Another gut-wrenching crunch and snap of bone and flesh pierced the smoky air as another soldier engaging the massive elemental in the enemy’s’ vanguard was just a little too slow to avoid the devastating blow. A thunderous blast followed by an explosion could be heard from their eastern flank as elementals continued hurtling elemental magic about. Commander Logan and his men had been fighting this battle for days and the enemy was pushing them back. There was just no end to the waves that kept pouring out of the catacombs.
At first the elementals were manageable, especially with some fighting between the order and chaos elementals, but soon the order elementals became enough to form a well organised army and the chaos elementals managed to slip through and do anything from setting crops on fire to stealing barn doors. A significant amount of crops have already been lost and if the enemy advance wasn’t stopped here, Cornstalk would be in serious trouble.
His superiors had sent word that reinforcements would be coming soon and he just needed to hold out. At this moment the Cornstalk Alliance had already poured more men into this battle than they could spare and scores were already dead. It was getting to a point where he was considering an all-out retreat.
Logan rammed his shield into another of the smaller elemental imps trying to get to their back-line of mages, toppling it onto the the ground where he deftly shoved his sword’s blade through the thing’s skull.”Commander!” someone was trying to get his attention through the noise of battle. The owner of the voice suddenly appeared at his flank, escorted by two other soldiers. He recognised him as one of the scouts that was keeping an eye on the edges of the battle field. “Report.” Logan gave the order as he was offered a brief reprieve when another group moved forward into the advancing elementals.
The young man, no older than twenty, had a fearful look on his face when he began his report “I spotted what appears to be a scouting party of goblins in the thicket to our West sir. They seemed to observe the battlefield for a while before they vanished into the thicket again.” Logan could feel his stomach drop a bit. The orcs and other goblinoids from Wolfshead had been relatively quiet in the last year or so and they didn’t have any major problems with raids in that time. He had heard rumours about a new leader, but he was wary and distrustful of the apparent peace. Had they decided to use this opportunity to overwhelm the Cornstalk Alliance? He nodded grimly at the young man “Thank you. Please return to your post and report back when you know –” His sentence was interrupted by a loud booming warhorn from the thicket to their West, followed by the all-too-familiar beating of massive war-drums
The horde of orcs, goblins, ogres, half-breeds and all had already started streaming from the thicket to their flank. At the front of the charge was a group riding their war-mounts. Massive boars that had enormous tusks and were just as aggressive as their riders, using them to slash through enemy flesh. At the front of the charge was a smaller desecrated half-orc, her sword at the ready. It was evident that she was leading the charge. Beside her rode two big orcs, each with a war-banner strapped to their backs. The one was grey and had the emblem of two axes and a wolf and the other was red and had the emblem of a boar on it. In their infantry there were even more different kinds of banners. He had never seen so many different tribal banners together before.
He thought that they were truly done-for when he realised that the orcs were not charging at the Alliance’s forces, but directly into the flank of the enemy’s army. He was stunned for a moment but was soon snapped out of it when a formal magic circle to the enemy’s Eastern flank started to light up and more humans, dressed in greens and golds started appearing out of it. He recognised the heraldry as Domicile Venificii. Their knights started forming a shield wall at the front whilst their backline started raining all manner of magic down upon the enemy’s Eastern flank.
Gripping his sword and shield handle tightly and clenching his jaw he realised that this was the reinforcements he was told would come. He did not, however, realise that they would be fighting alongside orcs. He managed to swallow his anger and pride for long enough to see that the battle must continue on.They could push the enemy back into the catacombs with the numbers and strength that just arrived.
“Rally to me!” He shouted at the top of his lungs. “Push forward and don’t let them escape the attack!” His men followed him forward, bashing, slashing and casting at the enemy, pushing them into their ally’s attacks.
… to be continued
– Story Written by Rushka Venter
‘My Edith has returned to me.’ said Cedric with tears of joy in his eyes. The scroll had cost him a small fortune due to its forbidden nature, but the spell was beyond his more humble healing magic.
Her untimely death amidst the Sandstorm that cut them off from the Festival of Travelling Lights, which they were both looking forward to with much excitement, had left Cedric a hollow man… but now she was back.
She seemed somewhat dazed and off balance but that was to be expected after she had been away for so long. She gazed towards the North-West as if drawn towards the warmth of the setting sun. Cedric placed his hand in hers, she grasped it with a strength he wasn’t aware that she possessed, her skin still surprisingly cold considering the desert heat.
‘I love you my dearest Edith’ he said. She stared into the distance, gave a grunt that he took for approval and together they walked off into the sunset.
– written by Neville Shield –
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The caravan was making its way across the dry cracked earth. Not much to see in these parts except dust, sand and rock. Occasionally an inhabitant of the desert could be seen skittering across the ground and into a burrow or underneath a rock as the beat of hooves pass them.
