The Pope Cycle

Presented here is the “Pope Plot” in all its overly long glory

Brother Ambrose is Sent on a Quest by her Holiness

Acres of Ass

Before you set off on your quest from her holiness you spend some time in the city of Antioch. There are far more donkeys then you thought and it seems the Host will not give you their aid as easily as you had hoped. The work is tiring and many of the donkeys do not appear to appreciate the word of the Lord indeed you would swear that some of them may be Muslims. You are kicked several times and spend three hours chasing one particularly uncooperative ass through the back streets of the city. It takes six days in total to track down every donkey in the city but at last you are sure that you have got them all. The bargain is fulfilled.

The Journey to Ma'arrat

It takes several weeks of hard trek across the desert to locate the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan. The landscape around the place is entirely desert, whatever fields or farms there may once have been have died and been abandoned, now not even insects seems to inhabit the place.

Ambrose is clearly uncomfortable on the trek, his portly monks frame not designed for the rigours of adventure into unknown lands. He sits uncomfortably on his donkey, occasionally trying to read a book or glance at his bible. Henry is however much more cheerful and the prospect of killing some Muslims has made him extremely optimistic about the expedition, his cadre of knights seem slightly less enthused and the heat of the desert is getting to them. The two barely speak. At one point Ambrose attempts to start a discussion on the sacrifices of the apostles but Henry simple stares at him and begins to sharpen his sword.

The desert seems to become even hotter and more parched as they approach the outskirts of the city, which seems to be as devoid of life as the desert itself. Houses and markets stand abandoned; indeed they look like they have been abandoned for many years. Some of them have large drifts of sand piled against decaying doors or have gaping holes in their structure where roofs or walls have collapsed.

The party moves slowly into the city. Ambrose is unsure where to begin his search but the city’s church seems like a logical choice. Henry however points out that, as a city of devil worshipping heathens there is probably only a mosque. With no better guesses they head towards a minaret that sits within the centre of the city. They come to mosque at midday. It sits within an expansive square in the centre of the city, the heat of the place is intense and the air boils as the suns rays bake the earth. The group dismounts and Ambrose instructs Henry to remain where is he is while he enters the Mosque.

You enter the mosque and it is clear that is no longer a place of Islamic worship. Much of the place lies in ruins and more disturbingly bones littler every inch of the floor and the stench of rot and decay is almost overwhelming. It is however, like the rest of the city, empty. At the far end of the building, beneath covered windows is an altar and on it sits a Cross. You have no doubt it is what you are looking for and you move toward it, bones cracking under your feet. The crucifix is plain and silver, unadorned in any way, and yet it is the most perfect example of religious iconography you have ever seen. In fact its perfection is almost unnerving, nothing should be that symmetrical or so well proportioned. You take the cross, which is cool to the touch, and place it within your bag. As you reach over the altar you see something else upon it; a old bible. You pick it up but as you do all hell breaks loose outside.

Ambrose emerges from the church to find Henry’s force engaging the emaciated forms of the laughing knights. The fight is not going well and several of Henry’s men are already down; their limbs torn from their body, their blood staining the sand of the square. Before he can react one of the insanely howling fiends rushes at Ambrose. The monk falls to his knee in prayer and all at once there is great rush of air and a brilliant light fills the square. The Angel Ophanim stands before him a golden spear in one hand and a burning sword in the other. With a single stroke of his blade the Angel cleaves the knight in half. With a great cry the angel launches himself into the melee, searing golden fire striking from his blade as he cuts down the knights who assail his master. Ambrose terrified runs down the nearest alley.

As Ambrose runs he looks behind him to see several of cackling knights following. In panic he trips and falls to the ground.

His voice rings out; 'I do God's work, my Son. You'd be best leaving me be.'

The quaver in his voice is barely detectable over his defiant faith but his sweat speaks of his fear. The pursuer laughs, and lunges with his sword but instead of the wet sound of sword in flesh, there's the sharp, harsh clink of sword against sword. The Knight looks up to see an Angelic Figure, Brass skinned and tall, wings of silver outstretched, with the sword of the Dawn raised against the attacker.

In the swirling, chaotic melee which follows, the Angel quickly bests the knights, knocking their blades aside and cutting them down. At that moment Henry and his rehorsed knights thunder down the alley. Reaching down Henry grabs the fallen monk by the scruff of his neck and hoists him onto his horse. The angel seeing his master safe spreads his wings and vanishes in a flash of light.

With the insane laughter all around them they flee the city as fast as their horses can carry them, their numbers much reduced. As they take their last glimpse of the central plaza they see the laughing knights begin to feast on the flesh of their fallen comrades.

The journey back to your home is uneventful. You spend most of the time nursing your bruises but you also have some chances to study the Cross and Bible. The cross continues to appear unremarkable but there is something about it that nags at you, something that is simply not right about it, though it what it may be you cannot tell. The tattered bible you found is also a mystery. It is missing many pages and others are covered in spidery writing that you fear may be written in blood, the writing itself appears to be nothing more than nonsense and insane ramblings. The only clue you find to its origins is a name inscribed on the front cover: Lady Isabella of Barbara.

On you arrival back in the Holy Land you pass the cross to the papal emissary sent by the Holy See. He thanks you profusely and assures you that your order will revive much favour from the Pope for your service. He reminds you to be discrete about anything that occurred.

Ambrose reads the Black Bible

Your research into the laughing knights goes slow. At first you can find no explanation for their existence but as you trawl through reports and documents you discover that the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan has been a cursed place for some time. There have been many reports of missing caravans, missionaries and even whole regiments of soldiers in the desert around that dead city. You begin to suspect that the laughing knights with their unearthly strength and terrible purpose must have been responsible for these disappearances. The history of the city itself is easy to investigate and as you trawl through the library of Jerusalem you discover one particularly interesting passage in a book recounting the events of the 1st crusade:

“The siege of Ma'arrat al-Numan went poorly for the crusaders. They had taken half the city and had even converted the great central mosque into a Christian shrine but they could not break the defences of the northern portion of the city. Worse, the heathen host had cut off their western supply routes and the noble knights of the Order of the Faith and Peace were gradually starving. With their supply routes cut off and no sign of reinforcements the knights became desperate and they turned their anger on their Arab prisoners. The outcome of the siege is lost to history but we hear terrible rumours of it; reports of rape, torture and cannibalism abound. The Arabs have never forgiven the Christians for those atrocities and we may never know the truth of them for the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan fell to the Arabs, who broke the siege, though they promptly abandoned it claiming it was cursed by God himself. No Christian has journeyed to the city for a century”

Your researches into the bible are harder going. If the name in the cover is correct then it was owned by the preceptor of the Military Order that besieged the city; Lady Isabella of Barbara. The bible itself is a stinking mess. Many pages are missing and some seem to be soaked in dried bodily fluids. Over almost every page is the same spidery writing. Often it appears nonsensical; a mixture of corrupted religious rambling and ravings about darkness and demons. At first you think that you will be able to discern nothing from the text but as you study it more closely you see that in some places it is a journal of sorts and you are able to make some sense of a few of the entries.

“…Cut off. Food running low. Men nervous and weakening…we cannot break the walls…Arabs have us trapped…”

“…No food now. The prisoners have begun to die. The Lord have mercy on us.”

“…Found a crypt beneath the mosque…used remaining strength to move the great door…found a Cross, here in this city of heathens…beautiful…”

“…Have prayed on it. I see now. The flesh will sustain us…The Lord has provided in his mercy…”

“…I feel myself full of righteous strength…invigorated…we must find more flesh to transubstantiate…the hunger burns…pray…pray…pray for my soul…I hear the voice in prayer…feed”

At this stage it is clear that the writer has descended into complete madness and the final entries seem to be covered in dried tears and blood. The pages after this become full of insane ranting and are littered with strange symbols that are from no language that you have seen or heard of, you suspect some of them are written in blood.

The Antipope Steals Papal Gold

The ship from Venice arrives at the port of Acre a month after the peace of the Covenant. Its contents: gold from the Vatican bank. Its destination: the mercenaries to be hired to hunt the Antipope. However the mercenaries and the Antipope have quite a different idea.

The gold is safely unloaded from its ship and is loaded into caravans that will take the gold to the border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem where it is to be delivered to Pavel Korovic. Of course to accept the gold and then renege on the contract is bad form for a mercenary so a plan is devised to steal the gold on route to the delivery point. With the detailed information obtained by Pope Peter and Joshua ben Isaac the route that the gold is to take is quickly determined and the trap is set.

The wagons are heavily guarded and are accompanied by a contingent of guards from the Vatican. Determining that a frontal assault would merely result in unnecessary causalities Pavel concocts a plan of devious tricky to acquire the gold. With the help of the Antipope Pavel is able to attire his elite force of mercenaries in the vestments of nuns from the order of the Hospital Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus. Dressed as such and with their weapons concealed the fighting force, along with Pavel and a similarly attired Pope Peter, await their prey.

Several miles outside the city of Jericho the caravan stops as it rounds a bend in the road to find the way blocked by a group of nuns. With a wave the guard captain orders his men to lower their weapons.

“Hail little sisters of mercy; what are you doing here so far from the protection of a city?” He shouts.

A nun, with rather more facial hair then a nun should have, approaches the captain’s horse and in high pitched voice says;

“Oh good knight, God has shown us great mercy with your arrival” As she speaks the pitch of her voice rapidly descends, apparently realising this she coughs before continuing, “Our wagon has fallen from the side of the road, if you kind knights could help us bring it back to the road then we may make back to the nunnery”

The guard captain purses his lips as he gazes over the group of nuns, most of who are examining their feet or keeping their faces concealed. His lieutenant leans forward and whispers in his ear;

“They are nuns sir, surely we can help them briefly?”

“So be it.” Replies the Captain “Get some men down there to right the wagon.”

At the direction of their captain half of the guards move away from the wagons and scrabble down the side of the road towards the overturned wagon below. The nuns, seemingly peering down at their rescuers, move between them and the gold. The guards begin to move around the fallen wagon and are about to turn it back upon its wheel s when one of the nuns trips and stubs her toe on a rock.

“Fuck that hurts!…Fucking Rock!” She bellows.

The guards spring up and a look of horror crosses the Captain’s face as the nuns pull off their habits and from somewhere produce an array of extremely deadly looking weaponry.

“They’re not nuns, they’re not nuns at all” Cries the captain, “Defend the caravan!”

“Jesus Christ!” Shouts another man; “I think that one’s the Antipope!”

The ensuing scuffle is short and with the guards divided they cannot put up much of a fight. They quickly surrender and are left tied by the side of the road. Pavel, Pope Peter and the mercenaries leave, with few casualties, the shipment of papal gold in tow.

The Antipope Investigates Urbane

Your spies in the Vatican get to work. It is dangerous for them as the Vatican is incredibly insular and more than once you are a forced to wait many weeks for a reply from your agents. However they skilled and diligent and you learn much from them.

From their mail interception activities you learn that the Holy See is purposefully staying aloof from the politics of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Pope wishes to see who will emerge as the victor in the battle of wills between Raymond of Tripoli and Philip of Jerusalem, although she has been sending messages of support to both sides. You also learn that the Vatican is showing considerable favouritism to the Order of Mary Magdalene, no doubt for their efforts in attempting to arrest you.

Recovering details of the Papal election is enormously difficult, since the conclave or Cardinals meets in absolute secrecy, sealed within the Vatican. However your agents do recover some interesting details surrounding end of Lucius III’s reign. It seems that as the old Pope weakened he simultaneously appointed many new Cardinals; often from unusually low within the church's hierarchy. Concurrent to this several prominent Cardinals, namely those who might have been in contention for the papacy, died. As far as your agents can determine none of these deaths were suspicious, but the concentration of them certainly seems to be odd. One name in particular stands out from the list of missing Cardinals; Giovanni Cheli. He does not seem to have died but has vanished from every record in the Vatican since the election of Urbane; your agents can find nothing more about him. It seems that with the death of many old Cardinals and the creation of many new ones Urbane was able to win the vote in the College of Cardinals’ almost unanimously.

The strange thing is that your agents have still not been able to trace the ecclesiastical career of Urbane herself and how she rose to be the elected as the new Pope. They do have more luck in tracing her recent reading materials however and although they cannot gain access to the Vatican’s Secret archives they do send you the name of one of the documents that they believe Pope acquired from Alexandria; “The Gospel of Judas”.

The Antipope and the Case of the Missing Cardinal

Your spies spend long hours tracing the elusive Giovanni Cheli who seems to have simply vanished from the face earth. Last seen just after the death of Lucius he entirely disappeared a few days before conclave of cardinals met to elect Urbane as the new Bishop of Rome.The trail seems dead until one of agents locates a vestment shop in Rome that came into possession of some Cardinal’s robes marked with Cheli’s name. It seems that a man visited the shop and swapped the robes for those of a monk and promptly left never to return.

Your spies carefully reconstruct the path of this mysterious monk through Italy using his stays at inns to trace his route from Rome. Finally after many months of work they locate the end of the trail at a monastery in the far north of Italy; St.Francesco's Holly. One of your agents is able to enter the monastery and catches sight of the monk and though he has a thick beard he is clearly Giovanni Cheli himself.

After the events within the temple mount you decide to risk the trip to Italy to talk to the Cardinal and discover why he has gone into hiding within the monastery. You come to him in the evening as the light begins to fail. His room is spacious and a warm fire burns in the hearth, as he turns to greet you his eyes widen;

“Jean Ricard!” he exclaims “but how did you discover me? How did you come to be here!?”

“Fear not Giovanni, Urbane does not know that I tracked you here” you reply.

