Late one evening, a herald wearing a red hood made his way around Clanthia. He had a bold story to tell and regaled anyone that would listen. Claiming to be an eyewitness to the following account, he told the story with conviction and fervor.
“So, there I was, along with my squad, attempting to contact the Elves of the Darkwood. We had made camp just south of Lamont, because we knew it had been recently taken back. It takes no genius to figure out that the Elves make their way to Marce and by putting ourselves right in their path, they would have to talk with us.
“The rebellion knows that the Elven machine is crushing its foes beneath them and we must ally ourselves behind their banner. Whatever their reasoning, it doesn’t matter. They are stridently anti-Sovereign and so are we. Pssh! If they want to expand their holdings, what do I care? We’ll deal with that later. For now, it’s time to wage war.
“We made camp for several nights and on the third night, we heard a strange noise from the north. It was an unusual noise, like the breaking of branches and the shuffle of leaves in fall. Not knowing from whence it came, we scattered into the woodline. I can only speak on my individual experience, but I came face-to-face with the gleaming tip of an arrow. As my terrified eyes followed the shaft back, I made note of the bow, then the string, then the hand pulling the knocked arrow for the kill shot. My eyes met his and we stayed motionless for a few moments. Finally, before I was about to wet myself, the archer spoke. “State your business,” he said. And I mustered the courage to say something about alliance and war. He commanded me to drop my sword and I eagerly obeyed. Only when I was disarmed did the Elf lower his bow slightly. He backed away and suggested that I take him to my leader. To which, I said I was the leader. He grinned and let the tension off of his bow. He asked how many I had brought and I answered two dozen. He seemed satisfied and bade me to follow him.
“We travelled for a short time and eventually made our rest at the edge of a very thick forest. I made note of my fellows gathered in a small group to my left. They appeared to be unharmed, if disarmed. Their wardens stood guard and would not let them trespass further.
“The Elf that was tending to me told me to wait a moment and he would return with his leadership. I waited more like an hour, but he finally returned with someone in tow. A Drae. I have never seen a Drae before and I’ll admit, I was more than a little nervous. This could only be one person and I knew it. It could only be the late King’s brother, Lord Pietrov, and he was indeed wearing the Kingdom colors on his hip. He spoke calmly and quietly, so quietly that I had a hard time hearing him. He questioned the intention of my squad, my position in the Rebellion, and my motives for coming here this night. I was about the fight, I told him, and besides my squad, I could muster more than two thousand from nearby camps and villages. I was proud to inform him that the Red Hood Rebellion was ready for the fight. We just needed guidance on where to strike.
“He pondered for a moment. Looking at the Elf that had captured me, he ordered that an Elven squad be detached and present themselves immediately. The Elf took off like a scalded dog and returned shortly with a dozen foresters. They stood expectantly while Lord Pietrov issued careful orders. Basically, he was instructing his squad to take half of my squad and round up the Rebellion members. Oh, I started to get excited then, because I knew that we’d get to fight alongside these Elven warriors. I wanted so badly to see their skill. If it’s anything like the stories go, I’ll be so dumbfounded that I’ll likely get myself killed.
“Lord Pietrov bade me follow him. We walked around the forest’s edge and came to a quickly thrown together encampment. I saw a female Elf, a Dwarf, a red Orc, and a man dressed in furs. He introduced them in turn, but the female Elf is who got my attention. He said she was none other than Talendra of Darkwood! This was a war council! I knew it! The Drae ushered me into place around a large table, where area maps and Kingdom maps were arrayed. There were miniature figurines to represent military forces, direction lines, and detailed annotations of areas of importance. All forces present were represented on the map and I was amazed by the number of warriors it suggested. Presiding over this scene was the noble Kingdom banner, jammed firmly in the ground behind the pavilion.
“I was a little out of my league here. While fairly skilled at squad-based skirmishing, I had no idea how to plan such a large scale assault. I stayed quiet most of the time, only interjecting when I thought it would matter. Eventually, though I didn’t fully understand, some consensus was reached and I was directed, by the Dwarf, no less, to gather what men I had and form up west of the forest. We did and we waited and waited.
“Several days passed and my squad hooped and hollered about the arrival of more Red Hoods! I could see that they had turned out in force for this fight. I knew that many of them were not warriors, but sure enough, they brought their pitchforks, old kitchen knives, and heirloom swords. It was time to end this and they knew it.
