Theirs Was Not To Reason Why... ~~Everborn Histories~~

Discussion in 'The Salty Dog Tavern' started by The Watch, Mar 7, 2019.

  1. The Watch

    The Watch Well-Known Member
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    The sun stood high overhead in a sky that was so blue it was breathtaking. Not a single cloud marred the cerulean expanse overhead, only the bright, cold glare of the sun. This far north, even the full light of summer carried a chill with it on the wind, and the breath of both horse and man made clouds in the air as they breathed together in the midday hush. Ahead of them the grassy flats rolled into the sudden ripples and folds of the first high foothills that hugged the Northron Range. In the distance those gray granite monoliths stood with their craggy peaks capped in eternal snows and a dim, never-receding shadow of distance.


    It was said that even at the foot of the Mother of Mountains, the tallest peak in the entire realm, the peak still looked dim and farther away than the next Age of Man. Though many men had set their feet on her slopes, few had returned to tell their tales, and none had ever come closer than halfway to the peak and lived. Some said it was the home of the gods, but the Lord Captain had a different belief. He'd seen what marched out of the wights and warrens hidden deep in the roots of those eternal monuments to stone extravagance, and it was far from godly.


    Before him, at the first ridge of those foothills that reared suddenly from the frozen permafrost of the great north tundra, stood a moiling black mass the likes of which no living Lord Captain had ever faced. There were Ettins with their broad, twin faces arguing over scraps of half-roasted mutton and kegs of stale ale; there were the massive horns of towering rock and ice trolls, their rank breath steaming in the cold with great gray puffs. Rank after rank of Orcs stood in relatively neat blocks of roughly twenty, each captained by a single massive beast bedecked with scraps of armor ill-fit to their body, and often wearing a roughly hewn bone helm of some description. Their weapons were rusted and pitted with age and misuse, but they were kept to a keen edge and wielded by war-savvy creatures of brute force and cunning.


    There were even several ranks worth of Orcish Rangers with their twisted bows carved of some dark and fearsomely strong wood. They mixed and mingled through the ranks with no apparent pattern, choosing vantages that offered both concealment and additional elevation from which to fire down upon the attacking humans. And there was a new breed of beast he'd never seen before. These were Orcs as well, but they steamed and radiated a hot malevolence that was foreign in his experience with the twisted denizens that haunted the caves of the Northron Range. These new Orcs carried with them bulging leather satchels that also steamed, and glowed a faint reddish orange. There were other beasts as well like gargoyles and harpies, packs of dire wolves growling and snapping among the Orcs, some leashed and under command.


    And there were more that the Lord Captain couldn't name, creatures he'd never seen before, only read about or heard in tales whispered by old warriors in their cups. Monstrous floating heads with snake-like tentacles where hair should have grown, great twisted shapes that looked to be half-woman and half-spider. And then there were the War-Lords, evil Mages with power and darkness swirling about them and through them, their eyes shown with livid red power and rage.


    The mass of enemy stretched as far as he could see to either side, and there was no end to the standing files behind that front line. As the Lord Captain gazed at that mass of evil and darkness he couldn't help but be awed at the sight of it. The sheer might and force of will it took to call such a force into being, master it and marshal it for war was staggering. How could any mere mortal hope to stand in the face of such bare, naked, vicious power?


    And yet here he stood. And not alone, either. At his back was gathered the entire force of the Northern Realms. The Paladins of Angorath, the Pikemen of Shulan, the Knights of Devoria with their massive steeds clad in armor as fine as many a king in the lower realms were out of site, but not far. Then there were the Lore-Masters, Wizards, Channelers, Sorcerers, and Seers. They stood huddled in groups and rings, their own arcane powers crackling argent and blue through the air like sheets of living electricity and fire. At the clach held every harvest the Lord Captain had made his call, and he had been answered bravely.


    Now, facing that endless sea of darkness ahead of them, that bravery began to quaver.