“So…you know that I am hiding from that woman…that monster…that devil” he speaks, sounding almost relieved.

“Why are you hiding here? Why would you flee Rome?” you ask, the urgency evident in your voice.

“What matters it now if I share my secrets? With the antipope no less.” He smiles weakly and then takes your hand. “But perhaps it is for the best; perhaps you may save the church from her.”

You lean in to catch his words when the room plunges into darkness. As you struggle to regain your orientation you hear Cardinal Cheli whimper and you feel the temperature in the room plummet. As you turn in the bitter cold you see that the fire in the hearth is still alight but the flames are burning with a cold blue light. As you stare at them they begin to writhe and distort and two bright points of light appear deep within them, around these the fire shifts and from it a woman’s face resolves the points of light deep within her burning eyes. You think at first that it is the face of Cardinal de Tartarts but as you study the face you see that it is that of an older woman, one with a stern dignified beauty. Realisation dawns on you; it can only be Urbane herself.

The gleaming blue eyes move across the room as they rise from the hearth and a body, wearing the papal robes, is formed from the flames behind them. Within the room now stands the burning avatar of Urbane herself and she is terrible to behold. The mouth of the image opens and a voice sounds as if from far away;

“Cardinal Giovanni Cheli.” The voice is silken smooth and perfectly emotionless, the eyes move to look at you “I see your heresy knows no limits, consorting with the antipope no less.”

The burning form turns to you. “I must thank you for being here Cardinal Ricard. This is most serendipitous, you shall make this visit so much more…productive.”

The image of the Pope raises its hand and a roaring torrent of the blue fire leaps forth striking at Cheli. He screams as the flames engulfs him, racing across his clothing, tendrils of it snaking unnaturally across his flesh. He flails uselessly at the magical inferno that burns him with a searing cold and falls to the ground, his screams are terrible.

As you watch the horror the spectral pontiff raises her other hand and points it at you almost lazily. Once more the fire roars forth but as it does so the runes upon your papal mitre shimmer into life and as the deadly torrent nears you it is torn asunder by invisible currents of force, dissipating into nothingness. The image of Urbane narrows its eyes and redoubles its effort and more of the deadly sorcery strikes at you, but the magic of your pope-hat endures. Cheli is clearly in his death throws now and you can see where the fire has burned his flesh into powdery black ice but with his last breaths the ravaged skull turns to you and screams a name;

“Isabella of Barbara!”

And with that he dies, the blue fire boiling from his mouth and eye sockets. The image of the pope is now wavering and distorting as it hurls the fire it is composed of at you and then with a distant cry of frustration the figure is consumed and the room is once more plunged into shadows, only the flickering blue flames on the body of Cheli remaining.

You leave hurriedly thanking god for your spiffy new Papal mitre.

The Cursed City of Ma'arrat is Cleansed

The Legacy of the First Crusade

The last oasis before the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan is the meeting place for all those who have joined together to crush the menace of the laughing knights once and for all. Three great forces have been assembled by Siddig al Naziah, Pavel Korovic and Al-Afdal ibn Salah ad-Din; Siddig his Baghdad Bedouin, Korovic his mercenary knights and Al-Afdal his warriors from Damascus. Joining them are Zafir and Rasha al Naziah, the warriors of tribe Al-Naziah and Princess Petra the famed relic hunter. Looking nervous and keeping quite at the back is the monk Brother Ambrose.

The man Jacob has also joined the group, for he has learned of the terrible history of the laughing knights of Ma'arrat al-Numan, and together with the lore that Brother Ambrose has assembled the two are able to understand the origin of the fell warriors:

During the 1st crusade the Christian Order of Faith and Peace ventured deep into Muslim lands and attempted to besiege the city. Once they held the mosque at the centre of the city the crusaders themselves became surrounded by the Muslim armies. During the counter siege the Preceptor of the Order, Lady Isabella of Barbara, appears to have discovered an ancient shrine deep beneath the city's mosque and within that shrine a relic; the Cross of St. Guglielma of Bohemia. The events that transpired after that are unclear and the histories indicate that either the Muslim or Christian forces were wiped out and the once the massacre was over the great city of Ma'arrat al-Numan was abandoned to the the desert. It is clear that what remains of the Order of Faith and Peace now survive as the monstrous laughing knights and have been sustained for a century by the human flesh that have taken from the caravans and travellers that pass too close to the dread city.

All present agree that these demonic Knights must be wiped out before they can harm more innocent people. At the Oasis the group concoct a plan of attack to ensure that every last one of the laughing knights is destroyed. It is Pavel who steps forward with a strategy to move through the city and systematically eradicate the threat.

Pavel's plan is rather confusing and it takes quite allot of hand waving and complicated scribbling on an old map of the city. Eventually you feel that you have got the gist of it but the timing and coordination involved are precise and you're not sure that you quite grasp the details. Still time is moving quickly and the journey to the city will be long and arduous there is no more time to argue over plans.

Glory of the Celestial Host

From the Oasis it takes four days to reach the summit of the hills that sit to the north of the cursed city and as dusk falls the great host spy the city upon the horizon, the falling sun beginning to touch the silhouettes of the broken towers and crumbled buildings.

“Do we assault the city by night or risk camping here?” asks Jacob.

“If we sleep those cursed knights may be able to catch us unawares as we rest, our best chance is to destroy them before the sun sets” replies Pavel cautiously eyeing the cover provided by the boulders that litter the landscape around them.

“We have only hours until dark, can it be done in that time?” comes Ambrose's voice.

Rasha rolls her eyes “You forget, we have the support of the 'Angels'”

“We must move on the city with all haste, these infidel demons must not be allowed exist a moment more then they have!” Al-Afdal's voice is firm and he looks with anger toward the city before them.

Ambrose looks faintly embarrassed. “I will call upon the Host then, let us cleanse this cursed place once and for all.” He kneels on the ground and softly begins to pray.

Above them the sky is darkened as clouds begin to congeal in the dry desert air, around them a great wind arises and beneath them the ground begins to tremble slightly. The clouds become raging thunderheads and deep within them the crackle of lightning can be heard. Brother Ambrose raises his eyes and sighs as, from the centre of the roiling vortex, a golden shaft of sunlight strikes down onto the ground before the party. The sounds of trumpets and melodious harps can be heard as a choir of white robed angels emerge from the great light in sky, their voices rise in unison and they begin a melodic chant of Alleujahs.

“Well there goes our surprise attack” mutters Siddig.

The sound of the celestial chorus rises to a deafening crescendo and as it does the shaft of light becomes a blinding, searing white and from the clouds emerges the angel Ophanim. His appearance is rather more impressive since his last grand entrance; he is larger now and wears a magnificent golden cuirass , his silver wings gleam with an unearthly radiance and atop his head is a halo of white fire. Hands on hips and with his wings spread wide he begins to descend through the beam. As he does his mighty voice booms out;


“Yes, Yes, we've heard it all before” cries Rasha into the sky. Ophanim stops abruptly and he looks briefly annoyed then he pulls himself together and continues his descent;


“You're not fooling anyone with all this you know.” Shouts Rasha, interrupting the entrance once more.

“And your choir's lips aren't even moving in time with the music.” points out Jacob, with an extremely skeptical look on his face.

Ophanim glances up at the angelic chorus who look faintly embarrassed and pretend they can't see his frown. He continues;


“Could you at least hurry up, we've got a city to besiege.” Calls Zafir

Ophanim looks crest fallen and for a moment it seems as if the shaft of light may wink out. Ambrose turns to the group and whispers;

“Don't upset him, he seems to take it very personally if you question his angelic nature.” He raises his head and shouts into the maelstrom “Oh wise and mighty Ophanim, we must hurry lest this city of abominations escape the justice of the Lord.”

The angel's face brightens and with a flap of the shimmering wings he alights before brother Ambrose with a bow;


“Finally” mutters Pavel as the Choir of Angels retreats into the dissipating clouds high above, one of them seems to scratching its rear.

“Well he knows how to make an entrance, I'll give him that.” says Al-Afdal his voice dripping with sarcasm.

With the Archangel flying above them the armies descend the pass towards the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan. About a mile from the fallen walls of the city the three armies divided into their separate strike forces. With waves and mutual blessings of good luck the forces move to surround the city at three sides while Jacob, Ambrose, Rasha, Zafir and Petra move into the centre of the city via the great central boulevard.

Black Humour

Much like during Ambrose's previous foray into the city the place is apparently deserted. The orange light of the setting sun reveals no demons hiding in the shadows and even the light emitted by Ophanim fails to illuminate any ambush in the dark alleyways and abandoned shop fronts that they pass. As they venture further into the city the shadows lengthen and the fell aura of the place begins to weigh heavily on them. Finally they approach the great market square of the city in the centre of which stands the ruined mosque, the minaret has been partially destroyed and from the remains of its summit flies a banner on which is a silver heart pierced by a red sword, beneath the shield are the words “QUID ITA SERIUS”.

Like the rest of the city the square is empty and devoid of any sign life, the buildings bordering it ruined and bleached by the sun.

“Where are they?” mutters Zafir.

The sun is little more than a line of fire on the horizon now and the square is rapidly falling into night. The group spreads out and cautiously searches the buildings surrounding the square while Ophanim rises into sky above to observe the entire city. It is Petra who pushes open the door of the Mosque and ventures into the cool darkness within. She edges cautious into the vast central prayer hall and comes upon the macabre detritus left behind by the knights; human skulls, rotting arms and bloody pelvic bones litter the floor of the place, most of them picked clean of flesh. The stench is atrocious but she ventures on towards the huge altar that has been erected at the far end of the hall. It is covered in blood and seems to have been desecrated since Ambrose was last in the place. Of more interest to Petra however is the sack by the altar's side, it too is covered in blood but within she can see the gleam of gold. She hurries over to the altar and grabs the bag. As she does so, someone laughs.

Outside in the city another laugh echoes across the rooftops, reverberating in the passageways and arches that surround the square. The group look around and high above Ophanim turns to the source of the maniacal laughter. As Petra rushes from the mosque, from within which peals of hellish cackling are now pouring, a second laugh joins the first outside and then a third and then more and more until the night air is saturated with the terrible sound.


“Something’s gone wrong” cries Zafir as he draws his blade, “The armies must be driving them towards us, we'll be trapped here by the fool Korovic!”

Around them the insane chorus of laughter are growing in volume and intensity and it sounds as if an army of Hyenas is descending on the square. The mad harmony rolls around the marketplace, the laughs merging and interfering until they party feel as if they are trapped within a reverberating cage of the approaching insanity. At first they see no movement anywhere in the square but then with a cry of alarm Rasha points. Atop the roof of a high house stands a figure; Its chainmail is rusted and torn, it’s links filled with dirt and dried blood; on it chest is a ragged tabard, the vestiges of a white cross still visible but now mired in filth and gore; In its hand it carries a great sword, its blade nicked and dull but still, no doubt, deadly. As it moves it drags the blade's tip along behind it and all the while it laughs; emotionless, discordant and continuous. With an inhuman leap the laughing knight jumps from the roof and lands with cat like grace on the ground below.

“What the hell are these things?” Asks Rasha as she too draws her knife.

“The consumption of flesh has changed them” replies Jacob “They’ve lived for over a century sustained by it, who knows how strong or resilient it makes them. Let us hope they can still die.”

All the around the great square the knights are emerging now. From over the rooftops and from alleyways they come. Their faces are emaciated, stained with blood and everyone one of them is contorted with the fell humour that animates them.

“There are so many of them…” says Ambrose softly as he crosses himself “So many souls damned by this terrible place.”

“I fear only death can free them from the terrible sin that has ensnared them” replies Jacob resolutely as he also draws his gleaming blade.

The hoard of Knights moves in, some with weapons and some with only their blood stained fingers quivering before them. The entire party are now drawn into a small knot before the doors of the mosque, which they slam close to guard their rear.

“Just how strong are these thi…” asks Petra as the first knight charges the laughter never stopping.

The speed of the maniac thing is impossible and Zafir barely has it chance to raise his blade before the Knight crashes into him. Its strength is prodigious and Zafir cries out as the thing attempt to wrench the blade from his hands but with a twist he breaks free and with a great sweep of his blade severs the thing's head.

The eyes of the other laughing knights do not seem to even register the death of their comrade but as he falls they tense and begin to move. As they urge forward from above comes the battle cry of the Archangel;


In his right hand appears a burning sword of Dawn, fire dripping from the radiant blade and in his left a golden spear wreathed in celestial light. As the Knight closest to the party leaps the angel slashes through the air with the great blade and from its tip a wave of fire roars. As the great arc of flame touches the Knight at the apex of its jump the thing is utterly consumed before the inferno slams into the Knights behind it.

At that moment from the great thoroughfares at the east and west sides of the square the forces of Al Afdal, Pavel and Siddig emerge pushing more of the chuckling monsters before them.

Battle Before the Mosque

There is chaos in the great square of Ma'arrat al-Numan. The three armed forces have driven the Knights into the square, there to trap them. However in its centre, by the great doors of the cursed Mosque, are trapped Rasha, Zafir, Jacob, Ambrose and Petra. Petra, Jacob and Zafir have created a whirling ring of steal about the group and any Knight that enters is cut down. Rasha darts in between the arms of the stronger fighters cutting at the ankles and eyes of the knights if they get too close, though the things seem to shrug off the injures with little effect. Meanwhile Ambrose has his eyes tightly closed in prayer as he leans on the mosque’s door while above him the shining form of Ophanim rains destruction down upon the laughing monsters as golden fire strikes from the point of his spear even as the knights are burned to nothingness by the scythes of flame pouring from his sword.

