Italy and Beyond - Part Four: The Road to Hell

Author: Malafides
Published: 2017-01-27, edited: 1970-01-01

Part of the campaign:

Italy and Beyond

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Game: Crusader Kings II

Italy and Beyond - Part Three: Dies Irae

Images: 29, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 1970-01-01

Satan swims around me on all sides. My House's fateful words echo in my mind: "Ab insomni non custodita dracone." Never safe from the tireless Devil. Last night I dreamt of drowning in a black ocean. It was an ocean of my own sin, and the more I struggled, the more it pulled me under. Even when I woke I could hardly catch my breath.
His armies defeated in Jerusalem, the Devil rears his head across the world. Pomerania is a Kingdom barely Christian, ruled by regents with a child on the throne. Satan fills every crack in the face of righteousness like oozing pitch. The heathen is still strong in Mecklenburg, and I fear the King cannot resist them.
Yet God has an answer for every injustice. The King of France is already banished from the Holy Church. Now the good King Morcar marches forth from Normandy to banish him from the throne. God willing, he will banish his head from his shoulders.
With Satan's blinders removed from my eyes, God has seen fit to reveal much to me. Even so, no man can unravel His mysterious plan. The Emperor of the Greeks has declared a holy war against Persia, their ancient enemy. When the world's two great titans shall meet on the battlefield, only God can decide the victor. I know not whose side He stands behind. Though an infidel, the Seljuk Sultan has never laid a finger on the Holy Land. The Greeks are Christians, true, but they are heretics, and they occupy our rightful lands. Are they not more guilty in the eyes of the Lord, to so pervert the name of Christ?
I am finally welcome in God's house, but His priests still cast their judgments upon me. I feel their piercing eyes upon me as I pray within their churches. I have my own judgments to bear. They hold their noses up to the Heavens, yet they cannot see their own sins, their own perversions of the holy word. I know every line of the Bible by heart -- but so does the Devil. I cannot afford to question God's servants when my soul teeters over the abyss.
Doge Igino has been added to the host of sinners burning in Hell. I have no need to wipe the blood from my hands and cover my involvement. He is not the first man I've murdered -- all in Italy fear my wrath. I stand with the Lord now, and if Igino should stand against me, then he stands with the Devil. Let all sinners remember his example.
His replacement, Doge Gabrino Tocco, will prove a more pliable servant. I have allowed him a spot among my advisors, and he seems happy to nod and smile, fiddle with his poetry and stuff his face. It is no matter to me. The Republic of Ancona shall at last serve its purpose. After a war of embargo against the Venetian years ago, Ancona's merchants control Italy's markets and spread Eastward. With Doge Gabrino, Ancona's plentiful coffers will flow straight to the throne. Thus gold shall be transmuted into righteous steel.
Meanwhile, King Godfred the Liberator battles with the Kaiser to ensure his people's freedom once more. The Frisians know that Italy stands behind them, but our troops are still en route from the Holy Land. King Rolf "the Terrible" of Sweden has also answered Godfred's call, but he is a dithering coward. When the Kaiser's troops first marched into Frisia, Sweden's soldiers lingered in Osnabruck. Though he promised before the Lord to aid his allies, he hoped to spare the blood of his own soldiers while the Frisians suffered. King Rolf only engaged with the Kaiser's unlikely victory on the horizon. Thousands of good men have died for Rolf's hesitation. God will reward his soldiers in Heaven, and protect them on Earth until we are ready to relieve them.
King Godfred claims victory at Gelre while the Kaiser retreats to the East to gather his forces. The distant King of Rus has fallen in with him, but we have yet to see his forces on the field. If the Unholy Emperor decides to link up with the Russian hordes, I shall send them all to Hell.
But my fears of Russia are yet unfounded. My spies have sighted German forces riding forth from the Alps -- clearly the Russians have abandoned them to their own petty squabbles. Only the Kaiser's Southern vassals have answered his call. Now Italy's armies fly out from Milan to offer our response.
