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  • #61
    I agree with drmadwolf , this is a creative way to introduce Stormcast into this setting. We actually have some investment in them, since we've been following their story, and in their mission, as they're saving characters and places we know. Well done.
    Thanks,
    Hal

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    • #62
      Thanks, I liked the models and I had them already because I really wanted AoS to be good, so I bought in a lot at first, so I had all these models and I wanted to use them and this was the most viable reason to have them in my armies.

      Comment


      • #63


        13

        The Man in the Tower

        Orange light filtered through and filled Daggon’s vision through his eyelids. His body seemed to be made of molten lead and an involuntary groan escaped his lips as he struggled to move. The orange light began to pulsate with his exertion.

        “Aww, is the delicate prince sore?” A voice seemed to whisper in his ear, it was one that Daggon recognized.

        “Who’s there?” He tried to speak but all that came out was a dry croak that only succeeded in sticking his tongue to the roof of his mouth.

        “You know who I am. You know why I’m here.” The voice laughed, a heavy, wheezing noise, and then coughed. “It seems even in your head I can’t escape that bloody cough.” An image crackled across Daggon’s mind, an image of hands caked in blood covering a mouth from which the blood was issuing.

        “Sicaro,” Daggon wheezed, a quiet panic began to creep into his chest.

        “Very good, elfling, I’m pleased to see that you remember. And no, you’re not going crazy, although if you tell anyone about our conversations I’m fairly certain that they might think you are, or that you are Chaos-touched and not to be trusted. So if I were you, I would keep what is said between us to yourself, at least for now.” The voice chuckled then stopped abruptly. “No lord! I haven’t told him anything yet, I know to wait for the appropriate time!” The voice echoed as if inside a large cavern. “Sorry little elfling, sometimes we aren’t the only ones in here, I sometimes have guests. You don’t mind, do you?” Again the dry cackle.

        What is happening? Daggon thought.

        “What is happening?!” Sicaro’s voice exclaimed. “I would think you should know what is happening! You killed me before my mission was complete, and so now my Master has ensured that I stay until such time as my usefulness is complete. I’m afraid you don’t have any say in the matter.” Daggon’s mind reeled at this response and its implications.

        “Yes, that means that not even your own thoughts are private, although you can rest assured that my Master already knows about your plans and has made his own accordingly, so you have no need to worry about me spying on your troops for some earthly general. My Lord has already foreseen the whole thing and has placed his pieces on the board over a millennium ago, nothing you do will be a surprise to him, I assure you. He already knows. But if you don’t believe me, then go ahead and tell your friends and watch them tie you down while they go off to die without your help, anyways. I cannot control your limbs, nor can I make you do anything you don’t want to do. So you may as well try and make yourself useful, am I right?”

        What do you want with me?

        “I’ve already told you! Don’t you listen to me at all? ‘At the devil’s gate you will be consumed and then the time for choosing will have passed.’ I am simply here to help you make your choice, and perhaps persuade you one way or another.” Daggon had the distinct impression that Sicaro’s voice was smiling at him.

        I don’t know what decision you speak of, I will not betray my friends!

        “Well now, that’s only part of the choice you’ll have to make. The rest will become apparent the further we go. We can discuss that later, right now it’s time for you to wake up, you’re starting to talk in your sleep, and it wouldn’t do to have your friends think you are crazy this early in the game, now would it?” The voice gave one last dry chuckle before fading into the back of Daggon’s mind. Leaving him alone in the void.

        “Daggon! Are you awake?” Another familiar voice spoke, this one from outside of his head and the elf prince forced his eyes open. Standing over him was the face of Lynne, here eyes wide with concern as she stared down at him.

        “I am alive.” Daggon wheezed, his throat was dry and caused his voice to take on an unnatural graininess. “But I need water.” He croaked. Lynne nodded and ran off to find some. Daggon laid his head back and looked around him. He was on a wagon being pulled along by a horse. To his left he could see the edges of a forest, to his right there was nothing but open plains stretched out as far as he could see. He stared upwards into the blue sky above him, a thousand minor wounds complained from open sores and cuts, to bruises and even what felt like some broken ribs. Still, he considered himself lucky if that was all that he had come away with from that battle. He wondered how his troops had fared.

        When Lynne returned, she brought with her a wineskin filled with lukewarm water which she poured over Daggon’s lips. It tasted like honeyed wine to his parched throat. When he finished Lynne fed him small bits of grainy biscuit which he devoured. After he finished he looked up at the female wizard.

        “How bad are our casualties?” He asked, his voice much clearer if a little raspy, still. Lynne hesitated for a moment before speaking.

        “Gregor’s forces actually went largely untouched, thanks in no small part to Maurice, a few knights fell, but overall they are still largely intact.” Lynne’s face twisted into an ugly frown as she spoke.

        “You have spent too much time among the humans, and now you wear your emotions on your face.” Daggon coughed. “Say what it is that you hesitate to say.” Lynne took a deep breath and let it out slowly, closing her eyes as she did so. A single tear escaped from the corner and fell slowly down her cheek as she spoke.

        “Most of the elves were massacred,” Lynne’s voice was choked. “More than three quarters of your soldiers are dead.”

        Daggon continued to stare into the sky above as the words echoed around in his skull, accompanied by the slight hinting of dry laughter. So, his elves had lived through the destruction of their homeland, literally walked through hell and escaped, and fought their way clear to another potential home only to be dragged down beneath a mountain of rotten flesh? Hot rage boiled inside his chest.

        “And Xiomar?” He asked.

        “Your brother is safe, Prince.” Lynne responded. “In fact, he fared better than you in the battle and is likely the only reason that as many of your forces survived as did.” She attempted to smile, but it only deepened the sadness reflected in her eyes. Daggon closed his eyes tightly in order to ward off the anger building within him. “My lord?” Lynne’s voice sounded as if she was speaking at the far end of a long tunnel.

        “Leave me!” He whispered and when Lynne hesitated he repeated the command. “Leave me!” He yelled and as she retreated, a hoarse whisper repeated in the back of his head:

        At the devil’s gate you will be consumed and then the time for choosing will have passed.

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        • #64

          * * * * * * * * * * * *

          The sun shone brilliantly across the endless plains stretching out into the blue horizon. Gregor reined his horse in and glanced up into the relentless sun that beat down on them in the late autumnal heat, one last breath of summer before the winter storms began to ravage across the landscape. This far north, Gregor had learned, the winters were bitter cold and without mountains to strain the clouds of their water the land would be covered in a thick blanket of white. If they did not find somewhere to weather the deadly season within the next month then there would follow more casualties from blizzards and fatal temperatures than all of the battles they had fought up to this point combined, and their numbers were already dwindling.

          After the undead had fallen and the siege was lifted Gesreau had been insistent that Gregor and his troops leave immediately. Gregor had agreed without question after having seen the death and carnage visited on the people of the outpost, he knew that he could not ask for any more, and indeed he felt a great amount of guilt at the blood that now lay thick upon his hands. His mind drifted back to the defensive cellars where the refugees had been lead during the demonic attacks, one of three such defensive points. The demons had battered down the door and massacred everyone inside. Man, woman, or child, it made no difference in that butchery. Gregor had wandered through the blood-stained stones that made up that cellar many times in his recovery and those memories would haunt him until the end of his days. That was alright, he had become accustomed to ghosts and hellfire as his constant companions.

          “Gregor!” A voice cut through his thoughts and jerked him back into the present. Lynne was running up to him, breathless as she caught up to his horse. Gregor turned to face her but did not dismount. He waited while the elf caught her breath.

          “It’s Daggon, he’s awake.” She panted. “He is not doing well, and I think you should go and see him.” Gregor hesitated at this and shook his head.

