Bardic - June 2023
A recounting of a Minotaur’s escape from Sterion - the day the Duirani breached the gates, by Nimiphi
It was late in the night, but an hour or two from dawn, when things stirred in his Sterion home.
Ever vigilant in their sacred duty of safeguarding the portal to Czjetija, the Minotaurs had been
holding on for weeks against the Duirani incursions to conquer the mountain village, and now,
after all this time, the conclusion of the war seemed imminent.
His mother shook him awake amidst the great rattle of a fight. The scream of battle, the clop of
hooves hastily taking to the streets, and the distant, enraged low of warriors all filled the humble
abode with a commotion they had never experienced before.
From the Shrine of Bells rose the peal of the bells - a desperate cacophony of striking metal if
there ever was one-, bringing the village to a brusque awakening, at least for those that still
managed to sleep through the many fraught nights of the recent weeks.
“You have to go!” Came his mother’s voice, filled with fear and urgency. “Take your sister!”
He rose in a frightful daze, his eyes blinking open to the sight of his lifelong home in disarray.
Brothers and sisters rushed this way and that, slaves scrambling to gather what little they might
in the poor light of a couple flickering candles. He wasn’t old enough for combat, though he’d
begun his training barely weeks before and, thus, he had been spared from reinforcing the
gates, unlike his older kin, surely to perish in the ongoing war with the forest savages.
“You MUST go!” His mother’s voice came again, this time accompanied by a physical handling -
hands upon his form to pull him up to his feet. What was happening was hard to understand; all
his life, the notion that he must fight and defend the rift to Czjetija had been drilled into his mind
and spirit: the sacred duty of the Minotaur of Sterion an inescapable fate for all of the village’s
young. If he survived such an endeavor, perhaps one day he might live the life of the shamans
or the elders, but if he didn’t, at least he might have lived with honor in fulfilling his divine-given
But now, his mother urged him to go. Was she sending him to the gates to help the others? Why
would he take his sister to such a deadly destination? If he must die in his inexperience, surely
he must do it alone.
No, what was happening could not be right. His littlest of sisters now held his large hand with
her rather small one, and his mother ushered him through the back door of the abode.
“I will not be a coward!” He resisted, and the noise of battle grew nearer and nearer as his
hooves scraped the wooden floors of the home, trying to arrest the forceful shove of not only his
mother, but of the slaves under the woman’s command, a small group forcing the pair out the
back door. Such an imposing figure, his mother, large and still a sight to behold - a mountain of
a woman by Human standards, and tall even for a Minotaur, with her sandy, battle-scarred fur
nicked in countless places.
“You will be alive!”
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
His mother was pleading with him. The rough, tough woman that had raised him and his many
siblings, and who had recently suffered the loss of many of them due to the Duirani assault, now
begged him to save himself, and his sister. Why him? Why them? Could it be that they were the
No reason was given, just more violent ushering out the back door.
The door slammed behind the pair after a final shove sent them crashing to the rough gravel of
the small yard. The noise of things being piled against the door, surely to prevent them from
coming back inside, created a chaotic symphony that somehow blended into the song of battle
that grew closer and closer; blurred in their passing, he could see everyone through the window
going this way and that, barricading not only the back door, but the entrance to the house too,
just a few meters across.
He hesitated; he could go now as his mother had told him, or try to fight his way back inside and
have the life of a Sterion warrior in this war, even if it should end that very night.
Less than a minute passed as these hurried thoughts crossed his mind, with his young sister
clinging to him, both huddled together against a chilly breeze, and, under the cover of darkness,
what he saw through that same window next shocked him.
The screech of not a creature, but rather that of hundreds of them filled his ears. A sound so
shrill that it caused him and his sister both to shrink and look about with confusion. A bright light
irrupted into the abode, as if the sun had suddenly risen within, and as he stared through the
glow, he could make out numerous alien beings. Something he had not seen before, something
not of this realm, he thought, small as a babe’s hand, and winged, and ravenous.
The battle had been lost, he realized, perhaps the war too. The foreigners from the forests had
invaded their home and now they would have to surrender. They had failed in their sacred duty,
and now they would have to live with the consequences of such defeat.
How wrong he was. He saw his family’s surrender; his mother and the slaves on their knees.
Surely it would be over, and he and his sister would come back inside and join in with the
others, resigned to a life surely of slavery themselves, or at least of shame and destitution.
But that opportunity never came. He never went back through the back door announcing his
defeat, nor he joined his mother - not ever again.
For before the second minute passed, that shrill, feral screech filled his ears again, and he
found himself instinctively clutching his little sister close, covering her eyes to the horror
transpiring within the abode.
For as he made to step toward the door, swarms of those fae creatures took to a vicious
assault, ravaging all within his home with claws, teeth and radiant light, tearing them apart to
their deaths in a ruthless attack that filled his mountain home and the village with despairing
cries of defeated victims. That radiant light coming from the creatures was momentarily tinted
crimson, as if a bloody sunset to announce the passing of not only his family, but of many others
so close just beyond that house he had called a home all his life.
By the third minute, he was running, practically sliding down a slope behind the house to flee
such cruel death, if not for himself, at least for his sister. He shushed her frightened cries hastily,
clutching her small hand tightly, and practically hauled her whole as he made the descent down
the mountain. No matter how high he must jump or fall, surely it might be a better destiny than
under the merciless assault of the hungry fae.
By minute four, he had stopped thinking. A Minotaur on an instinct to get away, to survive, away
from not only the mountains, but away from the forest - forever away from the cruel forest.
Title: A War in the Life as Strategos
Author: Wjoltyr Togwick
This work is, at least as far as the author is concerned, unlike any other in Sapience. It utilizes an interactive approach, one where the reader is not merely a passive observer but an active participant. At the bottom of each page you may be presented with options as to where to take your story. Your decisions will dictate its course. It would be ill advised to read this book by simply turning each page in sequential order like a normal book.
Turn to page 2 to start your first day as Strategos of Spinesreach.
You insert the brass key into the locking mechanism on the door and turn it. With militaristic precision you are rewarded with an audible *click* as the lock disengages and you enter the Office of the Strategos. A musty mahogany desk rests in one corner of the office while the majority of the room is dominated by a strategic map table of Sapience. A pile of volcanic ash to the south amidst some sand must represent the seat of the Empire: Bloodloch. A distasteful wrinkle of your nose is elicited while you note a few brown leaves in a haphazard pile near the eastern border of the continent. "A fitting marker for those heathens," you think to yourself before identifying a lone ivory rhinoceros horn as the marker for Enorian.
Raising your hand, you call in your Aide-de-Camp. A young Grecht scurries in and snaps to attention before delivering a crisp hand salute. "Yes, Strategos?" he shouts. Wincing at the excessive volume you try to remain focused and gesture to the map table. "Let's find something a little more professional to represent these regions of interest, yes?" The Grecht's eyes dart among the random objects, though they quickly return to a fixed point on the wall across the room before barking his response, "Of course, Strategos, right away!" His hand falls down to his side, followed by a sharp about face before departing your office.
'Well, at least it isn't dusty,' you muse before considering your next actions.
To perform a Pass in Review, turn to page 13.
To read the unopened envelopes on your desk, turn to page 43.
To perform an inspection of the Armory and Barracks, turn to page 21.
After the rout of the Oakenguard upon the Dry Plains, you divide your forces to conquer the territories of Duiran with haste. Divisions of troops protected by your militia force their way into the pathetic fortifications of the territories of Duiran. You order defensive aegises to be attuned to the expected points of conflict and prepare for the grueling campaign ahead. There will be no lull in the fighting, only death and destruction until one side emerges victorious.
With a makeshift table in your command tent set up with a map of the Ithmias you plan your attack. “General, I want you to lead your troops here, to cut off any attempts by the Oakenguard to attack our rear guard,” you indicate with your riding crop. The woman's head bobs up and down in an approving nod.
“And what about us, Strategos?” intones another General. “Yessss, what about the resssst of us?” inquires a second General. Decisions must be made.
To divide your forces and attack two territories simultaneously, turn to page 16.
To keep your forces unified and attack Duiran proper, turn to page 49.
“Sciomancers, take down the glyphs on these aegises! I don't feel like taking a nap in this nasty dirt when we return with troops to conquer the city!” Nodding with understanding, several of your fighters set to work. With strict discipline, your army stands their ground and does not engage in risky, wanton destruction despite the obvious desire to humiliate and demoralize the Duirani. Your Sciomancers make quick work of the glyphs, leaving the aegises intact. You're certain that the Oakenguard are too confident to look at their aegises with any regularity and recognize that there are no glyphs until it is far too late.
Not wanting to overstay your welcome, you order the departure of your fighters once the glyphs have been removed from the defensive aegises within the enemy city. Sonic portals are summoned and your raiding party is whisked to safety just as a division of durdalis emerge from the undergrowth of the Oaken Grove to trap the raiders within the city.
To mobilize all of your forces to lay siege to Duiran, turn to page 33.
To instead march on the territories of Duiran, turn to page 17.
Understanding that you're at a numerical disadvantage that is unlikely to prevail, you provision new recruits and order hasty training. The refugees from the Second War of the Night that remained within Spinesreach are sufficient enough to outfit two whole divisions. Unfortunately, time is not a resource that the Theocracy has to spare. While you are overseeing the training, the Oakenguard strike at the territories of Spinesreach and bring them under their control. In under a day, Duiran forces a surrender and your tenure as Strategos is at an end.
To bring your army back to full strength and try again, turn to page 2.
“Spireans, pair off. We're going to harass the enemy and attack their supply trains, demoralize their militia and gain incremental advantages while we plan our next move. Take whatever victories you can and don't give them a chance to rest. Make them pay for their treachery! Now move out!” one of your Northern Generals bark out to your soldiers. The command is met with grim nods of acknowledgment and pairs of Spireans darting off in different directions.
You motion to the Generals present to follow you to your office. The strategic map table has been updated to indicate the current reported locations of Duirani and Spirean troops alike. One division of hoplites sits just south of Rimewatch while a division of durdalis sits upon both Bravestarr Homestead and Stormcaller Crag. Narrowing your eyes, you call upon your Generals for their tactical assessments.
Clearing her throat, the General to your right speaks, “Strategos, our four divisions in reserve outnumber theirs. I propose a swift counterattack in two days' time. We will march hoplites to Vintal Glade and Abelaas while a division of dragoons breaks off to attack Cantor's Copse. We will then amass our fighters to intercept any troop movements they may try to make and end this war swiftly.”
“Ahem, Strategos, that won't work. Instead, I propose we move a division of dragoons to Nuunva and another division will divide and take Bihrkaen, Craneskull, and Salma Settlement. This will give us a long-term advantage, and we can grind their forces to dust and win by attrition.”