“That’s when it happened. From the south, we could hear the marching of many feet. As all of the Faithful know, a skeleton’s feet make a certain clacking sound when they walk. There can be no mistaking it and sure enough, from over the hill came hundreds of the foul creatures. I was shocked that they could get so close without the Elves knowing! Then it hit me. Looking around, I could see that the allied forces were arranged in a large horseshoe shape. The skeletons made for the curved innards of the formation. It was a trap.
“The horseshoe closed in on the skeletons and a vicious battle ensued. Us Red Hoods… we’re not trained for this. A lot of lives were lost, but we didn’t back down. Eventually, the last skeleton was downed and the collective force cheered. The first battle tallied for our side!
“The next few days were a blur of preparation for the next move. Long into the night we packed supplies, repaired armor, and sharpened swords. Word went out that we would march by day to avoid discorporeal undead and be prepared to fight by night. During those dark nights we moved, encountering stiff opposition in the form of skeletons, rotting dead, and some discorporeal undead. Lord Pietrov had detailed numerous small squads to deal with the discorporeal threat. I’m glad that task fell to more experienced warriors, because their haunting moans still bother me today.
“As we moved, and I didn’t notice this at first, the forest moved along with us. It was indeed the fabled Darkwood, and its members tore up their roots and planted them back deeply in the ground as they moved forward. This was that strange sound we heard earlier. It was reassuring to have such an ancient magic behind us, if not a bit disconcerting at the same time.
“We came within ten miles of Marce and that’s where we met the stiffest resistance. Those that some call “lesser” undead were rampant. Discorporeal horrors wrought havoc among my fellows, but they were managed by the aforementioned kill squads. Terrified scouts returned from the enemy line and made a dreadful report. Glowing red eyes, and you know what that means, had been spotted heading our way. Once the report spread, tactics shifted imperceptibly. We began falling back to the roadsides and left a wide open swath that led straight to the Darkwood.
“The fight continued and within an hour we could see the wretched beast whose eyes cast that evil glimmer. Talendra entered the clearing we had made and I noted that she held a great horn. It was silver, filigreed with gold, and had a faint aura about it. Placing it to her lips, she let out a mighty trumpet. Slinging it back to her side, she drew her blade and issued orders to those near her. A group of Elves, perhaps 30, joined with her. Each held a magnificent blade and I’m sure all were enchanted. The forces in the fields beside the roadway formed up to defend and the Talendra-led group spread out and looked to be doing the same.
“From over the rise in the road, the first pair of glowing eyes became visible. It chills my blood to think of it, but there before me was a massive undead warrior clad in rusted armor. The piecemeal plate left unguarded areas, and I could see decayed skin hanging off of white bone. This monstrosity was joined by dozens more, each bearing some foul weapon. Someone on the line whispered “Death Knight” and my blood ran cold. The stench was overpowering as it creeped its way to us. They kept coming and coming, numbering more than fifty. I felt lost in that moment, as I knew our force could not stand against such an evil.
“That’s when I heard the crunch of brambles and the crash of fallen trees. I dared a turn toward the Darkwood and was greeted by yet another terrifying sight. From the woodline, shapes became visible… monstrous shapes. The trees actually parted to let these passersby through. Before me, lay a great number of magnificent bears, their eyes glowing a soft green. At their center was the biggest animal I have ever seen. It stood more than twice my height and bore the look of an apex predator. It’s forelimbs and head were terribly scarred and the fur was missing. On those scarred places, great runes had either been drawn or tattooed. The runes led up to the beast’s head where fierce markings of war had been drawn.
“By this time, the horrible “greaters” had closed on the phalanx, led by Lady Talendra. Her blades flashed in the moonlight as she dealt with the first foe. The fighting became fierce, but our side defended well and suffered no immediate loss. With a great roar, the bears joined the fight and I could see that their claws actually tore rents in the bone of our enemy. A sneaking suspicion began to crawl down my spine… were these were-creatures? Were these the fabled beasts that roam the forest looking for human meat? At that moment, it didn’t really matter to me, as they fought a common foe.
“The great, tattoed beast engaged with the largest of the Death Knights and a terrible fight ensued. The undead horror, imbued with dark power, hacked toward the savage beast, but had its weapon swatted away by a massive claw. In turn, the bear raked its one-foot claws down the chest of the Death Knight and tore loose a shattered breastplate. Sword, tooth, and claw, I tell you! The beast was the better of that horror by a long shot. It grabbed him up in a fierce hug and bit down into the undead’s neck. So fierce was the bite, it tore head from shoulders. I later heard one of the Elves refer to the great bear as “Glumruf.”