          “I am in no position to help anyone. Besides, I am the reason that most of his soldiers are dead, why would he want to speak to me?”

          “You are not the reason that his troops were killed, and you are his friend, he needs to speak to someone and he will not speak with me.” Lynne’s bright eyes gazed up imploringly and Gregor was forced to turn away briefly.

          “Very well,” he sighed, “take me to him.” The pair weaved their way through the column until they arrived at the wagon which held the elven prince. Daggon sat staring out across the horizon as Gregor approached on his horse, drawing level with the cart he eased his steed into a gentle pace to match that of his friend.

          “It’s good to see you are recovering.” Gregor’s voice was halting and awkward as he tried to break through the difficult silence between them. Daggon didn’t respond, he simply continued to stare out into the distance. Gregor frowned.

          “I am sorry about your soldiers,” he tried again, “they fought bravely, though I’m sure that’s only a small consolation right now…” Gregor broke off as Daggon began to laugh. It was a cold, raspy rattle that pushed its way through a dry throat.

          “They died in vain, we did nothing to help raise the siege on the fort,” Daggon coughed, still not looking at Gregor. “All of my troops have died in vain, none of their deaths have meant anything! We couldn’t stop the end of our world, we couldn’t stop the dead waves that crashed against the Basilean forts, and we couldn’t even kill Aantar or stop his damnable blight upon the worlds that have been or will be.” Gregor’s blood ran cold.

          “What did you say?” He demanded, reaching out to grab Daggon’s shoulder. The Elf pushed his hand away.

          “Aantar is still alive Gregor. I don’t know how, but I think he was responsible for the siege.”

          “How do you know?”

          “My troops caught a scout troop of northerners some days back, while we were marching towards the elven border kingdom. I interrogated them and they told me their master’s name was Aantar.” Daggon spoke quietly, yet his words caused Gregor to shudder despite the afternoon light. Daggon shook his head as if flies were buzzing around his ears, absently waving his hands to ward them off.

          “But that could just be a coincidence. He was in the tower when Nicodemus destroyed the Blade. Nothing could have survived that! It took out half the city!” Gregor’s memories threatened to creep out from the tortured hole where he had thrust them. He remembered the swarming warriors from the north as they fell upon a city he’d sworn to defend but had been forced to abandon. He remembered the shuddering explosion as Gregor had carried out his fateful task of destroying the Blade, an ancient and very evil artefact. The resulting blast had swept the streets with fire that killed any unlucky enough to be caught in its path.

          “No.” Daggon’s voice stung like cold steel. “It’s him, the scout I interrogated made certain that I knew. He wants us to know that it’s him. He spoke of things that no one in this world should know about us. Aantar has followed us here, Gregor. I don’t know how, but he is here, and I think he means to do to this world what was done to our own.” Finally Daggon cast his eyes towards Gregor, he saw that they were rimmed in red. Gregor’s heart thudded within his chest, beating against his ribs as he tried to make sense of what he had just heard.

          “How?” He managed to whisper. Daggon shook his head in response.

          “I don’t know.” The elf replied. “But the scout spoke of his marching to a point where worlds meet and splitting it asunder to bring his chaos into this world. Though I have no idea where this would be.” A growing numbness spread out from Gregor’s stomach, his mind seemed blunted, as if it were perceiving things from the other side of a wall. Daggon’s words took several moments to penetrate this fog and Gregor sat and stared ahead for several more moments before responding.

          “I think I know who might know.” He spoke with a voice that seemed about to falter.”And I’ve been meaning to talk to him about some things that have been pressing on my mind since we first arrived.” Without waiting for his friend’s questions to be spoken aloud Gregor spurred his mount along and left Daggon with a confused look on his face.

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          • #65
            * * * * * * * * *

            Maurice stood on a hill overlooking the marching column below. Their numbers were so few, he considered the weight of the task that was laid before them and for a moment worry touched his mind. His faith shivered at the touch of this sudden doubt, yet he steeled his resolve reminding himself of times in the past when he had had doubts and how those had been resolved given sufficient time. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply as he sought to calm the rising anxiety in his stomach. When he opened his eyes he saw the form of Gregor on his horse galloping towards him, a worried look on his face.

            “We have a problem.” The young paladin spoke as he dismounted and walked closer to the hulking form of Maurice.

            “Indeed? Already?” Maurice forced his voice to remain calm.

            “Very much so. I have discovered the source of the siege we just escaped.” Gregor began speaking quickly, outlining all of the things which Daggon had told him. As he spoke Maurice’s countenance grew darker and darker, while a frown formed on his lips and only grew deeper at each word that Gregor spoke.

            “You knew this Aantar fellow well?” He questioned when Gregor had finished.

            “Moderately before he became the monster that he is. He used to be my old master’s friend. Then he sold his soul and became the warlord that that invaded my old homeland.”

            “He is dangerous, then.” It was not a question, though Gregor answered it anyway.

            “Very much so. Do you have any idea where worlds meet and the veil is thin in this world?” Maurice didn’t respond at first, he took several moments to gather his thoughts before opening his mouth.

            “Yes, I know exactly where he is going.” Gregor’s expression changed to one of shock.

            “You do!? Where!?”

            “Incidentally he is going to the same place that we are in order to free your friends.” Maurice spoke slowly, so that Gregor had time to recover from this revelation. “One of our gods, back during their war, cut a great swath of land in two and the chasm that formed from this heroic blow was dubbed the Abyss. Into this hole he thrust his evil half, binding him there for eternity. The power of such an act would warp the very fabric of reality, and the residual energy would make it a potent place for him to draw upon while conducting his ritual to split the world and bring his demonic allies here to this plane. It is because of this energy that we ourselves are making the journey to this dangerous place, it is the only place where I can draw enough energy to perform the necessary rites.” Gregor sat for a moment in silence, his face pensive.

            “We need to move faster, then.” He said at length, “Aantar already has several weeks advantage on us and we will be hard pressed to catch him at this point.”

            “No, he will have to gather tribes to his banner, first. He sent most of their undead servants to keep us busy while he marched to the barbarian hordes and replenished his ranks. He still has a significant amount of dead servants with him, I’m sure, but these will not be sufficient to get him to the Abyss intact. He will need to fight through demonic legions and other natives who call that hostile landscape their home. It is a very dangerous journey, and he knows this, he can sense it.”

            “Then why did he waste his troops on keeping us occupied?”

            “So as to give himself time to make the journey without worrying about us beating him there. Because ultimately we are the ones who can defeat him.”

            “Why is that?”

            “Because that is where the prophecy leads.”

            “Prophecy?! What prophecy?”

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            • #66
              “I am a being of another plane of existence than you mortals, and as such I have certain things that you cannot understand. The most concise analogy that I can give you is to imagine that if the flow of time were to be seen as a tower situated on the edge of a dense forest then I would be one of the men stationed at the top of the tower, able to see for miles and with the necessary eyesight to pierce the foliage of the forest and see what is coming. You mortals would be the soldiers guarding the base of the tower: your vision is limited and so therefore you are forced to either react to what comes out of the forest, or you can listen to the warnings of beings like myself and prepare yourself for what is coming, though you cannot see it.” Maurice shifted his gaze to look at Gregor’s face.

              “So it is here. Long ago I saw the events that are currently unfolding now. I did not recognize it at first when we met and was unsure until I began to study the skulls of your friends. That confirmed it for me, as I began to understand the necessary rites required to free them from their prisons. I saw that there would come a time when strangers would enter into our midst and change the course of how we did things as an entire world. You are some of the first, but I am sure that there are several others who are appearing all over our world. Kingdoms that pop into existence seemingly overnight, armies that march across the landscape that was otherwise a peaceful one until they appeared, hordes of creatures bent on destroying and conquering everything before them suddenly appearing where they have no right being. With the horrors will come men like yourself who are good and wish to help defend those in need. But there will be things of nightmares to come, too.” Maurice’s gaze didn’t waver, but Gregor didn’t speak to interrupt him, so the angelic being continued.