The nomads of the caravan were used to the heat and knew the desert was filled with more than sand. Their journeys took them far and wide, however they were heading somewhere special this time. The Festival of Travelling Lights. The Festival marked the choosing of the new Master of Caravans.
Many were curious about who would be chosen. The previous Master of Caravans wasn’t in the position for long and many had some trepidation for the coming choice.
Blint was walking alongside some of the pack animals deep in thought. His mind was thinking of the festival and the things he might see there. So many different things to eat and drink, so many things to do. He wanted to try them all! As he walked he occasionally kicked rocks to the side of the path they were following. As he put some more force into another kick to see how far one would travel, he noticed something moving in the distance, parallel to their own path. It formed a large line, much like a caravan. Colours of grey purple and black seemed to shimmer in the distance like a mirage before collecting into a more solid image. It seemed to be a caravan much like their own but far bigger, containing many wagons pulled along by big bulky animals.
Blint wondered if there were normally such big caravans at the Festival, but before he could show the line of travellers to someone else, the figures shimmered again and were gone.
Blint stared after the line of travellers before blinking a few times and going to get a few sips of water. It was obviously a mirage.
– Written by Rushka Venter –
Tripping over another protruding root, Jobeh fell hard on his rheumy, water logged knees. He hissed, sucked in his breath, then rolled sideways to sit and rub the inflamed joints, massaging them to ease the pain, though that didn’t work as well these days.
Shemba turned and waited for the old man. Jobeh had bought her for only three summers, just before Matga and the girls were murdered, but this was the best and most well behaved ‘truffler’ he’d owned. And the only bright spot left to him now. Jobeh had always spared his animals the rod, which resulted in some particularly recalcitrant pets, but he preferred to have a clear conscience. When the pain subsided (it’s taking longer and longer, Jobeh soberly thought), he groped in the dark for Shemba’s braided leather fetter, dragging his fingers through the soft earth. Not finding it, he paused to listen, and could hear Shemba shuffling through the undergrowth.
With a groan, he resigned himself to the chase. It shouldn’t take long, neither of them were overly fit, he thought, but it would still hurt. Grasping the tree, he hauled himself up and then stumbled. There was no point calling, he would simply follow Shemba and claim her when she stopped. The gibbous moon afforded a decent light, but his aching joints made his progress slow, especially when the growth started to become thick. He didn’t remember it being this dense however; Jobeh knew this part of the forest. He was near the disused…
The wall of foliage exploded, the air filled with sound of whips cracking. Before Jobeh could finish his thought, tendrils shot forward, curling around his limbs, his throat, lifting him off his feet. Eyes wide with shock as he was dragged into the growth. Jobeh shied his head, closed his eyes, and was momentarily blinded when he opened them. The grove was only dimly lit, but after the relative dark he’d been traveling in for the last three hours, it was like direct sunlight, even with the moons glow. Stunned with fright, he didn’t struggle , his eyes frantically scanned the clearing.
Eight sets of eyes looked at him, but only one set with any warmth. Shemba was sitting happily by the woman who owned them: she had a broad, open smile, and was scratching the russet pig, whose tail thumped happily on the dirt as like a dogs. The behemoth that approached him did not have any warmth. Merely displeasure
“You have made a foolish error, old man. We had no wish for any to know that we meet this night, but alas, you lost control of your… pet.” The last he said with some disdain. “It is a sad thing. But, as it has been said before: do not meddle in the affairs of druids, for they are subtle, and quick…”
“Oh, please. Do stop, Olgrem. You’re being overly dramatic.”
The warm eyed woman stood and walked towards the suspended Jobeh. Frozen with fear, he could do nothing but observe the woman as she approached. He could not pick her age, though she was not young. Matronly, he decided. The warm, generous smile never left her face. She raised a hand, and the living plants gently lowered Jobeh to the ground, though he still fell, his fear gripping him. The woman knelt by him, and he felt a warm rush of energy move through him. The pain disappeared: not just from the earlier fall or where the vines had gripped him. The sweeping in his knees fell away, and his eyes did not hurt for the first time in an age. Jobeh looked up into the woman’s face, but he was still speechless. The softness in her eyes, he had not known such caring form anyone, let alone a stranger, since poor Matga died.
The massive trunk of a man called Olgrem was a bunch of taut muscle upon muscle, obviously frustrated at the woman’s actions. “You know the importance of this, Hilea. Why would you let this man…” He did not finish as Hilea gave him a look over her shoulder.
“Let me show you why, and also show you why you should be patient. Sir,” she turned to Jobeh, “please tell me your name?”