The combined forces of Al-Afdal, Pavel and Siddig strike into the rear of the Knights, greatly outnumbering the cursed warriors. However the strength of the Knights is monstrous; they seem to easily tear limbs from torsos, picking men up bodily as they do so; their punches crush armour as if it were parchment and when they strike with their blades men scream as their bodies are hacked into bloody chunks by the dull weapons.

At the head of his warriors Al-Afdal is torn from his mount as one of the Knights rips the throat of the beast out. With a cry he rolls to the ground even as the Knight turns its crazed emotionless gaze on him. In an instant however the son of Saladin has righted himself and he drives his blade into the creatures skull with a furious strike. The thing quivers, gurgling laughter still pouring from its open mouth, and it reaches out toward Al-Afdal with its bloody hands. With wrench the warrior pulls his sword free and the Knight's head ruptures. The laughter stops and the thing falls dead.

Pavel is having a hard time of it as well; his mercenaries are holding back the line of Knights, keeping them within the square, but some of the fiends are leaping past the front lines landing behind his men and tearing them apart from the rear. Raising his blade and with a great battle cry Pavel rallies the men around him and engages the enemies that have got behind the lines. The General is fearsome in battle and he cleaves through the Knights left and right, their laughs cut short by his fury.

As the encroaching soldiers drive the Knights deeper into the square the group by the mosque is becoming overwhelmed. Jacob and Zafir look exhausted and Petra only just manages to free herself as one of the Knights grabs her by the throat. Above them the Archangel swoops closer and as his eyes flare a ring of silver fire erupts around the group, the Knights caught within it are disintegrated instantly and the party are brought a brief respite from the onslaught of their foes held outside the ring.

It is Ambrose who notices the shadow first and screams out but the Angel sees too late. From the dome of the mosque above leaps one of the monsters slamming into the Angelic form. With a great crash and flutter of wings the Angel careens in to the ground, the Knight on its chest, outside the protective ward of flame. Though the laughter of the legion of Knights does not alter it seems to convey a grim tone of victory as they swarm onto the fallen Angel and Ophanim’s form is lost beneath a pile of the maddened fiends. Ambrose can do nothing but look on in horror.

Siddig looks in terror as the magical fire around his family members begin to fail and the laughing Knights reach menacingly over the flames with their blood-spattered hands. With a shouted command he calls a group of the Bedouin warriors to him and they push into the swarming forms of the Knights and begin to fight toward the Mosque. Siddig , it seems, is no warrior but his men protect him well and he seems determined to reach his family members. The Knights fall back before the onslaught of the Bedouin and even as the last of the silver flames flickers out Siddig reaches the doors of the Mosque, the Bedouin surrounding the party. Quickly they begin to draw back towards the main force, lest the Knights overwhelm them. Across the square Pavel calls out;

“We must fall back and draw them to our forces encircling the city! They will overwhelm us here!”

As Al-Afdal opens his mouth to bellow a response the shockwave hits.

The Ten Condiments

In the centre of the square a vast explosion rips through the Knights, demolishing the facade of the Mosque only just vacated byZafir’s group and hurling the monsters in all directions. The wave of force throws men from their horses and camels even on the outskirts of the square and the city reverberates with the sound. In the centre of the blast stands the dishevelled looking Archangel; his sword and spear have vanished and his halo appears to be sitting crooked on his brow but his eyes burn with a terrible golden light. With a flap of his silver wings he soars into the air above the square.

The Knights recover quickly from the blast, faster than their opponents, and begin to tear into the lines that a moment ago had held them back. It seems that in moments the tide of the battle may turn but the booming voice of the Angel fills the square.

“YOU WOULD DARE ASSAULT A LORD OF THE HOST AND HARM THE FAITHFUL!” The fury is evident in his voice and he seems to grow even greater in stature as he speaks, the light in his glowing eyes becoming ever brighter.

“I AM A SERVANT OF THE LORD AND BY THE POWER OF THE DIVINE TRINITY I SHALL SMITE THEE! IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER! OF THE SON! AND…” He pauses and the light in his eyes dims as they focus into the middle distance.


Down below the Knights continue to drive into the lines. Siddig’s group has almost rejoined with the main force but the maniac fiends are swarming over the smaller group of Bedouin tearing many of them to shreds. Ambrose ducks as a bloody claw rakes over his scalp and he screams up at the Angel;

“Holy Spirit! Holy Spirit! Father, Son and the Holy Spirit!”

Ophanim looks at him puzzled and then with smile the brilliance in his eyes returns.


The Archangel spreads his massive wings and flings wide his arms as light envelops him. The wings move from silver to white as a searing radiance pours from them. For an instant the figure of Ophanim blazes with an incomprehensible brilliance, brighter then the heart of the noonday sun itself, and the world is lost in a white nothingness.

Silence falls upon the square and across the city. Everyone reaches for their eyes as globs of colour float across their blurred vision. As their sight begins to return once more they see the city in shadow with the dimmed form of the smug looking Angel floating high above them. The laughing Knights are gone and around them the square is full of many differently coloured squat pillars.

Petra, first to regain her senses, reaches out and touches a mottled brown one. It collapse in a cloud of dust; she cries out reaching for her eyes and sneezes.

“Blarrg! Pepper!” she croaks between snorts.

Pavel reaches out to a pillar next to him, this one a polished shade of red. With a slurp it collapses as the think gelatinous goo it is composed of falls to the ground. He dips a finger in it, sniffs it and then places it in his mouth.

“Not bad” He mutters under his breath.

All around the square people rub their eyes as the world returns and begin to examine the knight sized pillars. Some seem to be made of salt or sugar and remain standing when touched , others seem to be made of vinegar, fish paste or indeterminate brown liquids and splash to the ground at the slightest disturbance, popping like huge bubbles.

Ophanim descends to earth, his radiance lessened to observable levels. Looking extremely pleased with himself he walks jovially over to Ambrose who appears to have been drenched in thick Dijon mustard by one of the popping pillars.


Wiping his burning eyes clear Ambrose looks about him and says weakly “Yes…”

Ophanim’s smile falls slightly and he looks rather unhappy at the response, his wings drooping. Catching the look of disappointment Ambrose quickly continues;

“Very…um…” he looks at the assorted pillars around him, “very…biblical.”

The Archangel beams and once more places his hands on his hips.

“THEN I SHALL AWAY MINUSCULE MORTAL FOR MY WORK HERE IS DONE!” he says and with a mighty beat of the silver wings he leaps into the air and races off toward the horizon.

Rasha walks over to Ambrose, carefully stepping around of pool of what appears to be horseradish, and looks at the retreating form of Ophanim.

“By Allah, I hate that stupid Angel” she says to no one in particular.

“He means well.” says Ambrose at he looks down at his sodden robes, “I think.”

A Scourged City

The city is cleansed, the laughing Knights destroyed. Within the remains of the ruined mosque the group find the entrance to the ancient shrine that once must have been discovered by the cursed Knights. It is a dark cave that has been chiselled into a strangely perfect cube, with an apparently Christian altar sitting at one end. There seems to be nothing of religious significance within it any more but the knights appear to have filled it with the gold and treasures taken from their victims.

As Jacob reaches down to pick something up a laugh fills the room and dread overcomes everyone but no manic Knight jumps out to devour them. However there is a Knight; in the corner, amongst the treasure, emaciated and ragged like the others but his laughs are punctuated with words, though with little meaning. He huddles there while his eyes move wildly yet unseeing, his face contorted into the grimace of humour. Al-afdal raises his blade to strike the Knight dead but Ambrose and Jacob rush forward to stay the blow.

“He may yet be redeemed” says Jacob

“We shall take him back to my monastery.” Says Ambrose. “Perhaps there he can get the help he needs.”

The expedition is both righteous and profitable with much gold and a variety of treasures recovered. With the shrine emptied the party make to leave but as they turn away Jacob gasps. Now revealed on the floor, where once it was obscured by the piles of stolen valuables, is a complex mosaic of interweaving black and white lines. The pattern is perfectly symmetrical and it has a eerie alien beauty to it. Many of the things depicted are unrecognisable but in the very centre is a black cross and under it is the word “AXIOS”.

The Antipope Discovers The Secrets of her Holiness

Cardinal de Tartars appears to have vanished off the face of the earth. No letters pass between her and Rome and your agents in the Vatican tell you that even the Pope seems unaware of her legate’s location. Obviously you are pleased that the horrible harridan won’t be pursuing you in the near future, but it is mysterious.

From the Vatican you agents are able to send you various titbits of news. The papal inquisition in Europe is growing in power and influence and they have been relentless in hunting down and destroying heretics. Many have been put to the flame and Urbane seems intent on crushing any deviation from the infallible dogma of the Church. You also hear some extra info about the attack on Urbane. It seems that this did indeed occur and that Urbane was injured in the attack though you have no details on how, however it seems she has sent for one of Rome’s master jewellers. Your agents also send you news from the city of Rome. Though it is being hushed up by the authorities it seems that children, no more than babes have been vanishing from all over the city, carried away by shadows in the night.

Though your agents find it almost impossible to get near the Pope they can confirm one thing. She spends much of her time praying in her private chapel…before a silver cross.

Isabella of Barbara

The name of Isabella of Barbara is a difficult one to research. Your agents in the Vatican and in the western kingdoms comb through many records in an attempt to trace who this individual may have been. Every time they get a promising lead they find the record missing or the monastery that contained it abandoned or mysteriously burnt to the ground several decades ago. However they are diligent and you shift through the information that they send to you. Eventually you come across a letter written by the bishop of Ancona, it old and looking at the date you see that it pre-dates the first crusade, well over a century ago:

“The Lady is fearsome in the intensity of her faith and devotion. She has risen through the ranks of the military orders quickly and she is now the Preceptor of the Order of Truth and Peace. I found it most difficult talking to her for she seemed detached and uncaring but I know that she is devoted to the capture of the Holy Land and she has won many victories against the enemies of Christ in the past. She and her order are to sail to the Holy Land within the month, the Pope himself has given them the task of conquering strategic points from the Arabs I am told.”

As you dig further you find a letter written by a member of the Order of Truth and Peace, it was apparently sent from Jerusalem in the year 1098 back to his brother in a French monastery:

“We engaged the enemy today in the desert near Jerusalem. They had come upon us in ambush and I feared that we were to be wiped out for we were a small band. I had not counted on Lady Isabella however, while men fell around her she held the line, her blade striking down the heathens as fast as they could come upon her. Even with her mighty sword I was sure we would lose since we were outnumbered ten to one, but as the Arabs closed in around us her Ladyship raised her fist to the heavens and a great storm sprang up above us. Within its heart lightning raged and it struck down amidst the Arabs burning and tearing them apart. When the maelstrom ceased the Arab host was dead…I was told later that Lady Isabella is considered the greatest practitioner of the hermetic arts within the Orders and I can certainly believe it….we are to march on the city Ma'arrat al-Numan within the month and her Ladyship will ride at our head.”

From this it clear that Isabella of Barbara led the doomed siege of the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan during the first crusade, the city that now lies in ruins filled with the laughing knights. However as you dig deeper you find that the trail does not end there. Though there are no mentions of the Order of Truth and Peace after the crusade during which they were apparently annihilated you find more records from seminaries and churches in Italy. As you follow the trail of names and descriptions the horror dawns on you. Somehow Isabella of Barbara returned from the siege of Ma'arrat when her men did not. Some forty years ago a woman of her description, but with a new name, joined the priesthood and began to rise through the ranks of the church. That priest became a bishop, who became an Archbishop and eventually a Cardinal. Here you mouth drops open. For that Cardinal was at the conclave in 1185, when Lucius died, and was elected as the new supreme pontiff of the Church.

Urbane III is none other than Isabella of Barbara, one-time preceptor of the doomed Order of Truth and Peace who became the Laughing knights, and she is at least one hundred and forty years old. You know now the origin of Urbane and you have no doubt it is her who has attempted to conceal her origins by destroying the trail of records. Your sense of danger is greater than ever now. The woman who occupies your Papal throne seems to have lived through many life spans and is probably one of the most powerful Hermetic mages that Christendom has ever known.

You reach up and clutch your mitre for support.

The Rise and Fall of the Bishop of Rome

Cardinal de Tartars

With the aid of Pavel’s Mercenaries Cardinal de Tartarts is safely escorted from Jerusalem to the fortress at Saint-Pierre-d’Oleron. She is twitchy the whole trip and it is clear that she fears the eyes of Urbane everywhere.

Upon arriving at the fortress she seems to relax some and with some encouragement reveals that she began to suspect the motives of Urbane sometime ago. It was when she discovered that Urbane’s agents had been covering up the disappearance of several important clergy that she realised the true nature of her Holiness.

There is obviously great conflict in the woman about siding with Cardinal Ricard but as she recounts Urbane’s crimes her faith seems to assert itself and her resolve hardens. She tells Ricard that a secret way exists into the Vatican that was built to allow the Holy See’s agents to enter and leave secretly, she give Ricard a map detailing the route. The pair leave her in the fortress as they head for Rome.

Before you go she walks up to you with a long parcel. As she removes the velvet wrapped around it you see a crosier carved from ebony with an intricate golden crook at its tip. The Crosier of St. Eucherius of Lyon. As you take it you know that in some way this artefact carries a spark of the divine and is a tool of the righteous. Perhaps it may aid you in the fight against Urbane, though you don't imagine it would be a very practical weapon.

A Rebellion Gathers

Under the hot suns of the Holy Land the armies gather first. The King's Army forms first as the levys and households from the loyal nobles of the Crown start to arrive. Alongside them camps are being built for the various orders that will be marching too. Apparentley Gerard de Ridefort's declaration for Pope Peter II has brought two thirds of the Templars with him, although only about one third is expected to take to the field for the campaign, while the Order of the Venerable Bede and St Mary Magdelene stand almost complete in the field. Even the Knights of Lazarus are present in reasonable numbers though it is noted by many that there are very few Hospitallers. Preperations go well though the debates on command roll around for some time.