              “I saw that one group of strangers in particular would appear from somewhere beyond any borders we know in this world, and that he would be a divisive force that would throw the delicate balance of this world into chaos. I saw that this was necessary, as without him there would be no way to stop the darkness from destroying our world, there would be no damn against the coming tide. This stranger would unknowingly bring the darkness with him, therefore he would be the only one who could bring an end to it. I also knew that he would bring terrible suffering with him for everyone involved, not of his own choosing, but simply because of the weight that he would bear. I knew that this would include sacrificing my own people if I were to help him, and I made that choice willingly knowing that he couldn’t be successful without my aid.”

              “That’s why you have been so stalwart in helping us to accomplish our goals, isn’t it?” Gregor’s voice was strained and so low that it was difficult to hear.

              “Precisely why, I knew that without our help the demons would have eventually found you and killed you, thus bringing about the end of this world.” Maurice’s gaze softened as he watched Gregor lower his head in shame. “This is nothing to feel ashamed for, Gregor, there is purpose behind the deaths and sacrifices that have gone into ensuring that you have a chance of defeating Aantar. These things were necessary, though I do not relish them. In my prophecy I saw that you would be the spear that would pierce the heart of darkness looming over this world, if you choose to do so.” At this last part Gregor raised his eyes to look into Maurice’s face, his eyebrows raised in shock.

              “I thought you said this was a prophecy? What does choice have to do with anything? Is not our fate sealed according to what you say?”

              “Prophecy is a fickle thing, it is not set in stone. Go back to the analogy of the tower and the forest. I could call out that a herd of deer is charging towards you on the ground, but as soon as I call out to warn you of the danger there springs up a pack of wolves that I did not see and they divert the deer away before you ever see them, or maybe you start making a lot of big noises, slamming swords against shields and hollering and such, and this frightens the stampede into changing course before you even see them? In either case I saw the truth of the matter, but that doesn’t change the fact that what I see is inalterable or subject to outside influences. Choice is one big factor in all of this. Choice has always been a big part of destiny you see. Most mortals don’t ever understand that which is why when a prophecy is uttered it oftentimes comes to pass exactly how it is stated because you don’t like the idea that your choices can be held responsible for the changing of so many lives. Instead you prefer to have something to blame for your actions and so when something is told will come to pass you will automatically fall in line with that and labor to see it through to fruition, no matter how terrible that outcome may be. This has given rise to the idea that a prophecy is immutable, that choice has no place in the destiny of men, and that all is locked in place from before this world existed.” Maurice swept his hand across the horizon.

              “If there is one thing that I have seen in my existence that I would call real power it is when a mortal takes responsibility for their own destiny. All other trappings of what others would call power is an illusion. The ability to crush nations, or channel the magical energies in the air about us, or even the ability to grant life, all of these things are nothing if you are a slave to the crushing wheels of an imagined fate.”

              “Then how do you know that I will be the one to stop Aantar?” Gregor asked.

              “I don’t. I just know that you are the only one who can.” Maurice responded turning back to face him. “There are some things that are unavoidable, confrontations that cannot be turned away, wars that must be fought, and death comes to every mortal no matter how hard they try to escape it. Think of these being forces of nature, a forest fire that is burning towards you at the base of my allegorical tower. No matter how much warning I give you, that fire will not stop as it moves towards you.”

              “But what about choice?”

              “There are always things that you can choose to do to minimize or change the outcome. In a forest fire you might build up an earthen bank to ward off the flames. You could start a controlled fire to create a break in the fire’s fuel supply before it reaches you and hope that it is enough. You could flee and thus escape the fire. There are always choices, but the control that you do have is always going to be curtailed by the choices of others. Sometimes you can curtail or influence that, but that is not always guaranteed. However, there is no such thing as a definitive fate to shackle oneself to, there is always a choice to be made.”

              “And what is my choice? What must I choose in order to defeat Aantar?”

              “Oh, there are several. A destiny is not forged by one singular decision. There are many difficult choices ahead of you, Gregor. I cannot tell you what they are exactly, because the decision must be yours as to how and why you will fight. I can only say this, you have a great deal of suffering and sorrow coming your way. Some of it may be avoided if you watch for it, but much of it will happen regardless of what you do. Just like a stone rolling down a hill, sometimes your only choice is to stand your ground and be ground to a pulp, or move out of the way.”

              “Are all of your kind this cryptic?” Gregor’s voice was bitter.

              “Only the ones with the sight far enough ahead to see the wisdom in it.” Maurice smiled a sad smile as he looked down the hill at the column of his angels again. “You will have several choices to make, and many of them will be hard, and the most difficult of them all will be the choice to forgive.” Maurice turned to walk away.

              “Forgive who? Is someone going to betray me?” Gregor called after him. “Or are you referring to my enemies? That is not a difficult choice at all, Aantar doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, he deserves complete and utter obliteration and the stuff of his being should be scattered amongst the pits of that hell we had to fight our way through to find ourselves here. He will die by my hand, if that is my choice.” Maurice stopped but did not turn around.

              “His life may very well rest in your hands at some point in the future, and that may be a difficult choice for you to make, but no, that is not of whom I speak.” Maurice half turned so that he could look into Gregor’s eyes. “The most difficult person to forgive in the coming trials will be yourself. In comparison it will be easy to decide Aantar’s fate.” With that he turned and took several swift strides before launching into the air, his great wings spreading out behind him and carried him up into the sky, leaving Gregor behind to stare at his rapidly diminishing form as it sped away.
              ​​​​​​​

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              • #67



                14

                A Lapse in Judgement

                The dark clouds overhead obscured the noon day sun and cast the landscape into a perpetual, gloomy twilight. Even with the cloud cover, however, Lisbeth still twisted uncomfortably as she walked along the ground, the scattering of the sun’s rays still not sufficient to completely dispel its effects on her skin and parts of her exposed flesh had turned a dull red in response to the irritation. The discomfort had made her temper even more susceptible to flare ups and she had struck down one of the lesser vampire thralls under her when he had delivered the message about the fall of the Liche some three days ago. Even though it was all part of Aantar’s plan, she had chafed under the seemingly pointless loss of such a powerful minion.

                The armored skeletal form of Aantar rode atop a giant brute of a horse several yards forward at the head of a massive column of tribal warriors. Their progress had been painfully slow as they had advanced towards the Abyss to the east as they had been forced to recruit or conquer any tribal force they could as they travelled. Aantar had fought several chieftain and united several of the vagrant clans in the area. Once he had established his dominance over the new tribal members he would work the same magics he always did on them to transform a select group of each tribe into hulking brutes bent solely on violence, the rest of the clan he would butcher in order to feed Lisbeth’s swelling ranks of the dead. By now their numbers had grown into several thousand warriors following his banner and you could see their lines stretching back for miles. Combine that with the considerable force of undead marching beside them and you had an almost infinite horde of death wandering through the northern grasslands of Mantica headed towards some unknown fate at the chasm of the Abyss.

                Lisbeth shook her head in wonderment. In the various centuries she had lived through in her undeath she had never seen the like of such an unholy army as this. With this army they could wreak havoc on the kingdoms of men which lay directly to their south. They could lay siege to Basilea! The very interlopers that had declared a holy war on her and her kind! It seemed a waste to spend their strength marching on the demons of the broken plains of the Abyss, creatures just as equally bent on the destruction of the living as her own twisted agenda, so what purpose did their current course serve?