This elicits a laugh from your third General who scoffs at the idea, “Forget that. Run all four divisions in reserve into their city. Burn their precious city to the ground. We have a small troop advantage. The only way to achieve our ultimate goals is to capture Duiran proper.”
To march troops against the territories of Duiran, turn to page 10.
To capture neutral villages to attempt to gain a long term advantage, turn to page 50.
To march on Duiran proper, turn to page 30.
"General, take a Bard with you to try and harry their forces. Conjure an icewall and protect them while they try to bring death upon them with Oblivion. I will take the rest of our forces and move against the Duirani attacking Stormcaller Crag." Your General responds with a sibilant, "Yessss, Sssstrategos." They motion to one of the assembled fighters and move out swiftly.
You personally lead the second force against the Duirani incursion into the sovereign territories of the Theocracy and you have a plan. You set up your forces adjacent to the division of the Duradlis that are entrenching themselves for the siege. Using your Lycanthrope's ability to beckon unsuspecting soldiers with their howls, your forces even the odds as a few unsuspecting Oakenguard members stumble into the ensorcelled aegises set up by your Sciomancers. From there, the rest of your forces make quick work.
Amidst the fighting, your attunement to the Underking's realm allows you to sense a tremendous victory for Spinesreach in Stormcaller Crag as the plan to serenade the invaders with a Song of Oblivion worked to perfection. A full five fighters fall instantly. A slight smirk tugs at your lips as you savor the visualization of the carnage. Hapless Duirani claw at an icewall in a vain attempt to stop the final notes of the Bard's song from coming. You shake away the mental image to focus on the here and now.
To send troops to attack the vulnerable Stormcaller Crag position, turn to page 12.
To call in troops to aid in your retaking of Bravestarr Homestead, turn to page 20.
“We could secure Abelaas, but it would be much sweeter to capture Duiran proper. Onward, to Duiran!” you announce with a dramatic flourish of your longsword.
Your reserve troops march monotonously through the Ithmias towards the main gates of Duiran. There is a growing sense of impending ruin as you approach. Without warning, the holy orders of Dhar and Haern spring forth as the surrounding forest erupts in a worldfire. An inferno fueled by divine essence licks at your army and in under a minute you and your forces are reduced to ashes. Everything you have accomplished is purged from this world in a single moment.
To make sure you aren't overcooked on one side, turn to page 2.
“I wonder what the Dhasan of Science and Nature has whipped up for us. Surely they'll have something to help us with this impending attack,” you wonder aloud before setting out to meet with the Conclave leader.
You wander into a vast scientific complex with laboratories filled with alembics, burners, rows upon rows of flasks filled with untold ingredients and experimental results. Other rooms have highly controlled singularities and others still are covered in blight. Numerological markings cover the walls in other laboratories. After wandering through several hallways you finally find the lab coat wearing Dhasan.
“Dhasan, I was hoping you might have some sort of weapon we could employ against Duiran?” you ask hopefully.
Your question elicits a single sharp laugh. “HA!” the Dhasan lets out while their hands move to grab at their belly to mimic a stomach laugh. Seeing the look upon your face, they stop and reply in a quieter voice, “... oh wait, you're serious.” They clear their throat and continue, “Um, no. Anything we do have is too experimental and HIGHLY CLASSIFIED.” A sideways glance is cast upon you before they turn to return to the task at hand before they were so rudely and pointlessly interrupted.
Suddenly, reports begin to flood your mind from your field scouts. Duiran's troops are on the move. Two of your Northern Generals rush into the complex and render hand salutes and await your orders. Any advantage you may have gleaned has been squandered. Duian marches on Rimewatch and Bravestarr Homestead!
To mobilize your forces to protect Rimewatch, turn to page 44.
To mobilize your forces to protect Bravestarr Homestead, turn to page 22.
Confident in the small advantages you've gleaned from the unrelenting harassment of the Oakenguard and their war efforts, you direct your forces to move against the territories of the Heartwood. With your forces keeping the Oakenguard's attention elsewhere, the troop movements have gone undetected. A full three divisions of hoplites arrive uncontested into the Ithmias and await further orders.
“Strategos, scouts confirm a division of wolfine have entrenched themselves in Cantor's Copse. Abelaas and Vintal Glade are unprotected save a handful of villagers who might throw themselves at us in an effort to slow us down. No meaningful resistance would occur at either location. What are your orders?” reports one of your scouts.
To lead a division of hoplites into Cantor's Copse and destroy the wolfine defending there, turn to page 31.
To divide your forces and march on Abelaas and Vintal Glade simultaneously, turn to page 16.
“We won't win this war by turtling up! We must lay waste to the Ithmias!” you declare. Sensing your intent, the Generals at your command move to make preparations. The troops lost trying to regain your territories leave you outnumbered and you have little room for error. Still, a fighting chance is better than assuredly losing.
With a combined field army of less than 300 troops, you lead them into the Ithmias. While making camp for the night, a division of wolfine are marched out of Duiran and launch a lightning strike against your forces. The effect is devastating, the wolfine destroying nearly two of your troops for every one of theirs lost. The damage is swift and lasting. With no defensive positions left and no standing army, the Theocracy is doomed to fall at the hands of the Oakenguard.
To try again, turn to page 2.
Without losing focus on the fighting at hand, your mind reaches out to your Northern General in Stormcaller Crag and you issue the order: “March a division of Dragoons to Stormcaller Crag and eliminate the enemy entrenched there.” An affirmative response promptly follows and the plan is enacted. While your troops are marching to Stormcaller Crag, the Duirani that had been slain return from the Mirror and regroup, assaulting your vulnerable troops. The attack is repelled but the casualties have been inflicted.
The troops make it to Stormcaller Crag and are unable to break the defensive lines of the division of durdalis there. A stalemate will ensue as each side fights for supremacy, but the distance to Stormcaller Crag from Duiran will allow Spinesreach to wear Duiran down by attrition alone. Unfortunately, you lack the forces to launch both a counter-offensive and secure Bravestarr Homestead as a result.
To march to secure Bravestarr Homestead, turn to page 32.
To plan a counter-offensive instead, turn to page 26.
Frowning, you concentrate on sending your message across the city, "Militia, report to the Inner Gate at precisely one hour before dusk on the 14th of Lanosian. Those eligible to command a division, prepare your troops for a Pass in Review for the Regent and myself."
With a deft flick of your wrist, you brush a few bits of untidy lint from your crisp uniform and adjust the campaign medals upon your chest. A deep flexing of your shoulders draws a crack from your spine. Your back easily finds the fully upright position befitting an esteemed Northern General as yourself and you stride confidently out of your office. The door slams shut and locks behind you as the rhythmic striking of your heel against the cobblestone floor echoes down the empty hallway.
Your thoughts drift to the agreement made with Bloodloch. They will lift the surrender agreement any moment now, allowing Spinesreach to finally move her troops about Sapience as they see fit. In return, they asked for a pittance of information that is outdated and of no use. 'The Regent's cunning will be on display for all to see,' you think with a smirk.
As you arrive at the Inner Gate of Spinesreach, the deep tones of the Oakenguard warhorns reverberate across Sapience. The shouts of the Presiding Voice reach your ears, a harsh awakening to your new reality. "PREPARE TO TASTE DEFEAT AGAIN, SO-CALLED DRAGON OF THE NORTH! THE HUNT IS ON! LONG LIVE THE CYCLE!"
Several scouts rush along the roadway and frantically search the crowd, each in turn dashing up and offering a quick salute before reporting Duirani troops on the move. "A cluster of durdalis are marching upon Bravestarr, Strategos!" one scout gasps. "And on Stormcaller Crag!" the second scout adds. "... and a pack of wolfine move on Rimewatch!" a third concludes. A runner dashes along the road proclaiming the bad news, "The Duiran Council has declared war on the City of Spinesreach!"
"Pit!" you curse beneath your breath and consider your options.
To mobilize troops against the division moving against the southern territories, turn to page 22.
To mobilize troops against the division moving against Rimewatch, turn to page 44.
You order your soldiers to take cover in the foliage and have a Sciomancer lay down a mirage to mask your army's presence. Surely Duiran will come to liberate their precious Vintal Glade. For good measure, you order one of your Triarii to massacre the villagers. Their cries for help go unanswered, and only too late do you realize that Duiran has not taken the bait and instead used the opportunity to march their own troops to claim your territories. By committing all of your forces to a trap that failed means Spinesreach will be forced to surrender to Duiran.
To accept defeat and try again, turn to page 2.
Having established control of the battlefields, both divisions of dragoons and a division of hoplites march towards the Ithmias. Therein lies the targets – Abelaas, Cantor's Copse, and Vintal Glade. The Theocracy's Northern Generals are systematic in their advance, skillfully marching multiple divisions simultaneously while fending off desperate attempts to stop the all but inevitable surrender of Duiran.
A few hoplites are slain as the guerrilla tactics utilized offer the tiniest glimmer of hope for the Oakenguard. You will not be deterred by a few troops lost. You must act decisively to ensure victory! You carefully consider your options.
To lead forces personally into Cantor's Copse, turn to page 23.
To lead your forces in a split assault against Abelaas and Vintal Glade, turn to page 16.
“We need to end this war quickly, onward to Abelaas and Vintal Glade!” you order and your militia divides itself into pre-planned strike teams and your field commanders take over. You decide to swing up into the tree tops with a small contingent of reserve fighters in order to respond to wherever the enemy may decide to strike, if at all.
Your suspicion is confirmed as the sounds of battle can be heard off in the distance coming from Vintal Glade. Within moments, your response team is in motion. You leap and swing from the dense foliage and arrive at Vintal Glade in moments, flying the short distance across the Myesis River to descend upon the battle. Four of your fighters are engaged with the enemy and you make quick work of the hodge podge fighters. As you tend to the wounded, another contingent of Spirean militia arrives, drawing confused looks.
“Why aren't you in Abelaas?” you demand.
“We came rushing to help reinforce here!” comes the response.
You shake your head vigorously and order your reinforcements and response team to double time it back to Abelaas. The touch of the Underking allows you to sense the crescendo of the fight in Abelaas as what fighters were left are completely destroyed. The full division of hoplites are found brutally destroyed with bodies littering the ground. The savages have won this round.
To reinforce the importance of following orders and try again, turn to page 2.
Your armies close in on your current objective: Abelaas. You approach cautiously from the northeast and lay waste to a field where a handful of sprung rabbit traps are. Not wanting to waste the opportunity to remind the villagers of Abelaas of the misery that is about to ensue, you crush one of the crude contraptions under the massive paw of your polar bear mount.
