Caiden and Tom’s counterattack was completely unexpected, and many of the rebels did not have the time to realize that they outnumbered the resistance they were faced with. Of course, their numbers were about to cease being an issue. Drake’s savage fury brought two of the assailants down, their blood joining those of the innocents on the ground. Caiden hacked down one as he tried to escape the knight’s wrath, then instinctively whirled to meet another approaching from his flank, only to see that the man was tottering and struggling to keep his feet, courtesy of Percula’s efforts. A quick charge and the impact of one of the Venator’s massive shoulders sent the thug the rest of the way to the ground, and a followup stab from his broadsword sent him even deeper below.
Kye stuck close to Caiden as space began to clear on the street. Two of the remaining insurgents tried to surprise the Venator from behind, but the assassin’s swift parries and ripostes allowed him to wound one on the arm, discouraging them from closing the distance. Having lost more than half their men, the remaining murderers broke and fled...straight into Neitha and Marcus’ reinforcements.
Neitha’s first strike went wide with rage and her target’s luck, but instead of capitalizing on his good fortune, the man decided to retaliate against the former gladiatrix. He attempted to bring his knife around, only to find his arm bound by the woman’s free hand, then twisted away with a strength he did not expect. Neitha then twirled him back from whence he came, slashing the back of his neck and sending him down in a slump.
Marcus effortlessly impaled another target in the gut, then followed through with another stab to the shoulder, gruesomely levering him to his knees where another Inquisitor could put him out of his misery. The other two Ebonguards used their weight and strength to their advantage, one shrugging off a desperate lunge and yanking their target’s knife-arm out of the way, while the other crushed his windpipe with a void iron fist, then plunged his sword into the wheezing rebel’s chest.
The last two attackers met their end unceremoniously under Veritshire spears and shield bosses, the grey-clad sentries shouting with outrage and grief and the atrocities they had witnessed. Ten southron rebels lay dead, but so did three guards, seven regular citizens, and twelve holy men and women, mostly Imperial save for the priest of Ra who had attempted to resist. Many of the others were wounded, including old Lucretia, the priestess of Hades who had greeted Marcus, Caiden, and Neitha upon arriving. A priest of Apollo tried to tend to her leg, but she had pulled the corpse of one of her novices into a final embrace, sobbing uncontrollably.
The horror of what they had just witnessed was just beginning to set in. As Marcus knelt to close the eyes of a fallen novice, he strained to ask, “Why? These weren’t nobles or merchants. What kind of anger could cause such...sacrilege?” Then, more screams and, this time, flames erupted from the town square. Behnam cursed under his breath before snarling, “The kind seeking to draw us away from their real target. Back to the square, now!”
As everyone charged back toward the town square, they could see that the wagons of oil and alcohol had been set ablaze as a makeshift barrier, the intense heat keeping most of the defenders back. However, a few wagons were not yet burning, despite the efforts of yet more rebels standing atop them. A bolt from Caiden’s crossbow and one of Neitha’s throwing knives sent two of the would-be arsonists tumbling from the wagons, and adventurers and guards alike began to climb up to disrupt the efforts of the rest.
Upon reaching their destination, however, they saw that someone else had beaten them to the punch. A surge of the yellow-arrayed warehouse guards had come up from behind, mercilessly cutting down the masked thugs in their wake. One fell to his knees wailing, “We are betrayed!” only to be yanked to his feet by a giant of a man with a butcher’s hook. The attacker screamed and grabbed feebly at the tool imbedded in his shoulder until a cleaver sank into his skull with a sickening crunch. The butcher with the yellow sash retrieved his weapons and tossed the corpse aside like a rejected carcass, before nodding politely to those party members who had managed to climb over the carts. The rest of his men finished off what remained of the assassins or went to help the Guards put out the fires, lest they spread through the city and multiply their woes.
The carnage in the town square was more contained but certainly no less gruesome than the massacre of the clergy. Some of the older nobles and many of their more dedicated servants lay dead, by arrow or blade. A few gold-hilted swords lay bloody in the hands of their owners, or simply lay on the ground, hardly even out of their scabbards. The old Lord Telos owned one of the latter, his children and friends weeping where they knelt around his crumpled form. The haughty Sir Leonus also seemed to have lost a father, though his tears seemed to be coming much more slowly.
Marcus and Behnam ran to where their parents and the Priscii sat, nursing various wounds. Lucille was wrapping scraps of her dress around her father, the steward’s leg, while an already-bandaged Alfonso supported his lord’s back. Petruchio Capulet was fussing with a gash on the old man’s head, while his wife tried to attend to a similar one on his arm still trapped in a sling.