                The more she thought on it, the hotter the fire in her veins burned and unconsciously this heat spread outwards causing her undead puppets to shamble quietly away from her, giving her a wide berth. The more sentient of her servants were already aware of her foul mood and had wisely disappeared into the ranks of the dead, safely out of arm’s reach of their mistress. Aantar seemed to sense this disturbance and turned his steed back towards the vampiress as she stalked along the ground. He pulled up gently beside her and nimbly disembarked from atop his large horse to land beside her. She very pointedly stared straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge him.

                “You seem upset, my love,” the voice boomed from beneath the armor binding his skeletal frame together. “What troubles you?” Lisbeth did not respond, instead choosing to walk on in sullen silence as Aantar stepped in time with her foul mood. After several moments of silence interrupted only by the subdued shambling of the animated corpses shuffling around them Lisbeth turned and glared at Aantar.

                “I am upset because we are wasting time! Why are we marching to the realm of the Abyssals? What purpose does that serve?” Lisbeth’s voice was cool as a northern wind, the kind that kills the unprepared traveller lost in the wilderness. “We could be marching on the southern kingdoms! Those pitiful creatures could not hope to withstand us as we stand now! Think of how much blood would flow! We could set those lands on fire and make our enemies burn! We are strong enough as we are, what possible boon could we achieve by attacking the demonic legions to the east?”

                “I have told you what we may gain, my dear, I will become more powerful than you can imagine when I shirk this frail form which I now occupy.” Aantar’s voice maintained its plain, calm tone which stoked the fire boiling in Lisbeth’s veins.

                “You are powerful enough as it is! You can cleave a man in two with a half-hearted stroke, I have witnessed this! You have a legion to command, and each warrior in that legion is worth five in any other army thanks to your enchantments! Why do you need more power than this?” Lisbeth sneered as she spoke and Aantar stopped walking to turn towards her. For the barest wisp of a moment a curtain seemed to fall away from his vision and he thought he saw… something standing before him. It was not his beloved Kalia that stood before him but some raven-haired impostor. Just as quickly as the moment came, however, it passed and once again he saw the fierce face and blonde hair that he knew standing before him. But something seemed wrong, her response to his statement not least among things that was off with that situation.

                “Who are you?” He whispered, and the world suddenly grew still. Lisbeth’s eyes widened and her mouth grew dry. In her mind she willed the dry husks surrounding her to close in around them in case she needed their aid.

                “What do you mean, my love?” The anger from her voice was gone, a tightness had replaced it which caused her hands to tighten into fists.

                “The woman I married would never feel that she had gained ‘enough’ power. For her there was never any such thing as ‘enough’ yet here you stand telling me not to pursue the power that is sitting just beyond a long march and a few battles. You spoke to me of filling this world with blood and horror once again, yet you would be satisfied with the burning of a few minor kingdoms of men? Kingdoms so small that no one will remember them in a century anyways? What kind of victory is that?!” Aantar stepped closer to her and she involuntarily shrank back from his advance. Once again the flicker passed over his vision and he saw pale skin and feral eyes that did not belong on Kalia’s face. He shook his head to clear his sight and once again things were normal, but it gave him pause. Lisbeth’s senses were racing, her mind was catapulting through different ideas and measuring her recourses. She was losing control.

                “Aantar! I only meant that we should utilize what resources we have! We are so powerful now that we can take what we want. Let us pluck from that civilization that has scorned us the best fruits, and let us enjoy them, that is all! We can pursue this power that you seek to the east once we have purged the human taint from these northern realms. Let us not waste the power that we have, that is all I am saying.” Lisbeth forced herself to step closer to the armored figure before her.

                “And now you justify your actions like a snivelling underling? Kalia and I were equals! I would never see her cower in this way! Who are you!” Aantar bellowed his challenge and stepped forward to raise his axe. In one swift motion Lisbeth stepped forward and pressed her hand to his chest as blasphemous syllables fell from her lips. Once again she worked through the incantation that she had recited so long ago on the broken field where she had first enslaved her captive lover. Aantar froze with his axe above his head as he felt the familiar sensation of falling. His vision flickered before him as smoke seemed to fill his view. Then darkness passed over him and when it passed he found himself kneeling once more before his wife. The balefire in his eyes flickered as he struggled to remember what had just happened. He remembered being angry but he could not place the reason for his anger. He looked up into the face of his beloved.

                “Rise, Aantar, we still have some ways to go before you may be allowed to rest.” Her voice purred out through her lips. Although her eyes seemed strained, as if something were pressing down on her.

                “Does something trouble you, my dear?” Aantar’s voice was hollow, but he reached out a skeletal hand towards her. She swatted it away from her.

                “Do not touch me!” She hissed, her eyes bore holes through his skull. “I will not have such a weakling who would give up power for comfort come near me!” Aantar was taken aback.

                “What do you mean?” Aantar’s head swam with fog that made it difficult for him to grasp what was happening.

                “You spoke of leaving off this quest to the Abyss to invade the human kingdoms to the south, and when I refused you grew angry with me so I had to show you your place.” Lisbeth forced anger into her words, but the fear gnawed at her gut like carrion worms. Aantar paused in thought. He remembered something of the past few moments, he remembered an argument and being extremely angry, but what had caused it? Had he really been so weak as to suggest leaving off their quest? That didn’t seem like something he would do. And why was he kneeling? If he had suggested such foolishness it would explain Kalia’s wrath towards him, but why had he suggested it, though?

                “I am sorry, my love,” he rasped, “please forgive me.” He bowed his head. Lisbeth allowed herself a deep breath and then sighed in relief, hoping it came across as an expression of disappointment.

                “Do not speak to me of quitting our trek again.” She spoke slowly and enunciated each syllable. Internally she winced as she realized that this now bound her to their current course even stronger than before. She also wondered at the failing enchantment. Aantar was fighting it and he was stronger than she had anticipated!

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                • #68

                  Her thoughts were interrupted as one of Aantar’s armored warriors fought his way through her hordes of walking dead and burst into their private circle.

                  “My lord Aantar! There is an army approaching from the east! An army of men!” The soldier was breathing heavily, but otherwise showed no physical signs of his hurry to bring his message. Aantar rose to his feet and stared at the man. An army from the east meant that it could not be Gregor or his men, as they were behind him to the west. He had spent far too long gathering his army and Gregor had broken through the undead siege far too quickly for his liking. Their lead was tenuous at best and he knew that he needed to beat them to the chasm if he was to complete the necessary rituals in order to reclaim his proper form and its inherent powers that accompanied such a transformation.

                  “How many are they?” His voice grated across his bony jowls.

                  “Our count placed them close to a thousand strong,” the warrior responded, “they are heavily armed, most of their force is comprised of mounted knights, either on horses or other creatures. They are well disciplined and they bear several banners, it is difficult to discern what kingdom they hail from.” Lisbeth frowned at this information, they were still weeks away from the Abyss, but this army sounded familiar to her.

                  “It’s the Brotherhood,” She spoke calmly, but her innards twisted in anticipation. Destroying fledgling kingdoms was one thing, but the Brotherhood had existed for some time now, and had already established itself as a competent force to be reckoned with. “They are a type of monastic order that has pledged themselves to defending against corruption in all its forms, they have strongholds throughout the land. They will be well trained and disciplined, plus this is only a token percentage of their number, where are they now?”

                  “They looked to be heading for the mountain pass of Rhaz’un up ahead.”

                  “That makes sense, they have a significant advantage there as we can’t press our weight of numbers on them. Plus, if we try to go around it could add several more weeks to our journey as we try to go through the mountains instead of using the pass, and if we ignore them they’ll know soon enough and be nipping at our heels while we try to make that perilous march.” Lisbeth turned to Aantar. “What do you want to do?”