    "Lord Captain," a voice said from his left elbow. It was Pentash, the elected commander of the Pikemen of Shulan. He was a man of short stature, with a wiry leanness that belied the strength for which he was renowned. It was said that a great Knight of Devoria had challenged him once to a contest of arms where by each man grasped each of the corresponding hands of his opponent and tried to twist their arms so that both hands were pointed fingers down at the same instant. The Knight refused to yield the last inch or so of the game, though his pain and exertion were clear for all to see. Instead of accepting the stalemate, though, Pentash had simply flexed and broken the thick wrists of the Knight with a subtle twist and shift in pressure. When the knight collapsed from the sudden pain, his hands were easier to twist, and Pentash won.


    No one had since challenged him.


    "Lord Captain, you must reconsider this. Our enemy has our numbers by at least twenty to one, if not double that. If we go through with your mad plan, we will be destroyed. And the Realms, none of them, will survive the coming destruction, not with our strength spent here so uselessly. They have the high ground, the numbers, and their lines of resupply are short while ours are so long as to be nonexistent. Sir, Lord, whatever title you wish, you must reconsider. Our enemy has every advantage."


    "They always do," the Lord Captain whispered softly. He turned in his saddle and regarded Pentash. The man was no coward, and he had gauged the situation right, except for one thing. One thing that the Lord Captain had told no one until this very moment. "Pentash, old friend, how many times have we marched into battle together? How many times have we stood back to back, bodies all around, blood and gore up to our ankles, and faced death with only our blades and our wits to purchase our lives?"


    "More times than I care to count," Pentash answered warily, rubbing an old scar just below his left ear where an Orcish arrow had nearly taken him in the throat in the days of their youth many years ago. The Lord Captain had heard the bowstring snap and had acted more out of instinct than thought, but his quick jerk on Pentash's cloak had been enough to save the man's life. It was one of dozens of scars each men bore with similar stories of how the other had saved them from a near death. They were the kinds of stories old allied soldiers accumulated if they were lucky enough to live to see their twilight years on their feet.


    "And how many of those times have I led you into folly and defeat?" The Lord Captain let the question hang unanswered for a few moments until his friend briefly dropped his eyes in recognition. "Then trust that this will not be the first time. You have judged this situation correctly with what you see, but there is more than our eyes can behold in this world, Pentash. We have more allies in this deep and long war than you know, perhaps more than any of us know, though that remains to be seen. At the clach I spoke of a higher purpose that had driven me to call for this march to war, and I speak of it again now. Fate, or Destiny, or whatever you want to call it, I've seen her, Pentash. And it was her words that pushed me into the light at the Great Council Fire of the clach, demanded this action. For she gave me a vision of a sure and swift destruction of all life, beauty, and truth in this world and all others should we fail to stand here, on this day, at this moment, to meet this foe."

    By now and eerie silence had settled over the ranks of soldiers within earshot, for the Lord Captain had done little to hold down his voice. He wanted his men to hear this now, they needed to be reminded why they had marched a thousand leagues from their homes and their hearths, their women and children. They needed to be reminded what it was they fought for, what they had come to stand in defense of, no matter the cost.


    "And so, here we stand," the Lord Captain bellowed, turning his mount to face the rank after rank of Pikemen and Karls behind him. "We stand against the Armies of Darkness so that LIGHT and LIFE may have a chance to prevail, slim as that chance may be. And if the price we must pay to purchase that victory is the last breath of life then I, for one, will gladly pay it that our kith and kin may see another day and know peace at last!"


    With that a great cheer erupted from his men, rising as a growing wave as it spread out and back through the ranks. Slowly, rhythmically, the pikemen and Karls began drumming their spears and axes against their tall, broad heater shields. The sound of the drumming shook the very air and brought a brief blur of tears to the Lord Captain's eyes. Then he wheeled his mount to face the seething mass of the enemy, whose face and timbre suddenly seemed far less certain than it had moments ago. Behind him two hundred thousand pikemen and half that many Karls stood in tight ranks. The Karls formed blocks around the pikemen, and in those mixed formations they held, waiting. In the very center of the entire army stood the cluster of Lore Masters, working their own strategy and art.


