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Odo (played anonymously)

Background / The Realm
The Umbrous Steppes, the Weeping Gully and the Forests of Ruis

What exactly are these places, and how do they fit into the bigger picture of what's going on here? A simple introduction is in order, starting with the one which looks over all the rest.

The Umbrous Steppes, colloquially known as the Steppes of Dubh, or the Black Steppes, are so named because of their unusual tendency to host a great variety of forested environments despite their relatively high altitude and frigid climate. The foliage casts a shadow on the slopes of this place more often than not, and so have gone so far as to seemingly determine its name.

Some consider this an awkward or unfitting moniker, especially when concerned with the actual colors of the flora and fauna living therewithin. The shadows here may not yet hide the beauty and vibrancy of some, including the stout, blossoming bushes and trees of berries, or the beds of mountain flowers so chromatically stark one might think they'd just stepped into a fairy ring and joined the fair folks' chronic celebrations. Similarly, so, the fungi which straddle ancient oak and rise from the deadfall and glow in the dimmest forest floor cannot be blamed for the land's namesake. Nor does shadow hide the flash of white on the tail of highland deer while they spring from danger, or the dappled coats of endemic wolves, wargs, and wildcats which also call this place their home. Perhaps the reason the shadows are what lingers in the minds of those who name these lands is because of how it all looks at night. Though the stars, moon, and whirling spectacle of auroral lights dance evermore to illuminate the earth here, not a spot of that light can be found by the few bold enough to brave this wilderness after sunset.

Or, as others have pointed out, perhaps it is the orcen-kind, of complexions ranging from ashen grey to coal-black, that are responsible for the name. Yes, the mountain orcs of the Umbrous Steppes, with many a ferocious tribe-name and an even more ferocious reputation; perhaps they are the reason these steppes are named so! There are many accounts of travelers finding friendly clans in the hills, willing to shelter or guide them in harrowing times. However, more commonly, stories of brutal attacks by merciless warriors on the backs of rabid wargs are what fill the taverns of men that live nearby. As such, these steppes are treated with wariness and respect; after all, it is difficult for even the keenest of eyes to determine the intentions of a distant orcish band when a blizzard or dense fog has rolled in.

Whatever the reality may be, a history of warfare between the tribes and the lowland human kingdom of Ruis has tainted the former's reputation in the eyes of humans and their allies.

The Weeping Gully is a geographical barrier between the Umbrous Steppes and the Forest of Ruis. Although there are no formal borders recognized by the human realm and orcish tribes, one might almost acknowledge the gully as an unofficial one. It sits at the western base of the Steppes, where mountainous streams pour themselves out into it. The collection of mountain water has eaten away at the area over millennia, eventually forming a mighty river that courses south, far beyond the reaches of either environment or territory. Many peoples will visit either side of the river for fishing, riverside hunting, and drinking water. In times of plenty there is often peace; when the highland rains fail and the waters grow shallow, however... war is often the result. This isn't to say that no war taints the river in times of plenty, for kings and chieftains alike will pursue their own selfish agendas, but it is much harder to cross the river when it has glutted itself on rainfall. Nevermind the notion of transporting entire armies over its breadth.

There are some bridges that have been built in recent years, of nothing less than the sturdiest of stones, which serve as a relatively safe passage for wanderers to go as they please. Their existence will nonetheless be imperiled when the waters once again run too high-- or too low, for it is not unheard of for defensive warlords to destroy them in times of tension and conflict. They have survived for at least ten years, however, as the lands surrounding them have long since settled into peace.

The Forest of Ruis (within the Kingdom of Ruis) is what men call the lowlands just west of the Weeping Gully. Similarly to the eastern slopes, some consider this name a misnomer. Surely, there are many woodlands to be found here, alive with beautifully verdant flora and lively colonies of animals such as squirrels, deer, bears, wolves, foxes, lynxes, polecats, and others. However, there are also many clearings; some are formed naturally by rockier soils which tree roots struggle to permeate, while others are man-made, for the sake of gathering lumber and creating farmlands. In the more natural of these meadows, one may still find a variety of creatures such as wild horses, burrowing rodents, birds of prey, more foxes and wolves, badgers, wild dogs, and many more species. During spring, the wealth of plants that dot the landscape rival or exceed those found in the highlands. If it were not for the telltale signs of dirt roads and plowed land, where humble serfs eke out their own modest living, these territories would be ideal for settling. Some clans of non-humans nonetheless travel throughout the woods or settle in the meadowy hills, where either they defend themselves from human interference or coexist with them on friendlier terms.

Do not take these exceptions as any example of who claims these lands, however; for in the heart of the lowland forests there stands a mighty castle, surrounded by a city in the late stages of repair and expansion. This city, the capital of Ruis and the epicenter of local human power, is known as Caerbryn. Here live the humans that rule over this kingdom, and they are historically inclined to stamp out potential rivals regardless of the latter's ken.

The humans that call Ruis their home are a sturdy lot, of short stature and broad shoulders. Scholars attest these traits to their agricultural livelihoods, or to their weapons of choice; the bow and spear, respectively. Renowned for their husbandry of a unique collection of horse breeds, and for their love of living in villages sheltered by ancient trees, Ruis-men and women are friendly to most travelers, so long as they are not of the eastern Steppes or loyal to rival kingdoms. Therefore, it is not the most unusual thing to find humans of other lands settled in these ones, or humanoids for that matter. The forests are a home to many, and all but the most remote of villages welcome guests.

This is all well and good, but why do these details matter?

The answer is straightforward. About twenty years prior, the last Highland War came to a tragic conclusion. Led by a doomsaying prophet known as Mael'o Inifernach, several large tribes of the Steppes traveled to the lowlands, laying waste to the human territories between them and Caerbryn. The prophet attested that, through visions and confluences with the ancient spirits, the blame for a recent famine fell on the shoulders of the human royalty. After forty days of brutal siege and failed assaults, the invaders managed to breach their enemies' defenses. What a bloody day it was, filled with deeds inhumane from either side. The day and another yet passed before the fighting was through; the human defenders had just barely grasped victory from their attackers, at no small cost in life and limb. The king of the humans, Cathal the Blue, lost his life in the process. Just as well, Mael'o Inifernach was found among the fallen attackers, struck down by arrows during a most peculiar ritual. Most of the city was in ruins by the time the siege was broken. The surviving human warriors ventured forth to ensure that no orcen-kind would tarry on their way home, and in the process they reclaimed the lands that were conquered earlier in the war. Prisoners were taken by either side, and some still live in conditions directly resulting from the war twenty years prior.

This would have been the end of the tale, save for one crucial detail. On the way back home, one of Mael'o's most loyal followers, called Dubh'cu, would attempt to complete the rites his leader had left undone back in Caerbryn. Whether or not the rite he performed was successfully the same as Mael'o's has been hotly debated since then, but the consequences cannot be ignored.

Something was released into the land that day. The exact nature of it is elusive, but it left its mark on the forests for years to come. It is like a cockroach-- difficult to kill, and inclined to hide right beneath the noses of those that still reside in the hills and meadows nearby the Weeping Gully. The thing found a home in the wilderness and relished in its relative solitude, gathering all it needed to unleash its own thoughtless cruelty upon the realm, and perhaps beyond...
___

Prelude
Day One

An age-- or what felt like an age-- of scorching summer nights plagued the hermit's sleep. Insects buzzed within and outside his hovel, biting at his limbs, gnarled with old scars, while he struggled with the nigh-futile efforts to squash them or ward them off. Days stretched slowly into sweltering evenings... at least, until now. Finally, the winds carried a cool breeze, and the insects' assaults abated. Finally, Odo could enjoy some small comfort during his outdoor chores. Were the seasons changing, yet again? Had the autumn chill arrived?

The average forest dweller would be able to tell from the change in the color of the leaves. The hermit was afforded no such convenience; instead, as he walked along familiar forest paths, he would reach out towards the lower branches of the trees and feel the texture of the leaves between his fingers. On this day, there was no consistency in the texture of the leaves. Odo kneaded his thumb and pointer finger together and felt one leaflet break apart between them, sighing with relief. Perhaps it was further into the year than he initially thought.

The forest this hermit dwelled in was nameless, but was one of the many shady forests of the Umbrous Steppes' borderlands. There were quite a few slopes, pits and cliffs worthy of his awareness. Odo evaded all of them with ease, tapping the end of his walking stick against the footpaths. He checked each of the usual places where berries grew, collecting his share before moving on to the next spot. It was a good day for foraging; roots, berries, and wild greens were still in ample supply. With the coming of the autumn, he would have to double his efforts to collect them. The signs of his future fortune in such matters were also promising; there were plenty of leaves, reeds, stems, tubers and berries that felt young and immature still. Maybe the long summer was to thank for this, or maybe it was just a matter of luck.

The half-orc listened to the crunch of deadfall beneath his bare feet. The forest grew quiet, unusually so, as he approached an area where he usually laid snare-traps. Feeling a familiar incline in the soil, he knew he was all but on top of it, but no creature had yet made a sound. Even if it were a rabbit or squirrel, it might have tried to scurry away when he came into view. Had he caught anything at all? Odo, still somewhat careless within his sense of routine, stuck his walking stick against the forest floor and leaned on it as he stretched an arm forward to feel at the trap's cordage. Before his fingertips found the handwoven twine, something sharp pierced the scarred flesh of the hermit's hand. Both his palm and the back of his hand were gripped by this alien force; whatever it was, the creature far exceeded in size what he anticipated. He could tell from the width of what felt like its jaws. The pain could not distract from the most perturbing detail this creature exhibited to the trapper, however; although it yet chewed on his hand, the inside of its mouth was cold and dry.

Recognition of being bitten, as well as the odd nature of it, came to him in the instant it happened. His mind was not so quick as to respond with anything creative, however. He croaked out a pained curse and tried to withdraw his hand, nearly stumbling off of the hillock in the process. The creature in the trap gurgled and writhed where it was for just a few seconds before it collapsed, as silent as it was when he arrived. Meanwhile, anxiety swelled within the mind of the hermit. What manner of creature had just bitten him, and why couldn't he tell it was there? All manner of forest beasts made sounds; their breathing, their familiar scents and their warmth usually gave them away. This one gave no signs of being there, on the other hand. Why hadn't it moved? Was it asleep just prior, or sick? Odo reached towards his belt, carefully withdrawing a primitive sort of knife chipped from flint and bound by leather into a carved bone handle. Whatever it was, he would put it out of its misery and, if the distant gods smiled on him, he'd forget about it by next week.

Day Two


Odo sat by the cinders of the prior night's flames, idly rolling a long, thin bone fragment between his teeth. The creature from yesterday was a deer, and a buck at that. The hermit couldn't believe his luck; first, a greatly fruitful foraging trip, and then a bountiful catch from his very first snare trap. The others had yielded no game, but to him it hardly mattered. Though his sight had left him years ago, he never lost his skill with dressing and preparing his own game. The fur would be saved and crudely preserved in anticipation of the coming winter, and what he could not eat, he smoked for future consumption. Even with the bite, the day still proved to be a good one. This was a rare occurrence for the hermit; he could not remember the last time he had been so lucky.

The incident still proved a bit unsettling, though. He could only infer that his other senses may finally be failing him. The prospect of such a thing cemented a twinge of lasting anxiety in him; a good autumn stockpile would only support him for so long, if that were the case. Furthermore, since the morning, the bite wound felt especially tender and swollen. Odo supposed that this would be normal for a bite of that size; even though he worked hard to wash out any saliva that may have gotten in, there was only so much he could do to prevent infection. After eating, he took the precaution of rinsing the wound out yet again and hissed through clenched teeth from the resulting pain.


Day Three


The fine autumnal weather subsided by the third morning. He did not need to see the clouds to know the sky was grey; the sensation of a world anticipating rain pressed upon his ears and ached in his bones. Though Odo could not hear rainfall yet, he knew it was coming soon. In any other situation he would forage yet again, although there were still plenty of foods from his last trip. If the rain persisted a while he could just as quickly deplete his stores and be trapped inside, unable to make sense of the world enough to effectively forage during the downpour. The footpaths would not change, but if a wolf, bear or big cat chose to stalk him in the coming days, he may simply not hear them in time.

Regardless, the rain had not come yet, and the truth to why he did not yet stir was simple. He felt, from the moment of his waking, as awful as if he'd just returned from being run over by a horse-driven carriage. The hermit's body felt as if it had soaked up the last of the summer blaze, and his chest was heavy, weighed down by an invisible assailant. It was an arduous task in itself to arrange himself a new campfire, and then even more so when it came time to light it. He toiled with the flint knife and timber until his arms ached, and only felt the exterior warmth of a newly kindled flame after several minutes (If he were healthier he might be impressed, but for a sick man this seemed far too long.) As the fire took to its fuel, the world inside Odo's hovel started feeling truly hellish. It could not possibly be so, but the fever, paired with the flames left him sapped of energy. He laid pitifully on his side, facing the fire despite every ounce of him screaming to run out into the cool autumn morning. After all, the hermit had already decided that he'd sweat this one out.

Despite the weakness, the heat, and the incessant shake of his hands, Odo stubbornly laid in his makeshift bedroll until exhaustion finally took him away from the awful waking world.

Day Four


When the fourth morning arrived Odo hardly noticed it. His body had laid there, in his hut, all but comatose for the entire day and prior night. The only difference was the sound of rainfall; a sound he did anticipate, but perhaps not so soon. Anyone would feel disorientated after such a long slumber, but without the eyes to see the changes around him, the hermit was even more so. Had the entire day just passed? An evening? Or was it an illusion, with only perhaps an hour passing by? The sickness had not yet abated, and he felt just about as awful as he did the day prior with only one minor difference. There was an undeniable heat which emanated from his brow, and his chest still felt quite heavy, but he felt comparably numb to it. Truly, the half-orc felt cold. Terribly cold. The shaking had gotten worse, and had it not been for his need to relieve himself he might have just laid there and resigned himself to feeling this way yet again.

He looked after himself with the food he'd gathered, brewing a pot of herbal tea. Odo nearly fell back asleep as it boiled, but once it was done he poured it into one of a few clay cups he'd baked and sipped the tea down gradually. With each gulp came a cold, stabbing pain in the length of his throat. The sickness had only gotten worse, then. Musing that he must look pitiful, the hermit finished his tea, struggled to swallow what normally were sweet, fresh blueberries, and went back to bed. The berries tasted sour, but their texture suggested that they could not have been picked at a better time. Before sleep claimed him again, Odo took from his stores a chunk of venison jerky and gnawed on it, all while wishing that he had fresh meat instead...

Day ???


The world was so, so very cold. Nothing helped anymore. Not the fires he rekindled, not the thickest of his furs, not the tea, nothing. The shaking spread from his hands, up his arms and legs, all throughout his body. His muscles were so very tired. He could barely feel his fingers anymore. Perhaps his feet were already gone, for all he knew. Why did this happen? Was it the deer? Was it a deer...? Whatever it was, Odo only had himself to blame. Barely remembering himself, he vainly curled into a ball. If this was the end of everything, then he only had himself to blame for how very lonesome he felt...

So lonesome, so angry, and... so hungry. And nothing in his supplies could sate that unholy ravenousness. Nothing in the world could, except meat...

Fresh meat.


___
Days Later...


How long had it been since Odo fell ill? He could no longer recall. The rain was gone, but it left a sweet fragrance in the air; sweet, and slightly musty, as some of the deadfall in the woods tends to be after long rainstorms. With the rain, so too did the worst of the hermit's symptoms leave him peacefully overnight. He could hardly believe he survived at all, and wasn't yet sure whether or not to be happy about it. At the worst of times, he could taste the vaguest hint of copper in the back of his mouth. The thought of those moments alone made his stomach turn, and since he was feeling healthy enough to walk again, he eagerly got up and made for his front door. It was time to walk the footpaths once more. Or at least, that is what he had hoped to do. Upon grasping the makeshift handle for the door, the hermit could not help but feel that something was still wrong.

Without a word, he lifted his head a bit and sniffed the air. Nothing was strange within the hovel, so he leaned toward one of the door's covers and sniffed again. He recoiled. A new scent, so pungent that it nearly moved him to hurl again, filled the air quite densely outside. It was like nothing else he'd encountered, and because of that Odo found it easy to identify. It was the smell of rot.

The stench was so strong, the hermit knew its source had to be very close to the entryway to his home. It could not have been the deer, for he had smoked meat many times before, and knew that the preservation of its meat was successful. It could not have been the fur, for he had also prepared that accordingly, and knew it was stored safely in his shed. Even if it did rot from some form of leakage, its smell would not be so strong by his door. His heart began to race, and he kept the door shut, returning inside to find and bring with him his only axe. It was an old weapon, and most of the time was only ever used to hew young or dead trees for firewood, but it would have to be enough for the time being.

Odo returned to the door, and with such care not to make a sound while opening it, the hermit tossed out one of his clay bowls. It bounced harmlessly against the leaflitter and soil, rolling a bit in a circle before settling on its curved circumferential surface. If the thing outside smelled of death, it either possessed no intelligence or very little intelligence. At least, that's what the hermit hoped for; and sure enough, after the bowl hit the floor and rolled about, the half-orc could hear a creaking, rasping groan as something limped sluggishly towards it. Whoever they were, they carried the unmistakable stench with them. He didn't need to see them to know what they were, and so he acted quickly.

While the intruder finished groaning Odo growled and swept horizontally, praying that sound alone would guide his axe. The tool's blade bit into something but did not quite get through. The intruder groaned again and started to turn; the hermit did not wait to see what they would do next. He swept again and again, and with the third strike he had hewn through that soft spot. The intruder groaned before that last strike, gurgling helplessly as part of it (the head, he supposed) fell to the ground. A much louder thud signaled the rest of the thing's collapse.

The half-orc did not stop, even then. He swung his axe into the fallen creature a few more times, and then nudged its head with the top of his weapon. The creature was still, and did not stir even when he reached to grasp it by its filthy, soaked head of hair. The damp terrain made building a fire much more difficult, but Odo did not give up; he gathered the creature's body, cleared a bed of leaves from near his home, and built a new fire pit. After hours of labor the flames ignited and swallowed their fuel--stored firewood, for the forest deadfall was far too wet--only to bloom with renewed ferocity once the thing's remains were thrown upon them. Smoke and steam flew from the spectacular blaze, and a reverberant wail echoed from within it as the flames gorged themselves on its mass.

By then, Odo had already walked back inside. The day could not be treated as usual any longer; a message needed to be carried, should it not be too late, to the people of the nearby lowlands. A village had been built to the west, in a place where the Steppes dipped down into a valley. The message needed to be heard by them, if it was not already too late. The hermit was ready for a sudden departure, but still spent some time preparing. He doused the remaining flames once he was sure the thing would not come back and made for one path he had not tread in many years...
Prelude


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They were not of these lands, crimson banners that had not been witnessed before in these lands, men whose wares and dialect did not match that of the locals. The only herald of their coming had been a blinded messenger sent back unto the court of Caerbryn to announce that they were given three days to make a decision either subjugate or face the consequences, what consequences? the answer to that question was etched on a scroll that stretched the length of the court, bearing thumbprints cast in blood. The tally for this one scroll alone far outnumbered any host that the royals of Ruis could hope to muster more so in a time so dire and nothing else was provided.

They came as Conquerors, making a march across seas and mountains to arrive here by the edict of their Emperor Arenicos. The Valradic Empire, a paragon of human civilization that had usurped several smaller kingdoms and barbarian nations beneath its red flag, whose territory sprawled across two continents and whose legions brought might unparalleled to the battlefield. As the hawk watches from its perch, so too did the Empire's spies report on the affairs of these lands, not all details ofcourse only those that mattered, the intricate work of laying supply lines, mapping the area, stirring political discontent and rivalry constantly and eagerly prodding to find an exploitable fault and Ruis's woes could not have come at a more opportune time. The ravages of war in these lands made the Imperial Archons salivate with ambition and hence the force of three legions was mustered to lay siege.

The cruelty of orcs known well to these people was a bestial and savage thing, seemingly part of the natural order of affairs just as wolves were sent to cull the herd. But the merciless and systematic destruction that the Empire swore to bring to this frontier would be unlike anything ever witnessed, alchemical engines of fire to set villages ablaze within hours, wagons of poison salt to choke their wells and streams and deaden the fields, a bounty of stakes and boards upon which the defiant would invariably find their heads and corpses lashed. But for all this, they brought scholars, diplomats and merchants all the same, the Empire brought a promise of prosperity but this mercy was not given rather earned by virtue of the local populace's cooperation.

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Emperor Arenicos demanded that Caerbryn be taken within a fortnight and the crimson banners were thusly hoisted outside its walls... but it had been three weeks since those events transpired, for the spies in all their observances had failed to notice that something was fundamentally very, very wrong with these lands and this place. Only a loremaster could have hoped to pick up on the treacherous auras that had perhaps sown the seeds of discord and set this moment precisely, amidst the devastation of two giants. When the Imperial armies would return, they would carry it with them.

Battle did follow and the Empire brought the full force of its siege engines against the walls of Caerbryn, three armies were mobilized for seperate objectives within the lands surrounding and within the kingdom of Ruis, it was a well planned strategic assault.