                  “At our present speed we will make it to the pass by tomorrow evening.” Aantar rasped, he paused in thought. “We do not have time to give this army its glorious death that it wishes to have. A battle in that pass would stall us for several days and take a considerable toll on our numbers where they have the better ground to hold and they have to do nothing more than sit and wait for us. In the meantime they may have reinforcements coming and this is something that we cannot allow to happen.We must choose our battles wisely, and this is one that we could win, but the cost might be too high.” Aantar glanced behind him at the long column stretching out toward the eastern horizon. He grew absolutely still while the shuffling bodies continued their march to the west around him and the other two figures standing beside him.

                  “Kalia, my pet, give me one of your necromancers and command of your most expendable corpses to take against these would-be heroes. I require a significant portion of your army as it must seem to these men as though we are the army that they are striving to stop. I will lead this force, and I promise you that we will replenish your army in the battles that are to come. Unfortunately we must endure the delay of moving through the mountains, but I think we will be able to recoup our lost time in the infernal stretches of abyssal plains afterwards. Press my men hard and get them through the mountains and I will catch up to you when I can.” Without waiting for a response Aantar turned and strode over to his massive destrier and threw himself up and into the saddle. Without care for the zombies shuffling around him he galloped through the bodies, leaving a gory trail in his wake, and rode off towards the head of the column.

                  Lisbeth watched him go, something inside her thrilling at the sight of his armored figure atop his steed, something stirred within her yet again that cried out in echoes of her long dead past. She took a deep breath and reached out with her mind to cry out to one of her lesser necromancers still alive after the culling. She would give him command of a large number of zombies and dusty skeletons in order to plug up the hole in the pass with dead and rotting carcasses. Aantar would have his army of bodies in order to lead his distraction. But some part of her sincerely hoped for his well being, apart from the fact that his would significantly weaken her position at the head of his army. His men would not respect a vampire, and a woman at that, giving them orders. It was only the threat of his return that kept them in line and would push them to obey her orders. Lisbeth recognized that she needed him to maintain control, and that it was through him that she was able to do so. But there was something more to it than that. Some feeling so foreign to her that she could not place a name with it, and it stirred within her something hot that pained her frozen heart with its warmth. She shook herself and moved off to make preparations, but part of her mind remained fixated on the numbing warmth still building within her chest.

                  * * * * * * * * * * * * *

                  Lynne sat in the back of the trembling wagon as it stuttered down the worn trail forged by the members of their ragtag army struggling through the wilderness, pursuing an ancient threat that by all rights should have been destroyed long ago. Lynne’s mind was not at ease and she struggled to put her restless thoughts at peace with one another.

                  Not least among her concerns was Gregor’s behavior towards her recently. He had been avoiding her, that much was plain, and there were a multitude of reasons why he might do so. Was he worried too much about the events of the past few days? Was it something that she had done? Or worse, was it the baby that scared him? Lynne’s swollen belly protruded out from her waist like a great melon had been stitched to her midriff. That was another of her concerns. Lynne had only been pregnant to her knowledge for a little over two months now, yet this baby looked as though it could come at any day now. She had tried to hide it at first, but these past few days had forced her to acknowledge the weakened state of her body as it strove to provide for both herself and the needs of the growing life within her when she had collapsed while walking beside Daggon’s cart. There were several theories that she had regarding this disturbing development, each one more terrifying than the last. Perhaps it was the nature of her body had changed in the transition from their old world to this new one that had brought on the rapid progression of her pregnancy, or maybe it was the demonic energies that had assailed the keep when they had striven to free one of the souls from the skull. Or maybe…

                  The third thought that had come to her about her pregnancy terrified her to her core. What if she had misjudged the moment of her conception? Her mind raced back to the night before her vagabond camp of refugees had entered that bloody realm of a sanguine deity.

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                  • #69

                    The tent flap slid to the side and Gregor entered, his eyes rimmed in red from countless sleepless nights that had led to this point. His armor had begun to show signs of extreme wear and his body moved with a slight limping gait due to an unknown amounts of cuts and bruises that lay beneath the dented metal covering his body. He was desperate to close his eyes, but as part of the effects of this place, he and all their party had been cursed with terrible visions whenever they closed their eyes, visions of pain, of blood, and loss. His cracked and bleeding hands scrubbed at his face as tried to push back the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm him at any moment and when he removed them from his face he gave a start as he suddenly realized that Lynne was sitting at his desk watching him.

                    Despite the wear of the past few weeks she somehow managed to still appear regal, even if cracks were beginning to show in her crystal demeanor. She bore herself with an imperious presence that demanded attention once noticed. Her eyes could not conceal the weariness that was contained within her slight frame, however, no matter how straight she managed to keep her back or how regally she inclined her neck. She was just as tired as Gregor.

                    “I came to see how you were feeling.” She spoke, and her voice held the loose gravel of all the endless nights she had endured in this tortured wasteland.

                    “We stand on the brink of hell and prepare to march over the edge tomorrow. My men are exhausted, and several have literally gone insane over the past few days and have wandered out into the desert with blank stares on their faces. We all hear the whispers promising us our own demise, and usually with graphically painful imagery with it.” Gregor sighed and moved over to sit on his cot beside her. “So, considering all of that, I’m feeling pretty good, actually. I think my body is starting to shut down, so I can’t feel most of what I know is wrong with it anymore.” He forced a smile, which caused Lynne’s lips to quirk into a melancholy grimace. She laid her hand on Gregor’s, which were rubbing themselves together as if it somehow might wash away the visions that even now danced behind their eyelids, just waiting for them to close their eyes to show them the horrors planned for the other side of tomorrow.

                    “You know that’s not what I speak of,” she whispered. Gregor sighed and nodded slowly without looking at her.

                    “I’m terrified. My men are terrified. We’re all terrified, and those that aren’t are wandering out in the wastes somewhere because they’ve gone mad. Daggon is holding on by a thread, but so am I. We are questioning ourselves and whether this is truly worth it. We’ve already lost so many people, how can we justify that loss just to save a few of our friends? Isn’t that the very definition of selfishness?” Gregor took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes before grimacing and snapping them back open. A wild look in his eyes that settled as he again realized where he stood.

                    “We stand at the brink and look down, not knowing how far down the pit goes.” Lynne sighed, stroking her fingers across the back of his palm. “Do not take from your warriors the value of their own choices. They are all here of their own volition. You did not force them to come here, and they have not deserted you, even knowing full well what you expect of them.” Lynne raised her hand and took Gregor’s face with it, placing her other shortened wrist under his chin.

                    “Gregor, you are surrounded by friends and allies. You know without a doubt that they will march into the abyss with you without question. They are strong, capable, and willing to do this. They love you for how you have led them. Nicodemus would be proud of the leader that you have become. He chose his successor well.” Lynne smiled as she spoke. “You have spent the whole night wandering amongst them, ensuring that their resolve is steeled against the horrors of what tomorrow will bring. The awful midnight sun shines out through the night, and you have walked this road a thousand times before now. Each night you spend with your men, you make them laugh, you take away their pain if only in some small measure, and for those brief shining moments they are home again. You are that home. You are that leader. You are the promise that someday all of this will pass, that one day we will shut up the demons of the abyss and cast them back behind their terrible darkness where they will remain forever. You are that hope of happiness in the future and a reminder of what we are fighting for. Do not allow yourself to lose faith now. Do not give in to despairing thoughts of selfishness, or misplaced bravery. Your men are with you, and so am I.”

                    As Lynne spoke she leaned closer and closer towards Gregor. Now their faces were mere inches apart. She could smell his hot breath on her face. His eyes filled her vision and they flickered back and forth between her own, focusing on one for a second before jumping to the other. Lynne felt her pulse quicken but did not pull away.

