A trail of Suns gathered by Her skirt.
Sewn and weaved, Cosmos spun
Around, come undone, but serious?
Sirius. Dog-tired, done.
Lonely Earth begged loud, Eon’s demands
Unfilled, empty, Heartless
Thoughts banished by Strumming, Song, and Dance
Cosmic Lovers’ caress.
As Eon clawed to bring Lovers Home
Strummer plucked His high note
Eon raged, “Return before you’ve gone!”
Dancer laughed, Her ire arose.
“Eon, be damned, you fool!” She spoke low
Key, tuned, the strings un-broke
Lovers sent Lonely Earth’s wish back Home
New Lovers, Hearts awoke.
© All rights reserved, 2016.
Mother said, “Do not Dance for His sake.”
Forsaken? Seared by Flames.
Whipped to frenzy, Passion flares awake
And dreaming without shame.
Daughter said, “Mother, the Dance? My own.”
In this, She found her Soul
Filling while full, embers deep, did glow
Brightly, blindly. Heart’s gold.
Stars above, performed the slowest Dance.
Thorn-pierced tongue touched clenched Rose
Water. She flowed, thus, knew Him entranced.
Shaming Stars. Fits and throes.
For all these Years, she had heard His strings
Strumming, He wouldn’t speak.
Words? Unneeded. Strumming fingers sing
Songs. Love. She feared to seek.
© All rights reserved, 2016.
Resonating, plucked strings call the Heart
Broken key halts the tune
Of lost lovers and discordant thoughts
Lingering. Bane and Boon.
Arpeggio learned from unknown worlds
A part, parcel, package
From the loved and lost, his song unfurls
His Songbook? Spell-book’s page.
From afar, Her hips flicked fire and heat
Suffocate, choking breath
Burning for release. Her rose? He reached
Blistering, no relief.
The Stars above sang a mournful tune
Less of love, more of need
Fullness and fog, His heart, Her fire blooms
This night. Each joined, yet freed.
© All rights reserved, 2016.
Binary stars trapped in a fever
Dream. Shared Soul burns in blue
Flame, eternity, dance forever,
He leads, yet follows, too.
Palms touch, She spins away to Venus
And beyond His reach, She
Seas, Serenity, Luna touched
Her foot, leaping and free.
His feet stamped against a billion stars’
Light of Red Giant, glowed
Between teeth, He pulled Her from afar,
Orion cheered the show.
They would spin to a place no light reached
Beyond Eon’s black reach
To the Earth, She led, “Rest!” He beseeched
Fate, this Dance cannot cease.
© All rights reserved, 2016.
Warrior-Poet waited, restless.
His Muse was late.
Old Earl Grey was sweet. The Biscuit? Tasteless.
No choice, but wait.
Warrior-Poet arose, beaming.
She had arrived.
Like Sun’s dawn, Kalliope’s greeting.
“At last, Courage and Art,” She whispered.
“Quests bring peace and love, hearts contented.”
The Poet cried.
Kalliope bade this man’s stillness.
His courage steeled.
She offered a Quest, most dangerous.
His snare unreeled.
“I must decline,” he calmly explained.
The Muse, silent.
Warrior-Poet’s quest had begun.
“Kalliope, you see, I’ve embarked.”
She sipped her tea.
“Have you not guessed my intent, so stark?”
Puzzling was he.
“You see these truths, yet I will explain.”
Her eyes, wary.
“Kalliope, Muse, I’ve you to gain.”
She? His quarry?
She laughed at this Mortal, Her smile broad.
The Poet grinned.
“Man and Muse could never be,” She said.
Excuse most thin.
“All quests can be won, once they’ve begun.”
The Muse agreed.
“Never ignore the trap once it’s sprung.”
“What trap?” she said.
“Today’s High Tea with Kalliope.”
© All rights reserved, 2016.
Embrace Old Winter,
For he brings change,
Glimmer in cinders,
Come Spring’s new age
What seeds lay sleeping?
Only She san say,
Old Sun shines beaming,
To brighten your Day.
© All rights reserved, 2016.
She surveyed her domain and saw the familiar things: a distant mirage promised entry into new worlds, the wild herds fled from unseen things, and the foragers fought the temptation of the meager shade tucked beneath clusters of pathetic trees.