While all acknowldege Philip's rights of command over the Kingdom's forces there are some who are vocal about his claims over the whole of the campaign. A sensible compromise is reached with Michael taking the role of the Marshall of the Orders, Gerard saying he would prefer to be on the front line and Henry making it clear he has significant other work to do as Lieutenants, while Philip takes the Kingdom's armies, with an acknowledgement that Michael is the overall strategist for the campaign. Once all are ready the march begins to Acre and the ships that wait them all.

Far away in europe the whole of Burgundy is called to arms and in transit to the North of Italy where it said the Lady Aelith awaits their arrival. Burgundy has not put so many men into the field for generations but there is a great spirit within the troops who speak highly of their mistress who clearly has inherited her father's will and drive.

Rumour says that Urbane in turn is gathering her own forces, said to dwarf those that march against her, though they have not the experience of the battle hardened Crusader Kingdom's. As the seasons change the tension in the politics of Europe is incredible.

The Italian Front

In Italy, things have not been still - news comes back that Aelith of Burgundy has managed to persuade the Crusading army near Venice to remain where it is and strike no blow against either side. Their neutrality is a great step away from their support for the Pope - if they had fought for her, there is little doubt that they could have tied up and perhaps defeated the forces of Burgundy who must no doubt be instrumental to the attack.

The forces of Rome itself are great, still, and though Italy itself has become more ambivalent and cold to Urbane's demands for troops and supplies, her forces already gathered at Rome are great. Reports from spies within Rome put its strength as outnumbering the Crusaders and the walls to be still strong and the city well-provisioned. Though this is daunting, there can be no doubt of what must be done!

The Fleet Assembles

The army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem prepares to sail. All the mustered ships, arranged by Philip of Jerusalem, Cardinal Ricard and the Mercenary General Pavel Korovic gather together and begin loading the troops and provisions for the Crusade to Rome.

The journey to Italy is hoped to be relatively quick and without opposition, but all are prepared for any eventuality. There is little room, however, and the transport ships are packed end-to-end with men, horses, provisions. There is worry that in the case of an attack there will be confusion, but the risk must be undertaken to deliver the army as quickly as possible to Italy.

Cardinal Ricard is ready on the fleet's flagship, provided by General Korovic and the rest of the Jerusalem forces are distributed among the fleet.

Then the fleet sails, past Cyprus, along the coast of Asia Minor, passing by the fabulous views of Cilicia and Lykia, the great Island of Rhodes. Then on past Krete and Greece, sailing past the Peloponnesian, ready to get into the Adriatic and round Sicily and Naples to Rome. Sailing across the sea towards Naples however, slows the fleet down, as winds are down and most of the ships cannot be rowed to keep the progress smooth.

It is at this point that Henry of Gloucester summons Michael of Bethlehem, Philip of Jerusalem and Cardinal Ricard to his ship. The message marks the summons as urgent and the three make haste. It seems that Henry has been spending some time of the journey in runic divination, studying the symbols and seeing the possible events to come. Now, the Crusaders are likely to face unexpected resistance in the form of a Sicilian Fleet. Whatever the preparations - Urbane must have gathered sufficient forces or support to oppose the Jerusalem fleet and try to put an end to it.

If the ships had sailed round Sicily without such a warning, there is little doubt that the Sicilian Navy, however small, will have been able to seriously damage the force, even sink many of the ships, or otherwise cause death and destruction. A plan is soon divised to counter the possibility of opposition at this stage.

Within a week, the ships capable of engaging with the enemy fleet begin racing ahead to strike first at the Sicilian Navy. There is no significant number, but the Crusaders know to expect the Sicilians - the rest of the fleet, transporting the army, will take a different and less likely route. Out of the way, but likely to reach Rome all the same.

The Sicilian Navy and Jerusalem Navy meet off the western coast of Sicily - the enemy lying in wait of an approaching force, but previously having expected to meet an oversized convoy. The sleek military force, under Michael of Bethlehem and Pavel Korovic's command splits into two segments and striking at the centre and right flank of the Sicilians.

Ballistae and archers firing, the Sicilian fleet is badly harried, but ready to regroup. The Sicilian admiral prepares his galleys to ram and seeks to envelop the Crusaders, but they in turn sail past them with all speed. A number of ships are sunk, however, and Michael and Korovic are forced to adapt, and evade the much stronger Sicilian galleys, trying to use the advantage of being packed with archers from the army to kill off the galley crews.

By sundown, the Sicilians appear to be exhausted, but the changing winds have caused many of the Crusader's ships to fall prey to the oared galleys. The Sicilians aren't vanquished, but many ships are clearly now barely crewed - Michael and Korovic meet to decide their further tactics and finally sail some distance away, waiting for the next day. The next day… the Sicilians are gone - it seems that the damage done has persuaded them to lick their wounds.

At last, the Jerusalem navy meets not far from Rome, ready to land upon the beaches of Italy and prepare to march to Rome. The landing itself is unopposed, luckily, for the process of disembarking from the many ships is confused and complicated. The sea journey has claimed many of the troops, both in the battle against Sicilians, and from the dangers of being so closely packed for such a long time. Disease, poor conditions, all contribute to the death toll.

It is a whole week before the army prepares to march, accompanied by a number of ships carrying catapults and trebuchets sailing up the Tiber.

The Siege of Rome

The winter cold bites.

The day has become a dim twilight; though it is the middle of the day a swirl of storm circles above, its centre above the very Vatican itself - this is no natural weather, this much is certain.

The ground aches, frozen.

Even the mud becomes ridged and sharp as the Crusading army arrays itself in preparation for what will lie ahead. The Armies of Jerusalem commanded by their Constable Prince Philip, uncle to the boy-King, are accompanied by other forces; the Order of Saint Mary Magdalene, led by Michael of Bethlehem who himself commands the faithful as a whole; the Order of the Venerable Bede, led by Henry of Gloucester; a small number of Templars led by their Grand Master Gerard de Ridefort comprising about a third of the Order's forces; scattered members of other Holy Orders; and finally a contingent of mercenaries led by Pavel Korovic.

The men are tired and hungry.

The prepared forces of the Crusading armies are singularly impressive. Ranks upon ranks of knights and highly-drilled soldiers stare out across the plains, up at the hills of Rome and the gathering stormclouds. There is a restlessness in the ranks - perhaps complaint at the long and dangerous voyage, the poor food and the weather, perhaps anticipation of what is to come and the monumental task ahead. With the troops finally assembled and ready to march, Michael sends the message and the ground thunders with the sound of heavy armour and massed bootfalls. The Crusaders advance.

They face dire odds.

There, on the hills, stands the defending army. It is huge, dwarfing the incoming forces by at least two to one by the estimate of the faithful commanders. Whilst mostly a levy of untrained troops, their sheer numbers show that Urbane's political power among the papal states is not insignificant. Each man there stands to guard the heart of his faith, just as those marching on Rome seek to remove the cancer growing therein.

This is too important.

Michael sees that the only way to Rome is through the forces ahead of them. The Crusaders are too few and have too little in the way of resources to siege the city - they must punch through now or never and stop Urbane before she can secure more support and end the chances of the faithful. The marshes are not ideal terrain; despite being frozen they are treacherous and they cannot support the marching of an army without bogging down the troops.

He orders Philip to take troops around to the north west, near the Tiber, to secure its banks and ensure that their forces cannot be flanked. Pavel he directs to the right flank and the knights of the Orders take up the centre. They advance, picking way across the frozen marshes and approaching the defenders on the hilltop.

As they make their move, the sky seems to darken further - a malign will focusing its hate onto the weather to hamper their forces. Snow lazily drifts from the heavens, heavier and heavier until it begins to drift. The wind picks up and drives it into their faces. Soon the knights have swirling patterns of ice crystals forming on the steel of their armour and the temperature drops to a numbing low.

The snow filling their eyes becomes black with the flight of a thousand arrows. They have reached the bottom of the hills, and now the defending archers begin their work of raining death upon those below. Return volleys are stripped of their potency by the gusting wind. Luckily the weather is making it as difficult for the defending archers to do any real damage as it is for the Crusaders to fight back, and Michael's forces are within charging distance without suffering too many casualties.

The three flanks engage the massed forces, charge up the hills and cut into the enemy formations. Numbers are against them, though, and they are getting stuck desperately defending against surges of peasant militia throwing themselves forwards with fury. The battle in each case quickly devolves into melee; the howling of the storm-winds and the low visibility makes it all but impossible to deliver orders and rally troops.

Adding to the confusion were members of various military Orders, flying their insignia, fighting on both the Crusading and the Loyal sides of the battle line. Brother was forced to fight against brother, and the battle was becoming steadily more unclear. Pavel Korovic was the first to get his men to rally in a single group, and across the Crusader lines the generals reformed their troops and began to drive the defenders back. Down the Tiber ships were sailing loaded with siege weapons and archers, just barely struggling up the river despite the layers of ice forming on its surface.

The winds relent for a moment, and the defenders fall back to regroup themselves. They have taken heavy losses, but so have the faithful, who whilst they have taken the hilltops find themselves still outnumbered by the arranged group before them. Another battle will only take a greater toll. The exhaustion is plain on everyone's faces, and as the wind picks up again the two sides stare at each other across the hilltops. There is a pause in the battle, as the commanders decide their next move. The decision is taken out of their hands, however, because Urbane's forces begin to retreat. They withdraw hastily to the gates of the city, and are let inside. The Crusading army stands almost at the very gates of Rome itself, but even now ranks upon ranks of archers stand atop the walls and mighty defensive siege weapons are being prepared to fire. The enemy is waiting for them.

The snow continues to fall, covering the dead in a gentle white funeral blanket.

A runner arrives for Marshal Michael and the other commanders. An army is arriving near the north of Rome, and it seems they bear the colours of Burgundy. A message is sent whilst the Crusaders recuperate. Friar Gregory sets up a small temporary hospital, and many lives are saved. It seems that though the battle begins with Gregory arranging the Hospital, all across the battlefield the forces of the Crusaders can swear to have seen Gregory. As if by Divine will, the Friar tends to many wounded, bringing them either health or absolution and Last Rites. And yet more - there are those who say that he wields a spear-head, cutting and curing with precision and determination. The runner returns - the army has been brought by Lady Alix of Burgundy and she means to help with the taking of Rome.

Anticipation hangs heavy on the air.

The Crusaders march forward. Philip takes the men with bows and orders them to loose them at the battlements. Ladders are brought forward and press is made against the South gate. Still the winds hamper arrow fire, and the attack is repulsed. The Crusading armies set in for a siege, and the faithful commanders debate how they will breach the walls.

Waiting. Planning. Failure. Frustration.

On the fourth day of the siege, with the Crusaders running rapidly out of momentum and ideas, a message is discovered attached to an errant lone arrow fired from the tops of the walls. It reads, “Tomorrow. Dawn. SW Gate. Forcalquier.” The message is taken to the commanders; the commanders are low on trust but this is their last and best opportunity to break the siege. The forces are prepared, and at dawn the Knights will assault the South-West gate.

The sun breaks through the clouds.

The snow is blinding as the sun crests the horizon. Each flake stands out in stark contrast to the dark clouds above, flashing brilliant as it catches the light. The knights are ready, for glory or for death; whichever the morning and the message's intent brings. Michael studies the gate looking for activity, and notices movement upon the flagpole. The flag of Jerusalem has been run up! Forcalquier has come through for the Faithful, and the knights charge the gate which swings open to greet them as they arrive. Friar Gregory is seen continuing his ministrations among the wounded and dying - he has not slept this night, or any night for a long time. Even though he must surely drop from exhaustion, hunger, some power holds him up. Inside, loyalist forces are already arriving to quash the betrayal, knowing that should the Crusaders breach the walls the defense of the city is lost. The entirety of Urbane's forces are brought to the gate and battle is joined.

Fierce and unrelenting.

There is just no way for the Crusaders to hold their position. Archers have retaken the walls and are raining down arrows upon them. They cannot move into the city because they are blocked by thousands of men pressing forwards. Henry of Gloucester stands at the front and cleaves through man after man but for each one he cuts down, two more appear. Pavel's archers try to unseat those on the walls, but are outmatched by height and the protection the walls offer. Gerard holds the gatehouse, but cannot push out further. Philip and Michael urge their forces to greater effort, but they know that the assault is almost lost.

Breaking point.

But there are more traitors than Forcalquier amongst the loyalist ranks. Some spies of the Crusaders, perhaps traitors to Urbana, have seen the Burgundian forces massed at the north gate. With most of Urbane's forces repelling the breach to the south, they fling wide the gates there. Aelith seizes her chance and orders her forces to sweep into the city whilst the opportunity stands, cutting down the token defense. Yet the mysterious spies who had opened the gate appear to have once more melted away. The loyalists have lost the city; as the mighty Burgundian army sweeps through the city, the defenders holding back Jerusalem's armies break before the Crusaders' renewed vigour. Mopping up the last of the defenders is little more than a formality, but the commanders meet to discuss something between themselves.

One last job to do.

Apostle I: A New Pope

The Conclave will See you Now

The journey through the catacombs under Vatican city is long and arduous. Flooded chambers, crumbled walkways and collapsed walls block the parties path at every turn. Following Cardinal de Tartars directions they make their way through the obstacles till they arrive in a dark chamber where a single shaft of faint light descends from a grate high above. As they scramble up the dusty walls Rasha turns to ask;

“Where exactly are we expecting to be after all this?”

