Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paladin-Part 19

James, Thomas, Torquil and the Hamilton Twins sat in conference around the campfire a few days later.

"I see now what the cult's strategy is," James said, "as this recent skirmish makes clear how they can outlast us."

The others nodded. "Our casualties are slight so far." one twin said, and then the other finished the thought: "But they're not going to remain so for much longer."

Thomas nodded his agreement. "It is wise to assume that the leadership now knows our strategy, which is why we're encountering their champions as we've done recently."

"A shift is needed," Torquil said, "and one that the cult doesn't anticipate."

"Agreed." James said, "They know now our size and capabilities, and they're becoming swift with locating and intercepting us when we move. They must suspect by now our full intention."

"So we turn about and bore straight for the mountain?" Torquil said.

James smiled the smile of a child rapt in joy. "Tomorrow we shift. I'll have orders in the morning. Dismissed."

The night fell quietly, and a full moon emerged against a cloudless sky. James sat at the fire, eyes closed and in a meditative position, chanting almost sub-vocally. A few moments later, he felt a presence contact his mind.

"James, I am so glad that you realized the depth of your situation." it said, and James recognized the voice of the Archmage.

"I've anticipated your need, James." he said, "You are correct that this strange man amongst the cult's champions holds the keys to victory, as it seems that this power is contradictory to the cult's aims and powers. Therefore he must be kept ignorant of the cult's true nature and patron; his power is inherently antithetical to that of its masters and the demons it deploys."

"Master, I would like your opinion on drawing him out using the Ten-Thousand Fires stratagem." James said, "I believe that the cult anticipates us turning and making a direct march upon the mountain now, and I wish to use that against them."

"The response by a wise opponent would be to scry for confirmation of desertion. How do you intend to deal with that response, youth?"

"Thomas possesses the means to detect scrying sensors, and I shall order the men to disburse into a guerilla-style wide formation to better exploit the terrain as we get closer to the target over the course of the march. If detected, Thomas shall deal a blow to the enemy's diviner. In the meantime, our disbursed band can make our group seem both larger and more fragile than we are. Once we create the illusion of our dissolution, the opportunity to easily divide and conquer will prove irresistible to the cult. They will spread out, and then we can permanently destroy them in detail."

The Archmage paused to consider James's plan. "Sound." he said, "Proceed."

"Once we've sprung the trap, I will detach Torquil with a few men to go ahead and clear a way by which we can finally approach undetected as they consume themselves with the chaos about them. In the meantime, we run Dezikon to ground and break him from the cult's thrall; brought to our side, he can get us straight into the very heart of the mountain- and then it is done."

"When you find this 'Dezikon', I shall be ready to assist you."

James smiled. "Permission to proceed?"

"Granted, youth. You are as I have foreseen."

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