Old Ra rode the heavens and scorched those foolish enough to watch his passage.
Goddess. Queen. Mekhit.
Her people called her many other things, but those names were favored among them. She preferred the latter and most conceded to her desire. This woman, a warrior of her people, had forsaken her birth name in an almost forgotten time. Those days were difficult, but they did not compare to the horrors she had seen in recent times. The treasure that had been taken, whether it be the old ways, or her innocent people, could not measured in significance.
Each week, Mekhit would come to this peaceful place to meditate. Her chieftains and people respected her privacy and recognized her ability when clear-headed. They left her alone, save for a seldom seen band of warriors dispersed around her.
As Ra fled the world, she felt the chill raise her skin. Looking to her arm, she absent-mindedly traced the criss-crossing scars there. Her other arm and legs bore similar, equally random scars. At some point, the ritual scarification had healed and been replaced by the wounds of battle. Her shamans had done a superb job closing the piercing wounds, but the deep cuts always healed painfully. Somehow, she had suffered no debilitating injury since she took the spear. Perhaps she was blessed. Perhaps she was the most skilled warrior among her people. In either case, she was alive.
Mekhit stood as the moonlight set the keen edges of her spear alight. She was not the tallest of her people, yet she was powerful and fit. She was the epitome of the warrior form and moved like the dancer. Mekhit turned homeward and began to jog. She didn’t need to alert her guard because she felt them around her. As she gained a long-distance pace, she heard the ten men and women around her synchronize with her breathing. Absolute trust and absolute confidence carried these eleven warriors through the night.
The day’s rest and meditation had confirmed her decision about the thieves and murderers. The return home would take many hours, but she needed this time to craft the finer details of her response.
Oberon: As I pen this entry, I can feel your icy tendrils clawing at my mind. You, the keeper of secrets, are trying to dig out the hidden things, but I will not let you! Of secrets, I know a few myself… for example, I know your secret, you damned tome. Your plain cover conceals it, but you can’t keep anything hidden from ME. You are the Eon Codex and I’m not afraid of the secrets you keep! I am your better and I demand you do as I bid!
The Book: You have me at a disadvantage, Fey. How did you come to learn this thing?
The whispers of the Ancients were all I needed to piece this puzzle together. Not only do I know your secret, but the entire Eon Lotus has been laid bare. Oh, what I will do with this knowledge astounds even me.
Creature, you cannot fathom what you speak of.
Do not speak to me of understanding! There is none like Oberon in all of Tyrra! I wield the power of mastery and I am not afraid to grasp the rung of greater power. Ah, but you have tricked me, haven’t you? Now you know my name and we all know that names have power.
Indeed they do, immortal. What is it you seek, Oberon of the Fey?
…of the Fey? I am KING of the Fey and I demand respect! It is not a matter of what I SEEK from you, it is a matter of what I demand you do. I command you! Fulfill my demand.
As you say, masterful lord. Please, tell me what you demand.
Beneath your icy claws lays a thing. A thing so sinister, I must wipe it from my mind. I demand you take this thing and hide it within your pages. Strip it from my mind, for I cannot stand it anymore!
I will do as you command, master. You must tell me the secret first…
As you wish, book. Deep beneath the fields of Eirinn lies a hidden thing of sinister importance. With my help, the Green Lady hid it within the roots of the mighty Treespire, where no one could ever see it. This… thing… is the darkness where I am the light. It is death where Eirinn is life. When she… summoned… me from the ether, the Green Lady made a terrible mistake. She failed to consider that all great things must have an opposite. All opposites have equal power. I, Oberon, King of the Ages, am a being of such power. Yet, I have an opposite.
…what is this opposite, Master?
It is The Antithesis. It is all things that I am not. Its existence is not what troubles me, however. As you are aware, book, Eirinn was recently sieged by my nemesis Balor. He attempted to take what was not his! Eirinn, mine by right, would not fall into his Chaos-stained hands. I would not allow that to happen!
What happened then, master?
I demanded help from all quarters, but the arrogant idiots in the ether wouldn’t help me. They spat in my face! How dare they… nonetheless, preserving Eirinn was a thing that must be done and I found a way.
