17th of Patchwall – Central Command 7:33pm
Nigel looked up at Fictuk, the Black Axe of Clan Aule, the two nodded at each other before staggering to the camp chairs in the command tent. They has dealt with 21 separate advances today, the last one being particularly ferocious, but had survived them all. Nigel reached to one of his trunks and pulled out a stoppered bottle, he raised it towards The Black Axe who nodded, Nigel fetched to clay cups from the chest.
“General” the Dactyl standing in the door was none other than Command Colth
“Commander, is Hrother with you? I am sure you two could use a drink as well” Nigel said reaching for two more cups
“Hrother is dead Sir, went down in the last attack” Nigel tossed one cup back into the chest and closed the lid. He unstoppered the bottle and poured a velvet brown liquid into the cups. Words were not needed as Dwarf, Dactyl and Halfling each took a cup raised it in silent salute and sipped; slowly they each sat down, Nigel and Fictuk in chairs Colth choosing the chest as a seat.
“Sir, our troops are…” Colth began but Nigel held up a hand and shook his head
“Five minutes Commander, five minutes and a drink, then we will dive back into grim reality” the Commander nodded his agreement to the matter and took another sip. All three had bruises and wounds; the grit was plastered to their faces but spells were too low to waste on superficial injuries and there was little point in washing when another attack was expected within the hour.
“Gentlemen” the baritone voice of Lord Strahd von Zarrovich was hard to miss, as he darkened the general’s door. He entered the tent without invitation and was followed by his two favorite shadows, Brigadier General Ivan Korvalich, an undead creature with great magical power and Darius, a Vampire and Strahds favorite minion.
“Welcome Lord Strahd, we are just taking a breather after the last engagement…” Nigel began
“Not something any of your lads’d need huh?” Fictuck murmured to Colth, the dactyl gave a tired grin, but supressed it when he saw that all three of the dead stared their way. Nigel rolled his eyes and continued
“Join us for a sit?”
The Death Knight, to Nigel’s surprise, accepted. The Death Knight nodded to Ivan who promptly strode forward, picked up Fictuks chair and emptied the dwarf unto the floor. Before the dwarf could even rise the creature was dusting the chair off and offering it to Lord Strahd, who promptly seated himself, Ivan and Darius flanking him. Fictuk pulled himself from the ground grumbling and moved around the desk finding room on the chest to sit with Colth.
“It is time to leave General,” the Death Knight said in a tone that was as assured as a man ordering his breakfast. “This front cannot be won with the troops we have, and we cannot reinforce this position, thus we must retreat to a point where we can teleport out, and evac from there” Nigel stared hard at Strahd for a long moment
“We have no idea how far that may be” the halfing said
“We do General…” Strahd offered “Darius here has managed to scout and locate the line, 57 kilometers due east of this position there is an field that allows teleportation”
“57 kilometers? Even if we abandoned everything and forced march, we would need to keep moving for over 14 hours. Longer for those of us who are not giants; you don’t think the enemy will overrun us and destroy on the road in that time?”
“Not all of us, by my calculations if we set up waves to hold back the advances, waves comprised of our slowest individuals mind you, we can be out of here in less than ten hours with only 89% casualties” The creatures tone was that of a man who was playing chess, not a man trapped behind enemy lines.
“89% ARE YA DAFT?” Fictuk was out of his seat and yelling. Nigel did not turn to face him he held up a hand and slowly the dwarf sat back down
“You would have us sacrifice our Dactyl allies and our walking wounded to save you and yours?” Nigel’s voice did not hold a tone of accusation he genuinely was asking. Lord Strahd had the manners to feign discomfort at the question.
“Not all of them, we have a few Knights of Tukin here, a couple Honalians, they are always looking for a chance to martyr themselves, why not here? And no General, not just me and my men, I can see the value of a command team and of wise leadership for the A of A; you and the other senior commanders would be priority members to get out”
“ah” was all the Halfling said as he poured himself a much larger drink, he took a long pull “and what of the other two fronts? What of Cee-Teera and Sir Alana or Sir Tristan and HornSlapper? Do we leave them as well?”
The Lord was not swayed by the argument “General Nigel, you do this kind of math every day, we have not heard from them in over 17 hours, if they are still alive they suffer the same fate as us and we cannot help them, realistically they are dead and scattered. The Wild Elves will run, the Knights will sacrifice… the trolls may survive scattered in the swamp, and perhaps we can send skilled scouts to find them and extract them, once we are in a position to do so… if we stay here however everyone dies” Nigel took another long drink
“Yer not seriously listenin’ ta this are ya Nigel?” Fictuk asked interrupting once more; Colth was stone silent watching the fate of him and his men being decided over a bottle of whiskey. Nigel took a deep breath
“You know that this is my sin?” he said to no one and everyone in the room while holding up his cup “It dehydrates you, and lowers the water level in your body, not exactly what a Torrent of Kelezandri should be in the habit of. And yet… I find I love the flavour, the sweet slight burn of it in my throat, the sherry taste followed by the smoky peaty aftertaste… I even love the thirst it gives me for water… I must admit that I have not been able to give it up as yet, and….”