Your hoplites arrive in the village center and begin lowering the flag of Duiran that flies over the area. The control you have established over the battlefield allows for small strike teams to intercept any scouting attempts made by the Oakenguard. Half a dozen corpses are brought to Abelaas as trophies by such strike teams. In just under a day, the territory is fully under your control. An emissary from Duiran reaches out to you and requests to negotiate terms of surrender.
To negotiate the terms of surrender with the emissary, turn to page 42.
To tell them where they can shove it, turn to page 35.
Having secured Rimewatch, you set your Sciomancers to work to make the Oakenguard's job of moving more troops into position to contest your final territory. Aegises are erected and glyphs are traced, and the lessons from fighting the War of Sterion will be learned once more by the Oakenguard. One careless Feylord's psyche is unlaced by the magical powers of the Theocracy's dreaded Sciomancers. Your fighters descend on the unsuspecting durdalis, who crumble like limestone under the acidic touch of your Alchemists and their blight.
The assassins of Spinesreach run amok, sowing chaos amongst the Oakenguard. A meeting of their War Council is interrupted by the final notes of a Song of Oblivion as the Feylords are committed back to the Cycle. Other members of Duiran's militia meet gruesome ends as they try to go about their day, choked to death with the line from their fishing poles while others succumb to a mining pick through their skull.
To begin marching troops into the Ithmia, turn to page 15.
To march troops directly to Duiran, turn to page 28.
"We move on Bravestarr, lets go!" you bellow with a furious rage, drawing your envenomed longswords with the intent to drive back the main Duirani force at their first primary target in Bravestarr.
Within minutes your group has moved into position in the Dry Plains outside of Bravestarr. Reaching out with your mind, you farsee one of the Oakenguard Feylords and sense nearly a dozen fighters protecting the division of durdalis fortifying their position at the center of Bravestarr Homestead. Without hesitation, you move forward with your combatants and trace the prism tattoo on your right arm.
In a matter of moments, your group is magically transported into the fray. As the surroundings come into focus, the last thing you remember seeing is a Duirani concentrating on ensorcelling a crystal aegis. Entering the proximity of the aegis causes the glyphs traced upon it to flare up, entangling your group and instantly setting you all to sleep.
Your counter attack was over before it even started as the Oakenguard militia completely and utterly destroyed your forces in the single most embarrassing military defeat of all time.
As your thoughts drift upon your return from the Mirror, the embarrassment of your failure is too great. You try and will yourself to remain dead but the cursed Cycle touted by the Duirani is a cruel mistress. Groggily you blink away the death's embrace and find yourself in front of the Ard-Dhasan Himself. His expression remains unreadable but the disdain in His voice is too great for all of the Artifice in Sapience to obfuscate: "You have failed Me, rellyw." You shrink in subservience as your Conclave memberships are stripped from you and two Ironmaw guards seize you by your arms to drag you from Severn's presence.
Your failure warrants returning to Page 2.
A runner slips your orders into his satchel and dashes off to the barracks. Orders relayed, a division of hoplites is moved into position to assist your soldiers in retaking Bravestarr Homestead. A thought occurs to you that the Oakenguard will be expecting a direct frontal assault, so you take the extra time to skirt the periphery of the territory and approach from the direction of Fengard Keep.
While sound in strategy, the maneuver is far too slow, taking nearly a full day longer. More than enough time for the Oakenguard to detect your movement and adjust their defenses. No doubt the extra time drags on the readiness of your troops, and they are unable to match the seemingly endless stamina of the Oakenguard. The Theocracy's forces fail miserably to retake Bravestarr and you leave the gate open to invite the savages to complete their conquest of Spirean territories.
To surrender in an attempt to save face and try again, turn to page 2.
You decide to make your way to the Armory and Barracks to inspect the armies of Spinesreach under your command. The walk is short and you arrive at the barracks in minutes. A pair of Northern Guards flanks the massive doors to the building. In unison, they render a hand salute, which you return promptly. Stepping inside you mentally note the three divisions of hoplites and two divisions of dragoons.
You reach out telepathically to contact the Cardinal and demand, "Cardinal, why are the Dragon's troops walking without any Divine blessing?"
Before you can finish your thought, you spy the long flowing robes of the Cardinal flit in the air currents disturbed by their passing. Raising their hand, they murmur a Draconic prayer and the five hundred troops are basked in the glowing blessing of Tanixalthas. "Is there anything else? Strategos?" the Cardinal asks.
Shaking your head you offer a curt dismissal. Out of habit your thumb and index finger find their way to your chin as you stroke your jawline in contemplation. The thoughts are interrupted by the air reverberating with the low droning of Duirani warhorns. Telepathic reports begin to flood your mind as your scouts report multiple divisions being mobilized against you. All three of your territories are being encroached upon: Bravestarr Homestead, Stormcaller Crag, and Rimewatch.
To order troops into defensive positions, turn to page 37.
To assemble your fighters without mobilizing any troops, turn to page 19.
You point at one of your Northern Generals and command, "Take a division of hoplites out the north gate to intercept the wolfine moving on Rimewatch. There is a natural choke point on the path to Rimewatch and it is much more easily defended than Stormcaller or Bravestarr. Once we've dispatched the wolfine, take a second fresh division to fortify the path to Rimewatch."
The Northern General renders a crisp hand salute before turning on her heel to carry out your orders. You rub your temples in frustration as you realize you wasted precious time conducting a pointless errand and allowed Duiran to get the drop on you. All in your first day of being Strategos! Still, there is a glimmer of hope for you to demonstrate your military prowess and excellent strategic mind. Maybe even enough of a glimmer to avoid the Ard-Dhasan smiting you and removing you from your office. With a quick shake of your head, you take off at a sprint to the nook to gather your fighters. There's blood to be had.
Eyes adjusting to the magical darkness infiltrating the underground gathering space, you bark out an order, "Spireans, on me!" With militaristic discipline that would make the Imperial Armies of Bloodloch envious, your fighters fall into formation behind you and await further direction. You mentally make note of the composition of your fighters: a Bard, two Sciomancers, a Revenant, a Monk, two Archivists and a Lycanthrope.
To split your forces and attack the encroaching divisions simultaneously, turn to page 7.
To keep your forces unified and attack the main Duiran division at Bravestarr, turn to page 19.
You decide to move your forces into Cantor's Copse to capture the territory in a slow plod towards victory. The dismembering of the Oakenguard on the Dry Plains has your enemy scattered to the wind. A few probing attacks result in minor victories and more trophies for your fighters, but it would appear their will to fight has been broken. Their resorting to attempting guerrilla tactics confirms that. Your hoplites march into the center of the village and begin fortifying. A few Arboreans amble through and a pair of Wayfarers decide to have a tree chopping competition, felling Arboreans with a flurry of their axes. The stiff wooden corpses litter the copse as it claimed in the name of the Theocracy. Victory is surely near.
To split your field armies and march to Abelaas and Vintal Glade, turn to page 16.
To continue through to Duiran proper, turn to page 49.
You quickly muster your fighters and with a simple utterance the entire Spirean militia is high above the clouds, set to descend with murderous intent upon Duiran. The gates of the city are flung wide open as the savages welcome your army into their homes. The strike is unexpected and swift. Just inside the gate, a burly Centaur crossbowman makes a noise that sounds like a braying donkey before he is cut down with a ruinous shadowy blast from a Sciomancer towards your right. The alarm is sounded by the Centaur's dying breath and the guards of Duiran swarm to defend their city.
Magical darkness is conjured and an inky veil fills much of the area. With spectres at the ready, scores of Sciomancers make an utter embarrassment out of the mighty warriors of Duiran. Several Alchemists deploy their blight upon the wooded homeland while the Syssin work to string up women and children from the branches of the trees that had once provided them shelter.
A pathetic attempt by the Sentaari to drive back your forces is met with voracious laughter as the Monks stand before your forces, obviously radiating incredible amounts of Kai energy. Worried looks cross their faces as the deadly Kai was unsuccessful in delivering any of your well-disciplined troops to the Mirror. As their feeble attempt falters, a pack of Lycanthropes pounce and grab an ankle or a wrist in their mouths and yank violently in opposite and perpendicular directions. The effect is horrifying as blood sprays from the severed limbs and broken bodies alike, a veritable orgy of wanton violence that sends the remaining Duirani fleeing into the woods for their lives.
To destroy their defensive aegises, turn to page 4.
To infiltrate their barracks, turn to page 27.
You order a temporary aegis to be ensorcelled and other defensive preparations to be made. Unfortunately, the haunting dirge of the Song of Oblivion fills your ears as you scream in rage to engage the Bard threatening your forces. The Spirean militia abandons the Sciomancer attuning the aegis to remove the threat from the Bard to the south, offering the Oakenguard the opening they needed. A Wayfarer leaps down from the treetops and deftly executes the defenseless Sciomancer. Your attempt to gain a significant advantage has failed.
Duiran harries your forces until you are eventually forced to withdraw from the battlefield. During that time, they position troops and capture your territories simultaneously and Spinesreach is forced to surrender.
To hopefully make more prudent choices and try again, turn to page 2.
With a division of hoplites under your command, you decide to march them straight into the Ithmias. As you approach Abelaas you are reminded of the history of the area. You think of the days long gone, how the mighty city of Hashan once stood proud in this area and how the mighty Hashan has fallen, all that they had accomplished forgotten to the annals of time and now this sad excuse for a city-state exists in their stead.
Suddenly, an arrow flies from the treetops and strikes your Aide-de-Camp in the chest. Blood gurgles up from his throat as his eyes go wide from shock. A second arrow skewers him clean through, and he falls off his donkey into a heap upon the ground. “Ambush!” you yell, as if that wasn't obvious.
Your historical daydreaming has resulted in you walking straight into an Oakenguard ambush. Your militia attempts to fight back, but your loss of focus has cost the Theocracy dearly. Surely this war is now doomed to end in failure.
To try and rewrite history and start anew, turn to page 2.
“General, take several Syssin and infiltrate their barracks while we've got them on the back foot. Let's do some serious damage!” you order.
Only a few minutes later the Northern General steps out of phase and materializes in front of you. “Strategos, the barracks were... empty.” You blink incredulously. “W-what?” you manage to stammer. “Empty. No divisions. At all.”
Your mind races to comprehend this information but it dawns upon you far too late that the Oakenguard had a contingency planned to punish your hubris. The ground rumbles beneath your feet as a division of durdalis trundles out from the underbrush of the Oaken Grove and press in on your militia. Without hoplites to engage with them, your militia will be unable to retreat to the safety of Spinesreach!
A small handful of your fighters recognized the danger and fled before their escape was cut off, but the majority of your combatants were cut down within the walls of Duiran. Demoralized at being outfoxed, most of your militia sulk off to go about their business. An uninspiring Strategos can have that effect.