Please tell me, master.
I went into the dark vault beneath the Treespire and spoke to it. The Antithesis. I demanded that it assist me in preserving the realm! After all, Eirinn was its home, of sorts, wasn’t it? It refused to help. Oh, the gall of this thing. I would not be denied, though. I offered it secrets, it denied. I offered it wealth, it denied. I offered it FREEDOM, yet it still denied me!
You could not get the aid you required. What occurred next?
The Antithesis made a counter-offer… it demanded my very soul! MY SOUL! How dare it? Naturally, I refused such a ridiculous demand. It then demanded the very souls of my people! It demanded the souls of every Fey on Tyrra!
What did you do, Finvara the Cunning?
I laughed because I knew this thing had no power over me. The Fey are mine and only mine and this creature could never change that. Knowing its ignorance, I made a pact with it. That’s where this cunning you speak of came into play. The terms of our agreement demanded that the souls would be forfeit upon my death. That’s the amusing thing… I cannot die! I am part of Eirinn and Eirinn is truly immortal!
So, you agreed to give over the souls of all Fey on Tyrra to this thing?
I did, but it was a game of chance that I could not lose. Eirinn is no longer part of Tyrra and I win the hand. It matters little if I’m wrong.
And why is that, Your Majesty?
Don’t you see, book? There will never come a time that Oberon stares Death in the face. No power of Tyrra frightens me thus. The Antithesis demanded a thing it simply cannot have.
I have but one question before I do so… if you have won this gambit, why then do you wish the secret erased?
How dare you question my wants. I am your master and I demand that you make this come to pass! Do it! Now!
Very well, foolish Oberon. I will erase this thing from your memory. Close my cover and all will be well… until The Age of Discovery.
A red-hooded female, called Shae, proudly walked among the Faithful and would tell the following to any who would listen:
“I was attached to the Elven forces that marched from Lamont. The fighting was fierce as we made our way to Marce. Amongst our ranks was a lone Dwarf of the Gunderstorm clan. After a particularly brutal fight, I witnessed Lord Pietrov instruct him to “make his move.” After which, the Dwarf was assigned an escort composed of rebellion members and Elves. I was one that was chosen.
“We left to the west and crossed the river at a low place in the current. Making our way into the hills north of Marce, we abruptly turned south. Many nights of travel found us unharried by undead, and our maps told us that we were now due west of Marce. Eventually, we made our way to the Dragon Pass, between the Sovereign’s capital city and Verfel. After some deliberation and debate with the Gunderstorm, we headed west toward Verfel. About half the way there, Gunderstorm veered off the path and approached a dense expanse of mountain scrub. Looking around warily, he began to the dead flora from its position. I soon realized that these bushes had been placed here to cover a trail into the mountains.
“After clearing the way, we ascended the trail and passed through many forks, each leading deeper into the mountains. After a full day of travel, we came to a nondescript grotto. I have some skill with tracking and I could tell that many booted individuals had recently passed through here. Their tracks led to large boulder, partially concealed by more scrub. Gunderstorm gestured us to get closer and soon I could see the boulder concealed a narrow passage into a cave. Dreading the tight confines, I opted to go in last. The Dwarf passed out torches he had in his field pack and we quietly entered the cave.
“As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could hear the Dwarf let out a very particular whistle. It was answered from the depths and he indicated it was safe to go on. We pressed forward, navigating the tight twists and turns, and eventually found ourselves on a ledge overlooking a large, open cave. Milling around on the floor were hundreds of Dwarves. They were busy building the siege machines that would be needed in the fight. All manner of weapons were present, and it was apparent that they had been at work for a considerable time.
“Gunderstorm’s chest pushed out in pride and be bade us follow him down the narrow ledge. I then made note of a large passage out of this cavern. The glimmer of sunlight was visible down its path, and I decided this must be how they planned to get the siege equipment out of the cavern. Where did it lead? We’d soon find out.
“The Dwarf met with the commander, Breakforge by name, of the siege company and they discussed the battle plans of the Elves. The commander grumbled, but seemed to be happy with the turn of events. He ordered that final preparations be made to move the gear and make for the walls of Marce. Dragon Pass would be our thoroughfare and it was going to be tough.