Slightly less fearful, but only slightly, Jobeh managed to mutter his name, which made Hilea smile. “Thank you, Jobeh. It’s nice to make your acquaintance. I am sorry for the way you discovered us. We have need presently of … security.” Hillea softly stroked Jobeh’s thinning, silver hair. “You’re a long way from Trishden. What brings you out here?”
The other Druids waited passively, though not necessarily patiently, as Hilea questioned the old man. With her kindness, her gentle questions, Jobeh unburdened himself: his wife Matga, his daughters, moving them to a farm near Trishden to try and have a peaceful life for his family. He didn’t know about Bleakmire, just across the range, nor about their raiding … parties. The drinking, the lack of hope, the pain. He shared it all. And all the while, Hilea held his hand and comforted him. Shemba also sat patiently, tail thumping like a metronome
Hilea said, “Your companion, she likes you very much, Jobeh. She says you are kind. She likes the name that you have given her. Shemba tells me that sometimes you go without food to make sure she eats. Is that true?”
Jobeh dropped his head, shamed that he could not support himself and that she knew his secret. “Sometimes…some of the local villagers, they give me extra food for the truffles she finds. They know I struggle, but it is all Shemba’s work. She should have the reward.” He scratched the pig’s head, the tail thumped harder.
Hilea stood and faced Olgrem. She didn’t need to say a word – Olgrem dropped his head, slightly abashed. Satisfied, she turned back to Jobeh, and drew a small vial from her belt pouch. “Friend Jobeh, your treatment of your companion warms our heart, and we wish to help you. But I must ask- it is vital that none know that we have met here, in this sacred place. You have shown yourself a good man, and I would be loath to ask you to drink something to block your memory. If we help you, will you keep our secret?”
Jobeh saw Olgrem open his mouth, but was silenced with Hilea’s raised hand. “You’ve shown me nuthin’ but kindness, Mistress Hilea. And t’ know tha’ Shemba likes tha’ way I treats her, well that makes me happy to. Your business tis your own, and I swear on the memories of mah darlin’ Matga and our girls, that I’ll keep your secret safe.”
Hilea smiled that warm smile. “Thank you, Jobeh. Please, lay down.” as she said the words, the other seven formed a circle around him
Jobeh awoke to a bright, sunny morning. Shemba sat beside him, and from the patterns on the ground, Jobeh thought her tail may not have stopped all night. Next to Shemba rested a bag over brimming with truffles – Jobeh knew that months of searching wouldn’t have produced this many, of this quality. And on top of the truffles, a note in a woman’s flowing hand.“Friend Jobeh, We have done all our limited time will allow. You should cease the drinking – it exacerbates the pain in your joints, though after last night you should no longer feel much desire for it. Below are some small sites in the forest you should find interesting. Please make of these as you will, as our advanced … ‘thank you’ for keeping our confidence. Remember, we were never here and we never met. Though I do hope that we may, someday not meet, again. H”
– Written by Les Allen –
Gerald’s cart made its way down the paved roads that lead towards the Eastern mountains as it had before on the many trade missions to dwarven lands that his Lord had sent him on. Trade between the people under the mountain and the mages of Domicile Venificii had boomed since the rent in the veil had been repaired. Gerald took in the familiar countryside, calm in the fact that no bandits had ever attacked this route.
His journey continued throughout the morning and as the sun reached its highest point in the sky and Gerald started to think of stopping for a rest one of his guards noticed something ahead. Coming closer the forms of a dozen men standing in the road ahead became clearer, maybe Gerald shouldn’t have tried to score some gold on the side by underspending on security.
As they neared the band of men ahead it became clear that they were flying the colours of the Kingdom. Gerald let out a relieved sigh, it was just one of their patrols. However as Gerald drew closer he couldn’t help but notice there was a different demeanour to the men ahead than what he usually was greeted with.
“Well met good sirs,” he called out when he was within earshot of the group.
“And to you Gerald,” came the reply from what looked to be the captain of the group.
“Victor? I haven’t seen you in an age, its good to see you still keeping your duty up on this stretch of road.”
“Indeed Gerald, indeed,” the way Victor responded did not carry the same mirth that Gerald was used to.
“Is something amiss that there are so many of you here today?”
“We’ve had word that a smuggler is heading through our lands, we’re all here to make sure they don’t get through.”
“Oh my, well I wouldn’t want to keep you all from your duty. If I see any odd looking caravans on the road I’ll make sure I inform someone about them.”
“That would be appreciated Gerald, but unfortunately I’m going to have ask you to wait a while here.”
“Why?” Gerald responded not liking the way that Victor’s men were eyeing his cart.
“There’s a smuggler coming through here and we’ve got orders to search every traveller coming through here to find out if they are who we’re looking for.”
“But… You know me Victor…I’d…”
“Exactly, I do know you Gerald, now if you’d please tell your guards to step down and step away from your cart, we can get this over with and you can be on your way.