                    “But why? Why am I those things? What have I done to deserve that kind of status?” Gregor’s voice was small and broken in that moment, like a child waking from a nightmare. In response Lynne closed the distance between the two of them and pressed her lips against his and as one, they closed their eyes. A golden blossom of light seemed to erupt between them and for the first time in so many days they closed their eyes and were not visited by the images of terror that the vile winds of chaos had cursed them with, but rather there was a warm light that pulsated behind their eyelids. At first Gregor was stiff but the release of that kiss spread out through his limbs like the beckoning light of a fire on a cold night and he brought his arms up to wrap them around Lynne’s waist, pulling her closer. She folded against him willingly and they tumbled back onto his cot as the warmth grew between them.

                    Outside the tent the terrible winds still blew, but now there was no one who would listen to their impotente howling.



                    She had been with Gregor once before entering the chaotic wasteland of the Blood God. What if she had carried her baby through that hellish nightmare realm? What kind of abomination would be stirring in her womb if that were the case? Time had no meaning in that lawless realm of chaos, and so it would make sense that her body would be striving to make up whatever lost time had been spent in that place once they had made it back to a world where laws made sense and order was the dominant power. That would easily explain the rapid growth of the baby. But what other effects had that hell had on her child? Lynne shuddered at the thought, and then doubled over as a sharp pain tore through her lower back, causing her to gasp in pain.

                    A contraction? It couldn’t be! Even at this rapid progression of her pregnancy, she should be weeks away from that stage! The pain gradually subsided and she sat upright and slowly began to count away the minutes, willing the contractions away in her mind. After about an hour the pain had not returned and she began to breath a little more calmly, but the question now remained what she was to do? She opened her eyes and gave a little start as she spied Maurice walking easily beside the trundling cart.

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                    • #70
                      “It seems you have a difficult choice ahead of you, my child.” The angel spoke calmly and without accusation. “You are drawing close to the birth of your child, and it is coming with a speed that is most unnatural. What will you do?” Lynne could not bring herself to speak for some time. A welling panic had built up inside of her and threatened to boil over and out through her words if she spoke. Finally, when the pressure seemed so great that she could not hold it any longer, she opened her mouth and uttered the words she was terrified to say.

                      “I don’t know.”

                      Maurice nodded. “A child such as this is difficult to make that judgement, and your response tells me that you are wise enough to recognize that.” His words were soft, his tone gentle. He turned towards her and smiled. “That child of yours is in for a difficult existence if allowed to have one. He will be judged and rejected by many, including those that should be close enough to him and should love him. However, he will accomplish great things and will alter the world if he is allowed to live. Whether for good or for ill, well, that is a decision that he will have to make. As for you, you have a difficult choice of your own to make.” Maurice watched as Lynne ran her hand across her swollen belly.

                      “You called him a ‘he.’ I will have a son?” Lynne’s eyes glittered with unshed tears and her eyes were wide as she spoke, her voice barely above a whisper. Maurice smiled gently and placed a hand on her shoulder.

                      “Even without the gift of prophecy I could have sensed as much from such a strong spirit. He wants to live so badly, and he is impatient for his time in this world to begin.”

                      “My little boy,” She breathed. Maurice’s smile took on a melancholy pride at that moment.

                      “Now you must listen, and you must prepare yourself.” Maurice’s smile cracked a little at this. “This baby’s life is in your hands. You will decide whether he lives or dies. But the cost will be great. His life will come at the cost of yours, and you will be the one to decide. Your choice will have a great effect on this world, and it is not to be taken lightly, nor will logic be your best ally in this decision. You elves are capable of a great depth of emotion, and the king of all emotions is love. Do not seek to bury these emotions. Logic is not always the best choice for decisions such as these. Cold calculation cannot account for the subtle stirrings of a mother’s love, but neither can it refute the loss of a lover’s bereavement. You must weigh both and choose. In the end, I’m afraid it isn’t much of a choice. But at least it is one that you have, and the alternative is much, much worse.” Lynne stared at the dark-skinned angel as he spoke, the world falling away while she listened to his words. The silence of a muted world hung in the balance while those great and terrible words sank into her consciousness, and when she spoke it was a simple question she asked.

                      “How long do I have?” Her eyes never left his. Maurice smiled and nodded, patting her on the shoulder as he did so, his eyes never losing that sad sparkle.

                      “Not long.” He spoke with a forced cheerfulness. “You, and all mothers like you are forced to place your lives on the altar for your children, and many times that sacrifice is unneeded, yet there is always that possibility. Yet you all do it so willingly! We elohi are really nothing in comparison to such creatures as you, though many of us would deny it. But I’ve come to learn that immortality is not a promise of a worthwhile existence, that is entirely dictated by our choices. And there is something about the fleeting lives of mortals that requires them to act, to live their lives, to make those choices that are important. Sacrifice is the requirement for all things in this world. We sacrifice time, effort, resources, and even life in order to attain some higher good and when no sacrifice is given then the reward is cheapened by its absence. So, it is because of this that you mortals achieve so much with the little time you are given, I think. And you, dear Lynne, are no different in that regard.” Maurice lifted her chin with a massive finger and wiped several tears from her eyes.

                      “You are a creature worthy of emulation.” He smiled at her and leaned forward to plant a kiss on her forehead. “I am sorry to have to leave such a burden on your shoulders, but I waited as long as I could reasonably allow. I know that you will make the right choice when the time comes. Whatever that choice may be.” A strangled cry tore itself from her throat and she reached out towards Maurice.

                      “Will you stay with me?” She asked. Maurice shook his head sadly.

                      “I am not the one you should be asking. Though I wish I were.” He took a step back. “You are really such a wondrous creature, Lynne, and you deserve what happiness you can find in the hours that are ahead of you. Do not let that slip by you out of fear, I beg of you.” With that he spread his wings and leaped into the sky. Lynne stared blankly into her hand as the hole in her chest grew deeper and deeper, threatening to pull her down into its depths.
                      ​​​​​​​

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                      • #71
                        15

                        Brothers in Arms

                        Exemplar Jeoffroi Du Charn adjusted his cloak around his shoulders and shifted his weight in his saddle as he watched the unfolding carnage before him. The undead legions had crashed against the stolid shields of his men for the better part of the day and had yet to make a noticeable impact on the wall of steel and grit that stood before them. But something was troubling the commander. Things were going a little too well for his troops, almost as if the enemy were incompetent or didn’t think enough of him to send a real assault his way.

                        Reaching up he scrubbed a roughened hand through strands of quickly graying hair. The Exemplar was not as young as he would like to be, and the prime days of his fighting had long since passed him by, but he was a fit general and could guide his troops to victory by watching the tide of the battle and sending younger men to fight and die where their blood would be most valuably spent. Yet the wizened warrior despised this role. His hands could still hold a sword and he felt as though he were taking the coward’s route by sitting atop a hill far removed from the action and sending messages as to where the next regiment of soldiers should be dispatched. He was a descendant of the northmen tribes, his ancestors having migrated south with the advent of Winter’s glacial invasion, but still he felt the warrior traditions of his long dead forefathers singing in his veins and felt that it would be a weak death to die in one’s bed instead of on the battlefield with blood on his lips.

                        However, as it always did, his pragmatic side won out in this argument and he could not deny what his orders could do to sway a battle and in turn save more lives, thus ensuring more soldiers living to fight in the subsequent battles that would inevitably come, but that did not mean that he relished the idea of sitting far and away from the action wrapped in a cloak like an elderly parent too wasted in years to participate in the real fight.

