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The Rise And Fall Of The Magikal Kingdom

Printed From: Illyriad
Category: Miscellaneous
Forum Name: Fiction
Forum Description: Epics, Sagas, Unlikely Tales of Daring and Rip-roaring stories
URL: http://forum.illyriad.co.uk/forum_posts.asp?TID=6056
Printed Date: 23 Apr 2017 at 22:34
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Topic: The Rise And Fall Of The Magikal Kingdom
Posted By: abstractdream
Subject: The Rise And Fall Of The Magikal Kingdom
Date Posted: 31 Dec 2014 at 21:45
INTRODUCTION

Set forth on the following pages is an accounting, as told to me by a warrior, of his life, his King and that King's allies, in which is described their single and several efforts in settling the lands of the frigid north, namely Ursor and surrounding regions, of the continent of Elgea, in the land of Illyriad.

While great effort has been taken to follow the events of history as they were set forth to me by this warrior in the autumn of his days, it must be noted that, like most great story tellers, this said warrior may have used embellishment in the relaying of the events as they truthfully occurred and that having done so, over years and decades may have himself come to believe the story over the truth. Having said that, I being of sound mind and body, when and where possible have taken great pain of effort to establish the veracity of the events, the places, the people and the creatures as described by the warrior story teller.

Now, let it not be said that I would sacrifice truth for story, but let it also not be said the other way round. Whenever such events, such as they were imparted to me could not be substantiated, they were nonetheless writ and herein told. I will also attest to the eagerness of the warrior story teller to part with such stories, being a lot, but having at every twist and turn of the tale swearing an oath to his King and all who would listen that the tale, as told was true.

Jer, the Teller
The 50th year of our Lord, King Sigurd

-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-



Replies:
Posted By: abstractdream
Date Posted: 31 Dec 2014 at 21:47
Part One: FOUNDATIONS

Ham did not believe in gods or magic. His King believed it. His King believed there were forces beyond the world of the senses. Unless he could see it or touch it, Ham did not believe it. He’d seen with his own eyes the righteous and the unrepentant, the weak and the strong, all maimed or diseased, all cut down in the prime of their lives on the field of battle, regardless of what they could do or what they believed.

As a boy his father tried to instill a belief in him. His father believed that life was harsh and short and he believed that nature itself was his enemy; that nature would kill him at any opportunity. Ham was also taught that he could, if clever and quick enough take advantage of nature. From the first time he saw his King as he addressed the peasants gathered in a clearing southeast of the Frozen Solid River, he knew he could do anything. It was the one thing Ham did believe in, with all his heart and while he did not take comfort in the sort of mystical protection from harm so many others blindly embraced, he knew his actions had consequences and he knew he could either attempt to avoid or embrace those consequences.

Ham was twelve years old when the King first arrived in his homeland in the far northeastern reaches of Elgea. He brought with him all he owned and settled near the Forest of Spears acting as the vanguard for the alliance of kings and queens called The Long Road. In the beginning, for a short period of time the indigenous peoples of the valley where The Magikal Kingdom first sprang from the snow did not know if its King was there to help them or to exploit them. It was not long before the word spread across the valley that this king was benevolent, though a somewhat different sort of man. The rumor quickly developed that this king was no man at all, neither was he elf, dwarf, nor orc.

To look at him, the King first appeared human; rounded ears, rounded eyes, rounded teeth behind thick lips but he was tall, like an elf and thin like one as well. His feet though, resembled those of a dwarf. They were overly large and covered in orange hair and amazingly enough, he wore no shoes or boots at all; he was entirely bare foot. His hands were relatively small. They did not seem to be the hands one would have expected of such a tall man, much less a royal. The clean shaven head of the King was round but he had the high cheekbones of a southern elf, one from the Tallimar region for example or perhaps even Lan Larosh. His complexion was altogether different. To the casual observer, it seemed as if green blood flowed under his red skin. His eyes were, but for the blackness of his pupils, entirely white. They were unlike any eyes anyone in this part of Elgea had ever seen. Taken all together, his appearance frightened most who saw him.

On day one of his training, the spear given to Ham was a scrawny little stick, sharpened to a point. In his massive bear paw of a hand, it appeared ridiculously small. When it was his turn to try, Ham launched the spear as far and as true as he could. The flimsy nature of it made the spear appear to swim through the air. When it reached its destination and struck the target, nearly dead center, it shattered and the makeshift wooden target splintered. The collision sprayed debris all over the field. The small gathering of would be soldiers gasped as one. The King stared in amazement.

“We shall find you a stouter weapon, my large man!” the King exclaimed with a guffaw. “The typical spear is but a splinter in your hands!” The others applauded politely. Ham blushed. He was unaccustomed to being the center of attention. Where he came from there was no center.

“You are a rather large man. You will make a fine soldier for my army.” The King looked him over, up and down. “What is your age?” Ham began to answer but had to stop to clear his throat. Revealing his age would be bad enough but to sound as a boy while doing so would be the end of him.

"Fourteen" Ham answered in his deepest register.

“Zounds!” the King shouted. “You are but a boy, soon to be a mountain!” The King laughed a hearty laugh. “I shall fill an entire squadron with you!” He laughed some more. The others laughed as well. Being unsure how long to laugh or how loudly, they followed the King’s lead and ceased as he did.

By the time a few years had passed, Ham was leading a full company of militiamen. Four squadrons of five men made up his Lightning Brigade, the informal name he had given them. An esprit de corps was developing amongst the men of the Lightning Brigade. They spent most of their time, day and night outside the city gates, clearing the land of the vermin that repeatedly attacked and killed the formerly aimless peasants of the frigid north.

Harvest was a wondrous time in The Magikal Kingdom. Before the King came, most of the hapless folks made just enough to survive. Now, with the protection afforded them from the twenty one militiamen of the Lightning Brigade the peasants were truly becoming farmers. Everyone worked together to bring in the wheat while the militia stood guard. The fear of random death that had accompanied the daily toil out in the open was gone.

During the short northern growing season, the lands surrounding the capital city of The Magikal Kingdom became covered with fields and fields of wheat. It wasn’t the weak and shriveled strands indigenous to the north either. This wheat was from a strong and bounteous stock the King brought with him from wherever he had come.

Weather played as important a role in feeding the people as did the wheat itself. In the third year of the King’s rule, a particularly harsh growing season plagued the Kingdom. Hoping for help, the King sent a messenger to ask for his closest friend, a wizard named Abraxox. This wizard appeared one evening just after sundown in the castle dining hall. Ham, standing guard as usual, nearly jumped out of his skin when the figure covered from head to toe by a hooded, midnight black robe stepped out of the shadows of an exterior wall. As Ham began to charge the man, unaware of his motives, the King jumped from his seat at the far end of the hall and shouted for Ham to stand down.

“This is my brother, Abraxox” the King said, as though he were expecting him to appear from the ether. “Welcome him.”

After Ham had regained his composure and a few pleasantries were exchanged between the mysterious visitor and the few officials of the Kingdom in attendance, the King asked his friend if there was anything he could do to help soften the impact the weather was having on his wheat crops. Abraxox agreed that there was something he could do.

“Shall we have a look?” he asked. With the wave of an arm, the King indicated the way out of the hall towards the city gates. As they walked, they spoke. Ham was near enough to over hear some of the dialog of their conversation.

“I fear I cannot do too much, my friend” the wizard said. “My mages are attempting to divine the secrets of a more powerful incantation but for now I hope this minor spell will satisfy your needs.”

“I am grateful for anything that will increase the yield in this blustery spring” the King responded.

As they passed the city gates and entered the field beyond, the wizard asked for space between himself and the others.

“This will be excruciating if you're not grounded in my circle” he said. He bent over and with a finger, drew a circle in the moist soil with him at its center and then straightened back up, motioning for his audience to step further away. Ham watched as the wizard turned from the crowd of onlookers, dropped the hood obscuring his features and looked up into the sky. He stretched his arms straight out to either side and began speaking something.

In a heartbeat, there was a noticeable change in the winds. From out of the north, the wind almost immediately slowed to a breeze, began shifting and slowly gathered momentum. As it grew in strength it continued shifting direction until it had completely reversed itself. A perceptible change in temperature came with it. As all of this was going on, Ham looked at the sky and saw bits of sunshine breaking through the low, gloomy cloud cover.

“Look!” shouted one of the dining guests. He was pointing into the field. The group gasped as one and Ham stepped forward to see what they were seeing. As if it were in a dream, the plant was growing. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head but it grew. The immature grains at the end of each strand of grass grew as well. A thousand foot circle of the field centered on the wizard shifted from dark green, through to light green and on to the usual light, sandy color of a crop ready for harvest.

Ham stood transfixed with his mouth agape. Nothing could have prepared him for this sight. None of the stage magic he had seen over the last few years compared with this grand feat of wizardry. Before this day, no amount of cajoling could have convinced him this sort of thing was real, yet here it was, right before his eyes.

“The weather should hold well enough to bring in the rest in a few weeks” Abraxox said after donning his hood and approaching the King. “My research indicates the normal springtime patterns should return before this wears off.”

“Thank you my dear brother” the King said.

When the gaze of others ultimately fell upon The Magikal Kingdom, a gaze of envy and contempt, it came as a shock to most. Liliana, the second city of the new Kingdom was freshly planted on the other side of the Forest of Spears, in its own little valley, as seemingly safe from harm as was the capital. When news reached the King of a raid on his stores in Liliana along with the death of several volunteers of the new militia located there, he was furious. This sort of violation could not, indeed it would not go unanswered.

“Sergeant Fist!” bellowed the King. “Bring me Sgt. Fist!” His lesser aides scurried about like little mice, running this way and that through the castle halls and out into the courtyard, barking orders for the heralds to fetch the Sergeant.

“Never mind all that” the King said as Ham bowed. This day there was anger in him. It was something that Ham had not seen before. The King stepped down from his elevated throne and, being one of the few men Ham had ever met who was tall enough to do so, he put his arm across his shoulders and guided him away from the aides standing around the throne.

“There’s been a raid on the stores of Liliana” the King began. “Some fine men of our militia were killed there too.” Ham’s ears perked up as he listened. This was a new sort of thing. He was used to the culling of the animals, the attacks on the camps of roving factions, but a raid into the King’s city? This was new. His King continued, lowering his tone to a whisper.

“We suspect the traitorous fools who seek to tear our alliance apart” the King said. He stopped and turned to face Ham. “Haliver and his retched collaborators, cousins in treachery, the lot of them. They must be responsible, but we are yet without proof of their villainy.” He stepped back and returned to his usual tone for the last part of the briefing.

“You will take my army,” the King said, “and you will find out who did this deed. You will find them and you will strike them as they have struck us.” He wheeled around on his barefoot heels. “Prepare my caravan!” he shouted. “I will visit my people and replenish our stores in Liliana!”

Ham marched his soldiers to Liliana. The King’s caravan had already completed the journey and was providing sustenance and comfort to the citizens of the tiny village. Ham ordered his best man, Private Shackel to accompany him into the village. As they entered through the wrecked gates, into the village of makeshift shacks and temporary tents, they spotted four wooden boxes long enough to carry a man. They rested on the ground, each one covered with a different piece of cloth, representing different family clans. Two women huddled together on their knees at one end of the boxes, silently weeping. The sight moved him. These four were the first Magikal Kingdom soldiers lost in combat.

After a few minutes questioning the quartermaster and little in the way of answers forthcoming, Sgt. Fist and Pvt. Shackel went to view the sight of the raid itself. The scene was as it had been when the raiders left it, minus, of course the bodies of the guardsmen. Blackened, dried blood marked where the militiamen had fallen; two outside the doorway, one just inside and the fourth in the center of the storehouse. These men clearly put up a valiant fight, so why had there been no loss of raider life in the struggle? There were no signs of wounds and no indication that any raiders were picked up and carried away. This was a perplexing situation. After a few minutes, Ham was ready to leave.

“Look at these boot prints” Shackle said, stopping him. Ham looked at the prints of the raiders the Pvt. had isolated for him in one corner of the room. “These men were no larger than an average man, telling by the size of these prints, yet…” He looked over at Ham’s boot print behind him. “They were at least as heavy as you, or more.”

He was right. The apparent depth of the print seemed to indicate greater weight than an average man. “They were carrying their loot?” Ham asked.

“Not yet” Shackle answered him. “Look at the scuffs left from boots under load.” He was pointing to a different set of prints closer to the middle of the room. The prints clearly showed that the men were struggling to carry and abscond with something heavy. Of course, Ham thought: armor. “These men wore plate armor.” Shackle concluded. It made sense. How else could they account for the one sided loss of life?

This news silenced the King in shame. He had not, even for a moment previously considered covering his men in plate. This revelation changed everything. Immediately the King went about raising the resources required to build a plate forge, the gold to pay a talented craftsman and the iron required to create the armor itself. In a matter of days everything was set up and in little more than two weeks the first plate armor was presented to the King for approval.

“You men shall have to learn to fight all over again” the King said as he stood in front of the Lightning Brigade. He wore the same armor they did and held a common heavy spear in his hand. “I will show you what you need to do” the King said. It had been four summers since he had taken part in training but in Ham’s eyes, he showed no loss of skill or stamina. First, he described the new moves and then he demonstrated. Lastly, he had the men pair up practice the moves themselves. It was several days before the men got used to their new armor but once they felt confidant, they began to realize they stood near invulnerable to the common sorts of attacks they had grown accustomed to out in the field. Ham, while gaining proficiency with the new armor did not share his men’s enthusiasm. He would not wear it in actual combat, but that was a tale he would keep to himself, for now.

Just over a month after the attack on the storehouse in Liliana came a member of The Long Road alliance to visit the King in his castle. The dwarf warrior Fromfrak spoke in a loud, gruff manor, often interrupting others and dismissing outright anyone believed inferior. Commander of alliance forces and ruler of a kingdom three times larger than any in the alliance, Fromfrak sported an ambition matched only by ability and neither was insubstantial. Ham watched as the two sovereigns spoke. Their discourse began with something akin to pleasantries, though their banter did not adhere to the strictest sense of the word.

“My dear Fromfrak” the King said. “How is it you have found your way out of the hole you call a kingdom to grace us with your overly abundant presence?”

“You bloated toad, my absence can never be long enough.” The dwarf, dressed in a complete set of golden, battle worn, blood soaked plate armor, stood barely three feet high. Ham noticed a distinct odor of raw meat. The King stepped down from his throne to extend his greetings. He opened his arms, appearing to prepare a hug for the tiny warrior.

“My lady” the King said playfully. Ham grinned. That explained the shorter than expected beard; Fromfrak was a female.

“Keep your sticky fingers to yourself” the dwarf snarled. “I’ll not have your smooth arms touching me without first chopping them off.” The King stopped before her and leaned back to allow a huge laugh to escape him. Fromfrak slapped the King on the thigh and let out the most grating sound. Ham felt the hairs on his neck stand up as the sound drilled his ears.

“It is truly good to see you, my fair warrior” the King said after a moment to catch his breath. “What brings you to my little kingdom this fine day?”

“Haliver brings me” she replied. They both immediately lost their jovial front at the mention of the traitor’s name.

King Haliver sought political shelter within the alliance during its first year in existence and over a relatively short period of time rose to the position of alliance army commander, a position which carried no small amount of significance. He had earned the trust of the seer elf, Eternal Fire, leader of The Long Road alliance as well as the King, who was Eternal Fire’s second in command. One day, without warning, Haliver dropped from the pact to organize one of his own, taking six alliance members with him. As it turned out, this seemed to be his plan all along as the bulk of the traitors shared a close bloodline with Haliver.

“A minion of Haliver’s rules the city you seek” Fromfrak said. The King nodded and returned to his seat on the throne. “It's the one called Bluesnake out of the city Thirty-Three.” The King seemed to be thinking about something. His gaze was far off. “Eternal Fire wants war” she added. The King focused on the dwarf.

“Yes, I know” he said.

“I agree with him” she said.

“Yes, I know.”

Eternal Fire wanted war from the beginning. After the defection, Haliver’s attempts to turn and recruit members of The Long Road solidified the desire for retribution in his heart. Unfortunately, without an overwhelming reason to attack, the membership would not back him.

The Emperor Bluesnake was a more recent addition to Haliver’s alliance, which he called The Liberation. It was he who was responsible for the raid. He sent the raiders from his capital city, named after the number thirty-three in his native language, unpronounceable for most native speakers of the common tongue. This city was just a day’s march south of The Magikal Kingdom’s capital. The news shocked many in the Kingdom; such a treacherous attack coming from such a close proximity.

From the time the first pieces of plate were delivered the militia multiplied in size. Now, almost three months later there were ten companies of forty men each. Formations were moved outside the city gates to a recently cleared field that would accommodate them. Ham promoted five of his best men to assist with the quickly growing militia. The Lightning Brigade more and more resembled what he thought of as a true army.

When war finally did come, on a sunny day in the late summer of the Kingdom's eighth year, Ham was ready. Honestly, he'd been ready since he was large enough to lift a weapon. His arm of choice was the long spear; twelve feet of shaft as big around as an average man's forearm and a point as long as Ham's head. He owned a dozen such weapons and cared for each of them as if it were his only possession. He seasoned the wood, honed the edges and wrapped each in leather, lashing them securely together and storing them away when not in use.

The Lightning Brigade would be leading the way for the march to war, setting up camp outside the city of the snake, preparing for the siege engines from the sister city. Though not his first combat experience, it would be his first time to war and he was ready and he was happy. His mood changed from one of listless apprehension, unaware as he was of the future, to a peaceful calm. With marching orders in hand, Ham, for the first time in his short life felt free of the aimless, ceaseless preparation and set on a headlong course for what he considered to be his destiny.