Upon seeing the Sheriff and his followers, Sir Leonus and a few other nobles rose indignantly. “You left us!,” the pink-clad knight roared. “You call THIS keeping the peace, you lowborn oaf?” Behnam stood to face him defiantly and Marcus did the same to support him, but before they or the wounded steward could do anything, Lord Obduro stepped in, wiping his sword clean before sheathing it loudly to get his fellows’ attention.
“How can we blame him for obeying his Lord’s orders, much less to protect the very servants of the gods? I’m just glad my warehouse guards were close enough to intervene, and courageous enough to do so. Our Sheriff and our Veritshire Guard did their duty, but the irregulars, including the strangers this man hired, did so much more! They should all be commended, wouldn’t you agree?” Lord Obduro’s speech seemed genuine enough, but some could not help but sense that he was capitalizing on the situation.
“We are the Founding Families of this city, my lords and ladies, and angry, lawless rabble have never beaten us before. Just like in the siege, we have all shown strength despite adversity, and this city shall shine all the brighter for it!” Felix’s voice reached an unusually stentorian tone as he addressed all those around him.
“This is not a time to shift blame, but to mourn what we have lost and use what we have gained, as we always do. These rebels sought to cut out everything that made this city great and to mar this celebration, but instead they showed us that if we hope to keep this city, we cannot be content to sit back and latch onto what few parts of it bear our colors.”
Kneeling in front of the wounded steward and Lord Telos’ crying children, he concluded,” I, Felix Obduro, pledge to do my best to help the lord steward and our new heads of houses to solidify their positions and safeguard this city.” Looking at his peers, he added, “I hope that each of you will do the same.”
Agreeably or begrudgingly, the remaining representatives of the founding families knelt and joined him in his pledge. Steward Priscus had Alfonso help him stagger to his feet, despite his daughter’s protestations. “Lord Obduro has spoken well, and we all owe our lives to him and his men. Likewise, our brave Sheriff and his family have also done their part for this city, finding and resisting these ruffians who defy both men and gods alike. Tragedy has once again struck this city, but thanks to these two grand houses, we still stand, to heal our wounds and build new bonds, as we did five and twenty years ago.” Shaking the hands of both Lord Felix and Sheriff Behnam, the aging Steward said, “Truly, I could not ask for better aid in protecting this city. The three of us will have much to discuss for the future, I am sure. For now, as Lord Obduro said, let us mourn, and then begin to rebuild once again.”
The aftermath of the massacre was bittersweet, but all who reflected on it the following morning agreed that it could have been worse if not for someone’s intervention...even if their subject changed depending on whom you asked. The warehouse irregulars eagerly joined their more formal brothers-in-arms in restoring order to the city and exacting retribution on those murderers that had survived the battle. The Veritshire Guard resented the fact that they had been caught spread so thin, but were grateful for the assistance of both the hired help and their once-inferior yellow-clad counterparts.
Marcus wondered if the rebels’ sudden grasp of tactics and equally-rapid elimination had been a little too convenient, but kept such theories to himself. Behnam thanked each of his brother’s companions (that he knew about) personally for their rapid action and courage in defending a city not their own. Each was given a small purse with generous wages for the days they had worked, and he also allowed them to keep the document with his seal, saying they were welcome to stay as long as they wished or come to him again if they ever needed further employment. Back at the manor, Marcus’ uncle Vitruvius pointed Neitha, Kye, Caiden, and Tom to a shelf of vambraces, pauldrons, and other articles of quality plate mail that would not require much custom fitting. “You’d need to stay quite a while for me to get any of you kitted up proper, but if you find something that fits here, you’re welcome to it. You lot protected this family and this city, hopefully this steel can return the favor.”
While the party was occupied with inspecting their potential upgrades, Marcus sidled up to Caiden and furtively slid a golden circlet sized for a doll...or perhaps a pixie...closer to him on the shelf. “I heard a certain someone put her mischief to use in helping you save the priests. I doubt she would want or use armor of this size, but perhaps you could pass on my appreciation of her aid...and self-control...wherever she is.”
Meanwhile, Petruchio and Pegah had volunteered their home to those orphaned or injured by the attacks, including the traumatized survivors of the priesthood. The Capulets took a break from doling out food, nursing, and encouragement to also thank Marcus’ friends by name. “The gods brought you and our son here at an opportune time.” Mr. Capulet proclaimed. “If not for your courage, who knows how many more lives could have been lost, including our own!” Pegah helped her husband remain steady as she added, “Our family and city are truly blessed to count you among our friends. Our house is a bit more full than when you arrived, but we still have room for you. We will always have room for you.”
((Maverick, Sareth, and Burger, feel free to retropost your reactions to these final events and claim your reward for persevering to the end of this campaign. As promised, this DM post is the end of this plotline, and I will formally transition us into the next zone and back under Wolfy’s full control once we wrap things up here. Thank you once again for your patience during my first foray in DMing. I look forward to rejoining you as a player in the new campaign: Chasing Shadows. Long live Team Drake!))