I like using RPGs as writing exercises. I recently picked up Band of Blades and wanted to do my own solo let’s play to get acquainted with the rules, and figured this time I could record my characters and their adventures for posterity. I started with 3 rookies, Shreya as chosen, and the Blighted and Breaker for Broken. Enjoy!
Chapter One: The Bridge to Karlsburg
The moon had shattered 3 years ago, but it still cast its pale blue light on Hozelbrucke bridge and the Tigeria river below it. The pieces hung close together in the night sky, and if Valeria squinted into the last of the evening’s rain she could almost picture it whole again. Maybe if she did she could remember what life was like before the Cinder King and his Broken. Before his army of undead had routed the armies of the Eastern Kingdoms, scouring the soil with pox and plague and turning every living soul into a thrall. Before the dwindling forces of Or and Bartan began recruiting criminals and mercenaries. Before the Legion joined the fight. Before Valeria joined the fight.
Something jabbed her in the back and Valeria turned and grabbed at her sword, heart beating against the leather protecting her chest. Arun scowled from behind her, his tattooed eyes making him look every bit the bandit he claimed to be. He jabbed her in the ribs again with the butt of his oar, and pointed ahead of them. They had finally reached the bridge. Rakash ahead of her stowed his oar in the little wooden boat they shared and steadied it against one of the stone pillars supporting the bridge with a meaty hand. Arun stowed his oar, then gingerly stepped by Valeria and helped Rakash secure the boat with rope and pittons from his climbing kit.
The boat had been a tough sell. The two Bartans had insisted that no one around Karlsburg would be willing to part with anything, much less a conveyance to get them away from the advancing army of the dead. But Valeria had found an old couple fleeing the city who were impressed with her Orite rank, and so she negotiated for the location of their fishing boat. All it had cost her where the medical supplies the Legion had allotted her. Rakash and Arun frowned at the loss, but neither were going to argue the point further. None of them wanted to be in view of the capital as they did their work.
The boat secured, Rakash pulled the first of four bundles of reagents from the boat and began securing them to the stone pillar. The Marshall of the Legion had chosen the three of them specifically for this mission, and had underscored in no uncertain terms that this was the moment to prove themselves.
“Shreya has selected you three to blow the bridge. Karlsburg is lost. The dead are at our heels. We’ll do our best to ensure none cross the river to outflank you.” The quartermaster had shown them how to use the bottles, to connect them via corkscrew shaped tubes of glass, and how long they would have before the science of alchemy did whatever it did to disintegrate everything around them. The quartermaster drilled the three of them several times, only satisfied when each one could name and assemble the components without mistakes.
“Just make sure to keep it stored separately from your lamp oil,” the quartermaster smiled, “or there won’t be enough left of you to record anything in the Legion’s annals.”
Before they had left, Shreya herself had spoken to them. Valeria could still see her solid golden eyes in her mind, staring somewhere over their shoulders as she spoke. Her voice vibrating everything around them.
“If the bridge survives, you will have my mercy.” Valeria remembered the Chosen’s mercy. The other two members of their squad had refused the mission. They were all rookies, barely a year served in the Legion, they said, and in no position to undertake such a dangerous mission so close to the advancing enemy. Valeria would have spoken up as well, but Shreya’s sword was so fast. The Chosen had moved on before the rookie’s heads hit the dirt. Valeria tried to remember their names.
Arun jabbed at her again. Valeria almost let out an Orite string of curses but Arun pressed a gloved finger to his lips, and pointed at Rakash. His large hands had made quick work of the improvised bomb, securing it to the bridge support with ropes and more pitons. The old Bartan untied the boat from the pillar and took up an oar. Arun did the same and whispered to Valeria as he stepped around her.
“Watch the bridge, princess.” Valeria winced. She was a Viscount, but she knew Arun didn’t care about the exhaustive minutiae of Orite lineages and peerage. Valeria drew up her musket, checked that the firing mechanism was still dry, and scanned the river and shorelines.
The dead had reached Karlsburg. As the three of them had hunted for the boat they could see smoke rising from the city on the other side of the river. She could now hear the occasional scream above the steady flow of water.
Slowly they made their way to the next support. Arun found a spot in the column where some of the stone bricks had become loose. He and Rakash used this to store the alchemicals while Valeria watched, her heart counting the agonizing seconds before they could move on.
That is when she heard the splash. Something large had fallen into the river ahead of them just as the Bartans had finished securing the bomb. Valeria turned to see a hand rise from the water and grope at the air as it breached the surface, pale in the broken moonlight. Another splash behind them. Then another.
The dead had arrived.
“Go, go!” Arun hissed as the men took up the oars and paddled quickly to the next support. Valeria surveyed the water with her musket, looking to see if any of the derelict bodies swam close.
More and more were falling into the river now, dropping at random, as if something huge was above forcing the zombies off the bridge as it moved. One bobbed to the surface upriver, and locked its pale decaying eyes on Valeria as she took aim.
“Wait!” Rakash warned too late. The shot from Valeria’s musket echoed off the water and stones, the bullet penetrating the zombie’s skull. Rakash cursed and finished tying off the satchel to the bridge. Arun grabbed his oar, both men at the front now, paddling hard. He grinned and shook his head at her.
“Good shot princess,” he said casually, “now when we die I will be safe knowing it wasn’t because you have terrible aim.” Rakash shushed him as the boat bounced against the next support. The armored Bartan didn’t even bother tying off the boat this time, just tossed the oar to the deck, dug his leather boot between stones in the support and held the boat with the other.
