Retrieving the Hellgate from Egypt

Context, in the form of subtly conflicting plans, is given below.

It gives a good insight into the minds of the sorcerers Haroun ibn Rasheed and Tsung Chang-Mai.

Retrieving the Hellgate

Haroun ibn Rasheed, the Baron Eynesford, makes the preparations for departure as rapidly as possible. He has impressed on Tsung Chang-Mai that they must reach the Hellgate first. Dalembertus has promised to withdraw his forces from Egypt and if he is true to his word then they must reach the Hellgate before the Ottomans. The Right Honourable Haroun continues to press the trip to Egypt forward with all possible speed.

A great deal of money is spent on renting ships and on encouraging their captains to make them ready for sail with all possible dispatch. Haroun's connections in the Merchant Companies are invaluable for such arrangements, and being able to say that the Cathayan Ambassador requires all haste too means that for many Companies' factors in the ports of Albion all other work ceases for a time. A large flotilla of more than a dozen ships is rapidly gathered at the Island of Invictus and the troops of the Eynesford 1st of Foot are embarked and ready for departure only a scant week after the end of the Court meeting. In the haste it is impossible to load the ships with all the supplies required for the trip to Egypt, but Companies' agents in Gibraltar and Malta have been alerted and fresh supplies are rapidly loaded at those two locations as well.

The fleet makes landfall on the Egyptian coast a few weeks after its departure from Invictus, plumes of smoke still rising from further inland and a foul stench of rotting meat assailing the nose even before the Egyptian coast is sighted. It has been decided that landing near the Canal will simply draw unwanted attention from the Ottomans and sailing down the Nile to Egypt will make the ships and soldiers too vulnerable if the demons do not keep to their bargain. (In addition the hired captains are much happier with the idea of sailing to the edge of a warzone than they are with the idea of sailing into its centre.) Instead a landing upon a beach is made, the 1st of Foot disembarking with the same haste that they boarded.

There have been a few skirmishes with minor demons during the landing, a few scouting parties attacked by creatures the two sorcerers recognise from the descriptions of the shaken troops as little more than imps. The troops of the Eynesford regiment are well-drilled, if not yet experienced, and largely hold their own. The soldiers keep good discipline and retreat back to the safety of the larger force drawing up on the beach, leaving the gibbering beasts that pursue them howling in rage at the edge of the sand.

It is time to reveal Tsung's presence. The scouting parties have found signs of a greater demon in the area, signs that the corpses of those killed have all been dragged into the desert, the trails of disturbed sand radiating from a single point. Haroun assembles his troops beneath a flag of parley and truce and the 1st Eynesford marches as if to war. A large fraction is left behind to guard the beachhead and support any kind of retreat. There are also apparently further reinforcements expected from Albion which could not be readied with the same speed and so fresh ships should be arriving.

The troops and sorcerers see the watching demons, at first in ones and twos, snarling in impatience at the prizes that march in armed safety. Then the demons are in five and sixes, and watch appraisingly. As a strange tower rises upon the horizon the soldiers are growing worried. Two columns of demons, growing columns, march alongside the regiment in silence, malice and hate and barely contained fury in the hell beasts' eyes.

The tower demons and mortals alike approach is clearly not the work of men, it seems to have almost grown from the land, but covered in strange protuberances and odd carbuncles. It doesn't reach for the sky as much as rail a fist against it. The stench of death and rot around it is becoming overpowering and spare cloths and clothes are wrapped round heads to keep out the dreadful scents. Most have lost the contents of their stomachs by the time the tower is a mile away. When it becomes clear the demons will not attack at least until the parley is over, Haroun and Tsung leave the army and journey on ahead to inform the tower's master of their presence and the protection afforded them by the Dalembertus, the Lord of Hell.

They can see the tower clearly. It is made of flesh, bodies moulded impossibly together and used as bricks in bloody mortar. The pair can see the almost whole bodies of cows and goats, some with chests still moving as if breathing and with muzzles forming plaintive lowing without breath to be heard. But the greatest mass of the tower is made of human bodies. Most appear dead, with arms and heads torn off in great bloody wounds. Some are clearly still alive, their eyes staring in complete madness as their mouths shout endless soundless screams. The whole monstrous edifice crawls with flies and occasionally something bursts and a slick puss full of maggots slithers down the tower.

Beneath a great closed gate formed from human finger bones, the hinge posts of femurs, sits a man dressed in the local style though careful watchers see his clothes are speckled with blood. He is shaping a child's hipbone, where his fingers pass the bone seems to lift in response, where he pushes it immediately smoothly dimples. The chair upon which he sits is made of twisted bones and the seat from skin stretched across it. As the two sorcerers come within speaking distance he puts down the bone, its purpose still unknown. He motions for the two sorcerers to sit upon a pair of identical chairs which face him and when they refuse simply smiles wryly, says “Mortals!” and stands himself.