    The Lord Captain felt the entire army rock forward on the balls of its feet, a breath half indrawn and held in anticipation.


    He said a quick and silent prayer to Fate, whom he had long believed was an illusion at best, and he hoped she deigned to be listening. Then he drew his valorite sword and held it high overhead as its ring seemed to hang longer than natural in the suddenly still, cold air.


    "SUFLARE VITALE!" He roared at the top of his lungs and he lowered his sword as he dug his heels into the flanks of his massive black destrier. The horse sprang forward, its powerful legs churning across the brief flat expanse, and then up towards the waiting enemy. Behind him he heard the thunder of his army as it charged like a breaking wave up the slope of the foothills.


    The charge caught the enemy completely by surprise. The front ranks of Orcs stood stock still for a moment in shock, gaping and uncertain. It seemed ludicrous that such a relatively small force would charge an elevated position and attack rather than entrench. Then their commanders barked a few harsh orders, and the wall of twisted Orcs surged down the slope, gathering speed and force as they ran.


    I hope you know what you're doing, Wizard, the Lord Captain thought to himself, and then the two armies met with a sound like the bones of the earth crumbling.
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  2. The Watch

    The Watch Well-Known Member
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    Unlikely Friends and Common Foes


    The Lord Captain spun, his axe taking the head from a snarling Orc Captain and the arm of a Ratman Archer in one swing. Both went down, trampled beneath the feet, boots, and hooves of their comrades. His men had been fighting for hours, though it felt like days, and had made no ground. But they had given none either, and that was something. Blood turned the grass into a slick, muddy mess, and footing was treacherous at best. His horse had gone down early, and he hoped it had died quickly. There would be time to mourn that later, time to mourn so many things later, or so he hoped.

    And right now, it seemed, hope was all they had.

    The Loremasters were casting their spells, the air overhead was thick and crackling with them. Lightning fell out of the clear blue sky and balls of fire the size of grizzly bears arched overhead to burst among the ranks of the Army of Darkness. But even those holes their magic was able to carve were filled quickly, and the strength of the Loremasters couldn't last forever. So far the War-lords had been content to sit on their twisted, nightmarish mounts on a rise just to the north, observing the battle but not participating. The Lord Captain didn't want to think about how the tide would turn once they threw their might into it. "Carve the meat that's in front of you, not what's still on the bull," his uncle, a butcher, had been fond of saying.

    Some instinct made the Lord Captain duck, and a thick black arrow streaked through the air where his head had been a moment before. He drew a long bladed fighting knife without thought and flicked it at the Orcish Scout who had shot the arrow. His aim was true and the blade buried deep in the Orc's left eye, though the thing still thrashed and flailed as it went down. It knocked two pikemen fighting back to back down with it and the mass of twisted creatures swarmed over them before they could be pulled free. Up and down the line the Lord Captain saw similar sights. His men, the men who had gathered to his call and rode north to meet this tide of pure evil, fought bravely and gave their lives dearly, but they would not be enough. Even with every man taking ten, or even a hundred of the enemy first, they would all fall. He knew it, they all knew it, and still they fought.

    Pentash was beside him suddenly. "Should I sound the retreat Lord Captain? We can regroup on that ridge to the south, make them at least work for the last bit of it first."

    Luthain shook his head. "No, Pentash," he roared over the battle, "if we turn now they'll be on us and over us before you can blink. This is where we fight. This is where we hold them. To the last man, if need be!"