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The 17th Legion Exalted Rams "XVII Aries Exaltor" were siege specialists that fielded dwarven engineers and fire weapons amongst their ranks and were charged with the direct assault on Caerbryn, they used a noxious alchemical flame known as "Lung-Scald", the flame burned at an extreme heat based on an oily resin that water could not easily extinguish this violent fulminant was intended to set off several fires, though it burned intense enough to melt rock it lasted only a short while, the truly devastating effect was its name sake as the vapors left in a thick low cloud were corrosive and quite literally burned away the lungs of those who were unfortunate enough to breathe it, intended to be used against the tight knit defensive formations in towers or walls. Their heavy infantry followed experts at fighting in close and tight quarters, with excellent discipline and formations, the rams were known for their liberal use of dwarven smithed firebombs against the enemy. In combination with this a great number of trebuchets and "bomb-kites" were fielded.

The 18th Legion Hungering Knives " XVIII Avidus Coltris " were an expeditionary force composed of elite skirmishers, rangers, spies and scouts whom were deployed to harass the enemy, disrupt enemy supply lines, engage in sabotage and assassination as well as oversee the resupply of the siege-force whether by virtue of raiding or guarding baggage trains. The knives were swift and skilled, setting traps within the hills and forests, burning villages, executing conspirators and launching daring maneuvers such as night raids or hippogryph-cavalry raids to further cripple their foe. They made excellent use of elven rangers and assassins to skillfully dispatch the enemy and prevent any attempts at escape or resupply.

The 19th Legion, under the commander of General Marcus Leocadus were the honored Wolvenborn Legio XIX " Lupor Ferox " their task was to meet the armies of the Kingdom of Ruis in direct battle, a task that would no doubt ensue in many battles across the lands. These were composed of veteran and elite infantry and cavalry corps, from Praetorian Legionaries to Wolvenborn Houndmasters, Tower-shield and crossbow wielding Sagittarian guards to elite Cornaeth Gryphon Riders. At the head of this host was the decorated Knight-Legate himself possessed of the arcane leonine sword, whose powers promised drakefire immolation to those who considered the unlikely prospect of victory against the Empire's finest.

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His ominous gaze, laden with a fire far more menacing than the flames of the camp hearth before him, that of ambition gazed long into that crackling conflagration. His semblance stern and scowl vicious betrayed the nature of this beast in the guise of a man such that the auspicious decorum before him seemed almost a farce save for the dire wolf pelt that adorned his shoulders being the only echo to the truth of his essence. Three weeks, three weeks had the Empire unleashed its wrath upon these lands and surely casting the sword upon their fellow man without what seemingly lacked a fair precedent seemed to be an injustice of the highest magnitude. These were perhaps the thoughts that those sparing few legionaries around the camp who looked to him thought too. Why? why this cursed place and this long campaign, had the Empire not enough land and fiefs, and how many more months would the legion be on march? fools, life and soul was forfeit to the legion, it was a way of life, it was the way of warriors. At last, Marcus spoke.

" Aeons ago, Valradios the Great happened upon the barbarian nations within the continent of Tyranoth, he pondered at great length the circumstance and dilemma of his fellow man. The petty fief and the feudal lord, are worse enemies to the progress and prosperity of mankind than any orc or daemon could ever pose, for in their meaningless disputes, greed and will to power, they forego what is of utmost necessity; civilization."

The Wolf-Father rose, beginning to tread along the fireplace.

"It is the wolvenborn that earned the honor of bringing battle to the host of the Kingdom of Ruis, we do so with both enmity and ferocity because we, acknowledge the necessity of extinguishing the enemy within, today these people see us as naught but slaughterers, as wolves, but it is the sacred duty of the wolf, entrusted to us by the divine to cull the herd of weakness, of pestilence and of ineptitude. No doubt, Valradios the Great was not esteemed by his foe and the remembrance of our forebearer is not for his act of conquest nor war, but for the prosperity he brought by virtue of creating The Empire, The Valradic Empire. "

Marcus knelt down and clutched a handful of dirt. and raised his fist to the cohort of surviving legionaries.

" For it is we who fight in the same spirit ! the childrens children of these lands, their descendants shall have the honor of calling themselves Valradians ! we shall have liberated them from enemies within and enemies beyond ! we shall have fought for all mankind and afforded them the finest of food and cloth and avenues of opportunity that their petty lords could never conceive to bring them, we fight for Valradia, for the people of these lands, for all mankind! the only acceptable outcome is victory lest our lives be forfeit and even the mightiest mountain shall be turned to dust for the crimson tide of Valradia does not relent "

My brothers ! My sons ! We are the Wolvenborn Legion ! Ours Is The Right To Cull ! There Shall Be No Quarter for The Craven!

The rattle of shields and the war-chants of legionaries in unison erupted in a renewed state of moral as Marcus unsheathed his sword raising it above his shoulder and setting it alight with arcane fire. Before sheathing his blade and making way towards his tent filled with paraphernalia befitting a military commander, maps and pieces upon them, labels of ink, leather parchment indicating various records and logs of supplies, some furniture and food and a host of war-trophies within a chest. He breathed a slow sigh of relief as he poured some wine into his cup, one of his advisors lingering in the entrance.

" Yes, Come In Quintus "

" My lord, pardon me for expressing my concern, but I am sure you had good cause for orchestrating recent events. We are now separate from most of the legion and nearly half of our soldiers were decimated in the ensuing disaster, it... it does not make any sense to me, even the Ruisians must have been aghast and stupefied at what you had done at Battle of The Weeping Gully. I find it difficult to reason with all of this."

Marcus issued a subtle laugh and a shake of his head, gesturing to a seat before his friend.

" Loremaster Quintus, If I found myself in your place, I too would find it not unreasonable to consider the prospect of madness but surely you must have witnessed the attitude of the legionaries and thought to yourself that even having survived being drowned by a torrent and seeing half their brothers being swept away, fighting off a river all at the behest of their commander, and yet... they do not rebel, this is not by virtue of their loyalty to the Emperor alone, I know each man by name in my legion, and they know of me, this is not their first battle and they are aware of my... for lack of a better word... peculiar.. methodology... allow me to elaborate "

Marcus directed Quintus's attention onto the map before him as he illuminated the manuscripts via candle light.

" Audentes et callidos fortuna juvat, re vera ludum abhinc annos constitueram (Old Valradic) - Fortune favors the bold and clever, in fact I had set the game years ago. "

A wicked grin settled on the Wolf's features as he took a swig of wine and set alight his smoking pipe.

" In the lore of these people they called it the Highland War and it was a sublime opportunity for us to begin the preparations for an inevitable future invasion, the kingdom of Ruis is not a novice adversary and they are masters of the defense with the orcs constantly prodding at their defense serving to reinforce them further, nowhere are their defenses stronger than at this frontier, at the weeping gully. Whilst the orcs are a menace to this realm they also form something of a natural defense, as an invading force would have to traverse the treacherous steppes and the gully to be able to access the lowlands, any precarious route not heavily guarded by the kingdom is either impassable, temporary or far too dangerous... merchants always knew this and the thought of this stoked comfort in the Kingdom, naturally, Valradia would not stand idle and watch the kingdom of Ruis be brought to ruin by the orcs, so we extended to them the Debitio Aeternum - The Eternal Debt and you, who are a loremaster well versed in our history will acknowledge that this is a standard precedent for future imperial invasion, in their desperation, this was taken... but our dealing was with Cathal the Blue, a virtuous and powerful man that made the prospect of invasion all the more unlikely... but fortunately, one without an evidently strong or capable line of succession, as is the case, eventually, with all primitive heritable monarchies. So arrangements were made at our behest by the frumentarii that saw Cathal's... hmph... martyrdom. "

Marcus paused once against, rubbing his fingers together.

" And we also ignored... certain bandit forges, orcs are not inherently evil, they are a people just like any other and when savages live amongst each other, they learn the law of savages, when they live amongst the empire, they learn the law of the Empire, let us say that we retain a few quite capable and diplomatic tusked chieftains whose loyalty to Valradia is unquestioned, the people here resent orcs much as the orcs resent them, an exploitable difference... so we allowed these sanctioned criminals to covertly supply the orcish war effort as well, in effect, this amplified the magnitude of this war several-fold. We needed to buy time... time to carve a route that had been hitherto unknown... neither the orcs nor the kingdom would have considered the extent of our technology... I am sure if you presented the idea of an army pulverizing its way through the mountains to even a Valradian peasant, they'd call you made... but the legion is the most resourceful and capable fighting force humanity has ever fielded, our strengths and capabilities lie not only within battle but beyond it... "

Marcus paused, heating the tip of a dagger upon a candle before laying a line of black powder upon the table that violently fulminated as Marcus laid the red hot tip upon it's edge.

" Arenicos was infinitely wise in instituting houses of knowledge and innovation early in his reign, one of these was the Ordo Alchemicus, or the Alchemist's College created by dwarven refugees to the Empire ages ago, here a few surviving master smiths passed down the sacred forge lexicons to us and their warriors helped us restructure the 17th, now called the Exalted Rams. From this association we received many thing, most kept in secret, one of which you have just witnessed... black powder was once it's weight in gold and now? the Empire has enough to provide every citizen with a barrel... we put it it good use in those mountains, boulders turned to dust and the land was swept away... a feat only dwarven engineers could have accomplished... nevertheless... we had our route and none was the wiser, because how could one dismiss it from yet another avalanche or landslide, the barrels were placed in underground caverns so as not to make a noise... it was a masterful stroke of luck and ingenuity and one that allowed us to march our armies conveniently into their heartlands, bypassing the formidable defenses in and around the gully "

Marcus leaned in towards Quintus who by this point gazed at his with eyes widened and jaw rather slack as his mind had difficulty connecting all the various threads, atleast these were the ones he knew of thus and not others that were to follow and likely, the only reason Marcus relayed this information to Quintus was because it became irrelevant in the current scheme of things.

" From there we launched a three pronged assault, taking note of the stratagem employed by the Kingdom and the sort of warfare they were used to, the problem with considering warfare in one dimension is that it follows a rather predictable pattern and every season, their soldiers are drilled for one thing... a huge wave descending from the mountains, had we wanted... we could have marched on Caerbryn almost immediately, one would think such an overwhelming attack would be within our favor but it is not say, ours was a surgical, deliberate assault. Their presumption was that we would decapitate them by siege, but infact, we were bleeding them out... men will tolerate death Quintus, but they will not tolerate hunger. We sowed terror and destruction in the villages, so that the towns to follow surrendered without battle, we raided and severed supply. This was accomplished by creating two dams, The 17th executed the long siege of Caerbryn, the purpose of this was principally not only to decimate the capital but prevent them from reinforcing the heartlands, several layers of trenches and defenses were built around Caerbryn so that even if they broke through the siege, it would prove fruitless and attritive, we brought the full-might of our siege engines there... enacting scorched earth and using weapons the likes of which were not heard of in these lands. The Hungering knives proved most instrumental, our supply lines would be fickle at best but with timing our assault around harvests we would reap the land of its own bounty, it would provide for us and indeed it did, I cannot say I agree with their methods, surely such warfare as is not honorable does not befit me entirely, but I cannot argue the results of their methods either... they are swift and cunning enough to deal with guerilla warfare all the same moreso given command of the legion is in the hands of a wood elf. And finally there is us, The Wolvenborn, we do not have the numbers advantage the other two legions have, rather our fortitude lies in the training of our soldiers and the superiority of our equipment "

Marcus paused taking another swig of wine.

" We are amongst the Empire's best and I've made sure of that, any sign of weakness has never been tolerated, the right to walk amongst wolves is earned by virtue of... growing fangs, these men are ritually indoctrinated, to them war is life and faith as much as it is profession and they come from lineages not of farmers nor tradesmen but professional warriors, which in my opinion, is the greatest tradition in all of the Empire, our soldiers do not return to farm in the spring and summer, they remain warriors. So it was befitting that we were chosen to face the full might of the Ruisian army, we began at some distance from these borderlands, as word of reinforcement from Caerbryn reached the frontier, armies were sent back and met us in battle, I had hoped to destroy them entirely upon the field but as I said earlier, the armies of Ruis are not strangers to war... our performance was satisfactory in the opening stages of this theatre and left an impression on the Ruisian armies, they defaulted to what they knew best, a sort of active defensive and we brought them to their fortifications in the gully... the frumentarii are not all-encompassing and we grossly underestimated the full extent of the fortified networks within the gully, resilient beyond all measure and built over generations... to take them by force was suicide... foolish... but I had to think of something "

Marcus then rose from his chair, hands crossed behind his back and a seemingly remorseful expression upon his features, walking over till he locked eyes with the Valradic Banner.

"If I gave them a prospect of victory that was so close and so achievable then they would falter, afterall, the prior feigned assaults and false maneuvering was meant to ensure to their commanders that we knew nothing of their lands, it was meant to make them comfortable in the sharpness of their swords and spears and the bulwark of their walls. Our wounded were beginning to take a toll on us and our supplies and I sent the larger contingents back to reinforce the central front were they would be of more use. I wanted them to think they had whittled us down by virtue of disease, by virtue of faltering morale... a thousand men turned to no more than a few hundred and a few hundred turned to hundred... a move played carefully, thoughtfully... only a fool plays his whole hand in one gamble... the prospect of what was to follow did not bode well with me but it was our only option... 50 wounded and sick, 50 able, two cohorts, a charge into the vale... and the Ruis Army thought we took the bait, they charged from the fortresses, as the legion held formation and engaged in battle... I too was present, and then right then... the master stroke, a deafening echo sounded in the far mountains... powder charges Quintus... laid upon glacial dams... If we could not take the gully then it was better to extinguish it outright... and it couldn't have come at a better time, I waited impatiently for the rains to enact the killing blow... and they fell not but a day ago... We unleashed an untimely and monumental flood upon the gully, unleashing a volume not witnessed, I'm hoping for our sakes, that one old bridge held because barring that everything else is under water... this was considered ofcourse... the lowlands are too vast to effectively raid all of them... so instead we would compound the issue by causing floods... our mission was supposed to have been complete... the border garrisons of Ruis were decimated... hrahaha... if Valradios the Great sought to win his battles by might Quintus he would have been destroyed, Valradians win battles here " he added gesturing to his head " And the rest is just play ".

Marcus walked back to Quintus wringing his cloak of some of the water from the flood. an expression of concern upon his features

" However, I fear I may have made on crucial error in my judgement "

" I've been having nightmares Quintus, and my ring, it has the ominous glow... something sorcerous and foul is at work here, maybe all of this was a ruse. We faced no adversary in the mountains as we carved the paths, some events within this planning seemed to come together a little too seamlessly... what we have effectively done is produce a state of complete and utter chaos and anarchy within these lands this befits us for the sake of doing battle... but one cannot help but wonder, who else does all of this benefit... what have we not considered... and then the answer struck me, something we did not factor into all of this... the orcs Quintus, the orcs... not their armies... but what they know and knowledge is of the essence... the scouts reported a number of strange incidences, something of ghouls and related to the deceased... illiterate prospects I thought until... well, the ring began to glow... this was also partly the reason why I authorized the flooding... this lies outside of our objectives... but I have done battle against the precarious and preternatural Quintus, and the forces beyond our realms bear constant witness... they can never truly be ignored... what I am about to say next will sound even more like madness... but I am forced to take initiative here, It is not my will to unleash another great evil upon the realms for this war then would have seemed like a horrible farce "

He rose up and stared at Quintus intently,

" At daybreak we will launch an expedition inwards to the steppe, we shall seek to parlay with the orcs "

Quintus no longer held himself, he rose to object almost instantly before being silenced with raised hand from Marcus

Suspicion has kept us safe but Boldness has brought us Victory

I do not for even a moment presume they will take kindly to this, but they would've witnessed us wage war against the people of Ruis, the enemy of my enemy is a clause simple enough to be comprehended by the greenskins and besides, we can offer them wealth and food in a sufficient measure. We must heed the words of their chieftains, tusked lords are not lacking in wisdom even if it is eclipsed by their tendency for violence... if we negotiate carefully we may yet gain a great ally... The Empire embarked upon this war to bring prosperity and lasting peace... not just to Ruis but to the Orcs as well. Hrmph, sleep well... Quintus...

Caerbryn Delenda Est - (Caerbryn Must Burn)

The loremaster issued no words, staring at Marcus for several moments before slowly rising from his chair and continuing his gaze before raising a fist to his chest, he issued a hopeful smile.

" As chief chronicler of these events I shall hope to do them justice, Ave Valradia "

Quintus added before retiring

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Thor the Malinois (played anonymously)

Thor, Marcus's familiar and war hound, laid at his feet and had a moose bone trapped between his paws that he chewed on. His powerful jaws were capable of splintering bone on most creatures, and this moose thigh was no different. The bone made the most quiet crunching and cracking as he chewed.


The warhound would hear his master's powerful words which would take presidence even over this delightful bone he was chewing on. He would sit at Marcus's side, his tail gently wagging as he listened. Not that he could understand, but when the men erupted in cheers, this sent the warhound into a frenzy of joy and he would jump up and down with excitement before he let out a howl, seeming as if he understood Marcus's words.


This warhound had grown to love Valradios as well as the people who lived there. He knew anyone from the Empire was now an enemy, and they were free to have his tusk-like teeth tear through.


Now was not the time to kill, but to offer comfort to his master. He would pad over and rest his large head on his master's knee and wagged his tail. Certainly he was excited to see orcs due to basically every orc, man, Maiden , or kinderling, had always been delighted to see Thor.
Odo (played anonymously) Topic Starter

The Weeping Gully

News of the newfangled Valradian assault was traveling outward from the Gully, albeit slowly, by word of mouth borne by refugees to villagers (subjugated and free alike). The Kingdom of Ruis' culture, with age old traditions of honor and customs which prioritized extended family ties, meant that many of these refugees did have places to go, and those places were quite varied. That said, not all of these refugees would make it. The flooding did its work, decimating the fortifications along the coasts of the Weeping Gully (as well as those garrisoned within), but so too did it destroy many a waterside settlement. Debris from felled stone houses, towers and bridges either traveled south with the waters or sank to their bottom, causing the water level to rise even more with their volume. The consequences were greater than anyone had initially predicted; sandy overlooks collapsed under the force of the initial glacial torrent, sweeping civilian and soldier alike beneath its might. Some of the water traveled so far out of the gully that, as the levels started to lower a bit, they formed their own bodies of water. From puddles to lakes, the Ruisian and Steppes borderlands were inundated with newly made freshwater habitats.

Since then, some of these bodies of water have started coursing back into the gully itself, forming delta-like ridges in the surrounding environment. The banks of these retreating waters carried yet more evidence of desolation, from everyday household items, to carriages, to fallen kinfolk and their domestic animals. Some refugees would gather in camps besides some of these inlets, where such heartbreaking scenes as displaced men and women sobbing over their fallen family members further cemented the rage, helplessness, and hate of the Ruisians towards their invaders. Would this yet become a source of galvanization among the defenders, or would it eventually break them?

Those that did survive the flooding were those that had a head-start; generally, more refugees would travel inland from the southern territories along the gully than those in the northern areas. The reason was quite clear; the closer one was to the location of the break, the less time there was to escape its currents. On occasion, the Valradians may have seen the consequences of this tactic in the form of bodies-- or smaller remnants-- of those civilians drifting down the swollen river's width. The Ruisian people had seen the river claim their own kin before, but not to such a drastic degree; as the borderlands' former inhabitants traveled, so too did they bring word of the Valradian invasion and their wicked methods of conquest.
___
Caerbryn


King Concobar, known to his vassals and servants as the Reclaimer, stroked away at his greying red beard as he listened to a faithful captain of his armies recount what their scouts had seen. "It was a distant view, my liege, but we are certain they bore red banners." The captain continued. "It is the belief of ours currently that this is no orcen attack, even so."

The monarch snipped back, "Not even the Ifernach?", to which the captain bowed low and replied, "...No, my liege. Though they are still at large, our spies did not send any news of them gathering forces again. That, and the dam breaking, well... your majesty, we are all but certain that this was an outside force. One with impressive technology, to have done such a thing." The captain kept his head low while the king sighed and fiddled at the tips of his whiskers. The court, all gathered, did not speak but exchanged glances amongst themselves.

The soldier need not say a word-- news of an outside force invading told them all they needed to know. Concobar grunted with annoyance and waved his hand, "We must make preparations to deploy forces further inland. Raise the levy, o' lords of my realm. And furthermore, I proclaim that a war council shall henceforth be gathered. Imperial spies are everywhere..." The king's aged eyes drifted over the crowd of gathered nobles, "...and that is nothing I intend to forget. But hark, my brethren! We will drive back this horde of foreigners." He rose to his feat, beating his aged fist against his breast. "And we will reclaim our home once again! You have my word, my vow as your king!"

The nobles were shrewd, but nonetheless celebrated the old king's gusto. Since the prior conflict, Concobar had been ruling in a time of relative peace. On occasion sorties did arise between lords, but such unruliness never went unpunished under his reign. To those familiar, his title of "the Reclaimer" came from the fact that it was he, in Cathal's stead, who led the forces of Ruis against the remaining invaders. At the time he was already past forty years of age; now, at sixty-two, he was considered one of the longest lived kings in the history of Caerbryn and Ruis as a whole. Kings, after all, tended to die young when matters in court and country went unattended for too long. The man had overcome this with a firm hand against any dissent, be it from the commoners or the nobles.

Even so, as the king had risen from his throne, he felt the telltale signs of his age catching up to him. It was something that plagued him; for even age could smell like weakness to the wolves among those he called his family. It was entirely possible, even fairly likely, that the king would not live through the conflict. He mulled over this fact as he sent his nobles away, expecting them to do their duties in their fiefdoms. Before they left, he would have messages sent with discretion to the appropriate lords. A council would indeed be formed, but it would be done so quietly and with care. That was the most important thing he could think to do, at the moment. As the crowd started to disperse, Concobar summoned his spymaster to his side with a wave, whispering to him that it would be appropriate then to inform the greater noble populace of false reports concerning who would be attending the council.