The King's Militia formed up outside the capital city walls and Ham, now Lieutenant Fist surveyed the army at his command. Sgt. Shackle addressed him.

"Sir!" he shouted, saluting. "The King's Militia is at your command!" Lt. Fist returned his Sgt’s salute.

The standard salute, finger tips to brow, executed with a quick, sharp snap was brought to use when the whole of the King's armies were but a handful of men. The King saw it during his travels abroad, before settling in the north. The ceremony of it impressed him and he insisted his soldiers practice it. It seemed ludicrous on first use, after a while however, Ham grew accustomed to it. Now, with years in practice, he very much appreciated the effect of such an affectation. For one thing, it showed respect. Further, it gave the men a sense of place and helped instill discipline in the movements of the Brigade. From one simple act, came a distinct air of individuals creating a single, whole unit. It was not something Ham had anticipated but he absolutely embraced it.

On the other hand, the armor he donned this day screamed individuality. He commissioned the local tannery to fashion the leathers for him and it came out better than he had hoped. It was black as midnight and covered him from neck to wrist to ankle. It was thick enough that it could blunt an edge on blow from a standard sword yet allowed him a freedom of movement not afforded that of the armor worn by his men. On his hands were gauntlets of black leather, overlapping his sleeves up to the elbow. On his feet he wore knee high boots, as black and as shiny as the rest of his armor. The one piece of metal he wore was a helm of shiny, solid black, covering every part of his head save a thin slit for his eyes. In this suit of war, Ham felt powerful, nigh unstoppable.

He stood in full combat dress, gripping his favorite spear in his left hand, head held high with a perceptible satisfaction. He had not been seen in the battle suit before this day and all eyes were on him. He was the most startling, and certainly the most impressive figure any of them had ever seen. At over seven feet in height, oxen like at the shoulders, and as solid as a tree trunk, his presence seemed to absorb light. None could help but look with amazement at this monstrous man as he stood in front of them.

Lt. Fist took off his helmet. His head was shaved clean. His usual pale color was tanned dark from weeks in the sun, drilling, drilling, and drilling. His steely eyes, grey and sharp like a hawk's eyes surveyed the Brigade.

"This is it, men" he began. He spoke slow and loud to ensure he was heard. "Each of you has prepared for this battle. Don’t take lightly the days to come. Some will fall and some will make themselves a name but all of us will be carrying the King’s banner. All of us will be fighting for honor against a foe with no honor. All of us, we are soldiers and as soldiers we will fight as one and those who die will live in the hearts of their brothers."

Ham waited a moment to let the lingering sound of his voice drift away. He was not comfortable speaking in this manner but he had to do it. These men needed to know they would be heroes.

"None will ever forget and not one will ever be forgotten!” There was a movement and a murmur among the men as he paused a moment. “Now, let us at the enemy!"

With Sgt. Shackle leading them, the Lightning Brigade broke into a cheer. Ham lifted his spear into the air, the sharp point reflecting white, northern light back at them. He appeared as a mythical figure to these typical men. They were absolutely elevated.

With the weather favoring them, the snake's city was less than a day and a half from the capital for an army of foot soldiers. As the destination appeared just over the horizon, Lt. Fist ordered a stop and sent forth a handful of scouts to suss out their defenses and determine if the enemy was aware of them.

The first reports were hopeful. It appeared that the citizens of the contemptuous city were carrying on as usual, as though nothing was about to happen. No soldiers of the snake were spotted outside the city walls either.

Shortly after that first report came a second, less favorable one. The city gates were closed and they were formidable. The report also included mention of a city guard, which was substantial. Whether or not they were all in attendance could not be determined however, the usual guard was over a thousand strong, at least. Lt. Ham cursed under his breath. He had not actually expected an easy fight but was hoping for the best.

The third report, coming a full hour later was much more detailed and gave the approximate number of guardsmen. There were over twelve hundred of them and an armory equipped to easily support that many. This would absolutely not be an easy fight. Very well, Ham thought, let us have at them.

"Send the advance squadrons, Sgt Shackle" he ordered. With that, over the next two hours the Lightning Brigade moved towards its final destination. They advanced in a score of columns, over the cultivated and manicured landscape north of the city of the snake. They converged in an area no closer than five hundred yards from the city gate, just out of longbow range. Dozens and dozens of helmeted heads could be seen perched atop the wall of the city, watching the Brigade clear the land, setting up fortifications and tents.

With nightfall, excess fire light filled the sky over the city. The light appeared to rise up like a cloud as it bathed the hanging smoke above. Movement could be seen along the top of the wall. No doubt, preparations were being made to fortify every inch of that wall.

As the second day bloomed, reports of an army marching on them from the west arrived by foot messenger. The scouts patrolling the area around this vile city reported an army of at least 250 strong, mostly swordsmen and a handful of cavalry. Lt. Fist anticipated such an attack and prepared several units of common spearmen to stand between the countryside and the Brigade's rear flank. He gave the order for the spears to engage their enemy at whatever advantageous location their commander deemed appropriate.

Just as the noon sun began its journey down the sky a messenger on horseback arrived, exhausted from his sprint. He breathlessly told of a victory and indeed, the enemy had been turned with little effort. The spears, though not of the King's Militia were still well trained and well armed.

By all accounts, Bluesnake was no man at all. Neither elf, nor dwarf would claim him. Were he an orc, it was knowledge he kept to himself. What was known was that he was the emperor of this city and several others. According to the stories told around fires at night, he was no typical leader either. The most infamous legend of the snake was an episode in which he hunted down and by his own hand killed the king of a minor region far to the west. This king, when cornered pleaded for his life and offered his entire kingdom for it, yet the Emperor Bluesnake would not accept it. His was a mission of retribution. The tale, as it was most often told was that this minor king, with but a single city to his name had left the alliance Emperor Bluesnake called his own. This one act of betrayal was enough for the Emperor to lay down the tasks at hand and devote over half a year to revenge. Surely some other wrong had been done him to become such an instrument of vengeance, but none knew what it might have been.

Once Emperor Bluesnake’s treachery was discovered, Ham knew something would have to be done about it. He also knew it would likely fall to him to get it done, whatever it would be. It was then that he began formulating a plan for war. He presented his plan to his King and subsequently to Eternal Fire, leader of the alliance at the behest of his King. It was met with enthusiasm on both occasions.

Eternal Fire was a young and ambitious leader. He'd come up in the storied and historically significant alliance The Nightbringers, located in the deep southern reaches of the continent. He went on to be a founding member of the alliance that was one day transformed into The Long Road and single handedly saved it from oblivion after its original leader committed hara-kiri.

He was an elf, with all the typical features of the race, had little patience for the ignorant or the lazy and sported a proclivity for combat. As he was a skilled combatant, schooled in a dozen different forms of armed as well as unarmed martial arts, he enjoyed accepting as well as issuing a challenge. He was a natural and charismatic leader and Ham liked him, despite his inclination to distrust him. The King liked him as well.

Eternal Fire fancied himself a seer. He made predictions, most of which were just vague enough to be interpreted as one wished however, he occasionally hit the mark in eerie fashion.

"Beware the night, my friend" he warned the King some months earlier. "The snake bites fast." As predictions went, it was as vague as most. Now, as he sat in the command tent at the end of the second day, preparing to send his army into the darkness to come, the prediction took on a new meaning. Perhaps he was a seer, whatever that actually meant.

"We’ve reached the terminus" Sgt. Shackle reported. Lt. Fist nodded and took a deep breath. He stood up and put on his gauntlets. The Sgt. watched and waited. When they first met, Ham was just a boy of fourteen. A full twenty years his senior, he took him under his wing and helped him learn the basics of hand to hand combat as well as the lessons of a leader. Shackle, born in Lucerna was schooled in both growing up and as a young man honed his skills in the employ of a minor lord located in the center of the continent. Having found his way north, into the frontier, into an undiscovered realm of ghosts and monsters, and having fought alongside this tower of a man, and growing to love him as a father loves a son, he now called The Magikal Kingdom home.

"Shall we?” Lt. Fist asked him. They stepped out into the darkness. They could see the city; nearly a thousand yards in front of them, quiet in the night, hopefully unaware of what was to come.

"They do appear to sleep" Shackle said. Ham nodded, though it went unseen. He stepped off into a brisk stride towards the southern extreme of the camp. Shackle followed, half running to keep up. They approached a large tent, larger even than the command tent. Inside blazed a fire, smoke billowing up into a hole fashioned for it to escape into the sky. The light from that fire cast a beam into the sky.

They stepped into the tent and were immediately confronted by piles of earth nearly filling it to the top. As large as the tent was, most of the soil removed over the last two days had to be taken away and discarded during darkness. What remained here now was what could not be moved before daylight returned.

A soldier stood chest deep in a hole at the far end of the tent. That spot, as close to the city as safety would allow was the starting point of their tunnel. The city wall stood over four hundred yards away. About 25 feet beyond that lay the city armory. The King's spies were a talented lot but should their calculations be off by more than a few feet, this episode would end in disaster.

"Private Lettuce?" Shackle asked. The soldier in the hole looked up at the men. He was covered in dirt, save for where he had wiped some of it away from his face.

"We've broke through" he announced enthusiastically. "Tis unguarded." He almost laughed as he spoke but then gathered himself together to await further orders.

"Let's waste no time then, Sgt." Ham said. He was relieved it appeared to be proceeding so well. "Order the men into the tunnel."

This had to be done quietly and carefully. They were being watched from the wall and if any one of those guards figured out their plan, they would be killed as easily as muskrats in their burrows. Ham could think of any number of ways he would do it if the circumstances were reversed. He pushed those terrible thoughts out of his mind.

Two companies of The Lightning Brigade crawled single file on their bellies through the tight, dank, pitch black tunnel, to emerge one after the other into the enemy armory. They managed to squeeze nearly half the force, almost twenty soldiers into the room. The rest remained in the tunnel, waiting for their chance to move forward.

It was at that point they had to begin their attack. The door flung open and they streamed out into the well lit compound surrounding the armory. They found a handful of soldiers wearing the characteristic blue face paint of the Emperor Bluesnake’s army with their jaws dropped in surprise. They were cut down where they stood.

The Brigade continued to flow out of the armory doorway, blocking access to the weapons for most of the men off duty for the night. The guards on the wall launched arrows at them, which when they found their mark felled the men of the King's Militia without fail. Their armor was back in the camp; the tunnel would not accommodate it.

In seconds the first men tasked to open the gate made their way to it and began working to lift the locking arm up and out of its cradle. They immediately came under attack and as they fell, others took their place. Some took up position at their flank to protect them, fighting with spears, swords, flails or whatever other arms they could steal from the enemy armory.

In the meantime, back in the darkness of the camp, Lt. Fist had given the order to prepare a charge. He waited for an indication that his men within the city were engaging, which both would distract the guards on the wall and signal that his men were working on the gates. Once he could see the guards had turned and were firing arrows into the compound below, he called the charge.

"Move out!" he bellowed in his loudest voice. He led his men, running headlong towards the city wall. The guards on the wall, distracted as they were did not see them until they were almost at the gates. At that point arrows began falling down on them. Ham's helmet deflected one or two, another glanced off his heavily padded shoulder and a third lodged, at a downward angle into his leg, just above the knee. The pain caused him to lose his footing. He tumbled to the ground within a few feet of the gates. Almost at that same instant, blazing oil poured down on the soldiers. Ham let his spear go and covered the back of his head with his gloved hands. The oil was so very hot. He felt it burning his back and his hands but he managed to keep it off his neck and head.

Around him soldiers were screaming in agony. Their armor was not well suited for protection from burning oil. It flowed through the joints of the armor and onto their cloth undergarments, easily soaking through onto their skin. They could not escape it other than to shed their armor, becoming easy targets for the arrows coming down on them.

Ham rolled over once and twice and then sat up, surveying his armor. The oil was still sizzling on its surface but no longer burning his skin. Thankfully, this oil was the lowest of quality; full of water and particulate matter. It made it easier to douse any remaining flames. He reached down and grabbed the arrow sticking from his leg. He pulled it with a sharp motion and it came out with relative ease. There was little pain beyond the initial strike, indicating a relatively superficial wound.

Arrows came again and Ham leapt to his feet, jumping towards the gates. The eaves above the gates provided a modicum of cover. He yelled for his men to join him. With his back to the gates he could feel them move as his men on the inside struggled to lift the arm out of its place. He could make out shouting voices. He recognized one or two of them.

Again, a vat of flaming oil drenched his men in front of him, followed by a flurry of arrows as the survivors scrambled to come out of their armor. Several soldiers had already fallen and several more were falling now as he watched, helpless. He could see, out in the darkness, hundreds of his men charging the gates, running straight into the fire and arrows of this hell of his.

The thought weighed on him for a moment and then immediately left his mind as the gates burst open behind him. He nearly toppled over but managed to keep his footing. He turned to see his men engaging the enemy. They were dropping as blades cut them nearly in half, hammers crushed their skulls, and arrows filled their chests. It was a blood bath worse than the one on the outside.

Just as Ham was preparing to join the battle, the Lightning Brigade came through the gates into the light of the compound. Spears forward, they charged into the fray, mowing over the enemy like a scythe harvesting wheat. Lt. Fist could only stand and watch as they fanned out into the compound, cutting down every blue faced soldier that stood in their way. They entered the city proper and the screams of the citizens rose up into the night air, moving as they moved, giving a general indication of where in the city they were.

The guards on the wall dropped their bows and raised their hands. After that, the city fell with little effort. The twelve hundred or so guardsmen, most of them asleep as the invasion began, surrendered in droves. It was over, just like that.

All told, in a strategic sense, the victory was decisive. Bluesnake's entire capital army had fallen. His city was occupied for the duration and he was nowhere to be found. This war, this part of it at least was over and the prediction had come true, at least as Ham cared to interpret it. He still doubted that Eternal Fire was a seer but it was interesting to consider. For as long as he could remember he had not believed in anything but the potential for carnage and now possibilities abounded.

-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-


Posted By: abstractdream
Date Posted: 31 Dec 2014 at 21:55
Part Two: IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Bitelicious was a city unlike any Major Fist had visited. It was a massive city with more than twenty thousand citizens, sprawled across a huge area of Qarosslan tundra. In it could be found everything imaginable that a metropolis could provide. There was a pub at every corner, wall sized paintings on the side of every building and statues of every size and shape scattered throughout. There were brothels and bath houses, restaurants and theaters and merchants of every sort in this city of gleaming, stained glass towers, immaculate mansions and rows and rows of apartment buildings. To keep the streets bustling with rich tourists, city officials maintained an open gate policy. Anyone, regardless of race or origin, so long as they came unarmed was welcome to visit these shining streets for as long as they had gold to spend.

The Major and his Sergeant, along with a dozen or so of the King’s best scouts made their way through the crowded streets, bumping shoulders with every sort of creature, stopping here and there to sample some exotic food or drink. With their mission completed in record time the Major agreed to allow his men to spend a bit of the time they had remaining browsing the city markets.

The region of Qarosslan, its border just outside the southern wall of the capital, was much like the homeland of Ursor. Where there were trees, they clustered together in forests of evergreen; a variety accustomed to the harsh, frozen desert conditions. The mountains were dangerous, only just beginning to erode from wind but mostly, there were plains. Flat, featureless land for as far as the eye could see. The Elysian Fields’ city of Bitelicious occupied such a Qarosslanian plain. There would be no disguising the approach of the armies of The Long Road when they arrived on scene and Major Fist’s mission would be paramount in determining how and when that would happen.

In this bustling cacophony, the war to come left his thoughts but it was not for long. It seemed an injustice to raise a spear against these citizens of Bitelicious but the war machine was in motion. Troops were already marching towards this unique city in the frozen tundra, though this war could not come at a more difficult time for the alliance. Some days before, Ham’s King confided in him a bit of unsettling news.

“Eternal Fire has disappeared” the King told him. He sat at a table covered with parchments and books, looking straight ahead at something on the wall behind him. “I fear for the survival of the alliance.”

The King took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. It seemed that a leader of a faraway land, who was simply called The Duke, had seen fit to blockade Eternal Fire’s capital city, which incidentally served double duty as The Long Road’s capital. Eternal Fire, without consulting his alliance, as he felt was his prerogative, declared war on The Duke’s alliance, Elysian Fields.

Though it was the first time it was brought to Ham’s attention, Elysian Fields was one of the most prestigious alliances in all the land. Its kings and queens represented cities that, all together accounted for more than five million people. That number, when Ham first heard it, staggered him. He had no notion there were so many people in the world, let alone a single pact of kingdoms. When he questioned the information, his King informed him in a matter of fact tone that The Duke’s alliance was nowhere near the largest of the alliances on the continent. It was, in fact just one of almost twenty such alliances.

“Surely there is something you can do, my King” Ham said. The King shook his head slowly.

“Wonka is of a mind that we strike first, take out The Duke’s allies in our territory.” He looked up at Ham. There was worry on his face. “I tend to agree” the King continued. “I just don’t know if we should be committing so many of our forces.”

Ham was not the tactician his King was, but the King, on more than one occasion testified to the superior strategic sense of the warrior king Wonka. He was an ‘all in’ sort of leader and it seemed logical to Ham that if he was going to commit, it was going to be big.

“What news gives you pause, my King?” The King studied him for a moment. Ham was not a classically handsome man but not unpleasant in his features by any means. He radiated confidence though, and that gave him an aura of attraction that the King had always admired. Not yet thirty years old, he none the less exhibited a wisdom befitting a man closer to Sgt. Shackle’s age. Ham’s simple question brought the King some clarity and for that he was thankful.