As she speaks Henry reaches up and touches the ornate metal grate and curses as his flesh sticks to the icy metal. Unsheathing his sword he knocks the grate out of the way with the hilt and they climb into the dim chamber above. As they emerge into the open space they blink; their eyes adjusting from the murky blackness from which they have just emerged. The air in the room is freezing and a thin mist swirls around their feet, but they notice neither for a hundred pairs of eyes are staring at them.

“In God's name…” whispers Ricard, “the conclave…the entire conclave…”

In the tiered pews on either side of the room sit figures in black and red, their frozen, uncaring eyes staring down at the group. They are perfectly still, their faces locked in looks of surprise or terror. Icicles hang from noses or outstretched arms while the cool mist flows slowly from their pale flesh; the Cardinals of the Catholic Church.

“Dead. All of them Dead.” Jacob's voice is full of sorrow as he gazes around the grim statues.

“It seems your Popess had a falling out with them.” says Zafir, marching up to the front row and poking the arm of a elderly man with a beard, half risen from his seat as if to flee. With a sickening crack the corpse topples striking the figure of a middle aged woman sitting next to it. As the two figures lurch over the pew there is a ripping shattering sound of breaking ice and the pair strike the floor, exploding into shards of bone and red ice that spin off into the corners of the room. Zafir backs away very carefully, his hands by his side.

“We must leave here” says Ricard “We must reach the Basilica. Something tells me that Urbane will seek to gather whatever power she has left there. To reach it we have to cross the St. Damaso's courtyard. Be on your guard.”

Little Sisters of...Mercy!

They head for the oak doors at the end of the conclave chamber and with some effort break the seal of ice that holds them closed; allowing the doors to open silently onto a cloister outside. Overhead the winter storms still surge above Vatican City, the great whirling vortex of the blizzards focused above the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica. Jean Ricard points through the cloisters across a spacious courtyard toward a dark passage on the other side; an entrance to the Basilica. In the still night air the white courtyard seems abandoned, the flurries of snow the only movement. With heads down the group begin to sprint across the open space. It is Jacob who cries out first, gesturing to the cloister before them for from it are emerging figures all in white, their heads covered by the habits of nuns. The group draws to a halt as the nuns walk toward them through the drifts of snow, their heads bowed reverentially.

“Those aren't nuns are they?” asks Rasha.

“No.” Sighs Ricard as the first nun begins to laugh, followed by another and another until their insane cachinnation fills the courtyard.

Zafir draws his blade as the laughing nuns spring forward. The false sisters posses the same terrible strength as the cursed knights of Ma'arrat al-Numan and as they circle around the group are forced to draw in, their backs to each other and their weapons held before them. Zafir beheads the first nun to draw too close, its severed head and cowl vanishing into the snow beneath his feet, but even as his draws his blade back again another of the cackling things plows into him. Rasha kicks the thing off him as Jacob drives his blade into the back of the nun creeping up behind her. Behind them Jean Ricard tries desperately to fend off two of the creatures with his crosier as they attempt to claw off his face with their hands. Henry strikes one of them down with a blow from his sword that drives it's body into the nuns behind it as Ricard smashes his crosier into the face of the other. As the first wave of the things falls the group look around to see that more than a dozen of the chuckling monsters now surround them.

“Camel Shit!” says Rasha, as the incessant, emotionless laughter hems the party in. The group draw in closer as the nuns make to strike.

Suddenly the eastern end of the courtyard is filled with shouts and battle cries. From a ornate archway pour several of the nuns, their white robes already soaked with blood and more than one of them with a huge gaping wound. After them follow two familiar figures; Pavel Korovic and Raymond de Forcalquier, followed by their knights. The two men are covered in gore and shreds of white robes, obviously they have had to hack their way through a great many of the laughing creatures.

“To arms” cries Korovic charging toward Jean Ricard’s group, his sword held high.

The forces of Korovic and de Forcalquier stream into the courtyard, their numbers allowing them to quickly cut down the nuns who do not die easily; tearing away limbs and rending flesh even as they are killed by the armed men. The last nun to stand is the one that grapples with Jacob, reaching out with its bloody mouth to rip out the scholar's throat. With it's unnatural strength it pulls the squirming man toward its teeth but even as its pale gums part to bite down Raymond rams his sword into its spine, pushing the blade in to the hilt. With a spasm the thing dies, spewing blood over Jacob as it collapses on top of him, its laugh cut short.

The anti-crusaders stand alone in the courtyard, the rapidly falling snow already beginning to cover the fallen forms of the nuns. Jean Ricard looks down at one of things lying in a mound of crimson snow at his feet. He turns to look at the great shadowy dome of St. Peter's and he does the eyes of everyone else follow his to the lone golden cross that sits atop the Basilica, its form almost lost in the worsening snowstorm.

“This ends tonight.” He says, a look of grim determination falling across his face, “Urbane will fall before she can corrupt any more souls, or I shall lose mine trying.”

As he speaks, from some distance away, out in the Vatican city more of the fell laughter begins, the eerie sound carried on the Arctic wind as it gusts around the courtyard. Pavel and Raymond exchange looks and then turn in unison to their troops.

“You will wait here and guard our rear” says Pavel.

“Ensure that none of those things come upon our rear while we confront Urbane” continues Raymond, “Hold them off at all costs, to the death if you must.”

The Captains nod and the knights spread out into the courtyard, forming up around the doors and passageways that lead into it. There is only one that they do not approach; the passageway that Ricard and his companions move toward, the one that leads to the Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica

At the end of the dark passageway the group comes to a small ante-chapel. Its altar has been desecrated and the crucifix lies smashed on the ground at the base of it. Rasha and Zafir take little notice of the ruined shrine but the Christians cannot but help to pause and look at this blasphemy in the heart of all Christendom. At the opposite end of the chapel is a huge wooden door, its surface intricately carved and its iron handle shaped like a winged cherubim. They all know where it must lead.

“Prepare yourselves.” says Ricard, pulling his papal mitre tightly onto his brow.

“Will show that bitch what happens when you fuck with the faithful” growls Henry, pulling his sword from its sheath, the light catching the symbols engraved on its surface.

“We may have faith on our side but the Lord knows what she may have on hers. We should be cautious.” replies Jacob, looking with trepidation at the door before them.

“Devil take Caution!” barks Rasha, “That bitch owes me an arm!” With that she reaches forward and pushes open the door.

They emerge into the the northern transept of the basilica 1) the has been manipulated. The interior of the great church is nothing like the rest of the Vatican city; the air is warm, the fury of the winter storm forgotten and the space is filled with the warm glow of countless candles. Everywhere is gold and enamel; the power and wealth of the Church embodied in the splendour of the Basilica's decoration. The great cathedral seems entirely deserted and and the silence hanging in the vaulted ceilings is oppressive for not even the roar of the winds penetrates the place. Slowly the group edge past statues and shrines, their footsteps echoing on the intricate mosaics beneath them. As they move toward the towering pillars that mark the beginning of the Basilica's central nave a faint murmur becomes apparent; gently it ripples through the air of the place, sometimes droning, sometimes almost musical. It is Ricard who rounds the base of the stone monolith first and steps into the light of the cavernous nave of St. Peter's and it is he who first sees her Holiness, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church…Urbane III.

She kneels in prayer within St. Peter's baldachin 2) facing away from the group and toward the high altar. Her papal robes are of the purest white and they flow out around her so that it looks as if she is rising from a pool of light. Her jaw moves in the mantra of prayer but aside from that she is perfectly still.

“Look!” Hisses Zafir as he gestures to the high altar, to the space above the throne of St. Peter, “The Cross.”

Above the golden mass of the apostle's throne floats a swarm of silver shards; the shattered remains of the Cross of Guglielma of Bohemia and the focus of Urbane's prayer. The fragments orbit around each other reorientating and realigning in a dance which seems to have some pattern…some purpose. Even as they watch two of the fragments touch and with a metallic ping they merge seamlessly together.

“She's remaking it.” whispers Rasha.

Staring closely at the swirling pieces Jacob replies; “I don't think it is her…but something is putting that cross back together.”

Sistine Smackdown

(OOC: This totally over the top showdown has been awarded a totally over the top musical score:

Ricard gestures forward the anticrusaders move down the the nave toward the prostrate form of the Pope, caution abandoned. Determinedly they approach the baldachin with weapons drawn and eyes darting from side to side, but they see no one but Urbane deep within her meditation. Thirty feet from the steps of the structure and the prayer stops. Urbane does not turn but speaks to the air in front of her, the curve of the great dome above reflecting the sound down about them so it seems as if she stands behind each of them and whispers in their ear.

“Cardinal Ricard…you survived.” Her voice is calm, devoid of surprise or fear or indeed any emotion at all.

“Surprised Your Holiness? Or perhaps I should call you Isabella of Barbara.” Replies Ricard, his voice ringing with defiance.

Still she does not rise or turn to face them but replies; “You will not stop me. Now you will experience the full power of my faith and you will be laid low by it.”

Without turning she raises a hand into the air beside her and slowly clenches it into a fist. As she does so the air about it shimmers and distorts and a cold light flickers from between her fingers, but even as her magic coalesces about Urbane glowing eldritch symbols form from nothingness, their faint green radiance pushing back against the sorcery she summons. For a moment the light in her hand flares and the group feel the swell of power in the church as she strains against the influence of the symbolic magic, then it fades. Henry's mouth curls into a smug smile as he spits;

“Take that you old bitch. You weren't expecting that were you?”

From the curve of Urbane's Jaw it almost seems as if she may be smiling but her voice still retains its perfect, unwavering calm;

“So it seems the Order of the Venerable Bede have sided with the heretics. Tell me my Lord of Gloucester; what place do you see for your Order under Pope Ricard? A man who allies with Arabs, Jews and Cathars. Will he defend your faith? Will he lead a Crusade for Christ? Will he have any need of you at all?”

She rises in a fluid motion and turns to face them, the rustle of her silken vestments like the hiss of a snake. Behind her another piece of the silver cross spins into place.

“And tell me. How long do you think your scrawlings can bind my power? I who have studied the art since before the first crusade. I who have laid waste to the armies and cities of those who have opposed Christ's Church.” The look on her face is impassive, but her blue eyes burn with intensity.

“Long enough to kill you, you old witch!” shouts Henry, his voice full of fury. Urbane's words have clearly affected him and he has flushed a deep crimson.

Urbane's lip curls by the slightest fraction and she reaches into the voluminous folds of her papal robes, there is the hiss of metal against leather and from her waist she pulls a sword with a long delicate blade, a golden cross upon its hilt. The sword of a Crusading knight. She holds the blade confidently at her side and her gaze sweeps over the faces of the assembled group.

“Your reign is over Urbane” Shouts Ricard “I only regret that it was not short enough.”

“So be it…Cardinal.” whispers Urbane, moving forward. As she does from behind the four pillars on either side of the nave emerge figures wearing robes of deepest red, their faces covered by masks of the same scarlet hue; inquisitors of the Papal Inquisition.

Raymond gestures to himself, Ricard and Henry “We'll take Urbane.” He looks at the others, “Deal with her minions.”

Zafir, Pavel ,Rasha and Jacob peal off; each one stalking forward to meet the advancing inquisitors, who each carry a long spear with cruel hooks decorating their tip.

Urbane's three opponents raise their weapons; Henry and Raymond their blades and Cardinal Ricard his crosier. Her Holiness sweeps forward gracefully, blade still held at her side, the calm in her face reflected in her movement as she strides toward them with a fighters stance. Even as they prepare to meet her with a sudden burst of movement she strikes over the remaining distance with the unearthly speed of the laughing knights. Her blade whirls as it scythes towards Ricard’s neck and he barely raises his staff in time to meet the blow. With a metallic clang he is driven to his knees with the force of the impact and before he can even respond Urbane’s other hand punches him in the face hurling him backwards down the aisle of the nave where he lands senseless. Taken aback by the fury of her initial assault neither Raymond or Henry are prepared as the arc of her blade continues as she spins around, her robes spiralling around her, its edge aimed at Raymond’s midriff. With a twist he avoids the deadly slash and turns to thrust his blade into the Pope but in the time it takes him to move Urbane has spun and his attack meets her blade with the full force of her unnatural strength behind it. He cries out, driven back by the impact, as Henry lunges at her flank only to be met by her steel once more. It seems Urbane has not forgotten what it means to fight in the long years since the first crusade. With a mutual nod the men attack as one, the blades of the knights and the Pope sparking off each other as they drive her back toward the baldachin.

To the sides of the nave the four inquisitors are locked in combat with the remainder of the infiltration party. Though they do not laugh the inquisitors obviously possess the same inhuman strength as the knights and their iron spears are deadly. Jacob has a huge gash across his chest where one the barbs has raked across it and Rasha only just avoids a killing strike by taking the force of it on her enchanted arm. In front of her Zafir has sent the spear of the inquisitor he faces spinning away across the marble floor but the thing has locked it fist around Zafirs arm and the two lurch back and forth as they wrestle for dominance. Pavel fairs much better and he is pushing the crimson warrior he faces back towards the great pillar. Raising his sword high the mercenary trusts down but the inquisitor raises its spear to catch the blade on its shaft. With a crack Pavel’s blade passes cleanly through the spear and cleaves the inquisitor's head in two, from brow to chin. The thing spasms for a minute and its bisected mask falls away revealing a face with the maniacal eyes of a laughing knight and a bloody mouth with its tongue cut out.