To regroup your forces and try again, turn to page 2.
With the Oakenguard's morale wavering under the unrelenting onslaught of oppression by your forces, you seize the opportunity to march a division of troops to Duiran directly. The Myesis River turns a color of putrid red, the ichor frothing pink upon the rapids of the tributary. A close call when an Oakenguard Bard managed to successfully obliterate your war party with a Song of Oblivion threatened to halt your advance, but the double-edged sword of such a tactic left Duiran without sufficient fighters to threaten your hoplites before you could regroup.
After a grueling march through the Ithmias, the gates of Duiran come into view. The tall wooden structures shaded under the foliage of the Oaken Grove are a stark reminder of the daunting foe you face upon the battlefield.
“Orders, Strategos?” the lead hoplite inquires.
To attempt to capture the city, turn to page 48.
To sack and raze the city, turn to page 35.
Not wanting to press your advantage, you order your hoplites and dragoons into defensive positions at the entrances to your territories. During the night, the craven cowards from Duiran marched their forces under the cover of darkness and obliterated your defensive positions while all others slept. With no troops remaining in reserve, it is a matter of time until Duiran captures your territories and forces the Theocracy to surrender. Before you can deliver the bad news to the Regent and the Ard-Dhasan, you find yourself being replaced as Strategos. Perhaps a less timid leader will command the Spirean Armies to victory.
To try again, turn to page 2.
You issue the order to march the bulk of your forces direct to the gates of Duiran. Without proper planning or setup, you've marched into an indefensible position. The troops stationed by Duiran to protect their territories march on your army's camp in the Oaken Grove. You're completely surrounded. The cackling voice of a particularly boisterous Duiran rings throughout Sapience, “HAHAHA! YOU BETTER PRAY TO YOUR MANIPULATOR FOR A MIRACLE, CAUSE YOU'VE DONE MESSED UP! HAHAHAHAHA! IDIOT SPIREANS! HAHAHAHA! COW WHORES! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Unwilling to wave the white flag, the command is given for a final stand to be made. The army of the Theocracy marches against overwhelming odds and is predictably crushed. Your shoulders slumped as you flee from the battlefield, wondering if Enorian has use for a stable hand or Bloodloch has use for a slave.
To resolve not to give up hope and try again, turn to page 2.
“We need to destroy part of their field army while they're disorganized. We'll take out the wolfine at Cantor's Copse,” you proclaim and issue the command. The hoplites march double time and arrive at Cantor's Copse. Not wanting to waste the element of surprise, you order them to engage the wolfine head on. Fighting with the fury of a raging fire, wolfine after wolfine is cast down. One hoplite charges recklessly at a wolfine who pauses to howl at the moon and skewers it through the chest with their spear. She discards the shish kebab and takes up the spear of one of her fallen comrades to continue the fighting. Within fifteen minutes, the wolfine are completely wiped out and the order is given to take up defensive positions and begin capturing the territory.
Not a single member of the Oakenguard responds to the dying howls of their wolfine. They left their soldiers to die like a child carelessly and thoughtlessly left a toy outside to be destroyed by the elements. Surely victory is at hand.
To march a division against Abelaas, turn to page 17.
To press your advantage and march a division of Duiran, turn to page 8.
You decide to march two divisions of hoplites to Bravestarr Homestead to secure the territory. The superior demonstration of force is successful in driving the Oakenguard from their defensive positions in Bravestarr Homestead. Cheers ring out among your hoplites and militia and you leave it to your commanders to shore up your defenses among your territories while you call a meeting of your Generals.
“We've suffered tremendous casualties to secure our territories. We have a single division of dragoons left in reserve. By comparison the Duiran army outnumbers ours three to one.”
“Hah! Admirable odds for any Spirean!” one General quips.
You make a mental note to test the guillotine on that one following their demotion, assuming you can retain your position as Strategos by leading the Theocracy to victory. “We need a plan. How can we best use our one division?”
To march the remaining division to one of Duiran's territories, turn to page 41.
To recruit and outfit additional divisions, turn to page 5.
To withdraw from your defensive positions and go on the offensive, turn to page 11.
Your armies are maneuvered into position to lay siege to Duiran. Catapults are brought in and fire upon the city with their range enhanced by the ingenious utilization of singularities to reverse gravity immediately upon firing. Far outranging Duiran's own siege weapons, their defenses are decimated by the superior intellect of Spinesreach. The siege lasts only a matter of days before you see the Oakenguard forming up to charge out to fight you in an obvious hope to break the siege.
“Spireans, now is our chance, attack!” you order, leaping atop your polar bear who bounds forward in a loping sprint. You can see the joyous glint in the eyes of the Feylords as they assume defensive positions just within their gate. 'Almost there... almost there...' you think to yourself. As you cross over the threshold of where the defensive aegises would have afflicted you and your army horribly, the careful advantages you have gained pay off. The disdainful smirk is wiped off the face of every member of the Oakenguard as they stand dumbfounded, their simple minds working furiously to process just exactly how you are barreling down upon them unhindered. A few heads turn to survey the aegises they had hoped would bring them salvation. Their eyes are stuck wide open in shock as they are struck down by the unstoppable force that is your army.
An emissary senses the inevitability of the defeat at your hands and requests a cessation of hostilities to negotiate terms of surrender.
To call off the slaughter and negotiate the terms of surrender, turn to page 42.
To ignore the plea for mercy, turn to page 35.
Your forces move into a defensive position to protect the Sciomancer as he toils and concentrates at connecting an aegis to the leylines. A mere stone's throw from Duiran's main gate, the bold risk could pay immense dividends going forward. Revenants with their shields leveled block the entrance to the south while scouts remain on high alert.
A single member of the Oakenguard militia steps into view. The overwhelming size of your forces leaves him momentarily stunned. Just as his eyes begin to blink from being frozen wide, the tip of a dirk protrudes from his throat. Blood splatters across the shields blocking the path with additional droplets spurting out onto the ground in pulsatile fashion as the life is snuffed out before you. The Syssin responsible for the remarkable display steps into the position previously held by the now dead militiaman. “He probably raised the alarm, one way or another,” the shadowy assassin mutters.
To assume defensive positions and prepare for an attack, turn to page 25.
To buy time for the Sciomancer to finish by creating a distraction, turn to page 39.
As your veteran armies descend on the defenseless city of Duiran, an emissary of the Council begs and pleads with you to spare the city. You kindly remind them who started this war and emphatically underscore the dire predicament they find themselves in by concluding your response with, “... and I'm going to finish it.” Turning to your hoplites you give the order, “Sack this dung heap and raze everything to the ground!” A unified and resounding “HROAGH!” echoes throughout the forest canopy as the full force of the Spirean military is unleashed upon the forest city.
Axes are brought in to fell trees, shops are looted and burned, dainty forest creatures are slain one after another. The waterways run red with blood. The Grand Dynamist runs in and hands you several heavy leaded vials. With an arched eyebrow you offer a questioning glance. “Black ylem. Extremely toxic. Been saving it for a rainy day,” he responds with a wicked grin. You nod approvingly and the Gnome sets out to contaminate the Great Oak with the exceedingly toxic substance.
The carnage is so intense that women are found in front of totemic shrines within homes, sacrificing their own children to the various spirits worshiped by the Duirani in a vain attempt to conjure a respite from their impending doom.
Your armies are laden with plundered wealth and thick, acrid smoke rises from the city in the trees as a warning to all of Sapience. The Theocracy is not one to be trifled with so long as you remain Strategos.
Congratulations! You have successfully waged war against Duiran and won! You may wish to explore how other options end by turning to page 2.
“You four, move and engage those Oakenguard to the north! NOW!” you bellow and with instant willing obedience your soldiers charge headlong into the far superior Oakenguard flank. You wince as the result is a catastrophic loss of life as the overgrowth conjured by the Shaman engulfs your forces and Wayfarers make quick work and execute them ruthlessly.
The gambit works. While your fighters valiantly sacrificed themselves to protect your flank, your two best Generals descend from high above the clouds ready to rejoin the fray. Raising a finger and pointing to the overgrowth encroaching on your flank you utter to them with all the coldness of the tundral winters, “Compost this filth.” The two Generals look at one another and nod once as they set to work. With supermassive singularities at their sides, they deftly wield elemental Shadow drawn from Czjetija and systematically make an utter embarrassment of the absolute best Duiran has to offer. A Sentinel falls, terrified of the shadows conjured by the duo. A Shaman and a Warden are frozen solid by the inky black shadelings summoned forth by the pair while the Wayfarer's axes are intercepted through gravitational manipulation and slingshotted around the singularities and directly into her chest. The solar plexus explodes in a frothy pink viscera as the incredible velocities generated by the Sciomancers eviscerates the remaining Oakenguard Feylord.
To combine your field remaining divisions and march on Cantor's Copse, turn to page 23.
To launch a coordinated assault on each territory simultaneously, turn to page 3.
As a division of hoplites begins entrenching themselves along the narrow coastal road leading to Rimewatch, you nod with satisfaction. Not far off in the distance are the wolfine mobilized against your northern flank. A wry smirk crosses your face and you realize you acted just in time. Rimewatch is secure.
The darkness of night creeps over your troops as they finish their defensive posturing, spears dug into the ground forming a makeshift palisade. The obviously inexperienced Duirani commander offers a halfhearted battle cry as they order their wolfine to engage. Their tactical disadvantage is far too great to overcome and their defeat is swift. Their commander fumbles with their weapon amidst the slaughter. Their eyes grow wide as their mistake is realized far too late. With ease, you cull every last bit of Shadow from their very existance and commit them back to their precious Cycle.
Grabbing one of the spears from the palisade, you stake the corpse of your enemy in a display of dominance and elicit a rallying cheer from your hoplites.
The guttural bellow of a Duirani Feylord silences your troops, "PAWN TAKES KNIGHT, BUT ROOK TAKES BOTH BISHOPS! BRAVESTARR AND STORMCALLER CRAG ARE OURS AND SOON YOU WILL BE DEFEATED!" The jubilation is immediately dispelled from your troops. Grabbing a rag from your belt you wipe the foul blood of your enemy from your blade and plan your next move.
To launch an immediate counter-offensive, turn to page 40.
To set up glyphs and aegises throughout the Dry Plains and Ithmias, turn to page 18.
To engage in guerrilla tactics while planning a tactical response, turn to page 6.