                        He had joined the Brotherhood three decades ago as a young man in an effort to find his place in the world. He had hated the meditations and the hard study of ancient battles and boring history, but the chance to learn the art of the sword and feel the hot violence of a hard-fought victory in the field more than made up for the tedium of the Brotherhood’s consistent morality. As the years had worn down his temperament from a fierce youth to that of a more balanced adult he began to find value in the tedium. His studies took on a new meaning when he found that they could help him win battles, his meditations became more focused and precise in their direction. He became fixated on the monsters and beasts of those legendary battles which he studied and how they had become a devastating blow to the Brotherhood in ages gone past. It had been no surprise when he joined the Order of the Abyssal Hunt when his time came to make his vows and even now the heraldry of the Burning Sword that resided on his shield representing his chapter was a source of pride for him. He had fought in more battles than he could remember and his scarred body was evidence to that. He had fought until the other Exemplars had decided that his contributions were best suited to advising the battle rather than fighting in it and because of the oaths he had made to the Order, he had obeyed.

                        Now he sat on a hill overseeing the mountain pass that divided the east from the west of Mantica while hordes of undead abominations were trying to break through to continue their unholy pilgrimage towards who knew where. When his superiors had heard that an army of the dead and strange northmen had been seen headed towards the civilized lands in the east, they had not stopped to question why the army was moving they only knew that it had to be stopped. So they had sent him, Jeoffroi, the most decorated general at their disposal, to deal with the problem and sent him out with a rather small force to accomplish the task of holding the abominable host back until reinforcements could be sent. Part of Jeoffroi had despaired when the enemy had appeared as they had seen numberless, yet their superior position and his commands had saved the day and now the dead threw themselves upon the collected ranks of his villein spearmen. His knights and other cavalry sat behind the ranks of infantry, still fresh and itching for combat but there had been no need to use them. This lack of cohesion among the ranks of the enemy, this unfocused assault on his lines was more troubling to Jeoffroi than a dozen holes in his battle line. Something was wrong.

                        So far the majority of his casualties had come from carelessness and fatigue at the work before them. No one had died due to the machinations of the enemy battle line. Du Charn had set up a rotation for his soldiers so that they had a chance to rest when the fatigue threatened to overwhelm them. At this point it was simply a matter of keeping up this work and not allowing boredom or exhaustion to defeat them before the enemy ran out of corpses to throw at them. If only they could find the central necromancer, the anchor point for the infernal magics that animated the dead below, then this battle could be ended sooner and they could finish this before more senseless deaths were realized. This idea tugged at Jeoffroi’s mind. He was missing something, but what?

                        “When was the last time that our scouts reported in?” His voice was gruff and it caused his second to flinch at the sudden harsh noise.

                        “They are due any minute now, m’lord.” Pilar, his second in command responded.

                        “Really? I’d say they’re overdue.” Jeoffroi craned his neck backwards to look up into the sky. “Send a party to check on them. Do it quickly.” The pressure in the back of his mind grew stronger, was it something to do with the scouts? Or was he just being paranoid? He returned his view to the battle raging down below him. He was missing something, something vital, but he couldn’t see it, yet. He only hoped that it would become apparent with enough time to do something about it.



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                        • #72
                          ********

                          Aantar strode beside the necromancer who was frantically sending out waves of magical energy, trying rather unsuccessfully to control the shambling hordes around them. There were too many corpses to animate, the dark sorcerer was quickly becoming overwhelmed as he sent wave after wave of rotting zombies to be cut down on the swords of the Brotherhood soldiers standing at the head of the pass ahead of them. It was impressive that the necromancer had lasted as long as he had under the circumstances, and Aantar was somewhat impressed at his resolve, but even so he knew that it was futile. They were just a distraction in any case, their real army was already deeply entrenched within the mountains, slowly making their way through the treacherous paths that wound around the wind-swept peaks. This battle would have been too costly for them to waste the effort of trying to smash through it and this pathetic herd of barely held together bodies surging into the enemy before them would only suffice to distract the armies long enough to allow their own troops to pass undetected through the mountains and out onto the plains beyond that would lead them to the Abyssal Rift where Aantar might once again reclaim the power that was his beyond the veil of this world....

                          Glancing towards the enemy’s line, Aantar pushed his plans to the back of his mind and refocused on the task at hand. While their numbers were excessive for the task at hand, there was no finesse to this battle, no give and take, no dance. The press of dead bodies simply crashed against the Brotherhood shields like waves on a rock, causing minimal damage here and there but nothing that wouldn’t take ages to erode away, and unlike the ocean, these waves were not limitless. Eventually the necromancer would break under this strain of trying to control so great an army by himself, even now blood leaked from his nose and mouth from the effort of concentrating so hard. It didn’t matter, he was expendable, but the more time he could lend to keeping the Brotherhood busy the more likely it would be that Lisbeth could navigate the mountains undetected.

                          “Almost there,” the necromancer whispered so softly that Aantar second guessed himself as to whether or not he’d actually heard it.

                          “What?” His voice rumbled from out behind his cadaverous smile. The necromancer did not answer at first, but then he exhaled and fell to one knee, deflating as if he had just released some terrible weight and was gasping to regain his breath. Aantar again posed his question.

                          “What did you say?” The sorcerer looked up at the armored skeleton and grinned, his smile filled with macabre glee.

                          “I thought that a continuous press from the front would not be a very convincing strategy, and so when we first arrived I diverted several groups of skeletons to wander out wide of our position, to scout out possible alternative routes for attack. One group was successful in finding a possible route. It caused them to ford the white rapids of a nearby river, which took a considerable toll on their numbers, and they had to ambush a scouting party. But they have managed to find a route that allows them to flank the enemy, and they have left it wide open, perhaps assuming that their scouts will be returning to them shortly.”

                          Aantar tilted his head in surprise. He had misjudged this necromancer’s abilities! He had been able to maintain the frontal assault while guiding a secondary force over dangerous terrain and even through a small skirmish without losing the pressure of the main attack on their lines.

                          “You mean you have a force prepared to attack behind the shieldwall of the Brotherhood?” Aantar stepped closer to the dark mage, bringing his bleached skull to within an inch of the necromancer’s face.

                          “Yes, exactly.” The caster did not flinch away from the flickering balefires behind Aantar’s lidless eyes, instead he simply smiled and reached a hand up to scrub the blood away from under his nose and mouth. “And not just prepared, either, they are moving into position before they attack. If you look carefully right now you’ll be able to see their initial strike if you look to our right flank, just up there on that wooded hill right before the path branches away into the mountains.” The necromancer raised a hand to point at a small rise, heavily covered with evergreen pines.

                          “These humans are foolish to not have guarded their flanks.” Aantar spoke as he looked out over the field to the indicated hill. As he did so he noticed movement behind the enemy shieldwall. “It looks as though they suspect something, you’d best press your advantage quickly.” The necromancer nodded, closing his eyes yet again and Aantar felt the fel energies pouring off him like a dread mist that spread across the battlefield. Shouts of alarm raised up as the human knights that had been moving to investigate behind their protected shield wall saw the wall of rotting flesh and bleached bone pouring out from under the dense foliage.

                          Undead warriors crashed against the surprised knights and skeletal fingers tore many of the doomed knights from their saddles before they could even react. Denied the impetus of an initial charge the human warriors ripped their swords from their belts and began laying about them with their naked steel, but the enemy was far too numerous for them. The skeletons and zombies washed over the intrepid crusaders and in moments the group of mounted cavaliers had been torn to shreds beneath the press of undead warriors.

                          *********

                          Jeoffroi cursed as he watched several of his knights pulled from their mounts and ripped apart by skeletal figures dressed in rags. The Undead had somehow managed to find a way around their position and had already overwhelmed a significant portion of his reserves. Even now they began pouring down the hill to hit the formerly stalwart shield wall from behind and within moments the conscripted villeins who made up the bulk of his force began to crumble under the pressure from both sides.