“The next day, Breakforge ordered the first movement. From the depths of the cave system came hundreds more Dwarves. They began to ready the equipment and push it forth down the large passageway. More and more Dwarves filed out of the cave, many were equipped as an infantryman would be and more still bore the gear of a sapper.
“Eventually, it was our turn to leave the cave, and the moonlight showed me a neatly formed army of Dwarves at the ready. Breakforge and Gunderstorm were standing on a siege tower surveying their forces. I followed their eyes and saw many distinct squads. There were unarmed units, which I took to be spell casters, heavily armoured skirmishers with exotic blades; these must be the close combat squads. The regular infantry was numerous and stood next to the two dozen crossbowmen. After some time, Breakforge ordered the march and pack animals were brought forward to tow the siege weapons.
“Passage through the mountains was terrifying, as the pathways were barely large enough to accommodate the largest equipment. We even lost one siege tower to a steep cliff, its mass and pack animals tumbling down the side. Eventually, we made it to the relatively flat surface of the Dragon Pass. The army of Dwarves recalibrated and formed up in a sensible phalanx. The heavily armored warriors were to the front and we made to march.
“Marce was not far from our location, so we met stiff resistance in the form of lesser undead. It was a simple thing to dispatch them, as we were all veterans in this fight. After several battles, things got serious. Our passage was blocked by a wall of glowing red eyes. Greater undead. The heavy infantry, whom I had learned were armed with enchanted weapons, dove into the fight with support from the spell casting units. It was fierce, but casualties were reasonably low. The Dwarves were the equal in skill to the undead, but they could not match strength for strength. Nonetheless, they won the day.
“As we pressed within a mile of the Marce’s walls, we could see them towering above the low hills surrounding it. Our target in sight, the frontline warriors adjusted tactics. It reminded me of a turtle, but the Dwarves formed a shell of shields around themselves. It was clever and the could reach out with their weapons and strike. Their defense was not wasted, as a new assault crashed into us. Hundreds of skeletons and zombies smashed themselves into the shield barricade and were systematically cut down. There was even occasion to put the trebuchets to work.
“Inexorably forward the Dwarves pressed, making ground, losing warriors, and eventually making it to the very walls of the city. Forces were evenly distributed for defense and the siege equipment was rapidly set up. The western gate of the city was securely closed, yet undead still came. The skeletons were being thrown over the wall by other, larger undead. A strange tactic to be sure, but it was effective. The Dwarves had to defend the inside of their emplacement, as well as the outside.
“Eventually, things hit a rhythm, and the encampment was secured. The flow of undead went unabated, but now the Dwarves had adapted to the tactic and could defend as needed. The siege was well under way. A squad, including Gunderstorm and Breakforge, made north along the river. They were seen communicating with a beautiful Sea Elf on the shore. They had brought casks of something explosive and turned it over to her and her fellows. I overheard talk about destroying the water gates that prevented unwarranted access into Marce. The Sea Elves took the casks beneath the waves and disappeared. Considered a successful council by the Dwarves, they returned to the main camp.
“Breakforge and Gunderstorm came to me and my squad with instructions. Dwarven scouts had encountered Orcs to the east and the Elves to the north had finally made siege. Three armies now crashed at the walls of Marce, and it was likely that more would join the fight. Our instructions were to take word to the Orcs, Elves, and then finally to the Faithful.
“Passing through the Orcish forces was not easy, but they were too busy fighting undead to harass us much. We were greatly relieved to see the Elven force and we passed the message on. Finally, we pressed on toward Clanthia, using the back trails and avoiding crossroads at all costs. We finally made it here and this is the message I bring: Marce is under siege and we’re waiting for the killing strike from the Faithful.