“You are right, my friend” he said. Ham was at least a little puzzled. The King abruptly stood. “Proceed with your mission, Major. I wish to end this within the month.”

The previous two seasons had taken its toll on the King. Recently, he had struck up a friendship with the mighty warrior queen Myr of Arran and was seeking her council on his kingdom as well as the future of the alliance. After intercepting correspondence between the two, the seer elf succumbed to paranoia. With no warning he removed every single vestige of office and privilege from the King and declared him a fool before all the kings and queens of The Long Road. He reasoned that the King was divulging state secrets to Myr and plotting to take over the alliance. It was a bitter time for him, yet he did not waver from his support for the elf. In fact, he dismissed the brash act as a fit of temper and professed his belief that all would return to normal once the elf had time to reflect. The King, as wise as he appeared, seemed to be blind when it came to the elf.

Though Ham was not privy to every move or counter move, he knew full well the King was loyal to the alliance and had, even unto war supported the seer elf Eternal Fire. There were numerous occasions when the Major himself witnessed messengers from this land or that delivering pleas for the King to abandon the alliance and leave the wayward elf to face the consequences of his labors. The King would have none of it. He saw in the elf something that few others outside the alliance did see. Now, after years of dedicated service, the King tasted the fruits of such loyalty.

War was a vicious endeavor and to successfully carry it out required a cold and calculating mind. The elf king Wonka, military commander of The Long Road more than filled the bill. He came into the alliance by way of his twin brother, Lemur. Lemur had, at his brother’s urging joined the alliance The Liberation shortly after it was granted a charter. Wonka used information his brother provided to secure a place for them both in The Long Road and to gain the trust of Eternal Fire. When war between the two alliances inevitably came, Lemur sought permanent refuge in The Long Road. That war was short lived but gave Wonka a reputation for cunning. He parlayed that reputation into his current role.

“The siege will begin before the end of the month” Wonka said. “Several of our armies are converging on the city now.” He was addressing a gathering of kings and queens, standing before them in the dining hall of his own castle. These leaders represented almost fifty percent of the alliance. Joining Lemur and the King at the table were Nalleen, the keeper of alliance records, Dave, her half brother and the alliance recruiter and McCannj, Dano and Matejkoo, three of Wonka’s top generals.

“Great” said Dano, “we need to end this as fast as we can and get our armies home.” Most nodded in agreement but the King did not.

“We are all concerned about the war to come” he said, “but if we rush this, we will lose it.”

“Right” Wonka agreed. “This will work. We have time on our side. We can kick the Elysian Fields wench out of Qarosslan, and that’ll give us room to breathe.” The King hoped he was right. The survival of the alliance depended on him being right.

Since Eternal Fire’s disappearance the members of the alliance had been looking elsewhere for guidance. Wonka was more than adept at the daily twists and turns of war but the King knew, to keep the alliance viable they would have to move on the political front as well. With that in mind, just that morning he had dispatched a messenger to The Duke’s nearest city of Kurdran, asking for a cessation of hostilities.

This all too quickly approaching war appeared to be just one more misstep by their mysteriously missing leader. No one in the alliance knew why The Duke had targeted Eternal Fire’s city for blockade, nor why their own cities were now being targeted for attack by various members of Elysian Fields but the kings and queens of The Long Road could not just sit around and wait. Wonka believed and was able to convince the majority of the members that a win here, now, would provide the time they needed to rally and mount a successful defense. The King still had his doubts but he, like the rest of them was ‘all in’.

It was late morning by the time the Major ordered his men to leave the city. At sundown, they were scheduled to meet the alliance's advance army, a unit of common spearmen fielded by the noble McCannj. They spotted the slowly moving army just a few miles out of the city; far closer than it should be. Ham ordered his fastest rider to race ahead and relay his order to halt the advance. More armies were on the way and surely they would be enough to handle anything the city could muster but this army here would not survive should the Bitelicious militia discover their approach.

“Sgt. Shackle” the Major barked. “Take three scouts and return to the gates of the city. We must know if this army has been discovered.”

“Right away, Major” the Sgt. said. He pointed to three and they all took off at full gallop in the opposite direction. Major Fist spoke with the commander of McCannj’s army immediately upon entering their ranks. He informed him that they were in real danger of discovery and would not survive an attack.

“We cannot be the first to arrive, surely” the commander said. His eyes were wide with disbelief. Ham thought as he looked at him that perhaps it was more terror than disbelief.

“You are, commander” Ham said. “I recommend a full tactical retreat until we can determine if they’ve seen you.” The commander did not acknowledge Ham’s recommendation. He simply wheeled about and began barking orders in a strange mix of elf and dwarf dialects. Ham made out a few of the words. In short, he was ordering retreat.

Not long after the army reversed direction, a rider was spotted. He was heading from the direction of the city. Perhaps Sgt. Shackle sent a messenger rather than returning with his entire squadron. Ham rode out partway to meet the rider. As he drew closer, he could see that it was the Sgt. himself. He was alone. He had lost his helm somewhere along the way and was yelling as he fiercely whipped his horse.

“We are discovered!” he was shouting. After intercepting, the Sgt. took a moment to breathe and then began relaying his story.

“The gate was closed when we came in sight of the city” he began. “The scouts went ahead on foot. I...” He swallowed hard and shook his head. He slumped and closed his eyes. “I should not have allowed it” he finally whispered.

As the Major was listening, he noticed, far off in the distance, in the direction of the city, three specks. He squinted to try to make out what they were through the hazy light of the afternoon. They were horses and they were galloping aimlessly.

“What happened to them?” Ham asked.

“I...I don’t know.” Sgt. Shackle looked up at Ham with sorrowful eyes. He was clearly disturbed.

“Describe what you saw, Sgt” Ham ordered. The Sgt. straightened a bit and looked past Ham. He cleared his throat.

“A flash; a bolt of lightning” he finally said. His gaze shifted to catch Ham’s eyes. “They screamed and I could see they were set afire.” Ham stared into the Sgt.’s eyes as he spoke. There was no sign of confusion. He was telling it as he saw it. “The guards finished them.”

The magic Shackle was describing; lightning from clear skies, guarding city gates was identical to a power the wizard Abraxox claimed to possess. He had cast such a spell on the King’s cities, though Ham had never seen it strike.

Since coming to serve the King some of the things he once believed were strictly in the realm of fairy tale had been shown him to be true. On numerous occasions, mages of the court conjured spells that turned animals to stone, produced fire from their hands or levitated them above the heads of everyone in the room. These flashy tricks were impressive but did not fully convince Ham to believe in wizards. That day came when the King’s closest friend Abraxox performed a spell that caused the wheat to grow before his very eyes.

“Were you followed?” Ham finally asked him.

“I don’t know, Major. I’m sorry” he answered.

“Very well” the Major said, half to himself. “Sgt.” he said in his command voice. “Join the others.” He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder towards the retreating army. “I will remain here to see what I can see.”

“Sir?”

“Go.” he ordered. “Now.” Shackle nodded and spurred his exhausted mount on towards the army. He looked back to see the Major dismounting and placing his hand to his brow to block the sun, looking towards the city. The three horses had dispersed further across the barren plain. One was nearing Ham’s location. Sgt. Shackle watched as his Major approached the fearful horse with his arms outstretched. He spoke to the animal, reaching out to stroke its snout. He carefully took up the reins and tied them to his own horse’s saddle. There he stood, looking out towards the city until the army had vanished over the horizon.

Over the next day and a half the armies of The Long Road converged on the Elysian Fields city of Bitelicious. There were thousands of men from scores of cities throughout the alliance homeland. Armies of spearmen, swordsmen and archers as well as several large contingents of cavalry filled the plains north of the city.

The military commander of The Long Road, Wonka and his brother, Lemur were on sight as well. The twins were known as the fist and the sword by many throughout the north. It was a name the King liked using for them but neither of them liked it. Lemur did not appreciate it as he was the first born and felt he should be the fist. Wonka believed he was a much more rounded warrior than the nickname implied.

The focal point of the developing camp was the command center, set up on a low hill in the middle of Wonka’s own pike army. Heavy spears, most at least twelve feet in length stuck out of the ground with their points to the sky giving the camp the appearance of a massive porcupine's back. Wonka often led from the front. He believed it not only improved morale but gave him an advantage over other, less involved commanders.

Major Fist and Sgt. Shackle approached the command tent where Wonka spent most of his time. It was an immaculate piece of craftsmanship carried on the backs of a dozen mules from the warrior king’s capital. It was supported by fifty ten foot high poles and absolutely resplendent with elaborate battle scenes embroidered into the luxurious cobalt blue fabric.

Ham assumed the multicolored images must have taken many thousands of hours of work. He examined one scene engulfing the entrance. It showed a glorious likeness of Wonka, sewn of glimmering, solid gold threads, wielding a massive, golden, two handed sword, cleaving in half four orcs with a single blow. The orcs were fashioned from threads of green and red with armor of silver and brown. Blood in threads of black splashed out from their carved midsections and formed a large pool beneath their feet. Scores of orcs with armor and spears of various colors were embroidered around the warrior king, charging him with yellow fangs flashing. It was a stupendous sight, easily on par with any masterful painting he had ever seen.

Stepping inside the tent, Ham was taken aback with its relative stark nature. It was, in contrast to the outside of the tent, a very barren interior. A long, rectangular wooden table stood in the center of this first large room. A fire burned in a hearth on an exterior wall and the smoke drifted up and out a small hole in the ceiling of the tent. There were several chairs at the table, in one of which slumped a dwarf. His muddy, scuffed boots dangled over the front edge of the seat as he napped, snoring loudly.

“Ahoy” Sgt. Shackle called out. The dwarf, startled out of his nap, leapt to the ground. He carried a relatively large axe on his belt. He grasped its handle in his hand, waiting for a cue to brandish it while he made loud demands in a foreign language. Sgt. Shackle, fluent in several of the dialects of the continent answered him, sternly.

“Ah” the dwarf said in a surprisingly high, sing-song tone. “The Magikal Kingdom, very good. I shall return in a flash, my friendsss” he said, drawing out the ‘S’ sound at the end. He turned and disappeared under the nearest wall of the tent. For a few moments some small amount of discussion could be heard, then came the distinct voice of the warrior king.

“Bring them in, idiot!” The dwarf reappeared under the tent wall and with a bow pointed towards a doorway to the left.

“This way, my friendsss.” They stepped through the flaps of the doorway, into the adjoining room. It was brightly lit and decidedly more furnished. All sizes and types of weapons filled cabinets and racks and were strewn about the floor. A table in the center of the room was covered with parchments, maps mostly, which spilled over its edge onto the floor. Along one wall were dozens of large fluffy pillows where Lemur lounged. He was dressed in a luxurious, dark blue satin robe and wore a golden crown on his head. Surrounding him on the pillows were four beautiful elf ladies, each more beautiful than any human woman Ham had ever seen.

Wonka stood at the table, leaning over it with a hand on a large topographical map. He looked up at them and showed his teeth for a moment. It was likely a smile but a bit sharper than one might expect from the average elf. He wore a full length sleeveless robe of blood red. His dark but blond hair, untied as it most often was, cascaded down his back and hung down around his face, just brushing the table as he looked back down and spoke.

“Lorcan the dwarf approaches from the southwest” he said. His voice was deep and strong. “They will be set up and ready the bombardment by sundown tomorrow.” He looked up again, this time standing straight, brushing his hair back over his shoulders with a grandiose flourish of his hands. “There’s reports of armies coming in, due to hit us in the morning.”

Ham considered what he heard. If this were true, they would have to mount a defense on the flanks of the camp. The city guard, if it were aware of the approaching armies could do real damage to the siege engines should they coordinate those attacks.

“We need more men” Wonka continued. He turned away and added “Where is that damned seer?” It was a good question. The seer elf, Eternal Fire had come under attack by Elysian Fields forces but the attacks were miniscule; simple attention grabbing expedition forces. The blockades of his cities were insignificant as well, yet there was no sign of the elf or his armies. They could sure use them here and now, Ham thought, nodding in agreement.

“We must spare nothing in taking down this cursed city” Wonka finally said. He was lighting a long, intricately carved bone pipe he held in his teeth. The flame from the twig he was using disappeared into the pipe as he drew in. “Therefore, I want you to order a cavalry attack on the city." He exhaled the first puff of smoke from his pipe and tossed the twig in the direction of the dwarf. "Have them force the gates and ride in, burning and looting everything in sight.” The dwarf jumped to one side as the twig narrowly missed him and bounced off the wall behind. “They are to kill as many guardsmen as they can and make their escape before the enemy knows what happened.” The dwarf stamped out the flame on the floor while brushing embers off the tent wall.

“As you wish, commander” Major Fist said with a nod. It was a risky move but a bold one too. “Have you an officer in mind for this mission?”

“No” Wonka answered. “Give it to who you please.”

The Major took the command himself, under direct protest from Sgt. Shackle. He would hear nothing of it, though. This was a serious mission that had to be done right. Besides, how could he ask someone to do something he was not prepared to do himself?

With three hundred of the King’s best knights at his back, the Major and a squadron of elite soldiers approached the city gates. He knew the magic was likely still in place. He also knew there was no way to avoid it. His hope was that the mages of his own camp would suffice to counter whatever was waiting for them at the gates.

Ham and his ten handpicked men quietly made their way towards the gates of the city. No guards were seen outside but fires from inside silhouetted guards perched atop the wall. They were on the lookout for an army, though so, if they were very careful the Major’s squad had a good shot at approaching unseen.

On their bellies, the men crawled the last hundred or so yards to the wall. They made their way into a ditch surrounding the city. It was filled with debris. The occupants of the city discarded their trash and other unspeakable garbage in this ditch. Traversing it was a necessary evil, best soon forgotten, if they could. The Major motioned for his men to get up and charge the wall, which they did, as quietly and as quickly as they could. At the wall, they took a moment. No alarm was sounding, so far so good.

The wall was constructed of boulders cut to shape; some stones as large as a draught horse. It was impenetrable. They would have to climb it. The Major signaled and one of his men stepped back and threw a javelin. It went up and over the wall. A rope tied around it followed. With both hands on it the soldier pulled the rope and then with a deliberate upwards wave of his arms made it slacken while at the same time stepping to his right, pulling it with him. The rope slipped into a crevasse between two stones at the top of the wall, lodging the javelin behind. He pulled again and it held fast. One after the other, the squadron quickly scaled the wall. In seconds they were at the top. From where they were, Ham could see three of the guards, just yards from their position, resting on the wall. There was still no sign of an alarm.

Ham gave the signal to advance and one of the soldiers approached the closest guard from behind. He quietly drew his short sword and shoved it through the unaware guard’s back and out his stomach. The sound of the man dying carried to the others and they were discovered. With a speed befitting a pride of lions the men charged along the top of the wall, engaging each guard as they came on them, laying them out in a heartbeat and moving on. In the meantime the alarm was sounded. Arrows began flying up at them from guards on the ground. The men of Major Fist’s squad picked up the dead guardsmen’s shields as they proceeded, using them to deflect the arrows.

In the quiet night outside the city gates, the knight commander, Lieutenant Coil held his men at the edge of the shadows, watching and waiting. They were about ninety feet from the gates. Lt. Coil saw the squadron fighting towards the area above the gates and just as they reached that point he issued an order.

“Ready” he said. The order was carried back down the lines of cavalry by quiet voices. The men closed their helmets and steadied their lances, prepared to charge. Coil watched as the men on the wall dropped out of sight. They were on the ground now. There was a telltale flaring of light as the gate was set afire from the inside. It would not be long.

Ham ordered his men to set the gate on fire. One of them tossed a nearby oil lamp on it and it went up. The fighting was intense. Ham and his men closed ranks and engaged several of the city guard as they charged their position in front of the gate.

“Move the bar!” Ham shouted. On his order four of the men at the rear of their formation put away their swords and began lifting the bar out of its position on the gate. It was heavy but they were making headway. At that moment, arrows began falling down on them. The rest of the soldiers lifted their stolen shields above their heads, deflecting most of the arrows, however one found its way into the chest of one of those at the gate and the bar was dropped back into place. By this time the flames were reaching them, covering most of the gate on their left and spreading along the bar to the other. Another soldier took his fallen comrade’s place and they began lifting again. A fifth soldier joined them. Some began screaming as the flames licked at their hands and arms and came just inches from their faces.

Ham bounded over to a barrel of rainwater on the right side of the gates. His thick leather armor deflected or slowed most of the arrows hailing down on him. He dropped his heavy spear and stooped down to wrap his arms around the barrel. It took all of his might to lift it, but lift it he did. He turned and heaved the water towards his men. It doused the flames threatening to envelope them. They continued to lift the bar and finally, after what seemed like minutes of agonizing struggle, they did it.

After less than a minute, Lt. Coil saw the gates beginning to open. He raised his arm and yelled the order.

“Charge!” he shouted and the army of horsemen tore into the city. They went this way and that, running through with their lances anyone who dared to stand in their way. They spread the fire from the gates throughout the city, looting the storehouses, killing soldiers and citizens alike.

After the cavalry entered the city, Ham’s men beat a hasty retreat. Once they cleared the city gates Ham was forced to stop and ask for help to remove three arrows sticking out of his back. They did not do any sort of serious damage, given the thickness of his famous leather armor but he certainly felt them. The blood was pooling inside his armor coat and once back to camp he had to have the wounds sown up by Wonka’s physician. In less than twenty minutes, as quickly as they came, they were gone. A large area of the city was on fire and the citizens scrambled to put it out. The King’s knights carried with them what they could hold. All told, they lost only the one man at the gate and those suffering wounds would recover.