Normally, a king might announce the members of this council publicly. This king had no intentions of doing so-- at least, not immediately. It was important to him that, if any intrigue within the kingdom were to happen as a result, that it happen to those he could afford to lose. Eventually, the true members' identities would be made public, but that was a week or so away at best. With that, he sent the spymaster with instructions to send an agent to his study at the ninth hour of the evening. With that the spymaster was dismissed, and Concobar cancelled other meetings to retire to his war room, keen on developing a defensive strategy of his own.

As he made for the room, an escort of several honor guards followed faithfully. Aside from them was a black-haired boy, just shy of becoming a man, who similarly tailed him. The guards paid him no mind, even as he half-trotted to the monarch's side. "My king, please let me ride out with the royal army." The king grunted and waved his hand dismissively at the teenager. "That would be a waste of our time and resources, and you know that."

The youngster's face pinched with irritation at the old man's response. "But I've been training and studying for years! You said yourself that I would make a fine commander, and what's a better time to test my mettle than now?" However, these complaints did little to change the monarch's expression as he stepped into an adjoining hallway. The boy protested further. "Our response has to be quick, and no doubt these Valradians suffered because of the dam too. Are you going to send a bird to Ceodoch? If we hurry, we could be there to join the fight--"

"Gods help you, Lugh, for I'll not stand another word!" The king snapped, "You will stay here in Caerbryn and train until you're sore in the next life, or 'til these wild notions leave you! Now begone!"

Lugh flinched as Concobar retorted, but had the sense enough to bow his head and excuse himself. The old monarch seethed quietly until he reached the war room, sending servants to fetch him some parchment.

___
The Forest



The blind hermit stood stiffly at the base of a long slope. Years ago, he had marked nearby trees and carved something of a path to this very spot; it was a good half day out from his hovel, and marked the furthest he had gone since his hermitage in the forest. It was the way he had walked up, and the half-orc had recalled that there were several overhangs and drops beyond this point, but he couldn't reliably tell where each of them were any longer. Trepidation kept him still as he reconsidered his mission; was it wiser to go further down after all? He might perish from a poorly placed step not far beyond. Then the journey so far would have done nobody any good.

Odo took a deep breath and stretched his walking stick forward, tapping it against the bed of leaves around him. Already, he could feel the cool wind coming up from the gully at the base of this climb. It would not be too much longer before he reached it, but just as well, it would not be much longer before the night fell. The day birds started to quiet and the temperature was dropping. Soon, he would need to find some sort of shelter in these ancient woods.

It would be better to die trying to carry the message through than to not do anything at all. Besides, the choice may end him, but at least there was some small chance that he wouldn't actually die alone. He took a step down, and then another, weaving his stick about to feel for different sections of woods in front of him and around him.

Was it simply his flawed memory, or was the river closer than he had originally remembered? When he first ascended, it took days to climb to his new home, and he stopped smelling the water and feeling the breeze long before those days had all passed...

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Caerbryn



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General Ferrus Martel - General of The Exalted Rams Legion (18th)



A robust and sturdy man strode across the siege tents with a rapid pace, garnering the attention of the common troops, surrounded by an eclectic retinue of dwarven shieldlords and imperial conflagrators wielding the enigmatic heldrake weapons known to spew fire. He entered an unmarked tent amidst the sea that was the siege camp. His brow held a vindictive fury as he stared down the supposed "guests" sent to reinforce the Exalted Rams. At first there was eerie silence as the wolvenborn legionaries met his auspicious presence with no words, standing before him in their usual decorum. Without warning Ferrus knocked the wine cups and implements from his table and erupted.



" Such... Such Callousness... Such Disregard....Damn him ! the gods shall curse his name this day and they will never forget what he has done. Clearly you have not considered the implications of what you have done and yet when he relayed this to me, I at first took it as humor and then chased after his horse as he left in order to beg him not to do him, but Marcus mistakes asinine stubbornness for ambition. I suppose you lot are proud to have seen his masterful stroke but for all his tactic and strategy the concept of diplomacy eludes the wolf to the fullest. We are... We are soldiers ! not murderers, not savages... these are people not animals, and had he listened to me I am sure we could have basked in victory by now... Marcus is used to battle on the front and upon the field... but the siege... the siege is an artform, a bloody one at that, one that requires every consideration... I suppose you comfort yourself with seeing the burning walls of Caerbryn but you are blind... to see this place through the eyes of dwarf maesters paints a different picture altogether. "



Ferrus unfurled maps and scrolls upon the table, arguably stolen or confiscated by spies or raiders, to the commoner these were naught more than cryptic and strange diagrams, scripture and scribble fit for the scholar and not the soldier and yet, Ferrus seemed almost to marvel at it, almost in a reluctant kind of admiration for the enemy they faced. He directed the attention of the legionaries to these diagrams, as he continued on his ferocious rant.



" Layers upon layers of defense, enough stock to last them a decade, every rampart and portcullis, every wall and murderhole, honed, crafted, perfected over millenia of repeated siege, countless lives lost and countless many masons and smiths and masters. I promise you this, Caerbryn is one of the most masterfully defended cities I have ever laid eyes upon, a paragon of the art. We hurled flame and poison via trebuchet only to find that we had merely scathed and inconvenienced them, lines of defenders falling in and falling back and upon the third day they were able to return their wounded back to the lines... the first breach, the second, we progressed unimpeded... then sudden flanks, trickery and treachery, illusions... even the weapons they wield crafted perfectly to fight in the narrow chokepoints of which there are many... a tide, a flood, a river... brought to be a trickle... and a trickle is easily managed. This loss of momentum did not bode well with me, but I realized that we erred in attempting to take them by force... this would be more methodical...



This is not a siege that shall take a fortnight, this is a siege that will take months and years... and that wolf-nursed Cornaethian has just ensured that we have entered the one thing that I utterly dread... a stalemate...



Ferrus shook his head as if to dispel his anger, releasing a deep frustrated sigh.



" Marcus, by virtue of his actions they have earned much-needed morale as time is not on our side, we are but a few weeks away from winter, and these troops will cut down the siege engines if to keep from the cold. Thus far the battles have proven inconclusive, every day we take ground and achieve breakthroughs, only to fall into a dead-end... always a chokepoint, a murderhole, traps, ominous terrain and varied defenses, when we are forced to stop is when they seize the moment and we are pushed back, what good is a few meters of ground, in the morning the status quo remains, the narrow corridors and battlements make the use of siege weaponry imprudent... we would need to take the place apart quarter by quarter and if incase the size of Caerbryn has not dawned on you that is not a simple task... our mighty weapons must seem like nothing more than festive fireworks from the halls of their great castle. "



A subtle sigh left Ferrus as he rubbed his temples and took place on his seat.



" I have taken cities larger than Caerbryn, that is not the matter, the matter concerns the situation we find ourselves in, tedious... Legate Gaius Andron, surely even you Wolvenborn understand this gravity. We were supposed to have come as liberators to these people, as heroes, as winds of welcome change to liberate them from the woes of a life of serfdom, under monarchy, where they could enjoy the rights and privileges of being imperial citizens, where we could fill their libraries with scholars and their coffers with silver and where they could taste the sweetest wine of Valradia. They are people Andron, humans... just like us, and instead.. we took from them their sons and daughters... I ask you... will they ever truly forgive us for that ? regardless of the outcome of this war ? surely you are not blinded to the burdens of the Empire as is... we are not the first Empire in history Gaius Andron, and we should see to it that the malevolence of tyranny and corruption does not blind us to what is right and just... lest we follow in the footsteps of those empires of which only ruins are left in deserts. "



He looked to the figurines of castles and formations upon his map, picking up the one figurine with the crown.



" Concobar is an old king, though his repute precedes him... lions rarely age gracefully, he does not have the luxury of orderly senates and governance as we in the Empire have strived to build, the whole point of the saber-rattling should have been to rouse discontent in his court, to find an ally within this land that was willing to see eye-to-eye with the Empire and establish our mandate, neither The Emperor nor The Wolf paid heed... Marcus knew we could've won this war without much bloodshed... but that was never what he wanted, for as much as he seeks the glory and praise of an honored hero such as Valradios, fate has condemned him to forever walk the path of the Wolf. I truly cannot blame him, he could not see reason through the madness of his ambitions. I suppose the tides of time shall wash their wounds as much as the flood has washed all else, and I have not heard from the Hungering Knives since though I suspect this is owing more to a clandestine protocol following an increased vigilance by our foe after the first assault. Things are not going as they should have, but... they are going well, the prospect of a victory is far from lost... the real question is how pyrrhic... hrmph... Why did Marcus do all of this... it is madness, nevertheless... time is of the essence, your presence here will be of much use "



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Gaius Felix Andron - 3rd Captain of The Wolvenborn

Despite the excesses of the Generals speech, the calm and composed, one of the Lieutenant Commanders of the Wolvenborn legion rose up, with a stoic and intentful gaze passing across the room, considering all who were present with his figure imposing a sense of uneasiness in some of those present for the rumors pertaining to Felix Andron were far more concerning than most particularly with regards to sorcery, Marcus is said to have recruited him out of an inquisitorial gaol for holding particularly volatile examples and the silver collar around his neck was said to have sorcerous runes etched into it, Felix Andron was not this mans true name... but a given one. From his semblance, his accent and his tall imposing stature it was evident that the man was a foreigner, no doubt hailing from the far north.

" General Ferrus, the wolvenborn thank you for your hospitality and we assure you our presence here was intended to not only reinforce the front but spearhead a breakthrough. Warmaster Leocadus had expressed that you would raise concerns with regards to his actions but all is as it should be and none amongst us would defy the warmaster. Your men can get some well needed after the first push, we have a surprise in store for the enemy regiments at the front. Our attack shall be conducted by nightfall, it is the night of the full moon after all... General... it would be prudent if none of our own soldiers were present too close to the front this eve, the results might not be favorable... oh and general, the warmaster issued a response in advance for what you just said. Fear, Anger and Obedience are the bastard children of one mother.

To which end Ferrus issued a begrudging nod, returning to his maps as he scrutinized the details of the campaign, being updated by his scouts every other day if not every other hour. Needless to say, under Ferrus's wise foresight the Legion was prepared to fight, like unrelenting waves upon an indomitable cliff. They would batter the bulwark till it could withstand no more. Preperations were being made to unleash a second push and this time their approach would be more methodical than rushed. Smaller warbands were made, trading armor for fleet-footedness in the brutal street to street fighting. Catapults and Trebuchet bombardment was traded for smaller-mule-pulled ballistae that could flush the defenders with well-aimed drakefire bolt. The wolvenborn took up positions on the front all the same, if Ferrus was to swing the hammer then they would drive the wedge. He had his reservations about the state of the war.

In the very last moments in nervous anticipation of Felix Andron's night assault, Ferrus looked to the gleaming lights in the far distance, the castles of Caerbryn.

" Concobar, I hope you come to see reason... I fear for my part I have done all I could to prevent bloodshed, it seems we will have months of brutal, bloody and bitter war before us, hrmph, I hope you have better luck with your council then I did with mine... the winds blow ash and sulfur. The actions of proud men sow naught but ruin for the people... -

" My lord, there are bands of refugees on the roads that we stopped by the guards, "

" Let them go onwards Silvus, our war is against the kingdom not its people "


Caerbryn Battlegrounds

Killing fields and billows of black smoke, mutilated corpses in the mud, some charred and burned, ran through, covered in arrows. The darkness offered some momentary respite as cold mud settled on the raven picked carcasses and the carnage of battle was replaced with an eerie cold silence. This was where the bloody first exchanges of each army occurred and where the Valradians brought the full wrath of their arsenal onto display, the morbid sight of an entire collapsed line, their flesh unscathed by wounds, it certainly had to be the noxious fumes that got them, a file of legionaries crushed under boulders flung from traps, some still making death throes whilst impaled in spike pits. A favorite move of the Valradians was to unleash war dogs these feral beasts oftentimes rabid animals were left to roam the front, gorging themselves on the slain of both sides, ravens picked at skulls. It was war, unadulterated and yet so impure, Caerbryn's first lines were no doubt heroes to their people whom prevented a collapse of the defense albeit at a great toll. As one ventured further, the status of casualties changed, more red banners in the mud as the defenders took their vengeance in Caerbryn's treacherous cloisters; collapsed siege towers and broken equipment, mounds of dead against the walls. A mountain of mud on one side, as if an entire mountain was made to collapse on the army. They did not face novices.

Felix Andron and his compatriots hid alongside a section of felled wall, observing the enemy position from afar, the clouds began to clear, Felix gave his blood brothers a solemn look. They sat in a ritual manner having sacrificed one of the wardogs before them, it had to be some sort of fel ancient magic " My brothers, the warmaster has given us a rare allowance, rejoice, upon the shedding of your collars, do you feel it brothers ? the light of the full moon elicits the red thirst, shed the collar of your humanity and enter the embrace of the wild god this night, let us become the instruments of his will, as the soul of man and beast become one... hrrrurggh ! my bones.. crackle... my teeth grow... I... I smell them... flesh... blood... the kill... the hunt. " the men twisted and transformed in strange ways, becoming beasts, in unholy contortions did they become the stuff of nightmare, shedding the cloak that they wore. Imperial edicts forbade such a practice, these men were criminals of the highest order and yet Marcus saw every law as arbitrary in his pursuit of conquest and victory, a noble general honored the customs of war yet a prudent one was well aware that victory rather than fairness was of the essence. A war-crime by any other word, that is if survivors were left to recount the tale.

Before long deafening howls were heard echoing across the long dark before the Ruis positions, in the pitch darkness of the night some fel-entity had come, the wolvenborn embraced the darkest secret of their legion, black magic that was not sanctioned in the Empire at all, Ferrus knew not of this, neither did the others... It was Marcus no doubt.. the feral growl of some preternatural beasts was followed by the screams of petty guards sent to retain watch, a bonfire extinguished by a mauled carcass being hurled within... fear and ravaging commenced in the darkness, the gigantic wolf like beasts charging through the shadows, cutting anyone and anything that came across them... Felix's own familiar clutched a guard in its arms raising it above his head before ripping the guard in twain and bathing in the blood.

They were Werewolves


The Gully

The past days had taken their toll, most of the rations were washed away with the baggage train and those that weren't had already been used up, the men subsisted off what game or produce they could scavenge upon these barren hills, Marcus grew ever more thankful for Thor, his warhound whose nose had never failed to lead them to a morsel or two and whose swiftness ensured no hare nor deer could escape the clutches, nevertheless, feeding 50 men was an everyday battle and invariably someone went hungry. There were no trails here, atleast none that a human could navigate, naught but rocks, thorny scrub and a sparing few trees upon those thin slopes. The men had just witnessed first-hand the perils that the rains brought to these mountains, a torrent of wet mud flew past them in the night, a landslide. The down-wind topography ensured they were not spared the freezing winds either, it was easy to see why this place had rarely been invaded, coming to the vale alone would have exhausted even the greatest of armies. Supplies dwindled and the men grew tired, but these were inconveniences the legion had trained for, moreso Marcus's elite, nevertheless conditions were not favorable and Marcus knew he had to act pragmatically and wisely in the wild for his actions could spell life or death for the pack.

It was decided on the third day to follow along the gorge until a path could be made allowing them to cross over once more, from there they would venture into the lowlands. At the behest of his captains, Marcus would even allow them to barter some of their wares for more food and supplies, in an ideal situation they could rendezvous with a scout party but Marcus knew idealistic daydreams would only serve to disappoint and hamper morale. He had to have a firm grip, and almost as if by purpose, he decided to take the more "green" legionaries with him, it would be a test if nothing more, far from the frontlines where the wolvenborn veterans were sent as reinforcements for the 17th and 18th. Unbeknownst to Marcus, his contemporaries Ferrus and Alaryon had arranged for the free transit of refugees something to which Marcus would no doubt have his objections. For the moment, however, his concerns were more pressing.

" My lord, my lord ! " an exhausted skirmisher stumbled and ran across the slopes breathing heavily, " My lord, a camp, orcs, in some number... I do not think they saw us "

" Or perhaps they did and chose to bide their time as wise hunters do, I have dwelled among them for a sufficient period of time to ascertain that they are not the savages we have made them to be. Usually I frown upon cowardice, but you acted wisely, you would've ended up a slave or worse... I forbid you from venturing there again, brief your captain about this and by my order have them double the night guard, shift our camps to circle pattern, coat them in mud and branch... from hereforth the fireplace and the camps shall be distanced, place torches around and ensure Thor is well-fed, he's going to be your eyes and ears in the dark. It would be prudent to plan out a defensive pattern if the orcs do decide to raid, then its better to try to dissuade them... use whatever you must, fire, heights, traps... if you fight them, which I do not advise in our circumstance make sure every last one is dead.. or it comes back far, far stronger and with more orcs. Tell the men to double their efforts on constructing that bridge across the ravine, hell, eat up all the rations if you have to, but put your backs into it, time is of the essence "

Marcus stood up grasping the Leonine sword and issuing a loud whistle to call for Thor.

" Quintus ! I shall hope for our sakes your knowledge of orcish dialects is sufficient to arrange for a negotiation, come with us Loremaster, we shall venture towards the Orc camp, see if we cannot make an ally out of them, surely they must have want of something... currency, vengeance, power... all the usual suspects "

Marcus and his party decided to venture out, stopping at an overhanging cliff that saw an Orcish settlement in the distance.

" They most definitely saw him scurrying around the hills, the fact he isn't dead yet means they knew he wasn't alone either and surely they must have sent a few clansmen to carry the message around... well, now they know that we see them too, Quintus, listen to me carefully, at the first instance of violence, I want you and Thor to run back to the camp and ready the men. We can take this one camp, I'm sure of it but we can't stay... if this goes wrong we kill them, take what we can and flee across the ravine... bridge or not. "

Marcus looked back with a subtle grin.

" It's worth the risk Quintus, if we gain some orc warriors, their experience will be invaluable... it's a tedious gamble, but we're here to win a war not negotiate a truce with sabers. Caerbryn Delenda Est "


The Forest

There were newcomers unto these trails, whether this excited the blind orc or caused caution in him remained to be seen, the days past in between the new scents and the old and then those of blood. Things were not as they seemed though Odo had likely already ascertained that. Surely as the floods desecrated lowland settlements a great many fled into the forests, both Valradic and otherwise. The Hungering Knives were an adept legion composed of spies, assassins, marksmen, skirmishers and trappers... they operated in silence and utilized shock tactics to the best of their ability.

Their general, the Spymatron Alaryon was an ethnic high elf belonging to the Valradic elderwood and as such trained her legion in such arts of warfare as the elves were adept in. She focused her resources on centers of power, plucking amongst the myriad strands of fate, sealing some and enlightening others. Alaryon's Asuryani faith navigated the realm of murder and bloodshed more tediously and it served as a guide, it was quaint for a spiritual elf to find herself in such a merciless trade but the Asuryani believed that by guiding the strands of fate through their farsight they could prevent more disastrous ends. The elves acknowledged humans would never understand or perceive things as they did, but perhaps the orc did for they too predated the age of men. The hungering knives took out leaders and decisionmakers, generals, and commanders, they killed but a few but either in a manner that made a statement or sowed discord, they were masters of manipulating the minds of their enemies and sowing suspicion, paranoia, and anxiety in them. Embodying the idea that no one was safe, not beyond walls or otherwise, these Asuryani fanatics realized that they were all pawns of fate in the great mandala of rebirth and as such, the concept of one death was more fleeting to them.

With scimitar like blades crossed upon her lap, the Elven woman meditated to the full moon, as a great commotion arose from within their cavernous warren hideout. The victorious exclamations of her men as they returned from another day of battle and raiding, picking off parties of Ruis troops that had strayed into the woods and preying upon the trails much to her chagrin. Alaryon had housed a number of refugees in the warrens, now officially they were prisoners of war, but Alaryon took good care of them under this pretext, women, children and the infirm mostly. These hostages were traded for any Valradic prisoners with the Ruis contingents, whom had taken up in their forts it seemed the prospect of battle was less concerning to the parties now. Both were exhausted and drawn out, the floods forced them to reorganize and recuperate, refugees from Caerbryn poured into the forts, Alaryon presumed that they were no doubt busy with resettling these peasants. She, like Ferrus, had her reservations about Marcus's plans, it compromised the freedom of movement that the 17th preferred to operate with, and Alaryon did not want to draw her forces out into a wasteful open battle where the forces of Ruis would have the advantage, the forest offered refuge but they couldn't stay in this place forever.

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Spymatron Alaryon Rhalysse - General of The Hungering Knives Legion (17th)

Some of her parties had gone missing, she sent more to search after them and they reported rather grizzly things, Alaryon could feel it the disturbing aura within this place, she had convened with an elderly tree in the forests a day before, marked with scars from wars long past and it told her its story, a vivid flashback of foul and fel-magics, forbidden sorceries and entities which should not have entered the mortal realm. It disturbed her, yet for her to speak of this amongst her own or to Ferrus or Marcus, it would seem like elven bickering, madness and superstition. Alaryon knew they had to get out of the forest soon something was coming, something bad far worse than Concobar's soldiers. It seems her prayer to the goddess of the forest had been answered.

Caught in a net the men dragged forth a new prisoner to her

" My lady, we caught this spy scowering in the midst of a trail, hrahah, fell right into one of our game traps, the lout was strung up and hanging there, we gave 'em a good stick thrashing ! he's speakin' all sortsa things, figured you wanted to hear it for yourself... "

Alaryon scowled, glancing over to the contents of the net, and looking back at the guards.

