Our story opened with the party moving along the west road of the large island, trying to close distance with the city of Haralin. Careful progress needing to be balanced with a speedy approach, the group opted to remain on the road as long as possible as they moved south. The first several hours was relatively smooth going, suddenly interrupted by the pop of a thin wire at Tarsus’ feet. It had been stretched across the entire road, and seemed to snap back in slow motion toward a hastily hidden tube strapped to a tree trunk several yards off the road. Instantly, paper and pitch wadding ejected from the tube as an alchemical charge rocketed skyward, detonating brilliantly a few hundred feet above their heads. Cursing, the group shuffled quickly off the road and took cover briefly before continuing south by moving through the dense undergrowth.
A little less than an hour later, an Imperial patrol of eight soldiers rounded the bend in the road ahead of them, moving quickly north. They were most likely on their way to investigate the launched flare. Knowing these soldiers were capable scouts, the party hunkered down and hid, waiting for the patrol to pass before moving on. As they continued south, they came across another of the flare traps. Unable to even feign self-control at the possibility of such a prize, Sindar fell upon the device and commenced disabling its trigger in order to collect and study it. Unfortunately, a mix of excitement and impatience overcame his steady hands, and a muffled thud announced the launch of another flare as Sindar blinked the soot out of his eyes. Decided the patrol they passed was far too close for comfort and could be here within minutes, the party lit out at full speed through the woods to get some distance quickly before following their confiscated map to the village of Pato.
They found Pato much like the other villages they had checked: sacked and burned, with the populace massacred. In the distance, the low-frequency thuds of cannon fire disrupted their mournful silence. Tarsus climbed a tree to get above the dense foliage and spied the source. Just south of them, on the coast, a pair of Black Fleet freighters were putting the finishing touches on yet another village. The scene was too far away for the party to get there quickly, and the visible soldier too numerous to guarantee anything but a quick death. While surveying their surroundings, Tarsus spotted red canvas through the dense brush to the east. He quickly climbed down and informed the group, and they headed out.
Closer surveillance indicated the flash of red came from a small Imperial encampment, likely to be the scout headquarters indicated on their map. The group conferred on a plan to gain entry, expecting at least a dozen highly skilled soldiers to occupy the camp. Deciding on a course of action, they put their plan to work. Disguising Tarsus as best they could as a Black Fleet scout marine, the group approached. Tarsus came crashing toward the camp first, immediately attracting the attention of a pair of nearby archers who aimed at him, then relaxed their aim as they saw him clearly. He yelled out to them that he was being pursued, and they tensed again, scanning the woods behind him for threats. One of them raised the alarm, and the party realized their plan may have a small flaw as the nearby tents began to disgorge more soldiers.
Tarsus turned to face his comrades, playing the gambit for all he could get from it. Some of the soldiers shouldered past their “fellow marine” to get a clear bead on the rest of the party, and he attacked. The archer in front of him was taken completely by surprise, and the rest of the party was able to seal his fate before many of the marines could react. The rest, however, recovered quickly. They took up positions in a well-rehearsed pattern, archers moving to the outside and soldiers moving to cover any easy paths to reach them. The opening seconds of the fight saw the party release some devastating shots against the assembled marines. The Imperials identified Zayn as a primary threat, subjecting her to a withering barrage of arrows as putting her on the ground quickly. Finn rushed to her as the rest of the group closed ranks and focused on each marine in turn as best they could.
As Finn tried to get Zayn back into the fight, Sindar did his level best to teach the marines why it was a bad idea to clump up with wide sprays of acid and flame. In response, they sought to teach him why casters and ranged fighters should stay out of melee. The party downed a couple more marines in the exchange, but Sindar fell unconscious in the barrage of blows just as Zayn regained her feet. The group was staying just ahead in the body count, but the raw numbers still greatly favored the marines. For his efforts to get Sindar back to his feet, Finn found himself the focus of the marines’ efforts, and fell next under the onslaught as Tarsus finished off another of the archers. Tarsus called out for the party to disengage, and they fell into a controlled retreat, jamming a healing elixir into Finn to get him up and moving. As he tried to hold the line for his comrades, Tarsus was beaten down and captured. The remainder of the party pulled back into the woods to regroup, heal up as best they could, and discuss a rescue plan. Common sense dictated one course of action, but the prevailing sentiment of “what would Tarsus do if it was one of us” ruled the day. The party rushed headlong into a renewed assault on the camp.
Inside the largest of the tents, the remaining marines began to tie up the unconscious Tarsus. As noise from the new attack arose outside, his guards did the only thing they could do. Turning their back on this armored behemoth was an obvious mistake. One of guards pulled a blade and slit the man’s throat in a quick, practiced swipe as they prepared to counter the rest of the party. Outside, Zayn and Sindar threw absolutely every bit of violence they could muster at the marines, surprising them with the viciousness of the assault. Two marines fell quickly as Finn rushed to the tent. He knew that Tarsus wouldn’t have long, and might already be dead. In a purely technical sense, he was right. Tarsus was dead, but his soul had not left just yet. Without regard for his own safety, and with literally not a moment left to spare, Finn rounded the corner and flung his holy magic at Tarsus’ body, still falling sideways from a kneeling position to the ground.
Tarsus hit the ground unconscious, but alive. A few seconds later, he opened his eyes again, unsure of why the Hall of Heroes looked so much like the place he had just left. Pain wracking his body and the yells of his party brought realization to him, and he rose again. Dervish pressed itself into his hand as he swung at the marine that had cut his throat, and the man’s head came free of his shoulders. Outside, Sindar and Zayn chewed through their limited resources, felling one man after another. The marines finally regrouped outside the tent, but the battle was much more even by that point. Both sides paid dearly for the next few seconds of fighting, but the final few marines surrendered in the end. The severely battered party manacled their new prisoners and searched the camp for intelligence. They found a few useful bits, but relied heavily on questioning the senior prisoner, a cleric. He provided key information on what might prove to be new hope regarding Haralin. It had defenses the Empire occupiers did not yet understand how to activate, which sounded very much like the arcane “core” and defenses their own citadel had. If they could beat the Empire to these systems and use them first, they might turn the city itself against the Black Fleet.
As the party discussed the wisdom of staying here to recuperate versus moving into the woods, and what that might mean for their prisoners, the air nearby darkened at the arrival of their compunctious ally, Talia. Having scouted the city somewhat, she had a plan to get close to the commander of the garrison there, whose assassination would hopefully throw the occupiers into disarray long enough to gain a foothold there. At its core, her plan involved the party masquerading as escorts for an Imperial diplomatic envoy carrying orders for the fleet admiral from the Imperial Banner Hall. Talia would pretend to be the dead envoy (hardly a difficult feat for a vampire), and she would give the party a solid enough story to get close to the garrison commander, claiming her original message was for his ears only. Then she would attack, and the party would be free to accomplish their own goals inside the city.
The story closed with much discussion about the merits and costs of assassination as a combat tactic, and the party eventually agreeing that this might be the only realistic way to keep their promise to Blue and deal a significant blow to the occupation forces.
The vote has been tabled in the Asad while missing delegates are searched for and rescued. An automatic procedural clock of 60 days started when they went missing, with 12 days now remaining before the delegates are declared dead and replaced.
The Black Fleet has been spotted in Riyaqan waters, moving east along the southern coast. A secret Imperial occupation of Riyaqan territory has been discovered!