My name is Sir Endrus; I am a Knight Commander in the Orbonnian military; a leader in the mission we call “Faithful Rising.” My father was born of LaRochelle, my mother of Igraine. I’ve seen nearly two decades since their passing. As I toddled on my father’s knee, he would tell me stories of the great prestige, glory, and heroism of the Sutherlands. He knew that all was not lost and that we would some day return home. At long last, the mission finds me stationed in the Sutherland city of Finis. I’m not sure of all the reasons we were called to this particular city, but our duty so far has been to purge and protect its walls from undead invaders. Damn the Sovereign’s name! Our duty appeared to be a simple one, as our numbers are great and some strange magical protection has been cast on the entire city. Glory be to King Evandar! The undead simply cannot enter and I do not understand it at all. But that is not why I write this open letter…
Reconstruction efforts were underway in Finis and the people had finally achieved some measure of security. As each brick was put back in its place, so it seemed that each heart was mended piece by piece. The people of this ruined city lived under the thumb of the Dark Sovereign for so long; it must have been a nightmare. I can’t understand it, but I do see the power that this new freedom has on their souls. They would reforge the city and their wounded hearts.
Then it all changed. One morning, as I was breaking my fast, I noticed something strange. The streets of Finis are normally humming with activity at any time of the day, but all I heard was silence. I tell you, I was worried that we had somehow been attacked in the night. Grabbing my old sword, I dashed out into the street. What I saw is not what I expected.
The central gate of Finis lies on the north wall. From this gate, a major thoroughfare extends deep into the city. Normally, it is bustling with activity, day or night. As I mentioned, it was now silent and I could see why. Hundreds of Finis elves lined the sides of the street. 8 of 10 were kneeling or bowing, the difference frowning. It took me a moment to realize what was going on. Down the center of the empty street, a party of five individuals walked slowly. There was a bearded male Drae clad in all black, a male elf wearing the colors of Sahde, two elves dressed in the fashion of Finis aristocracy, and a female elf wearing the garb of the woodsman or warrior in the lead position.
The others were impressive, but the leading woman awed me. I do not know why, but I felt a sense power from her, of leadership and poise. It then became obvious to me that these elves bowed to HER. Who was she? I turned and whispered to a guard next to me, “Who is this woman?” Looking concerned, he only said, “Talendra Silvertree.”
The rumor-mongers have spread word of her visit. An account of her speech to the nobles of Finis follows:
“I have not returned to rule over you–I have returned to guide you as I once did. If you will have me, I will lead you once more. There is something you must know: no magic flows forever. Once the source is depleted, it will fade away. This… protection that Lord Miles has conjured will not last forever. When it fails, the forces of that lich will swoop in and take the city again. We are simply not safe.
“The population of Finis is elven. For too long you have been separated from your true homeland. Ristell made that decision for you and without you. But I will not. Now is the time to reunite our people. Now is the time to secure our future. Now is the time to return to the Darkwood.
“Ristell saw fit to sacrifice all of you and Finis, all the while his house ascended to power over all others. Do not be fooled by his treacherous acts. This was not in the best interest of our people, but a choice governed by his greed for wealth and lust for power. Like a coward, he bargained with the Maiden for his own gain, condemning the rest of you to suffer here. This once great city was a stronghold, a strategic location in the fight against that lich. And he just gave it away. He tipped the scales in favor of that lich with his betrayal and thousands more lives were lost! Ristell was a fool to think that lich would keep his word and leave Finis untouched, for he returned Ristell’s betrayal and set upon this great city, forcing our people into the protection of the Darkwood. I seek not retribution for what I’ve been through, but I do ask that Ristell pay for the nightmares he brought down upon you all, for you were the ones he truly betrayed. He brought the headsman’s axe down on the body of our people. Severed in twain, both pieces suffered greatly, but none more so than each of you. Finis is your death-house and it must be abandoned. This is where the body died and its rot fills the air.
“There is nothing for you here–the Darkwood awaits. I leave the choice to you. It is time to unite the elven people. If you stand with me, then ready your houses, gather your belongings, and join me in reuniting our people. If you belong to House Ristell, don’t bother. We move by week’s end.”
After that day, the murmuring, unspoken ‘language’ of the city changed. Whispers from the street no longer spoke of rebuilding, but leaving. Elves by the score abandoned the reworking of the city. Those that didn’t raged at their counterparts and stubbornly refused to participate in whatever was amiss. Store fronts were closed, wagons filled, and homes packed. I’m still struck by this. Our forces had liberated the city and now its people were leaving. What in the name of Tyrra would possess them to do so? Was it this Silvertree lady?