Lorcan, the siege king arrived on schedule. It would be nearly half a day before the siege equipment was ready to heave its first stone. In the interim, the armies long rumored bearing down on them were finally arriving on scene. The scouts reported a minimum of four armies of one to two thousand each. This was to be a fight.

After originally receiving the scouting reports of the approaching armies, Wonka gave orders for several divisions of pikemen to take up positions along the rear of the siege camp. There were over ten thousand men in those divisions but they were not all his men. He had confidence in his own armies but gauging the armies of others was difficult. Many of them were strong but there were those that just went where they were told and did as they were commanded. Beyond that, they had little leadership. Wonka decided he had to join in. That would surely show them they fight for a cause and for a king.

“My armor, whelp!” the warrior king commanded. His dwarf manservant ran off as quickly as he could, under the nearest tent wall into the next room. He nearly immediately returned through the doorway, leading two humans as they carried the armor set their king favored. It was fashioned from a quite gigantic scorpion he had killed himself. The chitin was beaten and shaped under extreme heat and pressure into a breast plate, leggings and helm. The color, a deep black had been applied and shined up to reflect light, whereas normally, the massive bug it was taken from was a dull and dirty dark brown. The armor was extremely light, almost impossibly so. The under garment was made of several layers of a supple animal skin and the rest of the armor, breaches, boots and gauntlets were made of thick, high grade leather. This armor would have been hell to wear in most any climate save the frozen north. Here in Qarosslan, it was quite comfortable.

“You will fight, my brother?” Lemur asked him. He knew the answer. Wonka was a blood thirsty sort. He rarely passed on an opportunity to wage war.

“These men have no guidance” Wonka answered. “They need a king to fight for.”

“My men have a king” Lemur said. Wonka smirked. He enjoyed irking his brother.

“Satins and golden crowns do not make a king.” As they spoke, Wonka’s aides helped him into the armor and laced up and tied the various parts of the leather pieces as required.

“You have a brave tongue, fist” Lemur countered. He smiled at his brother.

“My axe” Wonka demanded. The dwarf quickly found the axe his king requested, a double bladed monstrosity, dragged it over and did his best to lift and present it to him. Wonka directed his assistants to lash the axe to his back. “My sword” he said. The dwarf grabbed Wonka’s favored sword from its resting place on the floor where Wonka left it the previous day. It was a golden long sword in a sheath of black bone. He lifted it up to his king who took it and strapped it around his waist.

“Watch yourself out there, my brother” Lemur finally said. Wonka nodded as he made his way over to a cabinet of bows and chose a brand new long bow. He tested the string and smiled a little. The bow was his first weapon. He could barely remember the times, a hundred years ago when he and his brother first watched their father demonstrate the skills of a trained archer. Their father was a superb archer but Wonka was better. He was better than his brother and he was better than anyone he had ever met in contest or war. To this day it was a supreme satisfaction to let loose an arrow and watch it cut through the air to strike precisely where he intended.

He took a quiver of arrows, the fletching decorated with feathers of his chosen colors of blue and gold. He slung it over his shoulder and without so much as a glance in Lemur’s direction, made his way out of the tent into the chilled afternoon sunshine. He exhaled a cloud of a deep breath as he watched his generals scrambling to their feet to come meet him.

“Have you news of the enemy?” their king asked. One of the generals, a rather fat human who wore a robe and sandals bowed and replied.

“Your Highness” he said with reverence. “They are but a half hour from the camp.” He stood straight and for a moment met the elf warrior’s gaze. He averted his eyes and continued. “They number at least six thousand. All cavalry.”

Wonka looked over his generals. General Palm was from the deep southern region of Azura. He came up in the armies of The Nightbringers and had come to the warrior elf when Wonka was recruiting his court in Centrum. Though not the sort of fellow one might expect as a warrior, Palm could handle himself. He had proven it with a sword on more than one occasion and in Wonka’s presence. In war, he was invaluable. Like most of his generals, he was a bit of a yes man, but Palm would not allow his king to make a decision he felt was wrong without first weighing in. He never steered him wrong and when his advice was not heeded, Wonka eventually regretted it. Wonka’s own strategic skills paled in comparison to the mind this buffoonish looking man brought to the table. Though no longer fit for fighting, this man could not be replaced.

His other generals, seven others in total brought various special skills and talents to his armies as well. Even though at times he would rather lop off all of their heads, he felt they were worth the effort given their results over time.

“I will lead the defense” Wonka stated flatly. “I want all of you to finish the plans for leveling this city.” They all bowed to their king.

“As you command, my liege” the fat one said.

Wonka made his way alone towards the rear guard’s front line. He meandered through the camp, around a paddock of Lemur’s horses, into the gatherings of soldiers, greeting and shaking hands as he went, ever the presence of the cause for his men. By the time he reached the outskirts of the camp he was carrying along a large crowd of soldiers, all hoping for their moment to meet the warrior king face to face. It would not be the first time for most. Wonka made it a point to engage with his men, at their level on a regular basis. It gave them such a boost in confidence that he figured if he didn’t their blood would be on his hands.

The camp contained over fifty thousand troops by the time the enemy engaged them at the rear with more arriving by the hour. The opposing generals knew this and directed their attack towards a small area, rationing their soldiers, dragging out the assault for hours.

From his vantage atop a twenty foot pole, Wonka could see the enemy strung out in a long, thin column, the front of which was engaging his pikemen. He knew it was their hope that he would send out troops to meet them on the exposed plains. The cavalry could easily over run his men on those plains, killing many more than they were now.

Each row, consisting of about twenty horsemen charged the entrenched pikes, splitting and wheeling around after, making way for the next line. It was not going good for the cavalry. The pikes were well trained, well commanded and going nowhere. The riders’ lances, little more than spears, were not as long as the pikes. A quarter or more of each row fell as they charged. Far fewer pikemen fell.

“They are hardly distracting from our mission here” Wonka whispered to himself. He was perched at the top of the lookout’s pole, dropping arrows down on the riders as they charged. The only way to do any damage was to hit between pieces of plate armor. His favorite shot was the holes in the face of their helmets. He did miss, on rare occasion. More often though, for each arrow he let loose, there was one less rider to charge his pikes.

Wonka's initial order, to maintain the line and reinforce as needed, easily held the perimeter. He caught sight of one of the soldiers glancing up at him now and again. He made it a habit to nod his head when making eye contact with his men during battle. This battle was no different, though his contact with these men was a bit more distant than the usual hand to hand granted him. He allowed a smile for a moment. This was going to end by attrition, in his favor. His contribution was strictly for morale at this point.

Lorcan was a level headed, keen eyed king. He was also a dwarf. His ancestors called the mountains home but he hailed from a town in Middle Kingdom, somewhere out on a plain. His parents, peasants but proud, raised him to fear nothing. He was destined for a hard, make due life, had he taken that path. Instead he joined the nearest militia at the age of twelve. His beard helped. The elf recruiter couldn’t tell an adolescent dwarf from an adult one.

Lorcan absorbed everything they threw at him, and he learned it well. He soaked up the lessons, drilled and trained harder than anyone, dwarf or otherwise. He excelled in siege warfare. By fifteen, he could fashion the parts for a ballista. By sixteen, he could put one together, on his own, in under forty eight hours. By seventeen he was trained as an operations crew member and by twenty was leading the crew.

When he reached twenty five, Lorcan left the army he grew up in and started his own. Thirty loyal men, mostly dwarf and a few humans followed him. He established himself in a small village in the center of the region and hired out to whoever could pay, to do whatever they paid for. The little mercenary army took jobs no one else would; clearing forests of wild dogs, running off a barbarian tribe or guarding quarry caravans. They soon developed a reputation for professionalism. Eventually they were finding they had to turn down jobs. Occasionally, Lorcan would take a job based less on what it would pay and more on what he and his men could learn from the experience.

One day, out of the blue an old man came to the village looking for Lorcan. It turned out it was his father. The crippled and half blind old man begged his son to send his army against the ruler of the town where he lived. This ruler was harassing and terrifying the citizens and taxing them beyond their capacity. Lorcan’s father told him how proud he was when he heard of his son’s accomplishments and knew he would help him.

Lorcan did help. He and his men, by that time over a hundred strong easily took the town’s guard, forced their way into the city hall, executed the sloth of a ruler right in front of his cheering people and took over the town. The citizens, accustomed to having a monarch, called Lorcan king. He liked it. His men loved him and called him that as well. The town grew and his kingdom grew. Soon there were two towns, then three. In little more than a decade, Lorcan’s kingdom grew to ten huge cities. He was a benevolent and loved ruler.

The majority of the cities in Lorcan’s kingdom were captured using the very same skills and craftsmanship he had learned so many years before. His reputation for quality siege engines spread throughout the land. It was this same reputation that eventually brought the elf warrior Wonka to Lorcan’s kingdom.

It was during the time just after he and his brother, Lemur had joined the seer elf’s alliance. He planned to purchase a number of machines and during the visit met with the siege king to negotiate a fair price. There was some bickering and a bit of yelling but by the end of it they were both laughing. The stories each told the other, as the night wore on and the drink flowed became a ‘my fish was bigger than yours’ contest.

They immediately struck up a friendship. Through their similar battlefield experiences, they each felt a connection to the other, unlike any they had experienced before. In fact, neither of them had any real friends to speak of before this meeting.

Lorcan joined The Long Road shortly after and his kingdom soon became the ‘go to’ supplier for siege engines across the alliance. His skills in siege warfare were also unmatched. He regularly made trips north, visiting Wonka’s cities holding workshops to impart his expertise. After a time, he was doing the same for many of the other members of The Long Road.

“I do not understand this” Lorcan said. His friend sat at the end of the long table and Lemur, who rarely spoke when Wonka was around sat across from him. Lorcan paced the floor of the sparsely furnished command center as the twins watched him. “I just don’t see the value of razing this city.”

“We are at war, my friend” Wonka answered. He still wore his armor, having just arrived from the battle continuing to rage outside. “In war, we attack.”

“This city has no strategic value” Lorcan continued. “It contains almost no army to speak of and we can easily keep it from developing one.” He paused his pacing and stared up at his long time friend. On his face were the scars of old war and on his armor the blood of his enemy. For all that blood, somehow, the elf king’s hair was still clean.

“You really believe these people would not take up arms against us, if we but leave them be?” Wonka was shocked. It made him mad. His friend was a great warrior but, it seemed, too soft for this sort of work. He stood and walked into the next room.

Lorcan watched him as he strode by and then looked at Lemur. His hair, though the same wet sand color of his twin brother was shorn to curly locks of shoulder length. He looked back at Lorcan with Wonka’s eyes. It was a bit disconcerting. Lorcan wondered what sort of strange upbringing would leave one brother the dominant force while the other, though clearly not a weakling, accepted a position of submission.

Lemur gave a feeble smile and shrugged, not saying a word or offering anything in the way of comfort or council. Lorcan knew there would be no further discussion on the subject. He understood that Wonka could be stubborn at times but it was disappointing that he seemed so closed mouthed on this. He made his way out of the tent into the cold night air.

It was near dawn and the bombardment had been going all night. The city was still burning. Many thousands of its inhabitants had already fled into the frozen wasteland. Were these second thoughts coming too late? Why should he fight a war he did not understand? Why wasn’t the seer elf here to explain it? For that matter, why wasn’t he here to fight it? After all, this war was his doing.

Lorcan stepped out into the darkness. It was darkest before the dawn, or so he had been told. He breathed in the frozen night air. It filled his lungs and gave him a bit of a charge. He decided, then and there that he would not raze this city, regardless of what his friend said. This war had no meaning and he would not become the dwarf who tore down a city for nothing and for no one.

He made his way towards his siege engines. They were set up in the front of the camp. They had been active all night and it was time for a shift change. The new crews were going to miss, a lot. They would be his freshest recruits, eager to learn but inexperienced and clumsy. This was to be a long siege, Lorcan thought with a smirk, much longer than anyone anticipated.

“What is going on with those ballistas?” Wonka demanded. It was the third day of bombardment. He stood at the entrance to Lorcan’s siege camp, red faced, both hands clenched into fists. His generals had gathered up behind him. Lorcan looked up at his friend and smiled.

“The crews are inexperienced” he answered. “They’ll learn.”

“You didn’t think to bring your best?” Wonka asked him. It seemed ridiculous.

“I have to consider what is best for my people, Lord Wonka” Lorcan said.

‘Lord’ was usually a term meant to elevate but in this instance Wonka felt it batter him over the head. This war could not be fought amongst allies, he thought. He turned and left. Lorcan watched him go. He wondered why Wonka was so determined to destroy a city that could not do him or his allies any harm. It was reduced to just a couple of thousand inhabitants by now. The stones had done the majority of their damage in the first twelve hours. What was left of the city was a skeleton of its former self.

Once it became clear that the city was doomed, many of the commanders in the camp gathered up their armies and began the long march home. Major Fist ordered his men to pack up and head out and Lemur too set out for home. In the course of a day, half the soldiers that came to wipe out the city in the snow were gone and the rest were getting anxious to do something.

Another full day passed by the time Queen Beecks’ Crusader army of knights came over the hill and charged down towards the encampment. They were spotted only an hour before as they approached the area. Their charge could be heard for miles. Unaccustomed to an army of this magnitude bearing down on them, the remaining men in the camp began to panic.

Wonka knew it was over. There was no coming back from this. He climbed, bare back onto one of Lemur’s horses and left the gate open to allow the others to escape. He made his retreat around the city wall and up the slope on the other side. As he crested, he stopped and turned to watch the knight army roll over the camp. It was a spectacle. Had he not been responsible for it, no doubt he would have been more comfortable with his reaction. Regardless of whatever visions of horror his conscious mind tried to overlay, the sights and sounds of war brought him peace. He could only see beauty in the simple carnage before him. He smiled and turned to ride away.

Lorcan lost several thousand men to Queen Beecks’ Crusader knights. Many were pressed into service in some village or town but not all. For his own escape, he relied on the courtesy often shown to royals. He stood, unarmed and unarmored in the center of his camp. Wonka’s generals joined him, having decided this was their best chance at survival. The Crusader knight’s commander addressed Lorcan with dignity and offered a battle field surrender, which he accepted.

Most of Wonka’s generals asked Lorcan for asylum. Palm was the most notable of these defections. He no longer wished to serve a master who would leave him to die. For Wonka's part, he felt that Lorcan had betrayed him, both on the field of battle and with the defection of the bulk of his generals. He did not speak to Lorcan ever again.

“Why did you abandon this alliance?” Wonka asked Eternal Fire. The seer elf was waiting at his castle when he returned from the battle. He had come alone and said that he wished to explain his actions. Wonka begrudgingly agreed to listen. “You ask me to fight for your cause, yet you are nowhere to be found.”

“My armies were defending my cities” Eternal Fire said. He was a young elf; well under sixty years of age. He smiled. For the third time in a month, Wonka found that he was furious.

“That is a lie!” he shouted. He shot up from his seat at the long dining table. “Those armies did not attack you. They did little more than frighten the doves from the trees!”

“My good king, I could not know that in advance.” That was true. The armies The Duke sent were formidable and gave no indication they would turn upon reaching his city gates.

“And what of this Queen Beecks?” Wonka asked in a somewhat calmer voice.

“An old grudge” Eternal Fire said with a shrug. “I had no inkling she was going to crawl out of her hole.” Having said all he would say, Eternal Fire stood to leave. “I must go now, my friend.”

He had trusted him for years. He had trusted his one time friend Lorcan too. What could he make of this version of events from the seer elf? He wanted to know what his friend from The Magikal Kingdom would say about all of this. Before he reached home, the King’s messenger had intercepted Wonka. The message he delivered was short: ‘Meet me at Liliana.’

“I fear we’ve been dealt a blow from which we cannot recover” Wonka said as he walked out of the dining hall alongside Eternal Fire. The blue and gold robes, chosen no doubt for this visit, flowed over the seer elf's thin frame, hiding the weapon he carried. Wonka could see he carried it by the way he walked. He did not know why he thought he would need it. He rarely carried weapons outside of tournaments or battle fields. He was a skilled fighter though. Wonka did not turn his back on him the entire visit.

“We can recover and we will” his young visitor said as they proceeded towards the entryway. “I have a plan. You must have patience and trust in me.” He spoke calmly. He would divulge nothing and felt that the less said the better. Wonka nodded.

“As you wish, my Lord.”

Major Fist and the rest of the King’s men, over three thousand in total had made their exit the day before the knight army was spotted. They learned of the massacre from a trader beating a hasty retreat away from the carnage. It did not seem that it could be true, thought Ham as he trudged along with his men. The entire camp was destroyed? The city, just shy of total destruction had been saved? To what end? There was hardly anything left of it. Such a jewel of the north, felled by war in the name of the seer elf, who himself was nowhere to be found.

On entering their city to the customary hero’s welcome, Ham left his men to celebrations and made his way to the castle to see his King. The King was in his usual place, reading a scroll. Ham stood in the doorway, silently waiting. The King finally looked up from what held his attention and smiled.

“Oh, my friend” he said. “Please...” He motioned for him to enter. Ham bowed and waited for the King to speak. “How was your journey?” Ham frowned.

“The camp was destroyed, your highness.”

“I know” he answered in a sorrowful tone. Ham was surprised but kept his composure. Surely the King has ways of finding out these things.

“It was a Crusader” Ham said. The King looked up at him. His eyes widened just a bit. Ham saw the mist there, in his eerie white eyes.

“I know, my friend” he said. “It was a treachery I shall not soon forget.” Ham nodded. “But on to other matters, my dear Major.” He once again looked at the scroll in his hand. He began reading aloud. “I will grant immunity from further attack to any member of the alliance who breaks the pact now.” He paused and handed the parchment to Ham.