    Pentash nodded, a grim smile twisting his face. In all the years he'd known the man, the only time Pentash grinned was when blood was being spilled. His pike was gone, as was his horse, but he held a golden runic war axe in each hand, the magic runes etched into the blades glowing a sharp metallic blue from the presence of so many shadow-twisted beasts. "If this is to be the end, Lord Captain, we'll make it such an end that men will sing our names for a thousand years. They'll build statues to us in the cities of the south and women will cry our names in the arms of their lovers!"

    Before the Lord Captain could reply Pentash spun away, his war axes making bloody work of the enemy. "If there's anyone left in the south," Luthain said softly to himself.

    The Wizard Zeddar had sworn he would bring help, that this stand would not be in vain. Yet here they were, all of the armies the Light had been able to muster, and they were about to be swept aside like dust in the wind. If he ever saw that lying coward of a Wizard again he would carve the man's heart out and roast it. No, he thought, that isn't fair. Zeddar might be many things, but he was far from a coward. And it did no good to make threats he wouldn't live long enough to carry out anyway.

    Just then there was a rumbling in the air that started as a rattle he felt deep in his chest than a sound he could hear with his ears. His first thought was that the War-lords were finally making their move, and that the end was going to come swifter than even he had expected. But something wasn't right. Up and down the line of battle men and beast alike paused, a confused look on their faces as the sound grew and grew until the very air hummed with it and the hills seemed to shake down to their bony roots. But rather than coming from the ridge to the north, if anything the sound felt like it came from the south. In the sudden stillness as the battle slowed, then stopped, the sound seemed to swell to fill every perception Luthain had, and even his eyes began to shake from it. He turned south to stare at what seemed like a cloud of darkness riding swiftly against the wind out of the north.

    This is it, he thought. The enemy has made his move and we're going to be wiped off the face of the earth right now.

    The cloud grew as it swept north and as it grew the Lord Captain began to see individual shapes in it, massive shapes that writhed and moved, like a flock of impossibly large birds.

    "Not birds, Lord Captain," Pentash said from his side again. The man had taken a serious gash to the head, one of his war axes was gone, and he'd lose what was left of his left arm, but he was still standing. "Not birds. Dragons."

    And as Luthain's eyes focused on the front of that cloud he realized that Pentash was right, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. The cloud was made of dragons, more than he'd ever seen in all of his life. There were every type, every shape, every species of dragon-kind. he saw huge reds, massive browns, the wyverns with their snake-like neck and tail, even shadowy wyrms from the depths of Destard. And at their lead was a massive White Wyrm, its body as large as a keep, easily, and perched on its neck was a tiny shape robed in green.

    The Wizard had come at last.

    The dragons swept over Luthain and his men with a roar so loud he thought it might crack the bones of the earth itself, raking the enemy's ranks with fire and death. Drakes, smaller than their dragon cousins, crashed into the orcs, ettins, and trolls, their claws and fangs rending shadow-wrought flesh, fireballs belching from their mouths. A group of white wyrms swept down from the north to engage the shocked War-lords, their magic raging back and forth. Dragons landed up and down the lines, their claws and tails sweeping huge swaths of the enemy at a time, fire raging from their mouths. For a moment the enemy was knocked back, shaken, and his men let out a cheer as they surge forward in the gaps between the great reptillian beasts.

    Just in front of the Lord Captain the great White Wyrm that had rode at the peak of the formation landed in the sudden empty space cleared there, waves of cold rolling off his body like mist on a northern lake in winter. The Wizard Zeddar climbed down and said something to the Wyrm who nodded its head and turned to face Luthain. "My Lord Captain Luthain of Brae, may I introduce to you Veritas of the Wyrm, a new member of the Elder Council of his kind. Veritas this is the Lord Captain of the Keepers of the Flame, commanding general of the Armies of Light, Luthain of Brae."

    The Wyrm regarded him with ice blue eyes, then bowed its head and Luthain returned the gesture. "When you told me your plan, Wizard, I thought you were mad. Then when you didn't appear before the battle, I thought you a liar. For that I apologize. To you, Veritas, I owe a great debt. Perhaps after this I will be able to repay it, if we both live."