He introduces himself as Duke Scoralanthoris, and with a wry gesture at the tower behind him, something of an amateur artist. Two imps appear beside you bearing cups made of baroquely carved bone; covered with tormented mortals, themselves formed from tortured souls and so on to the limit of your vision; the cups contain a dark red liquid which both sorcerers wave away.

Scoralanthoris recognises the two sorcerers. Tsung has been described to him in some detail and Haroun's reputation in Hell precedes him. He has been informed by one that he will not lightly disobey that the Ambassador Tsung is to be afforded all the rights of her title and moreover to be granted safe passage to the Valley of the Six Suns where the Hellgate remains open. The same courtesy will be granted to her escort, he eyes the banners of the Eynesford regiments and smiles once more. Of course he would be most pleased if the ambassador and any of her party would be willing to stay with him and enjoy his hospitality.

The great gate behind him groans and opens, behind it is a cavern of bleeding meat like a wound gone septic, the flesh bodies that make up the tower covered in weeping sores and unhealing wounds. He has a number of works of art, small examples, nothing special you understand, that he would be delighted to show them. The sorcerers make their excuses, Scoralanthoris politely feigning disappointment, and depart.

The journey inland to the Valley of the Six Suns is tense but largely uneventful. Tsung having been there once before knows the general direction. The marching column is escorted at all times by shifting changing clumps of imps and the occasional knight. Word of who they are and who protects them appears to be passed haphazardly but effectively. Every few hours a howling creature, sometimes with a dozen spines all covered in blades or dripping green slime that vitrifies the ground over which it moves, charges at the Eyneford regiment only to be torn apart after a dozen paces by its fellows.

Villages the column passes are entirely empty. Generally the inhabitants and livestock are simply strewn in parts over the ground, but sometimes an inventive or sadistic demon has crucified or desecrated the bodies. The land is barren, anything larger than an insect or grass has been slain or uprooted already by the demonic horde. Some of the imps are now ploughing or poisoning the ground seeking to extinguish even these small examples of continued life.

As the party approaches the site of the Hellgate, the land horribly reshaped so that Tsung is growing uncertain of the route, the number of demons increases greatly. It is possible to follow the general flow of them, since most are heading the same way, until cresting a hill they look down upon a great encampment. This area of Egypt has become indistinguishable from part of Hell itself, the ground glowing hot and jagged sharp rocks erupting upward. A few massive towering Archdukes hold court within the camp, tended to by Dukes and armies of lesser Knight and imps. One of the Archdukes is working its way through a great pile of human bodies, tearing off heads with its teeth and then sucking the insides out. Most of the victims are fortunately dead but a few scream and thrash until the fangs close upon their necks. Another archduke has assembled a great loom, constructed from swords and beaten armour, and is crafting a tapestry from human and animal entrails.

At the centre of the camp demons are streaming back through the open Hellgate, Dukes and Knights shouldering their way past the great mass of imps. It is clear that Dalembertus is withdrawing his hellish minions as promised, but many show no sign of preparing to go. It is unclear whether these stragglers have rebelled against their lord and have no plans to leave the mortal plane or if they follow some deeper purpose of his. Either way they do not attack Haroun and Tsung or the troops.

The sky is black with winged shapes, most resembling great black bats. It is one of these that hurtles from the sky, screaming like a dying pig and passes over the observers to fall into the ear of one of the Archdukes. The great demon looks out at the sorcerers upon the hill and whispers to the Dukes before him, gobs of bloody spit landing amongst them.

Even as the pair watch the flow of demons through the gate slows and stop and instead a party of knights and dukes beneath a white flag make their way up the slope towards the sorcerers. As they draw close it becomes clear that the flag is made of the vestments and white clothes of imams, priests and rabbis, the whole held together with string of human hair. A Duke steps forward and greets the two politely. He names himself Hordamithran, Duke of the Unrighteous Blade, and upon his back is a sword three times his own length which softly gibbers bloody threats. Hordamithran informs them that they are to be escorted, under the name and protection of Dalembertus himself, to the centre of the camp to deactivate and retrieve the Hellgate.

And so it passes. Watched by what seems like half of Hell Tsung pushes the inset buttons on the Aztec disk again and the gate in the air slowly shrinks and disappears. The two sorcerers are then escorted back out of the camp, surrounded by growing activity. The demons are preparing to march, though the escorting Duke refuses to reveal to where.

