog of evil produced by the demon within...

 

Ratigan was finally shook off, but his sword still held. He was launched into the air but landed well and found his footing on the steps. He shouted to the Rider, and to Allastad-

"Someone comes! Allastad, The rider comes!" He shouted, trying to keep himself sane.

The rider said nothing, but flung the spear above the fight, to the decorated crenellations above- housing the awful black cross. His spear was followed by the attached chain, and it's blade slammed in the cross, and dragged it down to the riders hands. His mission complete, he turned to leave but saw the demon turn, and strike out at Allastad.

No more shall be slain today, thought Ratigan. Allastad was not as affected as he by the evil influence, but the attack was the same as the one that killed Gromley like he were nothing... Instead of any rational choice, Ratigan leapt in front of the attack, hoping to block it with his faith and sheer sense of will alone... And his cost was his left hand, sliced off cleanly and he watched as it tumbled to the floor, still in its gauntlet. "You mortal fool. You think your sacrifice can save you? Count yourself fortunate that I only took your hand. You could never stand against the great Aman? Hell itself bows in my presence!" Said the demon, in its guttered voice, laced with laughing and distorted noises.

The rider stopped, turned, and threw the spear at the demon. He chuckled.

"You talk too much, Aman. My sacred Gae Bolga rends the bodies of hell like sack cloth!"

 

The demon screamed as he was hit, chain attached. The rider still held the black cross, but now he drained the evil from it from it, it's energy being sucked into his helmet mouth. It shined with golden glory and the demon began to shrink. Its power source depleted, it became vulnerable at last. Sensing this, it rose Gromleys half body with its last magical resort, attacked the rider with it, and was now ignoring Ratigan, Richard, and Allastad...

"Now, crusaders! Strike now!" Shouted the rider, yanking on the chain, pulling himself through the air like flight, fist ready to strike. Ratigan heard the words but his stump was bleeding too much to attack anything...

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"Richard come quickly" yelled Allastad, while the demon was distracted by the rider. Richard hurried to Allastads side, "What is it sir?" said Richard. "Do you have any alcohol on you?"

"Yes sir, not but a few swigs though."

"That should be enough, give it here." replied Allastad, taking the alcohol from Richard and turning to Ratigan. He ripped off a piece of cloth from the guards clothing and poured the alcohol on Ratigans wound, wrapping it tightly with the cloth to form a tourniquet. "Stay with me brother, we will get you out of here and to a doctor soon." He then turned his attention to the demon, he picked his sword up off the ground and walked up to the demon with Richard following behind, dagger drawn. They slashed at the demon as its attention was still on the rider. Allastad plunged his sword into the demons back next to where Ratigans sword stuck out. The demon screamed as it fell to the ground, Allastad then removed his sword and stabbed the demon continuously until it became still. He turned around to Ratigan, "Are you alright?"

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"My hand is lost. Is it dead?" stuttered Ratigan, holding the stump. He saw the still demon lying on the floor, but he knew it wasn't over yet. As the rider wrestled off the possessed half-body of Gromley, he spoke to the others, holding it down with his boot.

"It is not" said the shadowed rider. I am Malstadt, by the way. Thank you for causing so much chaos. It would have been much more difficult to acquire the cross otherwise. To answer your question, it is not dead, just retreated, back to it's infernal realm, leaving it's shell here. But this town, it seems, is clear."

 

"Thank you for your assitance, good Malstaldt. We are Sers Ratigan and Allastad, and our... squire... Richard" said ratigan, remembering Gromley's death. He looked down at Gromleys seething half-body, still trying to claw at the rider.

"Is there anything we can do for him? Some occult practice to expel the demonic influence, so we can give him a proper burial?"

"i'm afraid not. It should wear off in time. I must take my leave. Should our paths cross again, i will know i am once more in good company" said the rider, swishing his cape around as he left.

 

*

 

They had to tie possessed Gromleys arms to his body, gag him and tie him to his horse, next to his lifeless legs. They also tied the demon's dead body to the horse, as proof of their exploits in Acre. They began the long ride back to the Chapterhouse, although the spectre of death still hung over their heads.

In another place, Gromley's soul appeared in a dark forest by a roaring fire, and by other souls, sitting and warming themselves. He sat down with them, and felt a wave of peace wash over him, as his memory of life was lifted...

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Allastad looked upon the body of what was once their companion.

"I'm sorry Ratigan, once the demonic influence wears off we will give Gromley a proper burial in his hometown." He looked ahead and could see the chapterhouse in the distance.

"Nearly there," he thought to himself. The guards opened the gates as they approached, "Thank you," said Allastad.

"Fetch a doctor and have him meet us at the chapterhouse at his earliest convenience. Ratigan has been injured and we must have it looked at as soon as possible."

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