I stood there, on the north gate, and watched the hundreds, the thousands, depart the city. This Talendra was there, coaching them on. By now I had heard her referred to as a ‘queen’ and as a ‘princess.’ She fit the part and her skill of command was as great as any general I have served under.
On the 13th day after her arrival, the city was nearly deserted. Some elven houses had remained behind, but their ranks numbered in the hundreds. Their dark scowls told us not to inquire of them, and we didn’t. Rumor among the troops said these houses were cast out by the other elves.
So there I stood, along with thousands of my brothers, guarding an empty city. I do not know what transpired, but it was powerful. We eagerly await some word from our superiors, but they are silent and seem dumbfounded.
Sir Hemrick Endrus
The following story is being told around the campfires and in the taverns of the Sutherlands. These events are said to have occurred on March 16th, 659…
The Battle of Botan
A lone figure wandered down the moonlit roadway toward Botan. Her wooden staff thudded against the hard-packed dirt as she walked. Her name was Thalia and she was on a mission. Ignoring the silent shadows that followed her, she held her wicker basket tight against her waist as she pressed on, waiting for the inevitable.
When it came, she was prepared and unafraid. From the thicket-lined roadside, a voice called out in hushed tones,
“State your business in Botan.”
Her voice steady, Thalia calmly replied,
“I’m here for the wounded. If you check my basket, you will find my herbs and poultices.”
Without sound, a lone figure stepped into the moonlight. His lithe form was clad in the dark greens and browns of the forester. A bow was slung over his shoulder and an empty scabbard hung from his hip. Pointing his sword at Thalia, the Elf slowly approached. With a slight flick of the sword tip, he slid the cover off of Thalia’s basket. His eyes locked on hers while he reached inside and pulled out a small parcel. He held it to his nose and caught the scent. Sword lowered, he said,
“Cynthium flower… good for infection. You may pass, but stay on the main road.”
With a slight bow, Thalia offered her thanks and resumed the journey. She soon found herself on the outskirt fields of the old Sudbyrian fortress. What lay before her troubled her deeply. The fortress of Botan was entirely encircled in a dense hardwood forest. The trees stretched toward Sahde as far as the eye could see. To her recollection, the old Orc structure and its surrounding habitations lay in an open field, with little tree growth. This forest wall entirely obscured her view of Botan proper. Between her and this new forest stood hundreds of white canvas tents in neatly ordered rows. The smell of cookpots wafted through the air and Elven patrols went to and fro. Countless people aimlessly shuffled amidst the rows. Even in the darkness, she could still see the pillars of smoke climbing high above where the fortress should be. She grimaced at the blended smell of burning flesh and wood. She hated the pyres, but the dead must be disposed of. Covering her mouth with a handkerchief, she made her way into the tent rows ringing the old Orc stronghold’s new forest.
When she inquired of the people, many just stared blankly at her. Some even yelled at her. Finally, she found a man that was gruffly receptive to her questions. She explained that she was an alchemist and sought to ply her curatives on the wounded. His son had been hurt in the fighting and badly needed treatment, so Thalia followed him to a large tent in the middle of the rows. Lying fitfully was a small boy of six or seven years. His leg had been severed below the knee. Gasping, Thalia sat down her basket and kneeled beside the small pallet. Wiping sweat from the boy’s forehead, she checked his temperature and found it too warm. She softly asked for fresh water and set to work on the boy. When the father returned with a basin, he began to talk quietly as Thalia worked,
“You know, I cannot imagine a time without the Sovereign. I’ve lived under his reign my entire life, but I was raised with stories of the old ways, the old days. Still I cannot picture it. My grandmother secretly taught me that the Faithful would one day save us from this terrible place. But, oh, I was wrong. They finally came for us, but ‘they’ were not who I expected. It all happened at dusk three days ago; I was in westwood picking berries. Before I knew it, I had a blade pressed to the back of my neck. Let me tell you, I was terrified and nearly wet myself. Next thing I know, I’m spun around and facing three Elves! They were intent on murder, I’m sure, but the robed one stopped them. He said something about ‘the truth’ and waved his hand at me. I felt a strange tingling come over me, like pin pricks almost. He started to ask me questions and I felt compelled to answer him truthfully. I’m certain he was using magic on me. He mainly wanted to know if I was loyal to the Sovereign, but I’m not really, so I passed the test.