                          The Exemplar turned his horse and began bellowing out orders. The shieldwall was already breached and beginning to buckle. Jeoffroi abandoned that half of the field, ordering his men to pull back and form a defensive wedge closer to the entrance of the mountain pass. His orders had been plain: to hold the pass until further help could come to finish the task of routing the undead masses. His life was forfeit in his vows, and he would pay whatever cost was necessary to follow through on his orders. He would deal with the nightmares and guilt after the battle was over, regardless of the outcome.

                          ***********

                          High above the battle, a lone figure glided on the updrafts, surveying the scene and taking stock. Zargazo’s keen eyes saw the shift in the fighting and how the Brotherhood even now were faltering under the fickle winds of fortune that had blown through their defenses. The dead now threatened to overwhelm them and it was only the commander’s quick reaction which had saved what men he could. Now their plight was desperate as they struggled to hold back the rolling tide of corpses that pressed all the more eagerly against the shields of what men were left to hold them. Nearly all the mounted knights had been wiped out in that initial surge behind their lines and those that remained were making their final preparations for what they must know would be coming. At this rate the Brotherhood forces would last a few hours before being devoured by the crushing mountain of bodies pressing against them.

                          Looking back over the horizon, Zargazo gauged the distance between this battle and the column of soldiers being lead by Gregor. If the Brotherhood could stand their ground long enough, and if someone were to inform Gregor’s party of the situation, they might be able to save some of these lonesome survivors as they struggled vainly to keep back the wave of zombies and skeletons clawing mindlessly at them.

                          A plan suddenly began to evolve within Zargazo’s mind. A wicked smile played across his lips. Banking sharply he tucked his wings close to his body in order to begin a plummet that exploded into a burst of speed. Zargazo began his retreat back to the Refugees’ camp in order to begin the stirrings of his infernal thought.


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                          • #73
                            ***********

                            Gregor heard Gesreau’s voice calling his name before the man appeared beside his horse, gasping for breath. Gregor reigned in his steed and waited for the elderly Paladin to catch his breath before speaking.

                            “Sir Gregor! You must make haste!” Gesreau panted. “Our quarry is but a few miles off, engaged with another army, fighting at the mouth of the mountain pass! They threaten even now to overwhelm the beleaguered defenders, if we hurry we may be able to aid them and catch your enemy before we need go any further!” There was a shudder of air as the hulking forms of both Maurice and his lieutenant Zargazo landed on either side of the still wheezing messenger.

                            “It’s true, I have seen it myself and flew back to inform you of it. Perhaps we can finish this foolish mission so that we may finally part ways and be done with our forced companionship.” Zargazo’s eyes seemed to shoot fire as he sneered at Gregor. The younger knight’s eyes narrowed, something turned within the pit of his stomach and left him with a queasy sensation that spread out through his limbs. The look on Maurice’s face fed the odd churning in his gut, his face was fallen, the corners of his eyes turned downwards and his mouth a tight line.

                            “Gregor!” Gesreau’s voice cut through the thoughts racing through his mind. “We must hurry! Who knows how long those defenders may hold out!? What is your decision? Do we ride?”

                            “How far off are they?” Gregor’s voice surprised him with its steadiness.

                            “About an hour’s march.” Came the reply.

                            Gregor glanced off in the direction which Zargazo’s giant hand pointed.

                            “Can they last that long?” He asked, his eyes staring into the distance.

                            “One can only hope.” Gregor didn’t respond for a long time, his stomach continued tying itself in knots and he closed his eyes to steady himself.

                            “Send the word down the line. Bring up every mounted soldier that can ride, leave the infantry here to guard the caravan. We will ride hard and hopefully mitigate the distance between us. I want Aantar taken alive if possible.” Gregor put spurs to his horse’s flank and bounded on towards the head of the column. “Sound the horns! We ride!”

                            Maurice flew into the sky, following after Gregor’s departure. Gesreau felt a heavy hand settle on his shoulder, he shuddered under its weight as its owner spoke.

                            “You know your part little soldier, go to it and see that it is done in the honor of the Shining Ones who command you.” Zargazo’s words seemed to darken the sky as Gesreau stared after his quarry, a sudden lump growing in his throat.

                            ************

                            Lynne wiped the corners of her mouth as she pushed herself up from the ground. The sick taste of bile still clinging to the back of her throat from the contents of her stomach emptying themselves on the ground before her. The child in her womb wrestled inside her protruding belly causing her stomach to roll and threaten to empty itself once more. Lynne placed a hand on her unborn child and this seemed to calm the constant motion.

                            Her back ached and her body screamed in protest with every step she took. Breathing was an uncomfortable task, and she longed for the release that the end of this pregnancy would bring, even though she dreaded what would become of her or her son when the time came. Her mind ventured out onto the words uttered to her by Maurice, the promises of what was to come and the terrible choice he claimed she would have to make. Her mind whirled in dreadful anticipation as she attempted to stagger back towards the convoy and her cart where she had been seeing to Daggon’s health when the urge to be sick had come upon her suddenly. By now they would have advanced a significant distance and she only hoped that they had left someone back to wait for her, otherwise she might be left behind.

                            Staggering, she collided into the trunk of another large tree and wearily sunk down to the ground. Her vision swam and her skin felt hot. Suddenly there was a series of painful bursts in her lower back and she felt a liquid spill out between her legs. Her eyes widened in panic even as they refused to focus. No! Not now! She thought as she felt her body continue to spasm from the waist down. Her pregnancy had been fast and furious, she had only known about it for the past few months, but now it seemed her time was upon her. The demonic magics that had cursed her body with this rapid growth had also greatly sapped her of her strength, beyond that of a normal child bearing. She looked down at her legs and was astonished to see big crimson stains of blood spreading out on the lower ends of her dress. This alarmed her as much as anything. Was her child in danger? She tried to stand but her legs refused to obey and all she managed was a few grunts and a half lift as she threw herself forward in an attempt to regain her feet. The effort caused her head to spin and she slumped back against the large tree against which she rested.

                            “Somebody! Please HELP!” She screamed at the top of her lungs, hoping beyond hope that someone could hear her, and that the convoy had not gotten so far ahead that someone might not hear her cries for help. She called out a few more times, each cry more desperate than the last one. Panic began to rise in her chest. Her breath came in staggering gasps as she fought down the urge to try and stand again. That would only cost her more of her energy and she felt that she would need that as the moment came to deliver her son, as Maurice had said it would be a boy. Forcing herself to slow her breathing, the elf cringed as another contraction tore through her body, causing her to cry out in pain.

                            A sudden rustling behind her caused her to turn as much as she was able to look towards the sound. A soldier wearing a dirty Basilean surcoat stepped forward wearing a helmet that covered his face, by his tabard he was at least a corporal. When the soldier saw Lynne’s prone form he scurried over to stand before her, surveying the scene.

                            “Oh thank you so much! I was worried that no one would find me!” Lynne’s voice cut off as she inhaled sharply as a spasm ripped up her back, bringing a groan to her lips. She swallowed and gasped as she looked up into her hopeful savior’s face. “Please! Go back to the convoy and bring them here! It’s urgent! There is still time before the baby is ready to come, I think. But please hurry!” The soldier tilted his head and began to make a clicking noise this his tongue that conveyed a sense of disapproval. Removing his helmet, the man stared down at her and shook his head.

                            “This won’t do, my lady,” Proste sighed, “You weren’t supposed to be bleeding this early in the process! No, no, no, this just won’t do at all. Well! Nothing for it, let’s just work with what we have.” His face split into a toothy grin as he slid a long, curved dagger from his sleeve and knelt down to look Lynne in the face. He leaned forward to whisper into her ear.

                            “You can begin screaming now, though, as we’re already ahead of schedule.”

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                            • #74
                              I didn't like Proste, now I realy hate him.
                              Again great story, plz keep it up.

                              Comment


                              • #75
                                Good, I'm glad. I wrote proste to be irredeemable and downright nasty, seems like that was successful, then.

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