Moving swiftly, you join your armies in the field. An order is issued to combine the remaining hoplites into a single division numbering ninety strong. 'Of our enemies, only Enorian can boast of actual military discipline amongst their ranks,' you note to yourself while thinking of the mindless durdalis, feral wolfine, clawed horrors and other mindless thralls employed by the other city-states. Atop your polar bear you survey the army before raising your longsword over your head. A sharp drop of your arm lowers the weapon to shoulder height in front of you and perfectly parallel to the earth. The armies of Spinesreach march on Vintal Glades.
Halfhearted resistance is all that is offered in the day it takes for your hoplites to march to the first territory of Duiran. Fortifications are established at the city center as the glorious flag of Spinesreach is hoisted above the home of the faeries. One particularly boisterous faerie flies out and appears as though she's about to give you an earful. You hold up a hand to her and gaze down at her in disdain. “If you're about to squeak something about how we're barbarians, I can make that a reality. Triarii,” you say and indicate one of your soldiers with a gesture, “... if this formerly Duirani villager so much as makes a sound, rip her wings off and hang her by her arms in the city square.” Blood rapidly drains from the faerie's face and her mouth is frozen agape in horror at your statement.
Within the hour your forces have secured Vintal Glade and you gather your Northern Generals to determine your next move.
To march a division of hoplites to Cantor's Copse, turn to page 47.
To set up an observation and entrapment aegis in Oaken Grove, turn to page 34.
To lay in wait for Duiran to come liberate Vintal Glade, turn to page 14.
“We need to distract them, so they need to prioritize where to send their response. Everyone move out, leave a mirage for the Sciomancer here. Split into two groups and have one group posture as a raiding party at the rear gate of Duiran, the other follow me, and we'll attack Abelaas directly! Move!” you bellow to you army and the spring into action.
Moments after, the Oakenguard vanguard arrives and sees nothing is amiss, their sight clouded by the mirage. Before they are able to investigate more thoroughly or sense anything, they are drawn away by the cries of help from Abelaas. A few minutes later, the aegis is successfully ensorcelled and the Sciomancer is whisked away by a portal they have conjured. You receive word of the success of your mission and order you strike teams to regroup.
“We have a tactical advantage. Vintal Glade is ours, and we can control their militia's movement in and out of their city. We must trike at Cantor's Copse and Abelaas to secure the victory for the Theocracy!” you proclaim loudly. Affirming nods greet you as you survey the expressions of your war council. “Let move out!”
To march on to Cantor's Copse, turn to page 47.
To march on Abelaas, turn to page 17.
Weighing your options, you realize that having secured Rimewatch buys Spinesreach the opportunity to take the fight to Duiran and their territories. You quickly issue the orders. Two divisions of dragoons ride south from the Inner Gate of Spinesreach while a division of hoplites marches double time behind them. Their movement immediately draws the attention of the Oakenguard fortifying their position in Bravestarr Homestead.
A bloody battle ensues as the Oakenguard of Duiran trades blows with the Spinesreach Militia. The vulnerability of your troops is an undeniable liability and your forces fight valiantly to protect them. Syssin armed with darkbows take up position on a nearby bluff and rain meteor arrows down on the unrelenting Duirani forces. Suddenly you are alerted to an attempted maneuver under stealth by the Oakenguard to reposition and exploit a weakness on your right flank. Several casualties will be returing from the Mirror to rejoin the fight any moment now but you need time to get your best fighters back into the fray!
To direct your Syssin to concentrate their fire on the Oakenguard flanking you, turn to page 45.
To order a squad of militia to sacrifice themselves to the flanking maneuver, turn to page 36.
In a desperate bid to gain a foothold in Duiran's territory, you marshal your forces and set out to capture one of Duiran's territories. The move reeks of despondency and is reflected in the morale of your troops. After you cross the shadow drained remains of the Northern Road and cross into the forest proper, you're met by the full force of the Oakenguard. They are prepared for your sad attempt to cling to power and are more than happy to oblige your internal monologue begging to be put down. With a halfhearted “Hroagh!” you spur your polar bear mount into a gallop as you race towards your demise. The Oakenguard executes their battle strategy with practice precision and the army of the Theocracy is cut down like the invasive weeds they are.
To try once more, turn to page 2.
The diplomat for Duiran arrives at the Inner Gate, head hung low as they offer a bow to you and the Regent. With a grand gesture you usher them on to the table set up for negotiations.
The demands of the Regent are presented: reparations of a few million gold, observational access to rituals as well as a full scientific survey of the location where Senator Holbrook was mercilessly murdered. Provisions for the return of territories at the end of the surrender, and of course the installation of an Occupational General. When queried on who might fill that roll, the Regent simply replies with a grin. Clearing your throat you make the demand known, “Only a Minotaur from Sterion would be acceptable.”
The blood drains from the emissary's face as the sins of the Heartwood are brought into focus. Meekly they nod in agreement to your terms and the treaty is signed. Celebratory fireworks light up the sky as the war has ended in a glorious victory for the Theocracy! HROAGH!
Congratulations, you have successfully navigated this tenure as the Strategos of Spinesreach. To explore other options for how war in Aetolia may turn out, turn to page 2.
Your nose wrinkles in distaste at the paperwork sitting on your desk. The beauracracy of the Republic was supposed to die with it. Heaving a sigh you sort through the envelopes. A tactical summary of terrain from the Conclave of Seers. Performance reports on spars from the Conclave of Devotion. Weapons development from the Conclaves of Science and Magic. Uniform proposals from the Conclave of Arts. An otherwise unmarked envelop catches your eye and you curiously tear the wax seal and read the contents.
"Strategos, our spies have learned the Oakenguard intend to mobilize troops to take advantage of our troops being confined under the surrender agreement with Bloodloch. The Regent has negotiated a deal to remove those terms of surrender early to allow for the element of surprise on our behalf. The Syssin are at your disposal. -Director of Shadows."
Reflexively you clench a fist around the letter, crumpling the parchment easily. You hastily move to act upon this intelligence.
To set up a trap at choke points identified by the Conclave of Seers, turn to page 46.
To set up defensive positions around your territories, turn to page 37.
To investigate the weapons being developed by the Conclaves of Science and Magic, turn to page 9.
Jamming a thumb in their air towards the north you command one of your Northern Generals, “We need to defend Rimewatch at once! Take a division of hoplites and cut them off!” Nodding to the other General you turn sharply to exit the complex. You call to them behind you and order, “Follow me, we need to work quickly!”
You rally your soldiers and prepare for a fight. The hoplites move into position barely in time to cut off the wolfine marching towards the Spirean territory. A prolonged and bloody battle ensues with the hoplites unable to capitalize on defensive fortifications they typically rely on. The cunning of the Oakenguard Feylords dispatch scores of your fighters and while the wolfine are repelled, the battle is all but lost. Stormcaller Crag and Bravestarr Homestead are taken uncontested and sufficient troops are in position to take advantage of the poor distribution of your own forces.
You may opt to start anew by turning to page 2.
Using your knowledge of Syssin signing, you order an issue to the Captain directing the darkbow wielding archers to concentrate their fire on the advancing Oakenguard threatening your flank to slow them down. Nearly instantaneously the meteors raining down on the main Duirani force dissipates and newly manifested meteor arrows provide an unnatural light to the sky as destruction is brought down upon the Oaknguard Feylords.
The nimbleness of the attackers allow them to easily dodge your feeble attempt to stop them. You find yourself overcome by a Shaman's overgrowth and pulled to the ground. The last thing you see is a fury-filled Wayfarer leaping high into the air to descend upon you with a precise axe strike that executes you.
Lacking leadership, your forces are overrun and every division on the battlefield is obliterated. Spinesreach has lost.
You may wish to try again, turn to page 2.
When your Aide-de-Camp returns with the objects you requested, you explain the strategic advice offered by the Conclave of Seers. Riding crop in hand, you move a pair of hoplite figurines to positions identified by the Dhasan of Seers as vulnerable. The enthusiastic aide nods his head, yet a blank stare is all that you are rewarded with. “Pearls before swine!” you curse beneath your breath. A dismissive wave of your hand sends the aide running off to tend to the next tasking. You grab two pieces of parchment and detail the battle plans for each division and send them off to your Northern Generals to execute.
Within the hour, reports are pouring in from the couriers of the predicted war coming to fruition. With your troops meticulously hidden by a mirage conjured by your Sciomancers, the Duirani march into the traps laid for them. Clearly unprepared for your cunning, their commanders scramble to respond to the threat but it is too late. Giddy chatter fills the city medium as your forces gleefully cut down the hubristic savages. The pained cries of a Oakenguard Feylord rises above the land, “CURSE YOU, BLOODLOCH! WHY DO YOU HELP THESE WORMS? HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THE ENORMOUS QUANTITIES OF YLEM THEY STOLE FROM YOU?”
A chorus of voices representing the Empire respond in kind: “HELP? THEY NEGOTIATED AN EARLY RELEASE FROM THEIR TERMS OF SURRENDER!”, “YOU FIGHT WORSE THAN YOU SMELL!”, and “SOUNDS LIKE YOU WANT ANOTHER BOOT UP YOUR ARSE! WE'D BE HAPPY TO OBLIGE!”
To combine your field armies and march immediately on Vintal Glade, turn to page 38.
To set up defensive positions, turn to page 29.
To raid Duiran directly, turn to page 24.
Having secured major victories throughout the Ithmias, you level your sights on Cantor's Copse. A full division of hoplites moves in to the wooded area filled with Arboreans and no meaningful resistance is mounted and your army quickly secures the territory for the Theocracy. As night decends upon Sapience, your troops fell several sentient Arboreans to use as fuel for their campfires. Their dying cries a sorrowful dirge to their unfortunate lot in life being a protectorate of Duiran.
As the morning sun rises, a white dove flies in and drops a letter into your hands. You quickly open it and read its contents. The Speaker of the Heartwood would like to negotiate their terms of surrender. You give pause for a moment and consider your options.
To accept the offer to negotiate a surrender, turn to page 42.
To instead march on to Abelaas and capture the remaining territory, turn to page 17.
“Onward, we capture Duian today!” you shout and spur your forces forward. The fighting at the gate of Duiran is fierce, but your forces manage to gain a foothold. Centaur crossbowmen take pot shots at your hoplites from the trees, but their defensive positions manage to get established without a total loss of the division.
In the prolonged time to fully occupy the city, the Oakenguard manages to regroup and with the home field advantage manage to defeat your militia guarding the hoplites. Free to bring troops in to engage yours, the hoplites are sent to the Mirror. Every advantage you had is now squandered and Spinesreach will surely lose an extended conflict with Duiran.
To have another chance at victory, turn to page 2.
Sensing an opening, you order your troops to bypass Vintal Glade and Abelaas and proceed on to Duiran's main gate. It's no secret that the will to fight is quickly restored when one's home is threatened. The Oakenguard has regrouped and prepared to meet your forces in the Oaken Grove. Without the proper setup, your forces simply cannot compete against the forces of Duiran. Certainly not on their own turf.