Meanwhile Raymond and Henry have driven Urbane back to the steps of the baldachin but the toll of her blows is showing and the blades of each man shudder as her strikes fall against them. Urbane meanwhile maintains the same look of calm composure, her pale skin without blush or sweat. As her next attack hits home Henry stumbles, falling to one knee, and Urbane’s eyes flash with victory but as she slashes toward him Raymond’s elbow catches her in the face and she lurches back. Seeing his opportunity Raymond raises his sword high and brings it down to decapitate her Holiness in one final sweep. Urbane’s form blurs as she moves and her free hand shoots out to catch Raymond’s throat in a grip of iron. The tendons on her hand whiten and Raymond cries out as the bones in his neck crack, his arms flailing and the sword clattering from his grasp. With ease she lifts his struggling form from the ground, the weight of the armoured man seemingly of no consequence. She stares into his bulging eyes as his face begins to turn purple, one corner of her mouth begins to curve and she says softly;

“So die all heretics.”

However before she can crush the life from him Henry rises from the ground and with a great cry drives his sword into her shoulder. She jerks as the sword impales her, a crimson stain blossoming on her white robes, though her face only betrays a momentary a look of annoyance. As if his weight were nothing she swings the dangling Raymond around and hurls the knight into Henry. The two men are flung backwards with the force of the impact landing near the rising form of Cardinal Ricard in a sprawled mass of armour and leather. Ricard looks in horror at the fallen warriors and then looks up as Urbane, almost nonchalantly, reaches for the sword embedded in her and slowly pulls it out, her blood dripping onto steps of the baldachin.

Three of the inquisitors have now fallen with only the one facing Rasha remaining. Pavel, Siddig and Jacob have rushed to her aid and the thing is quickly being hacked to pieces, though it fights to the very brink to death; reaching out to scratch eyes and rip off limbs even as it chokes out its life blood.

As it falls the four of them turn to see Urbane who is briefly distracted by the things death rattle. They start toward her but with a shout Ricard halts them and from his own robes pulls an Orb, with a golden cross upon it. With a twist he rips the cross from the top of the sphere and shouts;

“One, Two, Five…I mean three!” and he hurls the thing at Urbane.

Her eyebrow raises inquisitively for an instant as the orb sails towards her and then she is lost in a billowing inferno.

As the fireball blooms outwards everyone dives to the floor and Raymond and Henry, who have just disentangled themselves, fall backwards once more. Flames race up the wooden pillars of the baldachin and the canopy erupts in an orange blaze. The heat is intense and even several feet away the anticrusaders are forced to shield their faces from the conflagration. The entire wooden structure sways and with a crack the pillars collapse bringing several tonnes of burning wood and gold ornamentation crashing down onto the place where Urbane stood moments before.

As the initial fury of the alchemical fire dies away the group collectively lever themselves up on arms or weapons to look at the wreckage that now crackles in the centre of the Basilica.

“Well that’s the end of your false She-Pope” says Zafir as he winks at Rasha.

“We…” begins Jean Ricard but he is cut off as a terrible chill sweeps across St. Peter’s.

It races outwards from the wreckage and in its wake every torch and candle winks out of existence, plunging the church into shadows. The only light in the Basilica now comes from the fire before them but even as they look the flames begin to change and a blue radiance seeps into them. The tongues writhe and as they do they solidify into glistening blades of twisted black ice that snake outwards so that the figure within them seems to stand in the centre of a huge crystalline blossom. That figure is Urbane. Her white robes are marred with a great burn up her left side; revealing the anaemic flesh of her arm and leg. Flesh which remains unburned.

Still her face betrays not a shread of emotion but her eyes gleam in the cool blue light and their twinkle is veritably demonic. She looks at Ricard and declares softly;

“You cannot stop me. I've become more powerful then any Cardinal. Even you.”

As she speaks her hand reaches out and once more Henry's faint green symbolic runes appear in the air before her but this time she closes her fist around one of them, eclipsing its faint glow within her palm. Everyone present feels the swell of power as Urbane summons the full force of her terrible will and sends it against Henry's warding. He screams, a scream of agony, and he clutches at his face as freezing mist seeps between his fingers. The party look in horror as across his features blistering burns form; ice crystals growing from the blood that flows from them as they spread across his skin branding the pattern of the symbol in Urbane's hand into his flesh. With a final wail he collapses unconscious, his face a ruin of ice and blood. The symbols in front of Urbane waver and then evaporate into the ether. For the first time Urbane smiles.

Her Unholiness

The temperature in St. Peter's Basilica is falling rapidly now and from around Urbane a patina of hoarfrost begins to creep outwards across the marble floor, rising up the pillars and statues at the side of the nave when it reaches them. The group scramble to their feet to avoid the encroaching chill, Raymond wrenching a tapestry from the wall and pushing Henry's prostrate from onto it to protect him from the frost. Above them the frigid light of the winter storm streams from the summit of the great dome so that the Cathedral is filled with grey shadows that flicker in the blue luminescence that plays around Urbane. She stands serene in that light but she is obviously injured; one arm hangs limply at her side and her robes are now more red then white as her wound weeps. Behind her, above the great throne, another piece of the silver cross falls into place.

With his crosier held defensively before him Ricard shouts through numbing lips;

“It’s over Urbane. Your magic cannot save you now. Rome has fallen to the forces of righteousness and your supporters have deserted you. If you think to win this war with sorcery you are mistaken.”

Contempt drips from her voice as she replies; “Oh no, Ricard. You will find that it is you who are mistaken , about a great many things.”

She gestures lazily with her hand and with deafening explosion the frozen flames around her shatter. Razor sharp shards of ice fly in all directions and the group leap for cover as the chucks smash into the pillars around them, tearing chunks of stone from the columns as they glance off them. Rasha barks as one of the projected icicles plunges into her flank; hurling her backwards and pining her to the nave’s wall.

“You underestimate the power that I wield Cardinal. You think your armies matter to me? You think Rome matters to me? “ Her smile changes and its malice is awful to behold as she clenches her fist before her face, “I will lay waste to them. I will purge this city of all Heretics. Of all Infidels. Of all who would defy the will of the Holy See. Of all who would stand against the perfect Order I will bring to Christendom!”

Zafir leaps, his speed matching that of Urbane herself and it seems as if his blade is pulling him in its wake. The hiss as it moves through the air is followed by a wet splat as Urbane’s hand falls to the floor, its fingers twitching briefly. Her eyes narrow as she looks at the gory wrist before her. Then the world around them explodes.

In the skies high above the Vatican the winter storm rages and from its centre a vast seething column of grey cloud descends, striking into the roof of the Basilica. With a titanic roar the dome implodes as the full force of the blizzard hurtles into it. Around Urbane massive fragments of masonry slam into the ground; Zafir rolling away just in time to avoid being crushed. What remains of the dome disintegrates, the blocks of rubble torn into whirling chucks, as the freezing tornado reaches down into the heart of the Cathedral. The anticrusaders are driven back by the ferocity of the Arctic maelstrom which now encircles Urbane. She stands in the centre of the vortex seemingly untouched by the raging winds that tears up the floor of the Basilica, hurling the marble into the torrent above. Zafir attempts to move forward once more but the wall of freezing air and spinning debris is impenetrable. Over the deafening cacophony Urbane’s voice rises, seeming to merge with the thunder of the tempest to be amplified a thousand fold;

“And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste!”

Her eyes travel to the sky above her and as they do they fill will a cold blue radiance as she gathers her sorcerous might. The movement of the clouds above quickens as the great spiralling whirlpool above them begins to seethe. Between the clouds great gouts of blue fire leap and dance, illuminating the sky for miles around as the coruscate over the storms.

Jacob, lying huddled on the ground, shouts as he gestures into the nexus of the tempest, his words lost in the howls of the tempest. As he tries to rise a chunk of stone smashes into his head and he falls comatose.

At the focus of the storm the clouds are parting, pushed back by the arcane incandescence sent forth by Urbane and in their wake is nothingness, an absolute night without stars or structure. Cowering on the ground Ricard looks in horror as the void spreads across the firmament, its yawning depths seeming to suck all the warmth from the world and from the depths of his soul.

As the rift in reality that Urbane has called into being widens; around the party the Basilica begins to heave and groan as alien forces tear at its structure. With a scream of ruptured stone the roof of the nave peals away from St. Peter’s and, crumbling, is pulled into the sky toward the void. Urbane seems locked in a trance as she gazes into the heart of the abyss she has unleashed. Around her the wind has shifted direction streaming up into the blackness above . Pavel scrambles over to Ricard and bellowing over the wind shouts;

“She means to destroy the city and the armies with it. We must stop her!”

As he finishes he ducks as one of the nave’s huge stone pillars tears from its base and in a cumbersome arc smashes into the one next to it ripping away a huge portion of the Basilica’s wall with it. For a moment the cloud of debris hangs motionless in the air before streaming into the sky above.

With effort Zafir, Pavel, Ricard and Raymond struggle to their feet, their weapons held fast against the might of the hurricane about them. With leaden steps they force their way forward through the biting wind that blisters their skin with it penetrating cold. Even though ice, rubble and broken stained glass batter them they edge forward unerringly. Urbane lowers her eyes.

Her good hand moves and the floor beneath them quakes. Pavel is not fast enough as ice ruptures the marble below him; a massive crystal spike jabbing upwards to tear into his flesh. With a roar he drops his blade as the spear rakes across his right side ripping through his armour and searing his flesh with its deadly chill. Again Urbane gestures and with a screech another razor sharp blade explodes from the ground scything toward Raymond’s chest. He dives away only to land with a cry as another spear bursts forth smashing him aside into Zafir, causing the two to tumble away. Urbane's eye's meet Cardinal Ricard's, for an instant she hold his gaze in her blue stare and then she gestures once more. Ice strikes forth but as the frozen lances hurtle upwards the runes upon Ricard's papal mitre glow, enveloping his body in a warm radiance and Urbane's fell constructs melt away as they touch the aura. Her attacks thwarted Urbane's mouth tightens and she throws out her hand palm first. With a roar hyperborean fury streams forth. Behind Ricard the heat in the stones of the Nave is torn away; marble splits and buckles, statues burst and several of the great pillars rupture with thunderous cracks. As the columns tumble what remains of the Basilica’s southern wall collapses, sucked up into the great rift above even as it breaks apart. Rime forms on Ricard’s skin and clothes as he moves forward through Urbane’s awesome magical assault but the enchantments of his mitre endure and he takes another step into the wall of wind that surrounds Her Holiness. Urbane redoubles her effort, the blast of frost now condensing as screaming blue fire that twists around the golden shield that envelops Ricard. On his head the runes pulse as they contend with the deadly sorcery they hold back but still the Cardinal struggles forward.

The other anticrusaders look on helpless as Ricard moves toward Urbane. Her sorcerous fire has now merged with the tempestuous wall that surrounds her and she and Ricard now stand in a blazing azure tornado, its summit lost in the widening oblivion above. Ricard’s mitre is now obscured within a scintillating brilliance, crackling white sparks leaping from the runes and setting portions of the hat on fire, but still he moves forward and with a grunt he passes through the last of Urbane’s defences and steps into the eye of the storm and Urbane's sanctuary. His crosier flashes and Urbane reels as its crook smashes into her face. Her magical onslaught against Ricard falters, and she raises her hand to her bloody lip. There is murder in her eyes when she looks back at him. She opens her hand and the air about it distorts as countless tiny frost crystals whirl into existence and condense together until she holds a crosier of her own, formed of glacial ice.

Duel of the Antipopes

Above Rome chaos reigns. As the two Popes meet at the centre of the expanding sphere of destruction vast portions of Vatican city tear free of the Vatican hill and tumble into the void above. As Ricard’s allies look up they see the entire College of Cardinals spinning away into the nothingness, tiny frozen corpses drifting in its wake. Through the demolished walls of the Basilica they see that the influence of Urbane’s fury is spreading into the city beyond as buildings shatter and ancient walls crumble away. With a cry of horror Raymond watches as a huge upper section of the Roman coliseum breaks away and sweeps across the roofs of Rome, reducing church spires and columns to rubble as it ploughs into them, before rising into the sky. Around them what remains of St. Peter’s shudders and the northern wall fragments under the strain of the occult forces; bricks, plaster, statues and tapestries spiral into the tempest and are lost to sight. All that remains of the once great church is the pocked and scarred marble floor with the remnants of shattered pillars reaching from it and, at the eastern end, the great throne St. Peter with the silver cross hovering above it. The crucifix is untouched by the devastation about it and now it is almost whole again, with only a few gaps in its arms remaining to be filled by the orbiting shards.

Within the cyclonic fury of the storm Ricard and Urbane face each other, crosiers levelled, their gazes locked deep within each other’s eyes. With a growl Urbane strikes first, the crosier pivoting in her remaining hand as she makes to drive it into the Cardinal’s crotch. As it moves through the air it trails a freezing mist and cruel icy barbs grow from its surface. The battle has taken its toll on Urbane however; the burden of her wounds and the effort of her great magic has weakened her. No longer does she possess the monstrous strength and speed of the cursed knights and Ricard meets her blow with the shaft of his own weapon. Above the storm’s wail the clang of ice on wood echoes over the Vatican hill, which is now virtually swept clean. Again and again the two Popes swing at each other within the nexus of the pandemonium. The great whirling strikes of the crosiers bouncing off each other as they match each other blow for blow. On his head Ricard’s mitre is a burning wreck, the power of the runes of warding nearly spent and as he sees a smouldering mote drift past his eyes he redoubles his attack, beating again and again against Urbane’s guard. With a cry she falls back and with a deft hit he rams the butt of the staff into her stomach. She falls back with a cry clutching at her midriff but before Ricard can move in, with a burst of furious speed, her own crosier strikes out at his and the two weapons crash together and shatter in a cloud of ice and wooden splinters. Even as his crosier falls away the last shred of Ricard’s mitre turns to ash. Urbane’s eyes flash as she sees his last defence crumble and with a cry of victory she raises her hand to tear the living warmth from his body.