“Eventually, they told me to go deeper into the woods and to keep quiet. By this point, I was seriously worried about what was going on, but I did as I was told. As I pushed through the trees, I saw more and more of these strangers. The looks they gave me… chilled my heart, it did.
“In unison, these Elves started toward the fortress, blades bared. The next thing that happened scared me to death. See, I was leaning on a tree. A big oak. That damn thing started moving! It’s roots tore up from the ground and it started walking! Trees all around me did the same thing… I couldn’t believe my eyes. I mean, I’ve heard stories like that, but to see it? Damn. It seemed like the whole forest was alive!
“By that point, I knew I needed to see what was about to happen, so I followed. Stupid? Yes. Could I miss it? No! These damn fool Elves were about to attack Botan and I had a front row seat. On one hand, I wanted to see those uppity Elves get what was coming to them. On the other, I desperately wanted to be free from those damned undead. It was then that I really started to worry for my son and the others, but they knew how to get out of the way. The Sovereign taught us that the hard way. It was in fortune’s hands.
“So, the old fort isn’t completely walled up anymore. Some of it was smashed when the undead took over. It’s also surrounded by a ramshackle village I call home. Through the cover of darkness, these invaders could easily cross the distance to the village and get to the collapsed wall. The living trees made a new, moving woodline and the warriors darted from it through the habitations and toward the open walls. Before too long, I could hear the sounds of battle. Lo and behold, the same warriors that went in, came out running! I laughed a little because I thought they had been routed. As they ran back into this new ‘treeline,’ I realized what they were about. Hot on their heels came hundreds of skeletons! Once those old skulls hit the woods, the feeding frenzy started. The trees tore them limb from limb… It was something to see.
“The initial attack was a success, so they moved on to the next step. Archers began scrambling up into those living trees, while the warriors scattered among them. I don’t know how they got the message out, but the entire force began to move at once. I got the impression that the entire fortress might be surrounded. There I was, watching a forest invade Botan; I was angry because Elves were invading my home, but happy about it at the same time.
“By now, the fortress’ Necromancers and the undead were wise to what was happening. They turned out in force to fight. The Elves were lucky the Grimm Legion wasn’t here anymore, because that would have been a different story. That said, I was still a good distance behind the line, so I couldn’t make much out, but I did see one of the fortress’ lieutenants hurling terrible black magic at one of the trees. It split in half and fell into one of the vacant houses. For his efforts, he got an arrow to the eye socket. As the attackers pressed forward, I was awash in crumbled bones and slipping on blood. There were several score fallen attackers, too. I’ve seen death before, but it was weird to see it from behind an Elven line.
“You know, Botan isn’t a city, but it’s more than just a fortress. Along with the houses, the whole thing covers about a square mile. It wouldn’t normally take very long to span that distance, but fighting slows you down big time. Not to mention the pace of the treants… that said, eventually the attackers again made it inside the fort. I could see the garrison house from between the trees. By this time, I had become brave enough to get closer. I was maybe twenty feet from the woodline. I could see the treants and Elven warriors skirmishing with undead all over the courtyard. Death was in the air, but the Elves were winning.
“Then something happened. All I can remember is being stunned by a black flash of light. When I came to, my blood was chilled. To my surprise, the dozens of Elven warriors in the courtyard lay either dead or unconscious. The undead seemed to grow stronger; some skeletons reformed entirely. From behind me, I heard an order issued. A great many robed Elves rushed forward and began hurling fire, lightning, ice, and white light at the enemy. Ah, the sorcerers… they finally joined the fight.
“Between the archers and the sorcerers, the undead were finally crushed. Surely victory was at hand… but, oh, that was not the case. Remember that black flash of light? A thunderous moan filled the air and the huge double doors of the garrison house were smashed outward by some terrible force. They skidded across the courtyard, killing several warriors unfortunate enough to be in the way.