    The Wyrm shook its head, but Luthain got the distinct impression it was smiling. "This is no truce, and there is no debt, manling," he growled, the words sounding odd on his forked tongue. "We dragonkin keep to our own law, our own counsel. We are here because all life is threatened by the darkness now growing. And all life must stand against it. Tomorrow.....tomorrow is a different day."

    "But today we fight, and we fight together," Zeddar said.

    "That's enough for me," Luthain agreed quickly. "Did you find him, Wizard? The old foe you spoke of?"

    "The Necromancer, the source of this Darkness, is not here," Zeddar said regretfully. "It makes me wonder why. If he is not here then there is some other objective, some other prize which he is after and this is all meant to turn us from seeing it."

    "You mean this is a diversion?" Lord Captain asked incredulous.

    "Maybe. I can tell you this, if this was his master stroke I know he'd be here to see it fall. We were....friends....once, long long ago, and there are some things about him that haven't changed across the ages. His pride is one of them, and that pride would have him here to see his enemies shattered if that were the real purpose of this army we face. The fact that he's not...it worries me."

    "The battle rages," Veritas bellowed in a roar loud enough to make Luthain's ears ring. "You manllings spend too long talking. We must fight!"

    The great Wyrm turned and in four large strides it met the new front of the enemy forces just as they mustered for a charge. The weight of the beast drove the enemy ranks back, carved an empty space in front of him, but they didn't break. And if the Wyrm kept pushing then the forces of Darkness would close behind it, surrounding it. Luthain couldn't let that happen, not after what the Wyrm had done for him and his men. "Forward the Keepers of the Flame! Forward the Armies of Light! FORWARD! SUFLARE VITALE!"

    There was a cheer up and down the line as they surged forward to meet the new charge of the enemy. For the first time since the sun had risen that day Luthain began to thing that maybe, just maybe, he might live to see it set.


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    The sun was low in the western sky when the battle finally wound down to its end. The Lord Captain had led nearly twenty thousand men north to face the forces of Darkness. Barely two thousand still stood, another three thousand were wounded on the ground, many of whom would never see another sunrise, and the rest were dead. Fifteen thousand men who had answered his call, rode to his banner, and now they were gone. The Army of Darkness had been crushed, destroyed utterly, but the victory felt hollow. If the Wizard was right, if this was a diversion, it meant the Necromancer had enough might to throw this many of his servants away and not feel the bight of the loss. And that terrified Luthain to his bones.

    He slogged across the battlefield wearily, searching for men he could help with his limited knowledge of healing. Others of the Silent Brothers were there as well, the healers whose skill was legendary across the realm they wandered, moving among the men and ministering where they could. And that's how Luthain found his friend, Pentash. He lay on his back, his eyes open and staring up at the sky, already glazed with death. In front and around him were nearly a hundred of the enemy, all hacked and broken by his one good arm. The Lord Captain reached out and closed his eyes carefully, tears running down his cheeks as he thought about the songs his friend would never live to sing.

    Others lay dead and dying around him, and not just humans. The dragonkin had paid a dear price for their aid. Many hulking scaled shapes dotted and littered the foothills among the savagely rent bodies of their enemy, never to rise again. Zeddar, the Elder White Wyrm Veritas with him, found the Lord Captain there, weeping over his lost friend. "I'm sorry, Luthain. Pentash was a good man, a hero."

    "They all were," Luthain said gruffly as he scrubbed a hand across his face. "And not just the men," he said, looking at Veritas who bowed his head in thanks.

    The Wyrm reached behind with its long neck and plucked two perfect scales from between its wings. It dropped the scales, each larger than Luthain's two hands together, on the ground before Zeddar. They shimmered with an iridescent light in the slanting sun, colder and harder than the toughest steel. "If you need us again, Wizard, you may use those scales to call me. I cannot vouch for my kin, but I will answer. That I swear. Until then."