The sorcerers Haroun and Tsung are escorted back to their protecting troops, the Dukes Hordamithran recounting all those soldiers and companies he has slain in his short time in the mortal world. He eyes the soldiers of the Baron Eynesford hungrily and his hand sometimes seems about to reach for the sword on his back. Under her breath Tsung Chang-Mai whispers to herself, “Not a tenth as many as I”, unimpressed with his boasts.

Tsung, Haroun and the soldiers of the Eynesford 1st of Foot march back to their landing place upon the coast. There are fewer demons upon the route now and many are drifitng slowly eastward, across the route of their own march north. There are even fewer of the abortive attacks by mad demons now but few sleep at all at night, but simply lie clutching their swords and trying not to listen to the horrible sounds that surround the still column.

A few mornings later, having skirted and avoided the tower of Scoralanthoris, the force is relieved to rejoin the rest of the soldiers raised on distant Invictus. There are more ships in the bay and more soldiers upon them. Reinforcements having apparently arrived during their absence.

Tsung announces her intention to carry on eastward to Cathay with the hellgate disc and Haroun quickly agrees to detail his flagship, and its soldiers to carry her to the Canal a little east. There she will be able to find Companies' help to journey the rest of the way, especially now the demon menace is dissipating.

A Very Quiet Invasion

Haroun only, and written by Helen.

The “relief troops” have boarded the ships already leaving no evidence visible from the beach that the new ships arrived empty, or that some of those you arrived on are now more crowded. The Ambassador's plan not to travel back to Albion with the small fleet means that it will be a simple taks to disguise the demons from her since she will have no chance to encounter them. Haroun makes every effort to speed her on her way to complete what she is doing with the disc (in Cathay?), while he travels back to Albion with the addition of demons from the Vale of Tears.


Tsung Chang-Mai’s Plans

From turnsheet 11 of Tsung Chang-Mai.

In court I signed an agreement with Dalembertus, both of us in blood. This agreement says that I shall not tell the Brandages of Dalembertus' plan to lure The Evil One from Nippon to the gates of heaven, and that I would aid in getting a theurgist of his finding to cathay to open a gate to heaven. In return Leah and David Brandage are not to be hurt or killed by his people and should they be captured, they are to be returned to me as quickly as possible. We also less formally agreed that Dalembertus would withdraw his demons from Cairo and allow me to collect the device that creates the gate therein. I would then open a gate with it from hell to the mortal realms of Cathay while the theurgist he chose would open a gate to heaven. His forces could then move through swiftly without any diversions in the mortal realm - for as part of our agreement, should the forces of hell hurt a single person of Cathay, then the truce is ended, and the might of Di Yu1) will bear down upon them. For my part I have not told the Brandages that Dalembertus intends to use The Evil One in his plan.

The first part of the plan requires getting the Hell Gate generator. I shall accompany Haroun to Cairo to recover the artifact. Hopefully as the demons withdraw we can follow closer than any others will dare due to the bargain I have with him. Most of this part of the plan I am leaving to Haroun to organise although I will of course help when I can. I believe Haroon has a few men for protection however I shall call on Niquanshé2) if it is needed. I suspect I shall need his help more later however. […]

Haroun ibn Rasheed’s Plans

From turnsheet 11 of Haroun ibn Rasheed.

[…] Rather than disclose to [Tsung] my special relationship with Dalembertus, I'll just let her assume that it's her deal with him that is being honoured, and that's how I'm getting the Hellgate back.

As with all things, I'm using this one for my own nefarious purposes. You see, for our protection, we're going to need a significant military force. I just so happen to have one of those. Not to mention the resources to put together a fleet to transport them on, and if this fleet is slightly too large for the force that is being transported, it's not really that big an issue.

I have a spy network of Imps on ships already. I imagine that means I have a pretty solid knowledge of “which ships are in port, and which captains are easy to rent” and so on. Couple this with my rank in the companies and getting together sufficient ships really shouldn't be a problem.

I'll send a message to the Demons in the Vale of Tears3). If they want in on the Ashen Vale, and are interested in working directly for me in the mortal realm, they should get their ass through the Hell Gate immediately. I want them dispersed along the coast when our ships arrive.

Whilst Tsung and I are heading towards the Hellgate with a full military escort (We can't allow any harm to come to the ambassador now can we? Is the line I'm feeding to the merchant companies), my demons shall take the forms of relief troops in the Eynesford 1st of foot, and board the spare ships under Ashen Vale officers. Ideally the ships used for transporting the demons should belong to Ashen Vale members of the terrorist organisation. […]

1) Chinese Hell
2) A Chinese demon who Tsung has arranged to guard her
3) The Duchy in Hell awarded to Haroun by a grateful Dalembertus
bonus.hellgate_recovered.txt · Last modified: 2008/03/12 07:42 by ivan