Some time later as the sun began its sink towards the horizon Victor walked over to the shade where Gerald and his men had settled while Victor’s men searched the cart.
“Well it seems we’ve found our smuggler.”
“What? How dare you?” Gerald snapped back, his anger at the accusation bringing him to his feet.
“I dare in my lands Gerald, my lands where travellers from outside of the Kingdom are only allowed to transport 20kg’s of gold, 10 formal scrolls, a bag of gems…”
“What are you getting at? When was that put into place?”
“Oh, you didn’t know, well that would explain why you’ve almost quadrupled those amounts in your shipment. Its always been like this for those outside of the Kingdom.”
Victor’s emphasis on outside was all that Gerald needed to confirm that this was all planned.
“At least you are still counted as an ally I suppose. We won’t have to lock you up for this, but we will have to confiscate the excess.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I very much am. In fact we’ve already confiscated it. You’re free to continue.”
Gerald stood slack jawed as Victor turned back to his men.
“You can’t do this, my Lord will hear about this!”
– Written by Douw Pretorius –
King Rolande marched down the east hall of his summer palace, his cape billowing out behind him and snapping in the faces of his entourage.
“Majesty, we should consider this an act of war, and we should retaliate in force!” said one of the advisors jogging beside him.
“No!” said Roland as he stopped and spun towards the advisor, causing him to nearly walk into the king. “We have not exhausted all avenues. We have not yet sent an emissary to discretely determine the reasons for this attack with. And if we have determined that there was no reasonable reason for this attack then we will first attempt to capture her to stand trial for crimes committed against the kingdom.” Roland spun on his heel again and continued marching down the corridor.
Another of his advisor’s, a man wearing a pale white mask that covered his whole face, spoke up from the back, causing everyone else in the pack to jump slightly at his apparent sudden materialisation, “But your Highness, you must understand that the Gypsies would never do something like this without careful consideration. Besides it is well known that the Talo have been one of the loudest voices against the reformation of the Monarchy. It is not unreasonable to believe that this attack was a planned offence against our navy when it was weakened from battle with the Bleakmire armada. We must attack now, and deny safe harbor to her fleet at all ports.”
Roland slowed down and eventually stopped to stare out over the palace gardens. He was quiet, and had a look upon his face that made the advisors all shift uncomfortably in their shoes. Just as one was about to ask if the king was feeling alright, the king suddenly spoke up softly. “You are of course correct, my friend.” He turned around to face the group of people and in a louder voice said: “But let it be known that I dislike this course of action and regard it as our last resort. I will first send a raven requesting Justice Scara of house Talo Da’Lua to meet with me at a location of her choosing to discuss this affront on our nation. If I find that her answers are unsatisfactory, I will consider the house of Da’Lua to be outlaws.”
As the protesting started from the advisors, Queen Sigrah stepped around the corner of the hall and glided towards her husband. “My Love, you have barely slept in the past few weeks and you have spent no time with your family. Do I need to fetch my bow?” The advisors suddenly started excusing themselves and bowing out of the presence of the royal couple.Roland turned towards his wife and stroked her cheek. “My dear, you know I can’t sleep peacefully knowing that innocent men have died for no good reason. It worries me even more that a house that has favoured negotiation over violence could so suddenly and for no apparent reason massacre hundreds.”
Sigrah took his hand and started leading him away “I understand this, but do you really think that you can make the best choice for your people when you cannot even stand upright anymore. Come, sleep now and worry about this in the morning. I will ask Armand to draft the letter for you and you can read it in the morning before you send it.”
Roland resigned himself to his fate and retired for the evening but his sleep was not restful for that night he dreamt of death and war.
– Written by Brenna Rong –
176th Intercepted letter.
Even among the free, it is not always easy to live together. Less than a month ago, the people of this world disagreed so bitterly among themselves that some of them felt they could not go on living with the rest.
A test of arms was made to decide whether Bleakmire should remain one nation or become consumed by the rest of Meadal. The armies of those of us who believed in our nation were led by a man named Kavis von Rindembane.
What about Kavis? What kind of man was he who would take on the entirety of Meadal in a test of arms as large as that? Those of you who have had the honour of seeing him with your own two eyes can attest to his unbridled genius, his incomparable grace and magnificence.
You may think that he has abandoned you, but you would be wrong. He lives. His courage and bravery has seen him through this trying time and he waits to strike at a time when his prey is weak and unsuspecting.
He was a born winner, not even the mightiest of the allied armies could kill him. There was no victory for them and there can be no victory for them while Kavis leads us..
So come my brothers, we will band together once more under the banner of our master. We will wait like a coiled viper to strike at the weakened jugular.
Sir Egorin Greysteele