He took it and looked it over. It was in the common language, which he could read well enough. It was from The Duke and addressed to his King. The document appeared to be terms of surrender. He looked at the King with questioning eyes.

“Yes. That is what it is.” The King stood up and straightened out his robes. They were evening robes. He had just risen from a slumber after arriving from Liliana to meet with Wonka and Abraxox.

“The Long Road has ended” he said. “Now comes the age of Trivium.”


-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-


Posted By: abstractdream
Date Posted: 01 Jan 2015 at 02:41
Part Three: THE TRIUMVIR

Alagos, a king based in the regions to the west of Ursor was the first Eagle to contact the King just days after the founding of Trivium. His message, short and devoid of any sort of formality insisted that Trivium disclose their plans for the future of the region. It was such a brazen and disrespectful demand that the King not only dismissed it outright but declined to even disclose its existence to the Triumvir. He handed the parchment with the message back to his aide and ordered him away with a wave of his hand.

The time until the arrival of the second message was surprisingly short; so much so that it seemed it was dispatched before the first arrived. Regardless, in the interim, the King concluded that it was important enough to reply due to the nature of the Eagle's involvement in the Consone. They were at the very least a formidable alliance and possibly one of the key movers of the organization. While the manner in which this large and connected alliance of Consone kings and queens had reached out left much to be desired, the King found himself dictating a reply. He left no doubt by his words that there would be no further discussion on the matter but kept his often sharp tongue to himself. As he sent off his emissary to deliver the reply, he wondered if he should concern his fellow Triumvir.

"Kertim" the King called. His faithful aide, in the court almost from day one, stepped into the small room the King preferred. This room, designed as a reading room, with ample natural light in the day and abundant sources of light at night was filled, floor to ceiling with books and manuscripts, scrolls from ancient times and leafs of parchment strewn about the place. He enjoyed reading. His time alone spiraled away when he found a good story to fall into. He very much enjoyed scientific treatises as well. His mind worked continuously on this or that and the problems and answers he could discover in this multitude of books kept him from drifting back to the disturbing times before the move north.

"Take that second message from Alagos and my reply" he began. The aide reached to the King's table. He took the original note from the Eagle in his aged hand. "Make copies and dispatch them to the other Triumvir."

"As you wish, Sire" said Kertim. He was an old, bent and shriveled caricature of a man. He was old when the King first employed him, so many years ago. He was one of the first to come to the court in the north. Though slow and seemingly at the end of his life, the man the King trusted most among his aides had a sharp wit and told the most excellent, off color anecdotes. He never failed in his duties and most of the time was able to anticipate what the King wanted before it was asked. He was a comfort to have around and would stay for as long as he cared to.

"Kertim" the King said quietly as the aide turned to go. He stopped and turned back to face his King. "What make you of this Alagos?" He asked him.

"My King" Kertim began in his crusty voice, dipping his head slightly with eyes closed. "I have no knowledge of this foreign king.” He sighed and then continued, “None in this land do." The King nodded. Kertim continued on his way. It was the truest thing he could say about this king from the west. No one here knew of him.

In war, things seldom go as planned. Carefully coordinated attacks usually did not stay coordinated for very long. The battle field was chaos and the fog of war made it nearly impossible for sovereigns to know what was happening as it was happening. The siege that fell the Valar King Quicks' city called The Return was no exception. After the city was brought to its knees, the armies routed and destroyed and the citizens escaped with what they could carry the allied armies prepared for the march home. Before the majority of soldiers could start their trek, a late arriving enemy army appeared on the horizon. The ranking commander of the remaining units dispatched a messenger to the alliance capital to inform the kings and queens of Trivium that their armies were about to reengage the enemy. Nothing further came from the camp.

After messengers were dispatched the news came back that no one had survived. It was an absolute massacre. Almost sixty thousand men, every last soldier, from commander to junior infantryman, even the cooks and smiths, everyone was killed and their bodies desecrated, weapons and armor stolen or destroyed. The siege engines were burned and left in scorched piles where they stood the day before. It was a devastating scene and shook the alliance to its core.

Within a week, spies returned news that the deed was done by the Eagles Eyrie. The reasons were unclear but a confederation agreement they shared with the Valar alliance was no doubt the ultimate reason. Afterwards, when the Eagle leader issued a declaration of war, claiming Trivium the aggressor, it lit a burning in the hearts and minds of the kings and queens of Trivium.

The King asked Major Fist to stand by in case he wished him to weigh in on the conversation. He stood to the side, near the throne, in the shadows, as he preferred. His King sat slumped to one side of his throne, chin on his opened hand and white eyes closed as he considered options, or perhaps he was napping.

"We strike at the nearest cities, hard!" Wonka exclaimed. The King's eyes flashed open. "With all we have!" Wonka added with fervor.

Triumvir Wonka was a no nonsense kind of King. His Kingdom lay across the western border of The Magikal Kingdom. Under his rule were two cities located in what was now enemy territory but they were faring well. Some small number of Consone spies had been captured there, quickly dead spies but other than that, no activity to speak of.

"Major Fist" the King began. "Shall we march everything we have at one or two cities?" Ham cleared his throat before speaking. He took a step forward out of the shadows. He looked at King Wonka; an elf of average elf dimensions, but with a personality more befitting that of an orc, or at the very least a dwarf. He was always brusk and was never one to keep a good opinion to himself. He could also be, at times somewhat more bloodthirsty than one might expect of the average elf. Ham, being a rather hawkish fellow himself was apt to agree with his current assessment. He liked Wonka's 'get it done' attitude but this could turn into trouble if not handled with careful consideration.

"I don't believe we are in any sort of hurry here, my King." Ham nodded slightly to Wonka with a very faint smile. "I do think though, that if we are to strike, it should be with an absolutely overwhelming, combined force and at just one or two targets within less than a week's ride." Wonka showed a toothy, somewhat menacing grin. It was what he had hoped for. Ham knew that. He also knew Wonka would be able to make it happen.

Wonka came into the leadership role of the new alliance due in no small part to the loyalty much of the membership of the former alliance held for him. The King, when making his move to start anew with Trivium, first secured Wonka's backing, otherwise there was no way it would happen. Those connections closed ranks for protection over the last year. Now the members of the new alliance were itching to get out of their castles and flex their collective muscles on the field of battle. Wonka was ready to get them there.

At the time of The Long Road's inevitable demise, Wonka did not know what would become of his cadre of warrior kings or himself. Their independent spirit was catered to in that group and should it fall, he did not know if they would survive it. Indeed, the threat which brought about the alliance's end threatened to nearly end them all as well but, in the final analysis, after pulling themselves up and hitting the challenge head on, they did survive. Now, with the Magikal Kingdom leading them, taking their wishes into consideration, making decisions that Wonka and his brothers and sisters in battle believed were, for the most part correct, they felt a strong second wind coming on and engaging the Consone would win for them not only glory but good will with the right and good kings and queens of Elgea.

"I’m afraid I must interrupt this studious council” came the deep, soothing tone of the wizard king Abraxox. As always, he was dressed in flowing, midnight black robes with sleeves past his hands, hood too big for his head, covering every part of him. His human nose and peppered beard could be seen under the hood but that was all. His features were unknown to most. Just about everything of the wizard king was unknown and his kingdom was nearly as mysterious as he. Cities like Avendoraldera and Silence were renowned across the continent for their magic practitioners and markets. The ingredients for most spells, whether simple, complex or downright extraordinary could be found in the kingdom of Abraxox.

The King, Wonka and he each held a seat on the Triumvir, the leadership body of the alliance. Cobbled together from the shambles of the seer elf, Eternal Fire's The Long Road, Trivium was structured as a fundamentally different entity. Three leaders would more likely ensure a balanced path. Having his staunchest allies in the other two seats gave the King a sense of security. It also relieved some of the burden that naturally came with sole control of such a large and powerful organization, or so the King hoped.

"I shall return in some hours” Abraxox said. “By that time, I presume a plan will be finalized.” Abraxox had little interest in the debate preceding war. His pleasure was found in the moment. “Until then, please excuse my absence." He stepped backwards, flowing like a mist into the darkness of the throne room door. He was gone in a heartbeat, before anyone could bid him farewell, or protest his absence.

"That guy gives me the creeps" Wonka said. He laughed alone as he shifted from left foot to right, and then cast his gaze upon Ham. "How do we insure victory, Major?"

Ham knew that Wonka had a plan of his own. He no doubt would have thought it out far in advance and been prepared to disclose said plan here and now. For whatever amount of inarticulate, uncouth manner he presented to the world, Wonka was a diplomat of formidable talent and could implant a thought in the minds of his audience with a skill on par with the best mental acrobats of Elgea.

"Diversionary tactics would be in order, I surmise" Ham said, with an almost inquisitive intonation. He looked at his King, noting he had again closed his eyes. "I would launch all manner of espionage, magic, feints and raids against every city in range of our own residing within the central region of Ursor proper. True attacks coming in the midst of such a flurry of subterfuge would keep even the most cautious rulers off guard and would, no doubt push forward our victory all the sooner."

Wonka's teeth, the long and sharp teeth of a descendant of the legendary, carnivorous Night elf, flashed as he smiled bigger than Ham had ever seen him smile. He crossed his arms, stood straight with his head held high, nodding in agreement.

"I think you speak for all of us, Major Fist" Wonka finally said. "You have described the very plan that I, myself have taken weeks to forge."

The King opened his eyes. He blinked the weariness away and looked straight at Wonka. His gaze was quite off-putting to the typical man but Wonka knew him for more than a fistful of years now and had grown accustomed to it. He had in fact come to expect it.

"What then will be our true target?" the King asked him. Without hesitation, Wonka answered.

"The Eagle Prince, Caconafyx. He rules a city that's begging for such a course; Thingumajig. It harbors a formidable cavalry. Taking such a unit out of the war would be a great victory."

"Sire" an aide said from the doorway, "a visitor." Into the room, past the aide strode a woman warrior. Her golden armor chest plate glinted in the torch light. She carried a full faced helmet under her arm. Coal black hair flowed from her head, secured by a leather strap beginning at her neck, criss-crossing down until the hair ended in an abrupt, sharp, horizontal chop just below the small of her back. She was armed with a short sword on her hip and a row of daggers all along her waist. Her scuffed and bruised appearance indicated a recent round of combat. She was over six feet tall, a tower of a human woman. Her eyes, as green as a luxurious carpet of springtime grass, darted about, taking in the scene as she came from the sunlit exterior into the darkened throne room.

"Lady Nalleen!" the King shouted as he hopped up from his throne to greet her. He enjoyed her visits. She was smart and articulate and quite the capable leader. Major Ham agreed when the King confided in him his idea of promoting the Lady of the Land of Two Mountains and giving her a more important role than records keeper.

"My Lord" Nalleen said as the King took her arm. He greeted her as he would any respected warrior. Her reputation as a fierce warrior, a loyal comrade and an administrator like none other was based on her time, short as it was, as a member of The Long Road. She was a champion rider and wrangler as well and could hold her own with the men of any pub in the region. All who knew her admired her far beyond the beauty and grace with which she carried herself.

“I come with news for the Triumvir" she said as she looked around the room, her vision quickly adjusting to the darkness. "I was told the wizard was here."

"He will return" the King said. "What news do you have for us?" Lady Nalleen sat her helmet down on a nearby table set out with food. Because of the distance she was forced to cover over the last twenty plus hours, she had not eaten in a full day. She picked up and examined a drum stick. It was charred on one side, just as she liked it. She tore a hunk of meat off with her teeth and chewed on it as she spoke.

"The scouts I sent into the Consone region found the city of Juswyn." She swallowed the meat and attacked the leg again. "He has taken shelter amongst the Eagles, yet remains an independent."

This was interesting news, indeed. Juswyn had escaped the armies of Trivium by abandoning his city infrastructure in place and fleeing with everything his citizens could carry into the forests to the south of the Great Frozen Lake. The King was glad to hear he had been discovered, but he knew this vendetta would have to be dropped in favor of more pressing matters.

"Thank you, my dear" the King said. "I wondered about his disappearance. Now I know." He looked at Wonka, silent as he was. He stood where he was when Nalleen entered the room. "Wonka" the King said. "What do you make of this?"

"He's a coward” Wonka announced immediately. “I have no doubt he's run to the nearest kingdom will harbor him." He did not like that this larger plan would mean they would be forced to give up chase. He did not like it but he would accept it. "He means nothing. We can get back to him some other time."

The feud with Juswyn originated during the time of The Long Road. He first banged heads with the great alliance military commander, the dwarf queen Fromfrak. She was one of the most formidable and just downright mean women any of them had ever met. A territorial dispute erupted into armed conflict and eventually Fromfrak and Juswyn had it out on the field, one on one. They both walked away from the meeting, however Fromfrak won it. She claimed victory, claimed the territory and claimed Juswyn a less than gracious loser.

Since that time, Fromfrak left the alliance, unhappy with its leader and ended up as a member of the Dwarf Lords, a wide spread, restricted alliance. Juswyn along with his brother Jonaz were caught up in a tit for tat game of harassment with several members of The Long Road which did not end with the alliance. Most recently, a force made up of several Trivium armies landed on the doorstep of Juswyn's city nearest the homeland and found that he had been previously warned and made a hasty retreat. It was a hollow victory.

"He will have time to breathe for now, Nalleen" the King said. She nodded as she chewed a third bite of the drumstick. "I want to ask you to take on a new role within the alliance." She eyed the King. Her face indicated nothing. "Would you take on the role of lead diplomat?" Her eyes widened.

Nalleen thoroughly enjoyed being queen of the Land of the Two Mountains. She could be a beautiful queen, greeting visitors to her castle and she could be a warrior queen, leading her armies against the enemies of the state. She loved that she could do as she pleased but none of it gave her as much pleasure as the camaraderie she found in the alliance of kings and queens called Trivium. She was pleased to find that she could contribute as the official alliance records keeper though it was, at times a tedious endeavor. She tackled it as she did everything. She mastered it and made it her own. She brought to the role more dimension than the alliance had anticipated anyone could. While a quill was never going to be a match for a sword, she had proven that the power of knowledge could, indeed alter the course of war.

"Diplomat?" She asked. "What does that mean?"

"You would be a contact for those wishing to do business with the alliance" the King answered. "All manner of business. Relationships are forged by diplomacy and that would be you."

"Huh..." She said. "Are you sure you have the right person?" Wonka laughed loudly. The King smiled. They both knew she was a humble and grateful woman. She would be the perfect fit for this. The King was growing tired of the day to day drudgery of forging and maintaining all of the connections this sort of business required. Wonka had no interest in it at all. He, in fact assumed he would bring the alliance to war in a day were it left to him.

"It is you, dear." The King held out his hand. She took it. "You will be the face of the alliance. I know it is in you to be the best diplomat any of our kingdoms have to offer. Please say yes."

She looked at the King. He was a dear man but a vision of contradiction. He seemed to be made of various parts in a haphazard fashion, by a craftsman whose skill lie in another field altogether. And, oh those eyes. While she knew he had eyes, just as any of them, she could not help but wonder if they were just filler for his sockets. Perhaps he visualized the world around him in a different way. She looked into his white orbs. The iris was there, as white as the rest of the eye. His pupils slowly expanded as he looked back at her. This close, looking at him this long, she could see that his eyes were made just as any other. They simply were devoid of color.

"Yes" she finally said.

"Excellent!" The King exclaimed. "Very good. I will send an announcement right away."

"Magic has been set in motion, my friend" said the wizard king Abraxox. "The plagues are setting upon the cities of the Eagles even now." He stood in the King's tiny library with the black as night robe hood thrown back to reveal his true visage. It was only in the company of his life long, dear friend that he ever dared do that.

Abraxox was the closest thing the King had to a brother in this world. They had come up together in the times before The Long Road and the move north. Whence moving time arrived, Abraxox followed his friend into the chilly region of Ursor. His kingdom, now a juggernaut of magic, mingled with the King's own. Their cities comprised the foundations of the homelands of both The Long Road before and Trivium now.

"Very well" the King said. "Our agents should be in sight of their targets as well."

The plan, to hit the handful of Eagle cities in the far west of Ursor, at the southeastern shore of the Great Frozen Lake was set in motion days earlier with the dispatch of the King's saboteurs and assassins. The trigger was a message from Wonka that his scouts had returned that same day with reports describing the preparations of war under way in many of these same cities.

Preparations were no doubt ongoing over the previous months but the level of activity had taken a decided uptick during the last few weeks. With the Valar alliance withdrawing from the Consone and laying down their arms, one might have assumed the Eagle alliance would have been ready to surrender. The scout reports showed an altogether different situation.

"Kertim!" The King commanded. Abraxox turned away from the door and stepped into the nearby shadows, obscuring any possible view of his face. Kertim stepped into the doorway and bowed as he could. "Call for Major Fist."

Major Fist made his way down the darkened hallway of the castle, carved into the bedrock of the frozen tundra. Deep in the recesses of the castle the temperature rose noticeably. Ham noted the ice on the exterior walls above ground gave way to dripping water at these lower levels. As he walked he was forced to stoop on several occasions to avoid connecting scalp to ceiling.

He neared the doorway of the small room. He could see a robed figure in shadows, donning a hood. He wondered at the secrecy the King's confidant displayed.

"My King" he said as he ducked through the doorway. The ceiling here was much higher, a full fifteen feet high, accommodating towering shelves filled with books and other such reading material. Ham was just able to read the common language, simple as it was; the strange, foreign language of his King was beyond him. When asked, several years ago he showed no interest in it. ‘One cannot learn to carry a spear by reading about it’ was his reply.

"Major, are the raiders ready?" the King asked him.