    Veritas bowed, then lumbered away from them down the slope of the hill until his wings caught the air, and he lifted on sweeping strokes. The rest of the dragonkin were already gone, chasing the broken remnants of the Army of Darkness north into the Blasted Hills. Veritas had assured them both already that when the last of that army was dead and broken his brethren would return to their homes in the deep caverns beneath the southern mountains.

    "We won a great battle here today," Zeddar said as Luthain stood.

    "But not the war."

    Zeddar shook his head slowly. "No, not the war, I fear. But a great battle all the same."

    "We'd better get busy writing songs then," the Lord Captain said with a wry twist to his lips that couldn't quite be called a smile. "Too many more victories like this, and there won't be anyone left to sing them."
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  3. The Watch

    The Watch Well-Known Member
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    In The Darkness Found

    The dragons were gone, all of them. He could feel their strength, their power, their....life.... moving north even now, distant as they were. Their lair, the dungeon that had been named many things, and was now known was Destard, stood empty. He walked in the darkness, a smile that never touched his eyes played across his pale lips. He could feel it now that he was close, almost taste it in the air. It was like a smell, but not quite. Deeper than that, stronger, like a part of him that resonated more and more the closer he drew to it.

    So many long ages searching, so much frustration at his failures. And then, the barest whisper of a rumor about something seen in a corner of a long forgotten dungeon, twisted now from its original purpose to the use of filthy dragonkin. He could smell their sulfurous stink, heavy in the air he breathed, but even that wasn't enough to distract him from his quarry. Not when he was finally this close, after so long. His maggot white tongue darted out to wet cracked lips again and again, like the serpents that shied away from his presence, fleeing into the deep black cracks and crevices around him.

    Here and there he could see the remnants of ages gone by peeking out of the dust, dirt, and debris of the cavern. A column leaning against a mass of stalagmites, mostly obscured by the growing stone that was slowly consuming it. Over there was a ruined wall, just a few blocks of stone standing one on the other, but shaped by the hand of men ages gone and turned to dust themselves. This had once been the deepest, darkest prison of a now forgotten kingdom, even the myth of it lost to history and the amnesia of mankind.

    And it was here that a part of him had been hidden.

    He walked to his right, following that feeling in the air deeper into the heart of the dungeon. There a massive lake that had never seen the sun, and never would, sat undisturbed by even the faintest breath of wind. The waters were dark, murky, and stagnant, reeking of the filth and waste of ages of dragonkin offal. He breathed in a deep, shuddering breath, the anticipation so sharp that he trembled with it. He raised his hands and began chanting in a deep, guttural language, one older even than the bones of this dungeon and the kingdom that had forged it.

    The surface of the hidden lake began to bubble and seethe, and from its murky depths a chest of blackened metal covered with ancient runes rose slowly and drifted to the shore. He knelt and with trembling hands crushed a lock that had long since turned to a lump of rust and dirt. The lid of the chest lifted, and there inside lay three pages of a book so twisted, so evil, that it had been buried in fragments across the realm to keep its power hidden.

    He reached out and took the pages, faded and cracked, but still readable. As soon as his fingers touched them he felt the thrill of power shoot up his arms and across his chest. It was if a piece of him that had been carved out long ago was suddenly whole again. It wasn't the full tome, not yet, but it was a beginning. And already he could feel his power grow, his form become more solid and real.

    Far to the north a battle raged, Mordecai could taste the blood on the air even here, feel the deaths as they grew, both his and his enemies'. But that battle did not matter, not truly. These pages, the Necromicon. THAT was what mattered, to him at least. And once he had it whole again there would be nothing to stop him. Nothing to stand in his way. As he strode out of the dungeon and into the falling night, Mordecai began to chuckle, a dry and hideous sound that echoed off the walls of the empty dungeon like gravel sliding across dead skin.

    He had the first pages, and now it was time to find the rest.

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