“All too easy!” She hisses and for the first time her voice has lost its impassive clam, the thrill of victory filling it.

Too late she sees the broken half of his crosier move towards her, its splintered wooden point driven by the Cardinal’s hands straight toward her sternum.

Above the golden throne the penultimate piece of the cross amalgamates with the whole.

In the City Below

In the streets and plazas below the Vatican Hill it is pandemonium. Defenders and Crusaders alike are fleeing from the centre of the city. Urbane's forces, who had fallen back to the walls of the Vatican are the first to be destroyed as the arcane currents from the rift in the sky tear the buildings apart around them. Knights and soldiers scream as they are lifted into the air to hurtle towards the gaping oblivion above. The forces of Jerusalem and Burgundy, seeing the approaching wave of obliteration have managed to fall back and so far have avoided the worst of Urbane's wrath, though many are maimed or crushed as the architecture of Rome crumbles around them. The Knights Templar fair the worst of all the besiegers for their ingress into the city has been the deepest. Falling back to the banks of the river Tiber they watch in awe as the water begins to stream skyward, colossal inverted waterfalls spiralling into the void above. Their only hope of escape is the ancient bridge, the Ponte Sisto. Across it they run as the great river boils up around them and barely half have made it to safety when with a tremendous wrench the bridge peals away from its foundations and, fragmenting, tumbles towards the heavens.

The besiegers can do little but stand afraid or run for their lives as the terrible sorcery of Urbane ravages the city. Despairingly they look up as the chasm into elsewhere expands further, darkening the city below it. Their only hope lies atop the Vatican Hill in the heart of the pillar of blue fire that rages as its summit.

There Can Be Only One!

Urbane gasps as the broken shaft of the crosier pierces her chest, the flickering beginnings of the spell in her hand fading away. She looks down at her breast and the golden crook sticking horizontally from it. Then she looks up at Ricard and smiles;

“Not good enough Cardinal. I am not so easily defeated, for my faith is strong and through it I endure.” She whispers as Ricard’s face flickers between fear, confusion and surprise, “Only now, at the end, do you understand. Your feeble skills are no match for the true power of Catholicism”

She raises her left arm, that ends in a messy stump, and as she does the blue fire flickers around the wound and ice begins to grow from the ichor, extending out into a huge claw of blood red ice its jagged point aimed at Ricard's heart.

“You have paid the price for your lack of veneration!”
She cries.

But even as the deadly talon takes shape Ricard reaches into his robes and pulls out a thin stone tablet, weathered and cracked, a single word engraved upon it surface. For an instant Urbane looks at the tablet and at the man holding it and confusion flickers in her eyes.

“See you in Hell” Says Ricard, and he speaks the word.

A moment of silence. In the Cardinal's hand the tablet turns to dust. Then the power of the Tetragrammaton is unleashed and the name of God washes out over Rome. It is not a mortal word, not something that can be translated or transcribed and forgotten as soon as it is heard but its intonation is that of a thousand trumpets, the sound of the heavens moving and the earth quaking. From Ricard's mouth a colossal shockwave expands forth in a great boiling cone, it tears the up the floor of the Basilica and rends apart the burning tornado in which the two Pope's stand. The wave of force takes Urbane full in the chest punching the shaft of the broken crosier clean through her and lifting her off her feet, driving her through the air to slam into the great golden throne of St. Peter at the far end of the ruined Basilica.

”…From Heaven.” adds Ricard, considering it.

Rise of the Giga Pope

The fury of the tempest abates. Around the remains of St. Peter's the blistering winds cease their din and a relative quite falls upon the Vatican hill. High above the interface of the great void begins to twist and distort as the magic that holds back the sky begins to fail. From the clouds around the rift tendrils of blue fire leap and crackle over the surface of the black pool of nothingness. For a moment the void wavers as it seeks to fight against the weight of reality pushing against it and then with a soundless implosion the sky rushes in enveloping the fissure in the billowing clouds; the final chink into oblivion winking out of existence directly above where Jean Ricard stands.

Both Jacob and Henry murmur as consciousness returns while Rasha grimaces as she pulls the icicle from her flank. The rest of the party are in various states of disrepair; bruised or cut by flying glass and masonry. Jean Ricard is in particularly bad shape; his face covered in broken skin, cold burns and blood.

The only standing structure about them is the high altar of the Basilica and the magnificent golden throne upon it. In the throne sits Urbane, the crook of the crosier protruding from between her breasts, the jagged point of the shattered end driven through the backrest of the throne and pinning her to the oversized chair.

Rising painfully the group look at the body of the Pope. Her shredded white robes are soaked with blood, the stump of her ruined hand resting on the arm of the throne. They jump as her chest moves with a rattling croak as blood dribbles from her mouth. Her eyes roll up in her head to look at the silver cross above.

In a wide helical orbit the final jagged fragment falls into place at the top of the uppermost arm of the cross. As it merges into the flawless conformation there is metallic ring, a pure faultless note that begins to grow in volume.

As the unearthly sound grows Urbane begins to laugh, the maddened laugh of the cursed knights. But even as the awful insanity in her cackle becomes apparent so does the undertone of despair and as as the resonance of the cross grows Urbane's laugh becomes a wail of total and utter hopelessness, the scream of an old woman who knows she has forever damned her soul. The tone emitted by the cross is deafening now and the air reverberates with it rippling out across the city. As the anticrusaders reach for their ears they look up at the writhing form of the fallen Pope. The veins of her hands are becoming a deep blue, almost black, and hoarfrost starts to form on the tips of her fingers. As her scream reaches its apex Urbane spasms and from her flesh knives of grey ice emerge, bursting from her freezing blood and tearing her body asunder. The serrated crystals swell outwards carrying what remains of the one-time Pope with them. The golden throne shivers and from its glittering surface the same crystals begins to sprout. The legs of the seat extending down around the altar as the ice flows from them. The throne and the remains of Urbane merge forming one colossal crystal structure that is almost spherical in shape, its faceted surface reflecting a dull grey image of the wolrd around them. Ricard jumps back with a cry as the thing begins to grow further, reaching outwards and upwards till it fills the space where the dome once stood. As the crystal form rises and touches the silver cross it seems to absorb it, the artefact sinking into the icy monstrosity. Still the thing grows; the huge frozen legs of the once throne scraping outwards, tearing up huge chucks of the marble floor as they do, till they bridge over the width of the destroyed nave. With the shriek of moving ice the massive glassy appendages tense and the vast icosidodecahedron of crystal above them rears up in the sky.

Towering above the remains of St. Peter the crystalline leviathan stands. The huge polyhedron of grey ice held atop four great crustacean-like legs. The central facet of the titanic head ripples and the Cross of Guglielma of Bohemia emerges parallel to its surface. The Crucifix has grown but still radiates its eerie aura of impossible perfection and it sits in the centre of the monster's head like a single alien eye, taking in the world around it with an unblinking gaze.

The anticrusaders cower below the colossus sure that it will crush them from existence. But the thing's head, if it can even be called a head, turns and one of the massive legs rises and then smashes down on the slope of the Vatican hill. The Cross gazes away to the Southeast, it does not seem to know or care that the group huddles below it. With no sound but the impact of the legs as they hit the ground the dread leviathan moves away; walking out across Rome, reducing what remains of the city’s buildings to rubble in its path.

Speechless they watch as the thing strides away. Whatever its purpose it does not lie within Rome.

The Aftermath

Thousands have died in the siege, soldier and civilian alike, but the troops and nobles loyal to Urbane have surrendered and lain down their arms. Many of the Crusaders and defenders have been killed by the terrible cataclysm that swept across the city as Urbane attempted to lay waste to her foes with her final, most terrible magic. Though both the forces of Burgundy and the Kingdom of Jerusalem have escaped the worst of the carnage. Some of the military orders have been badly hit and the knights Templar in particular have been decimated. The once great city of Rome is devastated and its streets are littered with debris and rubble. For a mile around the Vatican hill there is nothing but a wasteland; the neighbourhoods levelled and the streets torn up.

The Vatican itself is gone. Virtually every trace of the Holy See has been swept from existence, carried into the dark portal summoned by Urbane above St. Peter’s. Only the foundations of the basilica remain, a few shattered plinths the only remainder of the first church of Christendom. From the Vatican hill, leading across the city and out into the farmlands beyond is a secondary trail of destruction left by something that moved across the city into the south.

With the defeat of the “Black Pope”, as Urbane has begun to be called, the winter storms have cleared and people are picking their way out of the destruction through the drifts of snow and ice. Within the sphere of desolation around the Vatican few have been left alive; with most crushed, or sucked into the dark elsewhere. In the rest of the city people who cowered in basements and churches begin to emerge fearfully glancing up at the sky as if fearing the apocalypse may once more descend upon them. Many are now refugees and they begin to leave the city in vast droves, travelling to the army encampments outside the walls to find food and shelter. The forces of Burgundy and the Kingdom of Jerusalem are happy to provide these as best they can, the armies are well behaved and there are no reported cases of pillaging, raping or recrimination. Even Pavel Korovic's men behave themselves and remain diplomatically outside the city walls, chastened by the grim spectacle of the broken city. During this dark time the Order of Blessed Gerard is of great solace to the displaced people and the monk, Friar Gregory, spends much time among the injured and scared healing their wounds and easing their sorrows. What remains of the population of Rome is in mourning. People grieve for their lost ones, for those corrupted by Urbane and for the destruction of the Holy See.

On the summit of the Vatican Hill those who faced Urbane are found, their wounds are awful but they are alive, though they stood at the epicentre of the arcane tempest unleashed by the sorceress Isabella of Barbara. They are helped back to the army encampments outside the city and their most grievous injuries are tended to, though little can be done for Henry of Gloucester’s wrecked visage.

The Catholic Church is in no better state than Rome itself. The Military and Monastic orders that supported Urbane have for the most part renounced her after witnessing the ravages she called down upon the city. Only a handful of Cardinals have survived Urbane’s eradication of the conclave but the ones that still live travel quickly to Rome and shortly before the next peace of the covenant Cardinal Jean Ricard is elected as the new supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church by a vote of fourteen to nothing in a tavern on the outskirts of the city. Though few in Europe now doubt the heresy of Urbane it is clear that the new Pope will have a great deal of work to do to secure his future and the continued stability of the mother church. Though most important clerics support his election some have openly denied that Urbane was evil and have refused to recognise the new Pope.

Their work done the forces of Burgundy and Jerusalem begin their long journey home, the reaction to their passing is varied. Some hail them as saviours and others as destroyers but as word spreads of the evil of the Black Pope it is clear that Christendom thanks them for their great service. As the Crusaders return home across the lands of Italy they hear many tales of the crystal giant that has marched with grim purpose towards the Mediterranean. Though they cannot determine what it seeks the ruination it leaves in its wake is testament to some fell purpose.

The Forces of Good vs. the Gigapope

The Forces Muster

After the peace of the covenant there is a great rush to the city of Jerusalem to meet the thing that comes from beneath the waves, that freezes the sea with its approach and drives the creatures of the ocean before it. In the city itself the Prophet Joshua ben Isaac leads the preparations around the nearly complete third temple. What remains of the Knights Templar now guard the great shrine and within Joshua leads the Jewry of the city in prayers to the Lord asking him to turn back the onslaught of the oncoming beast. Within the citadel of the Holy City Philip of Jerusalem rallies the forces of the kingdom and begins to dispatch them to the coast near the city of Ashdod. The full military might of the Kingdom is assembled from every Lord and Lady in the land with the military orders providing many extra troops. Through his lieutenants Philip organises the defences on the coast; huge trenches are dug on the beaches and many great trebuchets and catapults are placed on the dunes above the beaches, ready to bombard the monster.


As the armies assemble great pyres are lit all along the length of the beaches, so that it seems as if the coastline has been set aflame. Among the men walk Philip and his captains their positive influence spreading a brave resolve amongst the men as they huddle by the fires. The front lines are swelled with spearmen and behind them are massed many archers, their arrows tipped with naphtha and ready to rain incinerating hail down upon sands in front of them. In the very centre of the beach sits the command post where the magical contingent of the defenders wait; Maha al-nazihah, Brother Ambrose and Michael of Bethlehem. The three invokers look nervous as they gaze out at the dark waters of the Mediterranean and the great crags of ice that float within it. With them wait the scholar Jacob and the monks Donatien and Gregory, who seem equally ill at ease as the anticipation builds among the defenders.

Night falls and across the sands, overhead the sky is covered in a thick blanket of clouds and the light of the stars and moon are obscured from sight so that only the flickering of the pyres illuminates the surf that glitters as it crashes on the beach. Still the thing they wait for does not come, the great black expanse of the ocean remaining tranquil. The tension builds among the men and many turn from the warmth of the pyres looking nervously out to sea, whispering as they see icebergs drifting across the horizon.

Another hour passes and nothing comes upon them, yet the fear among the ranks increases as a sense that something terrible is drawing near. On the shore silver flickers amidst the breaking surf its intensity increasing as fish, by the thousands and then millions, leap from the water to lie gasping on the sand. The soldiers look in terror as the animals hurl themselves to their death; desperate to escape something.

Time passes and the sky darkens further. From the west a chill wind blows, carrying an Arctic bite in its gusts.