" Quite proud of yourselves you must be, to beat a defenseless old orc... one that cannot even see, truly you must profess yourselves the mightiest warriors in all of Valradia... be gone, and if you should decide to waste my time with news not befitting then I shall see to it that you are gelded by mine own hand... be gone ! at once ! "
The elf issued a low snarl, causing her subordinates to scurry back into the tunnels. She ran her digits carefully over the nets.

" Be still, I shall not hurt you... let me release your binds "

She added skillfully tearing through the net with a few swipes of her mithryl dagger,

" There "

She gazed long and hard onto the blind orc's worn features, something of his pain reached out to her soul, despite his haggard appearance the elf could see a noble past, distraught by an unjust world, abandonment, pain, defiance, survival. She gently reached out to clutch at Odo's face with her digits, rubbing a soothing hand across his cheek and closing her eyes. Her lips parted and she uttered verses of a spell song, a sweet sound that echoed within the mind several times over and elicited a strange aura, she attempted to heal his eyes, but realized soon enough they were beyond saving, issuing a low sigh before releasing. Alaryon helped Odo as best she could, guiding him near the fire and offering him water and food.

" I am Alaryon, of the hungering knives. I do not know whether you know of all that has gone on in the realms around you, we hail from the land of Valradia and we are here to extend an offer of communion to the Kingdom of Ruis, our nations will grow stronger as one should the monarchy be abolished. We came to besiege and conquer Caerbryn... I... am not one of them, I felt the things you saw, I read what you felt... you have witnessed, you have suffered, you have survived... you know of It. I felt it on you too, you fought it or were wounded by it, It lured us here, it caused this... to what end?"

Alaryon speculated, receiving no response from the blind orc for a few moments, she shook her head and sighed, speaking her woes to naught but a blind hermit, perhaps she had gone mad.

" And what of you Ser Orc, what do they call you ? what do you know ?
Thor the Malinois (played anonymously)

Thor's head would lift and he would hurriedly make his way to Marcus's side. As always, his tail was wagging became he knew it was time to work. His eyes were locked onto Marcus, those same eyes which were always full of love and kindness, even compassion for Marcus, as well as his countrymen.


Feeding them was something he took great joy in doing, his last hunt ended with his teeth crushing the skull of a boar and carrying it back to the camp. His reward? Usually he looked to just be petted or scratched on his chest. Along with that came a few chunks of meat and scraps from the men who took enjoyment in seeing the warhound catch and eat pieces that were thrown to him.


Thor would sit before Marcus and his ears were to the side and his tail was wagging. Surely Thor knew it was time for the hunt. Beast or threat, they were surely to be met with Thor's bone-pulverizing jaws. He would look off behind Marcus and his eyes set momentarily on the suit of armor Marcus had made for him.


Thor looked at the skirmisher and he would whine before going to the skirmisher and offering the skirmisher his paw. The paw-offering had become Thor's way of boosting the morale of Marcus's troops, as well as his own way of saying "I am here with you".
Odo (played anonymously) Topic Starter

The Forest

It had not been terribly long since Odo left the end of his footpath before something very, very strange happened. At least, it did not feel like it was terribly long after. Had it been half an hour, an hour, or more? The hermit was not sure at all, for time to him had lost some of its significance since the loss of his sight. Regardless, he spent that time waving his cane back and forth, in a practiced motion intended to locate any obstacles in his immediate path, but he must have held the thing too high to catch the trap before it was sprung. It was hard not to do so, since its length was somewhat wanting, and he was walking at sometimes rather stark inclines. The whirring hiss of a rope moving along bark was all he heard before the net had lashed itself all about him, hoisting him jarringly from the forest floor, into the air, and with naught to make any sense of it.

He could not help but exclaim wordlessly as he was so sharply pulled upward, and despite his better judgement he lost his hold of his stick and axe. The stick briefly hooked against the cords of the netting before unceremoniously dropping back onto the deadfall. Odo's axe, on the other hand, was too broad to so easily fall through the gaps. Thankfully it only lightly cut the thinnest layer of skin on the half-orc's right pectoral muscle before assuming a more stable position lying on its flat side against his chest. The shock of the situation distracted him briefly from the sting of the axe's bite, but not from its presence, and as he swung helplessly in the netting he tucked the weapon further against him for his own safety.

He let the net swing him to and fro, hoping that after a moment of stillness on his part, it might settle. As it started to do so, though, the devious pair of legionnaires found him. They taunted and jeered at him in a language unfamiliar, but Odo had to try; he spoke in Ruisian, hoping that they would understand. "Wait! Hark! Do not attack me, I cannot--" That was the moment they had cut him down from dangling. He hit the floor with a loud, "Oof," before trying to continue.

"I am but a hermit--I have news! Please stay your hand!" His only reply from them was the tearing away of his axe from him, and the blows upon him that followed from his ambushers. There was nothing that he could do but cover his head with his arms, waiting helplessly for the moment that these strange attackers might stop. Would they stop? Perhaps his 'mission' was a futile one, after all...

Either way, a blow to his head, though he wasn't sure whether it was from the fall or the following assault, left him fading out of consciousness.
___

"...Be gone! At once!"

The half-orc could just barely hear the elf woman's voice while the world around him spun. In the first moment of his returning awareness, he cursed the notion that vertigo itself had not gone away forever with his eyes. Still, he could tell by the gentlest tug of the net, and the faintest touch from this new stranger, that her intentions must have been different than the other two. It was very difficult to focus, but he could just barely make sense of the general's following coaxing.

Once she had properly released him of the netting's fetters and started to speak to him, he truly did try to respond. He croaked a small, "I..." before the world started spinning again. With a feeble attempt at rising, he followed the woman's lead towards warmth. Perhaps there was a fire before him? His senses had still not completely returned before she had started asking her questions. In a moment though, his hearing started to improve again, and he could just make out her last question.

"And what of you Ser Orc, what do they call you? what do you know?"

Odo took a few deep breaths, hoping it was not too long to keep the kind stranger's attention, before finally giving his answer in a pitiful groan.

"...Odo. I have news. There's..." ...What? What was he supposed to say? Something that sounded very poorly off, and smelled like death, was lingering outside his hovel like it lived there too. How would she know he wasn't just driven mad by loneliness? Well, it was too late for doubt at that point; he would tell those willing to listen, and whether or not they did anything about it was their problem.

"...The dead... are walking, in the hills. They... I don't know where... but they found my home. I... I think I almost..."

"...I think I almost... became one of them." Despite his best efforts, Odo's voice wavered as he spoke those last three words.

___
The Battlegrounds

Outside the citadel that was Caerbryn, Emre found himself sitting before a pitiful excuse for a campfire, eating a pitiful excuse for stew. It was true that the Valradic Empire caught the Ruisian defenders by surprise, but it was not so quick that at least some of the levy wasn't raised. Being from the city itself, he was one of the first given the order to fight for its survival. It was an obligation he feared, and in the weeks the invasion begun, it was also one he'd grown to resent greatly. After all, what honor was there in manning the ramparts while other men like him fell, choking on the enemy's weaponized brimstone? What glory was there in sitting beside the fire, in miserable, humid weather, eating poor food, fighting nothing but the cold? His saber rested faithfully by his side in its scabbard, just as it had since the day his father had bought it for him. A scalping price, the old man said, but nonetheless one he was willing to pay for his son's wellbeing. It had done nothing since he left home, even though he'd seen his fair share of ugly deaths.

In the distance he could hear the dreadful cry of a wolf; or at least, what seemed like a wolf. He had no clue about the truth of it; not until it was far too late. As he sat there and toyed with the last paltry cut of meat in the bottom of his bowl, he did not hear the monsters about to strike.

The vice-like grip of a beastman's jaws snapped down on his shoulder. He cried out-- most of his assailant's strength could not pierce the padded armor he wore but its crushing hold bound him well. The canines of the werewolf were the only teeth to really punch through, puncturing the flesh of his torso, but it was enough. Those teeth inflicted upon him a white hot pain unlike anything he had ever experienced. Somehow, through the panic that gnawed at his mind and the chaos that surrounded him, he managed to draw his saber and slice upward toward the monster's throat. The blade sang forth from its scabbard and sliced into his attacker's fur-covered neck; enough to bleed, but not enough to kill.

It was, however, a vicious enough counterattack to force the beast to let go. Its teeth tore themselves from his chest and the beast pawed at its throat in anger and momentary anguish. Emre spun about to look upon his attacker, just in time to see another levy be ripped in twain by another monster's impossibly strong hands. He screamed, though he hardly registered that he did, for the unfortunate levy in question was one he knew well. The last thing Emre saw of him was his face, blank and dull-eyed, as the latter man was dropped carelessly to the ground.

It was too much for the young man to bear; they might have been prepared for war, and perhaps to die, but he sure wasn't! He embraced his fear and ran.

The harrowing sights, smells, and sounds of the slaughter started to fade behind him as he fled through the fields. He sprinted along until his legs ached, almost tripping over debris, lost weapons, and the dead that once wielded them. The night shrouded the terrain before him, so he could not help but be clumsy. Still, over the sound of his racing heartbeat, he could yet hear the loping bounds of the werewolf he had struck.

Then, without warning, Emre felt the snag of something hard against his foot; he tumbled forward, toppling uncontrollably down a steep hill covered by the bodies of fallen defenders. He hit the bottom of that hill, pressing yet another body further into the mud while rolling and scrambling for any semblance of stability. Certainly the wolf would be upon him then! Or so he thought. The wolfman yet stood at the top of the hillock, baring its fangs in the darkness towards...

...Towards what? As the levy looked up at it, he realized the monster's attention no longer was on him. It saw something else; something more demanding of its focus in that gruesome pit. That something started to crawl up the hillside towards the werewolf, letting a sort of gutteral moan. Then, Emre soon realized, this newcomer was not alone. As a matter of fact, several of those somethings followed the first up the hill, towards the wolfman, with some urgency. The beast snarled, snapped and jabbered; a fearsome sound to the man, but a shocked one to any that could understand it. A warning, it gave, that something was very wrong here.

The stench of the carrion grew worse as those things rose out of the pit. As cold and wet as their surroundings, they nonetheless failed to conceal their putrid smell. He watched with quiet horror as the moonlight bounced against the things' mud and blood-stained armor, revealing features yet unseen. The fallen soldiers, whether slain by sword, or arrow, or brimstone, rose from the darkness like so many swarming insects to attack the werewolf.

As he bore witness, the levy felt yet another hand clutch his wrist. Glazed eyes focused on his fresh wound; the maw of the dead one sought the source of his blood. Emre thrashed, hoping to push them away, or perhaps slice them with his saber. Yet as the first one abated, yet more hands snared him there at the bottom of the pit.

Emre screamed.
The Hanged Man (played anonymously)

((I'm posting in now!))
The Hanged Man (played anonymously)

Ever westward the wanderer walked.

All at once he became aware of the weariness chafing his bones and the hunger raging in the pit of his stomach. It was past nightfall, and he could see firelight flickering in windows to his right. Where was he? What was he doing? The couple who lived in the house approached him cautiously with a lantern and a pitchfork, for he had been standing at the crossroad, dazed and confused, for two full hours.

When it was deemed the stranger was no grey-skinned marauder, they brought him under their roof. They asked him how long he had been walking through the steppes, but he could not answer, for his journey was nothing but vague impressions like those left by a dream. They fed him, for he could not recall when he last ate. They asked his name, but he could not recall that, either, only a grim title and a handful of monikers. He promised that tomorrow he would repay their generosity with hard work.

He chopped firewood all morning and hauled water all afternoon. You should get going, they told him, if you want to make it anywhere before dark. But they kept offering him tea and fat slices of fresh bread with butter, and by the time any of them realized it the day had passed them by. Another night, they agreed. One more, and he shall be on his way. That night their daughters laughed at his silly, archaic accent, and kept him up far too late. Best let him sleep in, the couple said, and by the time he had woken and done his work, it was near dinner. Perhaps just one more night.

And so it went.

The youngest daughter would watch him with too-bright eyes and make up stories about his scars. The middle daughter would beg him to teach her the ways of the sword, until he could no longer deny her. And the eldest would try to make him look at her in the ways men were supposed to look at women. I shall be leaving soon, he told her. Anyway, thou shan't be happy with an old man like me. They danced together like uncle and niece when she married the butcher's boy two years later.

It had been decades since the Highland Wars, and Ruis was healing. The stranger found peace with his simple life. Then, like lightning, the empire struck, and suddenly war was everywhere. King Concobar raised the levy, and the father of the three daughters was bound to march against. They wept as they clung to him. The stranger, however, was not unfamiliar to war--he had joined them under many guises before. He had played the valiant knight riding tall at the elbows of lords and ladies with convictions and charisma. He had been the secret weapon, a thrall to vile forces. He had filled the role of the mercenary when he had needed to line his pockets to continue his long journey. But this, he thought, was perhaps the noblest occasion. Let me go in thy stead, he said. I have weathered worse.

He had not worn his armor in so long, nor held the wooden wall of his shield for anything more than to sled down the paddock hill when it snowed. Some men had an instinct for war--a tactical mind, bloodlust, thirst for glory. All the stranger had were his years, but they served him well. The craft came back to him with loathesome ease. Valradian blood could hardly be seen on the shield's black face and the falchion's black blade.

And so it went.

The stranger's eyelids cracked, allowing the late afternoon sun to pierce his pupils with such intensity he had to squeeze them shut again. Scent came next, the iron tang of blood and the reek of offal. He wriggled in the shell of his breastplate and became aware of the ice-cold stickiness that he was laying in. Blood--his own, but plenty of others' too, friend and foe alike. Only then did the pain hit him, like a blacksmith's hammer upon a fresh ingot. His head erupted in a terrible ache and he went to clap his hands over it, only to find that he could hardly move them at all. Even words escaped him. As he tried to call out for survivors, all that came from his throat was a hoarse rattle. No one heard him--the battle was well over.

Over the next few hours, the stranger returned to the living. He rolled over onto his stomach, then propped himself up onto his elbows, then his knees. Eventually he was sitting upright and had drawn a cloth over his mouth and nose to block out some of the stench. By the time night had fallen, he was finally on his feet, looking back and forth as he tried to decide where to go.

The baying of wolves made his head tilt curiously. Dogs and buzzards feasted upon the slain, but wolves? The shrieks of men and the wet cacophony of battle joined the howling. What was happening? There--a soldier was sprinting away from the conflict, with a loping beast hot on his trail. No normal wolf was that! Whether the soldier was Ruis-born or imperial, the stranger decided to help them, perhaps in the hopes of following them back to their unit. But a moment later they disappeared down the side of a slope, leaving just the beast to snarl and slaver at the crest. The stranger froze. Something was wrong.

The ground was moving. It became a carpet of stinking flesh, a slime mold that flowed over beast and boy alike. The stranger stared as the decaying bodies angled towards him, their wet gurgling moans growing hungry. He backpedaled a few steps in shock, then had the sense to turn and hurry away as swiftly as his injuries would permit. It didn't matter which camp claimed him first--he had to tell them of what was coming.
The Battlegrounds


Werewolves ravaged the forward garrisons of the Ruis, a skillful night assault spearheaded by Gaius Felix Andron intended to catch them off guard, a critical surprise attack to undermine their defenses so that by morning Ferrus could breach yet another layer of defenses. Painfully and at great cost had the Valradic Legion tore its way through a city that was deemed to be night impenetrable, a bastion which Ferrus himself had come to marvel. General Ferrus had great reservations about this operation from the start, he was being forced to work with circumstances that defied the logic and sensibilities of a siege-master. It pained him greatly to use such human-wave tactics to achieve a breach, if it was an untrained levy such a thing would be impossible, however, the legion fielded well-trained soldiers, and given more time and resources they could have staged a more careful and well-planned siege, but the Emperor's demand of wanting Caerbryn felled in a fortnight was more pressing.

As such Ferrus had no choice, the quarter by quarter duels and the back and forth attrition and siege warfare, lended an unquestionable advantage to the defenders, the only factor playing in Ferrus's favor was that most of the City's resident guard was rather untrained, they were little more than a levy force albeit able to coordinate themselves quite well, Caerbryn's well planned infrastructure was at the core of this defense. This was a city built across centuries of constant invasion and threats. While their onslaught had slain countless defenders, the legion suffered considerable losses as well, some half of Ferrus's own legion had been rendered inept owing to either injury or death and a limited stock of siege resources was more carefully used. The reinforcement from the Wolvenborn couldn't have come at a better time, as they would be needed to face Caerbryn's elite royal guard as the last line was breached and the Empire marched on the palace... Ferrus deliberated however, his usual certainty about such an operation waned. A pyrrhic advantage had been earned, the point had been made, there was no use for a push on Caerbryn's palace just as a salted field would bear no harvest, neither for its resident nor conqueror. Ferrus believed the time was ripe to make accords, Caerbryn was on edge, there was sufficient pressure and most importantly, the war had taken its toll on all parties. Needless to say, Marcus and Allaryon would not see eye to eye with this.

Andron and his werewolves made the assault, the first target were the forward scout camps, as was the usual custom only the most untrained and dispensable of soldiers were put on the watch, in the legion it had even been used as punishment for insubordinates when in dangerous territory. They were dispatched in gruesome fashion before they could ever issue a warning to the guard towers, torn limb from limb, in one case however, halberd and spear wielding guards managed to rush one of Andron's wolves pinning it till it was dispatched by several crossbow bolts and in a fit of rage, Andron naturally massacred this mass of soldiers... those that fleed were chased down, of the wolves only Andron still had control of his consciousness and, he set to assault the last of the camps clamping his jaws down on the shoulder of a younger soldier before being thrown off by a slash of the saber, his attention turned to his contemporary who attempted to ward him off with a spear before being ripped apart...

The boy ran...

And something about that stung Andron, he did not give chase, not immediately at least, there was a sense of remorse, that was definitely no soldier, he just donned the wares. He deserved better than this, nevertheless, Emre could not be allowed to live at the risk of informing the defense and so Andron gave chase. A scent... a foul scent... stung at the nostrils, something was very... very... wrong he issued a howl to his werewolves gathering them before taking to a hill to gain vantage... it had to have been a sea, eyes deceived them... shambling ghouls and corpses walking amidst a foul mist... and they were headed for the Valradic Camp still more seemed to be walking into Caerbryn's ruin, a fel-omen if there ever was one... Andron resolved that his pack had to do everything they could... there were too many of them... it would be suicide... it would be sacrifice...

Claws and fangs rended hordes of the vengeful dead as they followed Andron up a hill, growling and snarling as he drew heavier breaths, all but the most decisive of blows seemed to fell them and even those that were wounded eventually found their way back up, a hopeless endeavor if only to distract them... Andron knew he had to retreat, he had to warn the others. As his werewolf comrades held the line, Andron himself departed, pausing only to hear a sudden scream It was Emre he couldn't... he couldn't leave the boy to suffer such a fate and within moments the gigantic wolf leapt forth, rending and clawing arms off, before clutching Emre and leaping away... he charged, knocking down the horde as he darted towards the distant lights of the Valradic Camp. They could help Emre, keep him safe until... these... things... were gone.



Caerbryn

General Ferrus briefed his commanders in a candle-lit tent as he directed their attention to a map sprawled over a wooden board, tapping at various positions on it with an elongated stick directing their attention to various strategies, formations, and positions. He knew Gaius Andron to be a man of his word and that they would not fail in their mission, recent correspondence with Concobar and his court had been encouraging. In truth, only Ferrus in his experience realized the gravity of the situation and both he and Concobar were wise enough to realize that this impasse benefitted none, the only thing that was at stake was the pride of both men. Ferrus viewed Concobar as an honorable foe if anything, and in the exchange of letters, the old king had let on some of his woes, the age of kings had long been at a decline, surely traders, merchants, and vassals who hailed from other lands brought them news of how things developed beyond the lands of Ruis, beyond the Steppes. If anything the promise of outside contact and the larger cause of humanity was something that appealed to Concobar.

The fighting had been brutal, for both sides, the Valradians pushed the full might of their siege but every wall and fort broken down came at great cost, Marcus's defeat of the more experienced and veteran troops stationed in the hinterlands of Ruis had been instrumental in pivoting the considerations in the Valradic favor, and Ferrus knew that in Caerbryn they were not facing the best troops that Concobar had to offer, most of them were levy, some of the prisoners of war were naught but boys but such was the grim nature of warfare. The Royal Guard would be an entire matter entirely, as the Valradians stood ready to breach the final layer of defenses and begin their march upon the palace, Ferrus knew that the odds of a victory were not given, in fact, he estimated with the sheer amount of resources they would pour into such a siege would inevitably result in famine, starvation disease.

Ferrus never intended to destroy Caerbryn , he insisted on the noble Valradic principles of war with justice and honor being extended to the enemy in all circumstances. Those of Concobar's men that were captured were treated reasonably well and the legionaries whom were captured reported of the amicable behavior of their Ruis hosts all the same. It had started to become obvious this war began taking it's toll, the burden of a loss of life was too heavy for both men to bear . As Ferrus gazed onto the palace's glinting lights amidst the smoke and carnage of the land surrounding it, he could not bring himself to order such a.... such a... desecration.

When Valradios the Great, unified the barbarian tribes to form the Valradic Empire, he did not do so by force of arms alone, negotiation, diplomacy and a true sense of beneficence for even those whom raised the sword against him was at its core. If the Empire expected the fealty of its vassals, then benevolence rather than cruelty was of essence as far as Ferrus was concerned, bringing their most terrifying weapons to the front and the subsequent battles were a show of force enough lest he devolve into barbarism and senseless cruelty.