"Yes, Sire. They will ride at your command."

"Fine” he said with resignation. “Give the order." Ham bowed to his King and nodded to Abraxox. The wizard bowed in return, always showing him courtesy. He was a strange and mysterious figure of a man but never once did he give cause to doubt his presence or his council to his King.


-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-


Posted By: abstractdream
Date Posted: 01 Jan 2015 at 02:42
Interlude: The One They Call The Frog

Major Ham Fist came from nothing. He was no more special than the next dirt poor peasant. Everything he had, he earned by applying his natural talents and never giving up. He grew up in The Magikal Kingdom; born in the wild tundra of north-central Ursor before there was a Kingdom. He joined the capital city guard, called the King's Militia when it was but a handful of volunteers. When the King called on one of them to step forward to take the lead, Ham did it. He did it because it had to be done. Ham’s sense of duty made him do it and that sense ultimately pushed him to lead with conviction. He didn’t do it for the glory. The gratitude of the King was reward enough. Of course, he also knew if he didn't do it, it would get messed up.

In those early days, the original capital city was no more than a few hundred happy citizens, barely a village but a militia was needed to keep the packs of wild dogs at bay. Ham volunteered to carry a spear for the King at the age of fourteen. Back then the King himself trained and led the troops. His Majesty was a young man. He was tall and lean, showed a sharp wit and always carried a sparkle in his eye. He often wore the same, simple leathers as that of the militia he commanded. It was a time when the King was still full of innocence and amazement and Ham was proud to serve him.

Over the next few years, Ham did not just lead the troops, he commanded them. He was damn good at it and an excellent warrior. When the Kingdom was large enough to call on tens of thousands of citizen warriors to fight in the territorial wars that inevitably sprang from expansion, Ham was an Officer of the Court and remained at his rank of major for a large portion of his career. By this time his skills in combat were eclipsed by none in the Kingdom, he was known throughout the Kingdom and he commanded the largest army of the Kingdom, The Lightning Brigade. Legend had it that Major Fist's Lightning Brigade was the most feared army of the entire northern region.

War came many times throughout Major Fist’s career. There were minor skirmishes one might be reluctant to even call war. There were massive battles, the likes of which are sung about in the ballads of roving minstrels all across the land. There were tournament battles and war games and the King himself often called on Major Fist to lead the most dangerous of missions into the very heart of enemy territory, against men and monsters and the undead alike. Major Fist, years ago lost count of the number of battles in which he had taken part.

The Major was often asked to recite some of his more noteworthy battles; the ones that made tongues everywhere wag. He was a quiet man by nature but when his memory flowed with the names and places he'd seen, the warriors he stood beside or faced down, he told a raucous tale. Having access to more stories of valor and bravery than most, he long ago become a favorite guest of parties and events, private, public and royal. When he was in the company of the King, it was the King who stood silently by and listened. His tales, full of color and excitement could hold the most doubting and dower sorts of folks.

It was at such a gathering that Ham first set sight on the love of his life, the widow Froth Minus. At the age of twelve, her family married her off to a minor royal, the decrepit and horrid Froth Minus. On her eighteenth birthday, already a widow of four years, lifetime mayor of the city named for her and one of the richest inhabitants of the Kingdom, the King declared her the Kingdom’s keeper of records and cousin of the King by his own decree. She was by now in her mid twenties and one of the most beautiful ladies in all of Elgea. Her mind was sharply focused and full of the knowledge of the Kingdom. Because of her role, she knew well of Major Fist’s exploits and because of her preconceptions, assumed he must be a braggart and a blowhard. When the King himself introduced them, she recognized the respect they each held for the other. Along with his impressive appearance, this gave her pause. Perhaps she could give him a few minutes.

“Major!” the King exclaimed. “Honor us with a tale of glory from your many exploits!” Ham blushed. It was a genuine discomfort.

“I dare not tell such base stories in such company” he said.

“Nonsense, tell it” the King replied. He was smiling at Ham. Ham was trapped and he knew it. He may as well make the best of it. He decided he would tell the story of one of the most amazing men he’d ever met.

“This is a story about a boy, the one they called The Frog. This boy is unlike any I have ever seen. He’s not the handsomest of boys. In fact, his appearance was no doubt the origin of his moniker but he wears proudly, like a badge of honor.” Ham spoke in his usual, slow and loud manor. He carried with him an aura of wisdom beyond his apparent years. His voice was soothing in its natural state but he had learned, quite early on how to conform his tone to suit the story. He could alter his cadence to leave the listener at the edge of their proverbial seat. Along with being a natural warrior and leader, he was a gifted story teller.

“Now, when I first heard of The Frog, he was making a name for himself, so to speak as a swordsman. He was hardly taller than his sword was long, yet…” He paused. The party, a gathering of royal families in celebration of some sort of anniversary had quieted down. Most were standing or seated nearby, listening to Ham’s soliloquy. He had grown accustomed to this sort of condition and after the dramatic effect landed where he aimed it, he continued.

“I don’t want to say that The Frog is the best swordsman in all the Kingdom but he certainly was commanding the barracks that day.” Ham grinned. He looked in the direction of the widow Froth Minus, attempting a casual glance, hoping it was not too obvious. The widow was quite used to the gaze of strangers. She was a comely figure of regal grace. Trained in the fine art of being a lady from before she could walk, she carried herself like a queen. From her hair and face, to her arms and legs to the clothing and jewelry she wore, all of it made for a striking image. She was used to everyone looking at her and now this soldier was looking at her. It kind of surprised her that she noticed.

“The Sgt. of the Barracks told me about this new recruit. He asked for my own assessment of his abilities with a blade. I brought The Frog to my dining hall that evening and watched him best four of my regular guardsmen in simultaneous sword play. Duly impressed, I asked this boy where he’d learned to fight so exceedingly well and with such a large weapon. His answer was a single word: practice.” Ham chuckled under his breath. “Well, I was charmed and promoted him then and there. I made him a training squadron leader and sent him back to his Sgt.”

Major Fist took a drink from the tall mug that seemed as a miniature of itself wrapped up in his fighting hand. The massive hand was scared, as was a large portion of his entire, massive body. He was as tall and as wise as an elf, as wide and as brutal as an orc. He had fought in a myriad of battles and certainly won but he had lost as well. The evidence of many of those losses, he carried with him. Most predominantly, a series of scars, four of them, down his left cheek told of a loss when he was but a small boy, though, at that time the size of an average man. He battled a bear, one that would have killed him at any size being that he was unarmed, and had it not been for his father coming to his rescue, it surely would have spelled his end.

Ham was a farm boy and by all rights should have grown up a farm boy had the King not claimed his father’s land as his own. There was no animosity in this claim, on either side. The north was a harsh environ and what little could be grown there was either lost to raiders, destroyed by vermin or most often, just never made it to market before spoiling. The King brought caravans and he brought resources beyond the meager means of the peasants who toiled for naught before his arrival. The King brought prosperity and a future to the land and the peasants were happy to have him. In their eyes, it was more than an equitable trade.

After the short pause to drink, Ham continued his story.

“When he was made a soldier, I made him a member of my regular guard. He was a gifted tacticin too, as I learned fairly soon. During the usual rounds of war games, whatever team had on it The Frog, most often came up the winner. He was highly sought after by the junior officers.

“I brought him in one day to see what he had in mind for his career. His only concern was doing as he was told. It was a refreshing attitude considering the usual junior officer is more interested in his place in society than his place in the ranks.” This comment, he knew would ruffle a few feathers. The King would get a laugh out of it, though. His King appreciated truth and would not abide a yes man.
“So, I made him a junior officer and put him in charge of a unit of the Lightning Brigade. From that day forward, I watched this boy as he became a man. He bested all who sought to show their skills with a sword at his expense, and there was no shortage of challengers. As his reputation with a blade grew, so did the line of those who tried to prove themselves his better. Not once did he turn down a challenge, and not once did he lose.

“Then came war. The Brigade was tasked with going against the armies of the city called The Return, in the south of Ursor. This was our King’s first battle in the greater conflict against the Consone.” The Major nodded to the King whose grin widened as he listened. “The journey was half the battle, to be brutally honest.” He gave another chuckle, this time with a shake of his head. It was indeed a terrible journey. It was further than any full size army of the Kingdom had ever travelled. Ham himself had been far and wide on the continent, but always with a small contingent of his best soldiers. The journey to The Return was an ordeal.

“Horses fell from under their riders. Wagons were stranded in the muddy banks of all the rivers we were forced to forge. Many of the men, most of them just boys were on the brink of abandoning their posts but The Frog would have none of it. He single handedly held the force together. On horse after warn out horse, he rode up and down the line, urging the tired troops on. His reputation buoyed the brave and struck fear into cowards. He continued this for days on end, unceasingly. I could have been no prouder, or so I thought at the time.

“Arriving at the siege camp, it became immediately clear this was to be a long and terrible battle. The citizens of The Return were not going to give their city away and the conditions of the camp made it an almost untenable situation.

“The Frog scouted the allied armies and the surrounding country side and came to me with a plan. He wanted to take small bands of soldiers into the city. He wanted to raid their resources and burn their buildings. It was a bold plan, especially given the nature of their defenses. I was reluctant to let him do it but he insisted he could and that it would be well worth it.

“In the meantime, the stones began to fly. Hell arrived and The Frog rode right into it. He came back with goods and materials and turned around to go right back in. Each time he returned, he came back with fewer men, and the survivors were more and more battered. It was making a difference, though.

“Fires burned and buildings fell and citizens who previously stood firm began to flee. Our own troops were happy to let them go but others had different ideas. It is not the sort of detail I can share in mixed company.” There was a noticeable stirring amongst the audience. Ham continued “In short order, the armies of the alliance began sending in more raiders. The Frog carried away all he could and lost all but a few of the hardiest men following him.

“At some point during the battle, as the siege army prepared to enter the city, a group of rag tag enemy soldiers came charging out of the city gates, with all their might, bursting through the smoke and spears and swords, headed for the heart of the camp. They held their weapons high and screamed a blood curdling scream that rose up like embers from a fire and fell down like the arrows of the archers piercing the fog of war. Their charge got them through the entire ranks of our defenders, unprepared as they were for such an assault. They came barreling at the command tent and dropped from their horses assassinating each and every officer they could reach.

“It was an act of desperation but it was succeeding right before my very eyes. I had to take action but there were no weapons within reach. All I could do was avoid the sharp sting of the blade and hope for rescue.

“My savior came in the form of The Frog. He stood, beaten and battered between myself and my would be murderers. There were three of them on the ground in pieces before I knew what happened. He turned and ordered a retreat.” Ham chuckled for the last time in the telling of this story. He shook his head as he looked down at the floor and almost whispering said “'Run' is what he said.”

The royals gathered around were fully engaged with the telling. They held their collective breath, awaiting the outcome of the story. The King knew what was to come.
“I ran” the Major continued. "I ran out of the tent and into a squadron of the King’s Pikes. They just arrived to assist in the final demolition of the city. Their armor was still shiny and clean. I ordered a group of them into the tent to finish off the assassins. For The Frog though, it was too late. He lay where I last saw him." The audience gasped in unison, one or two wiped away tears. The Major choked back his own emotion and continued his story.

"I could not bring myself to stay in that camp. I took up his fallen sword…” By that time, his hand was resting on the hilt of the long sword at his side. “I got to the nearest horse and I rode into what remained of that city and I killed everyone I could find. My rage did not quit me until the fall of night.”

Major Fist seemed visibly disturbed. So too did the royals around him. Froth Minus was holding her arms around herself, trying to keep from shaking.

“What was his given name?” she finally asked, her voice hushed.

“Emperio” the King said. “His name was Emperio.” His voice trailed off. It was an uncomfortable silence and he did not want it to end just yet. Let these pampered and pathetic royals feel something, for the gods’ sake.

Froth Minus knew of Emperio. She knew he was awarded the King's Medal of Valor, the highest possible honor for a common born warrior. She also knew he was a citizen of her own city but she had no idea of his horrible end. Before this evening all she knew was his name and that he was a dead hero.

“Such a noble name” the widow Minus finally said. “Why did he choose to be called The Frog instead, I wonder.” The Major smiled faintly and looked into her eyes. They were warm and inviting at just the right moment. There seemed to pass a moment between them just then but no matter, he knew he could never act on it. He cleared his throat before answering.

“Well, as it turns out, he was the illegitimate son of a king of Wolgast.” There was an audible surprise among the gathering. “His father abandoned his family and his people and left his kingdom to die. He felt ashamed of that heritage and he knew if he told his origin he would receive special treatment simply because of blood. He didn’t believe it his right.”

The King was stunned by this revelation. How could he not have seen the simple truth before? He knew of the Wolgast king who abandoned his kingdom. He knew of a son named Emperio. This boy was the right age, had come from nowhere and was a born leader. It was obvious in hindsight. All he could do was shake his head.

“He wouldn’t accept a life of separate societies” Ham said. “He believed we all start out the same and in his life he proved we're all capable of greatness.” Ham glanced around at the faces of the royalty gathered before him. He knew his story was simply dismissed outright by many there but maybe some would see he was right. “His death” Ham finally concluded, “proved we all end up the same.” The mix of emotion was telling. Some appeared genuinely moved, while others held thinly veiled contempt.

“Some of us, though” the widow Froth Minus said, “go out better than others.”


-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-


Posted By: abstractdream
Date Posted: 10 Jan 2015 at 05:27
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The previous sections, 1 through 3 and the interlude have been updated and expanded. For interested readers it is advisable to re-read them before taking on this concluding section.)

Part Four: THE FALL

Major Fist gave the order to move out. The army, or what remained of it, ambled out of the city gate, across the debris covered field, southwest, away from the only home so many of them had ever known, towards a salvation more akin to purgatory. They moved across the land, their progress reminiscent of a funeral procession. It would be weeks, a month or longer before they could end their journey in Tallimar, the most southern region of the continent, taking refuge around the cities of their allies in this all but ended war.

When the time came to leave the castle, leave what remained of the city, its bones dried and broken, scattered across the frozen tundra, only then did the King know it was truly gone. Everything he built and all the people who grew to love this man as their sovereign, all of it lost.

He pulled the tattered parka tight over his frail body, trying in vain to block out the stark reality of the sights around him as he walked, slowly dragging large feet, watching the ground pass by beneath him, tears frozen to his cheeks. His last remaining aide, Kertim, a man of an age when most would have long ago given up the ghost, trailed behind him, wrapped in whatever tatters of warm clothing he could find in the burned out castle. The two figures, hunched and haggard, slowly making their way to the nearby wagon, represented the despair that prevailed throughout The Magikal Kingdom this frozen, despondent day.

So much of the Kingdom had been lost, so much had changed. Most of the alliance had been lost as well. Kings and queens, entire kingdoms, armies on top of armies on top of armies, all cast to the winds in a valiant but futile effort to slow the progress of the hordes across the plains of Ursor.

In the early days of the war, the darkest war in Illyrian history, hope could be found in the letters exchanged between kings and queens of the confederation lead by the oldest and greatest of them all, the alliance called Harmless.

A name taken as testament to irony, far from harmless, this alliance, first ever granted charter by Sigurd, was exceedingly large. A hundred member kingdoms, all together counting fourteen million and more citizens among them with armies so large that to fathom them was impossible, and size eclipsed only by the legends of their skills on the field of battle.

Those kings and queens counted among their allies several of the oldest and grandest alliances in the land, including the alliances of the Darkstar Dominion, as well as the Dwarven Lords and the Night Crusaders. Though not amongst those legendary organizations in stature, Trivium also stood by this alliance called Harmless. Together, these were the rulers allied against the Consone and their war to dismantle the confederation promised peace for years to come, yet it would not be.

In the aftermath, with so many cities already burned and looted, taken from their kingdoms, or simply wiped from the face of the earth, terms of surrender stuck like a dagger. Those having believed their cause just, spat the bitterness from their mouths while forced to swallow terms, regardless of taste. City after city ordered abandoned as payment of punitive action, replaced many of those lost by the victors, or simply razed to the ground as a symbol of the shame heaved upon the surrendered. These terms, for some, harsh beyond belief would add fuel to a fire of retribution long burning and now flaring bright.

Trivium, hastily organized and its kings and queens out from under the threat of destruction, at once proceeded to make its mark in Ursor. Their first act, to remove the Valar city of The Return from the region, though successful in its intent, ended badly with the total destruction of over twenty thousand alliance soldiers at the hand of a king of the Eagles Eyrie.

As luck would have it, the gods of serendipity smiled on Trivium, which was next able to set its sights on removing an Eagle city from the area. Instigating a concert of magic, assassins, spies, scouts and saboteurs, the action was, indeed set in motion, however, before a single army had been set to march, word came of the Eagles' capitulation.

No city of the alliance had been lost and by their hand only the one Valar city at the outset. Trivium, having neither reason nor interest, did not partake of the terms beyond securing a declaration of peace, extracted from the closed fisted Eagles leader. Something of Trivium seemed to stick in the Eagles' craw, though what that irritant was remained a mystery as none in the alliance cared ask.

"I don't understand" Wonka said as he paced the floor. The King watched him. He moved fast, whirling about as he approached a wall. One hand on his forehead, the other moving with his words, he expressed his frustration. "How is it we should just ignore this?"

"Not ignore, Wonka" the King answered. "We shall defend ourselves, certainly."

"Oh, fine then!" Wonka exclaimed with a dramatic sarcasm. He halted his pacing and stood in front of the King. "Defend! Great!" His arms waved and eyes rolled.

"My friend, please..." The King did his best to remain calm. Wonka had a way of getting under his skin at the most inopportune times. "You know we cannot throw out all of our efforts to retaliate against these fools."