The first cry goes up from the northern flank of the force and a swell of panic spreads across the armies. With widened eyes, cries of surprise and quite prayers for salvation many of the men point out to the waters where the impossible is happening. The crash of the surf abates, dying away, and for a moment the ocean lies silent. Then the water seems to spasm, its reflections shifting and its currents writhing for an instant before, with an unearthly tinkling, the entire sea congeals as a great wave of ice spreads from the depths to suspend the surf’s crests in a frozen moment of time, turning the coast into a vast glacial field. A grim vista of blue-white ice now stretches away from the coast in every direction, its unnatural luminescence bathing the shore in a frigid light. The army is hushed in terror and the only sound is the cracking and shattering as the frozen sea settles. Yet still nothing comes.

A pulse beats. It sounds from away yet the sands shudder at its throb. In the command tent Donatien looks down at the alchemical potion he holds; its surface ripples. With the second beat the ground trembles and the dunes at the top of the beach shift. The third beat comes, louder now, and men fall to the ground screaming out as the world lurches beneath them.


Soldiers pick themselves up, gathering their weapons. In the command tent Philip raises his hand to his eyes, scanning the tundra before them. Nothing.

The explosion is deafening as the ice before them erupts. Men stagger backwards as the shockwave hits them and scream as blocks of ice, as large as houses, smash down onto the beach around them, crushing many into bloody pulp. Some of the outer ranks break and begin to flee but Philip’s cry echoes over the troops and the lines hold. In the heart of the detonation a vast chasm now mars the surface of the ice and within it the icy waters of the deep sea churn and boil. As the ice heaves and cracks from the blackness something rears; its form of facets and hard angles and its structure of dull grey crystal: the dread monstrosity called into being by the death of the antipope Urbane.

Deusophage Vs. The Djinn

In the ranks men wail as the colossal form continues its rise. A titanic polyhedron of ice looming above them as it soars into the sky, freezing water and chunks of ice sliding from its surface. At its base is a tiny cylindrical body from which reach four spindly legs made of the same strange grey ice, their feet lost in the chasm. In the centre of the massive head, if that is what it is, sits a great cross of silver, emerging from one of the glassy facets. The crucifix is immobile and yet it radiates a dreadful malice; the light reflected from it sweeping across the battlefield like a gaze from a monstrous eye filled with malevolence. The crystalline leviathan lurches and one of the great legs rises from the void and in a great arc slams into the surface of the frozen ocean, its razor sharp tip drilling into the surface. Its other legs following, the thing levers itself onto the Mediterranean glacier and the awful nature of what they face is revealed to the defenders. Five hundred feet above them the monstrous thing overshadows the battlefield, its awesome bulk eclipsing the night sky.

The legs move, sweeping through the air with the howl of great winds, and the titan advances, the grounding quaking with its steps.

Many men flee, their courage failing at the approach of the icy monstrosity, realising the futility of spears or swords against this foe. The archers hold however and Al-Afdal and Philip cry out as one and the rush of burning arrows fills the air, the sky aflame with their light. The swarm of bolts strike into the crystal facets but neither the points or the fires take hold and the arrows clatter away harmlessly. With a shout Philip orders the retreat of the archers and he gestures to the dunes above the beaches. The trebuchets creak and hewn boulders fly through the air, hurtling into the colossus. The impacts seem to leave no mark on the thing but the bombardment seems to slow its progression and the great head rotates on some hidden axis and the cross stares toward the source of the missiles. An otherworldly keening fills the air, the single perfect note directed at the dunes. Men scream as the sound washes over them, clutching at bleeding ears as they fall writhing to the ground in paroxysms of agony.

Alone at the front stands Al-Afdal an ornate bow drawn back in his arms. He lets loose a shot and a streak of silver flies towards the face of the monster. The arrow bores into the icy surface, driving into the body of the beast. The alien wail wavers and the thing seems to shudder. The Cross swivels and one of the great legs rears. Al-Afdal sprints away as one of the alien legs smashes into the space he just occupied. As the other legs move forward they rip through the soldiers who have held their position, killing hundreds beneath their jagged step.

The invokers have fallen back to the dunes and Maha is the first to call forth the power of her Djinn servants. Around them the sands shimmer as ghostly figures seem to dance along them, as they do so a great wall of whirling sand billows upwards creating a great barrier between the monster and the catapults, obscuring them from its view but allowing them to continue firing through it.

Michael is the next and falls to his knees in prayer. In front of him a brilliant light blossoms and an angelic figure appears bedecked in chainmail and wreathed in a halo of white light. Behind it glittering wings of the purest white flare outwards. It looks around it, seemingly displeased, and appears to ignore Michael entirely.

Brother Gregory steps forward and from his belt removes a large, ancient looking spearhead. Onto it the monk Donatein pours a clear liquid from a glass vial and the weapon seems to sharpen as the others look on, its edges cutting wyrd rainbows from the air. He reverently hands the artefact to Jacob, the purest man present capable of wielding the relic.

“We must stop the demon's advance” Says Michael, “Can you cripple that monstrosity?” He asks the Angel.

The being does not respond to him but its wings spread wide and in its hand appears a sword of lustrous metal, its vorpal edges hissing as they slice through the wind.

“I shall vanquish this darkness.” it speaks to no one in particular.

It raises its hand to Jacob, who take it, and with a flap the two soar into the air surrounded by an aura of light.

Al-Afdal, bow in hand, jogs up to the group and pants “We may succeed in slowing it down but we need to destroy it. My bow can hurt it but I cannot stop it alone.” He turns to look at Brother Ambrose and the monk nods and lowers his head in prayer.

High above the Angel and Jacob soar around the leviathan and then swoop down, alighting on the strangely jointed knee of one of the arachnoid limbs. As one they plunge their weapons into crystal flesh. The Angel’s sword tearing up clouds of ice and steam as it pierces the body. As Jacob slashes with the spearhead it seems to ebb a faint radiance into the ice that flows down into the core of the appendage. As the monster steps forward onto the limb it wobbles precariously and barely seems to maintain its balance. The Cross moves again, focusing on the minuscule forms standing on its leg, and the unnervingly pure note radiates forth again. Both the Angel and Jacob clutch their skulls in agony, barely maintaining their foothold on the frozen plane on which they stand. The sound intensifies and Jacob’s scream is lost in the resonance. Only the the monster’s crystal surface remains unlit, seeming to suck the light away into its grey depths. Within the magnificent sunburst two great gates can be seen. They rattle.

“PUSH. DON’T PULL…” Booms a voice

The gates creak.


One of the golden doors moves slightly.


There is an explosion and the gates fall off whatever hinges hold them and plummet to the ground with a clang. From where they used to sit a beam of light lances forth and the celestial host emerges bedecked in metallic wings and halos of light. Hundreds of them come, big and small and all carrying burning swords and crackling spears. At their head, his wings magnificent and his golden breastplate gleaming, comes the Archangel Ophanim, his burning aura almost blinding.


The Cross wheels and the air around it seems to distort and the keening becomes a deafening roar as it slams into the Host. Angels spiral wildly as the shockwave hits; wings and halos flying in every direction as they come free. Below someone shouts;

“Hey these are made of papier mache” Before being knocked unconscious by a dislodged halo.

Alone amongst the host Ophanim seems to have maintained his position but his eyes blaze with fury as his Halo falls into the darkness below.

“YOU COMPLETE BASTARD!” He pauses and looks around.


The angelic host streams forward; their fiery bodies a storm of comets in the night sky. They swarm around the monster, burning blades slicing through the symmetrical facets of the thing, rending away huge fragments of the grey ice as the creature is enveloped in a maelstrom of flame.

On the monstrous leg Jacob drives the spearhead deep into the joint and with a great crack a fissure rips through the frozen mass. As the ice beneath him begins to crumble and shatter Michael’s angel grabs Jacob and pulls him away from the avalanche of tearing crystal as the limb shears clean away from the colossus.

The leviathan emits a roar of monstrous fury, its crystal head reverberating with its alien cry as the thing twists, its balance lost. The massive grey head trembles and its cruciform eye at its centre flicks back and forth. Beneath it the legs tremble.

The thing tumbles sideways, its impact sending up a mushroom of dust as it collapses into the dunes. The world lurching as the creature strikes into the earth.


Monsteronomy and Monsterology

Jacob and the Angel alight on the sand. Above the burning host circles, am incandescent ring in the sky. Ophanim descends, peering into the cloud of dust. Too late he sees the huge shattered stump of the crystal limp as it hurtles towards him. Ice smashes into the Archangel and, leaving a burning trail behind him, the golden form careens into the dunes, vanishing in an explosion of earth.

The angelic host above, seeing their leader buried, appears unsure of what to do. But Michaels Angel and Jacob hurlt into the dust cloud before them as from the darkness the leviathan rears once more. With a leap the angel and man are upon another of the legs as, using the three remaining ones, the thing raises itself once more and begins to shamble forward. Before the head can rise too far however Zafir al-nazihah, with a great leap, hurls himself onto one of the diaphanous facets; his sword and dagger digging into the ice for grip.

On the ground Maha and Ambrose cry in horror as Philip calls the retreat to the catapults. Jacob and the Angel hack away at the limb they stand on but the thing seems to have reinforced itself somehow and though their blows cut deeply into the ice the leg maintains it integrity.

From the air a storm of magical flames fall as the host unleashes its celestial arrows and spears of light, but the great grey titan shrugs them off as it marches forward. On its side Zafir climbs slowly up the shear crystal face toward the summit.

Michael cries “We cannot hold it off, fall back. Fall back!”

In the sky the golden portal in the clouds flares and from the centre of the gateway a dancing bolt of aureate energy erupts, flashing down into the dunes. The ground heaves as from them a second massive figure begins to rise, the sand falling away from it in dusty rivers. A gigantic form, its metallic skin the colour of polished brass and its eyes burning like twin suns. Ophanim arises, a humanoid of staggering proportions, to match the height of the crystalline beast; his wings and weapons gone. With two great golden hands the Archangel reaches out and grasps the arms of the great silver Cross and then pours forth his wrath, his hands lost in a searing inferno of heat and light.

The thing screeches as its eye is wreathed in flame. On two of its good legs Jacob and Michael's Angel rake at the ice destabilising the leviathan so that the thing teeters precariously. Upon the summit of the giant Zafir drives his blade into the top of the head, huge fissures spreading from where his blade scythes into the thing. Ophanim’s anger is evident now; his eyes like the heart of stars as his fury streams into the gigantic Cross, but the ancient artefact has power of its own and blistering cold meets Ophanim’s fire in a conflagration that flickers between flames of the purest white and the darkest black. The icy flesh of the leviathan begins to melt away, huge sheets of it shearing from the creature destroying its unnerving symmetry. The Cross is glowing red hot now but Ophanim is also suffering as blades of cruel black ice rupture through the flesh of his hands and arms, molten gold dripping from the wounds.

The awful keen of the monster sounds again and Ophanim takes a step back, and the inferno he sends forth against the thing begins to falter. The leviathan is now nothing but a crystalline skeletal remnant of its former self with nothing but bones of cracking grey ice supporting the Cross, but still its crippled limbs press forward.

On the ground below Al-Afdal pulls back his bow, his last silver arrow notched in place. He sights the shot and breathes in. Above the Cross is a mass of white hot silver, still held in Ophanim’s enkindled grasp.

Al-Afdal releases.

The arrow flies swift and sure straight at the very centre of the blazing Crucifix and is lost in the dazzling incandescence. A single faultless note sounds, in harmonic opposition to the shrill of the monster. Across the surface of the Cross cracks spread like bolts of black lightning. The two sounds merge into a deafening dissonance that roars into the sky and rolls out across Jerusalem. For an instant the horrendous avatar shudders uncontrollably and then with a thunderous crack the Cross shatters into a cloud of white-hot shards that spin away into the night, burning to nothingness as they do.

The crystal skeleton quivers, holding for a brief moment as its animating spirit dissipates and then, with the fracturing shriek of tearing ice, crumbles; huge columns and blocks of the grey matter tumbling onto the beach below.

Michael’s Angel dives, catching Jacob at the last minute and bearing him away from the destruction. Amidst a torrent of splintering ice Zafir leaps from tumbling block to block and then slides down one of the perishing legs to the relative safety of the ground.

Jerusalem Saved and the Zombie Hordes Defeated

As the dust settles the devastation on the beach becomes apparent in the warm glow cast by Michael's angel as it hovers overhead. Many of Philip's and Al-Afdal's troops have been killed; crushed beneath the onslaught of the leviathan or by blocks of falling ice. Huge fragments of the dull grey crystal litter the beach but the terrible cold has retreated and the frozen ocean has begun to thaw quickly, so that great pools of cool water are now visible on the surface of the Mediterranean glacier. The golden gateway in the sky has closed and of the host only Ophanim remains, a pair of dented silver wings once more gracing his back. Among the injured moves Brother Gregory and his band of helpers. With great skill and diligence they drift between the causalities; tending to the most serious wounds and giving the last rights to those who cannot be aided. Many soldiers, both Christian and Arab, are saved by the ministrations of Gregory and all throughout the chaos people whisper of the kindly monk and the aura of holiness that hung around him turning back the darkness of the night.

Though at a great cost the monster is dead; what remains of it lies melting in a massive pile in the centre of the dunes. Whatever the creature was and whatever its fell intent it is now destroyed and the eldritch forces that animated it banished with the disintegration of the Cross. Victory. The temple on the mount is saved and a great evil vanquished.

As the waters once more begin to lap at the shore a corpse floats from beneath the sea's surface and washes onto the sands. Everyone pauses and looks at it.

It remains inanimate.

A seagull lands on its head.

1) Because this is not a hard Architectural history game the Basilica of 1190 resembles that of 400 years later
news/bm/pope.txt · Last modified: 2009/10/12 23:05 by oliver
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