“Yes, Yes…” the Death Knight interrupted “We are all very impressed with your way with words and your random verbal diarrhea that I am sure would colour a very succinct metaphor that no one gives a rats ass about… time is of the essence General, what say you?” Nigel’s brows furrowed
“No, I will not sacrifice 89% to run. We stay” he said in a forceful tone
“General, 89% is better than 100% you’d have us all die?” Strahd countered, anger creeping into his voice.
“I don’t see it that way, the tides will turn, and we just have to be ready”
“Really, the tides will turn, and what brilliant intel do you have that alludes to that? What is your master plan General?”
“My Plan… is to have faith, and that my faith will be rewarded, one way or another” Nigel locked eyes with the death knight as the two glowered at each other
“I don’t prescribe to your particular crazy religion; I need something more concrete than faith”
“Well, that’s too bad isn’t it? I imagine this would be a very frightening situation for one without faith” Nigel said in conciliatory tone that had just a dusting of sarcasm on it. Fictuk scoffed, earning him scowls from Ivan and Darius, Strahds eyes never left Nigels.
“I could leave?” Strahd said the threat evident
“I believe I am the ranking officer in this camp, you leave against my orders and it’s treason” Strahd was quiet at this for a long moment, trying to better assess the Halfling in front of him
“I believe I am the next most senior office, should something happen to you…” he let it hang out there in the room. Nigel did not flinch.
“Is this our time then Strahd, will Don-Ton finally strike off on its own?” Nigel stood, it was meant to be an imposing gesture but he was shorter on his feet than in his chair. The Halfling walked around the table as he spoke “If you try to leave, try to take your men, I will sacrifice every soul in this camp to assure you do not make it, our last act will be bringing you to justice for your treachery, don’t try me on this.”
“Don’t you dare threaten me you little…”
“YOU BET YOUR DEAD BONY ASS I AM THREATENING YOU!” Strahd blinked as the halflings voice boomed at him, no one had every spoken to him like this, no one he considered important anyway, nor had he ever expected it from such a small normally polite little creature. Strahd stood and in his shock took a half pace back
“I would remind you whom you are addressing Halfling” Strahd growled, Ivan’s hand drifted to the barbed sword at his side. Nigel continued to walk forward getting right under Strahd so he could yell up at him.
“I KNOW EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE STRAHD VON ZARROVICH, LORD OF DON-TON AND DEATH KNIGHT OF TALIB… and you know what? I don’t care… let me remind you who I am… I am NIGEL HODGENSON OF THE PRVOINCE OF LOCKLAND, HONASTICA! I am NIGEL HODGENSON HIGH GENERAL OF THE WAR COUNCIL OF THE ARMIES OF ARGYLE! I am NIGEL HODGENSON TORRENT OF THE BRACKISH EMPORER KELEZANDRI AND HIS HAND, HEART AND MOUTH ON THIS PLANE. I am not some paladin blinded by a hatred for you and your ilk, I am not an angel created to make war on evil. I am not some peasant who sits up at night in fear of you and your creatures. I am not a noble, nor do I care about ruling and being swayed by political power… nor do I desire or want for money, I am not one who can be bought. IF HIS WATERY GRACE SHOULD DECIDE THAT MY TIME IS TO END HERE AND NOW, THEN SO BE IT! I HAVE LIVED WELL UNDER HIS DOGMA AND DO NOT FEAR DEATH, FROM YOUR HAND NOR THE HAND OF ANY DENZIAN ANY WHERE! I KNOW YOU STRAHD, I RESEARCHED YOU THE MOMENT WE FIRST MET, AND I AM READY FOR YOU! READY FOR ALL OF YOU! DOES YOUR GOD…. THIS TALIB… DOES HE LOVE? DOES HE CARE FOR YOU? DOES HE LOVE YOU STRAHD? BECAUSE I KNOW KELEZANDRI LOVES ME, I AM FAVOURED OF HIS FLOCK, I AM IMPORTANT TO HIM AND HE SHOWS HIS LOVE FOR ME OFTEN! HE SENDS AVATARS TO PRTOECT ME AND MY PEOPLE! HE SENDS TITANS TO FIGHT ON OUR BEHALF! HE EMPOWERS MY SPELLS AND LIFTS MY SPIRITS! DOES YOUR GOD LOVE YOU LIKE MY GOD LOVES ME? DO YOU WANT TO TEST THAT? DO YOU?” there was a long silence as the two locked eyes; Nigel stared with all his heart he looked like a man who meant every word of what he said. Strahd was slowly weighing his options. The Halflings tone softened, slightly “I thought not… get out of my tent, and go get your men ready for the next wave… Colth, see to it my orders are followed”
Colth jumped to his feet “Yes Sir!”
“This isn’t over Halfling” Strahd growled as he turned to leave
“It is for tonight” Nigel responded in a tone of iron. The undead and his cohorts left the tent followed by the Dactyl Commander. Nigel finished his drink and poured himself a cup of water as he walked back to his desk and slumped back into his chair
“Wow… tha was… wow…” Fictuk said finally breaking the silence “Ya think ya could have taken him?” the dwarfs tone was one of equal parts appraising and impressed. Nigel turned giving him a frank look
“Are you kidding? I have like two spells left, if he leaves or fights us were dead, let’s just hope that sticks eh?” Nigel said taking another long gulp of water. Fictuk just stared in disbelief. The Halfling offered him a smile “Faith my friend… you GOT to have faith”