Your troops put up a valiant fight but are ruthlessly cut down by dhuriv and crushed by war gauntlets alike. The crackling energy of Dai'ruis intensifies as the forest floor is bathed in the blood of your army.
To retreat and try again, turn to page 2.
“We need to plan for the long game. March on the neutral territories and capture them so we can start building a healthy reserve. We'll bleed them of their advantages and grind them to dust through attrition!” you exclaim loudly. Your war council nod in obedience and set out to carry out your commands.
As your troops descend on Craneskull Village, your General fails to note the flag of Bloodloch flying above the village. A division of clawed horrors lope in from the east and utterly destroys the hoplites. A horribly flawed plan from the onset, you've inadvertently started a second war with Bloodloch. As weak as the Empire is, Spinesreach is unable to contend with a war against two opponents. The only saving grace is that you're able to surrender to Bloodloch instead of Duiran.
To negotiate another early termination of your surrender to Bloodloch and try again, turn to page 2.
A Hoplite's Marching Song, by Lenoriel
Within the fields of ice and snow
A mighty beastie lies
It does not often stir its head
For things that lie outside
But when that beast is stirred to wrath
Its enemies can't ignore
The blood will run the rivers red....
When the Dragon roars
The Dragon's claws are sharp and keen
Its teeth are black as night
It heeds no bounds of man or God
And ne'er gives up the fight.
Come hoplites, onward, charge the foe,
As we beat the drums of war
The very hills will quake and rend....
When the Dragon roars
So rise up men- and ladies too!
We turn no hands away
With science, magic, and cussedness,
We'll always win the day
Pick up your arms and gird yourselves
There's vengeance now in store
They'll rue the day they learned what comes...
When the Dragon roars
The very hills will quake and rend -
When the Dragon roars!
We'll never give up what we defend -
When the Dragon roars!
Now grab a drink and steal a kiss from the lover you adore~~
You never will forget the sound
When the Dragon roars!
The Age of Sorrow by Sekeres Dark-Wing
This poem paints a dystopian future for mortals who have submitted and withered away after the
coming of the Age of Dawn. A single Akkari waits for the embrace of Death, who cannot. This is
a reflection of his thoughts.
Empty winter, blowing cold
Light in moon, stars behold
A whisper soft upon the air
Cry of wolf, so lonely there
Snow in veils, ice-flowers it wreathes
A single flame, in the distance breathes
Where a soul has followed thence
a grizzled face, in cragged recompense
He who waits recalls but few
the midnight age, all but tears of dew
for what wrought the end of life
is pride that blinded nature's knife
"Yeleni yomed veb wudu azudim."
Translation: "A cruel life without death."
How long has it been, since life has gone?
The seasons roll, an emerald veld undone
Cycles turn, no more, no beat
He who waits, waits not for rebirth's repeat
Empty winter, blowing cold
Light in moon, stars behold
No touch, no warmth
In this single flame
Where glory, bottles, brewed in fame
Animals have long been slain
A spear no more, its point to train
In the avarice of sunlight pure
the winter's snows untouched demure
"Ilbur Dia'ruis azu de ena Dejaani."
Translation: "The children of the Wilds were the last to be purged."
Nomads roam and speak of 'membered times
where children ran and laughed in rhyme
and flowers spouted from the ground
the faces varied in balance found
He who waits recalls but few
the midnight age, all but tears of dew
for what wrought the end of life
but blinded natures and prides a knife
The battlements of pure white
of towers where beacons burned eternal bright
the lighthouse sketched across the bank
now a crumbling edifice, blank
"Naryu dulba sota dor valda desa."
Translation: Its towers stood but zeal defiled them.
Empty winter, blowing cold
Stars that burn of bargains old
A trade for one, in black and white
He who waits, waits now for night
There is no truth, but death or life
Survive or not, there is no blight
upon the dark, the light of moon
For the stars, 'neath ice do bloom
And all consumes in flame or mire
no one shall escape death's desire
a cradle, a shadow, of a mirror's wound
in shepherd's crook, a father's boon
What bitter tears wailed and gnashed
What bell was rung, and Light was thrashed
Ohsalana's chain wove thrice-around
Damariel wept hopeless against its shroud
Tasj adheva ti, perdu kuy.
Translation: "A sorrowers hope, a dying truth."
He who waits did witness there
the blackest pit of Truth's despair
Shadow's infamy, pitch-pillar blazed in hunger
awaiting the sun's beams to be cast asunder
The toll of hollowness across the land
Rung by the emblazoned maiden's hammering hand
Did not arouse the Eye in fear
Their weapons rose, the Generals did sneer
Empty winter, blowing cold
Light was fated from this cast and mold
Where shaped by Virtue it was struck
Did summon Dejaani by some sheer luck
He who waits, he does remember
How the wind-blotted darkness did ember
Shriveling against the blinding light
Of its justice, scouring against eternal night
"Neno manro jav abdal."
Translation: Where light has burned across the earth.
The Malevolent Strategist in one last trick fell
subverted the vice of the Shadow Mother's spell
Unwove the bindings of her cruelty's thorn
Though Argent Strife's sword struck in scorn
Crusaders were born upon this peal
Of Dejaani's ever-burning seal
He who waits was one of them
He accepted Their savior of all as friend
"Fa du rarir iseli abdal, ebse orar."
Translation: "The old lands cried out for mercy, what remained was ash."
Scars had cast upon his face
Where eyes no longer saw
But the last he witnessed
was the sight of Ohsalana's maw
Writhing, screeching from the arch
Where it shuddered there
His sword was raised, his heart emblazon’d
as battle-tides grew fair
Seasons rose, and Empires fell,
and he did choose to embrace
the light whose life
was a greater design than Varian could make
For years he toiled, and judged
the many who stood in his way
Until the land is as he knows it,
On this winter's day
How many were felled for this age,
at Dejaani's pleasure
For within the angelic piece,
of him could he never sever
"Omeryu tekal, oyivri sibre."
Translation: A hollow victory, no quest will save.
Upon his withered lips,
there is no judgment left to pass
Against the righteous
whose dye had been cast
Where are the angels,
that were promised in this order new?
All the promise of his hearts, fallen,
as the shadows all he slew?
No more children whose seeds are scattered
By the barren wind
To share in this joy, at last
All cleansed of those who sinned
Instead this tale, instead this rote, upon his burning fire
An empty winter, burning cold, death his one desire
For nothing can bring salvation now as mourn has come
Shadowless, lifeless, hopeless, heartless, dawn has begun
Translation: Sorrow's Omen.
Birth Amid Blood, by Trynt
The threat of a storm hovers amidst heavy clouds, their weight almost palpable as it presses down on the clearing below. In that rare calm before the storm, the odd shard of sunlight breaks through the cloudbank to scatter faint illumination on a single slim redwood, its strange spine crooked as though it would brace itself against its own knees breathlessly. Spindly roots crawl outward, seeking sustenance, in a tumult of tubers tunneling through the turf as frail, nearly-bare branches sway, wearing only a scattering of white needles. Standing as a sightless, stalwart sentry, the tree looms over the opening, nestled in an eerie, presiding silence.
A subtle pulse ambiently enters into the fray: the steady strumming of a heartbeat, the thrumming growing in an audible contrast against the fleeting quiet of the moment as noise filters back into the field. Metal screeches against metal in a jarring underscore, the noise sending the thrum of the pulse to a rapid gallop before the sounds sweep in:
swords singing as they sever the fragile bonds of the air,
clashing sounding out in the grating slip of metal on metal,
a dozen heartbeats racing with fear and adrenaline,
a cacophony of voices raised in fury,
and somewhere, a soft sobbing
The battle is a vociferous, many-throated, bloody-eyed thief as attention is stolen in any which way: pulled to the unseeing gaze of an Atavian soldier with a blade thrust through his gut; torn towards the white teeth bared in a snarl on the face of a Tsol'aa woman as she presses her advantage; before dropping bonelessly to the Grook sprawled limply across the ground, blood sinking into the earth below them. Sights and sounds churn together in a torrent of emotion and heat as things come to a head, brief collisions flaring up only to taper to a conclusion of corpses and conquerors.
As sparse limbs drift breezily in the aftermath, movement begins to snake out from the foot of the strange, pale-needled redwood. Coiling through red, wet mud and ensnaring the slick, scarlet flesh of the fallen, the roots twist and writhe as they reside resolutely in rubescent refreshment.
Time passes in a series of silences and ruckuses - but the wearing away of sand in a glass means little to a tree. Again and again after each battle, recurring as they often are, the redwood ekes out its nutrition, slaking their thirst on the mire made of blood saturating the ground. This staggered unlife so unlike its brethren forces the tree's isolation, the desperate sprawl of its summation slowly strengthening deadened limbs.
One day amid the darkness of the evening, an aureate glow overtakes the tree, swamping its roving roots in sublime sense: slowly, sentience overtakes where only natural instinct existed before as first an arm pries itself free of the stubborn stand. Lanceolated digits claw outward, bark encircling each limb as they are pulled fully free, its armored touch coiling 'cross the back of the nascent being, ruddy and rough. What little 'skin' appears visible is shadowed, mired in murk as the features of this Arborean come into life, its maw spreading wide to groan a subdued creak. They pull themselves free of the roots, what little remains left of the crooked tree coming to life as the tangles fall about their shoulders, still reaching, still grasping for nutrients.
Thus life carried on, as it ever had and ever would - roots slaked in sanguine succor upon fighters' false-sworn follies, the forest floor the final furtive witness of many a shepherded
*From the journal of Nesveti Myrnma, the Imago's Timbrel, edited as per request for the sake of story-telling and clarity*
For a fleeting, panic-filled moment they thought all the rumours of war where about to materialize upon them-they still knew little of what people called shadowbound, or of shadows, but they had an acute experience with hunger and knew the ways of it, and that was one thing all the rumours agreed on. The Shadow Plane was a ceaselessly hungry thing.
But it was only the fickle silence of the Morgun that met their ears when they catapulted into wakefulness. All was still, or as still as it ever was on the bewitching forest, what with the constantly-ambulating trees and the wafting notes of melancholy music.
Myr pushed away from their thin, thoroughly-patched bedroll and inched towards the edge of the nearby gully, squinting across Urubamba to the darkened northern bounds of the forest, their heart still hammering to the remembered beat of their dreams. They had never seen an army, but Myr figured it would be a noisy, bulksome beast. No such thing could be spied upon the horizon.
Then again, much of the horizon was swathed in pale mist, so maybe that was not saying much.