Ferrus did not collude with either Marcus or Alaryon in making the next step, the terms for peace would be drafted, Caerbryn's palace would not be scathed and the safety of Concobar and his chosen retinue would be ensured. The monarchy would be abdicated and Ruis would be turned from a kingdom to a vassal republic, its people would be granted sufficient autonomy in return for becoming part of the Valradic Empire. Concobar would keep his wealth and his palace, but he nor his bloodline nor his nobles would remain in power... atleast officially, they would obviously still be powerbrokers, rather a senate of his people would decide who best to lead their people. Concobar and his chosen retinue would be invited as guests to the Valradic Empire, in the interest of an exchange of knowledge and better ratifying the bond between two nations in other aspects. It was evident these changes would be gradual and nothing was set in stone, but in Ferrus's eyes it was for the better. As long as he could get Concobar or his heir to swear Ruis's fealty to the Empire, his job was done, it was a ceremonial gesture, but an important one.

Ferrus put his sign and seal upon the document and looked upon the messenger.

" Deliver this unto High King Concobar himself and tell him we shall await his response duly, a period of three days peace, our side shall relent from their assault to give him time to mull our terms, and... ensure the good king that his men are well fed and taken care of in our camp and that I hold him in esteem, I hope in his wisdom Concobar will find that ours is one cause, I hope that his pride will not blind him to the greater purpose of defeating darkspawn and evil in all its forms... and this will be precedent for an alliance across centuries, so the people of Ruis prosper, not only in their own right but also as proud citizens of the Empire "

A figure arose from the table slamming his fist down, it was one of his Centurions,

" General Felix, I must object to this notion immediately, I cannot allow this, you take diplomacy into your own hands knowing well that General Leocadus would never concede to such meagre terms, the enemy has claimed so many of our men, tell me even in your infinite wisdom that you do not feel some need for vengeance to be exacted upon these barbarians? The Dragon's Throats have already been readied ! I can-

The soldiers protest was stopped with a solid fist to the jaw knocking him down from the table onto the floor as Ferrus stood above him, hand on the hilt of his sword pacing forwards.

" The gall... the audacity... of a pup trying to teach me the lessons and law of war, How many cities have you taken ? how many forts have you felled ? how many of your sons have you lost ? speak to me of war again and I shall strike you down my foremost duty, as a leader, as general, is to these men, they have marched across the mountains and across the mud across rain, hail, and snow... and you accuse me of such treachery? I have seen them eat boiled leather and I have seen men work siege engines and camps till their very deaths, I have witnessed a thousand battle lines and a hundred castles turned to dust. You speak to me of the horrors of war ? you know none. Half... a half of my camp stands in ruin, bodies by the cartload and several more crippled... tell me boy... have you ever looked in the eyes of their mothers and wives when I take from them their men and boys and return them as cripples... or worse yet... not at all?... you say, they are barbarians? what merits that suggestion other than a dogmatic spite and hatred of the enemy?... you wolves hunt upon fields... but the siege is my due... and when I decide to make peace, it is foremost for the sake of my men... and second, for the people... I promise you, if Marcus were to lead this matter then three generations of your family would return to Ruis to put down rebellions and wars... and at one instance or the other, fate and fortune would sway in their direction... all of this would have been for naught.

There are no victors in war, the very purpose of such a thing is to come to an agreeable peace, let this one be the last that these people see in their lifetimes... the only justification we have for our actions before the people of Ruis is that through this strife we promise them prosperity and a better future. We've made our point to Concobar and his retinue, we do not intend to massacre his people and lay waste to these lands... they will help the Empire as the Empire will help them... that is final... that is my word.. and that is my law... we shall have peace with Concobar... whether this will be at the end of a sword or a quill is his rightful decision to make as sovereign, the consequences for each will be incurred accordingly.

I very well intend to make that peace before Marcus arrives, the wolf knows only to maul and hunt, he is blind to the intricacies of this situation and that blindness arises from pride and some innate juvenile aggression. He will not violate Caerbryn, that is final "

The soldier wiped his blooded nose as he stood up, issuing a few coughs before bowing his head and raising his left fist to his right shoulder in salute, he had his reservations but the legionary conceded, he owed the general his way, the man's gaze showed a sort of contempt arising from indecision, as if the way had been lost, a tense state of deliberation which existed. If that feeling were made a hundred fold, that was what Ferrus was going through. Ferrus believed if he should fail in this endeavor then the field was owed to Marcus, but the general seemed convinced his contemporary would see reason in his statement. The war planning continued but there was a sudden interruption, a disturbance from the far side of the camp and an emergency call to arms which shook the entire camp. The battle horn was being sounded.

" What !? No, the Ruisans do not have the means to fight in the darkness, did they breach the spike pits and pallisades? hrmph... It shall be dealt with... well Wolvenborn, it seems the gods have heard your plea's for bloodshed... now your resolve shall be put to the test, rally the rest of your men and take forward position... Centurions ! get your legates, prefects and siege-masters at the ready... we shall grace them with the Dragon's Throats, To The Front ! "

Legio Aeterna Victrix !

The forces of the Exalted Rams legion were in disarray, by the time the horn had been sounded, this was no doubt a very unexpected surprise attack. The scouts had consistently kept watch of Caerbryn's garrisons and according to all reports, their forces had retreated into the final layer of their defenses. None of this made any sense and at that point, Ferrus somewhat questioned his own sanity, there was a rare glimpse of anxiety upon his features but now was not the time to express concerns, though deprived of sleep and fatigued from battle himself alongside his legion they rallied to action. A counter-attack by Concobar was not unexpected, it was a contingency that had been prepared for but with resources and men dwindling everything had to be divided accordingly.

The Valradic Siege Camp was an uphill complex and showed a meticulous degree of foresight in its construction, it was definitely not the work of a novice but a veteran of the siege. Defenses consisted of a first line of trenches and spike pits meant to delay the advance of an enemy, these were arguably more useful during the day when the Valradians could reliably fire back at the enemy, in the darkness of the night the field had to be illuminated first by incendiary weapons such as flame catapults. The second line of defense depended on the loose earth and rock used to constructed the uphill ramp, carefully planted barrels of powder could be made to explode the structure beams holding the hill causing an avalanche of dirt and rock to bury the enemy. The final defense, which was the core of the camp, consisted of a pallisade fort.

As the defense had not been considered, the camp was spread out rather than being focused within the fort, fighting erupted on all sides and the legionaries gradually paced back, arguably taking losses and worse still being forced to abandon any wounded or infirm. Nevertheless, once a firm tetsudo had been established they began fighting back however it was a state of chaos without any regulated command. The wolvenborn elite were mobilized from the core, in three squads, rallying any they came across to a defense. A main echelon advanced where the enemy was thickest, carrying with it the greatest number of men whilst the other two attempted to pincer the enemy, essentially "shepherding" the mass in careful rounds of battle, feigned charges, retreats and defensive holds.

The Valradic Trident Pincer Maneuver

Battle-Formation.png

The camp had mustered a mobile front relatively rapidly given the circumstances, the discipline and well-rehearsed war maneuvers of the Valradic legion played into this. Once a nexus of order and command had been established the force, soldiers began to coalesce around it as if by instinct, these routines had been drilled into them since the moment they could pick up a sword. The central echelon consisted of heavy infantry and gathered the most number of men, this was the heavy fighting bulwark that pushed and wrestled with the enemy force, the sides were occupied by less numerous but more mobile flankers, who harassed the enemy by pelting them with slings, javelins and firebombs. If the enemy attempted to take the flank with force, they withdrew into the main body. Whilst the Wolvenborn formed the " Claw " of the pincer, the Rams formed the " Arm ".

Ferrus lead this arm, he trailed behind the moving warmachine, bringing ballistae and "dragon's throat" siege engines, essentially gigantic flamethrowers made of brass fit into the frame of a battering ram, operated by teams of dwarven auxiliary siege engineers. Ferrus's personal elite were the Palatine Syphonators

d6dff5eea858215ba8dc4ad56713cc2c.jpg

These wielders of the flame were amongst the Valradic Empire's most advanced and superior soldier, their armor was coated with a flame retardant wax and they used the famed Valradic Fire, a mysterious alchemical mix of sticky flammable liquid that the Ruisians had come to know as "Brimstone", the liquid resisted being put out by water and essentially burned till the sticky fuel ran out. A large pressurized hand pump was held in much the same way as a crossbow and once released it unleashed a gout of flame for around 30 seconds at a significant distance before having to be reloaded, a process that was much more time consuming than a crossbow, the drakenbreath weapon carried enough mix to be used three time, it's volatility rendered it a dangerous weapon reserved for the most skilled of hands. The Syphonators also carried on their person small glass-orbs filled with the same mix to be used as firearms, for close quarters they preferred the menacing Tzikourion axe.

Ferrus's arm ensured that if the enemy attempted to take the flank en-masse they would be entirely immolated, essentially providing the ranged component for the entire unit. The flame units had the added advantage of illuminating the field, increasing visibility. The Valradic legions had no idea what they were fighting, in the heat of battle it didn't even really matter, it was brutish front-to-front combat, a gruesome and gory affair of the battlefield nothing like the methodical quarter-by-quarter siege of Caerbryn, no, this was War in its most evident and vicious form. The guttural moans of those things were met with the war roars and bellows of eager and adrenaline-laced soldiers, adamant to avenge their fallen, their senses dulled to hunger and fatigue.

" Have the Centurions coordinate the man, we will not charge after them in the night, fire the flares and give them the order not to stray too far from the camp, if the enemy persists we will lure them into our defenses and cripple them, there shall be no slumber this night... Sons and Daughters of Valradia ! Raise Your Spears and Swords ! Bear Witness, The Wrath of The Empire!"

Ferrus stated, using his own sword to unleash a powerful flash of immolating flame across the night sky covering the fields before them to the cheer of his men. The clash of steel against steel persisted as Marcus's wolves held the front. An interruption proceeded, as a wounded Gaius Felix in tatters charged forth, he carried in his arms none other than Emre Felix collapsed after delivering the Ruisian lad to the General, the mark of Emre's sabre still planted in his shoulder, but it was a series of arrows below his ribs that were truly his undoing.

" By the Divine Will ! Gaius Felix ! Explain yourself man ! "

" C-commander, *wheeze, cough* t-they... they are not of this world... hrggh.. fel-... sorcery... *cough* necromancy... hrn... people... in... city... trapped... our dead... theirs... s-save them... w-we... we were fooled... and... if the dark gods have their way... then none shall leave this realm alive... a great... and terrible... evil "

" Felix ! " Ferrus paused shaking the man as his eyes rolled into the back of his skull, before a moment of silence came over him, he closed Felix's eyes with two digits " Bellator Benedictus, may the divine will honor your sacrifice Gaius Felix Andron " Ferrus issued a nod, there was too much going on for him to keep track of, but what was of essence was this battle, this night had to be resolved before there could be deliberation. General Ferrus called in one of his translators and a remediator... there was no time to mourn, no time to waste.

A poultice of potent herbs was rapidly pressed into Emre's wounds, skillful stitches were made and the boy was offered drink and food by Ferrus's hand enough to restore the spirit.

" Listen to me boy, you will take a horse from us and ride into the ruins of your city, you will not look back and you will not pause at anything, deliver my message unto King Concobar and tell him what you saw here this night, whatever it is we shall hold... If these things get past us then they will take your city, there are no reinforcements or armies in this land apart from us... if we are to have any hope of holding the line it will take not one but two armies... we shall settle our grudges later but there are greater matters at stake... we have one last hope at reinforcement... Marcus. "

Ferrus added looking towards the general direction of the gully, somewhere far from here. He looked back at Emre grasped his arm and gave him an intentful nod.

" Unto your feet soldier, do not fail us, do not fail your people "

The speech was brief and in the magnitude of everything that Emre had faced this night it seemed minute, the boy was forced to become a man in the matter of a few hours and now it seemed the entire fate of a realm rested upon his shoulder, the promised steed was provided and with a smack to his haunch Emre was propelled in the direction of Caerbryn. Carrying the scroll which carried the message which Ferrus had drafted not but a few hours ago in his tent. The fighting would go on through the night, The Valradians intended to hold the line, the honor of the legion was at stake and Ferrus would be damned before a few shambling corpses caught the better of his soldiers.

The Forest

In the warren of the hungering knives, a collection of Allaryon's spymaidens and legates had gathered, a table was present at the center of which was seated Odo. There was argument and deliberation that went on around him before a silence was held. Decisions were being made and considerations dealt with, the prisoners of war were roused from their cages and arranged in a march, it was imperative that they leave the forest but a tedious exchange would happen first.

Allaryon vested spell-songs into enchanted gems in order to assist Odo with his impediment and she lended unto him a powerful elven enchantment, that of Astral Sight. The elderly orc would've felt the elf tie the pendant to his neck, she then grasped his hand and put it forward towards the wall of the cave, the gem began to glow. As Allaryon closed her eyes and issued the words to cast the binding spell.

Ysh Dae'lais Aof'rois, Ysh' Val Orou'en -The Spirit That Shall Now Guide My Sight, Through Spirit Shall It Be Made Clear

What would be called Astral Projection in any other terms, essentially a literal projection of Odo's aura, his essence, the thing that gave him existence and consciousness, projected psionically, rather like sonar or how a bat could see in the dark, his mind could strangely comprehend as that aural projection bounced off objects and returned to him creating something of an image in his mind, he could touch things without touching them, he could guide his path, the rock at the end of the tunnel all of a sudden seemed so clear, it was an overwhelming sensation, like emerging from darkness and being blinded by the sun... but in due time his senses would attune and he would come to use this.

One of Allaryon's contemporaries spoke the native tongue and approached Odo sitting before him on the table to translate Allaryon's speech to Odo.

" Ser Orc, we thank you for your coming, our Spymatron has bore witness to the evil that you speak of in her visions, we understand the necessity of our circumstances and the danger of the situation. Our calls to heed danger will not be appreciated so readily by humans as we are in a state of war, we have decided to place our trust and faith in you to better guide us through these lands... allow us to elaborate upon our situation. We are but skirmishers, sent to assassinate the leaders of the army and cripple the trade routes inland, a great and terrible flood was unleashed a few weeks ago that has all but consumed most of the vale. Those that survived have taken to the forts that remain, we take refuge in this forest within our camp, we do not have the means to stay here forever but are able to do so because we have hostages that prevent the Ruisians from capturing us in turn, they do not seem to have a want to engage either, having been holed up in their forts, presumably for the reasons you have mentioned... the moment we leave the forest however, they will gain the advantage... and they will capitalize... we need you to negotiate with them... we will give them back their prisoners of war in return for a right of way... our destination will be towards the gully where we hope to rendezvous with our forces before marching to Caerbryn... we realize the importance of your mission dictates that you take a different route and certainly we will not keep you against your will, however, we can ensure your safety if you stay with us... the Spymatron has deemed your presence important... if you bear with us... we promise to take you to the front and assist in whatever way we can... we will be beginning the march shortly, you will have to negotiate with the Ruis natives for us... they do not hold us in esteem though we hope your words triumph lest we have to draw swords. "

Allaryon placed a hand upon Odo's shoulder

" Help us and we will help you "

She stated with a hopeful smile.


The Gully/Steppes

A tense series of negotiations proceeded between the sparingly populated orc camp and Marcus's retinue, Marc's idle hand stroked between Thor's ears. There were no words to be exchanged, the orcs understood the value of silver and gold well enough and that was the only language that mattered. Marcus kept his eyes on Thor the whole time, he noted as the hounds straight ears picked up on sounds and his nose twitched... no.. something was not right, Thor was giving him the subtle symbols. As Marcus lifted his gaze he noted the presence of no women and children in the camp, this was not a settled party but probably a roving band. Marc bided his time, upon the backs of large wargs a small band of Orcs approached circling the group slowly, Marcus threw forth a sack of silver and a tattered Ruis banner which made the tusked feral laugh gleefully at the ruin of their former comrades before talking amongst themselves.

Marcus turned his head back and issued a nod to Quintus upon the hill, it was not a good sign, he wanted the old man to go and check on the camp and that was when the negotiations started to break down. A few more warg mounted Orcs began to circle both Marcus and Thor, it seems they had concluded this round of negotiation with a rather predictable response, one that Marc was not unprepared for, but this was too small a party for this many tents... the others... that was when Marcus realized that this party of Orcs had probably been keeping close tabs on the stranded legionaries for a while. It was when the pack seperated was when it was at its most vulnerable they'd been baited.

" Hrmph... damn it Quintus, I should've listened... god speed Old Man, warn the others and get them ready.... Thor... take battle stance... these stone-skins aren't about to let us go on our way peaceably "

The Steppe Duel


Slowly the Wargs circled both Marcus and Thor, he took a few paces back onto open ground, wind blowing in his cloak, the wolf grasped the hilt of his sword slowly pulling the blade out. Marcus's preferred stance to fight in was called The Guard of The Bastard Cross, essentially holding the pommel of his sword which bore the lionhead towards the enemy, a complicated and difficult to master stance of swordmanship but one which offered infinite possibility, he widened his stance some and turned presenting the wolf head end of his should towards the enemy his steel gaze keeping a track of the assailants. It would be a vicious steppe duel, but something in Marc was eager to test his blade against these orcs. Behind him in contact with his calf was Thor, they formed a complete fighting unit providing coverage all around.

The orcs made their first charge towards them, sparks flew, precisely placed footwork, battle conducted with finesse, focus and a skill honed over a lifetime, as Thor caught at the Wargs throat Marc issued a single flawless sword strike to the orc above, thwud resulting in a head dropping in the dirt followed by two corpses, the orcs did not relent charging forwards, much in the same way as a bullfighter, Marc turned the foot, gliding along a warg's flank as he thrust a dagger from his belt through the beasts ribs sending it's rider flying off as the beast collapsed,

" Slaughter "

Marc stated, and the word was all but instinct to Thor whom darted off to end the Orc that had just gotten to his feet, they attempted to swing at Thor much as Wargs attempted to snap at the warhound. Marcus duelled with three of the Orc warriors now that the riders and their beasts had been dealt with, Marc leveraged his skill against the Orcs strength, often times using their own momentum against them in ways they did not conceive, he perceived the very motion from which they drew their strength, one carefully placed kick to the abdomen, a sweep of the heel with his boot, essentially throwing the three off. The battle grew intense and furious but at no one point did it eschew a loss of control, there was no barbarism or pointless carnage, every strike was intentful, to the watcher it was art... it was entertaining... it was almost as if Marcus put on a spectacle... whether this was by virtue of experience or a desire to do so remained for him to answer... it was as magnificent as it was effortless.

And as the last orc fell to the ground, Marcus plunged his sword into the earth facing their camp, causing a torrent of ethereal flame to emerge from the sword and turn the camp to naught but smouldering ash and embers, before it was plucked by its keeper.

" Come Thor, no time to waste boy, we need to get back to the camp immediately "

Thor the Malinois (played anonymously)

*******Rilynath Kingdom******


King Zaknayrr was boiling with rage as he had thrown a helm across the throne room and he dropped down into his seat and he drummed his fingers against the arm of his throne before lifting his head and looking directly at one of his lieutenants and he spoke sternly to him rather than at him.

"Ready a foot battalion. Ensure we have 200 archers along with 400 ground infantry. Inform my sons Gorogoth and Veliai. They shall pay dearly for every drop of innocent blood. Ready them to March to the Steppes. I can only pray that Lord Leocadus forgives my tardiness"



The lieutenant would rush quickly to go find the two young princes, and hopefully they would be where he had figured the twins to be.

Luckily, they were. The two were in an intense hand-to-hand combat sparring session. This time, it would be Veliai in a low but strong defensive position with his right arm tucked close to his bare chest with his left arm halfway out as to be able to bat away any punches or kicks rather easily, or he would need to counter any grab and slam attempts from Gorogoth, his brother.


Gorogoth stood in a square stance with his arms up and palms down in order to sell the illusion that he may grab, but instead, he would quickly pivot his body in order to generate momentum, his hip would follow, and his left leg would snap outward and kicked Veliai's arm to the side, which would throw the silver-haired prince off just enough for Gorogoth to close the gap between them and lock Veliai into a headlock and with a twisting motion, he would lift Veliai and slam him down into the dirt floor of the training room.


The lieutenant would stop and he would lift off his helmet and put his right arm just beneath his heart and he would bow to them "Your Majesties......your father, His Highness King Zaknayrr is requesting your urgent presence"


Veliai would storm over to the lieutenant and he would push him upward and out of the bow and he would give him a look of mild annoyance and he would hold one finger up as if he were reprimanding the lieutenant.

"Ah. Right. I forgot. Your Majesties do not like being bowed to"

"Correct" Gorogoth said with a smile. Gorogoth's teeth were filed into points which was eerie enough, but Gorogoth was also relatively insane, but he had insight.

The twins towered themselves off before putting shirts on and leaving to speak to their father.

******The Gulley******


Thor was as savage as ever. His tusk-like teeth was able to puncture and rip these orcs apart. Each time his jaws latched, the sheer power of his bite made an audible snap each time he bit down.



The Warg he killed was far too easy. His teeth slammed into the ward's neck and crushed the windpipe. If the blood loss didn't kill the warg, the imminent suffocation definitely would.