Wonka's shoulders slumped noticeably. He knew. He knew, indeed. Harmless was a very powerful ally. So too were all the alliances who counted themselves as friends of the great alliance. Trivium made for itself a name during the Consone War and it just made sense to follow their allies' lead. He knew, but he did not have to like it.

"The others are itching to fight" he finally said with a tone of resignation.

"Yes" the King replied. "I am aware of that, as are they."

The King had been in contact with Queen Starry for some time now. A teacher, a benevolent sovereign and a fine lady, Starry was a member of the leadership Council of Directors of Harmless. Everyone who knew her loved her. Her word on the matter was enough for the King.

"So, how long must we sit on our hands?" Wonka asked. The King slowly stood up. He smoothed his robes and looked at his friend. No matter the answer, it would not suffice.

"I do not know" he finally said. "We wait until we hear from her. That is all we can do."

It was only two short years since the end of the Consone War. Without warning or cause known, the Eagles had again declared a war against Trivium. The King first heard of it in a letter from the Eagle king Caconafyx. In that letter he described his disappointment with his own alliance and told of his defection, along with two of their other members. This defection, he explained was a direct response to the declaration.

Within hours, messengers began arriving at the alliance capital reporting that magic and espionage where in play. The King knew it would not be long before armies were in play. He did not know how long he could hold his alliance from reacting but Queen Starry assured him that talks between the aggressors and Harmless were ongoing. In her most recent message she pleaded with the King to keep a lid on his alliance's armies. He agreed to do all he could.

The Eagles were a massive military organization. Even at the end of the previous war the Eagles Eyrie was still a much larger alliance than the whole of Trivium was now. Their northern hub on the southeastern shore of the Great Frozen Lake caused serious concern. Caconafyx made his home in that stronghold and the news that he was abandoning the Eagles Eyrie gave the King a moment of comfort, but a moment only.

In a war between the two alone, even with defections, there was far from certainty in the outcome. Wonka was confident that Trivium's armies were better prepared, better led and just flat out better. The King had no such confidence. He feared that the Eagles Eyrie would cause major havoc in the alliance homelands. He did not want to find out who was right. He ordered his armies on high alert as soon as he heard of the declaration but prayed the diplomats would succeed.

"The waiting is not going well" Ham said to his King. He was not one to pull punches. It was more important than ever to keep his King abreast of the situation. "I fear our men will grow complacent in this continuous state of alarm."

The King nodded. It made sense to keep his armies on alert but it also made sense that, in time the soldiers would drop their guard. Three weeks had gone by without so much as a word of progress from either side. Meanwhile, there were reports of armies on the march out of Eagles territory in the south, en route to Ursor. If that weren't enough, it was now clear the Eagles were not acting alone.

"I understand, Major" the King said. He sat at the table in his library. The usual clutter was absent. In its place was a single parchment, unrolled and held by a candle base at the top and a chunk of flat, highly polished, white stone at the bottom. On the parchment was a message from the leader of the top Crow alliance, delivered the morning prior.

Just a few months ago the Crows took in the leadership and the greater amount of membership of the Valar alliance. This merger gave the new Valiant Crows a significant boost in military power, but even so, their greatest strength lie elsewhere. A confederation of Crow affiliates, the so called wings amounted to tens of millions of people scattered all across Elgea. In light of this confederation, the Valar merger held intimidating significance for those following the political machinations of Elgea; an alliance whose leaders were some of the driving forces behind the Consone movement merging with the leading alliance of a confederation larger and more powerful than any that had ever existed.

The King opened communications with the Valiant Crow leader, Dittobite on the same day he received the last message from Starry. Shortly after the declaration of war, the Crows entered into a confederation with the Eagles. At the time, the King feared it was a first move towards a major offensive against his alliance but after a few polite exchanges with the Crow leader, the answer he received startled him. In his most recent message, Dittobite stated, in no uncertain terms that the Crows would, indeed enter the war if Trivium did not give in. This, he said was because the Eagles were needed in the south. There was only one reason the King could conceive of that would cause the Crows, second largest alliance in the world to seek the aid of another: they were moving against Harmless.

"Will we be forced to act alone?" Ham asked. The King looked up at him, clearly exhausted. There was stubble on his chin and head, dark circles around his eyes, and a scent alluding to the fact that he had not left the room in days.

"I am praying that the gods will intervene, but after these weeks..." His voice broke off. He dropped his head back down to look at the table. "The others are demanding they be allowed to take action."

"I believe they are right" Ham said. The King looked back up at him, eyes squinting in the light.

"Do you?" There was disappointment in his question. Ham nodded. His King examined him, looking for, something. Ham did not know what. After a few moments of silence, the King spoke again. "I suppose it is inevitable."

The message from the Crow, the latest in a series of communiqués sent between the two kings, insisted that Trivium step back, accept defeat and surrender to the Eagles. The war to come would certainly wipe out such a small alliance, the message stated. To save it, the King had but to bow to his master.

"For the foreseeable future, you will be working for Trivium" the King said to Ham. "I will be meeting with the others here, on the morrow. Tell your men to ready to march in a day."

"We will fight!" Nalleen declared. "There is no other course of action for a right and proud people to follow." She stood with her fists at her side, her fresh, new armor gleaming in the blazing torch light. Here, in Lucerna, in the city of Resolute, they gathered, representing alliances of The Darkstar Dominion, as well as the Dwarf Lords, the Crusaders, a healthy number of minor alliances and independent kings and queens.

"Trivium has been stalked like wild game" Nalleen continued. "But in time, the hunter will become the hunted." The attending confederates applauded, some stood and one even gave a yell. Nalleen suppressed a self-satisfied smile, maintaining her solemn outward appearance.

She felt comfortable doing this; more than comfortable actually, it was her calling. She easily settled into the role of Trivium diplomat when it was given, and went about the business of building connections. She built an entire network of connections. When the King asked her to take the next logical step, to become the top administrator of the alliance, it seemed like a natural progression. She was not one to show ambition, in fact she was known for showing nothing less than graciousness and gratitude, but the responsibility that came with each new level energized her, gave her a feeling of, something beyond power. It was acceptance. From the people of her own kingdom, to the kings and queens of the alliance, and ultimately to the Triumvir, all had accepted her and placed everything in her hands. She never thought of the possibilities should she fail, she simply believed she was destined to do what she was doing.

The applause in the chamber died down and Nalleen continued.

"Trivium has been asked to remain still over these last weeks as we are attacked by the Eagle alliance." She raised her hand, as though swearing an oath. "No more!" she cried. Almost every attendee stood up after her decree. They cheered her and they cheered Trivium. She finally let out the smile. It seemed apropos now.

She took a moment to look around the room at the faces of the congregation. She recognized several mid-ranked members of the Dominion. Three faces in particular stood out for her though. Nokigon, the leader of the Dark Blight alliance as well as the Crusader guerrilla monk known as Wild along with her comrade in arms, Electrok. These three warriors of legendary acclaim, whose stories she had heard from the time of her youth were cheering her. It was an intoxicating moment.

"We can't do much." Nalleen listened to the small human female, covered in unprocessed animal skins over chain-mail. She was armed with a huge sword on her back and carried a small round shield strapped to her left forearm. "Unfortunately, the Crusaders are occupied with the Crows and Celts at the moment" she continued. "I fear we just won't have armies to send your way." She finished with a shrug. The others had made their way out of the chamber and it was just Nalleen and this unconventional figure of a living legend, standing and conversing.

The guerrilla monk called Wild, a warrior of mythical status, whose story was no doubt embellished by all who told it, enjoyed a status of celebrity few who were still living could match. She was by now in her late years, old by human standards but appearing youthful in her features and gait. She smoked a small red pipe, carved from a hardwood native to her homeland, far to the south. The aroma it produced was strong, a sour sort of smell. But for the fear of offending, Nalleen would have swatted it away.

"I see," Nalleen said. She towered over the monk, but felt small in her presence. She had nothing to offer this warrior of the Night Crusaders. She had no argument to change the course of the Crusaders' path. "Are you aware of any who might be apt to help us?" she asked.

Wild the monk tapped her chin with her forefinger. She closed one eye, giving the impression of careful thought as she drew off her pipe. After a few moments, she brightened her face and smiled, exhaling a new puff of sour smoke.

"There is The Nightbringers" she said. "Miklabjarnir" she added. "He's one who might be of service to you. He makes his home in these frigid lands. I'll send him an introduction letter." Nalleen smiled. Honestly, it was more than she anticipated. The Nightbringers were largely located in the deep southern regions of Arran and Lan Larosh and those other southern climes. It was a thin thread of a hope but perhaps this member of The Nightbringers could be of some use, she thought. She bowed to her new acquaintance.

"Thank you" she said. "You are very kind to do so. It may bring our King some peace of mind."

"Ah, your King" Wild the monk said. She folded her fingers tightly together and smiled. Nalleen detected a distinct twinkle in her eye at his mention. "How is my dear friend these days? It has been too long for us to reacquaint ourselves, one to the other."

"He remains vigilant" Nalleen said. "This war weighs heavy on him, I'm afraid."

"Of course, war is a heavy burden for a man." Her words confounded Nalleen. Was not war a heavy burden for a woman? She allowed the question to appear on her face. "It is in their nature to worry" the monk concluded.

Nalleen nodded, though not quite sure what to make of the statement, or the woman. In turn she wondered what this legend might make of her. She often wondered if her comrades in Trivium would feel differently had they known she was an imposter. She forced the thoughts out of her mind.

Nalleen, Lady of the Land of the Two Mountains, Princess of the Court of Sigurd, was one of more than three hundred of his children. What none including Sigurd knew was that her mother, the consort Falleen had adopted her. It was not until Nalleen was in her seventeenth year, that her mother on her deathbed, between fits of fever, told her. She told the name of her birth mother and breathed her last. This long kept secret, whispered at death, winded Nalleen like a punch to the gut.

She stood face to face with this new mother beside the deathbed of the old. She had known this woman her whole life. She knew her first as nanny, then as teacher, lately she acted as her mother’s nurse and finally, without the slightest clue to give her warning, she knew her as mother. She was always a role model but the many physical similarities, in retrospect a clear indication, never seemed extraordinary.

Her adopted mother gave birth to a stillborn infant on the same day that she was born. Emeliann offered her baby to Falleen to give her a life she could never have had otherwise. She was young and afraid and it seemed the best of her options. In gratitude, Falleen took her on as her lady in waiting. The arrangement gave Nalleen the life of a princess in the court of King Sigurd. Emeliann, this lady in waiting of the fifty-third consort of the king, was her mother. The confrontation there at the deathbed brought them both to tears.

She could not hate her, yet she could not bring herself to see her every day and pretend. She asked him who believed he was her father for leave of his court. He wrote it off as a daughter's grief for her dead mother and agreed, giving her a city in Ursor called Two Mountains.

"I will close the university in Aragon and return my armies to the service of Trivium" Dave said. His was a calling to serve; wherever he was needed, that was where he would be.

"It will be good to have you once again grace the halls of Trivium, my friend" the King said. He smiled and shook his hand. Dave was indeed a friend. They had known one another since the early days of The Long Road. He was the sort of man the King knew he could count on.

After some time in The Long Road, Dave took the role of second in command of the sister alliance called Off The Beaten Path. This alliance was a place for common born rulers to join the ranks of the alliance, learn the ways and customs of the royals and provide support in resources and military power. In time, Dave rose to lead the sister alliance and when ultimately disbanded by Eternal Fire, and its members absorbed into The Long Road, Dave took the role of recruiter.

His loyalty brought him right away into Trivium and he continued his work there but in time grew weary of it. After the Consone War, he longed for a role that could once again fulfill him. After careful deliberation and with the King's blessing, Dave left the alliance and joined The Night Squires, opening a campus in his own capital, Aragon.

This unique university, founded by the legendary warrior queen Myr was a school dedicated to training sovereign rulers in the skills of military leadership. Common and royal alike, regardless of age or affiliation were welcomed into the school. From the ground up, Myr built warriors in The Night Squires. All the knowledge she had at her disposal, along with the knowledge of her not unsubstantial faculty, was geared towards developing the minds and spirits of the future rulers of the world. Hers was a school unlike any other.

"I will have my generals ready to join the march when you call for them" Dave said.

"Thank you, Dave."

Dave was shocked when he saw his friend again for the first time in 2 years. He was thinner than he remembered, thinner and somehow smaller. He seemed like a man devoid of life; not dead, but not living either.

Dave himself was a sturdy man of average human height and a medium build with snow white hair falling to his shoulders and a full, jolly white beard. He always wore the finest clothing made of expensive, imported cloth and rare furs, luxurious and colorful. He always carried himself with grace and dignity. One of the hundreds of issue of King Sigurd, half brother of Nalleen, he too was raised and trained at court.

They stood in the King's dining hall in Liliana. Situated in a valley in a more central location of Ursor than the capital, it acted as a convenient gathering place for the kings and queens of Trivium. This latest meeting ended and the leaders dispersed, save for these two and Nalleen.

She had come before them to report the reaction to her speech at the Lucerna conference, as well as the show of support for Trivium and the relative absence of strength behind that support. The void of any sort of real power in the north disappointed the King. War was on them and by all indications Trivium would be the only alliance standing between the Crow conspiracy and their absolute control of Ursor.

"I am hopeful some of the sovereigns nearer the homeland will volunteer their armies to join us" Nalleen said. Since taking the position of Prime Minister, she worked tirelessly to advance the alliance in the political circles of its allies, continuing the work she began as diplomat. She worked with the fervor of one who had been given the keys to the kingdom. She worked as the leader the King knew she was.

"Very good" the King said. It was in his nature to believe the worst. He had always fought against his nature and this woman, this Lady of the Land of the Two Mountains had always managed to avoid that place in his thoughts. She always exceeded his expectations and always made the struggle an easy one. Today was different, but he would not show her that. He smiled. These two rulers of the realm, siblings and comrades in arms, would not see his doubts this day.

"Wonka will fill you both in" he continued. "We have armies on the move already." He took each of their hands in his. "This will be a difficult war" he said. He looked into Dave's eyes and then Nalleen's. He managed to keep his smile. "With you here, I am confident things will go our way."

The war against Trivium moved with ferocity unprecedented in Illyrian history. The armies of their enemies flowed like water around their feet. No matter the force with which it was kicked, it flowed on, tearing away the very foundations of the alliance. In a matter of mere weeks, army after army had been destroyed, city after city had been burned and looted and the people displaced. Many citizens of the realm believed the very gods themselves were warring against Trivium. With the swift and utter devastation that fell upon them, many of the kings and queens of the realm believed it too.

"The number of Trivium cities lost?" the King asked. He was sitting on his throne, in his capital city, in the southern border area of Ursor. There was confusion on his face. "I... I'm afraid I cannot remember."

"It's twenty-four, Sire" Kertim whispered into his ear leaning down as far as he could.

"Yes" the King said to Kertim. "Twenty-four" he said to the emissary. He frowned. "Twenty-four? Is it that many?" He was not so much shocked at the number as he was perplexed by how time had accelerated for him here in this castle, closed off from his people.

Standing before him was an emissary of the Crow leader, Dittobite. This dwarf, wearing nothing more than a priestly robe and carrying a scroll tube, appeared unannounced at the city gate, asked for an audience with the King and was granted it. He came to deliver the terms of surrender and the King knew he could not accept them.

"My king invites you to take these terms before more of your alliance is destroyed, before your own kingdom is destroyed.” He appeared satisfied with his statement. “This will be our final offer." He bowed slightly, never showing any more respect to the King in his castle than was required to maintain his own life.

"Take these terms back to your king" the King answered him sternly. "I will never surrender. Trivium will never surrender." He began to stand. It was not an easy task. He pushed himself up against the arm of his throne. "Take these terms back" he said again, tossing the scroll to the floor. Having made it to his feet, he stood straight. "Trivium has done no wrong!" He screamed. His voice echoed in the spacious throne room and out into the long hallway beyond. "We will not be subject to the whims of a despot and his lackey carrion feeders!” He pointed towards the door. “Go!" The dwarf bowed again, just barely, and turned to go. "Show him the gate!"

Ham dipped his head and stepped out into the hallway. He felt a surge of pride at the strength his King had shown, but it left him as fast as it came. He knew this war was all but over. It was only a matter of time before the alliance would fall apart and the surrender would be done. The only question was the one unasked: how many more cities will be lost?

Over the winter season, as war raged, cities fell. First, just one or two but in time the numbers grew and the pace accelerated. The number that Kertim gave his King did not include those many lost to defection or those many more that were abandoned, their citizens and all moved south into allied territory. Strategic retreat they called it, such an innocuous term encompassing so much devastation.

Ham escorted the emissary to the gate, ordered the gate opened and the dwarf out of his city. As the gates swung closed, Ham turned and looked at his city. It was beautiful and it carried the personality of its sovereign in the streets, in the buildings and especially in the hearts of the people living there. It was a different sort of city. Oh, there were the usual tradesmen and craftsmen, workers and artisans, all the typical sorts of people and places one would expect to find in a city such as this but there was a pride and a joy here too, and in all the cities of The Magikal Kingdom. The citizens knew one another, enjoyed each other's company and worked together to better the whole as well as the individual. This attitude of trust and companionship came directly from their King. It was he who declared the Kingdom a people's kingdom. It was he who made military service voluntary and gave every citizen a stake in the future by granting ownership and voting rights. Their King brought the people of the north out of a dark age and into an age of enlightenment and it was all about to end.

Ham feared for his King and his Kingdom. The people would do whatever their King asked of them. If he wished them to die rather than subjugate themselves, they would die. And the other kingdoms of Trivium? Would they hold out as well? Could the alliance survive, even until there were no more kings or queens to call it an alliance?