So focused were they upon these thoughts, they only noticed the Nayar by the time the nymph sat crouched by their side. It was one of the musicians, their features as melancholy as their music, all lean, pale limbs and long, black hair. Before they could speak the fae creature fixed his green eyes upon them. "The trees desire the attendance of the wandering song," he said in the tongue the Djeiri had called Sylvan, the stress on each word there and gone as if each sentence was the line of a song.
Myrnma recalled the Sylvan lessons had in the ostentatious halls of the Theatre of Shadow in Djeir. The words, with their odd inflection and poetic cant, had always reminded them of the racial ongue their parents had insisted they learn along with the wider speech of the road. It had eased things a great deal. It was in Djeir, a few short weeks after their arrival, when they had first heard about an inevitable war, thought in the Undercity every piece of gossip during those first days had possessed the flair of drama, and so for a while everything was very easy to ignore. Duiran, everyone said, in rushed and hushed tones, or grand, obnoxious proclamations, had murdered the people of Sterion and in their bloodlust left unguarded the very gate by which Shadow could attain access to the Prime.
And the Shadow, it was said, had noticed.
For a while everyone within the city reacted to these news as if it was but the latest fashionable play, but things had deteriorated quickly. Far-off screams started to be heard at nocturnal hours, and then eventually at diurnal ones as well. The affected, dramatic jolliness of troupe and patrons alike gave way to something nastier, a tightly-reined something that saw the Tsol on the receiving end of glares suspicious or angry or fearful. Not long after that the few acquittances they had made started evading them, refusing conversation or even to meet their eyes. In the end, it had been Haratos who had approach them, charismatic as usual and yet also stern. His shoulders were taut and stressed, and though he smiled sadly, his gaze made plain he would broker no argument.
"It pains me to inform you, young student, that the Theatre must need ask you to vacate the premises." This was said rather loudly, the words stiff and clipped and thoroughly unfriendly, perhaps to the benefit of the many eavesdroppers crowded around the foyer. Myrnma could certainly see and feel the glances shot their way, only to be met by Haratos' no-nonsense expression as he stared back, a subtle quirk to an eyebrow that reminded everyone to tend to their own businesses. This little bit of spectacle done, the Master of the Theatre roughly grabbed Myrnma's forearm and marched them to a deserted, dim-lighted hallway. No one dared to follow.
"You must leave Djeir today, my friend," Haratos said the moment they were past earshot, the words lower now, more urgent. His hand released the Tsol's forearm and instead clasped their shoulder. "It is not safe. Not for a great deal of Djeirani, but specially not for you. Do you understand?" As it happened, they did not, but Haratos must have read the befuddled, quizzical expression blossoming on their face because he waved impatiently, his tone grown fiercer as he talked right over them. "You have been a most excellent student of the Theatre, but the Theatre cannot protect you. I cannot protect you, but I would rather not see all that effort in learning wasted by people riding the wave of fear. You will go today, before I am forced to surrender you."
These words were accompanied by a fierce glare that did not lessen until Myrnma had finally, unsteadily nodded, and then Haratos was walking past, either unwilling or uninterested in any potential objections.
That night Haratos and two of the eldest actors of the troupe, violet-skinned Djeirani with striking violet eyes and the gait of royalty, once more marched Myrnma, this time across the deserted, silent streets of the Undercity, all but shoving them onto a barge and exchanging a few stern words and a handful of coins with the stevedore. The next thing they had known, the ruddy sailorwoman was shoving away from the banks of the Black Lake, sailing counter-current on the waters of the Perilaus. "You are luckier than many," she had said without looking at them, her blue eyes scanning always the distance, pupils sparkling in the dim light of her ship's lantern. "The Eithaga would not have been kind to you."
Shortly thereafter the barge had hit the banks of the lower reaches of Azdun. Without another spared word, the bulky woman had helped carry their meagre belongings to land, and then turned her ship around.
Myrnma had never seen her again.
It was the Nayar's music that stirred Myrnma from their faraway thoughts, almost causing them to faint as they found themself not at all where they had made camp. The Nayar, it seemed, had took it upon himself to guide them somehow, luring them with either song or spell whiel their mind wandered. Now, large, imponent trees crowded close on all sides. Most stood still, but Myrnma could not notice five which faintly stirred every so often, bark creaking and canopies whispering even in the utter absence of wind.
"We see you, wandering song," said one of them, or perhaps it was all of them at once. The words were a rough, creaking poem, the voice gravelly with age and yet despite it giving no impression of weakness. It was like the sound of all rustling eaves given voice at once. "The nymphs listen to your dreams, and our branches guard you while you sleep. We, like you, have heard of what comes, and would gladly offer you refuge here."
"But here we cannot guard you. That which would devour us and devour you might come, or it might not, but we would not see the song of our kin fall. But there is a place, loathsome with the lack of trees, were the kin that is not your kin holds some mastery of our enemy. Seek them. Far to the north."
The vicious vampire and judgemental frog, written by Oridez.[Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or undead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.] [The beginning of an unexpected friendship.]
Violence in the air, permeating through the wind, the shouts of fear and bloodlust. So much pressure, pushing everything and everyone, a force all on its own. Chaos.
I stand on a battlefield, surrounded by death. I am used to this. The familiar metallic scent paired with the sight of massive piles of bodies would likely overwhelm most of the living. For myself? I almost struggle with the excitement and hunger; though I am not one to lose control, a good battle does increase the intensity. The longing.
I find myself nearly devoid of thought, walking slowly through the carnage. Avoiding the crunch of bone, the whimpers of those still dying, I shrug off any distractions. For one such as myself, one incapable of true death, the memory and effort means everything. Winning helps, but of course I won. I didn't even have to meld with the earth in this battle. I experienced the structured struggle of both armies as they collapsed into madness, too much to focus on. The Empire feels they won, because War is winning. The Hammer will shout their propaganda and spin another story.
The fleeting hubris of my peers has never been something I have envied, but to fight, to kill, to better myself? I'll use any of their forced battles started by ideas I care little about. What matters to me is that I strengthen myself, I improve, and while I do serve Father, I am an ancient being that thrives in my growth. Countless bodies have fallen due to the overwhelming focus and effort I put into my craft.
As I continue, I hear an unknown sound. Not that of someone dying, or calls for aid. Not that of stragglers or bandits searching the corpse piles for valuables. A small sound, reverberating slightly. From high pitched whirring, to a deep popping sound, then suddenly an insect-like chirp. Unphased but slightly curious I allow myself to once again focus on my surroundings. Pretending to not care, I begin looking at the ground. Between piles of bone and sinew left from what were likely once a human I found a dark green, oddly shaped frog. Almost too big, are they usually this big?
The frog was staring at me in what I can only describe as being filled with judgment and also...hope? Mostly judgment, though.
"Well, are you going to respond or just stare at me?" asked the frog.
Taken aback, I tilted my head and stared back. I decided to add a little hostility to my gaze and folded my arms in front of me.
"Rude, much? Do you just ignore my calls? Why do my calls not work? What are you, anyways?", asked the frog hastily, clearly annoyed.
I have no idea what the frog is talking about. Or why the frog could talk? I opened up my senses once more and noticed a far too potent scent radiating from the frog. A mix of stale seawater and sewage? I couldn't place it completely. Shaking my head I decided to move on, what use is a judgemental frog, anyways?
The frog exclaimed, "Hey! Does your rudeness know no bounds? I spent my time this entire battle perfecting my call and you just look all broody and walk away?!"
Small, consistent thuds followed me as I casually walked, not speeding up to avoid talking, just normal walking speed as normal people do. I tuned out the sounds of judgment and scolding but could not help but be impressed at the speed this frog could follow while nonsense spewed from his mouth. He must be from the Hammer.
While I called the Empire my home I did not see them as my family. Even my peers in the Order of my Father were just more bodies to sculpt in battle, to fine tune my craft. I have some fondness, situationally, but I did not have a place beside anyone, or a home to go back to. I walked, the consistent thudding following me, though the incessant shouting seemingly gone, until I found a damp, empty cave. I placed a torch on the wall and lit it with my tinderbox, grimacing slightly at the fire before I moved some shrubbery to block the entrance, and started to prepare a small, adequate camp for the night.
As I prepared my space with habit and repetition guiding my movements I heard the shrubbery moving. I paused, glancing over to notice the frog, looking annoyed and put out, struggling through.
Speaking with a bemused tone the frog said, "A bit of shrubbery, eh? Really poor quality barricade. I wonder if I'll get to watch you die overnight. Can't say I would be too sad about it, since you're so rude."
Thud. Thud. The frog moved onto my bed and settled in on my pillow before looking away from me. Perched comfortably as if it were on a throne, the frog became even more noticeably strange, very oddly shaped and oversized. It took up the whole pillow? Is that normal for frogs? I do not know much about frogs, they taste terrible and provide no true sustenance to me. I shook my head and continued my task, ignoring the frogs' obvious discomfort on my bed. Do I need to burn my bed now?
"Terrible bed, by the way. Do you normally sleep on rocks? Can't say I'm surprised, being such a terrible whatever you are. Ignoring my calls, treating me with disrespect as I teach you some manners. You still haven't said anything, did you know that? Or maybe you have no brain, being whatever you are.", the frog said with an annoyed tone.
I continued to ignore the frog and began to count out my supplies. I did not need to sleep or eat food, truly, though I would likely need to fill my blood reserves so that I do not lose control in the next battle, which during a war could be quite soon. I had my vials, my bandages, my pipes. All in fine condition. I instinctively touched the tattoos on my body, each still working, adequately strengthened to keep me on my feet long enough to create more corpse piles.
I would spend the night here while the beasts, birds, and feral lycan feasted on the aftermath of the battle. A storm was likely in this part of the world and it would take at least the night before the battle continued. The true fight, one of attrition, would not end anytime soon but both sides in a conflict would need rest and to adjust their strategy. Communication on my role would come to me telepathically. I would miss nothing so I could sit and ensure that I was properly prepared for more murder.
As if understanding that I planned to meditate and continue to ignore, the frog started to make those odd sounds from earlier. Eyes closed, I sat down and crossed my legs, leaning against a wall, avoiding my bed, I listened. It was terrible. The closeness of the cave walls created an experience no one, at any point in their lives, could possibly enjoy. Stuck on the deep, baritone portion for what must have been hours, the frog eventually quieted. I glanced over to see its eyes closed, it was asleep.