"Slaughter"


Thor knew that sound, and it was all he needed to hear to know that it was time to work. His teeth found their mark into the face of the downed orc, and in one bite, it was enough to completely crush the face of the orc, and he would then go off. He was able to easily knock orcs down and bite and rip body parts and heads off. The Wargs, to say the least, were no match for the warhound. He outclassed the orcs with speed, strength, and stamina. The only advantage the Wargs had was their size, but it was irrelevant once Thor was locked on.
Zakhu Bujir (played by Oglavaeil)

((finally recovering after a nasty virus and working on my post!))
Odo (played anonymously) Topic Starter

Caerbryn Battlegrounds


The cries of valiant men further summoned the unliving to throw themselves against Valradian shields. To the living soldiers’ benefit, these new enemies did not collaborate or strategize. The only thing that motivated them was an accursed, endless hunger. Risen warriors, Ruisian and Valradian alike, impaled themselves on blades as crawling ghouls chattered and endeavored to gnaw at legionnaire’s feet, legs and knees. Some of the undead screamed, others gurgled or groaned, and some did not speak at all, for their injuries were too severe to allow them to do so. Gouging, slashing and pummeling away at them seemed to do little good, unless the creatures’ heads were hewn off or their bodies lit aflame. In the latter case, the afflicted undead’s bodies would burn with a transformative flame. At first the fire may be fueled by the Valradian “brimstone”, but soon it would turn blue and fuel itself upon something else entirely. The heat surrounding these unfortunate wights was nigh overwhelming, but nonetheless effective.

Still, it would be difficult for even the highly trained and disciplined warriors of these legions to hold out forever. Their sword arms could yet grow tired, while the unliving knew weariness no longer.

___


What was Emre to think? First, the werebeast hunted him through the fields, then moments after it carried him away from the pit of the undead, to safety. At first he thought that, perhaps, this was simply to acquire him as a potentially valuable prisoner of war. The young man considered that a rather paltry reason to take him away from the danger, considering that his garb denoted him nothing more than a levy. Then, as Andron approached the camp, changing as he was, he started to realize the true reason for his savior’s actions. He had not noticed it prior, but certainly someone had to have struck him as he carried Emre away with arrows. He looked into the changed mans eyes, the sense of shock fading before a feeling of awe and gratitude. Perhaps these beast-men were not as beastly as he first thought. The image of his comrades dying still clouded his mind, but he realized he quickly needed to make peace with this discrepancy if he wanted to continue living.

Felix deposited him before an older, more experienced warrior whom the levy correctly assumed was the field commander of the Valradians. Emre knew that Andron was badly hurt, but seeing such a large and powerful man dying before him still shook him to his core. That could have been him…! Why would his foe endeavor to save him so suddenly? As shame, doubt and confusion swirled in his mind, he was soon approached by that very same commander, General Ferrus. This was also when he realized that his wounds were actually being tended; he gave the menders an appreciative nod, although he was suddenly acutely aware of how delayed his thanks was.

With a modest offering of food and drink in his hands, he turned his focus solely back to the general. As the older man began speaking his orders, the younger of the two started eating. He did not need to know just what the Valradian was saying to understand the seriousness of his tone. Whatever the man wanted, clearly it was of great importance. Thankfully, the process of translation bought him enough time to actually eat some of the food, gulping it down hastily with his apportioned drink. The levy had no immediate reason to trust them, besides poor Felix’s endeavors to save him, but even he knew that if the Valradians wanted him dead, he would be dead already.

A message to King Concobar himself? Even considering the horrors of what Emre had seen, he could only wonder if the stuffy nobles residing within Caerbryn Castle would deign him worthy of speaking to the king’s steward, let alone the man himself! Still, Emre owed it to these foreigners, not to mention his own comrades, to at least try. As Ferrus summoned him to his feet the levy rose, a newfound look of determination in his eyes. These outsiders may be the enemy, but among such an enemy as the living dead, they needed to reconcile, and fast. Besides that, something about these imperials felt almost inspiring. Such patriotism and gusto, even in the face of the walking dead, inspired Emre. He did not know Valradian but he gave his own people’s salute; a straightening of the back, holding his head high, he pumped his fist twice against his chest before standing at ease and taking off to deliver the message.

No more was Emre a frightened, doubtful boy. It was time for him to truly start serving his kingdom.

Caerbryn Castle


Inside the city, men were awoken from restless dreams and told to ready themselves for war. Some protested, but an organized resistance was unlikely due to the urgency of the war against the city. Fathers, sons, and brothers said their farewells to their kin and, with their own weapons in hand, they marched to garrisons located along the walls and scattered throughout the city proper. Some of the more affluent recruits rallied to the castle itself, only to be organized and sent under the command of seasoned Ruisian lords to different key points of defense.

Concobar couldn’t sleep. This wasn’t because of insomnia; rather, it was due to the strange happenings on the outskirts of the city. His war council, a select few experienced dukes, lords and advisors, all sat around the long table in the war room. The king lifted his crown for a moment, if only to knead his brow with his fingers. The gesture was, of course, in vain. His headache pulsed painfully through his skull as he listened to his advisors prattle on about supplies and suppositions of what the enemy was doing. To make matters worse, Lugh had somehow caught wind of the meeting and sat beside him, spouting all manner of inexperienced and terrible ideas to the war council.

The strange battle occurring outside their walls did not escape their notice, but information on it was difficult to come by, except perhaps that some of the guards along the wall were needing to fight off strange intruders who seemed capable of climbing the walls through uncertain means. The true horror of the matter was simply not known by the council yet. It was still a matter of some concern, however; whoever the Valradians were fighting, they were not Ruisian. Concobar and his confidants were well aware of the locations of their armies, and none of them were near that particular section of outer wall when the fighting started. Something else was afoot, and whether this mysterious enemy was orcen, human, elven, or of some other origin, none of those assembled in the room enjoyed their newfound presence on the field.

Then came a frenzied pounding on one of the war room’s doors, followed by the intrusion of an honor guard, panting and sweat-covered. “Your highness,” the guard started, while pumping his fist against his plated torso. “Urgent news from the front.”

King Concobar heaved a sigh and beckoned the soldier to approach. He did so and, upon offering the council a reverent bow on top of his initial salute, he relayed none other than the tale of Emre. It was true that the young levy was unable to make it all the way, but by luck he was lent an ear by the guards, who, upon learning what was happening, made similar haste for their liege. “The Valradians are fighting a force of the unliving, sire. The dead have risen, for some accursed reason, and are attacking everyone else on the outskirts.”

“The unliving? Do you know why?”

“No, sire. If I may, it seems the imperials were surprised by this as well.”

One of the councilmen snorted. “Fine. Let the undead deal with them; then we can sweep them up from the walls.” To this, another council member retorted. “And face the full brunt of an undead imperial legion? Are you daft?” As the first councilman started to speak up, the king barked, “Enough! Are we here to defend the kingdom, or are we here to talk each other to death!?” The king slammed his fist against the tabletop as he interrupted his council’s bickering match. Their faces were still red with petty rage, but the war council fell into a reluctant silence on their king’s order.

Concobar leaned back in his seat and stroked at his beard, thankful for those precious seconds of silence. “Thane. Send the order to dispatch the Mor Feinnithe* to the walls. Levies will just get in the way, here.” One of the councilmembers rose from his seat and, offering a brief salute of his own to his liege, he departed. The soldier shifted, an uncertain look in his eye. Age had taught the king to be patient in times where it was suitable; this was not one of those moments, and so he snapped again. “Speak, man, if you’ve something worthy to speak.”

“Yes, sire… The Valradians, they wish to make peace for the time being.”

“Peace? After all they’ve done to our borderlands? Our walls?”

“Yes, sire.”

Once again silence filled the room. This time, it was even more tense than the last. Among the remaining councilmembers, the one warning against the dangers of an undead Valradian legion spoke. “…Usually it would be an insult to even consider such a thing, so early into the conflict… but with the undead so close at hand…” The king grunted. “I know.” Even so, uncertainty lingered in the minds of the highborn men.

“…Perhaps a ceasefire, for the time being. At least, until we can determine where these… things are coming from?” The cautious lord suggested. Yet another advisor snorted and shook his head, “We would be giving them permission to camp outside our walls while we let our guard down. If these galls want to make peace, they need to show they respect our ancient right to this land.”

Concobar wrinkled his nose. “It would indeed be foolish to let the outsiders do what they wish, without any checks in place. However, it may not be realistic to expect them to just up and leave on a moment’s notice, especially considering the beasts attacking their siege camp.”

The cautious lord leaned forward. “Then, my liege, perhaps we may establish our communications through them primarily. The enemies are numerous, but this legion at our gates clearly wants our help. We can help them with this attack, and then when they’re ready, demand they take measures for our continued cooperation.”

“What’s stopping them from just setting up their siege equipment again, or burning our messengers with their bloody brimstone? This is an empire we’re talking about. Empires are as wolves; they’ll collaborate with their fellows in the heartlands and bide their time with us until they’re ready to hunt us again. Such a peace would be short lived, and I’m sure it would only benefit them.”

“He’s right; we’ve no way to keep them to their word. Their emperor is far away; we’ve only generals of wolves to parlay with.”

The old king rapped his knuckles against the wooden arm of his chair while his council bandied away. “What of this one? General Ferrus. His Exalted Rams, or whatever they call themselves… they seem to regard the man highly. Is he honorable?”

“We cannot be sure, sire, but our reports suggest that he is.”

The honor guard, still standing by, bowed his head apologetically and offered, “It is by his request that this peace be made, sire.”

“Is it a request, or a demand?” The king asked.

“…A request, sire. A most urgent one. If I may… one that appeals to your honor. And, sire, our reports also suggest that he is quite against what happened at the gully.”

King Concobar’s fingers toyed habitually with his whiskers. “Yes? What of it? Are these men not dictated by their foreign emperor’s demands?” To this the soldier simply bowed his head again. “I suppose so, sire.”

“Then we cannot know for certain that he will keep to his honorable ways, should his emperor grow impatient with the invasion.” An advisor said, bitterly. To this, the cautious lord once again replied. “Perhaps not, but perhaps we need not just trust him at his word to keep the peace.”

“What do you mean?”

“…Perhaps we might keep the imperial galls in check with an exchange of high-profile prisoners.” Some of the noblemen at the table laughed. Others held their tongues. The king was among those who did the latter, still fidgeting as he liked to do, mulling the idea over. It was not a terrible idea; it would not necessarily keep the more unscrupulous generals in check, but even having a bargaining chip against the 18th legion could be effective. After all, the undead needed to be dealt with, and they could not wait very much longer to coordinate on that front.

“Alright, fine.” The king grumbled. “Do we have any volunteers?” All of the councilmen went silent; all, of course, except for Lugh. “Let me do it, my liege.”

“No, Lugh; I will not allow it!” The old king barked. “You are the worst person in this room to use!”

“I am the best person to use! Think about it!”

“I’ve thought well enough about your position here, boy!” As Concobar and Lugh’s argument went on, it resembled less an official meeting and more a squabble between father and son, though the two in truth were not related at all. “It will not be you!”

“Why not?! If I go and all goes well, I’ll be back before you know it; if I die in their hold, well, we’ll be solving a few family feuds at home now won’t we?!”

“ENOUGH!” King Concobar roared. “You have said ENOUGH, boy!” The old kings hands, clenched until their knuckles went white, shook visibly. Once again, one of the council members suggested, “…My liege, I say this with the utmost respect. You know I speak the truth to you; our clans are bonded, my sword is yours… the boy has a point.”

“How could you say such a thing?” The king looked then upon his advisor, his face flushed with anger. “I made a promise…”

“A promise, yes… to a dead man, who knows not of the legions at our door. Would he not have volunteered himself, were he here? And why should we punish the boy for taking after his father?” Before the lord spoke again he waited just a few seconds, enough time to let the logic of his argument settle in the king’s mind. “…If he couldn’t have thought of a greater plan, that is. And Lugh, here, we all know he just wants to do the right thing, my king. And Ferrus is a fair man, even if he is an enemy. What are the odds we’ll actually lose him?”

The other advisors, for all they usually argue amongst themselves, looked then upon the king for his answer. In this matter most, if not all, of them agreed; Lugh was a suitable offering. The young man was highborn, and close enough to the king to be important. Concobar’s nostrils flared; he snarled beneath his greying whiskers, exercising every ounce of his own self-control not to bring misguided destruction upon the ancient table. “Jackals.” He growled. “Fine! But I will have two things; the trade will be made with none other than the general himself. I will have Ferrus here, in the castle, if I am to send Lugh to those outsiders.

Furthermore, if this plan fails and Lugh is lost, then know that I will have all your heads! And the war will not end until I have the emperor’s, as well!”

“…Soldier. You will send the messenger back, and they will be told of our terms. If their general agrees, we will make arrangements for his safekeeping here. We can coordinate our attacks against the fiends better that way, anyhow. If he takes this threat as seriously as his message suggests, then he will do it.”

“Tell the servants to prepare a room in the estate! I will not have a general kept in some common holding cell.”


The Forest


The blessing of the psionic sense that the elves gifted Odo was more than a little appreciated. Yet, it felt as though the world suddenly became too alive; his head hurt, and the shapes of those around him, though he understood them, felt overwhelming even in their conservative numbers. He quietly hoped that this would subside, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, until the newcomers finally addressed him. He found it all rather awkward that they would keep him there as they spoke in their own tongue, and so it was a temporary relief when he finally heard words he could understand. Their meaning, however, was not quite so relieving.

It had been a long time since he had spoken to anyone, so politeness was on the mind when he sat and awaited the end of this translator's message before delivering the unfortunate truth. "...My friend. I would be willing to speak for you, though it seems you do not need the help. That said, I will not lie to you; it is the least I can do for you, after you have given me this gift..." He gently lifted the amulet in his hand, indicating his meaning. "I am afraid that, although they see you as quite unworthy, they may see me as being even more so. " The half-orc adjusted the brooch holding his kilt in place.

"I am half orcen, half human. It is obvious, I am sure. To the humans of Ruis, there is not much alive that is lower than an orc. A half-orc is... close to that, however." Odo's thumb dragged along the surface of the amulet as he considered his words. "...We are not respected. Often, we are not free. And I..." His fidgeting increased as he pondered how to tell them, "...I am a marked man. I... should not be anywhere, but... well..." He trailed off. Where was he going with this? He was not even sure, but where his words failed, perhaps something visible would succeed. Gently, he pushed his brooch-bound shoulder cloth aside to reveal an old scar, placed just above where his heart would be.

It was gnarled, stretched with age, and faded by time, but it was still clear. The mark was once a burn-- a brand-- which designated the orcen man as a slave. The relevant information identifying him was plain to see, for the purpose of returning him, should he be lost or escaped, to the right masters. The symbol, though simplified, of a Ruisian noble house sat atop the words: "Odo: of HOUSE AYGOL," which themselves were above a semi-stylized hatch pattern denoting the hermit's former status.

"...So you see. I cannot be a diplomat. I am... unfit. But... I know the gully. My home, it was by the water. Maybe I can help with that?"

Caerbryn

At no small cost was the night held and by the break of dawn a scene of carnage was relayed at the siege camp, the thick mud would betray an onlooker to presume that it had rained the night before but infact the soil had been drenched in blood. The legion persevered in the face of an unexpected threat and against unsurmountable odds, those whom survived had the expressions of men whom had gazed hell itself in the eye and walked away, none were left unscathed, none were left unwounded by that corruption for those it did not outright slay, it did ingrain itself in their minds. With a heavy heart, Ferrus addressed his consul, commanders of both the wolvenborn and his own exalted rams alongside the auxiliary dwarven siege corps, all of whom weathered the losses.

Thick clouds of ash obscured the skies of Caerbryn as if some grim omen, for by Ferrus's orders all dead, all slain were to be burned immediately where once this brimstone was lobbed over the walls of the Capital of Ruis, now it was made to bid their dead a final farewell, the blue flames were scorching and in the camps of the wounds there were no small amount of men with burn wounds, shields shattered and armors dented from a mere night of battle, these soldiers came equipped to fight the levies of Caerbryn, not the unholy scions of foul necromancy. Ferrus bit his tongue at the thought of sounding a retreat, it was a dishonor he would never bear upon himself or his legacy, yet the harrowing sights took a toll on the man's pride. The enemy had taken on the worst and most mocking of visages, that of their own battle brothers. A man could be felled with a well-aimed blow but these creatures were enduring to an extreme, only stopping when their corpses were bludgeoned or burned beyond all recognition. The great horde was stopped at the mouth of the fort, just before dawn, by collapsing a section of mud hill upon them in which invariably a few legionaries were lost as well. The maneuver had worked well, if only to stem the tide till the night came once more, afterall their bones must have been pulverized by such a mass of earth or atleast that was what the hope was for.

A procession of priests marched up to a particularly large and ornate funerary pyre, many a fallen warrior adorned this mass, in a symbolic gesture, Ferrus had broken the siege engines to provide wood for this pyre as to assure the Ruisian onlookers if there were any, there likely were. At the very height of this pyre was Gaius Felix Andron, a man who was not born in the Empire, whom was of barbarian stock but had served its people dutifully and departed from this realm with a warrior's death, moreso, one that was noble. The priests and canonesses bore incense laden censers across the fields, helping to mask the stench of the dead and provide comfort to the soldiers, it was their apothecaries who tended to the wounded. Beside the funeral pyre was a procession of men, not Valradian but rather the prisoners of war, many of them had already fled but many more had stood and fought beside the Valradians valiantly in the night under the promise of their freedom.

The hooves of Ferrus's warhorse kicked up mud, the General had been busy rallying the troops and making preperations for another night, he needed to ensure the chain of command was resilient enough for the troops to conduct themselves and be disciplined enough to weather any scenario. Ferrus preferred to address the prisoners of war himself, in his hand he held a torch and his gaze was affixed upon the great pyre. A lightly armed soldier walked over to the side of the generals horse and offered a single nod to which the general replied with a nod.

" Go now, men of Ruis, speak truly of me and my men to your lord, for in that dark night we fought not against Caerbryn but for her, so that the taint of this evil would not desecrate your people we laid down our lives, we did so because we are warriors of a noble and proud stock, we fight for what is right and for the liberation of the lands and their people, ours is an Empire which seeks to unify the forces of man, we came as your foes and now stand to be your brothers, there shall come a day where the Empire will have provided you with a recompense for what has occurred and this day the Empire chooses to fight beside you. Go, you are free, that is my edict, remember me and remember my men, remember their sacrifices and... forgive us, for such is the law of men, that should we wish for great peace we must make ready for war, the arch-enemy violates this land... unholy and foul magics which rob the peace of your ancestors and see their remains dishonored. Go, Soldiers of Ruis, return to your women and children, you are free... remember my words, remember their chants and remember this flame "

With that Ferrus lobbed the torch towards the funeral pyre, as it erupted in a massive towering flame, the Valradic funerary litany was chanted by many a soldier who stood solemnly, fists to their hearts, in unison, in one powerful unshakable voice, such that those who now marched away from the camp as the freedmen would remember this litany for ages.

Valradic Funeral Litany




Media vita in morte sumus

Quem quaerimus ad iutorem nihi site domine

Qui pro peccatis nostris

juste irasceris?

Sancte Deus, sancte fortis

Sancte misericor salvator

Amare mortis ne tradas nos

In te speraverunt patres nostri

Speraverunt et liberasti eos

Media vita in morte sumus

In the midst of life, we are in death

What helper do we seek except you, our lord?

Who for our sins

Are justly displeased

Holy spirit, sanctified and mighty

Holy and merciful savior

Do not abandon us to a bitter death

Our fathers placed their trust in you

And you delivered them

In the midst of life, we are in death



No words were issued by Ferrus during this procession, he returned immediately to his tent thereafter, new plans being drawn, lieutenants being assigned, fallen commanders replaced, dead soldiers accounted for, the ranks and their resources organized. The brunt of the breakthrough and fighting had been carried by the Wolvenborn and Marcus's elite did not disappoint, the fighting would have very much gone the other way had the circumstances been changed. Torch and oil-bearing servants marched across the fields, no longer disturbed by the defenders of Caerbryn, they set alight and burned any corpses they could find. In many places, temporary outposts were set up under the watchful eye of commanders where soldiers came and traded with their ruisian counterparts, this mostly pertained to rations and other items of immediate use but the trading of weapons and wares was disallowed, the Valradians harvested what they could from the dead, no doubt the Ruisians did the same.

It was evident Ferrus was reorienting the chain of command, making it simpler but more resilient, tomorrow was promised to no man including the General and in the event he fell, he did not want these ranks to falter, in contrast the well-drilled and trained wolvenborn were able to more quickly regroup and reorganize, their own commanders already drilling their troops in regard to the lessons learned from the night before, spears and swords were being traded from flanged maces and polearms capable of delivering powerful crippling blows, armor was reinforced in the more vulnerable areas. The rams worked in unison with their infantry, they began setting up artillery positions, heavy and slow catapults and trebuchets were traded for more mobile and faster ballistarius, brimstone charges were laid onto the bolts, rank and file positions were traded for loose scatter, intercalated between rows of artillery intended to disrupt and disorganize the formation of hordes, many spears which proved rather ineffective the night before were repurposed stakes and placed into pit traps. These evolvements were communicated to the Ruisians via flags and symbols upon banners which they could witness from their towers, the two forces still kept a distance, there was peace but an uneasy one... Ferrus hoped the defenders of Caerbryn had also begun taking the necessary measures.