In the early days of the war, when it became clear there would be no aid from allies and that Trivium would face this Crow and Eagle aggression on their own, some of the least vested kingdoms ran. Later, when the footing became more and more treacherous, more kings and queens abandoned the alliance.

With perhaps a hundred or more armies, some numbering in the tens of thousands hitting the alliance daily, a group of sovereigns with the king known only as J.T.K. to lead them, broke away from the alliance, paying their individual ransoms, disbanding their armies and declaring themselves neutral. There had been nothing to indicate there would be a good ending but with this mass defection, it became clear to all but the most blind and ignorant that the end would be bloody, devastating and would come sooner rather than later.

"It is not if" Nalleen said. She looked down at her feet. She was in water up to her knees. "The water will rise and it won’t stop." She shook her head. It was inevitable. There was no escaping it.

"Can't you remove yourself before it happens?" Her mother, the mother she had known all her life spoke from the darkness beyond. "Come home" she said. "I miss you so."

"I miss you too, mother" Nalleen said. She would not cry. She would figure a way out. "How can I go home without abandoning my friends?"

"They are not your friends" came her answer. She knew this in her heart. If the truth were told, the lords and ladies of the alliance would turn their backs on her. She never doubted it, she just thought she could keep it from them. She thought this secret was hers alone. The truth would come out, though. It was inevitable.

The water was at her waist now. It would continue to rise and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

The night brought absolute silence. The citizens of the capital stayed in their homes, on guard, with their doors locked. The hordes could arrive at any moment to bring down the walls, set fire to the city and call out what remained of the King's Militia, killing every last one of them. The question was not if it would happen but when.

"My King" Ham said. "Why do you continue this war?" It was a question this soldier never thought he would dare ask of his King.

The King was silent. His head was down and Ham did not know if he was thinking or asleep. He wondered if he should repeat the question but decided against it. He just waited. After what seemed like an eternity, finally, the King looked up and began to speak.

"There is so much more at stake than this Kingdom" he said. His voice was weak. He sat at the table, a single candle in its center, lighting the room. He looked at Ham. Shadow obscured the lines and scars on his face but the King knew they were there. Every second that went by, the King had to convince himself all over again that it was the right path. How could he convince this warrior, this loyal friend and confidant?

"Surely it is not your duty alone?" Ham asked. "Why must you do this on your own?"

"I’m..." He paused a moment. It was all of them, he thought. "We!" He exclaimed. “We are not alone." He indicated the stack of messages on the table. Dozens and dozens of messages, from every corner of the continent, written in every sort of language, on skins, pressed fibers, some were even scratched into wood. "These come from kings and queens in every part of the world, and they hope we will hold out long enough for armies of the south to save Ursor." There were no armies coming. Ham knew it and the King knew it. What good were these messages in the face of catapults and ballistas?

"To what end, my King?" he asked.

"We are all the same” he answered. “We all want freedom. What is life without it?" Freedom was not an unfamiliar term but it clearly meant something different to Ham than it did to the King. For Ham it meant he would not starve. It meant he could sleep with both eyes closed. How could surrendering take that away? He did not understand.

"What can Crows do to freedom?" He asked. The King looked up again. His expression was one of defeat. "You are losing freedom by fighting this war." Ham said. "You are dying before my eyes. How is that freedom?"

The King ‘s breath left him for a moment. He squinted, as if to better see the question. His brow tightened and his neck straightened and the little hairs on his forearms bristled as he felt the chill in the air. Tears welled up in Ham's eyes. He blinked to squeeze them away and they streamed down his unshaved cheeks. He shook his head in dismay and turned to go. The King had no answer. He only knew he could not surrender the alliance. Death was preferred over subjugation.

Abraxox the wizard king remained out of sight, away from the battles, away from his alliance. He stayed in his castle in Avendoraldera. Located at the edge of a three hundred foot granite cliff, with markets, homes and businesses at the bottom and barracks, stables and temples to the prevailing gods at the top, Avendoraldera had been the destination of runemasters, geomancers and other practitioners of magics from all across the northern regions for a decade and more. With the advent of the Eagles' war, Abraxox closed the gates and cast out every foreigner found.

Abraxox was a seer, but not in the same way someone like Eternal Fire was a seer. Over his lifetime, the future appeared as an ocean and his growing talent came in how he fished that ocean. In the last few years he was interpreting the visions at a level on par with the Arch Mage Faer Smyss. When this war came, he saw his name at the top of the list. In his mind’s eye, the armies marched on his kingdom. Within his sight came the siege engines setting up, the buildings catching fire and the citizens dying. Beyond that, he could not see. Darkness descended on him. This void led him to believe his own death was at hand. What else could he do but wait? An ocean of time engulfed him and he remained as motionless as the granite of the throne on which he sat.

The King squeezed his fist on the parchment in his hands, holding it close to his face. He just could not fathom it. He set the message and then his head down on the table and he wept. He was unprepared and unaccustomed to loss of this magnitude. The deaths of soldiers, citizens, even other kings and queens paled in comparison to the loss of the Lady of the Land of the Two Mountains. How could she have done such a thing? If only it were a hoax, or a cruel joke.

My Lords and Ladies of Trivium,

It is with deepest regret and profound
sadness that I write this note to inform
you of the passing of the Lady Nalleen.
I have little in the way of information,
other than the method, being that she
walked into the sea. I cannot express
how much I will miss my sister,
Lady Nalleen.

Dave of Aragon


The King took a deep, painful breath. Life may very well be at an end.

This, I do not understand" Wonka said. He sat on a bench, at a table, in the paddock of the castle of his twin brother, Lemur. He made his escape just a few short days ago and came seeking his brother’s help in finding warriors for his future kingdom. He brought with him only that which his mount could carry: leathers and a few of the smaller weapons, one of his favored long bows, a handful of arrows and a bundle of parchment with knowledge his gone or dead librarians had writ.

"I do not understand" he repeated. "Where did you get this?" he asked the messenger. The boy, a human not yet able to grow a beard, stood with his hand out, expecting something.

"My Lord Lemur" he answered cheerfully. "He gave me the message and directed me to find you." He smiled. Having no knowledge of the contents of the message, he did not realize he should not smile. Wonka gave him the back of his hand. The boy flew back off his feet and onto his backside on the dusty stable floor.

"Get out of my sight, whelp!" Wonka commanded. The boy, holding his face in his hand, scrambled to his feet and beat a hasty retreat out the door into the chilly evening.

Wonka did not particularly like Dave. He considered him a poor leader, though a good teacher. He made little sense of how the two conditions could exist together, but regardless, he had no reason to doubt the veracity of this message. He did not believe Dave a liar, far from it. Dave was an honorable man, even if he was an inbred human, born of a pathetic excuse for a king.

He smiled for a moment. Nalleen was Dave's sister. She was not the typical royal though. He shook his head in disbelief. She was nothing now. He wondered if the war drove her to it.

The war was certainly going badly for Trivium. Some believed they had no choice but to abandon the alliance and accept whatever terms the Crow leader deemed fit as payment for their crimes. McKenna was the first to go. Wonka once believed him an honorable and loyal warrior. He thought him a coward now.

Under order of the Triumvir his one time friend Lorcan and the mysterious princess Xena followed. They were to rally friends of the alliance, stage armies, secure resources and prepare for the ultimate turn around promised by the allies. Wonka laughed again. Irony was the only thing making him laugh these days.

Now with the news of Nalleen's demise and the loss of so many armies, what was left them? Trivium could continue to stand against this unjust war, sticking it to every horde army thrown at them and ultimately die an honorable death, or they could bow and scrape and perhaps, if they could keep their morale alive, perhaps they could fight another day.

It was the end for Wonka though, and his brother's kingdom was not far behind. With the remaining members leaving the Ursor region, what was the likelihood they could recover under fire? What chance did any of them really have of rebuilding?

It had been over seventy years since Wonka last saw his father. It was just before he was killed in glorious combat, in service to Sigurd's father, Drendor. Since that time he could only visit him in his dreams. He would appear to him whenever Wonka faced a difficult situation or dilemma. Lately, because of this war, he was seeing him quite a lot. In fact, he came to him every night for the last couple of weeks and Wonka had grown to expect it.

These dreams were not unlike the dreams of common men. They included the typical shadows and fog, not quite familiar surroundings and fearsome animal calls off in the distance. Tonight though, Wonka was startled awake before he was able to enter the dream realm. He was where he had laid down to sleep, on the stable floor, surrounded by slumbering horses. His father stood over him, looking down at him. For just a moment Wonka did not recognize him. When he did, his first thought was he must have come back from the celestial Ancestral Lands. His next thought told him it could not be. In a flash his mind sharpened as during combat and he leapt to his feet.

"My son" his father said. Wonka knew immediately it could only be a dream. He never heard the language of his father otherwise. Unless he had journeyed through the standing stones to visit him, it had to be a dream.

"Father, how are you here?" he asked in that ancient elf dialect. He looked around the stable. It was as he remembered it.

"The gods have sent me, my son" his father answered and then turned and made his way towards the door. Wonka followed.

Out in the corral, with starlight illuminating them both, he examined his father’s armor. It was as it should be; fashioned of well worn leather, dyed with what had been a bright yellow, now faded and dull with age. It was decorated all over with jewels of a hundred different colors and across the shoulders and chest were sewn a collection of small metal charms, each representing a battle, various lost comrades and members of his family. At his hip was an empty sheath of black bone and silver. It was all more real than any dream he had ever had.

"I am seeing a ghost" Wonka whispered. His father turned towards him and he looked on a face he could only remember as a faint memory of a dream. The contours, lines and blemishes of his father’s face were clear in the starlight. His blue-green eyes looked back at him.

"I am no ghost" his father said. He raised his arm and showed the wound there. Blood ran down and off his elbow. Then he reached down and pushed his fingers into the hole in his side, just below his rib cage. He tugged on the wound and the blood flowed out and down his leg, pooling at his feet.

"What evil is this?” Wonka asked incredulously. He blinked and blinked, not believing his eyes.

"I am here to lead you home, my son." Wonka reached out and touched his father's face. He felt the stubble of his beard, as though he had shaved the day before. The skin was cold and he pulled his hand back with a start.

"Wonka” the figure said. Its voice was suddenly somehow different. It seemed to Wonka as though it spoke with two voices. “Come with me" it said.

“No!” Wonka shouted. “You are a demon!” With lightning quick, combat honed reflexes, he drew his sword from its sheath. It was a standard short sword. He had no luck in retrieving his favored sword during the chaos of the final siege on his kingdom.

“You are NOT my father!” he shouted as he swung at the apparition. The sword cut through the flesh of the neck and struck bone half way through. Blood erupted from the wound and some of it splashed his face. It was warm. The figure collapsed to the ground and lie in a heap at his feet. A pool of blood grew quickly while wisps of condensation rose from it into the chilled night.

“This cannot be” Wonka said. The figure beneath him did not wear yellow leathers. Instead it was in what appeared to be lounge attire, a night shirt perhaps. He stared at the slump of flesh at his feet. He leaned down and with his free hand grasped an arm and pulled the man over to see his face.

He saw his brother there, or did he see himself? He could not be sure if it was a dream or if he had almost quite literally cut his own brother’s head off. He stumbled backwards; confusion pulled at him. His head was suddenly very light and he was sweating and realized he had fallen to the ground. He shivered and let go of the sword. There was warmth on his arm and on his side. He looked down at himself. There was a long gash in his arm and a gaping wound in his side, just below the rib cage and then nothing.

First, he lost the heart of the alliance, his dear friend Nalleen and then, the fist and the sword, the twin warriors. It was beyond reckoning. The King wanted to see his brother, so Kertim called for the Major who, believing it would be his one chance to save the Kingdom, decided to deliver the message himself. It was difficult to get out under siege but he did it. By the time he showed up at Avendoraldera half a day later, the wizard could see again.

"The King wishes you to negotiate for the alliance" Ham said. He stood in front of the wizard, at the bottom of the three steps leading to the throne. The wizard had carved it by his own hand from the solid granite cliff face. "I've come to escort you to the Crow's nest" Ham added as an afterthought. The wizard nodded. It was the first he had acknowledged Ham's presence since his arrival.

Abraxox's kingdom, once the mightiest in all of Trivium, possibly the largest in all the northern regions, was only a fraction of what it had been. Most of his cities, every one of them that had come under attack lay in ruin, burned to the ground. Well over one hundred fifty thousand citizens of the actually magical kingdom were either killed or went missing, its armies were all but destroyed, its prestidigitators killed, its espionage corps shattered and little in the way of resources remained.

Avendoraldera, once the jewel of the kingdom had been reduced to rubble. The remaining handful of resolute citizens and the foundations of buildings burned to the ground, seemed less than a shadow of its former glory. The wizard's throne, the last vestiges of a once great castle, would no doubt stand until the end of time, with or without someone on it but the kingdom had taken a hit to the gut and the wizard feared he may not have the strength to recover should the war not end immediately.

Abraxox was able to see the Major as he made his way to him. It was his first vision since foretelling of his own city’s end. The haze did still encompass him but it was thinner around this man. He knew Fist’s words were not the King's words but it mattered not. First losing Nalleen, and then Wonka and Lemur sent the King into a downward spiral. Trivium, if it were to be saved had to be saved by another. The King could not do it. His light was out and his life was nearly so. Abraxox would allow the King this dignity. He would represent Trivium and call on the Crow himself.

"My friend" said the wizard. He had been absent far too long but even his presence could not bring the King out of depression. "It is what had to be done" Abraxox finally said. The silence in the castle of The Magikal Kingdom was deafening. During the siege, no doubt the walls shook, the ground cracked and the ceilings burned and the King, in his despair simply sat and awaited his end. Now, with the engines silenced, this cease fire preceding the end of hostilities, the only sound was the sound of the wizard king's haunting voice. He looked the King over, huddled as he was on the floor of the great dining hall. Its hearth long ago extinguished, the starlight shining through twisted and broken roof beams quietly illuminating this lump. He looked up at his brother and took a rare breath. The cold and warm air mixed and created a small cloud around his head as he exhaled.

He sat on his granite throne and closed his eyes. The ocean appeared before him, churning. The waves reached as high as ten feet above him. As he sank below the surface the darkness surrounded him. He opened his eyes in that darkness. The future, as a light in the murky deep, appeared to him. He saw it shimmering, shifting behind the wall of water, jumping about as though it were alive and trying to get his attention from a great distance. Abraxox peered through the distortion, through the now and into the future.

"No" he said quietly. He understood it with a sudden jolt. It was as lightening to his nervous system and he felt more alive and awake than he ever had. "The past" he said. His words echoed back to him from dank cave walls. He remained in darkness, watching from the mouth of a cave. Before him, illuminated by the light of the moons were four beings, almost mythical figures. These four he instantly recognized, even at a distance.

"The heartbeat" the human Archmage Stendas said. His arms were up, raised to the sky. His deep, soothing voice reverberated in Abraxox's ears. "She drowns in doubt and self pity."

"A fist and a sword" the Enchantress Elissa called out. "In service to their Lord," she sang. Her voice rose on the winds like a bird. She twirled and stepped this way and that, dancing her spell as it flowed out of her and up into the sky. “In sleep’s embrace, will see his face.” Abraxox stood transfixed, unable to look away, even if he had wished to.

The orc Maldak and the dwarf Herrolf stood back from the other two, chanting their own individual incantations, adding their power to the spells, boosting and guiding them, sharpening their force and aim.

He tried to make sense of what he saw. His heart stood still a moment. He looked at the four in the starlight, frozen in time. He could not quite fix this vision in his thoughts.

"The past" he said again. Without warning, as if he were shot from a ballista, he moved, without motion and he was in their midst. He looked at them, one after the other, human, elf, orc and dwarf. The truth was just out of reach and then… "Where is..."

Before he could loose the last words from his mouth a voice came from the darkness of the cave.

"They must not stand" the voice whispered. He turned to see what he could see. It was too dark. He stepped forward, trying to peer into the darkness, unable to see anything beyond the mouth of the cave.

"Where is the fey?" Abraxox asked into the darkness. His eyes squinted, trying beyond hope to see where he knew he would never see.

"To live again" the voice replied, "they must not stand." Abraxox took another step forward and felt his feet bog down into mud. He looked down and saw water rising around him. It flowed fast around his ankles and up his legs to his knees. He looked back towards the cave.

"Faer Smyss" Abraxox called out. The water was at his chest and the current was strong. It threatened to carry him away from the cave. He struggled to keep his footing.

“Abraxox” the voice whispered and then the water surged. A wave broke from the mouth of the cave and just as it was on him, he saw the fey's face. She was there in front of him, her long, sharp fangs flashing behind a curled sneer, her fiery, eagle eyes burning straight into his soul. She emitted a piercing shriek as the wave carried him away. As quickly as it began, it was over.

He opened his eyes with a start, inhaling deeply. He leaned forward on his granite throne and coughed. It was the most startling and most real vision he had ever had. The view of the past was entirely new to him and he did not know if he would ever be able to try it again. Whatever took him there, for whatever reason, The Circle knew him now and they would surely not allow him to live.

-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-


Posted By: Halcyon
Date Posted: 10 Jan 2015 at 16:33
Wow. Massive work based on Illy history. Bravo!Clap


Posted By: Snook
Date Posted: 04 Dec 2016 at 10:40
                                    removed for reason

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Posted By: abstractdream
Date Posted: 04 Dec 2016 at 17:21
never mind


-------------
Bonfyr Verboo
-GATE-


Posted By: Snook
Date Posted: 04 Dec 2016 at 17:45
 removed for some reason



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