“Then there was that bastard, General Morgal… I could only recognize him by his robes, but I’m sure it was him. He was thinner than he should have been, his skin was dried and stretched taut over his face. Neck, hands, and the the visible parts of his arms were bandaged with white cloth. The worst part was his eyes… they glowed like firestones and I will never forget them. In his right hand, he carried an evil looking sword, made from bone and some black metal. It shone like the moon.
“From somewhere on the east side of the courtyard came the order to stand down. The elves and treants slowly retreated from the general. I could see the attacking force part and let someone through. At first, I thought it was one of the treants, just a small one. Upon closer inspection, I could see this was a person entirely encased in a dark, shining wood. It flowed around the person’s figure and moved as if alive! Ropey vines wrapped around legs and arms; every footstep saw their tendrils snake into cracks and earth of the ground. There was a green glow around this warrior; it reminded me of springtime. He… was it a he? It was hard to tell. In any case, he carried a white sword that shone like the sun in one hand and a strangely forged axe in the other. A sheathed dagger hung from his hip.
“My nerves were frayed by this point and I was seriously worried about this oak-clad warrior. How could he stand against the General? But I watched as they closed on one another and fought like nothing I’ve ever seen. Sword versus sword, white light versus black light, they clashed. At one point, with a mighty felling blow, the oak-clad warrior lopped off the left arm of his foe. Oh, the howls of rage that filled the courtyard! But that didn’t stop Morgal, and he pressed the attack. Wounded, the oak warrior staggered back and regained his footing. He charged the General, sword and axe raised to defend. Morgal viciously hacked downward with his sword, severing the defender’s axe in two pieces. That black sword blade lodged deeply into the oak warrior’s shoulder, knocking him to his knees. I thought the fight was over then, but there were tricks left up the Elf’s sleeve.
“Gloating, General Morgal closed on the oak one and tried to free his sword. He got too close. With a move like quicksilver, the Elf unsheathed his dagger, which burned like white fire, and jammed it deep under the General’s sternum. The undead howled in agony. White light poured out of his mouth and eyes. His skin began to flake and crumble. And just like that, he collapsed in a pile of dust. Wrenching that horrible blade out of his shoulder, the oak warrior stood and accepted the ministrations of his frantic healers. Staggering, he was led back into the woodline and I never saw him again. I’m still awestruck by the presence of that one, but who was it?
“I’m still surprised that one of the Sovereign’s more powerful undead did not come to aid in the battle. Where was the Executioner or the Exarch? Maybe it was beneath their notice, but you would think the loss of Botan would have merited some response from Marce’. In any case, we know that the Sovereign’s forces cannot get into the Darkwood, so maybe the same magic was at work here.
“Over the next two days, the elves spread out through Botan, looking for Sovereign sympathizers and loyalists. It didn’t go well for those folks, but some deserved it. The treants retreated and formed a ring around the entire fortress and its houses. If you look northwest, you’ll see that the woods now extend as far as the eye can see. It is like the Darkwood lashed out and engulfed Botan. Come to think of it, that is exactly what happened. Like elitist Elves do, they said it was not possible to stay in our homes. It’s because we’re human! They tried to tell me that the Darkwood wouldn’t let us in, but I’m wise to their racist ways. So, they set up these tents and forced us to evacuate our homes. I mean, so far they haven’t hurt anyone and they feed us, but to them, Elves are number one. We don’t know what our fate will be, but they have spoken of relocating us to somewhere “safe.” I’m sure that means somewhere without Elves.
“So, that’s how Botan was yanked from under the thumb of the Sovereign. Somewhere in there, my son lost his leg. Before he passed out from the pain, he said he had been trying to defend this little girl he plays with. Poor boy doesn’t know it, but she was killed by the skeletons. I’ll have to tell him when he wakens… he’s so young to bear such a thing, but he must be hardened by these three days. He’ll never forget the battle of Botan, nor will I.”
Thalia rose from the boy and wiped the blood from her hands. Thanking the man for his story, she explained how to clean the wound and apply the poultices, assuring the father his son would live. Gathering her things, she inquired about other injured citizens. Once she had a long list, she wandered back out into the tent rows of Botan to ply her trade.
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.”