“By that point, our battle was finished. The undead terrors could not hope to withstand the arrayed might before them. Victory was ours! After we dispatched the last of the glowing eyed monsters, a great cheer went up among the warriors. We had ability, momentum, and a superb army at our command. We could win this thing!
“Lord Pietrov and Talendra asserted their command and restored order to the ranks. He directed Healers to ply their trade, mages to study their spellbooks, and warriors to sharpen their blades. We were ready for the final push into Marce.
“That’s when things got really weird. In the clearing, where the Death Knights had been, a ragged stone doorway slowly began to form and take shape. I still can’t believe it, but that damned thing was right there in front of me. Once it had become solid, its opening took the appearance of shadowy quicksilver and flowed at the edges. The forces around me coiled for a new combat, but they didn’t get that. Almost gingerly, a single, leatherbound foot emerged. It tested the ground like you would test the depth of a creekbed. Finding solid ground, the foot’s person fully emerged. Standing before me was something I had never seen before: an Unseeley Fey. His dark complexion was riddled with darker veins. His horns, one cleaved neatly along the middle, pushed forth from his head, swaddled in black cloth. His clothes were rags, but he wore a neat stole that bore the image of a black feather opposed by a white one. In his hand, he bore a twisted black walking stick. It had some sort of webbing between the forks. He just stood there, appraising the gathered army…
“Before long, this Fey cleared his throat and said,”I would… like to speak with… your, ah… commander.” Lord Pietrov, weapons still drawn, approached the figure, but kept his distance to ward off attacks. He announced himself as leader and demanded to know what this was all about. The Fey held his hands palm-up, in a peaceful gesture, and said, “I bring you… ah, all the help that could be mustered from my kingdom. From Eirinn.” Peitrov visibly relaxed and sheathed his swords. Those around him did the same and the overall mood relaxed greatly. The Fey turned toward the door and waved his hand. A short time later, children, yes, children, began to pour forth from the archway. Each bore a weapon that was obviously too heavy for them to wield. They began to neatly stack the weapons in front of Lord Pietrov. The variety was endless. Some were plain, others made of unearthly metals that I have never seen. As the work was being undertook, the Fey said, “Ah… enchanted weapons to aid you in the fight.” Pietrov picked one up to examine it. Deftly, he flicked it through the air in a tidy little killing strike. Seemingly satisfied, the Drae said, “Vat more can ju ovver, Fey?” Our guest, the Fey, upturned his head and smiled. Again, he turned to the arch and beckoned with his hand. This time, something much bigger came through. Armoured and vast, the hunching forms of golems ducked their way through the gateway. They kept coming and coming. All told, some fifty of these creations marched forward. They were as varied as the weapons, some black, some Mithril, some like diamond. One was pale green and dripped some acidic substance on the ground. All were crafted to look like Fey warriors of old. The Fey smiled again and addressed the golems, “Do as Lord Pietrov commands until I say otherwise.” The golems bowed and waited, silent guardians. The Fey continued, “One more thing… my finest warriors for your line.” With that, more Unseeley stepped through the gateway. One, two, thirteen, by my count. They all wore jet black armor and carried a variety of weapons. If I were to choose a word to describe them, it would be “fierce.” In any case, the thirteen presented themselves to Pietrov and bowed, but not too low.
“Pietrov, seeming a little surprised, graciously accepted this offer. Shaking each of the thirteen’s hand, he ordered that the compiled weapons be distributed in appropriate places. He moved close the the lead Fey and offered a hand. “Ju ‘ave the best of me, Fey. Vat do I call ju?” The Fey named himself Fa’Leeki and took the offered hand, muttering something about a “gift freely given”. The light of recognition lit Pietrov’s face and the deal was struck.
“The surprise had not been completed, as the Fey once more dipped through the archway. This time he returned with a varied assortment of individuals. He presented them to Lord Pietrov as members of the Faithful and champions of Eirinn. There was Laeria, Moira, Dame Maelona, Squire Cameron, Ahk’uli, Arsenic, and a Sylvan called Wellin. I was astounded to see these people present and it gave me great confidence to know that the Faithful had my back.
“Lord Pietrov quietly conferred with Talendra and announced that a new council was required in light of these new changes. He invited the Faithful members and this Fa’Leeki to join and they planned well into the night. During that time, we underwent several small attacks by skeletons, but they were of no import.