I thought about killing it here but it would serve no purpose, just dirty my hands and who knows what that horrid odor would become in death. The pillow was already wasted, I could see the slime and imagine the fabric had become one with the smell. I didn't want to set up a second camp, either. The possibility of the slime and scent existing with me for years because of my choice to kill it aided me and I instead settled into a deep meditation, allowing myself to rest.[A few hours later]
"Everyone, prepare yourselves! We will continue the battle at our strongest! As the dark, all powerful night reigns over the world we will strike at the weak, pathetic leftovers of the Hammer! No soul shall survive, no corpse will be unsullied, and no mercy will be given! For the Empire!", the thought went straight to my mind, stirring me from my focused rest. Allowing myself to pay attention to more pieces of information on where the camp was, I began to gather myself.
Keeping quiet I packed up my supplies, making sure my hook was unstopped and ready for more carnage. My fists clean and ready to be bloodied. My boots tightened so that with each kick I was not delayed in displaying and fine tuning my craft. Hope began to consume me with increasing hunger, would today provide a better fight? A better opponent? Most of the camp would be haggard and unprepared but there were a few more stout, competent warriors that I would seek out should they be near enough to respond. Or if I was lucky, more than one. A few would be nice. It had been too long since someone forced me to really try. Months? Years? The hunger overwhelmed my senses, bloodlust reaching my eyes as they began to glow ever slightly before I shook my head. Ah, I need to take care of that.
I reached out and touched a talisman I meticulously tended to. A pristine corpse appeared and I began to feed on the blood. My lips and fangs following a practiced routine, wasting not a drop of blood. As I fed, filling my reserves to make certain I would not lose control and make any mistakes, a small shifting sound inside the cave reached me. I glanced over to see the frog once again staring at me with those ever judging eyes.
"That looks disgusting. You have no manners and poor taste in food, too? Who would even want to exist like that, honestly?", chirped the frog.
I paused and opened my mouth to say, "Lucky I didn't eat you while you slept on my pillow, frog."
"Well, that would have been another terrible idea so I am surprised you didn't go with that option, honestly. I taste horrendous, I am sure. Probably better than that corpse, but only because that looks disgusting. Truly awful, really the worst thing I've seen anyone willingly eat. And look at me, eh? I eat bugs and drink flower tea that tastes like week old water that corpse was found in.", disgust evident as the frog preached at me.
The frog continued in its tirade while I finished feeding before abruptly changing the subject, "Oh, you responded to me! Aha! I knew my hard work on my call had finally paid off. I've been denied for years but finally, it worked. Perhaps soon you'll have a real conversation with me and I will be able to truly help you improve your state of affairs, as you so obviously need assistance. Living in caves, eating bodies...and not even good looking bodies. Did I say disgusting, by the way?"
Standing up and looking at the frog with a vicious gaze I responded, "What do you know of me, frog? You followed me here. I didn't ask for this."
"Well, you can't really 'ask' anything if you don't talk, weird one. Do you eat anything else? Have you tried bugs, tea, or maybe even cake? Does the cake have to be rancid and aged for you to consume it? Maybe you like eating terrible things because you hate yourself. Can't blame you there, though.", the frog was talking mostly to itself by now.
Fixated on my prep work I replied, "I am going to battle and I require stealth until I find my prey. Do you intend to follow me? You're awfully loud, I believe you'd likely die. You might want to stay. You can keep the pillow, though.”
Bellowing proudly the frog did not miss a beat, “Oho! Rudeness once again. You can’t escape me that fast, weird one. I haven’t found out if you eat cake, yet. I also must continue to fine tune my call. I will be coming with you! I avoided trouble in the last battle, I will be fine in the next!”
With a deep sigh I exerted my ego just slightly. I lifted the frog and had it float just behind my left shoulder. To my surprise, the frog beamed with excitement, or perhaps the look on its face was out of hunger, it was hard to tell with the shape of its face.
“Why did you make me hop last time?! This is so much better. Onwards, to disgusting places for disgusting weird things! And maybe cake!.”, the frog exclaimed happily.[After a lengthy run through forests, avoiding notice, we arrived at the camp.]
We arrived just at the onset of the massacre. As I expected, most of the Hammer was ill prepared for a night raid. Likely due to diminished morale, low body count, and oft-used lack of proper fear and preparation for the Empire.
I stayed on the edges, uninterested in easy prey. Screams of fear and desperation consumed the air, filling the void of night quite thoroughly. Fires were set to tents and crates, enough to create a beautiful scenery of death and despair, the dancing lights creating artwork only those with proper taste and years of experience could truly appreciate.
The frog, horrified but unable to look away, whispered, “Are you going to help them? Are you here to find a disgusting body to steal away? Why did we come if you plan to just creep around all awkwardly and do nothing?”
Whispering back, I said, “I am here for better prey, frog. I am hoping the unhinged torture of these doomed souls will drive out someone stronger, someone worthy of my time.”
As if spurred to action by our short discussion, a warhorn sounded behind some tents nearby. A call to rally followed, with very weak, very tired shouts for help accompanying all the chaos. I eagerly walked around the tents to better see who was rallying. I allowed the battle hunger to rise within me. I kept the frog floating behind me as I went.
Once clear of the tents I saw more death and despair, but not too far from me stood a tall man in white, almost shining armour. He was carrying two longswords, one on fire and another shining with light. He stood back, ordering a small band of templars into action. A majority of them were beneath me, but from the arms blazoned on his fieldplate I knew he was worthy. It was finally time.
I allowed him time to act his role out fully while watching. I did not care too much if any stepped in but I would not take him unawares, I wanted my prey to fight back, afterall. There was no glory here, this night, only the song of hope being crushed in the burning fires of the Empire's perversion. None of the Hammer would escape. That much I would make sure of.[Battle waged on for a while. The tall, shining templar not once lifting his swords, focusing instead on guiding the fight, to no avail.]
Once retreat was likely I stepped in and made myself known. Without a word I placed myself in sight of the large templar, my prey for the night. He noticed me quickly, fire dancing lights between us. The troops and dead were too distant to be involved. Perfect.
“So, it is my time to fight after all. What cowardly tactics, attacking only when it's beneficial to you. The Empire is filled with filthy mongrels too afraid to fight in the Light. We are the Dawn, I will remind you of that, vampire!”, exclaimed the templar. He brandished his longswords, both brightened sharply, one bursting with fire, one glowing with light.
I said nothing. I shifted my weight to ensure I would be ready. I felt for my hook around my waist, loosening it slightly. I whispered a few words to Father before I ran straight for the templar. He shouted something in a language I did not know and lunged at me as I reached him, engaging me fiercely.[From the frog's point of view, the fight was a blur and hard to follow, but what he did see, he could not keep his eyes away from.]
The weird one utilized her fists and feet as if they were weapons. And based on the damage done, the frog would agree with the assessment that they were indeed weapons. The templar was strong and was constantly whispering and causing fire, light, and power to deflect and press the weird one.
Based on nothing but instinct, the frog assessed that the weird one was winning. Blood was following the steps of the templar, the weird one was bashing repeatedly into his legs and chest. The fieldplate on the torso was cracking with each hit. The weird one would parry a sword and then retaliate with a strong, overhand punch to the chest. Each hit from the weird one was precise, calculated.
Eventually, the templar began to react quicker and quicker. It didn’t take the frog much effort to see that desperation was driving him. He had wounded the weird one, cuts and bruises were appearing, but not enough to deter her onslaught. She was relentless and as the frog was starting to wonder if there was tea or cake in any of these crates, something changed.
The weird one made a sudden, direct movement and in one motion she shattered the left leg of the templar, sweeping him to the ground before driving a kick into his torso, shattering the armor completely. Fire leapt from her and, as far as the frog understood, seemed to lance into his very body. She was now glowing, fire reaching out from her in waves, consuming his body as she continued to punch, kick, and drive her hook into him.
In a matter of seconds the fire was a blaze so bright the frog had to squint, with an unknown word and quick, perfected movement the weird one seemed to breathe in the fire before it exploded in fury. The templar was gone.[After a brief respite, the world seemed to return to the vampire.]
“Well, that was fun.”, I said. I looked back to see the frog looking at crates. Annoyed, I asked, “Did you not watch, frog?”
“Oh, I did. But if you wanted me to watch you should not have made it so bright. Did you think about that, eh? It was quite dramatic, though. Do you think there's any tea or cake in these crates? You can’t eat ash, can you? I’m hungry.”, the frog spoke, completely unphased.
Shaking my head I said, “I guess this is my life now. Let’s find you some cake.”
[The beginning of an unexpected friendship.]
Aetolia at War, by Ulo
In the realm where memory dwells,
A cataclysm unfolds, the tale it tells. Incarnate Light and Incarnate Darkness clash, In a battle fierce, the world's fate to snatch.
With radiant brilliance, Light ascends, A celestial force, its power amends. Its ethereal glow ignites the skies, Guiding souls and hope, where darkness lies.
But Darkness too, a formidable might, Shrouded in shadows, consuming all light. Its depths bewitching, secrets untold, A force of chaos, relentless and bold.
Their clash resounds through time and space, An eternal struggle, no resting place. For Light, in its quest to save the land, Causes irreplaceable damage, a heavy hand.
Countless lives are lost, the cost immense, In the wake of battle, a shattered sense. The world trembles beneath their might, In this grand sacrifice, both wrong and right.
For Light, a beacon of hope and grace, Brings life and growth to every place. Yet in its brilliance, fires scorch and burn, Leaving scars upon the earth, a painful churn.
And Darkness, with its ominous might, Frees hearts from chains, hidden from sight. But as it spreads its cloak of night, It engulfs souls in despair, a daunting plight.
They wage their war, a dance of extremes, Shaping destinies, shattering dreams. Their purpose clear, to save the world, Yet their methods cruel, their flags unfurled.
In this tale of cosmic strife, We find reflection in each life. For battles fought within our soul, May bring salvation, make us whole.
Incarnate Light and Incarnate Darkness, In their clashing, bring a profound starkness. But from this clash, a world can rise, With scars as reminders, truths to recognize.
For memory holds the echoes of pain, And the lessons learned in battle's reign. In the fragile balance, hope survives, As Light and Darkness shape our lives.
A Warning to Duiran, A Call to Arms - by Dynos
O hark! See two twinned powers now at war:
The northern Dragon and southern moor.
The frozen lands of Shadow, Shade and spell
Match wit and arms against the woodlands fell.
Spinesreach, O city mine, of ice and dark,
Bring Shadow forth to snuff the foeman's spark!
Bring dirk and whip, and crux and gravity -
Root villains to the spot, see how they flee!
O Duiran, home of nature's vaunted might,
A dim new Cycle comes: an endless night
Wolfine and Sentinel, attendants all -
Beneath Ohlsana's shadow shall they fall!
The two great powers clash, and neither yields,
'Til Duiran's forests, soil and brush be peeled
To scoured wasteland, as was done before -
Until the Dragon's pride is is whole once more.