Ferrus made the final brief to his commanders, as they stood in a uniform line, he grasped the bracers of each man, a symbolic gesture of his trust in each, they would hold the night beyond the walls as he negotiated the valradic side of the parlay with Concobar. He then departed, by horse for a single tent on the far side of the battlefield, a line of Valradic troops stared down their counterparts on the otherside, the grounds of the tent were left untouched, it was here that Lugh would meet Ferrus. The general made his way into the tent and found himself facing... a boy, whilst his retinue seemed estranged by this and grasped their swords instinctively in preparation for a rouse, Ferrus dismissed them by raising his hand and bringing them to pause. He took his seat before Lugh, noting his features with a stern gaze before ordering a servant to bring forth two goblets, the ceremonial gift of valradic bread and spiced wine was presented as both blessing and as a token of a fortuitous outcome. Ferrus then read out the terms scrawled out on a scroll, a script of valradic low gothic though clearly a pidgin variant suggesting they had translated the message as best they could, it was tangible nonetheless to Ferrus and most importantly it bore Concobar's seal.

" Hrm... an unexpected though wise decision on the part of your sire, young lord... what say you of this? do we have.... terms? is such a parlay acceptable to you ?... this may mean you might not see your homeland or your father for quite some time... nevertheless, it is an honor to have met you Princeps Luos Konkovares and it is a shame that our meeting will be so short. As I depart for the palace of Karvaren, I shall bring with me my entrusted host of praetorian elites and I shall allow you to bring ten of your own chosen guard as well, it should give your father some relief that you are at least in the company of some of your countrymen. I shall not deliberate or entertain what shall follow from this point onwards, except that we act in the greater good now, on my part I hope it shall persevere, and I hope you shall find our host hospitable and be first to bear witness to the good that we have to offer rather than force of arms alone... as your father has requested for me I cannot accompany you nor make arrangements as I see fit, regrettably so, you are young my boy, I've seen more young men slain then any father should have to bear to see in a lifetime, guard your life... you may yet unify our peoples, it is a sacred duty to rule and I presume your father knows this too, your responsibility is first to your people and second to war and you will do no good for them if you are slain in battle for a few fleeting moments of glory. That is all I, Ferrus Martel have to say to you... I bid you farewell, may your gods watch over you as ours watches over us "

As Ferrus stood up, his advisors grasped his arms in sheer reluctance and protest to which he violently sprung himself and issued them an infuriated look, taking a few heavy breaths before calming himself as he looked intently into their eyes.

" The Ram must go to lock his horns, the field belongs to The Wolf now, arrangements have been made, his own will serve well as lieutenants, I anticipated something of this sort... we would hold another few nights, a week at most... pride is the tool which the fool brandishes to bring ruin to himself and wisdom that which the warrior holds so that he may fight yet again. Do not fail me my brothers and soldiers, I leave you now... Praetorians ! to me ! signal the servants to get the baggage train moving, a few gifts should atleast suffice to satiate his noblemen, praetorians, hoist your banners high, this shall be our first march unto Karvaren... "

Ferrus then turned his head to face Lugh,

"Let us hope it is our last"

With that Ferrus began his procession towards the Palace of Caerbryn and in his stead, another figure appeared, taking note of Lugh to whom he offered a prompt salute with left fist towards the heart, before offering a subtle bow and gesturing with his hand to lead Lugh and his retinue outwards.

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" Prince Luos, I am Legate Galvan Taros, siegemaster of the exalted rams legion and I have been given command in the stead of General Ferrus, I shall be your guide and confidant in such matters as pertain to diplomacy and warfare, we are limited in some aspects and open in others and more avenues for cooperation are likely to be opened as we navigate these difficult times. The general's own tent has been repurposed to house you, certainly a compromise from the opulence of the palace but arguably the most well defended position that we currently possess. We shall dine together and discuss matters as you see fit, General Ferrus entrusted me to relay to you his strategy, we would require of you some degree of access to Caerbryn... the current position does not offer grounds for maneuverability nor is it suitable for extended defense, particularly if the weather is made bitter."

Galvan added guiding Lugh to a promontory that allowed him to overview the battlefield from high ground and surveil the preperations the Valradians had made thus far, commendable and rapid, though evidently quite diminished in efficiency, the valradians had certainly retained their more venerable and veteran troops particularly those from Marcus's own wolvenborn legion however, the exalted rams faced considerable losses whilst trying to conserve their specialists and siege equipment. The effect of this attrition was obvious, a siege couldn't be organized without a mass of junior soldiers to act as workers and perform several other duties, even if effectiveness was preserved force projection was diminished and though many myths spoke of heroes holding down hordes of hundreds, realistically such an outcome was a sparing occurrence, the Valradians were in an uneasy deadlock and they acted in a more closefisted manner, these camps once stretched out so far that beyond all four corners of Caerbryn's walls there was naught but crimson and now they just seemed like a huddle around a hillfort, many of their supplies left out in the open, to the elements having lost the infrastructure to deal with such... tainted rations and water were begrudgingly purged and there was even an instance where a few legionaries were butchering the carcass of a lamed mule for the nights supper.

" We can organize better killzones if we are afforded more space, barring the elites we have considerably wounded... they can be tended to and returned to fighting form and it is for their sake we seek the defense of your walls. We presume that combining our forces under two wings of command coordinating different objectives to cripple the enemy force will allow us to make a more decisive impact upon them... the advantage of having the legion act as an added bulwark to Caerbryn is obvious... as we are aware civilians are housed within the city. In a show of good faith, our siege-engines were dismantled... they can be reassembled and will have considerable effect upon the battlefield... but this, and many other things depend on your approval... we intend to plan with you rather than for you. We presume a new front of fighting shall erupt upon nightfall and this is an unpredictable enemy, it befits us to prepare for the worst... and plan the necessary contingencies... I'm sure we'll have word of your father and the general's meeting soon... but in the meanwhile... any elements that you have command of, should reasonably be mobilized and put to good use. "

It was yet to be seen how the meeting between Ferrus and Concobar would proceed, the general would invariably arrive at his court and the king would have the first word no doubt and the general would as per custom pay the king his due respect.

The Gully

For a warrior as seasoned as Marcus and his compatriot, felling a few orcs was a trifling task, of the three generals it was Marcus who had any sort of experience dealing with the preternatural for the Empire had been affected by calamities of fel-sorcery before, though those triumphs were held in high secrecy should the very mention of those days bring forth a curiosity in the powers of ruin. With a ruthless precision and finesse, the Orcs were dealt with, each blow decisive and vicious, spilling entrails and gushing through as he glided between their assaulting ranks with nigh impeccable foresight, their blows anticipated from the moment their muscles seized in preparedness to make a strike, for Marcus the events seemed to move in slow motion, in truth he was almost blind and deaf to the world, myriad patterns of coordination like instinct caused him to adjust such that the orcs blows found naught, the sparks of metal against metal, it was not sword alone that was his weapon but mind, the art of movement, of force, of momentum so practiced to the man that he performed the dance of death with the precision of a sculptor taking an unremarkable piece of stone and carving into it meaning. Every part of the swords not just the blade was used to some effect, a move that was both strike and deflection.

Sometimes as a foe moved to make a blow they would find themselves losing balance and force through a subtle yet well timed kick or sweep, at times deadlocks were broken as Marcus unsheathed a dagger holding his sword with one arm as the other plunged the shorter blade into an exposed underarm or belly, dispatching the menace with a quick twist, at other times he held two foes at bay as Thor took the initiative snapping at an ankle and dragging an orc off, or jumping off marcus's back as he ducked and locking his jaws upon an exposed throat, it was with this precision that the two had hunted drakes in Cornaeth and it was evident that a lust for the hunt was ingrained in both, two beings with but one soul.

As Loremaster Quintus returned to the camp, a scene of chaos had already erupted, a sizeable mass of orcs had taken the initiative and rushed the stranded party of legionaries, the old man was aghast and barely had time to think before a lesser orc sighted him rushing over to harass and slay the old loremaster, Quintus's old bones were no longer used to this sort of commotion, he clambered over a boulder, beating at the top of the orcs head with his staff..

"Argh.. damn you... damn you wretched scoundrel, I am but an old man! the soldiers have what you want... leave me be !"

Just then Quintus heard a bark over the horizon,

" Thor !!! Help me! I promise you all the ribs you could want for and you can sleep in my bed... by the deus, deliver me from this devil!"

The audible ring of Marcus's sword draw followed, as he arrived from over the hill in full gallop, with Thor following by his side, he looked at Quintus on the rocky outcrop and issued a whistle to Thor, allowing him to depart and take initiative. Marcus himself made a charge into the orcish flank as the wolvenborn legionaries gathered to make a defense, their captain demarcated by his wolf skull helmet directed the others into a quick defensive formation.

" Morsus et Tetsudo, now ! "

A linear shield wall dispersed to reveal a second line of legionaries that pelted a charging orcish force with many javelins disrupting their charge before forming a heavy shield wall once more blending into the troops behind them holding spears through the gaps and turning on the command of the captain who kept watch of the Orcish maneuver, the dreaded warg kill circle had been formed and already a man of two was snatched by the ankle or arm either ripped apart by quarelling wargs or torn apart, the Orcs bided their time as their heavier troops armed with two handed glaives and warhammers battered the shield wall... the monotony was broken when Marcus entered the fray, beheading one of the shield-breakers with a swift cleave of his sword and riding around in a circle around the now distracted wargs.

The legionaries broke the shield wall and charged outwards in circle formation, whilst Marcus shepherded and rounded the warg riders, on his person was a vial of fulminating fluid which he pelted into the now reorganizing orcs, causing a rank of them to catch on fire, the warg-riders had begun to retreat denoting their disadvantage, but just like jackals to a wounded animal they would be back... Marcus looked back at his captain with a grim expression.

" How many... ? "

" 5 my lord... "

" Hrm... cursed orcs... a more feral variety than those from our lands, less amenable to offers that may yet benefit them... or perhaps their history with Ruisians has earned humans their ire and hatred. Nevertheless, I sense a fortuitous omen may yet arrive.. "

" My lord, we cannot stay here... we must rally with the others.. the men-

" Will do exactly as I say, have I not led you out of far worse Lucius ? steel yourself... as for the fallen, there's little we can do, serving in this legion is a privilege earned through vigil and duty and when those falter they would have earned themselves an early retirement... ours is not a legion where farce and inadequacy will be tolerated Lucius.. we are the wolven-born... I hope I have made myself clear "

" Yes, my lord "

" Good, now... for the sake of your relief, I had Allaryon convey a message of mine to an old friend, who is now ruler of a vassal kingdom of the Empire "

" My lord... do you mean... ? "

" Yes, Archon (Valradic word for A Ruler of An Imperial State) Zaknayrius "

" My lord, but he will send... "

" Yes, he will send the Butcher of Rilynath, Gorogoth and Prince-Legate Veliai, both pupils of mine in an age past... Veliai had a fraction of the promise that Gorogoth had but he had thrice the mind and tact, the boy is a capable leader and lead the auxiliary flank during the Arnarys campaign, his father intended him to be a leash for his brother... Veliai has served in the legion with imperial honors, he is an exceptional marksman and a capable tactician... Rilynathi archers use swifter compound bows, they wear armor and can serve as light infantry where necessary, I'm sure we could equip them with some of Ferrus's alchemical concoctions to give them more devastating effect... and as for Gorogoth.. "

" My lord, The Butcher of Rilynath is a tried criminal, he is a tyrant who has committed the most heinous of crimes, we thought the justiciars dealt him the death penalty and he was never heard from again ! "

" Gorogoth is troubled and his acts are inexcusable, but as per my oath to Zaknayrr I returned his sons unscathed and unharmed... by any authority. He is a warmachine of the most profound caliber, warriors of such a pedigree are born once ever generation... it is even rumored that Gorogoth is part daemon from an unfortunate pact that Zaknayrr made with a demon for part of his soul and that part is Gorogoth manifest... the other part... only the gods know... hrahah.. but only legends... hrm... you see Lucius, Gorogoth is less man and more beast and when you release a beast off it's chain then it will not have conception of moderation or pause, it keeps on going and going... we need men such as Gorogoth, those possessed of no conscience for anyone that opposes them but are the most loyal of comrades to those whom they stand with... that Lucius... is the perfect soldier, were it not for Zaknayr's age and wounds he would have come himself, I'm sure of it... but my friend has served far and wide and done much for the Emperor, he must tend to his realm "

Soon enough Thor and Quintus found themselves returning to Marcus's side, Marcus issued a nod to the old loremaster who was visibly shaken and retired to his tent without a word, as for Thor, Marcus's idle hand moved to pet and stroke his warhound betwixt the ears.

" It is decided that we shall stay in this place until such time as we have gathered enough reinforcements and then we will make one decisive push towards Caerbryn, where I presume Ferrus would have had his hands full, his siege would have softened Caerbryn and we will deal the decisive blow, remember we have come to win this war Lucius, and I shall see the Valradic Banner in Caerbryn by the end of this ill-conceived campaign... by any means necessary - Caerbryn Delenda Est. "


The Forest

Allaryon found herself both moved by the Orcs tale and also at an impasse as the Spymatron considered her options, it was between reinforcing Ferrus's siege or moving up towards the highlands and bearing witness to Odo something in the spirit moved her, through her meditations she had somehow sensed that a better end was to be brought from this, her sensibilities told her not to give into the ramblings of an orcish hermit but her instinct said otherwise, not that it mattered, of principal importance was making their way out of the forest and they did not have the luxury of numbers or time, the hungering knives would not weather a blockade, thankfully their bargaining chip of civilians bought them more time, in truth the situation beyond the forests in the Ruisian forts and villages was all but unknown to them.

" Well, Odo... the strands of fate have brought you here thus far, I am convinced there is some greater purpose in store, there is a nobility about you... an aura that guides you, the fate-mother enacts her will through the myriad of guises across a multitude of ends, each strand connects to a different meaning... my sense guides me to this one, if you are to travel with us... you'll need weapons and armor... feel free to equip yourself from our armory, we have nothing spectacular or heavy... but you'll certainly be able to kill and keep the skin on your back from being flayed... we shall ascend... uphill through the gully, the Ruisian refugees and civilians will follow, these hostages are our only means of bartering our own peace... a necessary evil... I know Marcus took charge of the gulley... from the looks of it, he succeeded in his nefarious ambition... but only time will tell if he lived to see it all... I must warn you that the valley is flooded and spectacularly treacherous, the very lay of the land has been changed... I hope that your memory serves us well enough to navigate back... the highlands are host to another army of ours... and more importantly... perhaps the most capable of our commanders... "

Allaryon smiled and put her hand on Odo's shoulder to reassure him.

" You will always be respected and free amongst us, the reins of destiny are always yours Odo, steer yourself to the greater cause. I will assist you as best I can, you are amidst the Valradians now. "

Allaryon issued order to make ready for march, the hostages were put in marching binds and the legionaries and scouts armed themselves, they began readying the carts and caravan, soon enough the hungering knives were upon the trails, making their way towards the highlands... an obstacle awaited their path though, a ruisian fort, and now the fort had clear view of the Valradian procession, alongside the hostages ofcourse.
Thor the Malinois (played anonymously)

Veliai and Gorogoth had left the kingdom with the 700 elvish/drow soldiers. On horseback, Veliai rode to the right and Gorogoth was to the left of the formation. Thier armor was polished bright and silvery as the ground infantry marched before the 300 archers.


As brutal in battle as Gorogoth was, those who fell to his axe all were deserving. They were murderers and other scum that plagued decent people. As skillful as Vermont was with the bow, he had equal skill with the twin swords he carried. Covering the twins were blue capes with the Rilynath Kingdom logo emblazoned on the front. The forces with them, although wore slate gray capes, also had the Rilynath logo.

Theros, Veliai's translator rode towards the back and in front of the carts that carried medicine and food. Heaven knows that Marcus, Thor, Quintus, and his forces could use the help.


The formation seemed to be moving as one; no strides were broken and every warrior's head was held high and stalwart. They would soon be at Marcus's side ready to fight and possibly die alongside their allies.



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

The Gully


Thor found himself bounding and scampering happily alongside Quintus. Between his jaws, he had carried the arm of an orc that he seemingly bit in half leaving the cursed thing to bleed out and die from blood loss.

He would occasionally look up at Quintus and pin his ears down and wag his tail as he looked up at the old man that he considered part of his pack ever since he was a pup. When looking upon any Valradian troops, there was unmistakable softness and innocence in the warhound's eyes.


Once he was back before Marcus, he set the orc's arm at Marcus's feet and he sat wagging his tail. Once Marcus started to pet him, he sprung up and rested his body against Marcus's leg and he looked up at him adoringly.
The Gully

Marcus stood by the brazier, feeding wood into the crackling flame as he looked into it, the legionaries on watch patrolling as the others lay in their bed rolls, biding their time and discussing with one another around their own fires. Quintus, busy in his tent, his silhouette illuminated by candle-light as the loremaster scribed the events and happenings of the conflict upon his scrolls, looking also for any messengers that may come around, even moreso he researched pieces of rock and items confiscated from the ruisians, making diagrams of them, commenting upon their make and running experiments when the time allowed. An array of potions and medicine sprawled on his other desk, having tended to the legionaries prior.

Marcus was afforded a few moments of uneasy respite, his digits stroked through Thors fur, finding comfort in his one true companion, he looked into his hounds eyes much as Thor looked back into his, a subtle laugh and then a rare grin were relayed by the knight-legate, a sort of love a father would have for his sun what with Thor still being the same rambunctious pup as he was in the earliest days, moreso than a hound he was a constant reminder of home, of the indomitable hills and mighty mountains of Cornaeth, from where both canine and man traced their heritage, barring a few examples maybe Thor was the last of his kin, the noble and endearing Cornaethian warhound, whose semblance was as much a projection of royalty and grandeur as was their ferocity in battle and most of all the unwavering loyalty. A hound did not care for the actions of its master, to it, they would always be absolved, always be loved and adored even if the rest of the world held the man to be a heinous monster.

"I still remember the days where you were 6 months of age Thor, I could barely comprehend how quickly strength had come to seize you, hrm.. my shoulder still hurts at night sometimes, from that mistake I made thinking I could best you in tugging a rope... *sigh*... so many days since then... you remember when I was wounded during the crucian campaign, and you dragged my half-frosted corpse across miles of blizzard... never tiring... the sort of strength and fortitude the gods never deemed man worthy of... you have always been there, my dearest friend... I hope we shall have our last moments together in such a manner, I could not have hoped for a finer warrior, my dear boy, my Thor. Hrm... this wolf grows old... all my life I have known only war, all my life I have served this great empire of ours... at times I wonder to what end at other times I am bound by the instinct of duty much as you are... in this way perhaps the gods were kinder to you, you need not contemplate the intricacies of what tomorrow may bring... a fine rib and a warm bed are all that is desired... never once have you complained or whined... my Thor. Once more my mind troubles me as I bear witness to the fates of my men and this grand endeavor, a great rock to climb, a great quest to be brought to conclusion... but what happens when there are no more foes to be had... so that they must be invented... may that good spirit never allow me to devolve to naught but a tyrant... this may yet be my last war... I have said that many times before... I suppose the gods each have purpose for us, and the fate of the wolf is to cull the herd alas, I will never stand amongst that hall of heroes, though I shall ensure it remains standing... Rest now Thor... we shall leave this place soon... I suspect Rilynath's forces will be here by midday tomorrow and then... we begin the long march to Caerbryn..."
The Hanged Man (played anonymously)

Place: the Valradian siege camp
Time: the day after the First Night



The outer patrols of the siege camp would spot the stranger when noon was high. At first blush it wasn't unreasonable to think he was one of the shambling dead, for his eyes were fixated on a point far beyond the horizon and he was splattered in the gore of two dozen warriors, including his own. But as he walked he avoided the trenches and traps, and his skin still had the warm complexion of the living.

It was remarkable that he was on his feet. Two crossbow bolts protruded from his left shoulder blade, both intact, and broken ones stood upon the face of his shield like gravestones. A dire wound cut from his earlobe to his Adam's apple, one that would have proved fatal for many others. In his hand he carried a falchion with a black blade, and a blood-stained Ruisian tabard draped over his armored chest. The stranger would continue his slow, steady trudge up the hill towards the gates until intercepted.
The Valradic Siege Camp

The morning's procession had begun with a short grieving ceremony for the fallen but nothing beyond an hour could be spared whilst the day was still young. There was confusion and frustration amongst the Valradic camp, men pulled from many nationalities and united under the imperial banner, they fought as one however, any difference smitten from amongst them in wars long past only their complexions and semblances foretold that they were once perhaps soldiers of differing nations or kin. A sense of martial order and discipline was held despite the morose happenings and any discrepancy was severely punished and the commanders grew even more intolerant now that the times were dire. A row of men were lined up to be executed, yet they belonged to the Valradic flag, fledgling legionaries no doubt drafted more out of favor or lust for money and instead they found naught, these were deserters and after a short procession they were swiftly put to death by beheading with no remorse being held by their officers, the valradians offered no quarter for the craven.

Some others were given the lash or the stocks for minor offenses most soldiers were busy biding their time with work, preparing defenses, repairing weapons, cooking meals, cleaning quarters and engaging in the regular march and drill to keep themselves occupied, an unoccupied mind was cause for concern after all, the sub-officers followed higher ranking commanders in small retinues as many plans were broken down, relayed, documents drafted, weapon and food stocks surveyed, incidences or reports catalogued. All in all the siege camp was nothing short of a town and it hinted something towards the sort of culture the Valradians had, they were vehemently industrious and compelled, as if life in the Empire afforded them this sense of urgency... those possessed of a more nonchalant or unfettered disposition would find the environment discomforting, nevertheless, all moved as one, as Empire, to which end this nation was less of a nation in and of itself but a kind of ideology.