“Here,” Arun said, producing an oil lamp. “Since we’ve abandoned stealth.”
Rakash turned, “You fool! Remember what the quartermaster said? You want us all to die?”
More dead were falling into the river, compelled by the noise. Valeria finished reloading her musket with another shot, and raised her hand with the sign that the Legion had taught her meant ‘make ready to fire’. Arun saw, grabbed his own rifle, checked the firing mechanism, and shouldered it alongside her.
“Aim!” she said, picking a target. A young woman, her face half eaten away by pale worms. “Fire!”
Two shots rang out, two bodies sank to the bottom of the Tigeria. More were approaching, drawn to the noise and light of gunfire, paddling slowly but gradually against the current.
Valeria started to reload alongside Arun. She could hear him muttering prayers as he struggled to load the shot.
“We’re being surrounded old man!” He shouted. Rakash dropped back into the boat and took up both oars.
“Just one more!” he replied.
“Ready!” Valeria shouted. Arun threw the ram rod from the muzzle and took up his rifle. Valeria picked out one of the closest swimmers. “Aim!”
“Behind!” Rakash cried. Valeria turned. Above them, next to the column they had drawn up alongside, a series of hands were reaching below the bridge for purchases in the stone work. First three, then six, then a dozen, all connected to each other through sutures and iron nails. Several more wrapped themselves around the other side of the column, each the manyfold arms that made up a horror, an amalgamation of screaming and moaning undead bodies working in concert together. The rest of its expanse slid from the bridge above them, awkwardly dangling from the support as its lower extremities splashed into the water, it’s manifold arms gripping the column kept it from sinking.
“Ready!” Valeria screamed, kneeling in the boat as Arun turned and steadied himself for a shot. Rakash and his heavy armor kept the boat counterbalanced as he grabbed for his own rifle. “Aim!” The fleshy mass pulled itself against the current, grabbing higher and higher at the pillar. A series of partially dismembered torsos that made up one its legs rose up to capsize the boat. “Fire!”
The three shots tore into the maze of flesh. Several bodies came loose, the horror faltered and collapsed backward into the river. Valeria could still see the pink and white flesh writhing beneath the surface, but Rakash had already tossed his rifle aside.
“One more!” He repeated as he hammered a piton into the bridge support, his body stretching from the boat. “Just one more!”
Before Valeria could respond she felt wet hands grasping at her back. The rotters from the river had finally closed the distance. She could feel sharp bony fingers biting into the flesh around her neck as they tried to drag her under by the collar. She turned to see Arun struggling against two more, each with one of his arms in their grasp. Valeria awkwardly unsheathed her sword and stabbed one through the eye. As it slid into the river, Arun pushed the other off the boat, drew his own sword and swung it above Valeria’s head. She heard a sploosh and felt the grip on her neck go limp. Arun reached down and helped her up, black and green ichor covering his face.
As she stood she could see eight more rotters trying to lift themselves onto the boat. Rakash was hammering a piton into place as two, three, then six arms grabbed him from the boat and smashed his body against the column. The horror had returned, it’s other arm wrapping around the column as it rose from the river. Valeria turned to Arun, who began screaming prayers and divine names as he slashed at the rotters’ hands. When she looked to Rakash she could see him fumbling with something from his pack, struggling to right himself as he dangled from the hands. The old Bartan straightened his arm.
Lamp oil. Valeria turned and tackled Arun over the side of the boat as the dead climbed on. A second after she hit the water the world roared in her ears. She tried to make herself as small as she could, hoping the noise and chaos would pass her by. Moments later something heavy pushed down on her, threatening to drag her to the cold depths of the river. Valeria opened her eyes to see a stone block above her, one of many now plunging into the river. She pushed against it, letting it slide around her as she kicked at the water for the surface.
When she breached she sucked in air, sputtered, and looked around. She was confused. She couldn’t see the bridge at first, but then noticed the partial remnants at either end of the shore, above and behind her. Bodyparts floated around her, along with wood and other detritus. A call from the shore drew her attention. There on the bank was Arun, waving at her.
When she swam closer she could see a body next to him, Rakash. The left side of him was charred and burned,most of the metal plates of his armor blown clear by the explosion.
“He’s breathing. Barely. Somehow.” Arun shook his head and stared out at Karlsburg burning in the distance as Valeria dragged herself upright next to him.
“We should get going,” she said. “All of Aldermark would have heard that.” She looked down at Rakash. He looked dead, his skin still smouldered from the alchemical reagents eating away at him. “Should we…” she gestured at Rakash.
“Are you kidding me?” Arun looked at her. “If not for him we’re for the chop. If he dies he gets the proper Legionnaire funeral at least. Burn him proper. He ain’t coming back as one of those.” Arun groaned as he stood. Valeria nodded, ashamed at herself for thinking otherwise. Everyone who served the Legion was treated equally, and everyone got to be recorded in its histories. Especially suicidal old Bartans.
“We should find something we could use as a stretcher,” she said. Arun nodded.
“Yeah, don’t want to carry him all the way to camp on our backs.” He looked up and down the shore. “Hey uh, princess?”
Valeria looked at him, too tired to register the slight, “What?”
Arun held up his hands, surrendering. “I just wanted to say thanks for saving my life.” He winked a tattooed eye at her. “I’ll make sure no one calls you princess anymore.”