My son shall march beside me. Bonifacio is almost a man, named for the greatest man I've ever known. I know he shall match my father's glory. Until now, I have tried my best to protect him from the sins of the world. I have tried to protect him from myself by making him Duke of Verona, where he will be safe from the Devil's outbursts. Now he must know what I have come to understand. The world is an illusion, nothing more than a battlefield between the forces of God and the forces of Satan. When Bonifacio looks at me, I see the hate in his eyes. I cannot blame him. It is only right that my sins should disgust him so. Bonifacio will be more than a great man. He shall be a good man, and goodness cannot abide the evil that lurks within me.
I am Italy's rightful King, but the country needs a guiding hand while I'm away. My wife is the perfect candidate for the job. Alfonsina will help the country prosper while I mete out God's vengeance.
In Germany as in Jerusalem, Duke Ubert II will fight beside me. Even as our men give chase to the enemy, Ubert trains them to stand against the Kaiser. Ubert is young and our righteous duties weigh heavily upon him. Still, my heart leaps out to him. At night, I dream of kissing the hand that grips his deadly blade. When morning comes, I whip myself with scorn. Ubert's presence washes over me like the warmth of Christ, but I cannot give into temptation.
The Kaiser threatens to shatter the Frisian armies, yet as we cross the Rhine to meet his forces, the Devil outmaneuvers us. Our troops meet revolting peasants in Kleve. They cannot match us, but they can delay us while the Kaiser does his dirty work.
We take our revenge at Zutphen. King Godfred's forces have been broken, but so too have been the Kaiser's men. They siege Gelre in haggard uniforms, bloody and exhausted. The cowardly Kaiser turns tail the moment our armies engage.
Our soldiers try to pin him down, but his smaller force of horsemen evaded us through the forests of Liege and Luxembourg. I've had my fill of chasing rabbits. If the Kaiser wishes to waste my time hunting small game, I will not deny him. Italy's armies smite Julich like God Himself smote Sodom and Gomorrah. We smash through their pathetic garrison, and all who cannot run are captured. Lothar-Udo tried to flee from God's justice. I will make him pay for this mistake.
Now his wife and three of his children pray for mercy in my dungeons. Their prayers shall go answered.
I cut down the Kaiser's kin with my own hand, from even his youngest daughter. She was only three years on this Earth, a miserable clubfooted bastard. Her very existence was a sin against the Lord -- perhaps He will grant her mercy in Heaven, but I have none to spare.
At last, the Kaiser sees fit to fight me. Lothar-Udo rides back to Julich after the massacre, hoping to save his family. He is too late. He ran at the very sight of me when we met in Gelre, but now he rides forth at the head of his armies, full of rage and tears. My heart swells to see him in such agony.
Yet as the battle begins, so do the fates begin to turn. An arrow screams through the air and plants itself in Duke Ubert's throat. The fury explodes within me as I watch him topple from his horse. The Kaiser and I meet at the heart of the battlefield, and I hold a hand towards Heaven to stop my troops.
"Hold, men! This battle is between me and the Kaiser. Stand between us, and be destroyed."
The cold air hangs quiet with anticipation as Julich burns behind us. The sun rains down its gentle rays, but already the crows have begun to circle. The Kaiser has no words for me, only a primal scream as metal sings against metal. I laugh. This man is no match for me. And then I feel a nauseous warmth leak out from my stomach, and a hot pinprick against my spine. The Kaiser's blade has run me through. He sinks the hilt against my belly. I can see the stubble on his chin, the bloodshot hatred in his face. I can feel his breath in my nostrils as he weeps.
I crumble to the ground. The world fades as Hell opens its maw beneath me. Gone is the battlefield and the armies of men. Only the Devil remains.
"Well," he says, "we gave it a good run, didn't we? Show's over now. Time to pack it in."
Satan has divided in his body into a swarm of flies, already picking at my corpse. "N-never," I spit back, the blood pouring from my mouth. "Y-you shall n-never have me," I say, "never again. I the Lord now. G-get thee...g-get thee behind me, Satan."
The Devil laughs.
"Come now, Folco. Don't deceive yourself. You know as well as I that priest was nothing more than a charlatan. I let you believe you were saved -- it made it all the easier to corrupt you. You think God would take the lives of children and call it justice? No, my darling. You have always been my child. Now it's time to come home."