There was symbolism and ritual vested in each edifice, it was all practiced and ordained and in a way it did represent that very human initiative and sense of ambition, for as men once felled giants now they made one. Amidst the toil however, there were brief phrases or conversations hinting things such as dissent, disturbance and speculation. Some deliberated that the Ruisians had engaged in necromancy as a last resort, others still spoke that they were haunted by a great evil, some superstitiously proposed this to be a result of some grave sin or it to be a bad omen.

It was interesting to note the dispositions of men in the face of potential death, whilst some took refuge in prayer, others took to drink or gambling, still more even disregarded the lash to "mingle" with the ruisian locals whom were not averse to Valradic silver, others still gave alms to any Ruisian undesirables that found themselves cast out of the city or in a spell of spectacular bad luck, or had simply deserted (and survived) and wanted to get out of this. The Valradians however, knew they had no place to go, after all a deserting legionary would no sooner be lynched by a mob in the countryside than they would be torn apart by the undead, and the Empire raised an almost entirely professional army... these men had no life apart from war to go to, their fathers and brothers either stood amongst them or once stood where they were, some relished such a fate, others lamented it.

The first words the Crow would hear were,

" Go Home Ruisian ! You're no friend of ours savage ! "

These were followed by the pelting of a rock some distance away from him in the mud and a slew of what were presumably Valradic curses issued by a drunk soldiers, his comrades quickly seized him and pulled him back lest the aquiline gaze of an officer bear witness to such discontent, it was very much obvious that at least amongst the soldiers the ceasefire was enforced, not welcomed after all they were the ones who bled for this war and they still held a certain kind of animosity towards the Ruisians, this was likely the case on the other side as well, a peace of circumstance except to perhaps the wisest of men.

Soon enough a horse-borne officer, came forth, an Archate, he held silver wolfhead ensigns upon each pauldron, demarcating that he was one of Marcus's own, a specimen of a warrior that was clearly above the mettle of the Ferrus's resident troops, whom though skilled in their own right didn't hold the distinction of being a vanguard force quite like the wolvenborn. He held a kite shield in one hand and a long "Kontos" spear in the other, whose tip was broad and sharpened on each end like a dagger ending in a strong point rendering it useful in all faculties of warfare, the swing, the thrust and and as a lance in some cases these could even serve as emergency munitions for a ballista, a well-made implement.

" Halt Ruisian ! you are not permitted to enter the fort by order of our commander unless you have specific business to be conducted or hold news of importance, state whom you wish to parlay with, else, you shall be made to wait outside the doors until granted council. Hrm.. given the severity of your wounds I trust you have a good reason for making the climb up the hill... if you haven't been made aware of this already, the fighting has stopped, for now... by the orders of both our armies in the declarations made this morning. You will not find much welcome amidst the outer camps Ruisian... I suggest you return to your people and make ready for what is to come "

The tabard seemed to be a worthwhile ruse, none had recognized or acknowledged The Crow as differing from the ruisian rabble, with medicine and supplies dwindling he'd be hard pressed to find help amongst their ranks but they could spare a tincture soaked bandage or two for his woes. If anything could be concluded it was that the Valradians were occupied with making ready for what was to follow, it would take more than one night of fighting to bring the legion down,

As the famous Valradic proverb stated The first lash earns only scorn
Thor the Malinois (played anonymously)

As the precession of Rilynath Kingdom forces would break though, Veliai rode at the side into the Gully. Gorogoth flanked the other side of the formation and they would come to a halt.


The two young princes would ride to the front to examine why they had stopped and they would instantly see.


***********

Thor's eyes saw the familiar banners at the same time as his nose caught the familiar scent. He had heard them first, but he was preoccupied with staying close to Marcus.

Just after the Rilynath sounded, Thor looked up at Marcus and would let out overjoyed squeaks and whines as he started dashing about. The warhound was overcome with happiness as he saw the two, Gorogoth and Veliai, riding their steeds up to Marcus.




********


Veliai would be the first to dismount, followed shortly by Gorogoth who would both rush to see their uncle and arms master. They would both wrap their arms around Marcus. They were both adults now, but that didn't matter. Right now, neither seemed to mind embracing being eleven years old again.

Derhil, the assistant would ride to Marcus and he would dismount before diving a deep bow. Theros followed suit.

"Their Highnesses arrived as fast as they could. We've brought food, medicine, and blankets."


The Rilynath Kingdom forces would break formation in order to bring Marcus's force elvish/drow bread, Del Hidori plums, water, corn, beans, buffalo steak strips, and clean blankets. They had even brought elk ribs for Thor.

Gorogoth and Veliai? They would not be letting Marcus or Thor. out of their sight for a while.


Theros handed a smaller booklet to Marcus "We had investigated Gorogoth's alleged crimes, my lord. It seems he only showed his mercilessness, The Butcher of Rilynath it seems, to enemies of the Valradian Empire, and the Rilynath Kingdom. His Majesty, King Zaknayrr, would have imprisoned Gorogoth."

Theros cast a glare at Quintus. The two never particularly saw eye to eye, but the respect was mutual. He looked back at Marcus "do you trust His Highness Gorogoth to fight alongside you?"

The question was directed more at Quintus than it was to Marcus.
Odo (played anonymously) Topic Starter

Caerbryn Battlegrounds

The morning could not come quickly enough; once it did, it shed a bleak sort of light upon the terrible and quieted battleground outside the city walls. Soon after, a host of men bearing Ruisian banners, blades and armor that shone even then emerged from within the citadel. They came in columns and held their colors high, parting to make way as soon as they were outside the city for more, more, and yet more until a line of grim and disciplined horseman formed a tunnel of iron between the opened gate and the outskirts of the camp. From within the city, the haunting tune of Caerbryn's decorated carnyxes pierced the dawn atmosphere. Then, finally, the ceremonially dressed Lugh rode out from the opened gate, into the field and towards the Valradian camp. He bore no arms, but arrived to the encampment with the accompanyment of a band of highborn guards. Two of those guards bore those carnyxes, and until they arrived before the Valradic settlement, they continued playing an eerie, yet mournful tune. Ribbons of cloth hung from the iron horns, sputtering and waving in the breeze.

The sound of the Carnyx


Lugh stepped down from his horse as he closed the distance with the imperial battlements, as a gesture of respect and goodwill; after all, the young prince had no intentions of departing from the field or betraying his word in the council chambers. Since the horns blared for the sake of announcing his arrival they were quick to quiet. He picked a few from his military host--the most trusted in his retinue-- to walk with him into the camp, to oversee matters as he surrendered himself as a hostage to the battalion. Soon he was ushered towards a tent with his trusted, but on the way he watched as Ruisian prisoners of war were released, and like them, he looked on and listened to the melancholic Valradic dirge. He was a stranger to the Empire, but he could just make out a word or two of the chant, and it was just enough for him to understand the gist of what they sung. Without a word, the young man held his fist against his chest, a passive gesture of respect for the fallen the soldiers sang for. As he walked into the tent, his heart ached for the fallen.

As for the other horsemen, they marched not towards the city, but instead to stand at watch nearby the camp. Compared to the chosen few, these men easily numbered in the hundreds. They did not face the imperial encampment, but instead turned to face the eastern horizon as they awaited orders in highly organized units. The siegemaster would soon learn why.

Lugh quietly awaited the arrival of general Ferrus; as he did so, his melancholy shifted into anxiety. He gave himself willingly to the Ruisian cause, but by no means did he wish to die helplessly in an enemy camp. Among his kin, and especially among those of noble birth, it was considered dishonorable to die a cowardly death. One such example of a dishonorable demise would be to die in bonds one took willingly, should the alternative be a death in battle. Even so, he could not allow anyone else to take his place; he was the only one in the councilroom important, yet unnecessary enough to be lost without potentially causing some sort of civil conflict down the road. As with many noble courts, peace and order was held by the carefully placed peace between strong men. Valradia did not need to know how tenuous such bonds became in Ruis years after the Highland war.

As general Ferrus and he finally met, Lugh offered a small bow as well as another salute; perhaps the general may be favorable towards a respectful greeting, but as he did so the boy could not help but feel awkward. What was he supposed to do when meeting an important Valradian official? And a general, no less? Thankfully, he did not need to think of it that long, though his own awkwardness did not distract him from the looks the Valradians gave him. The general eased them, and so relieved Lugh, and soon they were swept off towards a table, sat down and quietly bade to eat. The young man took this with as much courage and stoicism he could muster, praying that the elder did not notice how out of place he truly felt.

So he contented himself to remain seated, and to listen to the old general's council. He was, at first, hesitant to eat the bread. Anyone with doubts would be. That said, Lugh knew that he would likely be in the camp for a while, and so sooner or later he would need to take the chance on foreign cuisine. So he ate, and he listened. General Ferrus was wise, and the longer he spoke to the youngster, the more he realized just how uneven a trade he was for such a venerated individual as the Ram. The way that his would-be foe carried himself, and furthermore spoke to his men, was almost inspiring in of itself; even when he was not addressing a crowd, but a man, or just a few men. Lugh was certain that the general had seen many battlefields before Ruis, and would be a much better ally than enemy. But alas, the matter of Ruisian-Valradic relations was out of his hands. He would simply have to wait and see how things sorted themselves.

He wanted to talk to Ferrus, to ask him questions, but the obligations of the ceasefire just as quickly swept the general away. As the general departed, the looks of the legion's men sent a chill up the young man's spine. Perhaps keeping the Ram really was the only way this armistice would not fall apart, after all.

The camp, just like the Empire itself, did not rest for anything; certainly not any more for young Lugh. Yet again, he was guided away, with his trusted retinue all but struggling to keep up with him on peaceful terms in the camp. And then there was a new face; the siegemaster, Legate Galvan Taros, greeted him with polite formality. It seemed then that every member of the encampment knew his name, and yet determined to speak it in slightly different ways. Lugh was mystified, but chalked it all up to differences in linguistics. After all, the differences in many men belonging to the legion did not escape his notice, either. Just as before, he gave both a bow and salute, still unsure of what would be considered more polite in Valradic customs. "Hail, Legate Galvan," he said, in a profoundly Ruisian highborn accent. Was that the right way to address him? The youngster would simply have to wait and see if that were the case.

To hear that the legate would speak with him on strategic matters was a relief; though he had no way of telling if Galvan was being honest, it at least suggested the idea that their former enemy was taking the armistice seriously. Furthermore, the information Lugh himself had of the strategy was only part of the greater picture-- after all, only a fool would trust more ambitious information into the hands of a potential prisoner of war-- but he at least knew enough that the two could make beautiful designs of what general Ferrus left behind. Hopefully, the young man thought, not to the detriment of Caerbryn or its people.

By the time they were able to survey the field, Lugh felt all the more comfortable in his new, if compromised, position. Was it naive of him to feel hopeful? He wondered as he took in all the siegemaster had to say. Very quickly, he could see what his two new acquaintances meant when they said that the position was unfavorable. If Concobar saw the condition the camp was in himself, he might just be ruthless enough to leave them out for another night, cruelly ensuring that no treacherous future attack within the walls would succeed. Lugh, for all the years he did not have on his elder, so too did he have more faith in men as a whole. Such callous disregard did not seem necessary, or particularly helpful, in the greater picture. On the other hand, it might embitter those faithful to the Empire to a point of hating Ruis, inviting further invasions for years to come. It was imperative, then, that he speak on his former enemy's behalf. The lot of them would be better prepared for the undead behind the walls.

By the time the legate offered what he could, Lugh knew what he wanted to say. "Thank you, Legate Galvan." He tapped a finger against his chin and said, "My father is a cunning man... but the General seems wise. I will pray for a good outcome, but I do not want to rely on it alone. Perhaps I might write him a letter? If you must read it, I have no qualms-- I am writing it on the behalf of the legion, anyways." He turned then to face the siegemaster. "I am not loosing secrets when I say, my father will not want legionnaires in the city. He won't allow full access." He shook his head, as if to emphasize that point. "But that is the beauty of Caerbryn. You have already seen how well the walls are built. But another measure my ancestors took to protect the city-- and the castle-- was to make... segments, of the city itself. Now, we have many districts; you're closest to one out here." Lugh smirked, thinking himself very clever indeed, though in truth he knew this was not a particularly far-fetched or complicated idea.

"So I think, perhaps I can arrange for this district to be evacuated and opened to the legion. The walls all around are manned, but the strange thing is this: there were no attacks by the dead away from here. Something caused it. So, if nothing happens differently, this should be the epicenter of their assault. For a time, we can garrison the men in the city district, and so prevent losses for both armies until all needed talks are done. Its a win-win; my people will feel less vulnerable, and your men will not die, for as we've observed the undead are not so good at climbing walls that these soldiers could not easily dispatch them." Then, the young man perked up. "Oh, and there is another thing you should know."

The prince pointed out towards the glittering bands of Ruisian horseman near the gates. "Those horsemen there; they are some of Ruis's finest soldiers. I am not sure if my father has sent any of their ilk to fight the legions yet, but either way, this host has volunteered to fight alongside the legion, whether we can convince my father to get us into that district or not." He smiled at Galvan, proud of his own countrymen's initiative and prowess. "These men are like your legionnaires; born and raised to protect the realm, and fight for the king, if need be. They are called the Mor Feinnithe. Noble, sworn horsemen. I do wish that more volunteered, but you will see soon enough that a hundred Mor Feinnithe can do what three thousand common soldiers would balk at, no matter the danger. The Mor Feinnithe will never quit the field, unless ordered to. Better shield brothers you could not find, on this side of the Gully. I would be glad to speak to them for you if need be, but for now, siegemaster, you may as well consider them to be under your command; that is, so long as the king does not walk out here himself and give them conflicting orders.

Whatever it is you need done out here, in the meantime, you may rely on them to assist. Just... don't ask them to give up their horses for food. We have some supplies we've brought to help with that, and the horses are too important. That, and it is considered taboo to eat the meat of warhorses in Ruis. I digress." He waved his hand lightly, adding, "If it is to your liking, I will gladly write that letter now, and we may speak more of the night to come."

Caerbryn Castle



From outside the ancient city, Caerbryn was massive; within its walls, it felt even more so. Despite the chaos outside the walls, the streets were as alive as ever; Ruisian merchants manned shops and stalls on street corners, harking their wares. Civilians wandered the streets in a breath-taking abundance; people from all corners of the world could be found there, despite the unforgiving wilderness separating Ruis from the rest of the world. Craftsmen toiled in workshops from the break of dawn to create all manner of goods, from exotic breads, to masterwork tools, to weapons, armor, stonework, all manner of carpentry, many spices, jewelry, and more. Taverns were commonplace as well, and thrived especially due to the halt of outward travel by journeying tradesmen and adventurers. Posters in both Ruisian script and symbolic language (for the common illiterate) advertised the many benefits of joining with the Ruisian armies, and from the crowds gathered besides some of them, it was clear that the ad campaign was working. Just as imperial citizens leapt for the chance to join the esteemed legions, so too did Ruisian folk take up arms in the name of the realm.

Children ran through the streets quite often; the lifestyle of the cityborn Ruisian allowed their children ample time to run and play. The infrastructure within the walls was very unlike the outside, after all; while in the country a man could only rely on his family to teach him the ways of the land, in the city proper there were many projects and programs promoting voluntary education and the networking of apprenticeships, to further enable the people to live comfortably. Of course, there was no craftsman who alone could count himself affluent in the city, but the modest education the city provided was enough to make the public quite orderly and faithful to the system they lived under. On occasion, the general might also see a busker here or there, be they a bard strumming a morin khuur, harp, or horn; or, be they an actor or magician performing tricks to the dazzlement of the public. The sweet, sweet aroma of traditional Ruisian barbeque filled the air, adding to an overall festive appearance in the streets.

For all the city had to offer, some of its streets were quite narrow; a feature which in of itself indicated to the knowing architect that Caerbryn was an old metropolis, indeed. Luckily for General Ferrus, these offroads were not taken by his host of guards. They took many of the main roads, and, for all that the people disdained their invaders, they paid little mind to his passing through the main thoroughfares of the city. On occasion, a child might run alongside the host to pat at a shield here, or try to stroke the side of a horse, only to be shooed away by the general's new wardens and protectors. Furthermore, none of these things were so spectacular to behold as the sight of Caerbryn Castle itself.

Caerbryn Castle was situated in the heart of the city, holding by itself its own district, and consequently its own array of walls, ramparts and other such defenses. The rabble did not walk the decorated streets of the royal district; only the most powerful of noblemen and women were even permitted there. Whether General Ferrus knew this or not, he was being afforded quite the honor of entering the castle through its main gate. Some nobles watched the approaching soldiery coldly, calculating what this unorthodox arrival meant for their stakes in the city. Others quietly made way, or instead made for the castle side entrances for a chance at witnessing what was to come next.

The castle itself was adorned in a variety of extravagant decorations; ridged, gold-coated domes sat atop heavenly spires of exquisite stonework. White, marbled stone made up the majority of the steps the approaching foreigners were expected to ascend; they themselves were surrounded by a carefully maintained maze of trees, shrubs, and other such greenery groomed in such a way as to add to the castle's outward beauty. Servants hurried to rake away any errant pile of fallen leaves, to maintain the lush green appearance of the grasses between the larger bodies of foliage. In short, everything was perfectly beautiful, and quite purposefully so; nothing was out of place. The king who could afford to pay his trusted servants enough to keep his estate in such good condition could certainly afford to do a great many things, and Concobar insisted that his noble court be reminded of this every time they stepped into his fortress of a home.

The general was ushered respectfully towards the front gate of the castle. Though the steps below were wide, it was no small feat ascending them; another feature of the citadel carefully planned to ensure invaders had no opportunity for respite there. By then, even his legs would be tired. Soon those massive, reinforced gates swung open to welcome Ferrus into the castle proper. And as he was guided inside, a formal fanfare conducted by a variety of ornate horns both greeted his ears and announced his inevitable arrival.

The entryway and foyer were extravagant, but alas, the general would have very little time to study them before he was guided further up the steps, which wound around and narrowed the further up they got. They would guide him up yet another floor before assuring him that that was, in fact, the last set of stairs that he would need to overcome in order to meet with high royal majesty. Then they made their way down a few corridors before opening another pair of large, thick doors, so that he might finally witness the beautifully open first floor of the court room of Caerbryn.

And once he was inside, he would find a thosuand eyes upon him. Most of those in the courtroom were noble, but still they lined each side of the room, both on the first floor and the second, where those above leaned over sturdy ramps to get a better look of the enemy general threatening their city. There was animosity in the eyes of some; even with so little time at war, Valradia had robbed many mothers and fathers of their sons and, to a lesser extent, daughters. Thus, the worse part of general Ferrus's reputation preceded him. It was plain to see that Concobar, who sat at a mighty throne at the other end of the chamber, had a solid hold of the court, for despite this animosity no one shouted or threw anything towards the general. All were silent... until the king rose from his seat, to greet the general in earnest.

"Hail, General Ferrus. We have been expecting you."

"The arrival of Valradia on Ruisian soil has come at a strange time. You have come to see how strange it is with your own eyes. Yet, I am sure you are more curious about what you are doing here." The king lifted his chin, assuming an appropriately regal posture, despite his age. "You have been, until today, considered an enemy of the people of Ruis. From henceforth, you are not a foe to be battled, but instead an honored ward of the Ruisian royal family. I have assembled by court to announce that, should a hair on the good general's head be harmed, a great and righteous wrath shall befall those responsible. For starting today, General Ferrus, you are to be treated as if you were one of my own. Your survival, and your wisened council, shall be made use of as you reside here. Indeed. If we are to overcome this accursed threat, we must do so together. I trust that you will represent your Empire with dignity and grace, and regardless you will be treated with honor while you stay here."

Concobar cleared his throat before continuing. "To honor the terms of our armistice, you are required to remain inside the castle at all times. This is for your protection, and the expedition and security of communication with your men. Noble quarters have been arranged for you and your guards, dear general. They may accompany you as you see fit, but understand that our hospitality should not be mistaken for weakness. As for the specifics, and the boring technicalities, that we shall speak of in confidence."

"Now, daylight burns away as we speak. I do not do this often, but if it is suitable, you may address me, the court, or the both of us should you desire, before we retire to such matters. You are not obligated to. But what say you? Shall you speak, or shall we get straight to business?"

The Forest


Odo bowed his head a bit as he listened to the spymatron's reply. She seemed quite amiable, for someone capable of the sort of cunning needed to earn her title. The offer she gave for him to equip himself with some of their arms was even more surprising than her hospitality, but it was not one that the blind orc intended to pass on. He dipped further into a proper bow and gently bid his thanks. "I will equip myself, and, well... I will come with you. May we find fortune ahead..."

With this, the half orc rose from his seat and gently asked, "Now, erm... where are these arms you speak of?"

___

The repertoire of the legion was not entirely suited for the means of combat the hermit was familiar with, but a small weapon was better than none; since he was not sure if those that kidnapped him had even bothered to bring his axe, he opted to take a short-sword for personal protection. In what the Hungering Knives might consider a coarse method, he simply tucked the sheathed weapon into the grip of his belt, tightened it, and moved to walk with his newfound allies. His new method of 'sight' did not yield him as clear a view of the realm as it did the others, so he was one of the last to realize that they were close to the Ruisian fort. Before he could do anything about it, however, the voice of a soldier came from a modest tower overlooking the area near the fort.

"Halt! By order of King Concobar, the armies of Valradia are forbidden from these lands! Speak your business, or turn east and depart from these lands at once!" It was clear, the news of the ceasefire had not yet reached the fortress. (To be fair, Odo had no idea it was settled by then, either!)

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