“After the council, Pietrov ordered movement. It was around midnight and I knew that we had enough time to reach the walls of Marce. We hastily prepared and made to move. At last, we were under way to our final destination. The End War was upon us and we would do this thing! We would win!
’“The going was hard and we met heavy resistance in the form of skeletons, zombies, and greater discorporeal undead. Thanks to the new weapons of the Fey and the golems, we met these challenges successfully. Deaths were few in number, but we had a great many injured or suffering the lingering effects of the discorporeals. Healers made short work of these problems and got us moving again.
“We were within one mile of Marce and I could see the city’s high walls in the morning light. Arrayed before us was a vast assortment of skeletons and larger animal skeletons. Damn. Archers. Our own archers fired a salvo and did their goodly work. After the initial barrage, the Fey, Fa’Leeki, stepped forward and waited for something. When the skeletons fired their barrage, I could immediately see what. As their cloud of arrows filled the morning sky, the Fey waved his hand and muttered an incantation. The flying arrows turned into snakes right before my eyes! They hit the ground and slithered to whatever cover they could find. This was something that had me rubbing my eyes, damned Fey and their tricks. Lord Pietrov ordered the charge and this arrow trick played out a few more times. Arrows turned to sticks, bees, and pine cones to protect us. What had I gotten myself into? Just then, the Golem horde crashed into the enemy army and lay devastation before them. The commanding greater undead joined the fight and Pietrov ordered his newly acquired Unseeley contingent into action. They were a whirling dervish and fought devilishly, dog-piling greater undead and beating them into submission.
“By then, we were pressing hard for the walls of Marce. The fighting was fierce, but we were its equal. I was offered respite from the fight by a summons from the Drae himself. Rushing to his command tent, I could hear talk of many armies attacking at the same time we were. There were hushed murmurs of an Arcane strike, great discourse on the assaulting barbarians, and rumors that the Dwarves had set to work on the west side of the city. Hell, someone even mentioned the Fendari meeting the engagement. This was all a wonder to behold. We were doing it! We were winning! I couldn’t stand this talk anymore, and just when I thought my head would explode, accounts of flying drake-riders caught my ear. There I was, standing stock still like an idiot. I had completely forgotten why I was called here. My eyes met Lord Pietrov’s and I quickly remembered. I rushed to him and he bade me deliver a message to the siege commander and gather the Faithful contingent to the command tent. I made for the line as quickly as I could.
“When I arrived, I was told the siege commander was in the tower closest to me. Gaining permission to enter, I climbed the tall ladder that hung from the side. It took some time, but I eventually made it to the top of the fifty foot tall tower. The commander was there with his back to me. I reported and passed off the message. With a grudging “thank you” the commander went back to his work. I chanced a look over the side, and it all hit me at once.
“It seemed like I could see for miles. In the foreground, the forces of the Red Hood Rebellion and the Elven Nation fought valiantly against the enemy. We were attacking the north wall and seeking entry into its gate. My eyes were drawn to a vast horde that lay to the south. Orcs. I know it was my imagination, but I swear I could hear their grunts and screams of rage as they fought. Farther south still, a new horde joined the fight. The air was littered with flying creatures and I swear there were riders atop the beasts. The Barbarians! Their mass crashed against the walls of Marce and their fury was undeniable. At that moment, I took pause to back in the work we were doing, but only briefly. Over the city, where the west wall lay, I could see pillars of smoke climbing from multiple places. The Dwarves, no doubt, displaying their warcraft. From the heart of the city, I could see a great cloud swirling over the center. Bolts of magic flung themselves to the earth and wrought horrible destruction. All around me was the clatter of sword versus shield and the screams of the dead and dying. It was the sound that freedom makes as it claws its way from the earth. It was the true sound of liberty. Below the tower, I could make out the small contingent of Faithful fighters engaging with a host of skeletons. With blade and with spell, they knew few equals amongst our army, and they proved it by shattering each wave of undead in kind.
“Remembering that I was to summon them, I slid quickly down the tower’s ladder. I joined with the Faithful warriors and lent my blade to their effort. In good time, we dispatched the immediate threat and I passed along the instructions I had been given. They nodded gruffly and bade me to lead them back. Once we returned to the command tent, Pietrov quickly called them over to the planning table. He instructed them to return to Clanthia and spread word of the war. He said that all the Faithful would be needed for the final assault and must be prepared to act. He ordered a small escort, including myself, and we set out for the fabled home of the Faithful. We have only just now arrived to spread the word. Gather your barons, gather your forces, it is time for the final battle in this End War.”